Caracas – The political battle for control of Venezuela is now focused on a reserve of $ 1.8 billion gold bars deposited in a Bank of England chamber in London, where a judge is expected to decide soon who has the right to claim them.
Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro says he needs gold to help the country, short of cash, fight the coronavirus pandemic. But Britain’s central bank, whose government recognizes opposition Juan Guaidó as the nation’s legitimate leader, has refused to hand him over to the current government.
A ruling by Judge Nigel Teare, which could occur in the coming days, could help clarify the question of who is the country’s legitimate leader, at least in the eyes of a world power, experts say.
“If Maduro is able to get this money, this weakens a significant tool that the British government has to implement its recognition of Guaidó,” said Michael Camilleri, an expert in Venezuela from the Washington Center for Inter-American Dialogue. “This undermines the strength of that policy.”
The dispute revolves around the British position towards Venezuela, a country immersed in a political and economic crisis and where both Maduro and Guaidó have claimed presidential powers for more than a year.
Britain acknowledges the claim of Guaidó, who presides over the Venezuelan National Assembly, as does the United States and around five dozen other governments. Guaidó proclaimed herself interim president in early 2019, months after Maduro declared her victory in an election that critics said was rigged in her favor.
British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt recognized Guaidó as interim constitutional president, and the opposition leader met with Prime Minister Boris Johnson during a tour of Europe earlier this year.
Despite its support for Guaidó, Britain maintains diplomatic ties to the Maduro government: London recognizes Maduro’s ambassador, Rocío Maneiro, and has control of the Venezuelan embassy in the capital, while the British ambassador, Andrew Soper , still in Caracas.
On the other hand, the British authorities did not grant diplomatic credentials to the envoy that Guaidó appointed ambassador to Great Britain.
Although Guaidó initially launched his campaign to topple Maduro with thousands of euphoric supporters taking to the streets across the country, the president has maintained control over most branches of government, including the military. however, it has been dissipating.
Leigh Crestohl, a lawyer representing the government of the Central Bank of Venezuela appointed by Maduro, said that the Venezuelan leader clearly has control of the nation, which gives him the right to take gold.
“If a government has de facto control of a territory and is recognized for maintaining full and normal diplomatic relations, this should be treated as formal recognition,” Crestohl said in a statement. “In our case, the law is clear.” .
Guaidó is urging the London court to order the Bank of England to retain the gold and not turn it over to the Maduro executive, who he claims is illegitimate and corrupt. In a recent four-day hearing on the case, his attorneys reiterated that the leader of the National Assembly became the nation’s legitimate leader based on the provisions of the Constitution. The lawyers dismissed as irrelevant the continuity of diplomatic ties between London and Maduro.
Venezuela was once one of the richest countries in Latin America, located on the largest oil reserves in the world. Critics of the Maduro government blame corruption and mismanagement for the destruction of the oil industry and the economy.
Maduro blames the nation’s ills for what he calls a US-led trade war, and accuses Washington of imposing crippling sanctions in an attempt to seize control of Venezuela by blocking its ability to sell oil. The leader has international support from countries like China, Russia, Cuba, Iran and Turkey.
Maduro wants much of the Venezuelan gold stored at the Bank of England. She had already asked to access the reserves before the coronavirus appeared, and recently renewed her request noting that her government would channel the money obtained from the sale through a United Nations arm only to combat the pandemic in the nation.
According to Camilleri, the analyst in Washington, there is widespread skepticism about Maduro’s alleged plan to use gold.
“Maduro was trying to get that money for himself before coming back with the new claim that it was to alleviate COVID-19,” he said.