“Pressure must be maintained to demand that the gold is returned to Venezuela and that the US’s illegal sanctions – supported by Britain – are lifted.”
By Tim Young, Venezuela Solidarity Campaign.
In the latest stage of a long-running legal battle between the elected Venezuelan government and the self-declared “interim president” – and failed right-wing coup leader – Juan Guaidó, the Supreme Court recently ruled that the British government unequivocally recognises him as head of state, paving the way for him to gain control of the £1.3bn gold reserves held by the Bank of England.
The Venezuelan government has long stored gold reserves with the Bank of England. Its battle to reclaim its deposit of 31 tonnes of gold from the Bank’s vaults began back in 2018. At the time, the Trump administration was using all means at its disposal to cut the Venezuelan government off from its overseas assets, as part of its drive to achieve ‘regime change’ in the country.
Since then, the Bank has consistently refused to transfer the gold back to the elected government in Caracas, claiming this would infringe the US government’s sanctions against Venezuela, which have impacted heavily on the poorest and most vulnerable Venezuelan citizens.
The Bank’s stance hardened after January 2019 when Guaidó, the then-President of the National Assembly, declared himself “interim president” in a coup against President Maduro. The United States, followed by a number of other countries, rushed to offer support, despite there being no merit to his claim.
This included Britain, with Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt declaring on February 4 that the UK recognised Guaidó “as the constitutional interim President of Venezuela, until credible presidential elections can be held”.
On the basis of that recognition and a further supporting statement from the Foreign Office, the Supreme Court’s judgement accepted that Guaidó is the head of the Venezuelan state and therefore legally entitled to appoint the board of the Central Bank of Venezuela (BCV).
There is one more legal hurdle for Guaidó to clear before he can gain control of the gold reserves. His ad hoc BCV board was appointed through a ‘transition statute’ passed by the Venezuelan National Assembly, but the Venezuelan Supreme Tribunal of Justice (STJ) has declared that the transition statute is null and void and the board appointments unconstitutional.
The Supreme Court has therefore sent the case back to the Commercial Court to determine whether the Guaidó board has any legal standing.
The ruling is a blow for the Maduro government which had hoped to recover the gold and use the assets to help meet the costs of the COVID-19 pandemic and buy much-needed supplies of food and medicines.
Lawyers for the Maduro Board have said it remains the only “validly appointed authority” to oversee the BCV’s foreign assets and that the Supreme Court’s recognition of Guaidó “flies in the face of the reality on the ground.”
As Ken Livingstone, former Mayor of London, said in the early days of this protracted battle: “It’s long past time we joined countless other states in recognising that respect for sovereignty is the way forward, not continuing to pretend that someone else is in charge.”
The pretence is becoming harder to sustain. Internationally, support for Guaidó has been steadily draining away. Following the December 2020 elections to the Venezuelan National Assembly, which Guaidó did not contest, the EU’s 27 states said in January 2021 that they could no longer legally recognise him after he lost his position as president of the outgoing assembly.
And in December 2021 the UN General Assembly voted overwhelmingly to confirm the credentials of Venezuelan diplomats representing the government of President Maduro and the Venezuelan government. More than 170 countries voted in favour of the confirmation or abstained, with only the United States and 15 other countries, including the UK, voting against.
This international picture reflects how Guaidó’s standing has spiralled downwards in Venezuela over the past year or so. He has become increasingly tainted by involvement in corruption (exposed in 2019 by Panampost and in 2021 by the Washington Post), association with drug traffickers, coup plots against the elected government and even plans to assassinate President Maduro.
Given Guaidó’s position of electoral boycotts (which had previously left the opposition irrelevant), the right-wing opposition’s participation (fragmented into two camps) in the regional elections in 2021 has further undermined him. Even if he were to win the last leg in the legal battle in the British courts, it is an open question as to how much longer the US will see him as a useful tool to achieve regime change in Venezuela.
Pressure must be maintained to demand that the gold is returned to Venezuela and that the US’s illegal sanctions – supported by Britain – are lifted.
- Online event Thursday 20 January, 6.30pm: “End British Theft of Venezuela’s Gold”… with speakers Félix Plasencia, Venezuelan Foreign Minister, Francisco Dominguez (VSC), Teri Mattson (CODEPINK US), Luke Daniels (Caribbean Labour Solidarity). Baroness Christine Blower (Labour Friends of Progressive Latin America) and Ben Chacko (Morning Star); plus an update on the free Alex Saab campaign from Suzie Gilbert. Register at bit.ly/givebackthegold
- Tim Young is an activist with the Venezuela Solidarity Campaign (VSC), follow the VSC on twitter and Facebook.
- Join a wide spectrum of countries, organisations & prominent figures in calling for the US to end illegal sanctions http://bit.ly/stopvenezuelasanctions