US encouragement of military coup in Venezuela is dangerousfor both countries Timothy M Gill02/22/2018 Since the election offormer Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez in 1998, the US and Venezuela have beenat odds. Oppositionleader María Corina Machado meets George W. Bush in 2005 (Eric Draper, publicdomain) US state elites repeatedly condemnedChávez and his socialist policies, met with opposition leaders in Washington,and failed to recognise the electoral success of both Chávez and his successorthe current president Nicolás Maduro. Chávez, meanwhile, aligned himself withseveral US foes (such as Iran and Russia), routinely lambasted US imperialism, expelled the US ambassador, and ultimately blamed the USfor the 2002 coup d’état which temporarily removed him from power. TheTrump administration’s approach on Venezuela and Latin America Like Iran and North Korea, Venezuela hasremained a top foreign-policy priority for the new Trump administration. Whilecertain elements within it have pushed for a harsh response to PresidentMaduro, other individuals – recently retired Under Secretary Tom Shannon, forexample – have discouraged the application of more dramatic measures like a banon oil imports from Venezuela, which the administration has been seriouslyconsidering. While US administrations from Clinton toTrump via Bush and Obama have made no secret of their disdain forVenezuela’s socialist government, only the Trump government has publiclysignalled its support for a military coup in the country. Speaking at the University of Texas before hisrecent tour of Latin America, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson statedplainly that he believed “there will be a change [in Venezuela],” and that theVenezuelan military would ultimately carry it out. Tillerson also claimed that: in]the history of Venezuela, and, in fact, the history in other Latin American andSouth American countries, oftentimes it’s the military that handles that. Whenthings are so bad that the military leadership realizes they just can’t servethe citizens anymore, they will manage a peaceful transition. He even declared the MonroeDoctrine, which established US imperial domination over the Western Hemisphere,“a success” and asserted that it remains “as relevant today as it was the dayit was written.” If anyone doubted Tillerson’s familiarity with the nature ofthat document, he went on to say that Latin America did “not need any newimperial powers” like China and Russia exerting their influence in the region,clearly implying that Latin America is already currently subject to theimperial power of the US. Indeed, throughout thetwentieth century, the US actively supported military coups all acrossLatin America, from Guatemala and Nicaragua in Central America to Argentina andChile in the Southern Cone. But these coups led to nothing remotely approaching“peaceful transition”. The Guatemalan military, forinstance, committed what many consider genocide against local indigenouspopulations, whereas the Chilean regime disappeared tens of thousands ofleft-wing activists. These governments safeguarded US economic and securityinterests, but only by terrorising their own citizens. The threatof oil-related sanctions and the 2018 elections As well as voicing support for amilitary coup, Tillerson also indicated that the Trump administration isweighing up the nuclear option of banning oil imports from Venezuela. The severely debilitated Venezuelaneconomy relies almost exclusively on oil exports for foreign exchange, much ofwhich continues to come from sales to refineries on the US Gulf Coast. Despite Maduro’s claims that Venezuelawould survive any embargo, in reality this would doubtless prove catastrophicfor the Venezuelan economy, intensifying the already significant suffering ofcitizens all across the country. It is hard to envision a means of compensatingfor the loss of this foreign exchange, which is desperately needed to serviceforeign debt and cover the imports that keep a minimum of goods on Venezuelanshelves. In response, Maduro would also amplifyhis anti-imperialist rhetoric and shore up nationalist sentiment. Yet, if theTrump administration wants to scare military members into moving against thegovernment, there is no better move to make. There is no denying that Venezuela facesa serious political-economic crisis with no end in sight: · Oilproduction and prices, which together provided the government with thewindfall of foreign exchange that underpinned its heavy social spending, haveboth plummeted;· hyperinflationhas left the local currency virtually worthless;· homiciderates are among the highest in the hemisphere – if not the world;· PresidentMaduro remains deeply unpopular throughout the country. Though Maduro did overcome formergovernor Henrique Capriles in a 2013 election generally considered free andfair, he has since sought to maintain his rule through a host of authoritarianmanoeuvres: sidelining the opposition-controlled National Assembly,establishing a parallel legislative body, and jailing or disbarring politicaladversaries. Yet, historically the opposition hasn’tplayed by the rules either. In 2002, some opposition members supported amilitary coup and a transitional government that temporarily displaced HugoChávez. Opposition groups then orchestrated a months-long strike thatparalysed the country by shutting down the vital oil industry. And since2014 the opposition has periodically called for the ouster of Maduro throughnationwide protests that have resulted in the death of dozens of Venezuelans, amongstthem security forces, opposition activists, and government supporters alike. Elements of the opposition haverecently sought to negotiate with the Venezuelan government to work out themany messy details surrounding imminent presidential elections. But severalrounds of mediated negotiations in the Dominican Republic have ended in astandstill, with the two sides unable even to achieve a temporaryresolution of their many differences. Nonetheless, presidential elections arenow slated for 22 April 2018, and Maduro is undoubtedly aware of hisown unpopularity. Should the government tamper with election results in anattempt to prolong its rule illegitimately, the international community –and particularly Venezuela’s neighbours – would be right to condemn theseacts. But encouraging a military coup bythreatening “to make the economy scream” will only exacerbate Venezuelansuffering and further damage the tattered reputation of the US when it comes todemocracy and human rights in the Western Hemisphere.