More irony than gold: The Bank of England relives its “Pirates of the Caribbean” moment

Perhaps more irony than gold can be found in a recent ruling by the British high court on the fate of Venezuelan accounts once entrusted to the Bank of England, which has refused to release 31 tons of Venezuelan State gold deposits to anyone other than Juan Guaidó.

Invoking the authority of “Her Majesty the Queen”, British judge Nigel Teare endorsed the Bank of England to endow opposition figure Juan Guaidó with the Venezuelan State’s confiscated gold. The transaction sets a dangerous precedent for British international relations, (especially when dealing with former colonies other than the US). The interventionist, activist decision by the British judge may even have surprised Guaidó, who had until then only publicly asked that the Bank of England deny access to Maduro’s PSUV government, who was reelected in May 2018 for another 6-year term.

Guaidó, at that time a deputy of the province of Vargas, never ran for presidential elections in Venezuela.

He made his initial self-proclamation as President in what could most charitably be interpreted as an act of protest in January 2019, when he invoked article 233 of the Venezuelan Constitution. He did so after claiming that the democratic process had been undermined by Maduro’s summoning of a National Constituent Assembly in parallel to the existent National Assembly, as both sides called each other intransigent.

But only naiveté would lead an observer to believe that the countries currently embargoing Venezuela had paid much attention to the internal partisan games of Venezuelan politics. Rather, the liberal EU governments and illiberal right wing American heads of state — who seem capable of reaching a consensus only on aggressive foreign policy positions — co-opted Guaidó’s highly symbolic gesture, seizing the opportunity to formalise sanctions on Venezuela with a local political figurehead.

Whilst a large part of the Northern hemisphere anointed its preferred “pirates of the Caribbean”, Caracas’ usual adversaries simultaneously invoked the rhetoric of human rights abuses — recalling how the EU and US foreign policy and sanctioneer-establishment justified disastrous military interventions in the Middle East, after it turned out that sanctions often prove insufficient towards the project of collapsing the foreign governments isolated by such embargoes.

AP reported in May that Guaidó’s advisors abandoned the provincial deputy after a bungled raid in which Guaido had allegedly contracted the US mercenary firm Silvercorp USA, dispatching former Green berets to carry out armed operations in Venezuela. Guaidó has left the party he represented at the time of his gesture, and has become a more extreme figure entangled in Mike Pompeo and Mike Pence’s agenda for Latin America. Guaidó, meanwhile, has long since fallen from the zenith of his popularity and credibility in Venezuelan opposition.

May’s “Silvercorp” mercenary scandal gave a clear image as to what kind of regional conflicts the Bank of England wishes to sponsor with stolen booty in Venezuela, and shows European states’ resolute willingness to keep sowing divisions that spark civil wars abroad, dispersing new refugees that no state seems willing to embrace.  Authorities, for example, recently discovered smuggled Venezuelan suitcases containing gold bricks on the small island Aruba, inflaming already severe tensions between the tiny semi-independent island nation and its neighbour.

Meanwhile, those who advocate exporting “freedom” to Venezuela by way of aggressive interventionism, continue deporting Venezuelans and Syrians as we slowly exit the world-quarantine.

Rather than reallocate the stolen gold towards Venezuelan refugee relief in the diaspora, the gold would likely boost armed insurgent activities if awarded to the doppelgänger-politician “recognized” by Europe and Washington rather than by Venezuelan electorates.

Venezuela, a former European colony, has always celebrated its independence from Spain. Before the onset of the world-quarantine and its cautioning silence, in early 2020 Spain’s parliament and media-theater found diversion in numerous parodical accusations lodged by center-right politicians accusing PM Pedro Sanchez of having “degraded” or “stripped” Guaido of Presidential status, when Sanchez indecorously referred to Guaidó as mere “leader of the Venezuelan opposition.

One cannot miss the irony when European countries, including Venezuela’s defeated former coloniser, discuss the democratic process of a foreign country. It is as if lieutenant governors of a buccaneer outpost could once again be demoted or reinstated by the masters in Madrid.

General Simón Bolivar fought long campaigns to liberate South America from imperial rule. Bolivar’s (along with his Haitian close forerunner Toussaint de L’Ouveture’s) revolutions implemented European Enlightenment ideals for the first time in history—without the cynicism and opportunism that led to Napoleon’s imperialism, and to George Washington’s and the US revolutionary founders’ support for enduring slave-trade, despite their commitment to discourses of liberation. Bolivar, by contrast, called for abolition of slavery as a vital component of Independence.

History denies European countries the right to introduce democracy in Venezuela.

Far less controversial within the EU establishment today, would be to contend that the illiberal antics of the Johnson era in British politics represent major threats to the Enlightenment legacy in Europe. Therefore, the EU can send a clear message by adopting a dissenting position to that of the UK and USA, as their stances foster dangerous interventionism in Venezuela by European brokers who know nothing of the volatile region.

British officials who support the decision of Judge Nigel Teare and the Bank of England want to mete out punishments to any foreign government that strays from the model set by Western financial firms. Such performative finger-wagging in the US and Europe — echoing John Bolton’s comical chants of “Libertad!” — seldom originate in genuine solidarity with local dissidents. Rather, these gestures intend a spectacular punishment of any foreign government’s expression of economic dissidence against official business ideology espoused by the Latin finance-pundits on CNN En Español.

If EU officials wish to distinguish themselves from illiberal and Eurosceptic forces, the hour has come to do so, by dropping the inhuman economic sanctions against the Venezuelan people.

In Venezuela all sides claim the tradition of Bolivar who first brought postcolonial democracy to the region. Let Venezuelans determine the future of their democracy. Let them do so without soldiers of fortune or 21st century pirate interventions.

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