In 1973, when the United States decided, in the interest of US telecom companies, to oust the democratically elected president of Chile, Salvador Allende, by assisting and encouraging a military coup led by Augusto Pinochet, then Secretary of State Henry Kissinger justified the atrocity saying:
I don’t see why we need to stand by and watch a country go communist due to the irresponsibility of its own people. The issues are much too important for the Chilean voters to be left to decide for themselves.
Now, the dark and bloody history of US military violence against sovereign states in Latin America seems poised to get a new chapter, and Kissinger’s despicable, racist, logic is once again on display. On Saturday, Trump announced that the military option was on the table for Nicolas Maduro’s Venezuela. Why? For the crime of being a democracy out-of-lockstep with US interests.
This probably won’t come as much of a surprise to anyone who has been watching US media coverage, which is uniformly critical of Maduro’s government, frequently referring to the man himself as a “dictator” and strongly implying, when not outright saying, that he is ruling against the will of his people, crushing dissent, unleashing violence against peaceful protesters and locking up opposition leaders without cause. It’s a scary story, and it’s supposed to be, in order to justify violent regime change, but it’s not the truth.
In fact Maduro was elected by the Venezuelan people, in elections that are considered a model for the world (that’s Forbes saying that), and of which even former US President Jimmy Carter said: “…of the 92 elections that we’ve monitored, I would say that the election process in Venezuela is the best in the world”. Yet, there are those in the United States, fed a steady diet of corporate media, who are bafflingly & distressingly unaware that Maduro was elected at all!
How it started
While there has been violent, undemocratic resistance to the Bolivarian Revolution by the Venezuelan opposition, backed by the US, since the days of Hugo Chavez, the latest troubles began in 2015 after the most recent elections for the National Assembly, Venezuela’s legislative body. The opposition party won with a comfortable majority of 109 to 55 (strange dictatorship Maduro’s got there, with the opposition holding a supermajority of Congress).
However, video evidence revealed that three delegates from the state of Amazonas had been elected due to a series of bribes, and the National Assembly was ordered by the Supreme Court to remove the three delegates in question and hold new elections for their seats. The opposition refused. Remember that we’re talking three seats of a 54-seat advantage, three seats which could presumably be won again, if the elections were in fact on the up-and-up. After a series of refusals, the Supreme Court acted within it’s constitutional authority to hold the Assembly in contempt of the Constitution, and the Supreme Court itself undertook their responsibilities, until such time that they held the re-elections.
The right-wing opposition and United States ruling class went apoplectic, going as far as to call the move a coup, while calls for Maduro (who is not, in fact, on the Supreme Court) to step aside came in droves. On April 1st 2017, the National Assembly’s powers were restored by the Supreme Court, due at least in part to the advocacy of Maduro himself who said (and still says to this day) that dialogue and not “extreme positions” are the solution to the crisis. Despite this, on April 4th, opposition leaders began to encourage their supporters to protest the Maduro government.
In no time, the protests turned violent. To hear the corporate media say it, the violence has come in the form of police violence against peaceful protesters, and repression by the Maduro government. However, even a slight dig into the actual numbers on the ground tells a different story. There have been protesters killed by police, but the majority of deaths have been either assassinations of government-supporting Chavistas at the hands of protesters, or the indirect result of violence perpetrated by the protesters.
When police have killed protesters, they’ve been promptly arrested themselves, something almost unthinkable in our own country where police often kill with impunity. Futhermore, opposition protesters have admitted to being paid to engage in violence and no one can blame Maduro or the Chavistas for the torching of a maternity hospital (with new mothers and babies still inside), the burning alive of a suspected Chavista, or the literalterrorist attack on the Supreme Court building via helicopter, all carried out by opposition supporters. Any one of these events would spark intense reactions by any government in the world, let alone the authoritarian US security state, yet Maduro’s reaction has been almost understated. Even the recent arrest of opposition leaders, spun as a move of repression by corporate media, was a predictable response to their violation of the terms of their house arrest. A house arrest resulting from literally attempting a violent coup. Can you imagine an opposition group attempting a violent overthrow of the US state, and for it’s leaders to be punished with house arrest? Some dictatorship.
The Constituent Assembly
To end the violence, Maduro has called a Constituent Assembly. The people of Venezuela voted for delegates to represent their interests at this assembly which will write a new draft of the constitution, to be subsequently voted on by referendum (it must be stressed that the delegates will be drafting it, not Maduro). To call the assembly is a power well within Maduro’s purview (in articles 347 and 348 of the current constitution), despite the corporate media bizarrely calling it a coup. It’s been done before in 1999, to the great benefit of the Venezuelan people, and the hope is that it will end the violence and bring both sides together in dialogue.
Demonstrating that the will of the Venezuelan people is the last thing they are interested in, the opposition and it’s US backers have lambasted Maduro for having the tenacity to hold an election to resolve the current crisis (what are they afraid of, one must wonder, if they represent the will of the people). Opposition leaders called for boycotts and protests against the vote and the company that makes the voting machines used in the election has said that the government’s claim that 8 million people participated in the election was off by a million votes (without proof and without making clear how they would know such a thing). But, again, Venezuela’s elections are unparalleled in their ability to be audited, so the truth will soon be revealed.The same cannot be said of the travesty of a plebiscite the opposition held against the government, in which people were able to vote multiple times, and after which the ballots were burned by the opposition, you know, as one does.
In punishment for attempting to resolve the crisis democratically, Maduro has been personally sanctioned by the US. A move which itself makes little sense since, as Max Blumental and others have pointed out, it simply boosts Maduro’s anti-imperialist bona-fides and it’s unlikely the man has much money squirreled away in the country calling for his blood.
Hands off Venezuela
And now, we’ve returned to Trump’s Kissinger-esque threat to use military violence to overthrow a democracy that doesn’t serve US interests in Latin America. Anyone who claims to be a socialist, pro-democracy or anti-imperialist must stand in solidarity with Maduro and the Bolivarian Revolution, but really it shouldn’t even approach that question. To paraphrase Bernie Sanders, the question is not whether we like Nicolas Maduro, it’s not whether we are socialists or support the Bolivarian revolution (though I am and I do). The question in Venezuela is whether we will stand by as the US once again unilaterally decides which governments are legitimate, which states “get to” enjoy sovereignty and which democracies are real and which are “dictatorships”. The question is if we will let another right-wing government march into power unelected, as has Temer’s government in Brazil, to impose a neoliberal policy of austerity on the people of their country. This is not a hypothetical, this very same opposition staged a successful, if short lived, coup against Chavez in 2002, and a neoliberal policy of austerity is exactly what they tried to impose before the Venezuelan people ran them out and restored Chavez and the Bolivarian Revolution to power. Venezuela belongs to its people, not the US and its corporate masters.
It’s time for us on the left to say ya basta! Enough! Enough regime change, enough imperialism, enough US meddling in Latin American affairs.
To end, I’ll just leave you with this last little fact: Venezuela has the largest reserves of oil in the world…
This piece was originally published on Medium.