Maduro Worse Than Xi? The Case For Colombia-Venezuela Trade

Troubled as Venezuela may be, it is a major, and needy, market right next door to Colombia. Double standards should not apply, especially when there are national interests at stake.

Oil tanker off the Venezuelan coast
Oil tanker off the Venezuelan coast
Cristina De La Torre


BOGOTÁ — Had they any sense of economic development — or patriotism — Colombian business leaders would be doing everything to help restore our trade relations with Venezuela.

Let's face it: business interests now effectively run the country, and President Iván Duque is their friend and loyal servant. At the same time, Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro is offering Colombian businesses a major opportunity by opening his country's oil industry to foreign capital. U.S. President Donald Trump, meanwhile, is starting to consider a transitional government in Venezuela even as U.S. sanctions prove beneficial to the dictatorial regime that shares the self-perpetuating aspirations of its peers in Russia, China, Cuba and North Korea. The Lima Group, charged with finding a peaceful and democratic solution for Venezuela, is also hovering around on apparent stand-by.

Renewing trade with Venezuela would not reverse the internal liberalization model implemented in Colombia since 1991, which has dealt its fledgling industries a fatal blow but would alleviate the critical state of its trade balance, caused by increased imports and drastically reduced exports. Venezuela was, for decades, our leading trade destination. Now, with its productive apparatus in ruins, it is an open market for Colombia — and it could also explore our market in return. We are tied to our neighbor by history, culture, people, 2,000 kilometers of borders, a natural exchange of merchandise and 1.5 million migrants, half of them Colombians, who have made our economy dynamic.

Relations between countries must follow state interests, not a government's tantrums.

Our model currently substitutes industry and farming with foreign products. It replaces the employment of Colombians with that of people in other countries. It is the non-developmental paradigm that condemns us to exporting primary products like oil, coffee, bananas and flowers, and prevents our leap to producing high-tech goods and manufactures with good wages.

It all began with the sudden drop in tariffs under César Gaviria. Before opening our market, tariffs stood at 30%, in contrast with 5% today. According to the analyst Mauricio Cabrera Galvis, between 1991 and 2018 imports rose in value from 8% to 15.5% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Last year they grew by 9.2%, which is more than double the growth rate of domestic demand and almost three times the GDP growth. This means we are buying more foreign products than our own. Textile and apparel sales have increased by 146% since 2001, yet the national production of clothes has barely increased by 24%, and textile production has fallen 42%.

Maduro greets other leaders at his inauguration in Jan. 2019 — Photo: Office of El Salvador presidency

The Venezuelan market offers an opportunity to increase and diversify exports which, it must be said, would help us resume the path of industrial development. Venezuela could join us on this path, especially if it is a part of efforts to reinvigorate the Andean Group trading bloc as a formula for regional development, reciprocity and integration.

Circumstances change fast, and there is no reason why our relations with Venezuela could not be suddenly reversed. Even Trump is lowering his guard against Maduro after his recent offer to privatize the state oil firm PDVSA. Multinationals could become the majority stakeholders of this emblematic firm, though this investment rests on the condition of ending U.S. sanctions.

The president of the Inter-American Development Bank has invited Colombian businessmen to leave their comfort zone. Will they be so hypocritical as to refuse to deal with Maduro's regime when they strive to gain entry into China? China was awarded the construction of the Bogotá metro. Is Xi Jinping less of a dictator than Maduro? Are Caracas' privatization proposals not just a bid to establish the Chinese model next-door — a mix of market economy and authoritarian government? Relations between countries must follow state interests, not a government's tantrums.

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Why This Sudan Coup Is Different

The military has seized control in one of Africa's largest countries, which until recently had made significant progress towards transitioning to democracy after years of strongman rule. But the people, and international community, may not be willing to turn back.

Smoke rises Monday over the Sudanese capital of Khartoum

Xinhua via ZUMA
David E. Kiwuwa

This week the head of Sudan's Sovereign Council, General Abdel Fattah El Burhan, declared the dissolution of the transitional council, which has been in place since the overthrow of former president Omar el-Bashir in 2019. He also disbanded all the structures that had been set up as part of the transitional roadmap, and decreed a state of emergency.

In essence, he staged a palace coup against the transitional authority he chaired.

The general's actions, which included the arrest of Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, are a culmination of a long period of tension between the civilian and military wings of the council.

A popular uprising may be inevitable

The tensions were punctuated by an alleged attempted coup only weeks earlier. The days leading to the palace coup were marked by street protests for and against the military. Does this mark the end of the transition as envisaged by the protest movement?

Their ability to confront counter revolutionary forces cannot be underestimated.

The popular uprising against Bashir's government was led by the Sudan Professional Association. It ushered in the political transitional union of civilians and the military establishment. The interim arrangement was to lead to a return to civilian rule.

But this cohabitation was tenuous from the start, given the oversized role of the military in the transition. Moreover, the military appeared to be reluctant to see the civilian leadership as an equal partner in shepherding through the transition.

Nevertheless, until recently there had been progress towards creating the institutional architecture for the transition. Despite the challenges and notable tension between the signatories to the accord, it was never evident that the dysfunction was so great as to herald the collapse of the transitional authority.

For now, the transition might be disrupted and in fact temporarily upended. But the lesson from Sudan is never to count the masses out of the equation. Their ability to mobilize and confront counter revolutionary forces cannot be underestimated.

Power sharing

The transitional pact itself had been anchored by eight arduously negotiated protocols. These included regional autonomy, integration of the national army, revenue sharing and repatriation of internal refugees. There was also an agreement to share out positions in national political institutions, such as the legislative and executive branch.

Progress towards these goals was at different stages of implementation. More substantive progress was expected to follow after the end of the transition. This was due in 2022 when the chair of the sovereignty council handed over to a civilian leader. This military intervention is clearly self-serving and an opportunistic power grab.

A promised to civilian rule in July 2023 through national elections.

In November, the rotational chairmanship of the transitional council was to be passed from the military to the civilian wing of the council. That meant the military would cede strong leverage to the civilians. Instead, with the coup afoot, Burhan has announced both a dissolution of the council as well as the dismissal of provincial governors. He has unilaterally promised return to civilian rule in July 2023 through national elections.

Prior to this, the military had been systematically challenging the pre-eminence of the civilian authority. It undermined them and publicly berated them for governmental failures and weaknesses. For the last few months there has been a deliberate attempt to sharply criticize the civilian council as riddled with divisions, incompetent and undermining state stability.

File photo shows Sudan's Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok in August 2020

Mohamed Khidir/Xinhua via ZUMA

Generals in suits

Since the revolution against Bashir's government, the military have fancied themselves as generals in suits. They have continued to wield enough power to almost run a parallel government in tension with the prime minister. This was evident when the military continued to have the say on security and foreign affairs.

For their part, civilian officials concentrated on rejuvenating the economy and mobilizing international support for the transitional council.

This didn't stop the military from accusing the civilian leadership of failing to resuscitate the country's ailing economy. True, the economy has continued to struggle from high inflation, low industrial output and dwindling foreign direct investment. As in all economies, conditions have been exacerbated by the effects of COVID-19.

Sudan's weakened economy is, however, not sufficient reason for the military intervention. Clearly this is merely an excuse.

Demands of the revolution

The success or failure of this coup will rest on a number of factors.

First is the ability of the military to use force. This includes potential violent confrontation with the counter-coup forces. This will dictate the capacity of the military to change the terms of the transition.

Second is whether the military can harness popular public support in the same way that the Guinean or Egyptian militaries did. This appears to be a tall order, given that popular support appears to be far less forthcoming.

The international community's appetite for military coups is wearing thin.

Third, the ability of the Sudanese masses to mobilize against military authorities cannot be overlooked. Massive nationwide street protests and defiance campaigns underpinned by underground organizational capabilities brought down governments in 1964, 1985 and 2019. They could once again present a stern test to the military.

Finally, the international community's appetite for military coups is wearing thin. The ability of the military to overcome pressure from regional and international actors to return to the status quo could be decisive, given the international support needed to prop up the crippled economy.

The Sudanese population may have been growing frustrated with its civilian authority's ability to deliver on the demands of the revolution. But it is also true that another coup to reinstate military rule is not something the protesters believe would address the challenges they were facing.

Sudan has needed and will require compromise and principled political goodwill to realise a difficult transition. This will entail setbacks but undoubtedly military intervention in whatever guise is monumentally counterproductive to the aspirations of the protest movement.


David E. Kiwuwa is Associate Professor of International Studies at University of Nottingham

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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