EDITOR: The time bomb that is Venezuela is ticking ever more loudly and ominously as the two opposing sides, the Government of President Maduro, and the Opposition hell-bent on removing it, head for a showdown that can have disastrous consequences for the Venezuelan people, and, by extension, the people of the Caribbean basin.
Last Sunday, both sides engaged in staging their own elections. The Opposition held its own âreferendumâ on whether voters agreed with the Governmentâs plans to hold a vote on July 30 for the establishment of a Constituent Assembly with powers to draft a new national constitution. That poll was widely publicized in the international media and hailed as a âhuge successâ, with a reported 7.2 million voters saying âNoâ to the Constituent Assembly.
On the same day, however, in a much less-publicized event, the Venezuelan Government staged what it described as a âdry run vote,â ahead of the scheduled July 30 poll. That too, was claimed as a huge success, with a Government release highlighting what it called âthe unprecedented massive attendance to the call for preparationâ for July 30. Photographs of long lines of voters were published to demonstrate this mass participation.
So, where does that place the situation? The Government has made it plain that it will not respect last Sundayâs Opposition poll and will proceed with July 30 as planned. The Opposition has called for an all-out general strike on Thursday, 20th July. In addition, it must be noted that whereas the Opposition claims a 7.2 million support, there are more than 20 million registered voters. In the presidential election of 2013, Maduro won with over 7.5 million votes, so there is a clear division.
A dangerous element in the equation has come in the form of an announcement by US President Donald Trump that he will impose sanctions on Venezuela if the Government goes ahead with the July 30 vote. Mr Trump is in deep political trouble at home and it is not beyond him to look for some external diversion from his troubles.
It is clearly an explosive situation which must be handled delicately. We can pick one side or another and shout and hurl accusations at each other, but the deep impasse remains. It calls for great statesmanship. CARICOM has benefitted greatly since the coming to power of the late President Chavez and the introduction of Petrocaribe. More confrontation and bloodshed, instability and chaos will affect us all.
Perhaps moves are afoot behind the scenes to try and brook a solution, but time is running out. CARICOM MUST TRY TO REACH OUT TO BOTH SIDES, promote dialogue, and, difficult as it is, use its unique position, placing political preferences aside, to try and find a negotiated way out. The stakes are too high not to try.