After a meeting held between Venezuelan opposition politicians and United States officials two weeks ago, the U.S. State Department opened a representative office for Venezuela in Bogota, Colombia on the 28th of August. This was to allow for the continued support of the opposition leader Juan Guaido, who the United States recognizes as the unelected interim president of Venezuela. In the aftermath, President Nicolás Maduro’s Communication Minister, Jorge Rodríguez, accused Colombian President Iván Duque Márquez of supporting aggression against Venezuela, presenting satellite images and coordinates of three alleged paramilitary camps set up along the border of Colombia and Venezuela. As the U.S. attempts to transition power from Maduro to a democratically elected leader, the failure to rule out military action by a Colombian-backed U.S. presents a precarious situation reminiscent of past controversial intervention by the U.S. in Latin and Central America.
President Trump has made it clear in the past that he does not support Venezuela’s socialist economic policies condemning the “brutality of the Maduro regime, whose socialist policies have turned that nation from being the wealthiest in South America into a state of abject poverty and despair” in his State of the Union address, and stating his intentions for the country at a speech given in Florida in February: “We’re here to proclaim a new day is coming in Latin America. In Venezuela and across the Western Hemisphere, socialism is dying and liberty, prosperity and democracy are being reborn.”
Past U.S. intervention in Central America has often centred around the removal of socialist regimes and resulted in large numbers of casualties at the hands of U.S.-backed armed groups. President Jacobo Árbenz of Guatemala was overthrown in a coup orchestrated by the U.S. government in 1954, after attempting to implement nationalist and social policies to redistribute land from the U.S. United Fruit Company to the poor and working-class of Guatemala. The U.S. also funded right-wing rebel group, the Contras, in their efforts to oust the socialist Sandinista Junta of National Reconstruction in Nicaragua. At the same time, the U.S. provided military and financial support to the Salvadoran government in the civil war against the Marxist-Leninist guerrilla group, the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN) in 1980.
Each of these interventions sought to further the U.S.’ ideological war against the spread of communism, an ideological war that continues today. Scholars theorize that the United States views Central and Latin America as a region within its sphere of influence, and in the past have implemented foreign policies intent on keeping the regions in a position of dependency to the U.S. Consequently, the U.S. views any form of communist economic presence in Central and Latin America as a threat to its hegemonic hold on the region, as it denies the unfettered penetration of U.S. capital and investment in the region, reducing the region’s economic dependence on the U.S. The interventions in El Salvador, Nicaragua and Guatemala exemplify the harsh consequences felt when the U.S. is forced to eliminate this threat. The unfolding situation in Venezuela feels all too similar.
Socialist policies implemented under preceding Venezuelan president to Maduro, Hugo Chávez, saw an increase in minimum wages, a drop in unemployment, a rise in GDP, a reduction in poverty, lower infant mortality rates, and an increase in literacy rates. Towards the end of his presidency, however, Chávez’s corruption worsened. Unfortunately, corruption is a feature also not foreign to Maduro’s presidency, who is accused of unfair elections, imprisoning opposition leaders, continuing the lack of independent government institutions, and curtailing the freedom of the press. This has led to severe shortages of food, medicine and medical supplies, and a mass exodus of Venezuelans.
The United States must not repeat the mistakes of past intervention in Latin and Central America, and if they are serious about installing liberty, prosperity and democracy in Venezuela they must shift their focus from elimination of socialism to the elimination of corruption, without the use of military force. Fighting for democracy for the people of Venezuela by tackling corruption in a peaceful manner is a good fight. Fighting for the implementation of economic policies that favour the U.S. through military intervention supported by U.S.-Colombian paramilitaries is not. The bloodshed caused by past U.S. intervention in the region must be avoided.