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U.S. seeks to exploit humanitarian crisis in Venezuela for its own economic gain

U.S. seeks to exploit humanitarian crisis in Venezuela for its own economic gain

Illustration courtesy: Tasio

The United States has a long history of intervening in the affairs of other countries  throughout the world, particularly in Latin America. Those outside the U.S., or familiar with its  foreign policy from an outside perspective, see the constant interventions more often as grounded in self-interest than any sense of humanitarianism.

The examples of the United States supporting dictators and coups against democratically elected leaders, for instance, are numerous—the Contras in Nicaragua; the overthrow of Salvador Allende in Chile and support for his replacement, the brutal General Augusto Pinochet; and the 30 years of backing Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo, being just a few. Most recently, the U.S. has fixated on ousting Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, the socialist leader whom many blame for the nation’s recent economic collapse.

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Since Maduro took office in 2013, Venezuela’s economy has plummeted, with its currency, the bolivar, having lost 99.99 percent of its value. A series of protests beginning in 2014 has resulted in the deaths of dozens of Venezuelans at the hands of the government. Massive food shortages combined and social unrest have forced many Venezuelans to flee—more than 1.6 million since 2015 according to Organization for Migration (IOM). There were 232,391 asylum seekers from Venezuela in 2018 alone, according to statistics from Operational Data Portal.

“We are seeing an unprecedented perfect storm of food and nutrition crisis, protracted hyperinflation, a loss of physical and human capital, and complex debt problems in Venezuela.” David Lipton, first deputy manager director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) tweeted on Feb 3.

But while everyone can agree on the dire situation facing Venezuela, there is a fair amount of skepticism about the Trump administration’s motives for regime change.

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“This is not about democracy in Venezuela,” said Roberto Lovato, a journalist and UCLA professor who specializes in Latin America. “This is not about human rights, this is not about dictatorship. It’s about oil, and blood for oil that the U.S. is willing to spill.”

Lovato, who was born and raised in the Mission District, is the author of an acclaimed, but controversial article about Leopoldo López, the famous Venezuelan opposition leader of Hugo Chavez. In the “The Making of Leopoldo López,” which was published in Foreign Policy magazine, Lovato asserted that Lopez was indirectly involved in the attempted coup d’etat against Chavez in 2002.

“He is this martyr, he is this global rockstar in human rights,” Lovato said of Lopez, explaining how the Harvard alumni and former mayor of Chacao, is perceived by many in the West. “But I found out he has ties with extremists groups that tried to overthrow Hugo Chavez.”

Lovato said he had his life threatened at gunpoint while in Venezuela investigating for the López article. When he returned he was criticized heavily in The Washington Post, and the lawyers of Leopoldo López sent a letter to Foreign Policy magazine, demanding a list of corrections made or the removal of the article entirely.

Lovato sees history repeating itself now. Juan Guaidó, the current Venezuelan opposition leader (who the BBC called a “disciple” of Lopez), has declared himself interim president. The Trump administration and parts of Western Europe, in an open attempt to delegitimize Maduro, have recognized Guaidó as Venezuela’s rightful leader.

“This is about empire,” Lovato said, regarding the bipartisan support for delegitimizing Maduro. “This is the U.S. acting as it always has, as an empire. It did that under Obama, it did it under George Bush, it did it under Bill Clinton. It is just that when there is a Democrat, it is like a ‘friendly empire’ when in fact it is just the same empire.”

Imperialism is nonpartisan

Lovato implicates both Republicans and Democrats in America’s imperialism, noting that regime change in Venezuela is perhaps the first thing on which liberals agree with the president.

“Liberals and progressive that are joining Donald Trump in Venezuela, didn’t agree with him putting kids and mothers in jail from Central America, but they agree with him putting [in power] right-wing supporters in Venezuela, who liberals and progressive have no idea about,” Lovato said.

Although both liberals and conservatives have expressed support for providing humanitarian aid to the desperate people of Venezuela, those arguing against the intervention say United States’ history in Latin America cannot be ignored.

“It is ironic that Mr. Trump’s administration—isolationist by nature and utterly unconcerned about promoting democracy around the world— would seek to turn Venezuela into the focal point of its foreign policy,” wrote Felipe Gonzalez, former president of Spain, in an opinion article for the New York Times. “The United States exceeded its quota of military interventions in Latin American long ago.”

The Trump administration’s motives are all-the-more suspect considering its support for oppressive regimes such as Saudi Arabia’s Mohammed bin Salman, Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro and Colombia’s Ivan Duque, as well as its failure to intervene in the current crisis in Nicaragua.

“If Nicaragua had the largest oil reserve in the world, you’d be hearing more about it,” Lovato observed. “But it doesn’t so, ‘Who cares?’ That’s the kind of the attitude of many in the U.S., not just Donald Trump.”

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Senior members of the Trump administration seem to have confirmed the actual reason for regime change in Venezuela.

“It will make a big difference to the United States economically. If we could have American oil companies invest in and produce the oil capabilities in Venezuela,” National Security Advisor John Bolton told Fox news news recently.

Lovato and many others see not only Fox News, but the mainstream U.S. media as a whole, as being a promoter and propagandist of the Venezuelan opposition, and therefore as part of the problem.

“We are receiving a lot of spin, a lot of carefully manipulated and curated storytelling,” Lovato said.

For those familiar with history, the Trump administration’s announcement of Elliot Abrams as Special Representative for Venezuela is an ominous sign. Abrams, who served under Ronald Reagan as Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs, was convicted (though later pardoned by George H.W. Bush) of withholding information from congress during the Iran-Contra scandal investigation.

New York congressman Adriano de Jesús Espaillat and Minnesota congresswoman Ilhan Omar asked Abrams to his face whether he was suited to bring democracy to Venezuela, given his role in human rights violations and the atrocities committed in Central America during the 1980s.

In an interview with Democracy Now on Feb. 14, Lovato was even more blunt:

“When I see Elliott Abrams in front of Congress, it stirs my subconscious, and … I have to kind of breathe in … but it just confirms that the United States is in decline. He’s clearly a sign of U.S. degeneracy. And his appointment shows that the Trump administration is willing to re-unleash the darkest forces in U.S. modern history for war, destabilization and death squads.”

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