• Wednesday 21st August 2019

Venezuela teeters on edge while Saudi Arabia looks east

  • Published on: March 1, 2019

  • By M.R. Josse
    NEW YORK, NY: The recent cascade of telling developments vis-à-vis Venezuela cumulatively suggests that a tipping point is imminent – even the drastic possibility of external military intervention to unseat de facto Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro!
    Juan Guiado, recognized as the legitimate ruler of Venezuela by dozens of countries, is, at the time of writing, to meet with Latin American leaders and U.S. Vice President Mike Pence in Bogotá, Colombia.
    This comes in the wake of the killing of at least four protesters and injury to hundreds of others by Maduro’s soldiers, who sought to block much needed humanitarian aid from entering the country, not to mention Muduro abruptly breaking diplomatic relations with Colombia.
    Notably, as reported by multiple media outlets here, 60 Venezuelan military personnel have defected, though the majority still appear to continue to be loyal to Maduro. Equally significant is that American Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has publicly admitted that the U.S. is still considering “every option” including military intervention even while promising to “find other ways to make sure that food gets to the people who need it.”
    The United Nations, meanwhile, has reported that 3.4 million people have fled the country while for those who haven’t left already, 80% of households are food insecure. A Human Rights Watch official claimed: “You see people, vulnerable people, eating trash.”
    The staggering exodus out of Venezuela, as a New York Times report has it, is composed of Venezuelans “fleeing dangerous shortages of food, water, electricity and medicine, as well as the government’s political crackdown, in which more than 40 people have been killed in the past few weeks alone…The vast majority come through these treacherous roads in Colombia: a 125-mile journey over a 12,000 foot pass in the Andes.”
    With President Donald Trump out of the country – for another attention-grabbing summit, this time in Hanoi, Vietnam, with North Korea’s supremo Kim Jong Un – many believe that the United States will desist from actively interfering in Venezuela. There are others, however, who hold that such a move, in concert with a group of Latin American allies, would serve as a useful diversion for a beleagured president confronted with a raft of political difficulties and battles on multiple fronts at home.
    Though we shall, no doubt, know for sure how the chips fall in that respect in the next few days or weeks, in the interregnum much attention will focus on a possible summit between Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping at the former’s vacation home in Mar-a-Lago, Florida, as hinted by the American leader’s glowing account of progress made at recent U.S-China trade talks in Washington.
    Elsewhere, a consequential politico-diplomatic shift has taken place lately, epitomized by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman (MBS)’s swing through Pakistan, India and China – in that order.
    As reported in an extensive NYT news report – one that, incidentally, had a large photograph of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in a bear hug with MBS – Riyadh’s look-east diplomatic caper is a manifestation of it finding allies in the east, as the west distances itself from her.
    Here I include just a few excerpts dealing only with Pakistan and India, though the segment on China (which MBS had still to visit when the news was drafted) is perhaps even weightier.
    “He began this tour on Sunday in Pakistan, a fellow Islamic country that welcomed him like a hero, with a 21-gun salute and fighter jet escort. President Arif Alvi granted him Pakistan’s highest award, and the head of the Senate gave him a gold plated assault rifle.
    “Prime Minister Imran Khan had spoken about Pakistan’s dire need for Saudi funds to ward off an economic crisis, and Prince Mohammed delivered, signing tentative agreements of up to $ 20 billion in mining, agriculture, energy and other sectors and promising to free thousands of Pakistanis in Saudi prisons.”
    “On Tuesday, Prince Mohammed traveled to India, where he was welcomed with drumming and a bear hug from Prime Minister Narendra Modi. India is an important provider of labor for Saudi Arabia, with millions of Indians in the kingdom.
    “During the visit, the prince was expected to press India to buy more Saudi oil to fuel its fast-growing economy and to take the market share away from Iran, the kingdom’s primary rival.”
    Not reported in the said report – but which, to me, was most fascinating – is that the far-reaching Saudi diplomatic gambit was not merely timed when many expected a full-fledged conflict to blow up between India and Pakistan, in consequence of two deadly attacks in India-administered Kashmir by Pakistan-based Islamic militants, but that the controversial MBS was feted by an India that lectures one and all about its lofty human rights, civil liberties and freedom of the press record.
    Edifying, too, was to note how warmly the ‘Hindu fundamentalist’ leadership in India cozied up to the ‘fundamentalist’ Islamic kingdom, whose leadership is tainted, most disgustingly, by the killing, by Saudi operatives in Istanbul last October, of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
    As far as Saudi – U.S. relations go, I can do no better than to draw attention to a recent NYT editorial that lashed out at the Trump administration’s attempts to seal a nuclear cooperation deal with Saudi Arabia, despite the Riyadh’s “refusal to make a legally binding commitment to forgo uranium enrichment and plutonium reprocessing.”
    The editorial, quoting an interim House Oversight Committee report, says it “paints a familiar picture of Trump associates skirting the law and currying favor with people who can make them richer. This time, the dealing doesn’t involve Russia but Saudis, and it is not about a lavish tower in Moscow but the sale of nuclear power reactors.”
    Will Riyadh’s appointment of Princess Rima as ambassador to the United States make any dent on this issue, now that the Democrats control the House?

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