On the 14th of September, Venezuela announced charges of terrorism, weapons trafficking, and conspiracy against an alleged American spy who was detained in the nation last week. The man, identified by Venezuelan officials as Matthew John Heath, is alleged to have CIA tires and been sent to Venezuela in an attempt to destabilize the nation. This comes after a similar incursion in early May, which saw two ex-Green Beret soldiers incarcerated for allegedly attempting to overthrow Venezuela’s government.
Heath, a former mercenary who had worked in Iraq between 2006 and 2016, was arrested along with three Venezuelan co-conspirators last week near a pair of oil refineries on the north Caribbean coast. Tarek William Saab, Venezuela’s Chief Prosecutor, showed the alleged evidence on state television on Monday. Saab showed pictures of equipment that had been allegedly seized from Heath and his fellow conspirators, including a grenade launcher, plastic explosives, a satellite phone, and a bag of US currency. “Everything here could qualify as a lethal weapon designed to cause harm and to promote assassinations, crimes against the people of Venezuela,” said Saab, who also accused the Heath of planning to open a drug-trafficking route through Venezuela. American authorities have not yet commented on the case.
While it is difficult to determine the legitimacy of Venezuelan claims, the United States has a long history of covert interventionism in Latin American countries. In particular, the Cold War saw Latin America become a major battleground, and the United States repeatedly instigated and supported coups, and provided weapons and currency to armed groups. Most well-known would be 1954’s ‘Operation PBSuccess’, wherein the democratically-elected Guatemalan government of Jacobo Árbenz was overthrown by a group of men who had been trained and funded by the CIA. This coup, internationally-condemned at the time, led to Guatemala’s governance by a series of military juntas and a protracted civil war beginning in 1960 which finally ended in 1996. With this and other events like the Iran-Contra affair (in which the USA funded anti-Sandinista ‘Contra’ rebels in Nicaragua, using money raised from illegally selling weapons to Iran) in mind, further American operations in Latin America are not beyond the realm of possibility.
This is not the first alleged incursion from American agents in recent memory. In May of this year, Venezuela arrested two ex-Green Berets—Luke Denman and Airan Berry—who they accused of participating in an attempted coup, ‘Operation Gideon’. The goal of ‘Gideon’ was to arrest Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro and had been orchestrated by former American solider, Jordan Goudreau. Washington denied having anything to do with this incursion, but it is worth noting that the United States backs Venezuelan opposition politician Juan Guaido as the nation’s legitimate president.
While the Trump administration has not yet made any comment, it seems probable that any statement would be one of denial. However, this does not lay the issue to rest. Foreign interventionism of this sense—that is, covert operations against sovereign nations, seeking to cause unrest and instability—is an egregious wrongdoing. American meddling in Latin America has already caused decades of strife, and continuing to do seems likely to further alienate the nations of Latin America from their northern neighbour. Coup attempts and covert interventions are not a peaceful path forward. While they may be an effective form of regime change, they also cause serious, long-term damage. The world was supposed to have learned these lessons from the Cold War; instead, we seem to be repeating the same mistakes.