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The recent political developments in Venezuela had ramifications in Nepal, a country situated far away on the other side of the hemisphere. As the political tussle between the Venezuelan government and the opposition has flared wide open, major powers have been divided, with some supporting the Nicolas Maduro regime and others Juan Guaido, the self-proclaimed president.
The de facto recognition of Guaido by a host of countries led by the United States has triggered a wave of support for him whereas rivals of the US, including China, Russia and Iran, have declared their support for Maduro. In the midst of this power politics game, one might be curious to know how a small state like Nepal’s involvement in the Venezuelan crisis made headlines.
Nepal and Venezuela have hardly anything in common. However, the strongly worded statement issued in support of Maduro by chairman of the Nepal Communist Party (NCP) and former prime minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal (also known as Prachanda), in which he accused the US of infringing on the internal affairs of Venezuela by carrying out an imperialist coup against Maduro, caught several national and international actors by surprise . Although it is understandable that the ruling NCP might have an ideological affinity for the socialist regime of Maduro, such an explicit rant from a responsible leader was highly unexpected. Adding to the mystery surrounding the declaration was the fact that the statement was released during the absence of the other chairman of the party, Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli, who was in Davos for the World Economic Forum.
The US took serious exception to Prachanda’s statement and expressed its displeasure through diplomatic channels, which put pressure on the government of Nepal to clarify its stance on the matter. The US is the second country with which Nepal established diplomatic relations more than 70 years ago. A few days after Oli returned to Nepal, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA) released a statement on Venezuela stressing the need to resolve internal political issues without any external interference and urging for resolution of the political crisis through peaceful means.
The US took serious exception to Prachanda’s statement and expressed its displeasure through diplomatic channels, which put pressure on the government of Nepal to clarify its stance on the matter
Although the language of the government’s statement was diplomatic, it more or less conveyed the essence of the first statement, irking the US further. Reportedly, the US State Department summoned Nepal’s ambassador, Dr Arjun Kumar Karki, to express displeasure over the issue while US ambassador to Nepal Randy Berry was conspicuous by his absence at a diplomatic briefing event presided over by Foreign Minister Pradeep Kumar Gyawali in the presence of Oli. In spite of criticism of the statements issued by Prachanda and the MoFA from many quarters accusing them of being diplomatically immature, the ruling NCP again issued a statement stressing the need for external non-interference in the internal matters of a country.
Opinion has been divided in Nepal over the handling of the Venezuelan issue by the ruling party and government. Many have argued that there was absolutely no reason for either the party or government to speak on the issue as Nepal has hardly any dealings with Venezuela. Such views were accentuated further by reasoning that it was a foolish move to antagonize the US, which has been one of the biggest development partners of Nepal. The main opposition party, Nepali Congress, criticized the ruling party and the government for its immature diplomatic conduct and cautioned that relations with the US should not be jeopardized.
Contradictory views from Oli and Prachanda started surfacing after Berry met with the former. While Oli stated that Prachanda had slipped in issuing the statement in haste, the former prime minister stuck by his earlier statement and retorted by claiming that the party’s later statement on the matter was official and final.
From the perspective of international relations, the South American crisis can at best be described as the geopolitics of oil whereas it can be viewed through the lens of domestic Venezuelan politics as the struggle for democracy versus continuation of Chavismo. There is little doubt the US has interests in the huge oil reserves of Venezuela. China and Russia have been steadfast supporters of Maduro. Trying to remove him by force might not be the best option for the US as Russia will definitely counter such a move. Venezuela could well become another “Cuba” for US-Russia relations, a development that needs to be avoided for the sake of all concerned.
What prompted Prachanda to issue such a harsh statement is anybody’s guess, but ideology was probably the main driver. As far as the government of Nepal is concerned, it should stick with the established guiding principles of its foreign policy and not get involved in issues that may not be of primary concern to it. Nepal is moving in the path of political stability after decades of upheavals. Nepal seeks continued US support to achieve its development goals. Nepal-US relations have come a long way and it should in no way be affected by a single untoward incident. This episode should not be allowed to create ripples in the domestic politics of Nepal. As far as Venezuela is concerned, it is ultimately for its own people to decide their fate.