Saturday, February 16, 2019


The justification of U.S. intervention in Venezuela is based on the dominant narrative of the U.S. government, the Republican and Democratic Parties and the mainstream media. That narrative states that Maduro is an autocrat and that Venezuela’s pressing economic problems are solely attributable to government incompetence. I attempt to refute those notions in the following article posted by Consortium News.

By Steve Ellner

Posted by Consortium News

The recognition by Nancy Pelosi and Joe Biden of Juan Guaidó as Venezuelan president is the latest demonstration of the consensus in Washington over the nefariousness of the Nicolás Maduro government. Not since Fidel Castro’s early years in power has a Latin American head of state been so consistently demonized. But the 1960s was the peak of the Cold War polarization that placed Cuba plainly in the enemy camp, and unlike Venezuela of today that nation had a one-party system in the absence of political pluralism.

The scope of the consensus was put in evidence by the recent faceoff between two figures as far apart as Donald Trump and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. In his State of the Union address, Trump attributed Venezuela’s economic crisis to the failed system of socialism. Ocasio-Cortez responded by arguing that the Venezuelan case is “an issue of authoritarian regime versus democracy.”

Taken together, the comments by Trump and Ocasio-Cortez complement one another. According to the narrative that dominates Washington, Venezuela is a disaster from both economic and political viewpoints. The exclusive blame for the sorry state of the economy and for the country’s allegedly authoritarian rule lays with Maduro and his cohorts.

Not surprisingly, the mainstream media have refrained from questioning these assumptions. Most of their reporting puts the accent mark on state incompetence and corruption, while skirting the detrimental effects of the economic sanctions implemented by the Trump administration.

In addition, many on the left point to the economic sanctions as responsible, at least in part, for the nation’s pressing economic difficulties, but few critically examine the mainstream’s characterization of the state of Venezuelan democracy. Some who do so oppose the sanctions but join the opposition in bashing the Maduro government. A recent article by Gabriel Hetland, for instance, posted by Jacobin and NACLA: Report on the Americas claims that Maduro “holds [ing] onto power through authoritarian means”; the author then turns to the nation’s economic difficulties by arguing that “the primary driver is the government’s mismanagement of its oil revenue” and corruption.

During my participation in a two-month Venezuelan solidarity tour late last year in the U.S. and Canada, I often heard the statement that knowing the specifics about Venezuela’s economic and political problems is not essential because the bottom line is the illegality of Trump’s sanctions and threats of military intervention. But does international law end the discussion? If it could be proven that Maduro is a dictator and a totally incompetent ruler, would people enthusiastically rally behind his government in opposition to foreign intervention? I don’t think so. Undoubtedly, it is necessary to take a close look at both political and economic fronts because the effectiveness of solidarity efforts hinges on the specifics. The dominant narrative about Maduro and its assumptions cannot be taken at face value, even while there are elements of truth in it.

How Far Back Do The Economic Problems Go?

The Venezuelan opposition frequently argues that neither the sanctions nor depressed international oil prices are to blame for the nation’s economic difficulties, only the mismanagement of the economy. At best, declining oil prices contributed to the problems but were not a root cause. Some opposition analysts deny or minimize the importance of oil prices as a factor by pointing out that the economies of other OPEC nations are as dependent on oil exports as that of Venezuela but have not plummeted to the same levels.

The opposition’s central argument here is that Venezuela’s dire economic problems predate Trump’s implementation of sanctions and even predate the sharp decline in international oil prices beginning mid-2014. That is, government follies with disastrous effects came first, followed by the decline in oil prices and then the sanctions. Two-time presidential candidate for the opposition Henrique Capriles claimed that the crisis began prior to the fall of oil prices but for a long time was “ignored, repressed and covered up” by the government.

There are two fallacies in this line of thinking. In the first place, the so-called “economic war” against Venezuela, which eventually included the Trump-imposed sanctions, preceded everything else. Washington almost from the beginning of Chávez’s presidency in 1999 did not stand by idly while he defied the neoliberal Washington Consensus as well as U.S. hegemony. Washington’s hostility seriously harmed the economy in multiple ways. For instance, the George W. Bush administration banned the sale of spare parts for the Venezuelan Air Force’s costly F-16 fighter jets in 2006, forcing the country to turn to Russia for the purchase of 24 Sukhoi SU-30 fighter planes. Furthermore, the international sanctions did not begin with Trump, but rather Obama in 2015 which were justified by his executive order calling Venezuela a threat to U.S. national security. That order was followed by an avalanche of pull-outs from Venezuela by multinationals including Ford, Kimberly Clark, General Motors, Kellogg’s and nearly all the international airlines.

In the second place, oil prices under Maduro have not only been low since 2014 but nosedived, just the opposite of what happened under Chávez. This is particularly problematic because high prices create expectations and commitments that then get transformed into frustration and anger when they precipitously drop. Prices are currently slightly over half of what they were before the decline, in spite of their modest recovery since 2017.

Three factors explain Venezuela’s economic woes, not one: low oil prices, the “economic war” against Venezuela, and mistaken policies. Prominent in the latter category is Maduro’s lethargic response to the problem of the widening disparity between official prices set by the government on certain items and prices on the black market. The government has encountered major problems in distributing basic commodities that are in short supply and are sold way below that of the black market. The system is conducive to corruption and contraband as many of the products that are supposed to be retailed at reduced prices end up being sold on the black market or sent off to neighboring Colombia.  

The Dictatorship Label Repeated a Thousand Times

The media are in desperate need of good fact-checkers in their reporting on Venezuela. Statements about Venezuelan democracy range from blatantly misleading to accurate with most lying between the two extremes. An example of the former is the Guardian’s claim that the Venezuelan government “controls most TV and radio stations which transmit a constant stream of pro-Maduro propaganda.” In fact, of those who tune into Venezuelan TV channels, 80 percent watch the 3 major private channels (Venevisión, Televén, and Globovisión) which cannot be seriously accused of being pro-government.   

At the other extreme is Hetland’s assertion in his Jacobin-NACLA piece that the decision to strip Henrique Capriles of his right to run for office as a result of corruption charges was politically motivated. The statement is accurate. Actually, the move was worse than what Hetland discusses. For some time before that, Capriles, whose political positions have vacillated considerably, favored a less intransigent stance toward the government than those on the radical right, which has largely dominated the opposition of late. The move, in effect, played into the hands of the radicals and undermined efforts to bring about a much-needed national dialogue.

Those who call Maduro a dictator make two basic assertions. In the first place, the government is alleged to have brutally repressed the 4-month long peaceful demonstrations designed to bring about regime change carried out in 2014 and then 2017. In fact, the protests were hardly peaceful. Six National Guardsmen and 2 policemen were killed in 2014 and protestors fired into an air force base in Caracas and attacked a number of police stations in Táchira in 2017. There are different versions of the circumstances surrounding the numerous fatalities in 2014 and 2017, thus requiring an impartial analysis, which the media has hardly attempted to present. Police repression is reprehensible – and repression there was on both occasions – regardless of circumstances, but the context has to be brought into the picture.

In the second place, the opposition denies that Maduro’s re-election in May of last year was legitimate because the election was called for by the National Constituent Assembly (ANC), whose existence allegedly has no legal basis. One of the nation’s foremost constitutional lawyers Hermann Escarrá has defended the ANC’s legality, while others formulate plausible arguments to the contrary. Again, the mainstream media has failed to present both sides or to objectively analyze the issue. Nearly all the opposition parties that refused to participate in the presidential elections in 2018, however, did participate in the gubernatorial elections of the preceding year that were convened by the same ANC. The justification for Juan Guaidó’s self-proclamation as Venezuelan president on January 23 was predicated on the illegitimacy of the ANC.

Violation of democratic norms and cases of police repression do not in themselves demonstrate that a government is authoritarian or dictatorial. If they did, the United States would hardly be considered democratic. The real defining issue is whether electoral fraud takes place in which votes are not correctly counted. That accusation has been largely absent in the controversy over recent elections, even among leaders of the radical opposition.

The mainstream media and Washington politicians freely call Maduro an “autocrat” a “dictator” and “authoritarian.” More than anything that is said about Venezuela’s economic difficulties, the use of these terms has had a profound effect on policy making. A nation’s economic problems do not justify intervention of any sort. The real issue of contention, therefore, is the state of Venezuelan democracy as depicted by the dominant narrative. Amazingly enough, there is no major actor in mainstream politics and the mainstream media willing to challenge that narrative with all its questionable claims regarding the Maduro government.  

Steve Ellner is a retired professor from Venezuela’s University of the East and is currently associate managing editor of “Latin American Perspectives.” Among his over a dozen books on Latin America is his edited The Pink Tide Experiences: Breakthroughs and Shortcomings in Twenty-First Century Latin America (Rowman & Littlefield, 2019).

Friday, February 8, 2019


The mainstream media doesn’t touch the topic of the Venezuelan opposition as a whole which all along has been deeply divided over relations with the Maduro government. With the self-proclamation of Juan Guaidó, the radical fringe of the opposition is now bolstered thanks to the blatant interventionism of Washington engineered by the neo-cons. Today, “NACLA: Report on the Americas” posted an article of mine that explores how the Venezuelan opposition with the right-wing radicals at the helm is discrediting itself internally and internationally by associating itself so closely with Washington. 

Report on the Americas
Since its outset, the Trump administration has ratcheted up pressure on Venezuela and radicalized its positions. In the process, the Venezuelan opposition has become more and more associated with—and dependent on—Washington and its allies. An example is the opposition protests slated for February 2. The actions were timed to coincide with the European Union’s “ultimatum” stating that they would recognize the shadow government of Juan Guaidó if President Nicolás Maduro did not call elections within a week’s time.

The opposition’s most radical sectors, which include Guaidó's Voluntad Popular party (VP) along with former presidential candidate María Corina Machado have always had close ties with the United States. Guaidó, as well as VP head Leopoldo López and the VP’s Carlos Vecchio, who is the shadow government’s Chargé d’Affaires in Washington, were educated in prestigious U.S. universities—not uncommon among Latin American economic and political elites.

The ties between the opposition and international actors are strong: last weekend, Vecchio called the campaign to unseat Maduro “an international effort.” At the same time, Guaidó, referring to opposition-called protests, stated “today, February 2, we are going to meet again in the streets to show our gratitude to the support that the European Parliament has given us.” In doing so, Guaidó explicitly connected the authority of outside countries to his own assumption of leadership. 

The outcome of Washington’s actions is bound to be unfavorable in a number of ways, regardless of whether or not they achieve regime change. Most important, a government headed by Guaidó will be perceived both by Venezuelans and international observers as “made in U.S.A.”  The opposition’s association with foreign powers has allowed the Maduro leadership to rein in discontent members of the Chavista movement. 
Furthermore, Venezuelans will perceive any sign of economic recovery under a Guaidó government as made possible by aid, if not handouts, from Washington, designed to discredit Maduro’s socialist government, though such assistance will undoubtedly be used to further U.S. economic and political interests. In fact, U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton has indicated that he is already calling on oil companies to opt for investments in Venezuela once Maduro is overthrown. As he told Fox News, "we're in conversation with major American companies now.... It will make a big difference to the United States economically if we could have American oil companies really invest in and produce the oil capabilities in Venezuela.”

Either explicitly or implicitly, Washington is dictating strategy, or at least providing input into its formulation. One of the challenges the opposition faces is the need to demonstrate to rank-and-file Venezuelans that the current offensive against Maduro will be different from the disastrous attempts of 2014 and 2017, when anti-government leaders assured protesters that the president would be toppled in a matter of days. The opposition leadership claims that this time is different for two reasons. First, the regional Right turn has deepened, and the opposition is more able than ever to rely on decisive support from Washington and other governments, regardless of how democratic they are—see the neofascist credentials of Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro. 

Second, the opposition is counting on the backing of military officers, particularly lower-ranking ones who have allegedly lost patience with Maduro. In addition to some defections, junior officers attempted to stage a military coup just two days before mass opposition protests on January 23 when Guaidó declared himself president. Previously, the Venezuelan opposition expressed a degree of contempt for military officers for their unwillingness to defy the Chavista government. The opposition’s new perspective dates back to Trump’s three meetings with military rebels and his statement, made alongside President Iván Duque of Colombia in September of last year, that the Maduro government “could be toppled very quickly by the military if the military decides to do that.” The U.S. effort to encourage the military to step in was again made evident on Wednesday when John Bolton tweeted that U.S. sanctions against senior officers for alleged illegal actions could be lifted “for any Venezuelan senior military officer that stands for democracy and recognizes the constitutional government of President Juan Guaidó.” Recently, Guaidó made a similar offer to military officers, implying continuity and closeness between Washington and the shadow government. 
Also noteworthy is that Guaidó and other VP leaders are closer to Washington than the rest of the opposition. The Wall Street Journal reported that Guaidó consulted Mike Pence the night before his self-proclamation as president on January 23. According to ex-presidential candidate Henrique Capriles Radonski the majority of the opposition parties were not aware of Guaidó’s intentions and in fact did not support the idea.

To make matters worse, the VP-led opposition is openly working hand-in-glove with Washington. Last week Guaidó announced that he would attempt to transport humanitarian aid the United States has deposited on the Colombian and Brazilian borders into Venezuela. He called on the Venezuelan military to disobey orders from the Maduro government by facilitating the passage, while Maduro ordered it blocked. While playing political benefactor, Washington was clearly manipulating the optics of the situation to discredit Maduro and rally more international support for Guaído. In an apparent rebuke to Washington and Guaidó, UN spokesperson Stéphane Dujarric on Wednesday insisted that the humanitarian aid be “depoliticized.” 

Opposition leaders and the Trump government are also working together to isolate Venezuela economically throughout the world. Julio Borges, a leading member of the opposition, has campaigned to convince international financial institutions to shun Venezuelan transactions and has urged Great Britain to refuse to repatriate Venezuelan gold stored in London. President Maduro has responded by calling on the Attorney General to open judicial proceedings against Borges on grounds of treason. Along similar lines, U.S. Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross are currently attempting to convince international business interests to deny the Venezuelan government access to national assets in their possession.

The Trump administration’s blatant and undisguised interventionism may in fact backfire and help Maduro counter his sagging poll numbers, which last October the polling firm Datanálisis reported was 23%. Maduro recently lashed out on Twitter at the close nexus between Washington and the opposition, saying “Aren't you embarrassed at yourselves, ashamed at the way every day by Twitter Mike Pence, John Bolton, Mike Pompeo tell you what you should do.”

Anti-imperialism is, of course, a major cornerstone of the Chavista movement, born from resentment of U.S. interventionism and heavy-handedness that had for decades controlled many of Venezuela’s resources and dictated its economic policies. The maneuvers of the Trump administration and its allies only double down on this narrative, and are counterproductive at best when it comes to solving the crisis. Their actions also risk fanning the flames of anti-Americanism throughout the continent. It wouldn’t be the first time: In 1958, then-vice president Nixon was attacked by a riotous crowd in Caracas, and a decade later Nelson Rockefeller’s fact-finding tour arranged by then-President Nixon faced off with angry disruptive protests. Both incidents were responses to Washington's self-serving support for regimes that came to power through undemocratic means, in some cases with U.S. involvement.

In its strategy towards Venezuela, Washington is invoking not only its Cold War policy but the Monroe Doctrine and its view of Latin America as the U.S.’ “backyard,”—a claim that is especially anathema throughout the region. Indeed, Vice President Pence said to Fox News, answering a question about why Trump is withdrawing troops from Syria and Afghanistan while intervening in Venezuela. “President Trump has always had a very different view of our hemisphere,” he said. “He’s long understood that the United States has a special responsibility to support and nurture democracy and freedom in this hemisphere and that’s a longstanding tradition.”

President Trump recently appointed neocon Elliott Abrams as special envoy to Venezuela. Abrams has in many ways personified the application of the Monroe Doctrine with his blatant disregard for human rights violation and the principle of non-intervention in Guatemala, Nicaragua, El Salvador in the 1980s and his alleged implication in the 2002 coup against Hugo Chávez.   
Trump’s decision regarding CITGO, a U.S.-based company owned by Venezuela’s state-owned PDVSA, speaks to a dangerous precedent. On Wednesday he declared that jurisdiction over CITGO would be turned over to the shadow government, and appealed to other countries to follow similar steps. While condemning anti-democratic actions and fraudulent elections in Venezuela, these sanctions ignore the rule of law. The Maduro government was never given the opportunity to defend itself and legal procedures were not followed. 

It is always a dubious exercise to guess at President Trump’s intentions. His actions in Venezuela could be designed to divert attention from the multiple probes into his own unethical behavior, or they may be a way to draw attention away from the utter fiasco of U.S. interventions in the Middle East, from Libya to Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria. Trump may also view his Venezuela policy as a quick fix to Make America Great Again. Along similar lines, Trump evidently sees the downfall of the Maduro government as the ultimate proof that socialism doesn’t work. He indicated as much in his State of the Union address on Tuesday when he used the topic of Venezuela as a springboard for declaring: “We are born free, and we will stay free… America will never be a socialist country.”
Yet regardless of short-term results of U.S. support for Guaidó, the final outcome will be negative. There are a number of reasons why: first, it bolsters the position of the most radical elements of the opposition led by the VP party, thus contributing to the fragmentation of the anti-Chavista movement. Second, it attaches a “made in U.S.A.” label to those positioned to govern should Maduro fall. The stigma would undoubtedly scuttle their chances of maintaining longstanding majority support and in doing so would undermine their authority and ability to govern. Third, the appeal to the military to save Venezuela has terrifying implications for a continent with a long history of military rule. And finally, the seizure of Venezuelan assets, which have then been turned over to a political ally, violates sacred norms of property rights, and in the process erodes confidence in the system of private property. These four considerations are an indication of the multiple adverse impacts that the Trump administration’s rash approach to the Maduro government will have on the United States, Venezuela, and the rest of the region.

Steve Ellner is a retired professor from Venezuela’s University of the East, a long-time contributor to NACLA: Report on the Americas, and currently associate managing editor of “Latin American Perspectives.” Among his over a dozen books on Latin America is his edited The Pink Tide Experiences: Breakthroughs and Shortcomings in Twenty-First Century Latin America (Rowman & Littlefield, 2019).

Saturday, January 26, 2019

Washington Promotes Radicalization and Polarization in Venezuela and Throughout the Region


By Steve Ellner
Article posted by Consortium News
Washington’s recognition of the shadow government headed by Venezuelan National Assembly president Juan Guaidó is one more demonstration of how the Trump administration has radicalized foreign policy positions and in doing so violates international law, including the OAS charter. 
On this issue like others, the Obama administration laid the groundwork for Trump’s radicalization, but it was usually more discrete. Obama issued an executive order calling Venezuela a threat to U.S. national security and created a list of Venezuelan officials who were sanctioned. The Trump administration’s escalation included financial sanctions against the Venezuelan government and measures against the nation’s oil industry. In addition, top administration officials have played an openly activist role by traveling throughout the continent to promote the campaign to isolate Venezuela. 
The first signal that the pro-U.S. international community would recognize the Guaidó government came from Washington along with its most right-wing ally, the Jair Bolsonaro government of Brazil. As of last year, Great Britain had intended to not recognize Maduro after he took office for his second term on January 10, but it intended to maintain diplomatic relations. Washington pushed for a more radical position, that of not only not recognizing Maduro but establishing diplomatic relations with a shadow government. 
The activist approach to diplomacy was put in evidence the day after the January 23 opposition protests, when Secretary of State Pompeyo offered 20 million dollars of “humanitarian assistance” to the Venezuelan population. Many Venezuelans see this as humiliating and nothing short of a bribe designed to pressure the country into submission. 
Never since the Cuban revolution, has the U.S. government played such an overtly activist role throughout the continent in favor of the isolation of a government that is not to its liking. In the process it has further polarized Venezuela and the continent as a whole. The moderates in the Venezuelan opposition, including two former presidential candidates of the two main traditional parties, Claudio Fermín and Eduardo Fernández, have favored electoral participation and recognition of the legitimacy of the Maduro government. Washington’s actions pull the rug from under the moderates and strengthen the hands of the extremists in the opposition. 
In August 2017, opposition parties accepted the National Constituent Assembly’s (ANC) call for gubernatorial elections in October of that year. Now most of those same parties refuse to recognize the Maduro government on grounds that the ANC, which convened the presidential elections, is an illegitimate body.
The Trump administration has promoted a similar radicalization throughout the hemisphere. Most of the countries that have recognized Guaidó are on the right (as opposed to the center). But previously the rightist presidents of Chile (Sebasián Piñera), Argentina (Mauricio Macri) and Brazil  (under then president Michel Temer) rejected the statement by OAS secretary general Luis Almagro that military intervention in Venezuela should be considered. Trump, Bolsonaro and recently elected Colombian president Iván Duque have pushed these rightist presidents to an even more extreme position on Venezuela. 
But just as there are moderates in the Venezuelan opposition who support dialogue, which the mainstream media have pretty much ignored, there are moderates in the international community who are also in favor of dialogue. These figures include Mexican president Andrés Manuel López Obrador, Pope Francis, UN secretary general Antonio Guterres, and the UN’s High Commissioner for Human Rights and ex-president of Chile Michelle Bachelet. What they are proposing represents the best hope for this battered nation.

Steve Ellner is Associate Managing Editor of “Latin American Perspectives” and is the editor of “The Pink Tide Experiences: Breakthroughs and Shortcomings in Twenty-First Century Latin America” (2019).

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

A link to the book "La izquierda latinoamericana en el poder: cambios y enfrentamientos en el siglo XXI"

My edited book La izquierda latinoamericana en el poder: cambios y enfrentamientos en el siglo XXI contains chapters on Venezuela, Bolivia, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Cuba, social movements and the media written by the following authors: the late Roger Burbach, David Raby, Marcel Nelson, Federico Fuentes, Héctor Perla, Héctor Cruz Feliciano, Camila Piñera Harnecker, Kevin Young and Pascal Lupien and William Robinson.

Friday, January 11, 2019

Contrary to What the Right Claims, the OAS-Resolution on Venezuela was Hardly a Victory for the Anti-Chavistas.

Yesterday’s vote in the OAS “not to recognize the legitimacy” of Nicolás Maduro’s new term in office was too narrow to be considered a victory for anyone: 19 yes votes against 15 nations that did not sign on. Furthermore, consider the democratic credentials of some of the governments that supported the resolution: Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro who has talked fondly of torture and murder of adversaries and considers members of the environmental movement in the Amazon region as “terrorists”; Honduras’s Juan Orlando Hernández whose re-election last year was widely considered fraudulent, even by the OAS itself, and whose close family members are big-time narco traffickers; Chile’s Sabastián Piñera – the two main parties that backed his presidential candidacy were closely tied to the Pinochet government; Colombia’s Iván Duque whose party is led by Alvaro Uribe with his well-documented ties with narco traffickers and military and paramilitary forces responsible for massive land dispossession; the Paraguay government which is in power thanks to a soft coup. If you subtract these votes from the OAS tally, the resolution against Venezuela was defeated. Yesterday, RT interviewed me on the subject.

Tuesday, January 1, 2019


As Nicolás Maduro is sworn in for a new presidential term on January 10, Washington is bound to ratchet up its campaign to isolate Venezuela politically and economically. A few days earlier, U.S. Congressional Representatives belonging to the Democratic Party – with somewhat of a new face – initiated their term 2019-2021. Its Progressive Caucus now has 98 congressional members, by far the party’s largest.

If the Progressive Caucus were to place the issue of Venezuela on the table for discussion as part of its critique of the policies of the Trump Administration, it would be doing a great service to the campaign against the illegal financial sanctions that have caused so much suffering to the people of Venezuela. In particular, Bernie Sanders, who needs to assume bold and principled positions as he did in 2016 to differentiate himself from other Democratic politicians with presidential ambitions, would do well to take up the issue.
Of course, Sanders and other Democrats cannot – even if they wanted to – use the arguments employed by those further to their left. If Sanders were to point to the progressive policies initiated by Hugo Chávez which Maduro has retained - such as his nationalistic foreign policies and social programs empowering the poor - the Democratic National Committee aided by the mainstream media would show Sanders to the party 's door.
So if Sanders were to take up the issue, how would he respond to the predictable objections from the media as well as political adversaries to his right? The following are the politically-charged questions which Sanders would likely get from the press, along with his possible - and hypothetical - responses.
Press. You oppose sanctions against the Maduro dictatorship, but you support measures against Saudi Arabia for the brutal murder of Jamal Khashoggi. Isn't that contradictory, if not hypocritical?
Sanders. No one in Washington is talking about regime change in the case of Saudi Arabia. That's up to the Saudi people. In the case of Venezuela that’s what the sanctions are all about: getting rid of Maduro. If there’s anything hypocritical, it’s Washington’s activism in favor of regime change of governments we don’t like, while maintaining friendly relations with others which are anything but democratic. To make matters worse, we provide generous amounts of aid, including military aid, to those same regimes. 
Press. Are you opposed to trying to remove an unpopular regime?
Sanders. I wouldn’t say it’s out of the question, but history shows that such a strategy needs to be carefully thought out because the results have often been disastrous. One factor that has to be taken into account is whether there is a united opposition with recognized credibility that can take over and maintain stability. That certainly wasn’t the case in Libya and Syria. And it doesn’t appear to be the case in Venezuela. The Venezuelan opposition is divided between those who favor participation in elections and those who oppose it, between those who support a military option and those who are against it. Furthermore, some of the opposition parties have lost credibility because they went so quickly from backing demonstrations to oust Maduro, which resulted in scores of deaths, to participating in elections. I am told that many of those who are adamantly opposed to Maduro are also extremely skeptical of the opposition. 
Press: But shouldn't Maduro be placed in the same category as that of the Saudi government and other brutal dictatorial regime? 
Sanders. First, let me make clear, I am no defender of the Maduro government. But it seems to me that distinctions need to be made. Khashoggi was murdered even though he wasn’t leading a movement to overthrow the government. In fact, he was a moderate. While police brutality has to be condemned regardless of circumstances - and there’s been plenty of it in Venezuela under Maduro - nevertheless, the context has to be considered. In the protests in Venezuela there has been extremes on both sides. Six national guardsmen and two policemen were killed in the protests in 2014 calling for regime change. What would happen here in the U.S. if protesters attempting to overthrow the government killed policemen? Venezuela and Saudi Arabia are separate cases and have to be considered separately.  
Press. Then the U.S. should turn a blind eye to what is happening in Venezuela? Are you an isolationist?anw
Sanders. Definitely not. I think Washington should play an active role in its relations with Venezuela, but of a different nature. The prime minister of Spain, Pedro Sánchez, is no buddy of Maduro, but he has stated that he wants Spain to help broker negotiations between both sides in Venezuela and reach a consensus as to what needs to be done. Venezuela is in a crisis-type situation economically and no side has magical answers for getting the country out of it. Only through some kind of consensus can the country move forward. If that doesn’t happen Venezuelans of all classes and political persuasions will suffer and they will continue to leave the country, thus aggravating instability throughout the region. We have to think of an effective approach to reverse this trend. Trump’s policy of sanctions, threats of military intervention and support for a military coup has been anything but effective.   
These, in short, are arguments that Bernie Sanders and other members of the Progressive Caucus can use to counter the inevitable barrage of attacks that any opposition to sanctions on the Hill will invite. Fear of facing these issues has made criticism of U.S. policy toward Venezuela virtually taboo, even for bold politicians like Sanders. Given the major blunders in U.S. foreign policy over the recent past, revision and debate are in order. Specifically, in the case of Venezuela, the issue of international sanctions needs to be placed on the table. 

Sunday, December 30, 2018


Fox is supporting Trump’s decision to withdraw all U.S. troops from Syria. Actually, it shouldn’t be that surprising as it’s a reflection of the profundity of the fissures within the U.S. ruling class. I certainly do not agree with the way this article frames the issue. But it is evident that the anti-war movement and the left in general needs to take advantage of this moment to raise key issues with regard to U.S. interventionism and to promote anti-war mobilizations. An opportunity like this for the anti-war movement has not presented itself in many years. We need to seize the moment.