‘Rio Pact’ means war danger between Venezuela and Colombia, pressure on Cuba
Colombian soldiers arrive to the Simon Bolivar International Bridge in La Parada, near Cucuta, Colombia, on the border with Venezuela, Feb. 24, 2019. | Fernando Vergara / AP

Some people had the wistful thought that the departure of John Bolton as Trump’s National Security Advisory would cause an easing of the wacky aggressiveness of current U.S. foreign policy.

Alas, no.

Trump quickly clarified that whatever his disagreements with Bolton actually had been, he has no intention of letting up the pressure on Venezuela, or on Cuba either. And the news this past week bears this out in frightening ways.

On Thursday, the United States got the Organization of American States to invoke the Inter American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance against Venezuela, a move that could actually lead to an armed invasion of the oil-rich country.

This treaty, also called the Rio Pact because it was signed in that Brazilian city in 1947, is a Cold War relic that the United States had used to coordinate its anti-Cuba policies since the Cuban Revolution of January 1, 1959. Its membership includes the United States, Haiti, and all the Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking Latin American countries in the Americas except Bolivia, Cuba, Ecuador, Nicaragua, and Mexico. Venezuela had withdrawn from it in 2013, but in July of 2019, the Venezuelan National Assembly, in opposition to the elected President Nicolás Maduro, had rejoined. The Venezuelan right wanted the Rio Pact invoked under the pretext that the Russian Federation has been giving some support to Maduro’s government.

Of the member countries of the Organization of American States who are signed onto the Rio Pact, eleven plus the Juan Guaidó group in the National Assembly, claiming to be the real Venezuelan government, supported its invocation. All of these are right-center, right-wing, or ultra-right governments, in several cases anti-democratic and hugely corrupt. They are Chile, Colombia, Argentina, Brazil, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Paraguay, the Dominican Republic, and the United States.

The wording of the invocation of the treaty was bizarre; it was, the United States said, intended to “defend” Venezuela. What the U.S. meant by this was that supposedly the Maduro government is illegitimate and the U.S. pet, National Assembly head Juan Guaidó, is the legitimate president. But all the efforts to remove Maduro, who was legally elected president in 2013 and re-elected since, have so far failed, largely because the forces behind Guaidó simply don’t have the support of the majority of the Venezuelan people.

Besides the United States, the main moving force behind the new push to overthrow the Venezuelan government and the invocation of the Rio Pact is the government of neighboring Colombia, headed by right-wing extremist President Ivan Duque Márquez, and Duque’s close ally, former president Alvaro Uribe. Duque, Uribe, and the right-wing and criminal groups with which they are closely allied, are trying to undo the peace treaty between the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia-People’s Army, or FARC-EP.

This treaty, signed in 2017, gave promise of ending five decades of bloody war in this very violent country. Its approval was achieved through the mediation of socialist Cuba, Bolivarian Venezuela, and the government of Norway. The FARC-EP agreed to lay down its arms while the government of then President Juan Manuel Santos, agreed to disarm right-wing paramilitary terrorist groups and adhere to a program of social and economic reforms designed to help poor rural people. Among other things, the rural poor were to be weaned off growing coca leaf by a program of crop substitution.

With many glitches, the peace process seemed to be going pretty well at the time that Duque inaugurated in August 2018. Since then, a hellish situation has developed, with at least 500 peasant, labor, and leftist leaders and activists murdered for their political work.

In that context, Ivan Márquez, leader of an important section of the FARC-EP, announced at the end of August that because of Duque’s failure to live up to the terms of the 2016 peace agreement, he and his comrades will once again take up arms. Although this announcement came after horrific provocations from the right, and although it does not represent the views of the whole of the FARC-EP, it is being used by the United States and allies to go after Venezuela with the accusation that Maduro’s government is supporting the Márquez group.

The invocation of the Rio Pact represents a real danger of a shooting war between Colombia and Venezuela, whose relations have been extremely tense since the Duque government supported the attempted Guaidó coup in February of this year. Guaidó was under a court order not to leave Venezuela, but it appears he was smuggled across the border by a criminal gang, “los Rastrojos”, on Feb. 23.

The origins of los Rastrojos lie in the ultra-violent far-right “Colombian Self Defense Forces” who were responsible for the murder of thousands of people before the peace pact was signed. The gang is also reputed to be involved in the drug trade, smuggling, extortion, and assassinations.

Although Guaidó denied claims that he had coordinated with los Rastreros, his claims were undercut when a Colombian human rights activist, Wilfredo Canizares, of the Progresar Foundation, published photographs in which Guaidó is shown in chummy togetherness with two top leaders of the gang. According to Canizares, los Rastrojos delivered Guaidó from the border to a soccer field where he was greeted by Colombian government officials.

What could happen now? Under the terms of the Rio Pact, there is a possibility that Colombia sends troops into Venezuela, with the backing of the United States. Or the United States could decide to intercept tankers carrying Venezuelan oil on the high seas, under the pretext that they are violating trade sanctions which the United States has unilaterally imposed on the oil-rich country.

In this Monday, Feb. 18, 2019 photo, Venezuela’s self-proclaimed interim president Juan Guaido speaks during a news conference, backdropped by a banner featuring opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez who is under house arrest, in Caracas, Venezuela. Guaido continues to claim he is the president, with backing from the U.S., but inside Venezuela, he lacks the support of the mass public. | Fernando Llano / AP

For this reason, a number of Latin American countries and organizations issued sharply worded condemnations of the invocation of the Rio Pact. Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard pointed out that the invocation of the pact would open up the possibility of an armed intervention in Venezuela, “but later it could be any country besides Venezuela.” Mexico left the Rio Pact in 2002 and has not joined into the anti-Venezuela movement.

Cuba, which left the pact soon after its 1959 Revolution, also denounced the decision. A statement from the Cuban Foreign Ministry called the action “shameful,” and added:

“To invoke the [Rio Pact] which the United States has used to justify military interventions and aggressions in the region, which have caused so much pain and death to the Latin Americans and Caribbean people, is a deliberate attempt to provoke a situation which could lead to the use of force to overthrow the legitimate government of President Maduro, in open opposition to the principles of international law and the proclamation of Latin America and the Caribbean as a zone of peace.”

Uruguay and Nicaragua also condemned the invocation of the Rio Pact, as did a number of non-government organizations and even some opposition figures in Venezuela.

Negotiations between the Venezuelan government and some opposition leaders are continuing, but Guaidó has declared them dead and appears to be relying entirely on the Trump administration and right-wing Latin American governments to advance his plans.

On Sept. 17, the annual meeting of the United Nations General Assembly began in New York City. There were rumors that Juan Guaidó might show up.


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.