Timothy M. Gill
The Venezuelan government is seeking economic and ideological support from global allies amid growing economic problems and international criticism.
Since the beginning of 2015, an accelerating foreign currency shortage has exacerbated Venezuela’s economic problems. International reserves have fell to just under $19 billion, their lowest levels since 2003. These shortages have impacted the government’s ability to provide importers with foreign currency and have resulted in shortages in several areas, including food, medicine, and automotive parts. The currency shortage has also led to much speculation concerning a default on its foreign debt.
Politically, the Maduro government has faced increased criticism over its jailing of opposition politicians. On April 14, the Spanish Congress approved a bill that calls on Venezuela to immediately release opposition politicians Leopoldo López, Antonio Ledezma, and Daniel Ceballos, among other individuals. In addition, Cayetana Álvarez de Toledo, the spokesperson for Spain’s People’s Party, referred to the Venezuelan government as a “dictatorship.”
In the wake of these comments, President Maduro accused Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy of racism and supporting terrorism, statements which Rajoy considered “absolutely intolerable.” On April 15, Rajoy and Maduro recalled their ambassadors for consultations. On April 26, the two countries stated their willingness to improve diplomatic relations based on mutual respect, and their ambassadors have planned to return.
On April 20, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights requested the adoption of precautionary measures for the safety of López and Ceballos. The precautionary measure asks the government “to adopt the necessary measures to ensure the life and personal integrity of Leopoldo Lopez and Daniel Ceballos … [and] guarantee that the detention conditions are adequate in accordance with applicable international standards.”
On April 21, the EU held a discussion concerning relations with Latin America. Following the discussion, Spanish Minister José Manuel García-Margallo stated that all EU countries voiced concern over Venezuela and wish to “seek the release of political prisoners.” This discussion follows a resolution passed by the European Parliament on March 12 calling on Venezuela to “immediately release all peaceful protesters, students and opposition leaders.” The resolution also asked the government to adhere to international law and allow human rights defenders and NGOs to conduct their work.
Facing these challenges, the Maduro government has sought economic and ideological support from its allies abroad.
In recent years, the Venezuelan government has had no greater political-economic supporter than China. On April 19, President Maduro announced that Venezuela received a $10 billion loan. While the first $5 billion is designated for development plans, the second $5 billion is for oil field development. Although some Chinese analysts have voiced concern over the stability of Venezuela, several observers argue that China continues to back the Venezuelan government due to existing agreements involving Venezuelan shipments of oil and the fear that an opposition government might renege on them.
Previous Chinese loans have largely been dependent upon hiring Chinese companies, and there are indications that new development projects contain similar strings. On April 19, President Maduro announced an agreement to enlist six Chinese companies to build desalination plants throughout the country. In addition, President Maduro announced a deal with a Chinese corporation to construct 20,000 technologically advanced as homes as part of the government’s Gran Misión Barrio Nuevo Barrio Tricolor.
While China has provided Venezuela with much needed economic support, Chinese leaders have also expressed their disapproval of US involvement in Venezuelan politics. In the wake of sanctions against Venezuela, Hong Lei, the Chinese Foreign Minister, stated that China hopes that “the two sides can deal with their bilateral relationship based on equality, mutual respect and non-interference in internal affairs.” On April 10, Hua Chinying, the Chinese Foreign Ministry’s Spokesperson, echoed these sentiments, saying that China “welcomes further development of [the] relationship between the US and Latin American and Caribbean states based on mutual respect and non-interference in each other’s domestic affairs.”
While Maduro formalized these deals in Caracas, Foreign Minister Delcy Rodríguez and Oil Minister Asdrúbal Chávez traveled throughout the Middle East in search of support for investment and strengthening the price of oil. The delegation’s trip began in Iran, where they received support from Iranian President Hassan Rouhani who stated that foreign interference into the internal affairs of Venezuela was “absolutely unacceptable.” Rouhani and the delegation also expressed desire to increase cooperation between the two countries, especially in the hydrocarbons sector, and to stabilize oil market prices. The latter theme was also the subject of the delegation’s visit to Saudi Arabia.
The trip to the Middle East ended with a stop in Qatar. While there, the delegation revealed that they had secured interest from Qatari businesses for investments into Orinoco oil projects. Their tour concluded with a meeting in Belgium with all Venezuelan ambassadors throughout Europe to discuss ways to strengthen the presence of Venezuela and “defend the truth” about Venezuela.