Venezuela: The Continuation of U.S. foreign policy in “America’s backyard”
Posted on 2019-03-22
On January 23rd2019, President Trump and his administration decided to “officially recognize” the President of the Venezuelan National Assembly, Juan Guaido, as the interim President of Venezuela. Four months prior to this official recognition of Guaido as the interim President in Venezuela by the Trump administration; right-wing Christian fundamentalist, Jair Bolsanaro, had won the elections in Brazil. Bolsanaro’s win was celebrated as a victory for the people of Brazil by the Trump administration, and Bolsanaro’s rise to the presidency was celebrated as a partner to the U.S. in the region. Two months after Bolsanaro’s win, and one month prior to Trump’s declaration of Guaido as the interim President of Venezuela, the government in Guyana (located to the east of Venezuela) fell, due to a vote of ‘no confidence.’
Here we are now, two months later into the escalation of threats of violence towards Venezuela with no real analysis on the issue. Due to the potential U.S. intervention in Venezuela, no one is talking about “America’s backyard” in the full sense of the term outside of this singular case study. Because people largely ignore the Caribbean region, fights against austerity and corruption happening within the region barely make it into our national press. As a slight digression, I would like to point out two things: First, right now in Haiti, the U.S. backed government has fallen. Second, as Prince Charles makes his way around the Caribbean on a tour to “win hearts and minds” before becoming crowned King of England, #NotMyPrince is trending. This as he avoids the regions currently experiencing unrest. With all this turmoil happening in “America’s backyard,” we must attempt to understand this extraordinary U.S. foreign policy shift to the region as it regards Venezuela, not as sporadic and Trump just being “crazy,” but rather as a strategic imperial response.
Take for instance the cries amongst some in the U.S. that humanitarian help is required in Venezuela, so the U.S. must intervene. What are proponents of this argument saying about the U.S. backed government that has recently fallen in Haiti? The protests there have led to deaths and outright violence in the streets against the corrupt U.S. backed political establishment. However, U.S. humanitarian interventionists are silent on this issue. Does this mean that they largely don’t care about Haitians as much as they do Venezuelans? Or is it just that humanitarian reasons have never actually informed U.S. foreign policy? The latter appears to be quite obvious.
I am using examples from the Caribbean because people largely ignore the region as it regards U.S. foreign policy decisions, which are seen as too “grand” or “big” in nature for the Caribbean to have any impact. However, as a tool of inquiry, the region right now presents us with a unique perspective when thinking about the motives for U.S. intervention or threat of intervention in Venezuela.
Over three years ago in 2015, big oil reserves were found off the coast in Guyana. This discovery was shocking, and also perfectly timed on the eve of what is now the opposition in the country, having lost power for the first time in over two decades. Since then, there have been various attempts by the opposition at power grabs for the government—of what people surmised could only be because of their want to continue their corruption given the newfound oil finding. However, in December of 2018 a “no confidence” vote, aided by a member of the incumbent party that the vote of no confidence fell on, sealed the deal. New elections are not expected to occur until the end of this year, and put simply, you have an oil rich country without a fully functioning government in Guyana right next to Venezuela. However, that is not my only point. What this case study reveals to us about U.S. involvement in Venezuela is two-fold:
1: U.S. involvement is not because it cares about Venezuelan democracy and the strength of its democratic institutions—right next door, a government is in limbo
2: U.S. involvement is not simply because of the oil (even though oil would bring more U.S. investments in oil in Venezuela AND in Guyana) because the less costly route to the U.S. would be to get investment in oil from Guyana
Please note, I am not advocating for intervention in Guyana, Haiti, or any other Caribbean state. I am merely pointing out that within the U.S. domestic conversation, conservatives point out that Maduro is an authoritarian and we must protect the human rights of Venezuelan people. The left correctly points out that Maduro is an authoritarian however any intervention would not be because we actually care about human rights given the U.S. history of intervention, our alliances with authoritarian dictators, etc.—however, too many on the left place an emphasis on the U.S. only wanting to intervene for oil reasons.
The main contention seems to be an over placed emphasis on humanitarian reasons or oil, without seeing how regional turmoil discredits both of these conclusions. By focusing on the Caribbean, specifically on what is happening in Guyana and the lack of U.S. response to that situation, I think it is better for analysts to situate the U.S. response to Venezuela differently.
Having abandoned any thoughts about humanitarian intervention and only wanting oil, I initially surmised that maybe U.S. intervention was to control oil prices. However, after talking with my advisor that I trust about U.S. foreign policy—who pointed out that the oil price control narratives do not work because of our vast oil supplies due to new technologies— something with more explanatory power, and evidence rooted in U.S. history when U.S. foreign policy has shifted towards its own hemisphere was probably more likely.
That is, the U.S. response to Venezuela should be seen as an attempt by the U.S. to reassert U.S. hegemony in its “backyard.” This makes sense because the U.S. foreign policy apparatus has always been concerned about the growth and consolidation of its power abroad; And the Trump administration is choosing to do this the only way that it knows how: by making an example of a state that poses a challenge to U.S. hegemony in the region (due to its ties with the other states included in John Bolton’s “Troika of Tyranny” (Cuba and Nicaragua) and its ties with China, Russia, and Iran). This assertion tells all of the other states in the U.S. “backyard” currently in turmoil to “behave,” as the new Cold War and proxy skirmishes reignite themselves in both U.S. domestic rhetoric and within the foreign policy apparatus.
Book recommendation: Christopher Layne “The Peace of Illusions: American Grand Strategy from 1940 to the Present”