About a year ago I predicted that Venezuela would be the victim of a US backed coup attempt, like the one in 2002 under Chavez that proved unsuccessful. The coup has not happened, but it has been an interesting year for one of the most discussed countries of Latin America, and the region as a whole.
Central and Latin America has long been considered the US’ ‘backyard’, where the US has acted with almost total impunity when they essentially ‘colonised’ countries to expand their empire and influence in the region. European settlers’ treatment of the many indigenous peoples across the Americas was appalling on its own, but such treatment is still very much alive today – it’s just not called ‘imperialism’, but ‘protecting US interests’ and the fight for ‘democracy’. As if the US knows what that last word means.
From the late 1800’s, with the removal of Spain from Cuba, the US has proceeded to stake its own claim in the still strong battle for ‘empire’. Since then, it would be an understatement to say a majority of Central and Latin American countries have been negatively affected by US interference. Cuba, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Panama – that short list is just mainland Central America; there’s many more in the Caribbean and Latin America.
So what evidence is there to suggest a coup in Venezuela? Well in the year since I predicted that (Nicaragua and Iran are also on the prediction list), there has been an election held, an assassination attempt against Maduro, two bordering countries (Columbia and Brazil) becoming increasingly hostile due to dangerous leaders being elected (Iván Duque Márquez and Jair Bolsonaro respectively), the US themselves have said intervention is entirely possible, and Russia recently delivered to them some bombers capable of holding nuclear weapons.
Maduro’s re-election was contentious, and ignoring the dull remarks about how ‘socialism doesn’t work, look at Venezuela’, it’s quite simply a dictatorship at this point. After Maduro became President after Chavez’s death, the country has become more and more authoritarian in its actions to try and retain power. Some of it has been done to combat US influence in the country, but overall it has led to a desperate bid to hold power. For example, I would recommend TeleSUR as a decent place to get news regarding the region, same as Al Jazeera for the Middle East. But I would not trust them to truthfully report on Venezuela, as it is heavily sponsored by them – take it as you would take the New York Times on America’s global role, or Fairfax here in Australia.
The election was likely a farce, but even so I bet a majority of Venezuelans would prefer an authoritarian leader over the death squads and military regimes common with US takeovers. If ‘military coup’ is your answer to repairing democracy in a foreign country, then clearly your question was never about democracy in the first place. Like Iran, the US’ interest in Venezuela has never been the freedom of the population, but the vast natural resources in the country, specifically oil. (As an aside, even as someone against fossil fuels and who believes the push towards renewables is one of the most important issues of today, in the context of a country owning, benefiting and profiting from its own resources, the money made belongs to them, not foreign corporate giants; a similar case can be made against Australia with its clashes with East Timor, now Timor-Leste).
The assassination attempt took place in August, and ultimately it was unsuccessful. Blame was cast at Columbia and the US, both who denied those accusations, and some even suggested it was set up by Maduro himself to garner anti-US support from his people. Further still, whether the attempt was even real (i.e. drones were not even present) was even considered. All of these theories, quite frankly, are possible, and one could argue the legitimacy or fabrication for all of them depending on who you quote and which news sites you believe. The one indisputable fact is, however, that it is entirely possible that an attempt to assassinate Maduro could happen. Both the US and Colombia are incredibly hostile towards Venezuela, and the US already has a well-documented history of interfering in the country, including a coup attempt as recent at 2002 (the most recent coup was Honduras in 2009, which was and remains successful). To discredit the possibility is being willingly ignorant of the region’s history.
The consecutive elections of Trump, Márquez, and Bolsonaro also leaves Venezuela vulnerable. Whether one supports the Maduro regime or not, it’s a backwards step to prefer the US-Columbian-Brazilian leaders against them. Whether Maduro deserves to be thrown out of power is irrelevant when you consider the human costs the Venezuelan people will suffer in the case of military intervention – there are better ways. And this isn’t just conspiracy – Trump himself has said that a coup would be easy to perform, and plans have actually been discussed with rebel groups to do so. This reportedly took place about a month after the assassination attempt in August. With Brazil following the US’ lead in Israel-Palestine, with Netanyahu announcing the Brazilian embassy move to Jerusalem, there is no doubt they’ll also follow the US into a violent intervention into Venezuela.
Then there is the arrival of Russian military support in the form of bombers. Similar to the Cuban Missile Crisis, where Russia intended to place nuclear weapons in Cuba (in response to the US having nuclear weapons in Turkey), tensions are now being raised in Ukraine and Venezuela has accepted Russian support. A notable difference would be that this time around, Ukraine is directly on the Russian border, while Venezuela is about 4,500km away from the US. What is interesting about this last point, however, is the lack of noise about it. Everyone has heard of the tragic deaths of migrant children in US custody, preventable deaths that the Trump administration is directly responsible for. But the general population seem more invested in (or threatened by) an extra few thousand migrants than what may constitute an actual threat. Surely, even with Russian backing, Venezuela would not be stupid enough to aggravate the US, but the US is usually the aggressor looking for a reaction to justify further conflict.
But instead of policy to aid those seeking asylum, and instead of changing policies that force people to leave their homes (Honduras – coup; Guatemala – climate change), Trump has again shut down the government and blamed the Democrats for it, diverting attention away from real concerns. Trump said he would ‘own’ the shut down if it happened, but that was rather short lived. The same circumstances as with the shutdown surrounding DACA apply here too – the Republican Party still have control of the Senate, the House, and the White House. They could prevent this whenever they please, but cheap political fearmongering gets better results. Funding for the ‘wall’, which in its current state can hardly be called a wall, with taxpayer money would be absurd on its own, but given the fact that Trump’s promise was to make sure Mexico paid for it, it is mildly surprising that his base hasn’t picked up on this blatant falsehood.
America better hope the Democrats are able to force the government to back down this week or next when the House does flip. And Venezuela needs to be very careful about how it approaches its external threats, and work towards reinstalling democracy internally.