Venezuela’s focus is far from home

Why is Caracas so concerned about the Western Sahara, at this particular time?

Paramedics assist a man injured during clashes with security forces during protests asking for the resignation of president Nicolas Maduro in Caracas, Venezuela. Ariana Cubillos / AP Photo
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For three weeks, Venezuela has been gripped by mass protests. Tens of thousands have taken to the streets calling for the resignation of president Nicolas Maduro. In this political crisis there has been violence on the streets, businesses have been looted and the government has ground to a halt. One would think, then, in the midst of the most serious political crisis Mr Maduro has faced, that his government would be focused on the task at hand – or, rather, the protesters outside his door. And yet his diplomats were picking an unnecessary fight with a country a whole ocean away.

Some background is required. For some time, the government of Venezuela and the government of Morocco have been engaged in a spat over the Western Sahara, a disputed piece of territory that Morocco currently administers and which it claims as its own.In the past, the two governments have clashed over who could legitimately speak for the Sahrawis, the people who live in the Western Sahara. Venezuela maintains that only the Polisario, a rebel group that wants a state in Western Sahara, can be the legitimate voice of the people there.

Morocco disagrees and points out that there is a diversity of opinions among Sahrawis, and that the Polisario position, which is in favour of hard-line separation, should not be the only one that is heard at the United Nations. Subsequently, Venezuela has continued to raise the issue at the United Nations.

This is puzzling. Leave aside the current woes of the Maduro government and it is still unclear why Venezuela wants to insert itself into this particular debate.

The whole saga is ridiculous. Here is a Latin American country in the midst of mass social upheaval getting involved in a territorial dispute across the ocean. Small wonder Venezuelans say Mr Maduro is out of touch. Frankly, his government has enough to do worrying about where Venezuelans are – in Caracas, near the presidential palace – without worrying where the Moroccans are.