In what is seen as the most outlandish foreign policy declaration the Donald Trump administration has hitherto made, the United States on Monday tried to unseat Venezuela’s democratically elected president by recognising the pro-US opposition leader as the new leader.
It is reported that US Vice President Mike Pence phoned Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido last week to instruct him to declare himself as the “acting president”, and denounce the incumbent leader Nicolas Maduro as a “usurper.”
Wow! If regime change is so easy, why regular elections? The US could have removed Saddam Hussein in 2003 by simply declaring a servile opposition figure as president. This would have saved the US thousands of lives and billions of dollars.
The US action of making a random declaration to recognise an opposition figure as a legit leader sets a dangerous precedent that needs to be checked. How can the US endorse an undemocratic power transition, while accusing Maduro of not being a respecter of democracy? How can it meddle in the affairs of Venezuela, while US intelligence agencies probe Russia for rigging the US elections?
In terms of international law, outside intervention is permitted, only when a government commits genocide or crimes against humanity. Maduro is accused of neither.
Maduro may not be a saint. Yet, he is not the Satan that the US president and his neocon advisors are portraying him to be. He may not be a Simón Bolívar, the legendary 19th century leader who led a revolution that spelt freedom for most of Latin America from the colonial yoke. Or even a Hugo Chavez, who re-launched the Bolivarian revolution in the late 1990s to free Latin America’s poverty-trapped people from the grip of transnational capitalists.
Maduro is far from perfect. The US and its rightwing allies may call him a dictator and accuse him of being corrupt and connected to drug cartels. That’s politics. Permitted. Maduro, once a bus driver, was first elected to office in April 2013, after Chavez died of cancer. Despite the rising oil prices, the country’s economy went into a free fall.
In May 2018, Maduro was re-elected to a second term in an election that was boycotted by most opposition parties. The boycott was partly in protest over the arrest of several opposition figures and partly in keeping with a US script worked out to discredit a Maduro victory. As expected, Venezuela’s opposition-controlled National Assembly refused to recognise Maduro’s victory, intensifying the political crisis that culminated in this week’s US-sponsored coup. With the anticipated public and military backing not coming, the coup appears to be falling apart.
Why is Venezuela in turmoil despite being the proud possessor of the world’s largest known oil reserves? One of the reasons is that the socialist economic reforms, to which much of the country’s oil revenue is channelled, do not bring rapid results. Besides, during the Chavez government, Venezuela financed socialist programmes in several neighbouring countries – part of Chavez’s bid to revive the Bolivarian revolution. This happened at a time when oil prices were rising. During Maduro’s period, especially his second term, the oil prices took a plunge, adding to the country’s economic woes.
But the crisis was also due to US sanctions and US-sponsored subversive measures geared towards bringing about political instability and making Maduro unpopular. Recently, Britain’s Bank of England refused to release US$ 1.2 billion worth of Venezuela’s gold, with which Maduro wanted to revive the economy and provide relief to the people. One wonders whether the Bank of England is also part of the plan to destabilise Venezuela.
Even Tuesday’s US sanctions targeting Venezuela’s national oil sector are aimed at aggravating the economic crisis. While the US action is being endorsed by its rightwing allies in the region and even Britain, Germany and France, despite their democracy-promoting boast and opposition to extrajudicial or extra-constitutional means of government change, Russia, China, Cuba, Turkey, and Iran have condemned what they see as a violation of Venezuela’s sovereignty.
Washington’s response exposes the regime-change programme in its arsenal to subdue unfriendly nations. The US has many regime change formulas with which it has visited more than 50 countries since the end of World War II. One regime change formula is military intervention, like what happened in Iraq, Libya and several countries in Latin America. Will Trump send troops to Venezuela? The question looms large after pictures showed that a notepad Trump’s National Security Advisor John Bolton carried to the White House news conference on Tuesday had the words “5,000 troops to Columbia” scribbled on it.
Another regime change method involves military coups. It happened in Iran in 1953. In Latin America, it happened in more than a dozen countries in keeping with the Truman doctrine of containing communism.
In 2002, it nearly happened in Venezuela. The US fully backed the failed military coup against Chavez’s socialist government that had declared war on the private sector. That the two key plotters had undergone training in the US Army School should be an eye-opener to governments which send troops for training in foreign nations. The coup briefly ousted Chavez, but with the support of loyal troops and people, he took control of the government within two days. Four years later, addressing the UN General Assembly sessions, Chavez hit back: He described as a devil the then US President George W Bush, who backed the botched coup. “The devil came here yesterday... it smells of sulphur still today.”
Another regime change formula is engineered popular uprisings: Through sanctions and other punitive measures, the US would seek to aggravate the economic crisis of a target country with the intention of triggering a popular uprising against the regime. It worked in Ukraine in 2014, but failed twice in Iran. Now comes the Trump way: A regime change through the withdrawal of recognition to a government, followed by a declaration recognising a lackey as the legit leader.
None of the US regime change formulas has to do with ushering in democracy. Rather, it is about power politics connected with the moves to enhance America’s national interest. In Venezuela’s case, it is about regaining the foothold in the country’s energy and other key sectors which Chavez had nationlised after showing the door to multinationals such as Exxon Mobil, ConocoPhillips and Total. In the meantime, while democratically elected Maduro is being strangled by US-sponsored overt and covert actions, the worst of dictators enjoy the US blessings.
It was only recently that President Trump refused to take any punitive measure against Saudi Arabia for the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, while Israel continues to be rewarded for its oppression of the Palestinian people.
In this regard, it is not out of place here to recall what President Franklin D. Roosevelt is reported to have said in 1939, when he was asked about the United States’ blind support for Nicaraguan dictator Anastasio Somoza Garcia, known for human rights violations, corruption and collusion with US capitalists who plundered Nicaragua’s gold and other resources. “Somoza may be a son of a bitch, but he is still our son of a bitch.”