Accusations of narco-terrorism and military threats have now been piled on to a decades-long pressure campaign against Venezuela.
Since that country’s shift to the left in 1999, American foreign policy has sought to install a regime more friendly to U.S. business interests. Now with the COVID-19 pandemic and a recent collapse in oil prices (which are central to Venezuelan economic stability), the American tactic of sanctions and embargo against Venezuela cruelly continues and has been intensified by recent drastic U.S. actions. Caught in the thrall of great power politics and corrupt authoritarianism, it is Venezuelans who suffer from the poverty and isolation imposed by American power, yet there is little pushback against continued aggression.
In the late 1990s and early 2000s, Latin America experienced what has been dubbed as the “pink tide”: a wave of progressive and left-wing governments that gained power in nearly every country on the continent. Led by the election of Hugo Chávez in Venezuela, the pink tide led to an increase in anti-Americanism, regional cooperation, and anti-neoliberal reforms.
Over the past two decades, Western powers have slowly stamped out any threats to American rule over its southern continental neighbour through a myriad of soft and hard power mechanisms. These range from shady electoral interference through diplomatic pressure in Bolivia to outright coups in Honduras and Haiti, and even an attempt at one in Venezuela in 2002.
The pink tide has now all but subsided. With the exception of a recent populist Peronist resurgence in Argentina, Nicolas Maduro’s government in Venezuela remains the last frail vestige of the continent’s early 2000s leftist bloc. However, in recent years, Maduro’s governance has become increasingly authoritarian, leading to widespread human rights abuses. Consequently, progressive and left voices (with few exceptions) have had difficulty formulating a consistent argument against American intervention in Venezuela, allowing it to continue with little resistance from domestic pressure campaigns. Further, much of the Western world has acted in lockstep with the campaign of U.S. aggression.
Since 2017, sanctions have served as the primary tactic of American attempts to topple the Maduro government. Mark Weisbrot and Jeffrey Sachs of the Center for Economic Policy Research estimate that the sanctions contributed to an excess 40,000 deaths from 2017 to 2018 alone. The tactic of sanctions aims to weaken the economic stability of Venezuela even further, which could hypothetically loosen Maduro’s hold on power.
A year after sanctions began, Juan Guaidó declared himself president of Venezuela with Western diplomatic support, further attempting to destabilize the Maduro government. This development has allowed for seizure of Venezuelan assets abroad by Guaidó, who is considered by Western banks as the rightful head of the Venezuelan state. Recently, this led to US$342 million of seizures while Venezuela attempts to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic.
Most alarming, however, is the recent appearance of a slight change in tactics by the U.S. state, or rather an addition of a new tactic on top of continuing sanctions. In late March, the U.S. Department of Justice indicted Maduro and several other Venezuelan officials on charges of narco-terrorism.
While there is likely some cooperation between the Maduro government and Colombian rebel forces like the ELN and dissident FARC rebels, the evidence is far from clear-cut. In the past, the U.S. government has often simplistically labelled loose networks of traffickers as monolithic criminal syndicates in Colombia and Mexico. Further, the logic of these indictments is striking, since the U.S. Senate’s own intelligence briefings show that the vast majority of narcotics shipments out of South America depart from Western Colombia and Ecuador, not from Venezuelan ports.
The corresponding build-up of American naval power in the Caribbean is also startling. While U.S. Admiral Craig Faller has insisted that the threatening shift of forces towards Venezuela is not related to pressures against Maduro, U.S. intelligence shows that the Pacific is a far better target for counternarcotics operations at sea.
Instead, it seems that valid concerns of narco-trafficking emerging out of Latin America are being used as cover for an increase of pressure against Venezuela.
As it stands, a fragile economy with a growing humanitarian and migratory crisis is facing a collapse of its main export market, a looming healthcare crisis from COVID-19, and a blanket economic embargo by the United States. Donald Trump, who is looking for any re-election strategy to distract from the COVID-19 pandemic, sees this as a perfect time to strike against the last remnant of anti-Americanism to his south.
In fact, attempts at such a strike may have already occured (and failed) on May 3, 2020, when Venezuelan authorities detained 13 individuals who invaded the country with heavy arms, supposedly in hopes of launching terrorist attacks or a coup d’etat. It is yet unclear whether the attack was launched at the command of U.S. authorities; President Trump denies any involvement, but two of the individuals are former U.S. army members now working for American mercenary organization Silvercorp, which has been hired to provide security for Trump in the past.
Regardless of the exact nature of this latest attack, it certainly would have aided U.S. interests were it to have succeeded and bolstered their larger campaign of continued pressure. In light of this, progressives should have no qualms about denouncing a foreign policy establishment who beat the drums of war while the Venezuelan people’s suffering approaches new heights. If there is no coherent domestic opposition to Trump’s aggression, a situation that is already dire may turn into a catastrophe while nobody is looking.