If you have not been paying attention to the rapidly deteriorating situation in Venezuela, now would be a good time to begin doing so. The United States is wrapped up in the domestic affairs of an oil-rich country, and we all know how that usually turns out. The first thing you must understand about Venezuela is that there are no “good guys” in this situation. “President” Nicolas Maduro is a bad guy because his kleptocracy and mismanagement have led what was once the most wealthy country in South America into a world filled with hyperinflation and food shortages (not to mention, the 8,200 extrajudicial killings in Venezuela between 2015 and 2017). Opposition “president” Juan Guaido is bad because he has the full-throated backing of the Trump Administration.
Here is John Bolton, one of Trump’s chief foreign policy advisors (made famous by his bloodthirst in the Bush Administration), tweeting an open threat to wage “man-made suffering” on the Venezuelan government unless it concedes to the opposition’s coup.
The Vice President also tweeted his support for this attempt to overthrow the Maduro regime.
And the United States Treasury.
This is a wildly complex domestic issue where polls show that the Venezuelan people want Maduro gone, but not with America's “help.” Which makes today's military activity in support of Juan Guaido and against the Maduro regime so difficult to make heads or tails of. If Maduro is getting ousted by a popular grassroots revolt, good—if he's being ousted by the United States, bad.
It’s difficult to look at Juan Guaido as anything other than yet another a U.S.-backed puppet given that America is so open in its support for an insurgent government and we have demonstrated that “democracy” is never our primary motivation in these situations—our own interests are. Plus, reports like this make this situation look all too familiar. Per World Oil (emphasis mine):
Venezuela’s government-in-waiting intends to scrap requirements that state-owned oil giant PDVSA keep a controlling stake in joint ventures as it seeks to revive the oil sector and encourage private investment, National Assembly leader Juan Guaido’s representative to the U.S. said.
Venezuela owns its own oil industry, and the insurgent government who is backed by the United States is vowing to sell off parts of it to “private investment.” Given what we know about global finance and the United States’ history in oil-rich nations, it’s a pretty safe bet to assert that a majority of “private investment” will come from outside Venezuela’s borders.
This really is an impossible situation. Not only has “President” Nicolas Maduro exacted wide pain and suffering (with a big assist from U.S. sanctions, which at least a half-century of evidence proves that they always hit the population harder than they hit the ruling regime), but I am justified in putting “president” in quotes because his last “victory” in 2018 came amidst election boycotts in Venezuela and widespread condemnation from the international community. Meanwhile, sitting Senators are calling for the U.S. military to wage war with Maduro’s Venezuelan government in support of Juan Guaido. What a mess.
Venezuela’s government has created a power vacuum. The Venezuelan people, Juan Guaido’s government-in-waiting, the United States, any other oil-thirsty countries and “private investment” are all trying to fill that vacuum—oftentimes landing on the same side—because ultimately, the nature of government power plus Venezuela’s present situation means that you really are either with the kleptocratic Maduro regime or the bizarre Guaido coalition. There is no third option.
In a different world, perhaps there could be. Maybe Juan Guaido is genuinely the popular pick of the Venezuelan people, and it would be easier to see that without the Trump Administration and “private investment” clouding the situation. Perhaps instead of a military uprising (fueled by an administration who staffed people in Venezuela who have fueled military uprisings against sitting governments before), the international community could band together to pressure the Maduro government to step down, while the United Nations oversees new elections as soon as possible. But we don’t live in a different world. We live in a colonialist world and we have seen this saga many times before. We don’t know where this is going yet, but history can point us in a reliably accurate direction.
This is not the first coup attempt on Nicolas Maduro. It’s not even the first one this year. As we saw in the 2016 failed coup in Turkey, you need a lot of military defectors to win a war like this. What makes this escalation so serious is the “plan” backed so openly by the United States, who has proven that military support is one of the very few ways that our government thinks about foreign policy. It is still very early in this new U.S.-backed escalation, and details on the ground are scant—all we can be certain of is that given post-WWII U.S. foreign policy, if we find a way to “win” this war against the Maduro regime, the Venezuelan people will almost certainly lose.
Jacob Weindling is a staff writer for Paste politics. Follow him on Twitter at @Jakeweindling.