Disputed President of Venezuela Nicolás Maduro has had his attempts to pull $1.67 billion ($US1.2 billion) in gold from the Bank of England foiled, according to reports from Bloomberg.
The attempt follows the instalment of opposition leader Juan Guaidó as interim President of the embattled country. Venezuela has seen inflation soar to more than 1 million per cent since the Maduro regime came into power in 2013.
Interim President Guaidó has the backing of the US, UK and Canada, but Maduro has the support of the Venezuelan army, China, Russia, Cuba and Bolivia.
Today, Australia joined the US in backing Guaidó, with foreign affairs minister Marise Payne calling for Venezuela to transition to democracy “as soon as possible”.
And the European Union has also warned it won’t support Maduro’s leadership unless a credible election is called within eight days.
“We want democracy and free elections in Venezuela,” Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said on Saturday.
Now, Bloomberg has reported that UK officials have followed the US’ lead in preventing the Maduro regime from accessing its overseas assets.
The $1.67 billion is a sizeable portion of Venezuela’s $11.14 billion in foreign reserves.
Quoting sources with knowledge of the matter, Bloomberg said US officials are trying to funnel these assets to Guaidó.
Gold is economically significant to Venezuela after former socialist leader Hugo Chavez put much of the South American’s country into the precious metal, largely out of his contempt for the US greenback.
But since the beginning of the Maduro regime, hyperinflation has skyrocketed.
In fact, by the end of last year, prices were doubling every 19 days on average, with the annual inflation rate hitting 1,300,000 per cent in the 12 months to November 2018.
And with food and medicine becoming increasingly out of reach, the infant mortality rate has regressed to levels last seen in the late 1990s.
Most people (64.3 per cent) of Venezuelans said they lost weight in 2017, with a staggering 11.4 kilograms the average amount lost.
The collapse in oil prices at the end of 2014 has also stung the struggling oil-dependent economy. GDP fell nearly 6 per cent the following year.
Naturally, Venezuelans who can are fleeing the country. According to the UN, 3 million people have left Venezuela since 2014, with most seeking new homes in Colombia, Ecuador, Chile and Peru.
The crisis in Venezuela is weighing on already frayed international relations.
Maduro told CNN Turkey last week that the EU should withdraw its ultimatum, describing it as “complete insolence” and a mistake.
“All that is happening is linked to America. They are attacking us and they think Venezuela is their back garden,” he continued.
Russia last week warned foreign nations’ support of Guaidó was a “direct path to bloodshed” and the US has also warned there will be a “significant response” if US officials and diplomats are targeted by Maduro’s supporters.
The civil unrest triggered protests in Venezuela last week which resulted in the deaths of 26 people.
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