Venezuela must choose its own course

Nicolas Maduro and John Bolton Nicolas Maduro and John Bolton

The Boston Globe‘s recent editorial “Hope for Venezuela” (Jan. 25) presents an alarmingly slanted perspective on US intervention in that country. 

This is a situation ripe for the law of unintended consequences. The idea that the international community – or a self-selected portion of it — should rule on the legitimacy of a country’s election by recognizing the rightful winner is breathtaking in its implications.  It’s one thing to send in a team of election monitors. It’s quite another to disenfranchise the government of a foreign nation and then to refuse to withdraw one’s diplomatic delegation when directed to do so. I ask, is that not a coup by any name?

Aside from this (not unimportant) question of legality, I would ask exactly what plan B is when the government of the target nation does not simply hand over power? Military intervention, civil war, or prolonged risk of 3rd-party proxy conflict seem all likely outcomes.  Before starting down this path, one might well heed Colin Powell’s Pottery Barn admonition before Iraq: “Once you break it, you own it.”

The Globe editors also imply this is simply a home-grown initiative arising out of the remnants of Venezuelan democracy. But according to an AP report cited in this same issue of the Globe, we see things are not so simple. It is now clear the United States has at least given comfort to and may have played a direct role in organizing this coup attempt for well over a year. In fact, it was Trump’s public threat in August of 2017 that a “military option” was on the table that offered powerful incentive to the opposition planners – an implied threat of just the sort of ham-handed military intervention the US has been guilty of so many times in the past. In the weeks that followed, Trump went on to denounce Maduro at the United Nations and quietly explored the idea of an American invasion, not only with aides here but with some Latin American leaders as well.

To lend legitimacy to their perspective, the Globe cites experts from the Council of the Americas and the Atlantic Latin America Center. These sources are certainly well-regarded, but they are not without their political and economic agenda. The Council of America’s is a US-based business organization that promotes free trade and the kind of fast-track approval on international economic agreements that by-passed Congress and brought about NAFTA. By its own reports, one of its largest donors has been the United Arab Emirates, and a full list of sponsors includes many military, financial, and corporate entities.

I do agree with the Globe editors that support for these maneuvers should not be made into a partisan issue.  Unfortunately, they begin their article by praising the leadership of the Trump administration and frame this intervention as a foreign policy move in the right direction. Does this not imply a partisan perspective? Regardless, the irony of the US interfering in the internal politics of another country, much less mobilizing our allies to follow suit, cannot not be lost on the American people at this time. Do we not have an ongoing investigation into precisely this sort of complaint about Russia? 

Let me be clear. This is not about what we think of President Maduro, nor our hopes for long-suffering Venezuela.  It is about upholding one of the basic principles of international relations, the unraveling of which presents enormous peril.  And fundamentally, it is also about respect for the capacity of the Venezuelan people to determine their own future.

This is a dreadful, desperate time for Venezuela, but a time for they themselves to struggle through the fires of rebirthing their own democracy and rebuilding their shattered economy.  It is not a time for us to repeat our long history of exercising hegemony over Latin America. 

In the words of your writers, “Haven’t we seen this movie before?” Yes, and we know how it ends.

The writer is Treasurer of the Campaign for Peace Disarmament and Common Security and a member of Massachusetts Peace Action.  The views expressed are those of the author and do not represent official positions of the organizations.