On 1 April, as COVID-19 deaths in the US soared, Donald Trump announced that US navy ships, some carrying helicopters and ground troops, were heading closer to the Venezuelan coast to stop “cartels, criminals, terrorists and other malign actors” exploiting the pandemic to smuggle drugs to the US.
Trump’s threat followed US Attorney General William Barr’s announcement that Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro and other government officials would be indicted on drug-trafficking charges, with bounties for their capture, including $15 million for Maduro.
However, US ally Colombia remains the world’s largest cocaine producing and exporting nation, despite the US spending billions between 2000-2015 on its “war on drugs” through Plan Colombia. Even anti-Maduro sources like the Washington Office in Latin America stress that less than 10 per cent of the cocaine bound for the US passes through Venezuela and the eastern Caribbean, while over 90 per cent goes through Central America, with the pro-US governments of Honduras and Guatemala heavily implicated.
While a full-scale military intervention does not seem imminent, similar US monetary rewards preceded US invasions of Manuel Noriega’s Panama in 1989, and of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq in 2003.
As of 20 April, Venezuela had less than 300 confirmed coronavirus cases and ten deaths—far fewer than surrounding Latin American countries (Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru) where the virus is spreading at alarming rates. However, tens of thousands of around four million Venezuelans who had fled the country since 2015, as its economic crisis hit, have been made jobless and are returning home.
The European Union, the United Nations Secretary-General and even a group of Democratic Party Senators have urged the US to lift sanctions against Venezuela, Iran, and Cuba because of the pandemic.
Yet this seems unlikely. Trump and Pompeo are determined to see “regime change” in Venezuela, and it’s a source of frustration for the US that the Maduro government is still there despite its backing of last year’s coup attempt led by Juan Guaidó.
The day before Trump’s military threat, Washington made the lifting of sanctions conditional on Maduro’s resignation, the appointment of an “interim government” involving the opposition, the scrapping of Venezuela’s security agreements with Russia and Cuba, and future elections with neither Maduro nor Guaidó as candidates.
Far from being socialist, the Maduro government is imposing austerity, and continues to ask the IMF for loans to pay off its debt. With global oil prices falling sharply, Venezuela’s main source of revenue continues to decline.
Marea Socialista (Socialist Tide), which is critical of the Maduro government from the left, argues: “The Venezuelan people are plagued by the anti-worker and anti-popular policies of the Nicolás Maduro government, with a systematic hardening of the repression against workers, peasants and sectors of the popular movement to impose their adjustment policy.”
We need to oppose foreign intervention—but Venezuela’s workers also need to build a genuinely socialist alternative.
By Mark Goudkamp