The world has turned its back on the regime of Venezuela’s Nicolás Maduro and urges support for Interim President Juan Guaidó to achieve a democratic transition. Meanwhile, China, Cuba, and Russia support a government — the international community qualifies as illegitimate — that has plunged the country into an unending crisis.
Reasons to support Maduro differ for each country, yet all three underestimate the humanitarian crisis Venezuelans face due to Maduro’s rule. Venezuelans being forced to depart their country or inability to access food and minimum health standards seem unimportant consequences. Maduro’s isolation makes him an easy pawn for China, Cuba, and Russia.
According to José Ricardo Thomas, a political scientist at the Central University of Venezuela, who holds a doctorate in International Affairs from Peking University, China’s interests are grounded in having potential control over Venezuela in geopolitical matters. This fits China’s insatiable interest in gaining access to natural resources and increasing Latin American countries’ economic dependency.
“China’s interest in Maduro has to do mainly with testing the ground in Latin America and using him as a token in the geopolitical game with the United States,” Thomas told Diálogo. “The crisis made Maduro dependent on his few allies. What motivates China is being able to take advantage of the situation.”
Many of the financing negotiations between China and Venezuela were carried out secretly. The Asian country is not transparent about the terms under which many investments were made, either during Maduro’s rule or that of Hugo Chávez.
There are no official figures about Venezuela’s total debt to China, and in an attempt to show creditworthiness, Maduro told the press that payments were made with oil. However, in the last three years Beijing has exempted Maduro from repaying the loans’ principal, collecting only interests.
According to Alejandro Barahona, a political scientist and international analyst at the University of Costa Rica, the Cuban regime is interested in keeping Maduro in power, since Chavist money has kept the Cuban economy afloat in recent years. In addition, Maduro’s downfall would mean another failure for the Cuban political model in Latin America.
“Cuba’s interest is mainly economic. Cuba literally sold Venezuela its model in exchange for oil, and later for the sale of services in areas such as education, health, military advice, and espionage,” Barahona told Diálogo. “Venezuela also brought Cuba many political gains with multilateral organizations. Undoubtedly, Cuba will do whatever it takes to help Maduro remain in power, because he is its main economic and political support.”
Russia is yet another country backing Maduro. According to Thomas and Barahona, the nation mostly focused on using the decaying Chavist regime for military purposes. The latest proof of Russia’s military interest in Venezuela took place on December 10, 2018, when it sent two Russian Tu-160 supersonic bombers — a military transport and a cargo aircraft — to Venezuela.
“Russia tends to show a stronger political and military influence than China, a country that tries to make more of an impact on the economy. Russia’s intentions are clear: They want a stronger presence in Latin America, and Venezuela is one of their entry points. A change of government would be challenging for them, because no one would be as easy to manipulate and as vulnerable as Maduro in the current situation,” Thomas said.
United States: regional cooperation
Contrary to these three nations, unconcerned about Venezuelans’ well-being, U.S. cooperation in Latin America seeks to reinforce bonds of friendship and have a humanitarian impact on countries of the region, including Venezuela. A recent example is U.S. Southern Command-sponsored humanitarian mission Enduring Promise 2018 aboard U.S. Navy hospital ship USNS Comfort. For 11 weeks, the hospital ship made scheduled stops in Ecuador, Peru, Colombia, and Honduras to provide humanitarian assistance to partner nations’ vulnerable populations and help relieve pressure the increase in Venezuelan cross-border migrants put on national medical systems.
The hospital ship made two stops in the Colombian Caribbean due to the country’s proximity to Venezuela: in Turbo, Antioquia, and Riohacha, La Guajira. Hundreds of military and civil technicians and medics from Colombia, the United States, Argentina, the United Kingdom, and Chile assisted Colombian patients as well as Venezuelan migrants who needed surgery, general medical treatment, preventive medicine, dental examinations, and dermatology and optometry services, among others.
In June 2019, the Comfort will deploy once more to Latin America and the Caribbean to carry out humanitarian aid missions in support of partner nations. The ship will also seek to alleviate the region impacted by the Venezuelan political and economic crisis.
The international community is clear about Venezuela’s situation. Most agree on the importance of Venezuelans’ well-being and hope they can overcome the Chavist-made crisis. China, Cuba, and Russia, however, are interested in keeping Maduro in power, only to improve their economic or military positions. Venezuelans’ political disagreements should not serve a few countries’ interests at the expense of the people’s well-being.