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A Rules-Based World Order?

On 23 January, in Caracas, Venezuela, opposition leader Juan Guaido, who is the head of the country’s National Assembly, declared himself the “interim president” of Venezuela in an attempt to oust President Nicolas Maduro.

Swiftly, Guaido received support and recognition as the rightful head of state by the United States and a number of its Latin American allies (such as the right-leaning governments of neighboring Brazil and Colombia), Canada, and the United Kingdom. Subsequently, many other European countries backed Guaido after issuing an ultimatum to the Venezuelan government, which it refused, to organize a new set of presidential elections. At the same time, however, a number of countries extended support to Maduro’s government, including Russia, China, Turkey, Bolivia, Cuba, Nicaragua, and Iran, among others, while still others have called for the need to defuse the tense situation and a peaceful, negotiated settlement.

Then last week, on Monday 28 January, the US slapped billions of dollars in new sanctions on Venezuela, banning US companies from exporting goods or services to PDVSA, Venezuela’s state-owned oil company, as part of a campaign to force Maduro to step aside and cede power to Guaido. These efforts have been coupled with a clamp down on the Venezuelan government’s assets and gold trade around the world, as well as the ratcheting up of aggressive rhetoric against the Venezuelan government to an extreme and threatening level.

As an Eritrean and African observing the situation from afar, I see that the rapidly escalating developments present a number of interesting points for consideration.

First, it is undeniable that Venezuela is facing – and has long been confronted by – a number of significant challenges and issues. However, only Venezuela’s people can solve the country’s large array of problems. Foreign meddling, interference, and regime change backed by outsiders and foreign governments is unhelpful and very far from the solution. In fact, in many ways they have contributed significantly to the longstanding upheaval and crises, as have, of course, the government’s policies and various missteps. It is important to understand here that rejecting foreign intervention and meddling does not necessarily constitute support for Maduro as leader – that is a matter for Venezuelans – but is about clearly recognizing the untold suffering and damage intervention would bring to Venezuela and the region.

For Eritreans and those from across Africa, the current situation in Venezuela invokes memories of how in recent years and over many, many decades, foreign meddling and reckless interventions and adventurism have had a large array of harmful consequences. Of course, as an African, I would be the first to acknowledge that many problems in our communities and nations are largely of our own making. Personally, as well as for many Africans, these problems are often the source of deep angst, regret, sadness, and bitterness. As Oscar Wilde observed, “Misfortunes one can endure: They come from outside, they are accidents. But to suffer for one’s own faults — ah! There is the sting of life.” However, it is undeniable that foreign meddling and interference throughout the continent has had an extremely deleterious effect.

Additionally, as the events unfold in Venezuela, we are all becoming witness to astounding levels of hypocrisy and double standards through the actions and behaviors of certain countries. Specifically, consider how for decades, Eritreans and Africans , have regularly been pompously and arrogantly lectured about various high-minded principles and concepts, including the inviolability of international law, the need for a “rules-based world order”, and the sacredness of democracy and good governance. Consider, as well, how for Eritreans, these lectures have continued unabated in recent months despite the momentous developments toward peace and cooperation in our region over the past year.

Remarkably, however, so many of the countries that have been offering those lectures for so long are the same ones whose behavior and actions during the current events in Venezuela crudely contravene and greatly undermine the UN Charter and the principles of self-determination, non-interference, and sovereignty. Encouraging violence and pushing for violent, extralegal regime change in the name of promoting democracy seems rather ironic. The same countries that are lecturing Eritreans (and other Africans) about the need for democracy and good governance are now interfering in Venezuela’s internal politics, essentially for the purpose of overthrowing the country’s government, and even declaring who the “real leader” of Venezuela – a sovereign and independent nation-state you may recall – is. Ultimately, observing the behavior and actions of these countries during the unfolding situation in Venezuela, one cannot help but feel that they need to instead focus their attention inward and practice what they preach.

Finally, consider the imposition of sanctions on Venezuela. Again, it seems rather remarkable and a great paradox that the same actors who have spoken so loudly and persistently about their concern for the welfare of the Venezuelan people are now seeking to choke the single sector that is responsible for more than 90 percent of the Venezuelan government’s revenues and precipitate an economic and humanitarian crisis. How exactly, one may reasonably wonder, can further sanctions on Venezuela, a country already plagued by shortages of food and basic goods, deteriorating basic services, and an inflation rate of more than 1 million percent, really have the genuine interests of the population at its heart? As put by Idriss Jazairy, a special United Nations rapporteur who reports to the Human Rights Council, “Sanctions which can lead to starvation and medical shortages are not the answer to the crisis in Venezuela.”

Of course, for nearly a decade and ending only several months ago, Eritreans were the victims of international sanctions. Again, it is interesting to recall how the same countries that were incessantly proclaiming their deep concerns and regard for the welfare and plight of the “poor, suffering, helpless, and oppressed” Eritrean people backed sanctions, even after they had long been proven to be ineffective and illegitimate and despite the fact that Eritrea was (and is) a young, low-income developing country. It is undisputable that far from any positive influence or effects, the sanctions on the country had a direct, significant, and harmful impact upon the people of Eritrea through severely diminishing possibilities for international cooperation or beneficial partnerships, considerably raising the cost of capital in commercial loans, having negative implications for foreign investment, reducing possibilities for job creation and economic growth, and restricting the import of certain categories of equipment vital for development and social infrastructure.

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