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Building solidarity in the era of Trump

Here we publish TONY BURKE, chair of the Venezuela Solidarity Campaign’s speech to the organisation’s annual general meeting

THANK you for attending this important event today against Donald Trump’s aggressive agenda in Latin America.

I’m here to make two key points. Firstly, whatever views people hold on Venezuela, there is no justification for backing US-led regime change, which, if successful, could go the way of the disastrous interventions in the Middle East. It is for Venezuelans alone to solve their difficulties.

Secondly, we shouldn’t repeat in Venezuela what happened in Iraq, when an out-of-control US president caused devastation and the widespread loss of life in pursuit of oil.

Developments this year clearly show that Trump wants to get US hands on Venezuela’s oil and is threatening war to this end. We all have a duty to oppose this.

Why might Trump go to war? Because Venezuela has the world’s largest proven reserves and Trump’s former national security adviser John Bolton told Fox News that “it will make a big difference to the United States economically if we could have American oil companies invest in and produce the oil capabilities in Venezuela.”

Juan Guaido, the Venezuelan right-wing opposition leader recognised as the country’s president by the US, has outlined steps for a greater private role in the oil industry, offering it up to US multinationals.

Trump has repeatedly said all options — including military options — are on the table. Members of his administration have even invoked the possibility of a military coup.

For these reasons, it is particularly concerning that Trump’s special envoy for Venezuela is Elliott Abrams. The Observer described Abrams as a “crucial figure” in the US-backed 2002 military coup against Hugo Chavez. Abrams previously played a central role in Reagan’s “dirty wars” and death squads in Central America in the 1980s that left hundreds of thousands dead.

Linked to this, we should be clear that the reality of US sanctions on Venezuela is that they are aimed at regime change, not improving people’s lives.

That’s why it was absolutely right for Jeremy Corbyn to oppose further sanctions on Venezuela.

Can I also say I think it was unwise of the shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry to include Nicolas Maduro in a list of right-wing political leaders with Trump, Jair Bolsonaro, Recep Tayyip Erdogan and others at this year’s Labour Party conference.

We in the trade union and labour movement should be clear that US sanctions will worsen humanitarian conditions and should be opposed by all who care about human rights. The most vulnerable Venezuelans will be hit hardest by US sanctions.

On January 31 the UN issued a press release titled “Independent UN rights expert calls for compassion, not sanctions on Venezuela.” In it the special rapporteur said, “Sanctions which can lead to starvation and medical shortages are not the answer to the crisis in Venezuela.”

The US this year has also introduced, in effect, an oil embargo on Venezuela, part of moves which are seeing Venezuela under blockade in a way more and more like Cuba.

As well as the possibility of an illegal war on Venezuela, Trump is also tightening the blockade on Cuba, introducing sanctions on Nicaragua, backing up the far-right Bolsonaro in Brazil, and now even threatening Bolivia’s socialist President Evo Morales — let’s unite against these threats and in support of self-determination in Latin America and around the world.

Tony Burke is chair of the Venezuela Solidarity Campaign and an assistant general secretary at Unite.

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