A friend asked me what the situation in Venezuela was and I launched into a tirade against imperialism. Unfortunately, without some history there is no context for my outrage at the U.S. government and its media’s portrayal of the crisis in Venezuela. But my rage is important because while progressives and the left march for everything from a woman’s rights over her body to gun control we seem to be missing a key focus of our resistance: anti-war. If we aren’t advocating for a country’s right over its own governing and control of American guns in foreign countries, what kind of hypocrites are we? This analysis of the situation in Venezuela and the U.S. government’s part in it is limited but will give a foundation for understanding why it matters.
Hugo Chavez was elected president in Venezuela in 1998. He defied the United States by using Venezuela’s oil resources to bring services to his people instead of profits to U.S. companies. Chavez continued to be re-elected until his death in 2014. Nicolás Maduro Moros was elected after Chavez and was re-elected in 2018. Many anti-Maduro parties refused to participate in the 2018. An independent receives 11% of the votes, the one opposition candidate received 21% of the votes and Maduro one with 68%. Anti-Maduro parties then claimed the election was illegitimate because not all parties were on the ballot—a choice the anti-Maduro parties made themselves. According to the Venezuelan constitution, if the elected President is unable to serve (illness, resignation, death, etc) the President of the National Assembly takes power until an election happens. The President of the National Assembly, Juan Gerardo Guaidó Márquez, announced that because the elections weren’t legitimate (they were) he was President of Venezuela. The constitution doesn’t allow for the President of the National Assembly to take power in the case of an illegitimate or questionable election.
Guaidó is backed by the United States because he will cooperate with the financial interests the United States has in Venezuelan oil. Maduro will not. Washington has said that they will lift the sanctions once there is regime change to an administration that would cooperate with U.S. interests. In January 2019 a public opinion poll was released stating that 80% of Venezuelans had never heard of Guaidó. The Venezuelan military do not support Guaidó. The very rich (and white) in Venezuela support Guaidó because their financial interests align with the U.S. interests. Despite the election results, the United States has recognized Guaidó as President of Venezuela. They have pressured many of their allies to do the same but out of 195 countries in the world, only 54 recognize Guaidó as President of Venezuela. The U.N. continues to recognize Maduro as President of Venezuela as the General Assembly has not met since this crisis and is not scheduled to meet until September.
Washington has put sanctions on Venezuela that is choking off their economy and causing many of the humanitarian issues that we see in the news. One of the strongest pieces of U.S. propaganda against Maduro is the claim that he is not allowing humanitarian aid into Venezuela. The reality is that he is allowing aid to come in from countries who are not trying to overthrow his government. The United States has a long history of taking over foreign governments by getting into the country under the cover of humanitarian aid. Maduro might not be a strong economic leader but he is not stupid. He knows that trucks from the United States would bring guns to assist in a coup.
The biggest propaganda story about humanitarian aid getting into Venezuela was proved to be outright lies. On February 23, 2019, U.S. trucks ostensibly bringing humanitarian aid to the people of Venezuela is stopped by Venezuelan security forces (for reasons I described above) on the bridge from Columbia. The story that U.S. government officials and mainstream media put out was the Maduro had lit the trucks on fire to prevent aid from getting to his people because, as Pence put it, “a tyrant.” This narrative was repeated over and over. Reporters and independent news outlets that provided a different narrative were ignored. On March 10, 2019, the New York Times put out an article and video proving that it was actually the U.S. backed opposition protestors that set the truck on fire with a Molotov cocktail. This is an excellent example of why it’s important to question news stories no matter who puts them out or what government officials re-tweet them.
On April 30, 2019, Guaidó, with the support of the United States and a small number of Venezuelan military attempted a coup to overthrow Maduro. It was unsuccessful because both the people and the military recognize Maduro as President of Venezuela. The only legal way for a foreign government to remove a leader is with the approval of the United Nations. The U.N. has not approved intervention in Venezuela. Until it does, the United States has no business supporting a coup.
As I write this, American anti-war activists are inhabiting the Venezuelan embassy in Washington, D.C. so that the opposition cannot lay claim to it. They are peacefully protecting the embassy from being taken by U.S. backed Venezuelan criminals. The Secret Service, tasked with protecting all embassies, even when the White House disagrees with the country’s government, is standing by while protestors from the Venezuelan opposition prevent food and supplies from getting into the embassy in Georgetown. Those inside are part of a collective that includes CODEPINK, a U.S. antiwar organization, and others that have named this effort “Embassy Protection Collective.” They were invited into the embassy by President Maduro and therefore see this action as lawful. The Trump administration and Venezuelan opposition claim that since Maduro isn’t the rightful president (despite being elected by the people) he can’t invite the Embassy Protection Collective into the embassy. The danger of the collective leaving the embassy is that if the Trump administration is allowed to have Guaidó’s followers move in, it is another step in their efforts for war and violation of international (and U.S.) law. If unchecked by the American people, our federal government will continue to act with impunity, taking whatever they want anywhere in the world, at the expense of world citizens like those suffering in Venezuela.
My hope is that by providing this context for the struggles in Venezuela and the United States’ role in them I am encouraging you to question what you are told by mainstream media. No conflict like this is simple and U.S. news outlets rarely tell you the whole story—sometimes telling you outright lies. The United States and its allies are waging a propaganda war against Maduro in the hopes of starting a real war in order to control Venezuelan resources. Part of the propaganda includes painting Maduro as a tyrant, dictator, monster who doesn’t want to help his people. The truth is that he has been defiant towards Washington’s efforts to control Venezuela, which is admirable. When I wrote about the 2018 Women in the World Summit in NYC panel about health conditions in Venezuela. I wrote what the speakers told me with very little consideration for the propaganda that might be imbedded in their heart-wrenching tales of dictatorship and death. I had no context for these statements, I just repeated them. Now with Venezuela in regular US headlines I have a fuller picture than I did when I wrote last year and I feel obligated to correct the one sided picture I painted.
Once again we are seeing the United States meddling in the affairs of other countries justified as humanitarian intervention but actually motivated by greed. If you are moved to protect the people in Venezuela, I recommend supporting the efforts of the Embassy Protection Collective by advocating for the electricity that was cut off to the embassy be turned back on, donating to CODEPINK, and contacting your member of Congress. The images of people struggling in Venezuela will likely motivate you to send money to organizations claiming they are providing aid. Please remember that the Red Cross, the UNHCR, China, Russia, and other countries are already providing aid to Venezuela. Your money will have a larger impact on the conflict at the embassy in Washington D.C. and will assist in preventing a war in which millions will suffer in such a way that no aid will relieve.
Article by Claire Ryder
VERVE Operative USA & Humanitarian Activist