Map of Venezuela: iStock

After Libya and Ukraine, it is Venezuela. US President Donald Trump’s endorsement of Venezuela’s National Assembly President Juan Guaido as the country’s legitimate president follows a pattern in US foreign policy whereby leaders not readily pliable to American corporate interests get replaced in a popular “revolution” generously sponsored and minutely directed from Washington.

These regime-change efforts are sometimes disguised by a professed concern over the country’s lack of democracy or the mismanagement of its  economy, or allegedly rigged elections – in short, the plight of the locals. More recently, though, and thanks to the more frank and open style of Trump’s administration, America’s true motifs are coming into the open: it is all about money. That is, other nations’ money that American leaders want for their country’s corporate benefit.

As US national security adviser John Bolton said: “It will make a big difference to the United States economically if we could have American oil companies invest in and produce the oil capabilities in Venezuela.” For Bolton and people who propelled him into his current position, Venezuela regime change is a “big business opportunity” – so big that for the US “all options” are on the table.

This, of course, includes military intervention and killing off the elected president, Nicolas Maduro. This is how we should read the statement of a senior White House official that Maduro’s safety in Venezuela can no longer be guaranteed. One cannot but recall Trump’s earlier remark about the potential use of military force in Venezuela.

Meanwhile, Guaido, the self-proclaimed “president,”  has endorsed the new round of the US sanctions that cripple his country’s economy, harming the livelihood of ordinary people. Business interests are more important. That is, US business interests. Sanctions against the Venezuelan state oil company PDVSA will squeeze out Rosneft – Russia’s main investor in the Venezuelan petroleum sector, thus in effect robbing the Russians of their stake and clearing the way for the US appropriation of  Venezuelan (and Russian) assets. The more than US$50 billion that China has lent to Venezuela through oil-for-loan agreements will also be jeopardized.

From the American hawks’ perspective, both Russia and China are “countries with interests hostile to ours” and, therefore, these countries’ investments in the Venezuelan economy are legitimate expropriation targets

While liberal economists teach us that expropriation of productive assets is a typical communist technique, it clearly appears that the bastion of free-market economy does not shy away from it either. From the American hawks’ perspective, both Russia and China are “countries with interests hostile to ours” and, therefore, these countries’ investments in the Venezuelan economy are legitimate expropriation targets. Of course, the fact that Venezuela has the world’s largest proven oil reserves focuses the attention of the US business community even without Bolton’s reminders.

The White House freely admits that regime-change attempts in Venezuela are part of a bigger strategy to exert greater US influence over Latin America. Venezuela will be followed by Cuba and Nicaragua. These three socialist states that Bolton labels a “troika of tyranny” cannot but remind us of George W Bush’s “axis of evil”: Iraq, North Korea and Iran. It is worthwhile to recall how US regime-change efforts fared in those “evil” states.

The most successful, by American standards, was the intervention in Iraq, which plunged the country’s economy from its all-time high in 1990 to less than one-seventh of its former self by 2004. Even now, Iraq’s GDP per capita in current dollars hovers around 50% of its erstwhile best, incidentally reached by the Saddam Hussein government.

North Korea proceeded to build nuclear weapons and was spared the ruin of externally induced democratization. According to Trump, “things are going very well with North Korea,” and there is no talk of a regime change there. It is safe to conclude that a few nuclear missiles up Kim’s sleeve changed the US attitude.

Iran is somewhere in between these two. While also suffering from US sanctions, it is not yet in direct danger of a military invasion. Perhaps Iran’s advanced nuclear program and ballistic missiles capabilities have something to do with the US restraint.

Venezuela does not have ballistic missiles and may well be a tempting target for the US military intervention. It is hard to predict how Russia or China will behave if such a thing happens. With the Venezuelan military loyal to Maduro and big powers wiling to help the regime, the country may well become the United States’ next Syria, if not Vietnam. With Russia’s more direct involvement, the world will move one step closer to the abyss.

However, even with Maduro gone the US victory will prove pyrrhic. The history of American interventions in Latin America is a history of unmitigated disasters. Regime change efforts before resulted in fascist governments and military juntas, drug lord presidents and skyrocketing corruption. They did not endear Latin Americans to the manipulative gringos. As we are less than 10 years away from the “left wave” that swayed Latin America in the 2000s, banishing the US-supported right-wing governments, Trump would be well advised not to repeat mistakes of the past. There is always a price to be paid in the future.


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