Disinfection of neighbourhoods during Coronavirus pandamic in Venezuela. Source: Pikist Disinfection of neighbourhoods during Coronavirus pandamic in Venezuela. Source: Pikist

The decision to deny the return of Venezuela’s $1bn gold deposit is deliberately risking lives in a pandemic for the sake of regime change, argues Sean Ledwith

As if inflicting untold misery on its own population during the pandemic was not enough, the Johnson government is also collaborating with Trump’s callous and cynical bid to use the crisis as cover to topple the Maduro regime in Venezuela. Last week, in line with the policy of the UK government, the High Court in London rejected an attempt by the Chavista regime to reclaim $1 billion of gold reserves that it voluntarily sent to the Bank of England for safe storage. In a verdict that would have brought glee to Johnson and Trump, Judge Nigel Teare explicitly stated the unanimity of the British ruling class on the case: 

“The judiciary and the executive must speak with one voice. There cannot be two Presidents of Venezuela.”

Lives at risk

The Judge handed control of the reserves to Juan Guaido, the pro-Washington stooge who has been seeking to supplant the government of Nicolas Maduro since January last year with a sequence of increasingly desperate plots. Venezuela’s central bank will certainly appeal against the decision but it would be naive for anyone to place any faith in the independence of the UK judicial process in this situation. Sarosh Zaiwalla, the lawyer acting on behalf of the government in Caracas, explained how the verdict could have disastrous consequences for the people of Venezuela:

“Mr. Maduro’s government is in complete control of Venezuela and its administrative institutions, and only it can ensure the distribution of the humanitarian relief and medical supplies needed to combat the coronavirus pandemic. This outcome will now delay matters further, to the detriment of the Venezuelan people whose lives are at risk.”

Venezuela and the virus

Not the least of the injustices associated with this decision is that Venezuela’s record of combatting the pandemic puts to shame the British government’s chronic mishandling of the crisis. Although there is likely to be some under-reporting by the Maduro regime, its fatality total up to June of 30 out of 4000 cases of infection is in stark contrast to Britain’s official 45,000 deaths from 300,000 cases. Venezuela’s resilience in the face of the viral onslaught can partly be explained by the effectiveness of the grassroots welfare network, known as missions, which were put in place by Hugo Chavez, Maduro’s predecessor as President.

The country also diligently followed the World Health Organisation’s advice regarding lockdowns and implementing a testing system-unlike the shambolic responses of the US and UK governments. Staunchly pro-Washington governments in the region such as Brazil and Columbia have been hit harder by the outbreak. Remarkably, the Maduro government has the lowest per capita death rate in the region and also the best test and track system. The High Court decision regarding Venezuela’s gold jeopardises both these achievements.

Biological warfare

Chavista analysts in Caracas even suspect pro-Washington states are planning to use Venezuelan refugees as biological weapons as part of a coordinated attempt to bring down the Maduro regime over the next few months. The imposition of lockdowns in neighbouring Brazil and Columbia has meant thousands of people have been denied employment and are now faced with little choice but to return to their homeland. Maduro has accused Columbia, with Washington’s connivance, of intentionally cramming people onto dirty buses with no social distancing and sending them over the border. This demographic surge could put intolerable pressure on Venezuela’s public health system and jeopardises its attempt to limit the spread of the virus.

Sanctions of death

The Maduro government’s response to the crisis is particularly impressive in light of the devastating economic sanctions imposed on the country by the US since 2017. Last year a report by the Center for Economic and Policy Research concluded that 40 000 people have died in the country in just two years as a direct result of Trump’s restrictions on the availability of food and medicine. The Pope and UN Secretary-General have both appealed in vain to the US to lift the sanctions for the duration of the pandemic. Totally unsupported in terms of international law, the sanctions are part of an explicit agenda of regime change in Caracas according to economist Jeffrey Sacks:

“American sanctions are deliberately aiming to wreck Venezuela’s economy and thereby lead to regime change. It’s a fruitless, heartless, illegal, and failed policy, causing grave harm to the Venezuelan people.”

Washington blackmail

The depravity of the Trump administration was also apparent earlier this year when US representatives put pressure on the IMF to deny the country a $5 billion loan to buy medicines and medical equipment, just as the horrific potential of the pandemic on a global scale was becoming apparent. The IMF made the loan conditional on the removal of Maduro and his replacement by Guaido – the same terms cynically applied by the UK High Court last week. Of course, the Chavistas management of the pandemic also contrasts favourably with Trump’s calamitous handling of the situation in the US which has inflicted the world’s worst death toll on that country, now over 100,000 fatalities.

Keystone Cops

Juan Guaido has no serious claim to be President of Venezuela apart from the self-interested support provided by external powers such as the US, UK, and the EU. These meddling Western states, backed by global corporations and multinationals, clearly have no interest in the welfare of the Venezuelan people and are solely interested in returning the country to the pre-Chavista era when a plutocratic elite rapaciously exploited its vast oil reserves. Twice last year, Guaido launched abortive attempts to overthrow Maduro, and twice he failed due to the resilience of grassroots support for the Chavista regime. Last May there was a third attempt – Operation Gideon – that also ended almost as soon as it began.

Venezuelan government forces intercepted a shadowy US private military organisation known as Silvercorp and led by ex-Trump bodyguard and Green Beret Jordan Goudreau before they could enact their plan to kidnap Maduro and declare Guaido as his successor. One US diplomat sceptically described the coup attempt as ‘Keystone Cops meets Bay of Pigs.’ The seaborne operation left eight mercenaries dead and even alienated other parts of the anti-Chavista opposition. Guaido subsequently tried to deny any knowledge of the plot but probably only because it failed.

April Fool

On April’s Fools Day appropriately, Trump ordered US Southern Command to deploy a major naval force to the Caribbean, ostensibly to obstruct narco-terrorism organised by Caracas. Unfortunately, for Trump his own Drug Enforcement Agency had reported just a few months earlier than 90% of the cocaine that enters the US originates in Colombia and that, to its knowledge, virtually none comes from Venezuela. These inconvenient facts obviously made no difference to Trump’s sabre-rattling that was transparently designed to intimidate the Chavista government using the cloak of a counter-narcotics operation.


Maduro is not blameless for the enduring social and economic problems that beset Venezuela. His regime represents an increasingly dysfunctional symbiosis of the army hierarchy and upper echelons of his PSUV party. He has buckled to the corporate mining lobby by allowing them to exploit the gold deposits in the Arco Minero region of the country. Nevertheless, the repeated failures of Trump’s puppet, Juan Guaido, to unseat the President indicates an awareness by the vast majority of Venezuela’s poor that they would be immeasurably worse-off if a pro-Washington order was restored in the country. A recent opinion poll gave Maduro an astonishing 85% approval rating for his handling of the pandemic. It is safe to assume that Trump and Johnson will not be getting that level of support from their respective voters anytime soon.

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Sean Ledwith

Sean Ledwith is a Counterfire member and Lecturer in History at York College, where he is also UCU branch negotiator. Sean is also a regular contributor to Marx and Philosophy Review of Books and Culture Matters