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How Venezuela’s political crisis began and what’s next

The U.S. and dozens of other countries are pressuring Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro to resign and allow Juan Guaido to take over. Monday, President Trump is expected to address the escalating political crisis in Venezuela during a speech in Florida. How did the crisis begin and what’s next in the region? Columbia University's Christopher Sabatini joins Hari Sreenivasan to discuss.

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  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Tomorrow President Trump plans to give a speech in Florida largely focused on Venezuela and the U.S. backing for its self-proclaimed president Juan Guaido. But President Maduro is not showing signs of leaving and seems to continue to have the support of the military. So how did this situation happen. What's the United States role in Venezuela and is there a connection between Venezuela policy and increasing opposition to the government in Haiti. For some perspective and analysis we turn to Christopher Sabatini, an adjunct professor at Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs, and editor of Global Americans a newsletter focused on Latin America and the Caribbean. We've had lots of conversations on this program about the kind of immediate crisis that Venezuela is going through the lack of medicine and food on the shelves. Right? The things that the people are suffering through I mean in the bigger picture how did we get here.

  • Christopher Sabatini:

    A large part of it is actually politics. What's happened over the last 20 years and it's been 20 years that the government has been in power first under Hugo Chavez and then Nicolas Maduro they've slowly closed off all the avenues for political participation and political mediation the pack the Supreme Court they packed the Electoral Council they've actually banned opposition parties from running. And so what effectively happened was there was no real way for the opposition to attend an incredibly crisis driven situation in which the popularity of a government has fallen there's no way for the opposition to gain any traction. So at one moment the National Assembly which is effectively the last democratically elected institution in the country appointed its president Juan Guaido and then declared under the Constitution that the current de facto president Nicolas Maduro was illegitimate because he had won in a largely discredited election in May 2018 and therefore under the Constitution. Juan why is the president so now you have the situation we have two presidents and effectively what happened was that provided a moment within the political system in Venezuela that allowed the international community to rally to in defense of democracy and human rights and recognize won why one in lead and all this largely has been the U.S. president Trump has called one guy though twice. Vice President Pence met with the that his delegate to the Washington D.C. as ambassador. So the U.S. is really taking the lead although it's important to recognize there are 60 other countries that are also backing Juan Guaido.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    What are our vested interests in backing Guaido. I mean there's obviously the humanitarian concern but strategically how important is Venezuela to the United States?

  • Christopher Sabatini:

    Well first of all normatively it's important because within the hemisphere there is a thing called the Inter-American Democratic Charter in which all the signatories all 34 states of the hemisphere have agreed to protect and defend representative democracy and the checks and balances of democracy and for the last 20 years the Venezuelan government that Chavez the government is thumbing its nose at this normative structure. So first of all there's that issue that it's it's out of step with the rest of the hemisphere. Second of all, there is really a strategic element to this. More than three point three million people Venezuelans have left and as well and are fleeing and taking with them oftentimes in security poverty they're really a drain on a lot of countries although are accepting them. And then last is the issue of China and Russia what was a democracy and human rights issue confined mostly to Venezuela has now become a geopolitical issue because as the other 60 countries have lined up to support why though other countries from let's say the other side have lined up to in defense of Nicolas Maduro. So you have Syria Iran Russia China all that and Turkey now backing Maduro. So this has really boiled down to a geo-strategic issue that goes to the U.S. interests within the hemisphere not just around human rights but also sort of its own national interest.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    So what happens in the next few days? I mean the United States has been sending shipments of humanitarian aid. It is sitting across the border in Colombia. Guido says we are going to figure out a way to get this in. Maduro technically doesn't have to let convoys of stuff come here and he's got a military that can stop it.

  • Christopher Sabatini:

    No one really knows. I mean he's added to this is the fact that Donald Trump has said numerous times that a number of people within his cabinet have said that the military option is still on the table so that hovering in the context of more than 30 interventions that have in the U.S. from the United States and many of them ended badly within the hemisphere. So he had the shadow of the U.S.legacy of the bad Uncle Sam intervention. Right now you have the assistance on the Colombian Venezuela border. Marines actually protecting that have helped deliver it. It is basically a showdown right now and we'll have to see who blinks first.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    And finally yesterday we had a conversation in the program about Haiti and there is this sort of connection here between Venezuelan money and influence in what's happening in Haiti's political turmoil?

  • Christopher Sabatini:

    Yes. Because we'll have built a coalition within the hemisphere in large part to sort of thwart any sort of challenges to its legitimacy and its efforts to violate human rights by this basically an oil giveaway program called PetroCaribe and there are a number of beneficiaries and one of them was was the Haitian government. Well first of all about a year ago a report came out alleging that most of the money that came from that oil program has disappeared including ties to the former president and ties to the current cabinet members. So this has ignited a series of protests for this clear example of malfeasance and corruption. But there's also some allegations that somehow Venezuela may be behind it in other ways because Haiti has flipped and it's one of those countries that is now recognizing Guizot and not recognizing Maduro. So there was also this element of who's behind these protests that have rocked Haiti now for over a week and have resulted in the deaths of at last count seven people.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    So their allegiances going back and forth to two parties that are struggling inside Venezuela right now?

  • Christopher Sabatini:

    Exactly. And it plays out the ripple effects of what could have been only a domestic issue. Now streaming across the region across the world.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    All, right. Christopher Sabatini from Columbia University thanks so much.

  • Christopher Sabatini:

    Thanks very much Hari.

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