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Why debate on Army deployment in BD polls?

Special Correspondent

Although deployment of the armed forces had been a long practice in parliamentary elections in Bangladesh since 1973, the debate over deploying the military with magisterial power or as a strike force during the upcoming national election has been intensifying as the election period comes closer.
Leaders of the ruling Awami League and opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) have now been at loggerheads over the issue as the next general election gets closer. Major opposition BNP has already threatened to boycott the national polls once again if the election is held under the Premiership of Sheikh Hasina and also without army deployment.
Apart from BNP, various political analysist, civil society members and election observers are also in view of army deployment in our “turbulence-type” national polls as our electoral management is becoming increasingly dependent on the security agencies, mostly on the Ministry of Home Affairs, which by and large would remain under political influence, as was seen in the past.
“If the army can be engaged in hospital management and construction projects, those who oppose the idea could not even come up with a logical explanation as to why should they not be deployed for electoral duties,” they observed.
It is also noted here that our patriotic army personnel have been playing a special role not only for establishing global peace but also for establishing democracy as well as discipline through holding neutral and fair polls in some troubled countries under their abled leadership, which helps Bangladesh Army to earn international recognition.  
During talks with the Election Commission, a large number of journalists and civil society members spoke in favour of deploying armed forces to secure life and property during the polls. However, nothing was said about providing them with magisterial power.
Last year, on October 18, Awami League forwarded an 11-point proposal to the EC. One of the points included the deployment of law enforcement agencies at every constitutional area after the declaration of polls schedule, and that it continue till the date declared by the EC.
The party also proposed the commission to follow the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1898’s sections 129, 130 and 131 in case the need to deploy the army arises.
According to the sections, in case of any unlawful assemblies, the army can only disperse said assemblies in the absence of an executive magistrate at the scene.
On the other hand, on October 15 last year, BNP proposed that the army should be deployed with magisterial powers and the armed forces should be defined as law enforcement agencies according to the Representation of the People Order, 1972.
Apart from BNP, nine other parties participating in the 11th national election including Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), Jatiya Samajtantrik Dal-JSD, Bangladesh Jatiya Party-BJP, Bangladesh Muslim League, Progressive Democratic Party (PDP), Bangladesh Jatiya Party (Matin), Jatiya Samajtantrik Dal (Jagpa), Khelafat Majlish, and Bangladesh Muslim League-BML have all demanded army deployment with magisterial power.
It noted here EC’s field-level officials are also in favour of deploying defence personnel alongside police to give the voters a feeling of security and prevent anomalies during election.

CEC favours army deployment in national polls!
Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) KM Nurul Huda has said the army should be deployed during the upcoming national elections. “I think army should be deployed in the national elections.
“Army personnel were deployed during previous general polls,” he told a discussion on voting rights of expatriates organized by the Election Working Group at CIRDAP auditorium on April 8, 2018.
The CEC said: “But I cannot make the decision alone. We will take the final decision together after holding a meeting with all election commissioners.”
He, however, said, they do not want to deploy troops in local government polls. “So there is no possibility of deploying the army in the local government elections.”
BNP Standing Committee Member Nazrul Islam Khan, who was also present at the event, said: “Our army personnel play a special role in different countries around the world. But they are kept away from the polls in our country.”
He said their party demanded army deployment for the general elections during a dialogue with the commission.
“We have been demanding the deployment of the army from the beginning. But a group does not want to deploy troops,” he said.
Awami League Presidium Member Faruk Khan said: “This is for the Election Commission to take the decision on army deployment in the elections. The government has nothing to do with that.
“Even then some political parties are spreading propaganda by creating confusion over the issue,” he said. Faruk said that the commission had told them during a dialogue the army would be deployed in the next general elections.

EC doesn’t have authority to deploy army in polls, says Quader
Awami League general secretary Obaidul Quader on April 8 said that the Election Commission did not have any authority to call out the army for election duty but could request the government for troop deployment if the law enforcement agencies failed to maintain order during polls.
‘The constitution has specified the responsibilities of the government and the Election Commission,’ he told reporters after attending a meeting of the party’s foreign relations sub-committee at IEB auditorium in Dhaka.
Quader, also minister for road transport and bridges, said that the army would be under the defence ministry during polls time as well when the law enforcement agencies would be under the EC jurisdiction and if the law enforcers failed to maintain order during polls, the commission could request the government to deploy army.
‘If required, they can act as striking force. After assessing the situation, the government would decide whether they (Army) would be given magistracy power or not,’ Quader said.  The minister said that the responsibilities of the government and the EC were stipulated in the constitution. ‘We have no way to go beyond the constitution’, he continued.
Awami League’s second-in-command, Obaidul Quader, said the Bangladesh Constitution does not arm the Election Commission with the authority to deploy troops during the election period.
“As per the constitution, the commission (Election Commission) takes over the day-to-day activities of the law enforcement agencies during election period. Defence forces, however, remains under the control of the Defence Ministry (the prime minister is also the minister of defence). The Election Commission can ask for troop deployment, but they do not have the authority to empower them with magisterial power,” said Quader, also the Roads Transport and Bridges Minister, after an internal party meeting at Dhaka’s Institute of Engineers recently.

Awami League wants troops, but only as a strike force!
According to Awami League leaders, ruling party Awami League leaders want army deployment in the 11th national election, but only as a strike force to contain any outbreaks of violence. The army should not be provided with magisterial power.
Army men are to perform other important tasks. They need not be deployed during polls, as there are law enforcement agencies like police, RAB, BGB, Cost Guard, with sufficient capacity to maintain law and order, they argued.
Several ruling party leaders have said that their party is always in favour of deploying the military during election period, but only as a strike force. The party, however, does not support the idea of authorizing the troops with magisterial power.
BNP wants army to act as any other law enforcement agencies!
Meanwhile, BNP welcomed the EC’s desire to deploy the military during the upcoming national polls. But the leaders of the party have also said deployment without appropriate law enforcement power would not be accepted.
BNP Standing Committee Member Amir Khasru Mahmud Chowdhury told a newspaper that according to BNP’s demands, after deployment, the army should be equipped with the power to tackle any untoward situations in any centre, just like other law enforcement teams.
When asked about giving the army magisterial power, Amir Khasru said that the ruling party is trying to create confusion among people by using the term.
“We do not want army deployment with magisterial power,” he said. “We just want them to work like regular law enforcement agencies to ensure that a fair election is held, and no muscle power is used.
“The army will patrol the election centre area, rather than sit in one place,” continued the standing committee member. “They should have the power to take initiatives on their own, like making the decision to tackle any unanticipated problem. That does not mean they will work like an executive magistrate would.”

Is armed force a law enforcement agency?
Armed forces were included as a law enforcement agency alongside police, armed police, Ansar, Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB) and Coast Guard, in the RPO in 2001 following an ordinance. However, in 2009, they were excluded from the definition of law enforcement agency. According to the current law, the armed forces will stay at camps and can be called out as striking force in emergency cases to assist the civil administration, if the EC wants.

EC finally excludes army in draft RPO!
The Election Commission has, reportedly, finally prepared a draft of Representation of the People Order (RPO) with 34 new amendments, including not putting army in the definition of law-enforcement agencies. The changes are being made ahead of the 11th parliamentary polls slated for this December.
“The EC committee on reforms of electoral laws has made a final draft of the RPO with changes in 34 sections.  The committee will sit in another meeting to finalise the draft RPO, according to EC officials.
Though most  of  the political  parties,  including  BNP,  have  demanded  inclusion  of  army  in  the  definition  of  law- enforcement agencies along with police, RAB, BGB and others, but the EC did not include it in the draft amended RPO due to mysterious reasons.

Why army deployment is vital?
Mainly, there are two reasons why the deployment of armed forces is important – one is to maintain law and order to protect the electorate, especially minority voters, from possible acts of violence. The other is to check civil disobedience to electoral rules and regulations. Besides, the presence of armed forces at polling stations would help boost voters’ confidence and enthusiasm in the election.  Therefore, we demand army be deployed as supplementary force, not as an alternative one.
Armed forces are also viewed by a large section of voters and the public as a neutral institution and they feel confident and safe in their presence.
In this regard, former caretaker government advisor Dr Hossain Zillur Rahman said: “Violence or fear of violence always troubles voters, electoral officials, contestants and their supporters during an election. The armed forces need to be deployed to ensure their safety and security.”
Dr Badiul Alam Majumdar, secretary to Sushasoner Jonno Nagorik, said: “Many voters feel scared and refrain from going to polling stations due to fear of being attacked. They, however, feel safe and can cast their ballots freely in the presence of the armed forces.”
Explaining the necessity of army deployment, he said: “Miscreants are afraid of armed forces and dare not execute their criminal plans or rig elections as long as army personnel are present at the polling stations.”
Badiul Alam, however, added that the army should not be authorised to use the magisterial power; rather, they should perform their duties as they did in the previous elections.
The requirement for deploying the armed forces is connected with electoral security and since the electoral security is one of the important determinants of an acceptable electoral process, the EC must be the one to decide on the issue for the sake of holding much-awaited free, fair and neutral polls in the country.

Comment

Special Correspondent

Although deployment of the armed forces had been a long practice in parliamentary elections in Bangladesh since 1973, the debate over deploying the military with magisterial power or as a strike force during the upcoming national election has been intensifying as the election period comes closer.
Leaders of the ruling Awami League and opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) have now been at loggerheads over the issue as the next general election gets closer. Major opposition BNP has already threatened to boycott the national polls once again if the election is held under the Premiership of Sheikh Hasina and also without army deployment.
Apart from BNP, various political analysist, civil society members and election observers are also in view of army deployment in our “turbulence-type” national polls as our electoral management is becoming increasingly dependent on the security agencies, mostly on the Ministry of Home Affairs, which by and large would remain under political influence, as was seen in the past.
“If the army can be engaged in hospital management and construction projects, those who oppose the idea could not even come up with a logical explanation as to why should they not be deployed for electoral duties,” they observed.
It is also noted here that our patriotic army personnel have been playing a special role not only for establishing global peace but also for establishing democracy as well as discipline through holding neutral and fair polls in some troubled countries under their abled leadership, which helps Bangladesh Army to earn international recognition.  
During talks with the Election Commission, a large number of journalists and civil society members spoke in favour of deploying armed forces to secure life and property during the polls. However, nothing was said about providing them with magisterial power.
Last year, on October 18, Awami League forwarded an 11-point proposal to the EC. One of the points included the deployment of law enforcement agencies at every constitutional area after the declaration of polls schedule, and that it continue till the date declared by the EC.
The party also proposed the commission to follow the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1898’s sections 129, 130 and 131 in case the need to deploy the army arises.
According to the sections, in case of any unlawful assemblies, the army can only disperse said assemblies in the absence of an executive magistrate at the scene.
On the other hand, on October 15 last year, BNP proposed that the army should be deployed with magisterial powers and the armed forces should be defined as law enforcement agencies according to the Representation of the People Order, 1972.
Apart from BNP, nine other parties participating in the 11th national election including Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), Jatiya Samajtantrik Dal-JSD, Bangladesh Jatiya Party-BJP, Bangladesh Muslim League, Progressive Democratic Party (PDP), Bangladesh Jatiya Party (Matin), Jatiya Samajtantrik Dal (Jagpa), Khelafat Majlish, and Bangladesh Muslim League-BML have all demanded army deployment with magisterial power.
It noted here EC’s field-level officials are also in favour of deploying defence personnel alongside police to give the voters a feeling of security and prevent anomalies during election.

CEC favours army deployment in national polls!
Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) KM Nurul Huda has said the army should be deployed during the upcoming national elections. “I think army should be deployed in the national elections.
“Army personnel were deployed during previous general polls,” he told a discussion on voting rights of expatriates organized by the Election Working Group at CIRDAP auditorium on April 8, 2018.
The CEC said: “But I cannot make the decision alone. We will take the final decision together after holding a meeting with all election commissioners.”
He, however, said, they do not want to deploy troops in local government polls. “So there is no possibility of deploying the army in the local government elections.”
BNP Standing Committee Member Nazrul Islam Khan, who was also present at the event, said: “Our army personnel play a special role in different countries around the world. But they are kept away from the polls in our country.”
He said their party demanded army deployment for the general elections during a dialogue with the commission.
“We have been demanding the deployment of the army from the beginning. But a group does not want to deploy troops,” he said.
Awami League Presidium Member Faruk Khan said: “This is for the Election Commission to take the decision on army deployment in the elections. The government has nothing to do with that.
“Even then some political parties are spreading propaganda by creating confusion over the issue,” he said. Faruk said that the commission had told them during a dialogue the army would be deployed in the next general elections.

EC doesn’t have authority to deploy army in polls, says Quader
Awami League general secretary Obaidul Quader on April 8 said that the Election Commission did not have any authority to call out the army for election duty but could request the government for troop deployment if the law enforcement agencies failed to maintain order during polls.
‘The constitution has specified the responsibilities of the government and the Election Commission,’ he told reporters after attending a meeting of the party’s foreign relations sub-committee at IEB auditorium in Dhaka.
Quader, also minister for road transport and bridges, said that the army would be under the defence ministry during polls time as well when the law enforcement agencies would be under the EC jurisdiction and if the law enforcers failed to maintain order during polls, the commission could request the government to deploy army.
‘If required, they can act as striking force. After assessing the situation, the government would decide whether they (Army) would be given magistracy power or not,’ Quader said.  The minister said that the responsibilities of the government and the EC were stipulated in the constitution. ‘We have no way to go beyond the constitution’, he continued.
Awami League’s second-in-command, Obaidul Quader, said the Bangladesh Constitution does not arm the Election Commission with the authority to deploy troops during the election period.
“As per the constitution, the commission (Election Commission) takes over the day-to-day activities of the law enforcement agencies during election period. Defence forces, however, remains under the control of the Defence Ministry (the prime minister is also the minister of defence). The Election Commission can ask for troop deployment, but they do not have the authority to empower them with magisterial power,” said Quader, also the Roads Transport and Bridges Minister, after an internal party meeting at Dhaka’s Institute of Engineers recently.

Awami League wants troops, but only as a strike force!
According to Awami League leaders, ruling party Awami League leaders want army deployment in the 11th national election, but only as a strike force to contain any outbreaks of violence. The army should not be provided with magisterial power.
Army men are to perform other important tasks. They need not be deployed during polls, as there are law enforcement agencies like police, RAB, BGB, Cost Guard, with sufficient capacity to maintain law and order, they argued.
Several ruling party leaders have said that their party is always in favour of deploying the military during election period, but only as a strike force. The party, however, does not support the idea of authorizing the troops with magisterial power.
BNP wants army to act as any other law enforcement agencies!
Meanwhile, BNP welcomed the EC’s desire to deploy the military during the upcoming national polls. But the leaders of the party have also said deployment without appropriate law enforcement power would not be accepted.
BNP Standing Committee Member Amir Khasru Mahmud Chowdhury told a newspaper that according to BNP’s demands, after deployment, the army should be equipped with the power to tackle any untoward situations in any centre, just like other law enforcement teams.
When asked about giving the army magisterial power, Amir Khasru said that the ruling party is trying to create confusion among people by using the term.
“We do not want army deployment with magisterial power,” he said. “We just want them to work like regular law enforcement agencies to ensure that a fair election is held, and no muscle power is used.
“The army will patrol the election centre area, rather than sit in one place,” continued the standing committee member. “They should have the power to take initiatives on their own, like making the decision to tackle any unanticipated problem. That does not mean they will work like an executive magistrate would.”

Is armed force a law enforcement agency?
Armed forces were included as a law enforcement agency alongside police, armed police, Ansar, Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB) and Coast Guard, in the RPO in 2001 following an ordinance. However, in 2009, they were excluded from the definition of law enforcement agency. According to the current law, the armed forces will stay at camps and can be called out as striking force in emergency cases to assist the civil administration, if the EC wants.

EC finally excludes army in draft RPO!
The Election Commission has, reportedly, finally prepared a draft of Representation of the People Order (RPO) with 34 new amendments, including not putting army in the definition of law-enforcement agencies. The changes are being made ahead of the 11th parliamentary polls slated for this December.
“The EC committee on reforms of electoral laws has made a final draft of the RPO with changes in 34 sections.  The committee will sit in another meeting to finalise the draft RPO, according to EC officials.
Though most  of  the political  parties,  including  BNP,  have  demanded  inclusion  of  army  in  the  definition  of  law- enforcement agencies along with police, RAB, BGB and others, but the EC did not include it in the draft amended RPO due to mysterious reasons.

Why army deployment is vital?
Mainly, there are two reasons why the deployment of armed forces is important – one is to maintain law and order to protect the electorate, especially minority voters, from possible acts of violence. The other is to check civil disobedience to electoral rules and regulations. Besides, the presence of armed forces at polling stations would help boost voters’ confidence and enthusiasm in the election.  Therefore, we demand army be deployed as supplementary force, not as an alternative one.
Armed forces are also viewed by a large section of voters and the public as a neutral institution and they feel confident and safe in their presence.
In this regard, former caretaker government advisor Dr Hossain Zillur Rahman said: “Violence or fear of violence always troubles voters, electoral officials, contestants and their supporters during an election. The armed forces need to be deployed to ensure their safety and security.”
Dr Badiul Alam Majumdar, secretary to Sushasoner Jonno Nagorik, said: “Many voters feel scared and refrain from going to polling stations due to fear of being attacked. They, however, feel safe and can cast their ballots freely in the presence of the armed forces.”
Explaining the necessity of army deployment, he said: “Miscreants are afraid of armed forces and dare not execute their criminal plans or rig elections as long as army personnel are present at the polling stations.”
Badiul Alam, however, added that the army should not be authorised to use the magisterial power; rather, they should perform their duties as they did in the previous elections.
The requirement for deploying the armed forces is connected with electoral security and since the electoral security is one of the important determinants of an acceptable electoral process, the EC must be the one to decide on the issue for the sake of holding much-awaited free, fair and neutral polls in the country.


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Where the international front against Venezuela is heading

Mision Verdad

Despite the meeting being hailed as a success, the pro American opposition leader Marco Rubio said no consensus exists as regards Washington’s policy of isolation and asphyxia towards Venezuela.
The 8th America’s Summit was controversial thanks to the many corruption cases involving Latin America’s political classes. Its international impact was lessened by the absence of Donald Trump and another ten or so heads of State. But it still served as a platform to try and shape a series of aggressive measures in the short term against Venezuela with the aim of disrupting the Presidential elections of May 20th.

From Syria to Venezuela via Mike Pence and Antonio Ledezma
Hours before President Trump publicly announced the large-scale attack on Syria, using as an excuse an unverified chemical attack reported to international public opinion by terrorist-linked sources, four Venezuelan opposition leaders, including Antonio Ledezma, David Smolansky, Julio Borgesy Carlos Vecchio, met with US Vice President Mike Pence.
The immediate message of that meeting, just when across the Atlantic the US was preparing its military aggression against Syria, is disturbing because it shows that the Venezuelan opposition openly supports a world power bombing a sovereign country on false evidence and in violation of international law.
This is a sinister precedent since, in Venezuela’s case, not only would these opposition politicians give the same support to a US military attack against their own country but they also argue for it constantly.
During the meeting, Pence promised to ensure US$16 million in “humanitarian aid” for “Venezuelan refugees” in Colombia and Brazil, deliberately omitting that this international legal category does not apply to migrants from Venezuela.
After the meeting, Mike Pence remarked, “We call for more sanctions, more isolation and more diplomatic pressure but also for the rest of the world to recognize that Venezuela is a dictatorship”.
The EFE news agency reported the opposition spokesperson asking that the Presidential elections result of May 20th should not be recognized, for a “humanitarian aid” plan and for tougher financial sanctions.
However, it was Antonio Ledezma, on the run from Venezuela’s justice system, who took this opportunity to extremes so as to set himself apart from the others in the meeting. He demanded from Pence a military intervention in Venezuela, perhaps trying to exploit for his own personal agenda Trump administration’s aggression on every geopolitical front.

Marco Rubio’s maneuvers
The Venezuelan opposition also met with Marco Rubio, someone who has gained an increasingly authoritative voice on US foreign policy towards Venezuela via his position in the Senate.
Intimately linked to the arms and Israeli lobbies in the US Congress, Rubio has had enormous influence promoting sanctions against Venezuela.
While opposition leader Julio Borges was absent from the meeting with Marco Rubio, various opposition legislators travelled for it to the America’s Summit. The absence of Borges suggests the differences he has with Rubio, who supports the far right coalition I Am Venezuela, and his unwillingness to be Rubio’s subordinate.
On the issue of funding under the guise of “humanitarian aid”, the meeting with Rubio, according to the Diario de las Américas, was an extension of the earlier meeting with Mike Pence.
Also on that meeting’s agenda was the issue of US diplomatic support to Venezuela’s National Assembly as a tool of political destabilization, something that coincides with the move by the self-styled “Supreme Court in exile” to open a political trial in violation of Venezuela’s Constitution against President Nicolas Maduro to try and force his removal. But ratification of this sham trial lacks acceptance of the National Assembly, which clarifies Rubio’s role in the move given his support for that currently disqualified institution.
Despite the meeting being hailed as a success, Marco Rubio said no consensus exists as regards Washington’s policy of isolation and asphyxia towards Venezuela. He said, without specifics, that a meeting of the OAS would be convened in May to try and use the authority of the United States in the region to obtain a widespread rejection of the results of the May 20th presidential elections.
For its part, the Lima Group issued a statement demanding “electoral guarantees” from Venezuela’s government for the May 20th Presidential elections, as well as backing the OAS actions to promote a boycott of the elections and foment political and institutional confrontation in Venezuela.
Although Brazil’s foreign Minister Aloysio Nunes met with Venezuelan opposition leaders and signed the Lima Group statement, he confirmed Brazil would not apply sanctions against Venezuela. His dissonant comment complicates the unity of agreement the Lima Group seeks to project.
However, the omissions in the Lima Group’s statement speak for themselves. The sanctions do not appear as a measure to be taken immediately, but neither is there any coercive diplomatic measure, such as the breaking off of relations following the Presidential vote, regardless of its result.
Probably, the Lima Group is trying to moderate the Trump administration’s aggressive tone so as to show at least some degree of independence, knowing full well no regional consensus exists on strangling Venezuela.
One key point, since March this year, Julio Borges has been saying the Lima Group will sanction Venezuela following the Presidential elections, something far from clear in the ad hoc Lima Group’s recent statement.
Another sign of the lack of regional consensus on the US siege agenda against Venezuela has been the number of OAS Permanent Council meetings called over the last two years which have failed to galvanize majority support.
The international front against Venezuela moves in different directions, each piece on the board tries to impose its own agenda while the clock ticks rapidly on towards the Presidential elections.
In that sense, the meetings of Venezuelan opposition leaders at the Americas Summit with high ranking US officials and ambassadors from other countries have not revealed anything new as regards the demands for more pressure on the Venezuelan government.
The governments with most economic and political weight in the region understand that blindly following the made-in-the-USA strategy of total isolation against Venezuela could be counterproductive for their respective countries’ economic interests. Furthermore, it would mean projecting an unhelpful position of stubborn intransigence towards Venezuela when that country is central to the regional political, diplomatic and strategic stance of China, Latin America’s emerging partner with whom no country wants to have bad relations.
Chinese and Russian financial, energy and geopolitical interests in Venezuela are an important deterrent that sets down red lines for outside pressure against Venezuela.
On the other hand, not following the US agenda against Venezuela means being exposed to a series of political and financial retaliatory measures which are likewise undesirable. For that reason, it is likely that the Lima Group means to keep up appearances while also keeping a certain distance from US efforts at boycotting Venezuela with regional support.
This contradiction is precisely what US policy exponents, like Marco Rubio, and in his own way, Mike Pence, want to exploit, along with their vassal subjects on the ground like Antonio Ledezma, the I Am Venezuela coalition, the extinct Popular Will party, factions of the Justice First party and the other residual anti-Chavista remnants.
By fabricating a zero-sum conflict, simulating an epic all or nothing challenge, these US leaders seek to force the region to dance in rhythm with the US government after the May 20th elections. And it is there where realpolitik will finally tell, since it looks as though a mere statement rejecting the Presidential elections will be insufficient without some practical consequence as well.

Comment

Mision Verdad

Despite the meeting being hailed as a success, the pro American opposition leader Marco Rubio said no consensus exists as regards Washington’s policy of isolation and asphyxia towards Venezuela.
The 8th America’s Summit was controversial thanks to the many corruption cases involving Latin America’s political classes. Its international impact was lessened by the absence of Donald Trump and another ten or so heads of State. But it still served as a platform to try and shape a series of aggressive measures in the short term against Venezuela with the aim of disrupting the Presidential elections of May 20th.

From Syria to Venezuela via Mike Pence and Antonio Ledezma
Hours before President Trump publicly announced the large-scale attack on Syria, using as an excuse an unverified chemical attack reported to international public opinion by terrorist-linked sources, four Venezuelan opposition leaders, including Antonio Ledezma, David Smolansky, Julio Borgesy Carlos Vecchio, met with US Vice President Mike Pence.
The immediate message of that meeting, just when across the Atlantic the US was preparing its military aggression against Syria, is disturbing because it shows that the Venezuelan opposition openly supports a world power bombing a sovereign country on false evidence and in violation of international law.
This is a sinister precedent since, in Venezuela’s case, not only would these opposition politicians give the same support to a US military attack against their own country but they also argue for it constantly.
During the meeting, Pence promised to ensure US$16 million in “humanitarian aid” for “Venezuelan refugees” in Colombia and Brazil, deliberately omitting that this international legal category does not apply to migrants from Venezuela.
After the meeting, Mike Pence remarked, “We call for more sanctions, more isolation and more diplomatic pressure but also for the rest of the world to recognize that Venezuela is a dictatorship”.
The EFE news agency reported the opposition spokesperson asking that the Presidential elections result of May 20th should not be recognized, for a “humanitarian aid” plan and for tougher financial sanctions.
However, it was Antonio Ledezma, on the run from Venezuela’s justice system, who took this opportunity to extremes so as to set himself apart from the others in the meeting. He demanded from Pence a military intervention in Venezuela, perhaps trying to exploit for his own personal agenda Trump administration’s aggression on every geopolitical front.

Marco Rubio’s maneuvers
The Venezuelan opposition also met with Marco Rubio, someone who has gained an increasingly authoritative voice on US foreign policy towards Venezuela via his position in the Senate.
Intimately linked to the arms and Israeli lobbies in the US Congress, Rubio has had enormous influence promoting sanctions against Venezuela.
While opposition leader Julio Borges was absent from the meeting with Marco Rubio, various opposition legislators travelled for it to the America’s Summit. The absence of Borges suggests the differences he has with Rubio, who supports the far right coalition I Am Venezuela, and his unwillingness to be Rubio’s subordinate.
On the issue of funding under the guise of “humanitarian aid”, the meeting with Rubio, according to the Diario de las Américas, was an extension of the earlier meeting with Mike Pence.
Also on that meeting’s agenda was the issue of US diplomatic support to Venezuela’s National Assembly as a tool of political destabilization, something that coincides with the move by the self-styled “Supreme Court in exile” to open a political trial in violation of Venezuela’s Constitution against President Nicolas Maduro to try and force his removal. But ratification of this sham trial lacks acceptance of the National Assembly, which clarifies Rubio’s role in the move given his support for that currently disqualified institution.
Despite the meeting being hailed as a success, Marco Rubio said no consensus exists as regards Washington’s policy of isolation and asphyxia towards Venezuela. He said, without specifics, that a meeting of the OAS would be convened in May to try and use the authority of the United States in the region to obtain a widespread rejection of the results of the May 20th presidential elections.
For its part, the Lima Group issued a statement demanding “electoral guarantees” from Venezuela’s government for the May 20th Presidential elections, as well as backing the OAS actions to promote a boycott of the elections and foment political and institutional confrontation in Venezuela.
Although Brazil’s foreign Minister Aloysio Nunes met with Venezuelan opposition leaders and signed the Lima Group statement, he confirmed Brazil would not apply sanctions against Venezuela. His dissonant comment complicates the unity of agreement the Lima Group seeks to project.
However, the omissions in the Lima Group’s statement speak for themselves. The sanctions do not appear as a measure to be taken immediately, but neither is there any coercive diplomatic measure, such as the breaking off of relations following the Presidential vote, regardless of its result.
Probably, the Lima Group is trying to moderate the Trump administration’s aggressive tone so as to show at least some degree of independence, knowing full well no regional consensus exists on strangling Venezuela.
One key point, since March this year, Julio Borges has been saying the Lima Group will sanction Venezuela following the Presidential elections, something far from clear in the ad hoc Lima Group’s recent statement.
Another sign of the lack of regional consensus on the US siege agenda against Venezuela has been the number of OAS Permanent Council meetings called over the last two years which have failed to galvanize majority support.
The international front against Venezuela moves in different directions, each piece on the board tries to impose its own agenda while the clock ticks rapidly on towards the Presidential elections.
In that sense, the meetings of Venezuelan opposition leaders at the Americas Summit with high ranking US officials and ambassadors from other countries have not revealed anything new as regards the demands for more pressure on the Venezuelan government.
The governments with most economic and political weight in the region understand that blindly following the made-in-the-USA strategy of total isolation against Venezuela could be counterproductive for their respective countries’ economic interests. Furthermore, it would mean projecting an unhelpful position of stubborn intransigence towards Venezuela when that country is central to the regional political, diplomatic and strategic stance of China, Latin America’s emerging partner with whom no country wants to have bad relations.
Chinese and Russian financial, energy and geopolitical interests in Venezuela are an important deterrent that sets down red lines for outside pressure against Venezuela.
On the other hand, not following the US agenda against Venezuela means being exposed to a series of political and financial retaliatory measures which are likewise undesirable. For that reason, it is likely that the Lima Group means to keep up appearances while also keeping a certain distance from US efforts at boycotting Venezuela with regional support.
This contradiction is precisely what US policy exponents, like Marco Rubio, and in his own way, Mike Pence, want to exploit, along with their vassal subjects on the ground like Antonio Ledezma, the I Am Venezuela coalition, the extinct Popular Will party, factions of the Justice First party and the other residual anti-Chavista remnants.
By fabricating a zero-sum conflict, simulating an epic all or nothing challenge, these US leaders seek to force the region to dance in rhythm with the US government after the May 20th elections. And it is there where realpolitik will finally tell, since it looks as though a mere statement rejecting the Presidential elections will be insufficient without some practical consequence as well.


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