THE THICK clouds of smoke hovering over the streets of Caracas tell us a story of utter confusion. Just as crippling blackouts have kept Venezuelans in the dark over the last few weeks, so too is the truth a casualty of this conflict. Juan Guaidó says his “Operation Freedom” is the beginning of the end. Yet, Nicholas Maduro, once more, claims victory. The US says Maduro was poised to leave but was dissuaded by Russia. Russia cries fake news. What are the facts? Ask the Venezuelan people.
By now the footage has been seen all over the world. Venezuelan national guard armoured cars drive, vengefully, maliciously, into protestors. Buses burn. Gunfire is exchanged. Tens of thousands gather in open support of Guido, but they clash with riot police. A protester wipes tears from her face. Suffering.
“This is not a coup but rather a peaceful transition,” says Guido. Maduro fires back calling it, “a military assault on power.”
The US and Russia appear poised to repeat the Cold War, with Cuba, yet again, as the focal point for the exercise of global power. Up to now, Donald Trump has found a bosom buddy in Vladimir Putin. But both leaders are volatile and not shy to scuffle.
War games aside, the people of Venezuela continue to pay the price. The large number of supporters to Guido’s cause is undeniable. Venezuelans are fed up of Maduro. But after years in power, has Maduro cultivated enough support to rough it out? As Venezuelans – who are drowning in the Gulf of Paria as they seek a better life elsewhere – continue to choke on smoke and get mowed down by armoured vehicles, positions of interference and non-interference somehow ring hollow.
We hope for peace. We hope for free and fair elections. Dialogue, as unlikely as it seems, is the best way forward.
Venezuela needs a new constitutional mandate, its sham institutions must be overhauled, its economy re-vamped, its infrastructure revitalised. As a nation its sovereignty cannot be questioned. But when all is said and done, whatever the final outcome of “Operation Freedom”, Venezuela will need international partners – of all ideologies – to help pave the way forward. Maduro must know that.
The South American country could be facing a humanitarian catastrophe the likes of which we have never witnessed if it cannot get a grip on its dire shortages and deteriorating facilities. In the face of such an existential threat, a peaceful solution, brokered with or without international assistance, is now an imperative.