Member Perspectives: On the Recent Developments in Venezuela

The strength of the American Solidarity Party will always be our passionate defense of our four principles of respect for life, social justice, environmental stewardship, and a more peaceful world. However, it can also come from how we respectfully argue our positions on other issues that challenge our communities. Here Matthew Cooper gives us his thoughts on the recent developments in Venezuela. See an alternative perspective from Mario Ramos-Reyes  here.

On the Recent Developments in Venezuela

by Matthew Cooper

The recently-contested election in Venezuela has become a matter of profound concern for observers of American foreign policy. The election of Nicolás Maduro of the Partido Socialista Unido (PSU) to the presidency of Venezuela in May of last year was widely regarded to have been unfair by foreign observers in the global “West”, while the results were broadly recognized in the global “East”. The recent assumption of the office of the presidency by opponent Juan Guaidó, a member of the National Assembly from the opposition Voluntad Popular (VP) party—and his subsequent precipitous recognition as Venezuela’s president by United States president Donald Trump—has resulted in a similar split in global opinion. Diplomatic tensions have risen between Venezuela and the United States, owing to allegations of interference by American intelligence agencies in the Venezuelan political process and attempts at suborning the Venezuelan military, to the point that the Venezuelan government has asked American consular staff to leave the country—which they have not done. This leaves open the question of whether Venezuela will fall victim to an American covert operation, a “color revolution”, a proxy war in the style of Syria and Ukraine, or even a direct military intervention.

This question concerns the American Solidarity Party precisely because we have a responsibility, through the national security plank of the national party platform, to articulate a view of foreign affairs that hews to classical Western political doctrines of just war, rather than modern notions of the “responsibility to protect“. This doctrine, though admirable in its stated intention to preserve human dignity, has been egregiously and unconstitutionally abused by the executive branch of our own government in every recent conflict going back to the NATO-led military intervention in Yugoslavia in 1999, which was approved neither by our nation’s Congress (which only passed a non-binding resolution condoning the bombing after the fact) nor by the United Nations.

According to classical just war theory, six criteria must all be met before any military action with any hope of being considered just is declared. These are: that it must be in just cause (that is to say, not punitive or motivated by base self-interest); that military action must be declared by a competent public authority; that the declaring combatant must be guided by proper intentions; that the military action must have a high probability of success; that the military action must be declared as a last resort; and that the benefits of a successful military action outweigh the costs.

In this case, any proposed military or covert action by the American government against the Venezuelan government of Nicolás Maduro would not fulfill all of the ad bellum criteria for a just intervention, even on the most generous possible construction of the terms.

Let us leave aside for a moment just cause and proper intentions—although that is currently in dispute, given that Venezuela currently has the largest stockpile of crude oil in the Western Hemisphere and such base motives are certainly and self-professedly guiding the intentions of American lawmakers such as Republican Senator Marco Rubio. However, let us assume for a moment that the motives guiding the American government are humanitarian and defensive in character. What we have in Venezuela is a situation in which the question of what constitutes a competent public authority is precisely the matter at issue, and it is not clear even from within the context of Venezuelan law that Mr. Guaidó has a legitimate case to be considered the president. Given that under Venezuelan law the military must recognize the president, and they are currently refusing to do so in Mr. Guaidó’s case, that seems to be a mark against him.

The question of probability of success is also conditioned by the fact that the Russian government appears willing to supply direct military aid to the Maduro government, which in the case of an intervention, covert action, or proxy war would almost guarantee a long and protracted conflict between pro-Maduro and pro-Guaidó forces. We have seen, before our eyes, the exact same scenario unfold in the nation of Syria, where our government did not succeed in overthrowing the Russian-backed Syrian President Baššār al-’Asad in favor of a more amenable pro-American régime. This consideration must factor into any calculation of the American government’s probability of success.

It is clear at this point that any military action presently undertaken by the American government would not be a last resort. The vast majority of our own NATO allies—namely, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Germany, France, Denmark, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Bulgaria, Romania and Greece—are calling, not for intervention, but for dialogue between the disputing parties, and one NATO ally, Turkey, openly supports Maduro. In this situation, dialogue between the two parties appears to be the option most consistent with the American Solidarity Party’s commitment to a foreign policy approach guided by classical just war principles.

The point on which the supporters of Venezuelan opposition in our government may at first appear to have the strongest ground is in the cost-benefit analysis of military action versus inaction. The humanitarian situation in Venezuela, under the PSU’s leadership, has deteriorated drastically in the past several years: Venezuela sports the Western Hemisphere’s third-highest homicide rate and off-the-charts hyperinflation, while at least a quarter of the population (according to research carried out by the Venezuelan opposition) struggles with food insecurity as a result of shortages. The United States is not blameless in this situation: much of the deterioration of the human rights situation in the country has occurred due to harsh financial and commercial sanctions against Venezuela.

However, as with the probability of success, this consideration has to be tempered by a level-headed, calm, rational, and realistic analysis of the costs of American power projection over the past thirty years, including the conflicts in Somalia, Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Libya, Syria and Yemen. In Yemen, it deserves to be noted, our intervention on behalf of the governments of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates has sparked what many humanitarian observers, including Doctors Without Borders and Human Rights Watch, have described as the “single greatest humanitarian crisis of this century”, with as many as 18 million people—mostly children—at risk of starvation. We ought to consider that a similarly-disastrous outcome may occur if military action is taken against Venezuela.

Another point deserves to be considered here. Our government has accumulated a long and bloody track record of intervention in Central and South American states (Mexican-American War – 1846-1848; Spanish-American War – 1898; Panamá War – 1903; US involvement in Mexican Revolution – 1914; coup in Guatemala – 1954; Bay of Pigs Incident – 1961; coup in Brazil – 1964; intervention in Dominican Civil War – 1965; assassination of Chilean President Salvador Allende – 1973; involvement in Argentine Dirty War – 1974; CIA support of Nicaraguan Contras – 1981; invasion of Grenada – 1983; second US invasion of Panamá – 1989; invasion of Haiti – 1994; coup in Honduras – 2009), including a similar covert coup d’état attempt against Maduro’s predecessor in office, Hugo Chávez, in 2002. The human cost of these interventions, which have often involved atrocities committed against civilians by US-backed dictatorships, has been immense. Indeed, the plight of the refugees coming northward from Honduras and El Salvador can be attributed, in significant part, to the American government’s short-sighted actions in Honduras in 2009 and the repression of the populace by the resulting American-backed and military-led interim government.

In light of these considerations, guided by the consistent application of a just war ethic, the American Solidarity Party must move immediately to condemn the precipitous recognition of Mr Guaidó by our government’s executive branch, as well as insist that the US join the other NATO members’ call for dialogue,  lift sanctions to ease the unfolding humanitarian crisis and cease and desist any ongoing covert attempts to interfere in the Venezuelan legal or political processes.

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