Protest in front of the Bank of England demanding the return of Venezuelan gold. Photo: Twitter
Last week, the British justice system authorized the formal (and illegal) seizure of the Venezuelan state’s gold reserves deposited in the Bank of England. This is one billion dollars in gold bars (31 tons to be exact) that Venezuela was intending to use for the purchase of medical equipment and other urgent supplies in order to strengthen its fight against the Covid-19 pandemic.
Judge Nigel Teare’s ruling, contrary to Venezuela’s interests, was based on the premise that Congressman Juan Guaidó is the “authentic president of Venezuela”, recognized as such by the government of the United Kingdom and a dozen proxy countries of the United States that are pushing a diplomatic and economic war agenda to overthrow the constitutional government of Nicolás Maduro.
“His Majesty’s Government recognizes Guaidó as interim constitutional president of Venezuela and, consequently, does not recognize Maduro as interim constitutional president (sic) of Venezuela,” Teare said at the time of the ruling.
The Central Bank of Venezuela had taken the case to the British courts following the Bank of England’s refusal to release the gold, after exhausting a series of steps that had been taken by the Venezuelan institution since 2018 to obtain control of the bullion.
In this sense, the formalization of the plundering of Venezuela’s resources at the hands of the Bank of England implies an escalation of the economic blockade against the South American country and confirms the subsidiary role of the United Kingdom government in the international campaign of harassment and demolition of Venezuelan institutions.
At the same time, the British justice ruling establishes a grave precedent in international law and directly incriminates Juan Guaidó in the dispossession of the Venezuelan nation’s public patrimony, as he has been requesting that the Bank of England not allow the Central Bank of Venezuela access to the ingots for the past year.
Seen in this light, the deputy of the Voluntad Popular is directly responsible not only for the plundering of the Republic’s assets, but also for the increase in the country’s difficulties in dealing with the pandemic and also in reactivating an economy besieged by the U.S. blockade.
However, for various reasons, the British High Court’s ruling does not conform to legal criteria. It can even be said that the decision to illegally seize Venezuelan gold had been made years ago.
This was demonstrated since 2018, when the current Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, was Foreign Secretary of the United Kingdom during the Conservative administration of Theresa May. Early that year, Johnson said, “We may have to tighten the economic screw on Venezuela”. It was a statement of intent regarding what was to come next.
This statement was made in the context of the Central Bank of Venezuela’s efforts to gain access to gold at the Bank of England. In London, officials from the British institution denied the request several times, according to the Financial Times.
Long before Guaidó proclaimed himself “president” of Venezuela, the Bank of England was determined to illegally withhold the gold, undermining the British High Court’s legal argument to block its release because of Guaidó’s false interim.
In January 2019, when Juan Guaidó leapt into the void and proclaimed himself “president” with the permission of the Trump Administration, the financial press Bloomberg warned that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and then National Security Advisor John Bolton pressured the UK government to cut off Maduro’s access to gold deposited in the Bank of England.
These pressures were confirmed in the recently published book by John Bolton, where he revealed that the UK Foreign Secretary ( at the time it was Jeremy Hunt) offered his cooperation in the campaign for regime change by freezing Venezuelan gold shortly after the self-proclamation of Guaidó.
Days later, Hunt publicly asked the Bank of England to prevent the Venezuelan authorities from accessing the funds. This public demand is due to the fact that since 1997 the British bank has been an autonomous institution in its operation and the executive cannot interfere directly in its decisions.
But pressure from the government played its part and the Bank of England withheld the gold in line with the Foreign Office’s recognition of John Guaidó, a decision that was made official in early February.
Throughout 2019, the Bank of England justified its refusal to release the funds due to U.S. sanctions against the Central Bank of Venezuela. With this argument, the United Kingdom admitted that a foreign country, in this case the United States, exercises its jurisdiction on British territory over its own national laws. Another statement of intent.
This tour of declarations, underground pressures and political agreements with the Trump Administration reveals that the decision of the British justice system is not consistent with any legal criteria. The decision had already been made. Since 2018, efforts have been made to seize Venezuela’s gold as a complementary tool to the economic blockade against the South American country, supported today by the recognition of the imaginary government of Guaidó.
The decision of the British justice was a mockery to formalize the plundering that had already been taking place de facto for two years.
And nothing else could be expected from the United Kingdom. In the 19th century, it underpinned the plundering of the Esequibo territory and was on the verge of intervening militarily in the middle of the federal war in favour of the Venezuelan oligarchy, after the offering made by the ancestors of Leopoldo López and María Corina Machado, Juan José Mendoza and Nicómedes Zuloaga, which consisted of delivering all of Guayana to the British crown in exchange for entering the conflict and destroying Ezequiel Zamora’s army.
At the beginning of the 20th century, the British Navy carried out a naval blockade of Venezuela and bombed its main ports to demand the return of a debt contracted with British companies.
In the beginning of the 20th century, the British navy carried out a naval blockade of Venezuela and bombed its main ports to demand the return of a debt contracted with British companies.
Current decisions seem to have been shaped by this imperial behaviour, which continues to determine UK foreign policy. This is a return to gunboat diplomacy.