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THE possibility of military intervention against Venezuela is looming large following a threat made by US President Donald Trump in early August.
Answering questions from reporters, he said: “We have many options for Venezuela, including a possible military option if necessary.”
This ramping up of pressure has been widely condemned by countries across Latin America, many of which have directly suffered from past US intervention.
Trump’s warning followed the imposition of sanctions directly on Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro. Sanctions against the country were extended in July and also levied against the Venezuelan vice president in February.
The sanctions are invoked under an US executive order that deems the situation in Venezuela as “a national emergency with respect to the unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States.”
Further economic pressure has since been applied by the Trump administration, restricting Venezuela’s financial dealings with US institutions. This is likely to make matters worse in a country already struggling to deal with the global collapse in oil prices.
The sanctions explicitly prohibit new borrowing, which makes restructuring of debt difficult to impossible. In early November, the Trump administration warned off US bondholders from engaging in discussions with Venezuela about a debt restructure. The penalties for businesses doing so under the sanctions are 30 years in prison and up to $10 million in fines.
The Trump administration also targeted 10 more Venezuelan officials with sanctions in November, including electoral officials and the head of the government’s main food distribution programme.
It is evident from statements and actions by politicians close to Trump and senior US government officials that the real aim of sanctions is to bring down Maduro’s democratically elected government
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has made clear his wish for “regime change,” with CIA chief Mike Pompeo admitting that it is working in this direction.
US Vice President Mike Pence has also visited Latin America with a view to forging a continental alliance of Latin American right-wing governments aimed at isolating Venezuela and building support for toppling Maduro.
However, Trump’s direct threat of military intervention may make that objective harder to achieve. The response by Latin American governments from across the political spectrum has been to reject the threat or use of force against Venezuela.
Ecuador, for example, said “it rejects any threat of possible military intrusion into [Venezuela’s] territory,” while Bolivia stated: “We condemn US armed intervention against Venezuela, a country that seeks peace in a constitutional dialogue and regional elections.”
Similar condemnations have been issued by Brazil and Chile. Even Colombia and Mexico, countries that the US would anticipate siding with it, have stated their opposition to external military action in favour of dialogue and peaceful solutions.
These rejections are founded on an acute awareness of the destructive effects of a long history of US military intervention in the region.
For example, up to 1926, the US had intervened militarily on seven occasions in Nicaragua and five in neighbouring Honduras.
The last invasion of Cuba occurred in 1961 when a US-backed force of counter-revolutionaries was defeated at the Bay of Pigs.
Other direct US military interventions have occurred in the Dominican Republic in 1965, Grenada in 1983 and Panama in 1989.
Besides these stark examples of direct US military interventions, many more instances have been documented of US covert interference in the region.
To protect its interests and influence, the US has underpinned right-wing dictatorships and governments and aided right-wing opposition forces to overthrow progressive governments.
The destabilisation of Salvador Allende’s socialist government in Chile in 1973 and its replacement by General Pinochet’s dictatorship provide a prime example of the latter.
From 1999 onwards, left-leaning candidates have won presidential elections in nine countries, including Venezuela. Tens of thousands of US diplomatic missions’ cables released by WikiLeaks reveal the US government’s drive to roll back this anti-neoliberal tide through a variety of covert intervention methods.
Assisted by these US efforts, powerful, organised and well-financed right-wing forces have had some successes in destabilising several progressive governments across Latin America.
In Argentina, for example, neoliberal Mauricio Macri’s close election victory benefited from years of destabilisation and media misrepresentation of Cristina Fernandez’s government.
In Brazil, the right wing, supported by the wealthy elite, has engineered the impeachment of democratically elected president Dilma Rousseff on the flimsy grounds of budget manipulation.
Ironically, many members of Michel Temer’s new right-wing government are themselves under investigation for serious corruption charges.
The neoliberal counter-reforms of both these right-wing governments have closed down, abolished or drastically reduced social programmes, affecting millions of people.
Implementing these reactionary policies in the face of mass resistance from trade unions, social movements and others has led both Brazil and Argentina’s right-wing governments to create highly repressive and undemocratic political environments.
Venezuela is squarely in the front line of this reaction against social progress. Encouraged and funded by the US, right-wing forces have waged an economic campaign reminiscent of Chile’s destabilisation in the 1970s.
As oil prices have tumbled, this “economic war” has attacked the poorest in society through artificially created shortages, price speculation and black marketeering in basic necessities. The resulting hardship is blamed on the government.
A campaign of violent right-wing opposition demonstrations and political assassinations of socialist politicians throughout spring and summer this year sought to create a climate of fear, while painting a picture of the government as a dictatorship for the mainstream media.
But the successful elections to a National Constituent Assembly in July, on a large turnout — 42 per cent of registered voters, even with the opposition boycott — indicated that this strategy was not working inside Venezuela, although it continues to carry weight outside the country.
The further success of the governing United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) in regional elections in October, winning 18 out of 23 governorships with 54 per cent of the vote, was another blow to the right-wing opposition’s hopes.
A factor in the opposition’s weak performance was their support for the Trump sanctions. According to polling company Datanalisis, Venezuelans opposed the sanctions by a margin of 61.4 per cent to 28.5 per cent; with more than 70 per cent of unaligned voters opposed. Polling also recorded that 69 per cent wanted the opposition and government to re-engage in talks.
Dialogue with the opposition is what Maduro has consistently advocated as the best way to tackle the nation’s problems. His meeting with four of the five recently elected opposition governors is a positive step.
However, the European Union, having at first declined Trump’s invitation to join the US in imposing sanctions of its own on Venezuela, has recently decided to do so.
In addition to an arms embargo, it may later target sanctions on security forces, government ministers and institutions accused of not respecting human rights, democratic principles or the rule of law.
But some EU governments are reported as wanting to give former Spanish prime minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, the main EU envoy for Venezuela, another chance to broker a dialogue between the Venezuelan government and the opposition.
The latest position is that the Venezuelan government and the Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD) opposition coalition have both confirmed that they will reinitiate previously discontinued talks on December 1 in the Dominican Republic.
Governments internationally, including Britain and the EU, should do all they can to facilitate and support the dialogue process, and oppose any external intervention threatening Venezuela’s national sovereignty and the social and political gains made since 1999.
Hear more about Trump, Venezuela and Latin America at the Latin America 2017 Conference on Saturday, December 2 at Congress House, with speakers including Chris Williamson MP, Kevin Courtney of the NEU, Ken Loach, Venezuelan Ambassador Rocio Maniero and Egle Sanchez of the Venezuelan TUC. Register and find more information at latinamerica2017.org.uk.
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