Let’s Not Be Fooled Again – this time about Venezuela

How are we to think about the crisis in Venezuela when the main proponents of U.S. policy are known liars and war criminals? Specifically, of course, I’m thinking about Donald Trump and Elliot Abrams — not to mention John Bolton. That, for me is the question.

It seems to me in such tragic circumstances, our attitude towards the crisis (regardless of our judgments about Nicolas Maduro and socialism) should be governed by principle.

In fact, the current policy of the United States violates at least half a dozen principles. They include:

  1. National Sovereignty: Venezuela’s political and economic problems should be of no concern to our government.  
  2. Self-Determination: Venezuela has the right to choose its own form of government and economy.
  3. Anti-Imperialism: Revealingly, most of the countries aligned with the Trump administration are either charter members of Europe’s Axis of Colonialism or representatives of Euro-American client states. Meanwhile those opposing Trump’s policy are former colonies of the U.S. and Europe and/or have been invaded by the military forces of those inveterate imperialists. The latter include Russia, China, India, South Africa, and Mexico along with countries such as Ecuador, Bolivia, and Nicaragua. All of those countries know a thing or two about European and U.S. imperialist tyranny.
  4. Nuremberg (forbidding the punishment of civilian populations)
  5. Skepticism about the statements of proven liars
  6. Consistency

For starters, let me focus here on consistency. This principle dictates that:

  • If we’re worried about foreign interference in our own electoral process, we should stay out of Venezuela’s.
  • If Maduro’s jailing of political opponents concerns us, the same should be true relative to Brazil and Bolsonaro’s jailing of Luiz Ignacio Lula da Silva, the country’s most popular politician. (And yet, our government had no hesitation in recognizing Bolsonaro’s legitimacy.)
  • If we worry about humanitarian crises, we should stop cooperating with Saudi Arabia and its war against Yemen, the poorest country in the Middle East. That war has caused the worst humanitarian crisis in the world.
  • If crooked elections are cause for delegitimizing governments, we shouldn’t recognize the current government of Honduras, whose election of Juan Orlando Hernandez was certified as unfree and unfair by the OAS. It called for new elections. (But, of course, both the Obama and Trump administrations have recognized Hernandez as a legitimate head of state.)
  • If we’re outraged by police violence against demonstrators, we should cut off all aid to Israel for killing hundreds of unarmed demonstrators (including women and children) at the Gaza border and wounding thousands of others.

But none of these issues matter at all to the Trump administration. They care not a bit about humanitarian crises, fair elections, the right to protest or the jailing of political opponents. As both Trump and John Bolton have said openly, their concern is Venezuelan oil, controlling it and profiting from that control. That’s imperialism.

Moreover, the so-called “humanitarian aid” at the country’s borders in Brazil and Colombia is a pittance worth some millions of dollars, while the profits frozen from the country’s sale of oil and its access to its own gold reserves are worth billions – as are the mercantile transactions with other countries now prevented by the U.S. embargo. According to the Red Cross and the U.N.  (both of whom refuse to participate in its distribution) the disputed humanitarian aid is nothing more than a political ploy. In other words, if the U.S. truly cared about the welfare of the people of Venezuela, it would stop its embargo and allow Venezuela access to its money and markets so the country itself could buy food and medicine on the open market.

The appointment of Elliot Abrams as the Trump’s point man for Venezuela speaks volumes about the administration’s criminal intentions. Abrams, of course, is a convicted felon. He was the U.S. brains behind the genocidal policy of Rios Montt in Guatemala during the 1980s, when more than 200,000 Guatemalans (mostly indigenous) were slaughtered by Montt and his generals. Elliot Abrams is a war criminal. And his selection by Mr. Trump to run his show in Venezuela indicates an embrace of the old CIA playbook used again and again in its more than 68 regime-changes operations since World War II – with most of the removed officials having been democratically elected.

The playbook runs like this:

  • Any country attempting to establish an economy that serves the interests of its poor majority
  • Is routinely accused of being run by a dictatorship
  • It is subject to regime change by direct U.S. invasion
  • Or by right wing (often terrorist) elements within the local population
  • To keep said country within the capitalist system
  • So that the U.S. might once again use the country’s resources for its own enrichment
  • And for that of the local elite.

Standardly, the strategy is to use a combination of terrorism, sanctions, embargoes to make civilians within the country so miserable that even the poor will rise up and join forces with the elite to remove the so-called “dictator” from office.  That’s what’s happening in Venezuela at this very moment. To repeat: it’s a violation of the Nuremberg Principles forbidding punishment of civilian populations.

Perhaps the most surprising thing about Venezuela is how we believe our politicians on the subject of regime change. You’d think that at least after Iraq and Libya (not to mention Panama and Grenada) we’d show some skepticism. What was it that Great Man tried to say a few years ago? “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me”? I mean, how many times do we have to be fooled before we’re shamed out of our minds by our collective stupidity?

After all, these people (the Trumpists) are proven liars. Everybody knows that. It’s the subject of jokes every night on Colbert and on Saturday Night Live. Trump is a laughing stock. And yet when he speaks about his compassion for the Venezuelan people, about the lies of its government (!!), his concern for democracy and the integrity of elections, or about Maduro’s corruption (!!) the press actually takes him seriously. Give me a break, please!

Let me say it clearly, Donald Trump and his administration have not a shred of credibility. Period! Not a shred! Whatever he says (whatever they say) should be taken as an outright lie unless proven otherwise by absolutely unimpeachable sources.

And by the way, let me conclude by saying that it’s clearly wrong to blame Venezuela’s problems on socialism. First of all, Venezuela is not a socialist country. It’s governed by a socialist party, but its economy is dominated by private corporations. So is its news media.

France is more socialist than Venezuela. And besides, under Hugo Chavez, the economy thrived (largely because oil prices remained high). And just six years ago (after 14 years of so-called Bolivarian Socialism), polls determined that Venezuela was the happiest country in South America. As a matter of fact, it won that distinction two years in a row – in 2012 and 2013. Worldwide, in those years, its happiness index came out ahead of France, Spain, Italy, and Germany.

Right now, of course, it is not a happy place. Its condition is roughly the same as when Chavez took over in 1999 after decades of governance by its white elite creols. And, it’s true, the current unhappiness is surely due to mismanagement and corruption on the part of the Maduro administration. But it also has a lot to do with the fall of oil prices on the world market, but especially with the U.S. embargo and sanctions against Venezuela.

Bottom line: Please realize that we are being lied to about Venezuela! Our government is the main criminal there. Whatever we might think of Maduro or of socialism, the principles articulated at Nuremberg, as well as those of national sovereignty, self-determination, anti-imperialism, consistency, and common-sense skepticism before liars should be our guides.

Tell the president, your senators and congressional representatives: Yankee go home! Get out of Venezuela!

Published by

Mike Rivage-Seul's Blog

Emeritus professor of Peace & Social Justice Studies. Liberation theologian. Activist. Former R.C. priest. Married for 45 years. Three grown children. Six grandchildren.

9 thoughts on “Let’s Not Be Fooled Again – this time about Venezuela”

  1. Vicious evil regimes lie, steal, enslave, and murder. The US government, which claims to be so righteous, is a vicious evil regime. There is nothing more evil on Earth today than the United States of America’s Mafia Government. Good people everywhere long for the elimination of US tyranny and global oppression. Let us all work towards the elimination of the evil government of America!

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  2. Nice article. I think we all know the game by now. I doubt anybody these days thinks the US government ever acts from worthy motives. It’s a shame the administration drags the entire nation into international disrepute in this way but they’ve done a bang-up job.

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  3. Don Mike,

    Do you and your fellow socialists take any responsibility for the nightmare in Venezuela? For the massive suffering in the country? Do you think Maduro bears any blame? Do you think that your progressive policies have had anything at all to do with the current circumstances?

    I have watched your blog for the last few years, wondering when you might finally address Venezuela. I have watched the situation there very carefully as things systematically get worse and worse and worse.

    I kept quiet to see if you would ever address it without my getting into an argument with you. Hoped that sometime when I was in the Northeast I could look you up and sit down with you and ask you in person. That always seemed like the best way to engage with you.

    But I’ve watched your writings here. Checking back every month or two to see what you were teaching.

    Finally, today, after looking at the pictures of the babies dying in hospitals in Venezuala—given no chance whatsoever for life due to the absolute immorality and incompetency of that bastard Maduro and his cronies—I decided I had to ask you for your opinion and see if anything has changed in the last 15 years.

    I did a search to make sure I hadn’t missed anything and found this article.

    I was thrilled to see that you finally, finally wrote on Venezuela!

    And yet, the only thing you’ve written is exactly the same thing you’ve been teaching for years. Basically, “It’s all the fault of the United States.” “Empire is bad and it’s all about the oil.”

    I will happily help you talk about the war for oil, empire, etc. I agree with you on all of that.

    But it is absolutely dumbfounding to me that this is the only thing you are willing to ever write about. It’s astounding to me that when you have taught hundreds, perhaps thousands of impressionable young people to look to “Cuba and Venezuela” that you haven’t at least commented on what you see happening.

    For context, I was a former student of yours at LASP, about 15 years ago. At the time, you clearly stated that Venezuela and Cuba were, in essence, the “City on the Hill” that we should all be watching as the shining examples of idealism.

    They were the model. The best examples we could look to.

    Well, I watched. I thought. I studied. I (what did ya’ll call it?) “engaged.” I did my homework. I sorted through the issues, changed some perspectives and solidified others.

    I came to appreciate some areas where I was previously naive; I came to disagree even more strongly with some of the things that you (and others) taught. I have strong concerns about the result of many things that have been taught and the effect I’ve seen in lives, but I’ve kept quiet.

    But I cannot fathom how you would choose this essay to be the one you would write.

    I’ll help you seek to correct things in the United States. There are many things wrong.

    But will you please acknowledge a little bit of reality? For all that we’d like to change in the United States, I can’t conceive for a moment that you would encourage your grandchildren to go and live in Veneuzuela right now.

    As I have found to be almost entirely consistent among left-wing progressives—and I’m sorry for my sharp-tongue at the moment, but I’m speaking clearly and passionately because it seems appropriate to convey a certain depth of emotion since there are people dying!!!—it seems that you love to talk and talk about how great things would be but you never seem to actually take responsibility for the results of your policies.

    This entire essay is classic what-about-ism.

    Yes, the United States has an absurd disregard for consistency. Yes, the politicians and ambassadors are hypocritical and two-faced. Of course.

    And yes, the United States citizens murder far more of their babies than Venezuela does. And that trend seems to be getting worse (meaning the systematic murder of babies in the United States).

    But at least the United States can keep the lights on. At least the babies that are killed die as a direct result of their murderous parents (and we may, someday, be able to do something about that) rather than as mere “collateral damage” in a failed country.

    I’ll stop here.

    I’ve written with emotion and passion because that’s how I feel. And since you’re a progressive man who places a very high priority on feelings and emotions, I’ve chosen not to appeal to you logically.

    But I would ask you this: will you please consider writing an essay on Venezuela? One that doesn’t talk about the United States but actually talks about Venezuela?

    No hurry on the essay, but I am genuinely interested.

    If your argument is, “Venezuela was going well until the United States stepped in and screwed it all up,” I can understand that. If you buy Maduro’s claims about US interference and can point to actual evidence, I’ll consider it.

    But it leaves an extremely bad taste in my mouth to see millions of people suffering needlessly because corrupt progressive socialists do what corrupt progressive socialists always do (in my opinion, of course…I understand you would resist that statement) and destroy the lives of millions of people while making sure they and their cronies stay rich, fat, and happy.

    I’ve got to imagine there would be at least a few hundred of your former student that would like a straight, honest answer and discussion of the nightmare in South America.

    Again, I’m happy to see evidence of any US interference and problems. But at least present some evidence and take any actual responsibility that you can take.

    Thanks for reading my commentary,

    A Former Student

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    1. Wow! I so appreciate your taking the time not only to occasionally read my postings (despite your understandable disagreement with their content), but also to write such a full, thoughtful and committed comment. My blog on Venezuela says about all I have to say on the topic. You’re right, it would be great for the two of us to sit down with coffees and talk about that issue and so much more. It would also be great to reminisce about LASP and the good memories I’m sure we both have of that wonderful program.

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      1. Next time I’m in the NE, I’ll look you up, as I have intended to do for years. I appreciate your reply.

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  4. Don Mike,

    I’m sorry for my previous comment. I should have controlled my tongue and come to you privately, as I have always intended to do, rather than confront you publicly, as I did here.

    I could have been gentler with my language and more respectful with my tone.

    I apologize.

    Please delete my other comment so that it doesn’t show up publicly on your blog.

    Feel free to email me using this email address if you wish to reply privately and I can ask you my questions privately, as I should have done. uwfhwuw1prl1@opayq.com

    A Former Student

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