Despite pandemic, U.S. government threatens intervention in Venezuela
President Donald Trump announces the deployment of war ships toward Venezuela, Wednesday, April 1, 2020, in Washington, as from left, Adm. Karl Leo Schultz, commandant of the Coast Guard, national security adviser Robert O'Brien, Attorney General William Barr, Defense Secretary Mark Esper, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Mark Milley, and Navy Adm. Michael Gilday, Chief of Naval Operations, listen. | Alex Brandon / AP

The U.S. government had long schemed against Venezuela’s socialist government led first by President Hugo Chávez (1999-2013) and subsequently by President Nicolás Maduro. Intervention reached a new level beginning on March 26. That was when U.S. Attorney General William Barr announced that Maduro and other high government officials would be indicted on drug-trafficking charges. He announced rewards for their capture, topped out at $15 million in the case of Maduro.

Five days later, the Trump administration offered a deal. Economic sanctions against Venezuela would be removed in return for Maduro’s resignation, the appointment of a five-person “council of state,” termination of security agreements with Russia and Cuba, and future elections with no Maduro as a candidate. And Juan Guaidó, U.S. designee as president as of January 2019, would not run. At that time, Guaidó was unknown to 81% of Venezuelans.

Responding, Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza stated that, “We have always sought good relations, but there are those who are obsessed with taking control of Venezuela and its oil. We will act according to what is said in Venezuela, not what Trump orders.”

The climax of a tumultuous week came on April 1. At a briefing on the COVID-19 pandemic, President Trump announced that U.S. naval vessels, some carrying helicopters and ground troops, were heading for Venezuela on a drug-surveillance and interception mission. He indicated that 22 Latin American nations aligned with the U.S. Southern (military) Command were supportive.

A U.S monetary reward for capturing a head of state is a bad omen. Such an offer preceded military invasions of Manuel Noriega’s Panama in 1989, of Iraq under Saddam Hussein in 2003, and of Muammar Gadhafi of Libya in 2011.

The possibility of military attack complicates Venezuela’s efforts at mobilizing against the COVID-19 threat, although Foreign Minister Arreaza noted that his government is “managing adequately” compared with the “blatant [U.S] failures in that regard.” The European Union and the United Nations Secretary-General have urged that the United States lift sanctions against Venezuela, Iran, and Cuba because of the pandemic. Trump spoke of “malign actors” taking advantage of it.

Threats from the United States ended movement toward negotiations between the Maduro government and sections of the right-wing opposition. For example, Henry Ramos Allup, head of the main opposition party, had agreed to compete in upcoming parliamentary elections and former presidential candidate Henrique Capriles had discussed collaboration in fighting COVID-19.

New U.S. sanctions had torpedoed government-opposition dialogue on election planning in 2019. A year earlier, former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson vetoed an agreement reached in talks in the Dominican Republic.

U.S. spokespersons offered little evidence of Venezuelan government involvement in drug-trafficking. Some illegal drugs do pass through northwestern Venezuela on their way from Colombia to the United States, courtesy of Colombian paramilitaries and criminal networks. But 93% of such traffic between the two countries moves through Central America, according to one estimate.

Colombia, for decades the prime U.S. ally in the region, assists with U.S. intervention in Venezuela. The U.S. government from 2000 on spent $10 billion on its Plan Colombia, ostensibly to rid Colombia of narco-trafficking. But Colombia is still the world’s largest cocaine-producing nation.

U.S. drug-fighting zeal might also have been applied to Guatemala and Honduras, way-stations for cocaine heading for the United States. And corrupt Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández surely warrants a bounty on his head for drug trafficking. He was implicated in the U.S. trial that convicted his brother on drug charges.

U.S. regime-changers rely upon Colombian paramilitary troops. Formed on the recommendation in 1962 of U.S. General William Yarborough, they’ve long engaged in drug-trafficking and bear responsibility for tens of thousands of deaths over the course of many years. The paramilitaries operate under Colombian Army orders, and in Venezuela have contributed much to destabilizing Bolivarian governments. They’ve orchestrated assassination attempts against Presidents Chávez and Maduro.

One of the indicted Venezuela officials was General Cliver Alcala, who had earlier abandoned his post and moved to Barranquilla, Colombia. Arrested on March 26 after Colombian police seized an arms shipment, he confessed to plotting an anti-Maduro uprising in company with paramilitaries, U.S. officials, and Juan Guaidó. Flown to the United States, he presumably will serve as a prosecution witness at any trial of the accused Venezuelans.

Meanwhile, on March 30, Chinese medical experts arrived in Venezuela with supplies to help in the fight against COVID-19. At this writing, Venezuela has 146 confirmed cases of COVID-19 infection and five deaths.


W. T. Whitney Jr.
W. T. Whitney Jr.

W.T. Whitney Jr. is a political journalist whose focus is on Latin America, health care, and anti-racism. A Cuba solidarity activist, he formerly worked as a pediatrician, lives in rural Maine. W.T. Whitney Jr. es un periodista político cuyo enfoque está en América Latina, la atención médica y el antirracismo. Activista solidario con Cuba, anteriormente trabajó como pediatra, vive en la zona rural de Maine.