As the U.S. ramps up its intervention efforts in Venezuela, activists in Puget Sound are preparing to demonstrate against it.
Jane Cutter is a member of Answer Coalition, an anti-war activist group that is planning a protest on March 16 at Seattle Central College. Cutter is concerned with what she called a U.S.-backed coup to support Juan Guaido, the opposition candidate whom several countries are backing as Venezuela’s new president. Venezuela’s current president, Nicolas Maduro, has not recognized Guaido. In response, the U.S. has slapped the country with sanctions, destabilizing it further.
Cutter said Answer Coalition is against any form of U.S. intervention into Venezuelan politics and said economic sanctions lead to hardship for ordinary people.
“We know what sanctions do, we know what sanctions are,” Cutter said. “They are not an alternative to war, they are a different form of war.”
Cutter said their protest is designed to send the message that the U.S. should not interfere with Venezuela, and to let the Venezuelan people decide how to move forward. Given the U.S. track record in Latin America, Cutter said she doesn’t buy claims of humanitarian assistance that the Trump administration has put forward.
“What we need right now is for there to be a clear statement from the American people that we reject this,” Cutter said.
The situation in Venezuela is complicated. Gregory Weeks, editor of The Latin Americanist and a professor at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, said even right-wing governments in the region who oppose Maduro also oppose U.S. military intervention. If the U.S. were to become aggressive — especially unilaterally — in its push to unseat Maduro, the nation would likely lose support of tentative allies.
“If the United States pushes forward with this and takes a unilateral approach instead of a multilateral approach, it would be widely unpopular,” Weeks said.
The U.S. has a long and sometimes dark history of intervening in Latin America, and has often taken a leading role in pressuring and toppling governments it views as unfriendly. Venezuela is somewhat different, Weeks said, because Maduro hasn’t found much support from neighboring countries.
“The government is unpopular both internally and it doesn’t have a whole lot of support around Latin America,” Weeks said.
Polling suggests that Maduro is unpopular in Venezuela, with one poll finding 68 percent of Venezuelans wanting Maduro to step down. At the same time, only 35 percent of Venezuelans said they would support a foreign military intervention to remove their president, and more than half of the people would reject it. Weeks said he thinks the Trump administration should avoid starting a military conflict, saying it would likely lead to even more problems for Venezuelans.
“If you’re concerned about human suffering, it’s going to exacerbate the humanitarian crisis,” he said.
Venezuela was again in the headlines in recent weeks for stopping a shipment of humanitarian aid from the U.S. At the same time, it has been accepting humanitarian aid from other countries. Some 90 percent of Venezuelans live in poverty and the country faces food and medicine shortages. Kelsey Gilman is a PhD student at the University of Washington who teaches Latin American political history. Often times, humanitarian assistance is used by the U.S. as a political tool, she said.
“The U.S. wanted to pressure Maduro out of office. They wanted to do that by offering an aid package designed to help poor Venezuelans in the short run,” Gilman said. “But in the long run, that action actually undermines democratic processes that could happen in Venezuela.”
The situation in Venezuela doesn’t fit neatly into a right-left paradigm, or even one that can be measured in any sort of dichotomy, Gilman said. This partially comes down to which human rights the U.S. chooses to emphasize.
During the height of the Cold War, the U.S. chose to emphasize civil and political rights with its foreign policy while the Soviet Union focused on increasing economic, cultural and social rights. Since the formal end of the Cold War, Gilman said U.S. institutions have begun focusing more of the latter three, but the Venezuelan crisis is allowing the Trump administration to emphasize civil and political rights.
This strategy in Latin America has led to massacres, crimes against humanity, and the U.S. supporting security forces in Guatemala during the 1980s while they committed genocide against indigenous Mayan peoples.
One striking example of this move toward Cold War politics is the Trump administration’s decision to bring back Elliott Abrams, who served under President Ronald Reagan in the 1980s — and who helped cover up and smooth over U.S. involvement in several massacres in Latin America on his watch.
Gilman penned an article for PRI where she explores some of the massacres that have occurred in Latin America stemming from U.S. involvement. To fight against communism, the U.S. has backed dictators in Chile, Argentina, Peru, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Uruguay and more, Gilman wrote. During this time, Abrams knew of and endorsed sweeping human rights abuses committed by these dictatorships and lied to Congress about them.
Some notable examples of Abrams and U.S. involvement that led to deaths includes the U.S. backing of the right-wing military government in El Salvador, which left more than 75,000 people dead. One massacre in particular was the El Mozote massacre, where the U.S.-backed Salvadorian army murdered around 800 civilians with U.S.-supplied weapons. Before, many of the women and children were raped.
Another high-profile success of U.S. foreign policy was the Iran-Contra scandal, when the Reagan administration illegally violated a trade embargo with Iran to fund the Contras, a right-wing force in Nicaragua. The Contras were trained and armed by the CIA and went on to kidnap, torture and execute civilians. They also destabilized the left-leaning Sandinista government and assassinated health workers. After backing the murder of 50,000 people, the U.S. beat the Sandinistas, installed a Contra-run government and opened the markets to U.S. companies.
Even as rhetoric is ratcheted up, Weeks said the best thing for the U.S. to do no may be nothing.
“It’s useful to understand that there are no good options right now, so that if anyone is offering easy solutions, it’s just not true,” he said.