OPN_190304-Nicolas-Maduro_P2-(Read-Only)
Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro talks to supporters during a rally in support of the government in Caracas, Venezuela February 23, 2019. Image Credit: Reuters

The Trump administration’s concern for the economic plight of the Venezuelan people is based purely on compassion for the hungry or so we are meant to believe. The country poses no threat to the US or its neighbours, so what other reasons could there possibly be for Donald Trump’s efforts supported by US western and regional allies to topple socialist President Nicolas Maduro?

Call me a chronic sceptic if you like, but I cannot help but notice that states in America’s sights for regime change have invariably been rich in natural resources or of strategic importance. Afghans, Iraqis and Libyans were promised democracy and freedom delivered on tanks and missiles. Over a million dead and they are still waiting. What they did get was destruction and terrorism.

Serious violators of human rights, among them US allies Turkey and Israel, are given a free pass in Washington’s halls. There is little interest in anointing a new leader for Myanmar with “all options on the table” despite its ethnic cleansing of Muslim Rohingya because doing so would not serve western coffers. It doesn’t escape my notice that Venezuela holds the world’s largest oil reserves and is rich in natural gas, gold, diamonds, aluminium, iron ore, coal and bauxite. Yes, the nation’s economy has been grossly mismanaged and sectors of the population are suffering accordingly. But those in positions of power crying crocodile tears overlook the fact that for ten years, the country has been further crippled by sanctions imposed by the White House and Congress on government entities and individuals, several related to “anti-democratic actions, human rights violations and corruption”.

Caracas is heavily dependent on oil revenue. America has been its biggest customer. Yet last month President Donald Trump blocked all payments for oil until his anointed leader Juan Guaido is installed, resulting in the nation’s oil exports declining by over 40 per cent.

Notably, the self-declared interim president has appointed six executives to a newly created board to wrest control of the oil industry.

Concurrently, the US has frozen $10 billion (Dh36.73 billion) of Venezuela’s deposits and Britain is refusing to repatriate 80 tons of its own gold when by doing so, they are hammering further stakes into Venezuela’s financial heart.

Taking away with one hand and giving with the other is the ultimate hypocrisy. The US is all of a sudden attempting to assist with truckloads of food and medical supplies which have been barred from entry. Maduro contends they are nothing other than a ‘Trojan Horse’ designed to undermine his government. Instead he has gratefully received shipments of aid from Russia.

There is nothing altruistic about American aid to Venezuela. The Trump administration has slashed aid to the world’s most needy states and has stopped all aid to Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza in order to hold Palestinians over a barrel. That said, the US might have miscalculated over the ease with which Maduro would fall. He is proving not to be an easy target, mostly because although there have been some low-level defections, the upper echelons of the military are supportive and also, judging by massive demonstrations in his favour, rarely shown on western networks, a substantial sector of the population remains loyal.

Trump could choose an olive branch over a battering ram. He could be hailed as a peacemaker if he called for dialogue. He could lift the sanctions and cement an international coalition to provide aid and economic advice. He could respect Venezuela’s sovereignty, but that is not his style.

For all I know, the man who was elevated out of global anonymity could be a genuine chap, a patriot with good ideas to lift his homeland out of self-inflicted poverty. Conversely, Guaido may be the unintentional catalyst for a US invasion with all the misery that would incur or a civil war.

The US lost the game in Syria to Russia and cannot afford to heed Moscow’s ‘hands-off’ demands whatever it takes. A ‘win’ for Trump would set a terrible precedent providing the US with the authority to change leaders and dictate terms to smaller, weaker nations everywhere on the planet. Obey me or else! The world’s policemen would morph into the world’s supreme ruler and that’s what worries me most.

Linda S. Heard is an award-winning British political columnist and guest television commentator with a focus on the Middle East.