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Drug trade keeps Maduro in power

■ Anna Ramdass

VENEZUELAN President Nicolas Maduro continues to hold on to power through resources obtained from narco- trafficking and illegal gold mining.

This is according to Lisa Viscidi, director of the Energy, Climate Change and Extractive Industries Programme at the Inter-American Dialogue.

The Inter-American Dialogue engages a network of global leaders to foster democratic governance, prosperity, and social equity in Latin America and the Caribbean.

In a telephone interview with the Express last week, Viscidi said more than a year ago when Juan Guaido was named interim president and the United States imposed sanctions on Venezuela, the thinking was that if you cut off the oil revenues you'll cut off Maduro's source of funds which he needs to stay in power.

'Essentially, what happened is they did lose oil revenue, the sanctions worked because they really contributed to making it much harder for Venezuela to produce and export its oil, but Venezuela got other sources from drug trafficking, illegal gold mining and things like that and that's one of the things that allowed him to hold onto power,' she said.

She said Maduro's 'extremely repressive strategies' aided his continued leadership.

Viscidi said the Maduro regime has very good intelligence which allows him to snuff out potential coup attempts.

'There have been attempts to overthrow him but they've all failed so these are the reasons why he has such strong control and holds on to power and why I think he will be able to continue doing so for a while,' she said.

Questioned about the economic crisis in Venezuela and gas shortages, as well as the support from Iran with five tankers of fuel, Viscidi said this is not a permanent solution.

'The tankers from Iran will help Maduro as Venezuela desperately needs fuel. I think the shipments from Iran demonstrate that Venezuela is still able to eschew sanctions by turning to its allies, especially other countries sanctioned by the United States. However, the volumes of oil are small compared to how much the country needs and it's not clear that Iran can and will fulfil all of Venezuela's fuel requirements, so this is not a permanent solution for Maduro,' she said.

Viscidi said the gas shortages impact essential transportation services such as ambulances.

She also noted there have been power outages which impact the people.

'There have also been electricity shortages so all the problems with the energy sector definitely tie right in to the humanitarian situation,' she said.

Viscidi said the United States strategy is to rally support for its measures taken on Venezuela and get countries to support the sanctions.

'I think the US strategy has been, even before the Trump administration, to try and rally other members via the OAS (Organisation of American States), taking a harder stance against Venezuela which now involves US sanctions. There's been calls for calling out the anti-democratic measures and other problems in Venezuela even since before Trump came to office. So I think the US continues to try to convince Caribbean countries that have a strong voice in the OAS to side with them,' she said.

Viscidi said she does not believe that the US would move to impose sanctions on all allies without grounds.

'But I don't think that means that the US would actually impose economic sanctions on an ally in another country within the OAS. I don't think they would go so far. Caribbean countries are sovereign countries and they can vote how they want and I don't think the US would go so far to impose economic sanctions. I think there would have to be much more material assistance to Venezuela,' she said.

She noted that the US has imposed sanctions on Russian companies that were trading specifically in oil on behalf of Venezuela, which is taking a much more specific step to help Venezuela get around sanctions.

'Generally, the pattern has been to try and pressure other countries to go along with the sanctions. I think a very good example is India...other than China, India is the major importer of Venezuelan crude now that the US market is closed completely because of the sanctions.

'So the US government officials went to India and they tried to pressure India to stop importing Venezuelan crude and the Indians said, well, you're also prohibiting us from importing from Iran because of sanctions, and so initially the US sort of looked the other way, but I think more and more what the US government is doing when it sees countries like India that was importing, also Spain through Repsol was lifting Venezuelan crude, they go directly to them and they try to convince them to go along with the sanctions, but there is no case where another country has sold refined products to Venezuela or imported fuel from Venezuela, there's never been a case where the country itself has faced sanctions, that is not the strategy. The strategy is to go to them and try to convince them not to do that,' she said.

Viscidi said the humanitarian crisis in Venezuela has worsened.

'I think the situation has gotten a lot worse, it's just continually deteriorating. For example, oil has declined. I think it was right before Guaido became interim president in January, it was about 1.2 million barrels a day, by May it had really dropped a lot, now it's probably down to around 600,000 barrels a day, it's probably down to half.

'I say 'probably' because it's really hard to get reliable numbers. But there's definitely been a huge drop in oil production. I don't think the illicit income is going to the Venezuelan people by any means, it's going exclusively to the people at the top of the regime,' she said.

STRONG CONTROL: Nicolas Maduro

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