'Venezuela is low-hanging fruit for US'
RT:In a recent interview you stated that the media is incorrectly portraying Venezuela's economic state, which they say is at the core of the recent protests. What is the situation in Venezuela right now?
Keane Bhatt: I’m glad that you brought that up because if you look at the UN data under the Gini coefficient, which measures income inequality, it clearly demonstrates that Venezuela actually has the lowest income inequality of any country in Latin America. This is just a part and parcel of a broad misconception when it comes to the economic conditions of Venezuela.
There is no doubt that high inflation continues to plague the country and that creates all kinds of problems when it comes to access to basic foodstuffs, you are seeing shortages on many of these goods. But if you look at key indicators like calorie consumption, if you look at per capita GDP, real per capita income, you have increasing living standards for the past decade. There is no question that at this moment there are acute problems when it comes to these kinds of issues around black market, consumer products being scarce and high inflation. But when you look at the broader trends, you actually see that Venezuela over the past decade has enjoyed pretty robust per capita economic growth, declining income inequality and many other kinds of indicators show pretty dramatic increases in the day-to-day life of the average Venezuelan.
RT:What about on an international level, is there a foreign interest in removing President Maduro from power? Would another country gain from that?
KB: Well, there is no question that Venezuela, which sits on the largest proven oil reserves perhaps on the entire planet, is a key target for intervention. The US has demonstrated that in 2002 when it supported a coup d’état against the democratically-elected government of Hugo Chavez. Because of that history and then the subsequent history of the US continuing to support financially and offer training to the opposition groups, many of the actors of which were active participants in that coup, Venezuela has a very strong suspicious kind of a standpoint towards the United States.
So the role that Venezuela has played historically over the past decade-and-a-half of promoting a kind of an independence movement within Latin America, which seeks to extricate itself from US control, particularly economic control in terms of the broad economic policies that have been imposed upon the region. Venezuela is the key piece of the puzzle when it comes to trying to look for governments that may be more amiable for the US.
I think that Venezuela and its opposition are very much incentivized by the US government’s ongoing support for these kinds of efforts. If you look at [US Secretary of State John] Kerry’s most recent statements, unlike the rest of Venezuela’s neighbors, like the group MERCOSUR, which consists of Uruguay, Brazil, Argentina and others, the US has actually been very forceful in terms of its denunciations, whereas the rest of the Venezuelan neighbors have strongly condemned the kinds of activities which seek to overthrow effectively a democratically-elected government.
RT:What has spring these protests if not the economic situation? And will they escalate?
KB: There is no real way to figure out whether they will escalate in the coming days. There was a big outburst earlier today in terms of new energy in protest. The Venezuelan government has recently had a referendum in a sense - the municipal and regional elections which took place in December were convincingly won by the pro-government coalitions and those political parties gained basically a 10-point advantage over the opposition. So that coupled with Maduro's election last year mean that the government still retains a very broad mandate, and the idea that those protests will be effective in terms of the outcomes of trying to force the resignation of Maduro or any of those kinds of objectives seem to be quite futile.
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.