Unfortunately, recent U.S. involvement in Venezuela’s domestic affairs has dwarfed anything anyone has even accused Vladimir Putin of doing here.
According to the U.S. State Department, Washington “provided training, institution building, and other support to individuals and organizations understood to be actively involved” in the 2002 military coup against former Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez that ultimately failed. And since the coup, Washington has provided tens of millions of dollars to the Venezuelan opposition.
In 2013, when the opposition initiated violent protests to overturn the results of a democratic election, Washington supported the protesters. The same was again true in 2014.
Today, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., openly threatens governments in the region, including those of the Dominican Republic, El Salvador and Haiti, with punishment if they do not cooperate with Washington’s abuse of the Organization of American States to delegitimize the government of Venezuela.
And the administration of President Donald Trump is threatening more economic sanctions against Venezuela, which will only worsen shortages of food and medicine there.
Deeper involvement is dangerous. Venezuela, after all, remains a divided country. President Nicolas Maduro’s approval rating has been about 21 percent over the past year, but other numbers show things aren’t so simple.
A recent poll from a widely cited pro-opposition pollster, Datanalisis, shows 51 percent supporting the current ongoing protests, with 44 percent against.
Some 55 percent continue to approve of the late Chavez, which reflects the decade of economic and social progress the country had before it fell into recession in 2014.
Despite the current crisis, there are millions of Venezuelans, especially those associated with the government and the governing party, who have reason to fear an opposition takeover.
After the 2002 coup, with the short-lived opposition government in power, government officials were detained and dozens of people were killed. And today’s opposition leaders have rarely denounced the sometimes-fatal violence their supporters have carried out in the current wave of protests.
Because of this political polarization, Venezuela needs a negotiated solution that provides credible, constitutional guarantees that whichever side loses the next election will not be politically persecuted by a party that controls all three branches of government.
International mediation can help, as was seen earlier this month when opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez was transferred from prison to house arrest after former Spanish prime minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero played a constructive role. But the mediators must be nonpartisan, which rules out the OAS so long as it is dominated by the Trump administration.
There is a real risk Venezuela’s current strife could escalate into civil war.
Those who are familiar with the tragedies of the Washington-fueled civil wars of the 1980s in Central America, which took hundreds of thousands of mostly innocent lives, must take this threat seriously, particularly because the Trump administration could block or sabotage a negotiated solution if it appears within reach.
Mark Weisbrot is co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research. Readers may write him at CEPR, 1611 Connecticut Ave. NW, suite 400, Washington, D.C., 20009.