Venezuela is cursed with an abundance of crude oil, the most in South America. That crude oil has attracted major oil companies since at least 1895. The United States has never hesitated to act to protect U.S. corporate investments in Venezuela. Most of those actions are simply shameful.
For example, there’s Juan Vicente “the Catfish” Gómez Chacón, the brutal dictator who ruled and pillaged Venezuela from 1908 – 1935, his regime propped up by American dollars and support. Gomez dealt with opposition to his rule by impaling his opponents. American journalist and historian John Gunther wrote,
The Catfish was—let us not gloss over the fact—a murderous blackguard. He made use of tortures of inconceivable brutality; political prisoners, of which there were thousands, dragged out their lives bearing leg irons (grillos) that made them permanent cripples, if they were not hung upside down—by the testicles—until they died. Others became human slime, literally. Gómez was quite capable of choosing one out of every ten by lot, and hanging them—by meathooks through their throats! [Emphasis in original]
The United States appeased and supported this thug, and tolerated his amassment of a fortune of some $3.6 billion, because, in the words of Venezuelan Romulo Betancourt, he was “willing to act as the instrument of foreign control of the Venezuelan economy, the ally and servant of powerful outside interests.”
Just a few years later, another Venezuelan dictator emerged, the appalling Marcos Pérez Jiménez (1948-1958), whose militias subjected political prisoners to tortures just as horrific as those committed during the Gómez era. In the words of author and activist Brett Wilkins, Jiménez was as generous to transnational corporations as he was cruel to his own people. The United States, which cared about the former far more than the latter, counted the despot as a close ally, even awarding him the military Legion of Merit “for exceptionally meritorious conduct in the performance of outstanding services and achievements” and providing Jimenez’s dreaded Directorate of National Security (DSN) with invaluable assistance as the DSN imprisoned, tortured and murdered thousands of Venezuelans.1
Against that background, the late Hugo Chavez looks like a pussycat. Still, he was a socialist, so President George W. Bush backed a failed coup against Chavez in 2002. The attempted coup was closely linked to prominent neoconservatives including Elliott Abrams, the disgraced Iran-Contra criminal who played a key role in covering up massacres committed by US-backed death squads in Central America. That would be the same Elliott Abrams who was pardoned for his Iran-Contra crimes by President George H.W. Bush in 1992.2 And the same Elliott Abrams that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo recently appointed as the United States’ Special Envoy to Venezuela. You can’t make this stuff up.
Chavez’s failures and the economic failures of his successor, Nicolàs Maduro, can’t be laid at the feet of the United States. The collapse of oil prices, wide-spread corruption and the failure of Bolivarism, Chavez’s own hybrid of Simon Bolivar’s ideology, socialism and disregard of fundamental economics. The very recent Trump economic sanctions have aggravated the pre-existing crisis.
But for the United States to attempt to oust Maduro smacks of the kind of anti-democratic, heavy-handed behavior that is the U.S. history of involvement with Central and South America.
Perhaps the most depressing part of American foreign policy is it repeated failure to learn from its mistakes.
- Apt pupils trained at the School of the Americas, the United States’ very own school for thugs at Fort Benning, Georgia. When the teaching materials, including primers on torture and human rights violations, were exposed, the “School” was re-branded as Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC). ↩
- The Reagan-Bush tactics that led to the Contra scandal contributed greatly to the chaos that now exists in El Salvador and Honduras. That chaos, in turn, has led to the stream of refugees at the American border. And that is Trump’s excuse for his idiot Wall, the 35-day governmental shutdown and the present immigrant policy gridlock. If you dig down deep enough in most foreign policy crises, the trouble started with a foreign policy mistake by the United States. ↩