If we were surprised by the news a few days ago that the U.S. is backing a sudden and self-proclaimed “interim president” in Venezuela, we shouldn’t have been. Though it didn’t garner as much notice as it deserved, the Trump administration publically advertised its intentions at the beginning of November, in a speech by National Security Advisor John Bolton. “This Troika of Tyranny, this triangle of terror stretching from Havana to Caracas to Managua, is the cause of immense human suffering, the impetus of enormous regional instability, and the genesis of a sordid cradle of communism in the Western Hemisphere,” Bolton said. “Under President Trump, the United States is taking direct action against all three regimes to defend the rule of law, liberty, and basic human decency in our region.”
The “direct action” Bolton had in mind is now very clear: regime change, with Venezuela first on the list. As the Wall Street Journal reported January 25, Vice President Mike Pence made a phone call to Juan Guaidó the night before Guaidó proclaimed himself president, pledging full US support if he would do so. The next day, when Guaidó made his audacious proclamation, the United States immediately recognized his claim, and then reinforced its intentions with crippling new sanctions against the country’s critical oil exports.
Now Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has named as Special Envoy to Venezuela Elliot Abrams. In one of the most cynical possible introductions, Pompeo declared that Abrams’ “passion for the rights and liberties of all peoples makes him a perfect fit and … a true asset to our mission to help the Venezuelan people fully restore democracy and prosperity to their country.”
Nearly any dimension of Elliot Abrams’ history can prove the lie in that characterization. He was a lead player in US government support and direction of the military regimes in El Salvador and Guatemala that committed massive atrocities against their people. He denied and helped hide one of the worst massacres of civilians in El Salvador during that era, in El Mazote, at the hands of the Salvadoran army supplied and trained by the United States. He helped design and enact the Iran-Contra scheme that made possible the Contra war against the Nicaraguan revolution, and explicitly supported their strategy of attacking “soft targets” – meaning civilian cooperatives. This is a very partial list of the many ways Abrams has actively supported gross violations of human rights; for more details, see the January 30 edition of Democracy Now.
It is undeniable that the Maduro government’s mismanagement and corruption have been an economic disaster for Venezuela. The most recent election that returned Maduro to power was widely criticized as fraudulent, and his government has been guilty of multiple human rights abuses. Yet we must be deeply suspicious of US-led attempts to overthrow a government as a solution to these problems. Our country’s track record over the past century, in Latin America alone, includes Argentina, Brazil, Chile, El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, and Uruguay, has resulted in long-standing and brutal dictatorships.
What we are watching unfold now in Venezuela feels frighteningly familiar. As in the past, the goal is cloaked in lofty rhetoric, made particularly cynical by the track records of those who are enacting it. But there have been very few voices challenging the motives or methods of this intervention so far, from either Democratic or Republican members of Congress. Meanwhile, the immediate consequences in Venezuela have been increased suffering, arrests, and deaths, and the longer term fears are of civil war or of the rise of a new military-backed dictatorship.
Finally, remember that John Bolton has already signaled that Venezuela is just the beginning of the regime change agenda. Nicaragua and Cuba are clearly next in line.
As people who are committed to human rights, to self-determination, and to the norms of international law, we cannot be silent as our country attempts to reassert its control over the nations of Latin America. Please use the links above to follow what’s happening, and contact your own legislators to let them know you’re paying attention and are concerned. Stay alert to UUSC’s advocacy asks for additional ways to take action, and bring your faith community along by sharing what you know. Democracy and human rights depend on all of us!