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    Despite Venezuela’s growing isolation, key allies hang on

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    MADRID: Nicolas Maduro’s government in Venezuela is increasingly isolated but it still counts powerful support from countries such as Russia and China that can block or delay punitive action from the likes of the United Nations, analysts say.

    As the economic and political situation deteriorates in the Latin American country, with close to 130 people killed in anti-regime protests, international condemnation of the leftist government of Caracas has increased, with the United States slapping Maduro himself with direct sanctions.

    This week, the UN rights office slammed it for using “excessive force” against protesters and a dozen American nations, including Brazil, Mexico, Argentina and Canada, issued a joint statement condemning “the break in democratic rule” in the country.

    Nevertheless, Maduro still has varying degrees of support around the world, from both an ideological and financial standpoint.

    China, Russia key allies

    “In almost all cases, support for Venezuela is strategic,” says Michael Shifter of the US-based Inter-American Dialogue research center.

    “China is looking to protect long-term access to Venezuela’s oil reserves, small countries in the Caribbean and Central America are hedging their bets and avoiding the messiness of confrontation.”

    Venezuela has the support of both China and Russia, two countries traditionally opposed to international sanctions that hold all-powerful vetos in the UN Security Council.

    They have invested heavily in the country’s oil sector, and when the United States banned the sale and transfer of North American weapons and military technology to Venezuela in 2006, Caracas turned to Russia and China instead.

    Moscow, which considers Caracas a “key strategic partner”, has criticized the Venezuelan opposition for “disrupting” recent elections for a constituent assembly — known in Spanish as the Constituyente — that will rewrite the constitution.

    The opposition has criticized the assembly, filled with Maduro loyalists, as a power grab and attempt to install a “communist dictatorship.”

    But according to Anna Ayuso, a researcher focused on Latin America at the Barcelona-based CIDOB thinktank, “the key support is that of China, which has invested more than $60 billion and has given loans in exchange for oil and mining concession.”

    “Maduro is the one guaranteeing its investments.”

    Another ally is Iran, which has shown support for the new assembly, even if ties are not as strong as they once were under former Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez.

    No EU sanctions

    In Latin America itself, “Cuba, Bolivia and Nicaragua close ranks with Maduro” as they share his leftist ideology as well as fierce anti-imperialist feelings towards the United States, Anna Ayuso said.

    Paul Hare, a former British ambassador in Cuba and professor at Boston University, said other regional allies also “find it difficult to break with the Chavez legacy which gave them” cut-rate crude as part of the Petrocaribe 17-nation club.

    He adds that the Organization of American States, where all 34 member states have a vote, has been incapable of adopting measures to try and solve the crisis as Venezuela has rejected them as meddling.

    The European Union, meanwhile, announced its 28 member states would not recognize the Constituyente after a meeting in Brussels where participants nevertheless avoided debating the issue of slapping “targeted” sanctions against those deemed responsible for the crisis in Venezuela.

    Carlos Malamud, of Madrid’s Real Instituto Elcano thinktank, said those “most against imposing sanctions are Portugal and Greece.”

    Both governments have denied this.

    Portugal’s foreign minister said recently his country always defines its position based on “what is more beneficial and what is more harmful” to the 500,000 Portuguese living in Venezuela.

    Greece, whose ruling, far-left party Syriza has supported Venezuela’s government in the past, has yet to make public its position.

    Analysts say that whether or not support for Maduro continues will depend on the evolution of the crisis.
    “It’s entirely conceivable that, if the Constituyente generates further chaos and repression, the Maduro government could lose even more friends,” says Shifter.

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