Last year in our final report on 2018, we closed with this warning: “one of the things we must all look out for then are the prospects of a new war in 2019, with those at greatest risk being Iran and Venezuela”. Opening the new year and marking the 60th anniversary of the Cuban Revolution, Cuban President Raul Castro condemned the Trump administration for following an outdated path of confrontation and intervention in Latin America. Cuba, along with Venezuela and Nicaragua, continue to be the targets of ongoing sanctions and destabilization. Events would quickly prove Castro correct, yet again. In fact, throughout 2018 the Trump administration ramped up not just its rhetoric but also its policy of active destablilization of Venezuela, making little of what is now happening a shocking surprise.
New Year, Old Policy
We should note that the new year also opened with President Trump congratulating the new president of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro: “Congratulations to President @JairBolsonaro who just made a great inauguration speech – the U.S.A. is with you!” Bolsonaro’s new government quickly went about forging closer ties to the US. Brazil’s new Foreign Minister Ernesto Araujo, was picked by Bolsonaro “for his admiration of Trump’s conservative nationalism”—but it wasn’t “nationalism” that would cement their relationship. Almost immediately Bolsonaro sat down with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to discuss ways of countering Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua. Without any awareness of their hypocrisy, they discussed “restoring human rights” in those three countries—when Bolsonaro himself has lashed out at the “distortions of human rights” in his own country. Bolsonaro, himself a fan of military dictatorship, has a problem with “authoritarian” regimes—but only when they are not his own, and only when they serve mass interests. Bolsonaro will be relying heavily on US support—hardly any states sent representatives to his inauguration, including the governments of the other two Latin American giants, Mexico and Argentina. Meanwhile Nicolas Maduro was inaugurated on January 10, after winning the majority of votes in recent presidential elections (which the US opposed, likely anticipating his victory at the polls). Maduro was also denied recognition by the Organization of American States, in a resolution backed by 19 countries, but with 6 opposed and 8 abstaining.
In what Venezuela’s foreign minister appropriately observed was a “display of humiliating subordination,” Canada and several Latin American states refused to recognize the legitimacy of the Nicolás Maduro retaining the presidency after recent elections. Participating in their meeting was none other than US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Vice President Mike Pence, in a continuation of old US policies of regime change and destabilization—because apparently Trump’s withdrawal from foreign interventionism is selective and fragmentary—offered support for a Venezuelan opposition politician claiming to be “acting president”. Juan Guaidó is the president of the disbanded National Assembly, which has been replaced by the newly elected Constituent Assembly that supports President Maduro, who won election for a second term. Pence did not then go quite as far as recognizing Guaidó as the legitimate president of Venezuela, but came very close—and that recognition would indeed follow later. Meanwhile, Wikipedia for a time published fake news by claiming that Guaidó was the acting president, a move that appeared to some as being followed by Facebook. In 2011 we witnessed similar acts of denying legitimacy to established governments, through US “social media,” during the so-called “Arab Spring”.
On January 23, in a move that significantly escalated US threats and intervention against Venezuela, Trump formally recognized Guaidó, the “president” of the disbanded “national assembly,” as Venezuela’s “interim president”. In addition, in spoken remarks that same day Trump made it clear that US military intervention was a possibility, threatening that “all options are on the table”. At the same time as Trump was confronted by a coup logic at home, he deployed one abroad. Also, while American politicians generally complain—without the benefit of actual direct evidence—of “foreign meddling” in their elections (namely, Russia), they show no hesitation intervening in the domestic affairs of Venezuela, to a degree never seen by any foreign actor in US politics. France, where Emmanuel Macron complained about Trump cheering on the Yellow Vest protesters, with the foreign minister demanding “leave our nation be,” also enthusiastically supported regime change in Venezuela. The EU and Canada, which had previously pretended opposition to Trump, now stood shoulder to shoulder with him. While many noted the outrageous hypocrisy of interventionist anti-interventionism, most of “the resistance” in the US remained silent, and not by accidental oversight: Trump’s opposition, for the most part, is even more aggressively imperialist than he is.
Venezuela’s President, Nicolás Maduro, ordered the closure of the Venezuelan embassy and all its consulates in the US, and also ordered the closure and removal of all US diplomats from Venezuela. The US refused, which is illegal, saying its embassy would remain open, while promising aid to the self-styled “government” led by Guaidó. The US however also ordered non-essential staff out of the country, and warned US citizens about traveling to Venezuela. The US retained diplomatic staff in Venezuela, and baited the government, warning of “consequences” if anything happened to them. The US dismissed Maduro as having no legitimate authority to order the withdrawal of US diplomats, but on the other hand relied on his government to protect them, since Guaidó has no such resources as a pretend president. For its part, Venezuela’s armed forces declared their loyalty to President Maduro.
American Coronation, American Coalition
It’s important to note the exact chronology of events: it was only after US Vice President Mike Pence committed the US to support the Venezuelan opposition, and incited the forcible overthrow of Venezuela’s legally elected government, that Juan Guaidó proclaimed himself the interim president. Immediately after proclaiming himself president, violence erupted on the streets of Venezuela, with several casualties. The leaders of Venezuela’s opposition thus base the substance of their authority on foreign sources, primarily backed by the US. They do not have a string of electoral victories to substantiate their claims. Indeed, some are suggesting that Guaidó has admitted to being “under pressure” to proclaim himself president, which he has yet to publicly deny. Also, much like the opposition to Muammar Gaddafi in Libya, the opposition is divided, and will likely not be able to forge a workable coalition if US power should succeed in installing them, over the corpses of tens of thousands of their compatriots (which they are apparently quite ready to sacrifice). It’s also important to note—images of partial multilateralism aside—that it was only after the US recognized Guaidó, that Canada and others followed suit.
The US’ intervention in Venezuela was not isolated or simply unilateral: it was backed, illegally, by Brazil, Canada, the EU leadership, and most of the Organization of American States members. Specifically, Brazil, Colombia, Chile, Peru, Paraguay, Ecuador, Argentina, Costa Rica, Panama, and Guatemala all recognized Guaidó. Unelected officials of the EU backed the overthrow of President Maduro.
Opposing US Intervention and Regime Change
In Latin America, Mexico, Bolivia, Cuba, and Nicaragua, did not recognize Guaidó. Russia, China, Turkey and Iran also opposed US intervention in Venezuela’s affairs. Despised at home, Trump, Trudeau, Macron and May presume to determine who should lead Venezuela.
Russia’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson, Maria Zakharova was correct to say that:
“The example of events in Venezuela shows clearly how the progressive Western community actually treats international law, sovereignty and non-interference in internal affairs of states—by handpicking the government there”.
Equally correct was Russia’s Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov:
“The US, which is paranoid about somebody interfering in their elections, even though they have no proof of that, themselves are trying to rule the fates of other peoples. What they actually do is interfere in their internal affairs. There is no need for [US special counsel Robert] Mueller to determine that”.
Russian President Vladimir Putin appropriately offered Russia’s continued support of Venezuela’s legal and legitimate government under President Maduro.
Multilateralism and Force Multipliers
What is the strategy of the technocrats appointed to lead EU offices? What about Canada, France, and the UK? One part may be the attempt to forge a coalition that can pull off foreign intervention, with the vague semblance of “multilateralism” and “legality,” but without going through the UN Security Council where such interventionism would immediately be shot down by Russia and China. Western leaders have mused for several years now about finding alternative mechanisms that sidelined the UNSC: these considerations took on greater weight in the wake of conflicts in Ukraine and Syria. Another part has to do with preserving the US’ “force multipliers,” that wide network of collaborators that make neoliberal imperialism possible. The US may have had its security services purchased by transnational capital, to function as the “world’s policeman,” but it’s a policeman with millions of foreign deputies. Venezuela is now in an active fight against those who have been deputized by US power.
What does the US Gain?
As for Trump, his dreams may be of commanding a hemispheric coalition of right wing clones, beginning with Jair Bolsonaro—a bloc of countries that could significantly strengthen his hand at home, where his grasp is tenuous and threatens to crumble from day to day. Trump’s obdurate lack of situational awareness prevents him from comparing anti-Trump coup logic at home, with the coup logic he uses abroad (with the support of some of the same figures that would unseat him). Trump and many of his supporters have declared a war on “socialism,” abroad and at home. They would like to pin the “Venezuela” badge on all of their opponents on the domestic left in the US. Venezuela, for its part, became a target of US aggression as a result of nationalizing over 1,000 companies, as well as the oil fields owned by US oil giants Exxon Mobil and Conoco Phillips. The US has been engaged in economic warfare against Venezuela, with US sanctions directly harming the Venezuelan economy. The “failure of socialism” trope so abundantly over-exploited by the talking heads at Fox News is a form of active deceit meant to mask the impact of US economic destabilization, and then blame Venezuelans for it. That kind of propaganda is currently called “fake news” in the US; they are deliberately lying to their viewers, when not just simply misleading and misinforming them.
Knocking out Venezuela as an oil supplier will ensure the US’ newfound oil primacy, while boosting the profits of US oil companies since oil prices will skyrocket as a result of conflict in Venezuela. The US working class will pay the price, and see their standard of living further eroded.
WikiLeaks was smart to comment that US intervention could itself trigger a “civil war” in Venezuela. WikiLeaks was certainly not alone in making a logical assessment of the situation. Have Venezuelans in the opposition asked themselves if Trump would welcome their refugees with open arms, in the event of a catastrophic “civil war”, especially now that Trump has shut down parts of his own government in an attempt to force the building of a wall on the southern border? He probably will, again to the chagrin of his base.
The root of the US’ continued addiction to imperialist rule is articulated through the notion of “US interests”. Like any of the old colonizing powers, and following the same colonial logic, the US installs “interests” like others installed settlements and garrisons—and any threat to these real or virtual, concrete or abstract “interests” is then used as a trigger to authorize intervention. “Interests” plus actual human bait—US travellers, US diplomats, or US agents and military forces—can also be sacrificed to justify intervention. In Venezuela, the US is travelling on both of these freeways.
US intervention in Venezuela will result in what US intervention has almost always produced: a widening, an Americanizing, and a militarizing of what was previously a local, domestic conflict. In fact, even the phrase “civil war” now needs to be used cautiously, since any events that follow will be conditioned by this same foreign intervention, transforming the “civil” war much more into an international war.
The manner in which foreign powers, primarily the US, so eagerly walk down the path of the 2011 Libya model, shows more than just a refusal or inability to learn, but outright stupidity joined with malice. As for Trump’s 2016 proclamation that, “We will stop racing to topple foreign regimes that we know nothing about, that we shouldn’t be involved with”—that was apparently opportunistic rubbish (note to translators: in the US the politically correct word for opportunism is “transactionalism”).
We can expect some or all of the following to transpire in the near future:
- The interventionist model that the US is pursuing is that of the 2011 “Arab Spring” and the 2014 coup in Ukraine.
- The US will likely not commit its own troops to Venezuela, but will almost certainly deploy covert agents, while arming and further funding the opposition. However, it is now more possible than ever before that the US could become involved militarily.
- The US may also use US travellers and US diplomats (kept in the country illegally), as bait to be sacrificed in an effort to provoke more direct US intervention.
- President Maduro will not step down, and the presidency will be defended by most of the military, and by mobilized elements of the mass base that backed the Chavista program.
- The US has now succeeded in branding the Venezuelan opposition as a tool of US imperialism—Venezuela’s 235,000 active duty forces, plus 1.6 million armed militia members, will now be encouraged to know that fighting the opposition is an act of defense of Venezuela’s national sovereignty.
- A “civil war” is now more likely. It will be exceedingly violent. The consequences will weaken and divide Venezuelan society for generations. Most of the current opposition leaders, if they do not promptly flee to Miami or Bogotá, may well turn up on Caracas’ streets as corpses—their days are also numbered. There will eventually be an internal struggle for power among Venezuela’s opposition leaders.
- An outflow of refugees from Venezuela is now certain to increase immediately, just as the US government is trying to find more ways of locking them out. Colombia and Mexico will pay the immediate price.
- Oil prices will skyrocket, at the height of winter in the global North, and the working class in the US and internationally will pay the greatest price.
- The US will increase its economic destabilization, and likely move to take control of Citgo’s assets in the US. The US may also move to impose an embargo on Venezuela to prevent it from selling oil abroad.
- The OAS is divided: standing opposed to the denial of recognition of Maduro’s legitimacy as the elected leader are not just Cuba, Nicaragua, Bolivia, and for now Mexico, but also Caribbean states such as Dominica, St Vincent and the Grenadines, and Suriname. Trinidad and Tobago, St Kitts and Nevis, Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, and Belize abstained from the OAS resolution. The action by the OAS implicitly threatens all governments in the region, which could significantly damage the organization’s integrity. Right now the OAS is playing the same role as the Arab League did against Libya. Expect the US to use leverage to get some OAS states to send troops to Venezuela, possibly in return for Trump surrendering any real effort to block illegal migration from Latin America.
- If the US succeeds in overthrowing Venezuela’s government, the effort will most likely serve as preparation for the next target in 2019: Iran.
- Trump views Latin America as the US’ “backyard,” sovereignty does not apply to the Western Hemisphere’s states.
- Trump has endorsed coup-making, which could haunt him at home.
- Fortunately, the progressivist, liberal “rules-based international order” is further revealed to be what it always has been: an abusive, coercive will to conquest by the Western world’s most powerful states.
To follow events in Venezuela, the two most reliable sources of information will be:
For more on the Libya model of intervention, and the use of force multipliers, see: