America Has No Business Intervening In Venezuela

The situation in Venezuela is a lot more complicated than what most major media outlets report.

Illustration of Venezuela’s President Nicolás Maduro, Opposition leader Juan Guaido, and U.S. President Donald Trump amongst a divided Venezuela. (Illustration by Conner Savage)

Illustration of Venezuela’s President Nicolás Maduro, Opposition leader Juan Guaido, and U.S. President Donald Trump amongst a divided Venezuela. (Illustration by Conner Savage)

For the last few years, Venezuela has been in a state of political and economic crisis, which reached new peaks as the oil-rich Latin American nation entered a state of dual power. An opposition leader named Juan Guaido challenged the authority of Nicolas Maduro as President of Venezuela. Guaido, President of Venezuela’s disbanded National Assembly (Venezuela’s equivalent of Congress), used Article 233 of the Venezuelan Constitution to declare himself the interim President of Venezuela. Guaido has been recognized as the Interim President by the United States, the Organization of American States, and the European Union among others.

On February 23, supporters of both Guaido and Maduro (both in and outside of the armed forces) clashed on the Colombian border over the issue of an international convoy supposedly carrying international aid (who were condemned by the Red Cross for misappropriating their logo) arriving. While the details are still sketchy, trucks carrying aid into the country were set on fire, perhaps by violent opposition supporters. In the weeks preceding this, hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans marched in both anti and pro-government protests, which were under-reported.

But these tumultuous events are rooted in a process that goes back to 1998, when Hugo Chavez was elected president of Venezuela and embarked on the Bolivarian Revolution, an ambitious program of complete social transformation. Three successive American presidents have pushed an overarching narrative on the Bolivarian Revolution. The narrative states that Maduro and his late predecessor Hugo Chavez are tyrants whose policies led to the current humanitarian crisis and can only be removed through military means. This narrative just so happens to be entirely disingenuous.

Since the rise of Chavismo in 1998, Venezuela has gone through more than 20 elections (including six presidential elections; five parliamentary elections; two referendums; two constituent assembly elections) and the opposition has only won three (1998 and 2015 parliamentary elections, and 2007 referendum on presidential powers). The opposition lost not because Venezuela is a dictatorship but because of their own internal divisions and because the majority of poor Venezuelans supported Chavismo at the polls.

The policies of Chavez led to undeniable accomplishments that improved the living standards of Venezuelans. The Guardian reported that poverty dramatically fell, with only 8.5 percent of the population being in poverty in 2011, compared to 23.4 percent in 1999.  UNESCO reported major gains in literacy and education under Chavez. Land reform policies benefited poor peasant farmers at the expense of powerful landowners and nationalized industries were often placed under workers’ control. These actions angered the big business and landowner oligarchs that formerly held direct political power in Venezuela. Contrary to popular belief, these people are the force behind the opposition, not the broad masses of Venezuelan society.

Still, many claim that Venezuela is still ruled by a tyrannical government, and that Venezuelan elections are rigged. This claim doesn’t hold much water against the facts.

First and foremost, if elections were rigged, why did the opposition win three elections? The narrative immediately doesn't make any sense. In 2004, former United States President Jimmy Carter described Venezuela’s electoral system as “the best in the world.” And though the Carter Foundation hasn’t monitored Venezuelan elections since 2004, the electoral system in Venezuela has remained the same since then. That means that the same electoral body that Carter monitored, Venezuela’s National Electoral Council (CNE), that recognized the victory of Chavez’s party also recognized the victory of the opposition during three separate elections. In addition to the CNE, there were many international observers who attested to the legitimacy of the election, including former Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero.

The United States government and the European Union, who both condemned the 2018 presidential election as illegitimate, didn’t even send observers to participate in the electoral process. Before the elections were held, the European Parliament, which had previously admitted that Venezuela has legitimate elections, demanded that the presidential elections not even happen. The US and the EU want to have their cake and eat it too.

Though Maduro has been more authoritarian and business-friendly than Chavez, millions of Venezuelans identify Maduro with the revolutionary legacy of Chavez  and are not prepared for a return to the American-dictated neoliberal policies, which the opposition wholeheartedly supports. In fact, the very same policies that Guaido and the opposition are championing led Venezuela to an economic crisis and a right wing authoritarian government in the 1980s, which culminated in the Caracazo Massacre where hundreds, possibly thousands, of protestors were killed by state security forces.

In addition to his lack of democratic credentials, Guaido also lacks any constitutional basis for his coup. Article 233 would only allow Guaido to become president in the permanent absence of Maduro or his Vice President Delcy Rodriguez. The way that Guaido has interpreted the law is completely erroneous and built on the idea that the May 2018 elections were illegitimate. However, declaring oneself president of a country on Twitter doesn’t make them the president, no matter how often they miscite an article in the very constitution put in place by Chavez. Guaido has about as much democratic legitimacy as businessman Pedro Carmona did when he tried to overthrow Chavez in the CIA-backed 2002 coup.

Many opposition supporters point out that Venezuela’s National Assembly in 2016 was shutdown after the opposition won a majority at the 2015 parliamentary elections as proof that Maduro is a tyrant. While this happened, it was because the National Assembly was in contempt of court after Venezuela’s equivalent of the Supreme Court, the Supreme Tribunal of Justice (TSJ), found irregularities in the election of three Assembly members (two opposition, one government). The only thing that the TSJ asked for was new elections in those three local constituencies, which the National Assembly refused to do and swore in the three Assembly members anyway.

Around the same time, Maduro called for a constituent assembly election, which was held in the summer of 2017. Instead of choosing to mobilize their millions of supporters to participate in a democratic process of delivering to Venezuela a new constitution, the opposition boycotted and as such won no seats at said election. The opposition instead held their own referendum, outside of the internationally recognized CNE, on whether the constituent assembly was to be recognized or not. At the end of the day, over eight million Venezuelans voted for the Constituent Assembly and only seven-and-a-half million voted in the opposition referendum. It is appropriate to look at these two elections side by side, with Maduro clearly still having larger public support than the opposition.

With this in mind, plus the most recent presidential election, the simple fact of the matter is that Maduro is the democratically elected president and that Guaido is most certainly not.

It is undeniable that Venezuela is experiencing a complete economic disaster which has led to a humanitarian crisis, reversing the previous progress made by Chavez reducing poverty, with millions of Venezuelans leaving to become refugees. However, it wasn’t socialism or communism that led to this crisis, as the harpies on the right mindlessly exclaim. In fact, though Chavez wished that Venezuela would eventually be a socialist republic with an economy completely managed by democratic councils of workers and peasants, over 70 percent of Venezuela’s GDP is still produced in the private sector.

Instead of socialism, it was the fall in the price of oil, the result of Saudi Arabia’s policies, that led Venezuela into a recession around 2014. A US-led economic war, waged with the complete complicity of the major corporations and landowners in Venezuela, has crippled the economy and caused much of the suffering that is seen today. This has been coupled with violent opposition rioting, which finds its support in the mostly white and economically wealthy areas of the population. Some of the most brutal examples of opposition violence include a long history of landowners murdering peasant organizers, and when a black man was set on fire and lynched by opposition supporters.

If the United States and other nations care about the humanitarian crisis in Venezuela, they wouldn’t illegally force a convoy through Venezuela’s borders; they would instead end their economic sanctions on the country, and allow the Venezuelan government access to its $8 billion of foreign reserves. For example, the Bank of England currently has over $1.2 billion in Venezuelan gold that they are refusing to hand back to Venezuela. There are people starving and this money, which rightfully belongs to Venezuela, could be used to buy food. However, US imperialism has no interest in allowing this to happen.

Let’s take some time to look at who Guaido’s friends are. John Bolton, the neoconservative National Security Advisor to President Trump, after the press conference where he accidently revealed a note guaranteeing troop deployment to Venezuela’s unfriendly neighbor Colombia, openly admitted that the United States is only intervening in order for American corporations to gain access to Venezuela’s oil reserves (the largest inui the world). Elliott Abrams has been appointed by Trump as the Special Representative for Venezuela. Abrams, a war criminal who covered up far-right death squads in Nicaragua and Guatemala, is probably best known for being convicted of perjury after lying to Congress during the Iran-Contra affair. In addition, he supplied American-aligned human rights abusers with supplies under the guise of “international aid.”

Many point out that the Venezuelan government is friendly with anti-democratic regimes like China, Russia, or Iran. But Guaido has many international friends too.

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, when he isn’t encouraging violence against leftists and admiring Brazil’s past as a American-sponsored military dictatorship, is a key regional ally of Guaido. French President Emmanuel Macron calls Maduro “illegitimate” while allowing French riot police to ruthlessly suppress Yellow Vest protestors and raid the offices of a major leftist political opposition party. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who routinely allows for horrific human rights abuses against Palestinians and whose government prevented a major Jewish communist candidate from running in upcoming elections while also protecting a far-right bigoted candidate, shamelessly compared Guaido to the liberators of Auschwitz.

With friends of democracy and human rights like these, who needs enemies?

At a time when the absolute monarchy in Saudi Arabia wages a genocidal war with American complicity against Yemen, it becomes very clear that the United States doesn’t intervene in countries for humanitarian reasons.

The United States has never been truthful about its interventions either. The United States lied when it installed murderous dictators (who often overturned democracies) in South Korea, South Vietnam, Guatemala, Indonesia, and Haiti, among many other nations. The United States lied when it intervened in Afghanistan and Iraq. The United States lied when it bombed Libya leading to its current state of civil war and chattel slavery. The United States is lying now.

If Trump and his war criminal friends want to cry crocodile tears about the plight of Venezuelans, they can go ahead. It doesn’t change the fact that Trump is building a wall to keep refugees (including Venezuelans) out of the United States.