The West and Venezuela: A Story of Exceptionalism, Imperialism and Racism

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This weekend the UK joined several EU states, the EU, the USA and a host of other countries in recognising Juan Guaidó as the interim President of Venezuela. The issue with this is that Venezuela already has a president, Nicolás Maduro. This, whether it is morally defensible or not, means the West has committed support for a coup d’état. Because intervening in the sovereignty of foreign states has worked so well in the past.

This post will not be a defence of Maduro or the Venezuelan government, as I am not knowledgeable enough on the topic to do so. Instead, it will work from the assumption that he is as bad as the West portrays him to be yet will still argue against intervention. Intervention in Venezuela would be immoral, illegal, hypocritical and devastating to the region.

Some Americans emphasise the state’s self-assumed role as ‘leaders of the free world’, the implication being that any state outside of this ‘world’ is not free. While this is a useful rhetorical device in how it portrays the US, it has the bonus of providing the justification for their interference in the affairs of other states; freedom. This is where we get to Venezuela, a state that has long been used by conservatives as an example of failed socialism, and now dominates the news headlines due to Guaidó’s ongoing coup.

So first things first, is what Guaidó has done even legal? In short, no. He is seeking to exploit a clause in the Venezuelan constitution that allows a person to declare themselves the interim president, providing the position is left vacant. The thing is, the position is not vacant, it is occupied by President Maduro. What Guaidó is basing his claim to the presidency upon is the claim that the elections won by Maduro were rigged and that his regime is therefore illegitimate, leaving the position vacant. Even assuming this is true, this does not justify supporting Guaidó. Just because one leader is illegitimate does not legitimise what Guaidó is doing, especially as most of the legitimacy given to him comes from foreign powers.

Despite the seeming illegality of Guaidó’s claim to the presidency, he does have support. To name a few, the US, UK, France, Germany, Canada, the EU, Brazil and Colombia have recognised him as president on the basis that Maduro is illegitimate. But is he? I do not have a detailed enough knowledge of the Venezuelan electoral system and recent elections to declare them legitimate or illegitimate, but I do think it is worth examining the extent to which the states that have recognised him are democratic. After all, what is the point of being recognised by the ‘free world’ if it is not truly free?

The US is a good place to start. Donald Trump was elected President, with 46.1% of the vote. His closest rival received 48.2%, almost three million votes more. This shows the failings of the US electoral system and how it is clearly not democratic. Millions more people preferred Clinton to Trump, yet Trump was elected, which is blatantly undemocratic. Then look at how the election itself was conducted. The Mueller investigation has unearthed massive amount of Russian interference and corruption on the part of the Trump campaign that likely influenced the election. Given the outrage at alleged foreign interference in American elections, America can hardly justify meddling in the affairs of other states. Moreover, the corrupt American electoral system is evident for all to see. In Georgia, the secretary of state was allowed to oversee an election he was standing in. Unsurprisingly, he won a tight race over which question marks still remain. America is seen as ‘free’ while Venezuela is not because America is white and Western while Venezuela is not. America is capitalist while Venezuela is not.

Similar accusations can be levelled at EU states. It is difficult for Macron to argue the people of Venezuela long to be free of Maduro as the gilets jaunes movement riot in the streets of France, while he defends himself from behind a golden desk. Macron is one of the most despised presidents in French history, with the French people being far more likely to demand his removal than the Venezuelan’s demand that of Maduro. In the UK, we have an electoral system that gave David Cameron a majority with around 37% of the vote, while the Brexit referendum is subject to a criminal investigation. In Spain, the government violently supressed an attempt at referendum in Catalonia and attempted to charge those involved with treason. If they return to Spain they will be arrested, a move supported by the many Western governments. How would Spain react to an opposition leader attempting to seize power? Or the UK, or the US? With force and violent retribution likely. The point of this is not to prove that Venezuela is democratic, it is merely to show the hypocrisy of Western states in labelling it as corrupt and unfair, when they so clearly are themselves.

Another claim the West has levelled at Maduro is human rights abuses. Again, I lack the knowledge of Venezuela to address these, so I will work from the assumption that they are true. This does not justify Western opposition to Maduro’s presidency for the simple reason that they do not care about human rights abuses as they are fine with foreign states committing any number of human rights abuses providing they are allies. Both Britain and the US sell weapons to Saudi Arabia, whose war in Yemen is putting millions of lives at risk. Saudi Arabia is also restrictive towards women, the LGBT movement, political protestors and recently brutally murdered a journalist on foreign soil. Similarly, both states support Israel which has illegally invaded and settled upon Palestinian territory and has well-documented human rights abuses. Finally, there is the support for people like Bolsonaro and Orban who admire and act like dictators, while actively engaging in homophobia, misogyny and antisemitism. Yet, these are allies while Maduro is an enemy.

Then there are the human rights abuses of Britain, the UK, and the rest of these ‘noble’ states. In the US, the police are institutionally racist, the President has boasted of sexually harassing women, children are being imprisoned simply for being in America and refugees are being turned away. In Britain, the government was found to be in contempt of parliament, the Home Office deported countless British citizens leading to death and destitution, while over 70 people died in a fire over a year ago and no one has been held accountable. Right now, thousands of Brits have been declared fit to work when they are barely fit to live. If Western states are seeking to address a contempt for human rights, then they should look closer to home. Call it exceptionalism, a blind spot. It could easily be called racism.

It is also worth examining the history of Western intervention abroad. If you look back hundreds of years you can see the effects of the empires; famine, deaths, slavery, theft of wealth. If you go back 50 years or so there are the examples of Korea, Cuba and Vietnam, which I am sure are remembered as being resounding successes. More recently there has been Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Egypt and Syria. Intervention in these states has been linked to the rise of issues such as terrorism, dictatorship, slavery and refugee crises. Not to mention the millions of innocents who died. Western intervention has a disastrous history. There should be no rush to repeat it.

If the history of interventionism is so bad, then why is the West getting involved in Venezuela? It does so because it is profitable. Venezuela has the largest oil reserves in the world, which due to them being controlled by successive ‘socialist’ governments, the West is not happy about. This has resulted in crippling sanctions imposed upon Venezuela which help play into the failed state narrative. Moreover, if the list of states with the largest oil reserves are examined, it is easy to see why the West so despises Venezuela. Fourth on the list is Iran, long targeted by the West. Fifth is Iraq, eighth is Russia and ninth is Libya. These are states that the West does not have good relations with, so their crimes are condemned and opposed. Second on the list is Saudi Arabia, third is Canada, seventh is the United Arab Emirates and tenth is the US. The crimes of these states are often ignored, encouraged or supported by Western states. Oil can be a wonderful thing for a state so long as it embraces capitalism. On top of this, it is alleged that Guaidó has already planned legislation that would privatise numerous areas previously controlled by the state, which would be extremely profitable to the US, UK, Brazil etc. This is not a moral crusade, it is imperialist looting. Overthrow the anti-West government, strip the state of its resources, leave the state to chaos while protecting Western interests there. As far as capitalism is concerned, Venezuela can burn in civil war.

The West must stay out of Venezuela. The notion of intervention is built upon the 19th Century Monroe Doctrine which essentially argued that the US has dominion of the whole Americas. It was racist, exceptionalist and, applied today, illegal. To intervene in Venezuela is to agree with the idea that white, Western, capitalist states, especially the US, have the right to dictate how other states are run. If they work with the West, like Saudi Arabia, then they are a valued ally, no matter how many journalists they decapitate or children they kill. If they reject the West, then they are crippled or destroyed and used as an example to the rest of the world. I study Modern History. Today I learn about Vietnam, in 15 years students will study Iraq. In 50 years, I hope students do not study Venezuela.

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