Regime Change in Venezuela: An Ongoing U.S. Policy

The United States’ Hand in Undermining Democracy in Venezuela

It used to be generally frowned upon to openly call for military coups and U.S. intervention in Latin America. Not anymore. At least not when it comes to Venezuela, a country where—according to the prevailing narrative—a brutal dictator is starving the population and quashing all opposition.

The United States’ Hand in Undermining Democracy in Venezuela

It used to be generally frowned upon to openly call for military coups and U.S. intervention in Latin America. Not anymore. At least not when it comes to Venezuela, a country where—according to the prevailing narrative—a brutal dictator is starving the population and quashing all opposition.

Last August, President Trump casually mentioned a “military option” for Venezuela from his golf course in New Jersey, provoking an uproar in Latin America but barely a peep in Washington. Similarly, Rex Tillerson, then-Secretary of State, spoke favorably about possible military ouster of Venezuelan president Nicolás Maduro.

The Economy

The backdrop to Venezuela’s prolonged political crisis has of course been the country’s ever-worsening economic quagmire. Though plunging oil prices have certainly played a role, Maduro undoubtedly bears part of the responsibility for the deep depression and hyperinflation that has prompted hundreds of thousands of his countrymen to emigrate and caused his poll numbers to plummet.

While many ideologues blame “socialism” for the country’s economic ills, most economists point to a set of policy errors that have little or nothing to do with socialism. Most devastating has been the dysfunctional exchange rate system, which has led to a worsening “inflation- depreciation” spiral over the past four years, and now hyperinflation. Free gasoline and price controls that didn’t work also contributed to the crisis. The Trump administration’s financial sanctions— more than all previous destabilization efforts, which were significant—have made it nearly impossible for the government to get out of the mess without outside help.

Regime Change in Venezuela: An Ongoing U.S. Policy

It’s worth noting that Trump’s Venezuela policy is mostly a continuation of President Obama’s policy toward Venezuela, although the financial embargo and calls for a military coup are particularly outrageous and disdainful of international law and the norms of civilized nations. The Trump sanctions build on an Obama sanctions regime identifying Venezuela as an “extraordinary threat to national security.” Around the time that Obama initiated a process of normalizing relations with Cuba, he began targeting assets of various senior officials and individuals associated with the Maduro government.

Under Obama, the U.S. government continued Bush-era funding to opposition political organizations in Venezuela and lobbied regional governments, again and again, to censure Venezuela in multilateral organizations, like the Organization of American States (OAS). It also refused to accept a Venezuelan ambassador to Washington— while inviting one from Cuba—and joined hard-liner opposition members in refusing to recognize Maduro’s electoral win in April 2013.

Essentially, the Obama administration—like the Bush administration, which was involved in the shortlived 2002 coup against Hugo Chávez—had a policy of promoting “regime change” in Venezuela. That policy has taken a more aggressive, overt, and dangerous direction under Trump.

Sadly, there has been virtually no criticism of U.S. government efforts to topple the Venezuelan government anywhere in the major media. In the U.S. Congress, where a large number of legislators now oppose the embargo against Cuba, for instance, there is little outcry, with the important exception of a small group of progressive Democrats who have opposed sanctions against Venezuela, under both Obama and Trump. The majority of the political and media establishment appears to believe that Trump has the right policy agenda for Venezuela, with many liberals pointing to cases of corruption, human rights violations and other crimes allegedly involving Venezuelan officials as justification for harsh measures.

Yet none of these critics are calling for broad economic sanctions against Latin American countries with far more violent and repressive records. Against Honduras, for instance, where the military was recently deployed to violently repress peaceful demonstrations following fraudulent elections, which the U.S. government recognized. Or against Colombia and Mexico, where, over the last few months, dozens of political candidates and social leaders have been killed with impunity.

Venezuela is treated differently by the U.S., for obvious reasons: it has a government that seeks to be independent from Washington and it sits atop hundreds of billions of barrels of oil reserves, which—when the Venezuelan economy finally recovers— will enable the government to have far-reaching regional influence.