Venezuela, Simon Bolivar, and US interference in South America


Venezuela is a good example of how the US political-media-business communities unite to overthrow governments that it dislikes, especially when it comes to South America. The Trump administration seems to be laying the groundwork for overt military intervention in Venezuela to complement the US’s long-standing covert efforts at destabilizing that country and supporting coups, actions that were also done by the Obama administration. Readers may recall the coup against Hugo Chavez in 2002 that the US government and the media (with the New York Times being among the worst culprits) and political establishments in the US quickly endorsed, only to find Chavez regaining power. The media quickly assigned that disgraceful episode to the memory hole and it is rarely brought up again, though recent events in that country would surely justify doing so.

Mark Weisbrot discusses what is going on but the key issue is that the US is pushing for regime change – again.

WASHINGTON HAS BEEN trying to topple Venezuela’s government for at least 17 years, but the Trump administration has taken a more openly aggressive tack than its predecessors. Last week, administration officials kicked their efforts into high gear by anointing their chosen successor to Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro Moros in advance of any coup d’etat. The 35-year-old Venezuelan member of Congress Juan Guaidó announced that he was now president, and the Trump administration, along with allied governments, immediately recognized him — in accordance with a previously arranged plan.

It would be a terrible mistake to keep going down this road. Trump’s policies have only worsened the suffering of Venezuelans and made it almost impossible for the country to pull out of its prolonged economic depression and hyperinflation.

Though the government’s economic policies have played a role in Venezuela’s woes, the Trump sanctions have made things considerably worse since August 2017, decimating the oil industry and worsening shortages of medicine that have killed many Venezuelans. The Trump sanctions also make it nearly impossible for the government to take the necessary measures to exit from hyperinflation and depression.

Though the U.S. media is quiet on the matter, it’s important to note that the Trump sanctions are both violently immoral — again, they kill people — and illegal. They are prohibited under the Organization of American States Charter, the United Nations Charter, and other international conventions that the U.S. is party to. The sanctions also violate U.S. law, since the U.S. president must state, absurdly, that Venezuela presents “an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security” of the United States in order to impose these measures.

This week the radio program On The Media had two excellent segments about Venezuela and US military interventions in that region. Both those interviews are well worth listening to.

In one segment, host Bob Garfield spoke to Miguel Tinker Salas, Venezuelan historian and professor at Ponoma College, about the history of the region, its historic figure Simon Bolivar, and what Bolívar might mean in Venezuela today. Bolivar can be considered one of the greatest figures in anti-colonial and anti-slavery struggles.

Bolivar and George Washington admired each other but Bolivar also said that the US “appeared destined to plague Latin America with misery in the name of liberty” which surely must go down as one of the most accurate predictions in political history.

Garfield then spoke to historian Stephen Kinzer about the shameful history of US intervention in Latin America that have subverted almost every single country in the region.

Kinzer lays bare the brutal role that the US has played in the region. Kinzer says that this goes through three phases. The first phase is when the government in that country takes some action that affects the profits of US businesses and they complain to the US government. Phase two is when the US government decides that if a government is bothering a US business, it must be an enemy of the US and so the US intervenes for strategic reasons. The third phase is selling the invasion to the US public and for that the US cooks up some humanitarian excuse. This is necessary to get the liberals on board with what would otherwise be an obviously naked act of imperial aggression. Business, government, and the media all collude in this effort, with the media largely acting as stenographers to the government, acting as a propaganda arm. This is still going on.

He says that Guatemala in 1954 can be viewed as the paradigm, where the US overthrew the only democratic government the country has even known on behalf of the United Fruit Company. The lesson that was drawn by Che Guevara (who observed the coup in Guatemala) was that no social reform could be possible in Latin America under a democratic structure because the US and the CIA would take advantage of the openness of that democratic structure to undermine the reforms and overthrow the governments.

Kinzer also draws a straight line from US actions in 2009 in Honduras under the Obama administration, where Hillary Clinton enthusiastically endorsed the coup there, that resulted in the creation of appalling conditions that has since resulted in large numbers of refugees some of whom form the caravan and who are now being accused of being criminals and invaders.

Now Trump has also brought in Elliot Abrams, one of the worst criminals in Latin America, to deal with Latin America, in addition to neoconservative warmonger John Bolton. So things are not looking good. But don’t expect the media to critically examine the war or intervention rationales. They love wars. It is good for their business.

Comments

  1. says

    “Socialism doesn’t work, look at Venezuela!”

    Well, it your example is a country that has been under constant attack from the US and its allies who freaked out at the possibility of a socialist nation making it work in the western hemisphere in the 21st century…

  2. mnb0 says

    “Venezuela is a good example of how the US political-media-business communities unite to overthrow governments that it dislikes.”
    It’s also a good example of a country with a thoroughly dislikable government -- ask the refugees in Brazil and Colombia. Everybody using Venezuela as a lever to criticize Donald the Clown and co thinks his/her particular ideology more important than the suffering of the Venezuelan people. The country gradually became a hellhole from the moment on that Chavez became president; it already was when the USA imposed sanctions. And no, he was no socialist; Maduro even less so.
    Disclaimer: I’m dead against an American intervention. It might turn the country into another Syria or Iraq, while doing nothing pretty likely will end the Maduro administration this year.

    @Tabby: I’m looking at you. Chavez never had any intention to turn Venezuela into a socialist country. You’re a typical example of an armchair socialist, one who thinks anti-Americanist ideology more important than the facts and the way Chavez made the common Venezuelan (wo)man suffer.

  3. Pierce R. Butler says

    mnb0 @ # 2: The country gradually became a hellhole from the moment on that Chavez became president… no, he was no socialist…

    Compare this assertion to that of Medea Benjamin & Nicolas Davies in Common Dreams:

    … Chavez was well loved by poor and working class Venezuelans for his extraordinary array of social programs that lifted millions out of poverty. Between 1996 and 2010, the level of extreme poverty plummeted from 40% to 7%. The government also substantially improved healthcare and education, cutting infant mortality by half, reducing the malnutrition rate from 21% to 5% of the population and eliminating illiteracy. These changes gave Venezuela the lowest level of inequality in the region, based on its Gini coefficient.

    Sounds somewhat socialist to me…

  4. deepak shetty says

    The lesson that was drawn by Che Guevara (who observed the coup in Guatemala) was that no social reform could be possible in Latin America under a democratic structure because the US and the CIA would take advantage of the openness of that democratic structure to undermine the reforms and overthrow the governments.

    It sounds as if you are endorsing the above view. Is that the case ?

  5. deepak shetty says

    Sure , I wasn’t attributing it to you -- Merely that because you saw fit to quote that portion , the impression I got was that you seemed to either endorse or atleast sympathise with the Guevara’s view (Which I would find odd for you) -- hence the question.

  6. Mano Singham says

    deepak shetty @#7,

    I quoted it because the inference Guevara drew is an important one that requires serious consideration. I think the historical record is clear that the US is implacably opposed to any country that seeks major reforms that are anywhere close to being socialist in nature. In trying to circumvent those reforms they will use every means at their disposal, and with democratic countries they have far more options. I think Guevara was right in his conclusion that the need to protect itself from US subversion was a pre-requisite for any meaningful social and economic reforms. Two countries that the US failed to overthrow, despite massive efforts, were Cuba and Vietnam, both of which chose to go in an authoritarian direction.

    The key question is whether going in an authoritarian direction is the only (or the best) way to prevent such interference. Is it worthwhile for a country to forego at least some democratic institutions in order to protect itself from the US ? That is a huge question but one that only the people of that country can decide.

  7. fentex says

    Mano (@ #8); The key question is whether going in an authoritarian direction is the only (or the best) way to prevent such interference.

    It occurs to me that such action can be considered “war like” -- in so much as; to fight a war all countries have to adopt a certain level of authoritarian behaviour. So, if you need to defend yourself, why not do that anyway (before and aside from the actual warfare) to avoid the death and destruction?

    It’s an interesting thought -- a moral argument for authoritarians over death and destruction.

  8. bmiller says

    Is it possible to be aghast at the history of the United States in South America without falling for the trap that Maduro is a good thing or even a legitimate president. MNBO is right….the place is a basket case. And while part of that is the United States’ nefarious dealings, one cannot deny any agency…or responsibility to the increasingly goonish and corrupt nature of the Bolivarian Republic.

    And much of the discussion here dancing around justification…many tyrannies used very similar logic. Mao. Pol Pot. heck, right wing totalitarians defending their “fatherland” from noxious foreign influences. This is dangerous logic. How different are Maduro’s Bolivarian militias from Red Guards?

    As for the argument that Chavez spent a lot of money to (temporarily) reduce poverty? He did so by taking advantage of a (temporary??) oil price spike. Admittedly, this was better spending than feathering the nests of the traditional elites and American multinationals, but it is amazing how quickly a Bolivarian Vampire Elite arose, isn’t it? No long term plan to educate the populace, to build a stronger economy not based solely on resource extraction. Is this a viable long term plan? Even though the United States certainly gave them a major push, I am skeptical that the festering problems there are wholly our fault. Local agency is still important.

    Note that I am not defending Trump here. But it is interesting how FEW defenders Maduro has?

  9. KG says

    No long term plan to educate the populace, to build a stronger economy not based solely on resource extraction. -- bmiller@10

    Doesn’t eliminating illiteracy count as educating the populace? Chavez made serious errors -- probably the worst being choosing Maduro as his successor -- but building “a stronger economy not based solely on resource extraction” under constant attack both from a hugely powerful neighbour determined to stop you and an internal elite desperate to cling to their privileges, is an extraordinarily difficult task. Most if not all of the Latin American left governments of recent decades have struggled to overcome deeply embedded political habits of “caudillismo” and nest-feathering, as well as the hostility of the USA and its allies, and domestic elites. I don’t think taking the anti-democratic route is the answer, even if it were acceptable from the point of view of human rights -- one-party states almost invariably become deeply corrupt as every chancer sees the party as their meal ticket, and subordinates tell the leadership what they think it wants to hear. Rather, systematic measures to encourage political and economic democracy at a grassroots level, along with abandoning the cult of the “glorious leader” in favour of a collective and replaceable team, and rigorously prosecuting corruption among that leadership (which will arise), are essential -- although even then, one can expect ongoing attempts at sabotage from within and without.