Venezuela a US Security Threat? Who knew?

    Extending the Axis of Evil to a 4th Dimension, President Obama declared Venezuela a security threat because it has nuclear weapons  threatens our borders  hacks our computers  beheads American captives  spies on European leaders  occupied a peninsula assassinated opposition leaders is mean to protesters. Observers are unsure whether this meant to slow government moves towards socialism, or to get Maduro to supply troops to fight ISIS, something the other members of the evil club are doing.

    “In various cities in Venezuela, members of the GNB used force against peaceful protestors and journalists, including severe physical violence, sexual assault, and firearms,” the White House said in a fact sheet on the sanctions.

    Asked to distinguish between GNB actions and recent deadly shootings, chokeholds and beatings by Missouri and New York police, Presidents Obama replied "Imawannamushiwatooshigwandolamakedemstoppleezeewhewthatwasclosemegobyenow"

    More details of Venezuela's US security-threatening heavy-handed treatment of protesters are provided here.

    As pictures of Venezuela's abuse aren't available, we offer artists' renderings of how the oppressive regime's acts might appear.



    Venezuela is a messed up place and a state on the constant verge of failure, but this is largely our fault.  Hugo Chavez didn't start out an extremist quasi-dictator, he started out a populist who had liberated the country from its oligarchs and while his values weren't entirely those of the American government (he wanted to redistribute some wealth to, you know, starving people) we did not have to turn him away the way we did. When it comes to Latin America and the Caribbean we have a history of radicalizing people who could have been friends.

    I haven't even seen anything that made Chavez a dictator. The new guy seems quite a bit worse and fairly incompetent, but overall I think Chavez was just carrying out the will of the people more or less. That's probably too unusual for our electorate to fathom.

    Chavez certainly crossed the line, by American standards, with his handling of the media. Though I don't think it was ever really well understood here that Venezuel'a's media was carrying water for the oligarchs in a more overt way than is done in the U.S.

    I think it was really well understood by those who wished him harm - something like 5 Fox networks working against you and supporting the 2002 coup.

    Here's the Wikipedia section on his relationship with media, and another analysis of the situation.

    Columbia Journalism Review was especially critical of Venezuela's press in overtly political stances in working against Chavez since 1998.

    I doubt US diplomacy (including GW's tone-deaf floundering) had any effect on Chavez's trajectory except to make ourselves into a more convenient bête noire for his anti-imperialist narrative. Chavez and Maduro are hardly the only populists to turn authoritarian these days--Putin, Erdogan, Orbán, it's all the rage. The trend has very little to do with foreign relations; it's about sustaining and expanding internal power.

    Chavez railed against the U.S. for the same reason Putin does. Populists need nationalism to consolidate power, and nationalism need an external enemy to incite the masses. For Chavez, Putin, and others, that enemy is us. We have the biggest the arsenal, we like to meddle, and we've got a nasty history. It's a natural fit.

    When these guys talk about us so much, it feeds our God-complex. The American left and the American right make the same mistake of thinking that we're driving the bus. The right thinks its a humvee; the left thinks its a monster truck. But the truth is we're not driving at all. These guys are focused on their own fiefs. We're just being used.

    Still a bit too 21st century US perspective. Latin America has hundreds of years of domination by colonial powers, with the Bolivar revolution hitting Venezuela in 1811-1821, even before our Monroe Doctrine of 1823 (strengthened by Grover Cleveland)  turned Latin America into a single-player system. After that they had 170 years of brutal wars and coups.

    The implication being, Venezuela's issues have much more to do with its history, and little to do with even the US or power-consolidating trends elsewhere.  (I'd hardly consider Putin a populist-turned-authoritarian - probably the reverse).

    First, Chavez's foremost enemy was poverty, and he did very well in fighting it, even granting that Venezuela had oil as a tool - most oil-rich countries have still botched wealth & equality, and Venezuela post-Chavez looks on its way to do the same.

    Second & related, landowners (estancieros) & subsequently industrial captains and corporations always held the strings in Latin America, whether the church, the dictator himself like Somoza, or an influential cartel that pulled the strings. Chavez came into power through a fortuitous collapse of the controlling powers with their incompetence too obvious, and he took the opportunity (elected) to not only rise to power, but to implement some pretty decent reforms when the others looked too incompetent.

    Third, the high frequency of coup in Venezuela and throughout Latin America - including our sponsored attempted coup in 2002 -  makes Chavez's concerns in the face of protests, media-fed opposition and foreign mischief highly realistic & pragmatic. While his populism is not unusual for Latin America, his perceived attention to his own people no doubt strengthened his position as US-subsidized attacks and investment flight and other pressures mounted.

    The US under Bush came looking for Chavez, not the other way around. Sure Chavez was clever in using the situation to the best of his ability, invoking 200 years of US meddling to remind his publicum of their situation, but it's not like they needed to be reminded - US meddling in this sphere is never waning (read "Erendira and her Heartless Grandmother" or the equally impressive movie for an image of Latin America forced to whore itself to pay off the debts imposed by the Yanquis themselves)

    Anyway, the purpose of this piece wasn't all that - it was simply that Venezuela as a "security threat" to the US is pointedly absurd - they threaten the US not in the slightest, and it's the disturbing co-option of language meant for real protection into our glib self-justifying surveillance state sticks out - one script of rhetoric for any situation - trot it out, read it, let the media amplify it, and it will be accepted as gospel.



    And a point well made, Peracles.

    As I recall, the friction began even before GW's election when Chavez went to Baghdad to meet Saddam. But who "started" it is beside the point. The Bush-Chavez hostility was mutual and served both leaders' interests. They each turned up the heat at every opportunity.

    In any case, my comment was a response to Maiello's, not a dissent from your post. Obama's "security threat" is nonsense. I assume the allegation is just a legalistic step to justify punitive action. As Reuters notes:

    Declaring any country a threat to national security is the first step in starting a U.S. sanctions program. The same process has been followed with countries such as Iran and Syria, U.S. officials said.

    But how it serves anyone's interests to sanction Venezuelan officials at this time beats me.

    The Obama administration move serves the interests of those recently arrested by the regime, or those next on the list.

    There are many respectable opposition leaders like the mayor of Caracas who have been taken into custody on absurd charges. It makes the 7 Maduro insiders listed in the order pay a personal price for suppressing free democratic speech and dissent. It's a very minor deal frankly as only the seven are listed, it may put some brakes on further repression by Maduro.

    The White House said the order targeted people whose actions undermined democratic processes or institutions, had committed acts of violence or abuse of human rights, were involved in prohibiting or penalizing freedom of expression, or were government officials involved in public corruption.

    I have not heard any other democracies in South America making a protest of the US action.

    Communiqué on unilateral actions against the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela

    The Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) reiterates its rejection of the application of unilateral coercive measures against International Law.


    Boilerplate communique: "CELAC meeting in Havana and reviving the dreams of Bolivar, Gringoes not welcome". Who are the actual people/representatives of this CELAC Bolivar club?

    Has one actual South American President (excluding Bolivia as he suppresses dissent also) held a press conference supporting the arrest of the mayor of Caracas, or backed Maduro's suppression of the media and dissent?

    I think we can drop the pretense that they're corrupt and we're clean. There's more money passing hands in the US in a day than Latin America makes in a month. We're in the major leagues, they're still a backwater - that's why we can scold them and put sanctions on - we're "exceptional". Targeted extra judicial killings are ok for Obama because. Detention without trial forever at Gitmo is ok because. Extraordinary renditions to countries that torture for us is okay because. Supplying weapons to rebels is okay for us because. In every case we make exceptions for our own behavior because we're exceptional. We can eavesdrop on American citizens and foreign leaders and the world at large because. We can create destructive computer viruses and place backdoors in the world's computer accessories because. Insert 20 other examples here. We're getting further and further from rule-based governance, moving towards ad hoc whims under some pretense or other. Their protests about us are pathetically weak. Our complaints about them are pathetically hypocritical.

    Excellent quote...

    people whose actions undermined democratic processes or institutions, had committed acts of violence or abuse of human rights, were involved in prohibiting or penalizing freedom of expression, or were government officials involved in public corruption

    Now let's see, who else does this apply to? Abdel Fattah el-Sisi is an easy one. Sanctions? Nope, weapons sales. Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, definitely. Sanctions? Nope, allies. Ooh, such a long list, Bahrain, Kuwait, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Ethiopia, Algeria, Turkey, Chad, Georgia, Honduras, and on and on. And let's not forget the big kids, China and (before the Ukraine invasion) Russia.

    So sure, Maduro is an autocrat who jails political opponents on trumped-up charges. The question is why he gets special treatment.

    Good point re: visiting Hussein in 2000, e.g. under Clinton. This article addresses the contradiction between Chavez's good works at home and his globetrotting support for a cast of rather sordid characters. But then weeks after Chavez's visit to Baghdad, Iraq was talking to Iran again  (a good thing for some, probably a bad thing for others).

    The article highlights a peculiar aspect for me - Chavez's building bridges is roughly what Hillary & Obama were talking about in their campaign when the "tough love" requirement of the campaign and security grownups made them back into the "only when preconditions met" corner - i.e. "agree to all our conditions in advance and then we can talk".

    It's also worth noting that the US has used its *good* relations with Russia to handle the Afghanistan invasion and to assist with Syria. But if Chavez talks to Russia, it must be a sign of evil and intrigue. Similar with China - it's one of our top 3 trading partners now - certainly contact can't be all bad, though yes, we're concerned about military cooperation. (but was Chavez invading anyone or planning to?) . Libya similarly opened up  - whether just post-9/11 or earlier, I'm not sure the sequence - but through Bush's years, Qaddafi was an ally for us in the war on terror and to some extent helping with Africa. Is it only okay that we buddy up with Qaddafi like elementary school kids do with friends, or can there be more paths to dialogue?

    Even with Syria - Assad had taken over from his father in 2000, and it was a hoped-for transition from hard-nosed dictator to an EU-tilting thaw. The US has proven quite bad at smoothing these transitions due to home-front demagoging, so it seems useful for some other channel to opening up possibilities.

    That all said, I'd have to look closer at Chavez's actual trips & deeds to come to a conclusion of whether it was really as benign as presented here, or fomenting the usual anti-US tensions as another viewpoint.

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