Dangerous moves by U.S. against Venezuela
Sen. Tim Kaine, D, Va., that party's VP candidate last year is among a group of Democratic senators who have joined right wingers in sponsoring a bill that enables Trump to carry out his threats against Venezuela. | J. Scott Applewhite/AP

President Trump, in synch with right-wing governments and politicians in Latin America and beyond, has been working hard to overthrow the left wing government of Venezuelan President Nicholas Maduro, taking advantage of the severe economic and political crisis in that South American country.

Trump had ordered Venezuela not to go ahead with the planned election of the new National Constituent Assembly on July 30, but the election took place in spite of him and in spite of violent rioting by the Venezuelan right-wing opposition.

The United States had already imposed unilateral sanctions on some Venezuelan officials, but had not succeeded in getting the Organization of American States to suspend Venezuela’s participation.  Before the National Constituent Assembly vote, Trump imposed sanctions on 13 Venezuelan officials, including the head of the National Elections Council.

After the vote went ahead in defiance of his orders Trump imposed more sanctions  This was the third set of sanctions he had imposed on Venezuelan citizens.

The effect of the sanctions is to prevent U.S. citizens from having business dealings with these individuals, and to threaten any property they might own in the United States.  In spite of pressure by some Republican politicians such as Marco Rubio to do so, Trump has not put all of Venezuela under sanctions, probably because of the high level of trade between our two countries, including very large U.S. purchases of Venezuelan oil.  But he has not given up his aim of overthrowing the Venezuelan government – “regime change,” it’s called.

That Venezuela has been a sovereign independent country since the beginning of the 19th Century does not enter into Trump’s calculations.

Regime change in Venezuela has been attempted so far by economic and diplomatic pressure, but on Aug. 11 Trump upped the ante, enraged millions of people in Latin America and startled even some of his own officials by suggesting, in an offhand manner, that a U.S. military intervention in Venezuela is not off the table:  “We have many options for Venezuela, including a possible military option, if necessary.”

Trump provided no details of a possible military intervention, but his comments rang alarm bells all over Latin America, where the U.S. military or the Central Intelligence Agency have intervened scores of times, generally to remove left wing governments or prop up right-wing dictatorships.  The results have been the loss of hundreds of thousands of innocent lives.  To give just one example, in 1954 the C.I.A. overthrew the leftish government of Guatemalan President Jacobo Arbenz, whose land reform efforts were seen as a threat to U.S. business interests.  In the civil wars that ensued, at least 200,000 Guatemalans, mostly civilians, died violently.  Everybody in Latin America knows these stories, so little known by most people in the United States.

Then on Sunday August 13, C.I.A. Director Mike Pompeo turned up the heat by making a statement that was intended to frighten the population of the United States with the specter of Venezuelan terrorism against us.  He told Fox News that the presence of Cubans, Russians, Iranians and “Hezbollah” in Venezuela was part of this supposed threat.  The mention of “Cubans” is in synch with the rhetoric of the ultra-right in both Venezuela and Miami, who claim that Maduro is somehow a Cuban puppet.

Then on Monday August 14, Vice President Mike Pence, on a tour to several Latin American countries, reinforced the message by saying in a speech in Bogota Colombia that the United States would not allow instability in Venezuela to drag all of Latin America into a “vortex.”   Even the right wing president of Colombia, Manuel Santos, objected to the hint of a military intervention.  There was anger and defiance in Venezuela itself. Yet at least one right wing politician in Venezuela seemed to be applauding such an intervention.

Whether some sort of military intervention takes place against Venezuela or not, it is clear that the Trump administration is going to increase efforts to overthrow the Venezuelan government, one way or another.  But this did not start with Trump.

President Obama had caused consternation among Latin American progressives and others in 2015 by issuing a declaration that Venezuela represented a danger to U.S. security and interests.  This was correctly seen as setting the stage for possible U.S. intervention.  Three days before he left office, Obama renewed this dangerous declaration, tossing Cuba, with whom he had just taken major steps to normalize relations, a historical breakthrough, into the declaration also.

These declarations were seen as having the purpose of making it legal for the president to impose sanctions.  Trump has made good use of the Venezuela declaration.  But the phrasing that Venezuela is a “danger” to the United States also has propaganda value for Trump, because it supports his tendency to use belligerent language about foreign countries in general and Venezuela in particular.  And that increases the danger of military interventions.

Now some Democratic Party senators and representatives have joined with some of the most right-wing Republicans to sponsor and cosponsor legislation that in effect, urges President Trump to be tougher on Venezuela. The legislation in question is Senate Bill 1018, Senate Resolution 35 (which passed with unanimous consent!) , House Bill 2658 and House Resolution 259 (advancing right now in the House). The moving force behind this legislation is the right wing Cuban exile faction in Congress, including Senator Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and Representative Ilieana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla. They are joined by some Democrats known for their hatred for socialist Cuba:  Senator Bob Menendez, D-N.J., and Representative Albio Sires, D-N.J., as well as Representative Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, D-Fla.  This comes as no surprise.

The two bills seem on the surface to be authorizing humanitarian aid to Venezuela, but the purpose of meddling in Venezuela’s internal affairs is soon evident as one reads them.  The resolutions ask Trump to get tough on Venezuela.

But what in the world is Democratic Senator Ben Cardin, D-Md., doing as chief sponsor of S 1018 and S Res 35?  What are Democratic Senators such as Tim Kaine, D-Va., Richard Durbin, D-Ill., and Chris van Hollen doing on S 1018 as cosponsors?  Why is Senator Patrick Leahy, who has played a good role in a number of international issues, cosponsoring this bill? Why is Representative Elliot Engel, D – N.Y., the chief sponsor of HR 2658?  Why are Representatives Jamie Raskin, D-Md., Joaquin Castro, D-Texas, Adriano Espaillat, D-N.Y., Norma Torres, D-Calif., and others sponsoring the House bill and the House resolution?

They are in very strange company, with some of the most hardcore right wing Republicans.  And now that Trump and Pompeo are making direct threats implying possible U.S. military intervention in Venezuela, they are in effect “enabling” the extremist Trump administration in a possible dangerous military adventure.

Perhaps our readers live in the states and districts of some of these Senators and representatives, and can contact them to strongly object to their support for these bills which interfere in Venezuelan national sovereignty and help Trump to move in an aggressive direction abroad.  The website for the U.S. Congress, on which you can check to see if your own Senators and representatives are on this legislation, and on which you can find contact information for both houses, is here:  https://www.congress.gov/


Emile Schepers
Emile Schepers

Emile Schepers is a veteran civil and immigrant rights activist. Born in South Africa, he has a doctorate in cultural anthropology from Northwestern University. He is active in the struggle for immigrant rights, in solidarity with the Cuban Revolution and a number of other issues. He writes from Northern Virginia.