Venezuela: Commentary on History, Current Events, and the New York Times

After a US-supported coup attempt in February failed, Venezuela has become the most recent “security threat” to the United States, and the mainstream media has, typically, gladly been disparaging and delegitimizing the elected government. A New York Times editorial in late February shows that the Times Editorial Board has been an eager party to the tired tropes of US reporting on Latin America. It begins by denouncing President Nicolas Maduro’s “ranting” about a right-wing coup attempt as “outlandish,” instantly crushing any speculation that his claims–even if exaggerated–have any historical precedent (say, 2002?) or veracity. The hackneyed lines are trotted out about how Maduro’s blaming of the US is merely an attempt to distract from the dismal situation in Venezuela. Partly this may be true, but if the finger-pointing has indeed singled out the true culprit, why should he not lay blame where it’s due?

The Editorial Board further continues their lambasting, calling foreign minister Delcy Rodriguez’s statement an “absurd detail,” after Rodriguez “[said] on Twitter that ‘the international community should know that the coup plan included airstrikes to tactical objectives without distinction of civilians.’” Even if this claim were false in this particular instance in Venezuela, the idea that a US-backed coup in Latin America might have indiscriminately struck “tactical objectives” is hardly absurd. Remember Panama, 1989? Bush Sr.’s attack that apparently warranted destruction in Panama City for no reason other than that the country was headed by a so-called drug lord whom the US wasn’t fond of? The US has a rich history of not caring whether civilians are harmed in tactical airstrikes (or worse, a la the SIOP emergency plans in the case of a nuclear attack, we explicitly name “soft targets”–civilians–to be eliminated), and I’d like to point out that no matter how much we dislike a country’s ruler, targeting the population in an act of collective punishment is a war crime under the 1949 Geneva Conventions. I suppose the insinuation that this coup, if carried out, might have involved war crimes made the Editorial Board bristle in indignation. They might consider consulting the historical (and current) record of US foreign policy before judging such claims “absurd.”

Especially ironic was the deliberate designation of recently arrested Venezuelan opposition-sympathizing mayor Antonio Ledezma as “a democratically elected official.” If the deposing of “democratically elected officials” so concerned the United States, one would think we might have partaken in fewer coups which toppled such aforementioned democratically elected leaders. I’m sure Mohammed Mossadegh, Jacobo Arbenz, Jaime Roldos, Omar Torrijos, Salvador Allende, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, and so many others would have appreciated our regard for their democratic elections, and our concern to see them remain in office… I’d also like to remind the New York Times that Nicolas Maduro was also elected by the Venezuelan people, which is the scenario we usually consider “democratic.” More so than several US elections, I might add. Yet though we protest Ledezma’s removal loudly, I imagine that Maduro’s downfall would be met with quite the lack of protest at the toppling of yet another democratically elected leader.

The article acknowledges that the opposition movement is “poorly organized”–although it fails to mention that this is due largely to lack of widespread support in Venezuela, not for lack of trying or lack of funds from, say, the National Endowment for Democracy. It is mentioned, however, that Maduro’s “credibility is nearly gone,” never mind that opposition approval ratings are said to be equally low. The Editorial Board also mentions that they “regret that the Venezuelan government continues to blame the United States or other members of the international community for events inside Venezuela.” So do I. I really regret that our country is still partaking in actions that warrant such blame.

When the NYT recommends “[a]rticulating an attractive and viable option to Mr. Maduro’s authoritarian and erratic rule,” does that mean that they find the “transition” plan proposed by the opposition, which caters gladly to neoliberal ideals, not “attractive and viable?” I would have thought they’d be fairly enamored of it–it’s just what we’ve prescribed elsewhere in Latin America. Perhaps they think the time hasn’t yet come for such measures. Or they don’t want to state it too openly, for fear of the fallout of that history drifting back into our memories.

Therefore, as we witness yet another attack on a democratically elected but anti-American regime in Latin America, it is imperative that we remain vigilant, remember our history, and remember that we had best work to avoid repeating it.