Paving the way for civil war?
Foreign support for self-declared leader Juan Guaidó fuels apprehensions of a civil war in Venezuela – mounting pressure on democratically-elected Maduro
Peace campaigners have warned that a foreign attack on Venezuela would prompt a "bloody civil war", as it had appeared that the United States was preparing the ground for a military invasion with thousands of troops rumoured to be amassing in neighbouring Colombia.
Hawkish US National Security Adviser John Bolton sparked intense discussion on Monday after he was photographed carrying a note which appeared to read: "5,000 troops to Colombia", as he left a press conference during which he announced fresh sanctions on Venezuela's state-owned oil company PDVSA.
This comes days after US Republican Senator Lindsey Graham's revelation that President Donald Trump had discussed the use of military intervention as imperialist powers ramp up their efforts to bring down democratically-elected Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro.
Colombia's Foreign Minister Carlos Holmes moved to dismiss fears of the presence of US troops, saying that it would continue to act "politically and diplomatically". He also insisted that new elections should be held despite international observers giving Venezuela's May election a clean bill of health.
US Acting Defence Secretary Patrick M Shanahan also told reporters that he had not discussed the matter with Bolton; but, when pressed on whether he would rule out sending 5,000 troops to Colombia, he said: "I am not commenting on it."
Maduro has consistently warned that Colombia – led by right-wing President Ivan Duque – would be used as a staging post for intervention.
Those fears intensified following last year's drone attack on Maduro as he attended a military parade in Caracas. Investigations led the government to conclude that the assassination attempt originated in Colombia.
Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova warned that attempts to interfere in Venezuelan domestic affairs originated in Colombia.
"Let me recall that the 'return of democracy' to Venezuela or, calling things by their true names, the destabilisation of the situation in this country is being carried out from the territory of Colombia," she said.
"And, what about non-interference in internal affairs – from elections to cybersecurity, which have been a subject of such concern for the collective West over recent years – you will ask?"
Britain's role in pushing for regime change came under fire from parliamentarians in a heated Commons debate, with Labour MP Chris Williamson warning against "intervention from Western powers", which, he said could "lead to a humanitarian catastrophe".
Speaking about the possibility of a troop build-up in Colombia, Williamson said: "This revelation reinforces the genuine fears that Trump is determined to bring about regime change in Venezuela to get his hands on its oil reserves.
"It seems, he's prepared to deploy the US military to achieve that goal and that could lead to a bloody civil war. But the Trump cheerleaders in the House of Commons and media establishment don't seem to care."
In a written answer to a question from Williamson, Defence Minister Mark Lancaster confirmed that Britain provided military training last year to countries including Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Guyana, Uruguay, Paraguay and Peru – all of which share or lie close to Venezuela's borders. Lancaster cited Britain's "deep and enduring interests in Latin America and the Caribbean" as the reason for providing assistance.
Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt claimed last week that it was "clear" that Maduro was not the legitimate leader of Venezuela and had joined his European Union counterparts in Spain, France and Germany in issuing an ultimatum to the country, demanding they call fresh elections in eight days – otherwise they would recognise unelected usurper Juan Guaidó, president of the defunct National Assembly.
The Bank of England has refused to hand over $1.3 billion (£1bn) of Venezuelan gold it holds as a part of the Bolivarian country's $8 bn (£6.1bn) in foreign reserves, despite numerous claims made by Maduro's government. It reportedly buckled under pressure from the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who wants the assets stolen and handed to Guaidó, helping him seize power.
In a bid to counter attempts, Venezuelan Prosecutor General Tarek Saab asked the Supreme Court to block Guaidó's assets and stop him from leaving the country. He urged the court to investigate the self-proclaimed president. Though, as an MP, Guaidó has legal immunity, a legal case against him can only be opened following a decision by the Supreme Court.
Punitive sanctions implemented by the US and EU in a bid to foment regime change were branded "illegal and a crime against humanity" by former UN special rapporteur Alfred de Zayas, earlier this week, as he called for action from world bodies to prevent a further crisis from unfolding.
(Courtesy: Morning Star. The views expressed are strictly personal)