CAVAN HOGUE. Democracy in Venezuela?

Much of the current situation arises from internal conflicts and policies but US policy has nothing to do with democracy and everything to do with US commercial, ideological and strategic interests. Foreign support for Maduro or Guaidó is based on predictable ideological and national interest lines. Domestically the military supports Maduro against widespread unrest and public demonstrations but how long this can last is a moot question. All parties call for peaceful solutions although the US has reserved its options. I look at some of the complexities.  

The situation in Venezuela is complex. The oil rich country has descended into economic chaos largely because of government mismanagement although US sanctions haven’t helped. This has led to widespread dissent and civil unrest which results from poverty and economic chaos rather than ideology. Many people are fleeing across the border to neighbouring countries as people in Guatemala and Honduras are for much the same reasons. However, the governments in those two countries while of equally dubious legitimacy have different foreign friends.

After a burst of democratic government in Latin America there has been a move to the right in recent years. Even those governments not elected in fundamentally flawed elections tend to the right in their politics and economics. Authoritarian regimes of the right and the left remain. The right leaning ones tend to be friendlier to the USA than the left leaning but there remains a deep suspicion of the US throughout the region because of its history of interference. In relations with Latin America, US policy has had more to do with the rule of the CIA than the rule of law.

The USA has recognised Juan Guaidó as legitimate president on the grounds that President Maduro’s election was flawed and that the loser is therefore the democratic choice. Despite the rhetoric, we may be sure that the US action has nothing to do with the protection of democracy. The US has a long record of replacing Latin American democracies with pliant dictators for commercial, ideological or strategic reasons. Nicolas Maduro ticks all three boxes. Venezuela is a major oil producer and his erratic socialist policies can be seen as a threat to world and US oil interests. His major supporters are countries the US sees as threats such as Russia, China, Cuba, Iran and left leaning Latin American countries like Bolivia and Ecuador. Not much is known about Guaidó but he supports the market economy and would not have the same visceral dislike of the US or threat to foreign investment. His main claim to fame is that he is opposed to Maduro. Maduro is playing the nationalist card.

Support for Maduro is coming from countries with commercial or ideological interests in keeping him in power. Russia is a major investor and China also has a toehold. The EU has important economic interests. EU investments make up about a third of foreign investment in Venezuela and not unreasonably they could see Maduro as a threat to those investments. The EU has called for elections but fallen short of endorsing Guaidó as President presumably on the grounds that he was not elected president. The US argument is that the election was rigged – which it probably was – and therefore the loser should take office. They have not made such a fuss about the rigged elections in Guatemala and Honduras. Australia has followed the demand of Secretary Pompeo to pick a side and followed the US line obviously because it is the US line. There was no other reason for us to get involved.

Latin America is divided. Most members of the 14 member Lima Group have condemned Maduro and called for measures to promote democracy. The idea of Guatemala and Honduras as protectors of democracy beggars belief. Real democracies like Chile and Costa Rica are led by more conservative governments who would not like Maduro. They want to explore ways to contribute to the restoration of democracy in that country through a peaceful and negotiated solution; Encouraged by the spirit of solidarity that characterizes the region and the conviction that negotiation, with full respect for the norms of international law and the principle of nonintervention, does not violate human rights and democracy, and is the only tool that ensures a lasting solution to the differences.

Mexico has taken its traditional view that it does not interfere in the internal affairs of other countries. Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil is a Trump admirer and unsurprisingly opposes Maduro.

The UN Security Council Resolution was clearly political. Secretary Pompeo’s knowledge of Latin America was shown by the fact that he couldn’t even pronounce Maduro correctly. The Russian argument that what is happening does not threaten international peace and security has some validity even if that is not the real reason for Russia’s support of Maduro. Turkey is an interesting one. Perhaps they are concerned about US interference in their battle with the Kurds?

So we have widespread discontent in Venezuela which is being held in check by Maduro’s control of the military. How long he can keep the lid on revolt and maintain the loyalty of the armed forces remains uncertain. The situation may be resolved by the deposition of Maduro through purely domestic factors. Given its track record, CIA courting of the military to stage a coup is always a possibility but so far there is no hard evidence of that. US sanctions may be tightened although so far oil exports have not been targeted. Any deal, perhaps brokered by the Lima group, would have to protect the military from repercussions and manage a genuine election.

Internationally the situation is fraught with Russia threatening to block any foreign ( i.e.US) military action against Maduro. The US says it is keeping all options open and their best hope is to wait for implosion. So long as they can keep Trump and Bolton on a leash things should not get out of hand. Possibly the international pressure will encourage the military to step in.

If, as seems likely, Maduro is eventually replaced by Guaidó, he will face a herculean task in satisfying popular demands for better economic conditions in time to quell domestic discontent. Whether or not he can do it remains to be seen.

Cavan Hogue was Ambassador to Mexico and Central America and opened the Australian Embassy in Chile. He speaks Spanish and has travelled widely in Latin America.


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11 Responses to CAVAN HOGUE. Democracy in Venezuela?

  1. James O'Neill says:

    The US is quoted as arguing that the election was flawed, although there is no evidence of that and the Carter Centre says otherwise. Mr Hogue then goes on to say that it follows that “the loser” should take over. This is profoundly flawed logic, not least because Guaido did not stand for election. He was not therefore “the loser”. Mr Hogue ought to be aware of the provisions of Article 2 of the UN Charter. The fact that the Trump regime and the awful Marise Payne are not is no excuse.

    • Cavan Hogue says:

      I didn’t say that the loser should take over. I quoted the US as saying that as its justification – I didn’t justify it. I also feel it is flawed logic but it is the US flawed logic, not mine. Please read more carefully..

  2. Andrew McRae says:

    “The US argument is that the election was rigged – which it probably was – and therefore the loser should take office. They have not made such a fuss about the rigged elections in Guatemala and Honduras. ”

    Rigged elections? The USA complaining? The country whose president lost the popular vote by 3 million? The Republican party with assistance from the Supreme Court has for years been doing its utmost to rig US elections. We might also ask why the USA and client state Australia have not demanded democracy in Saudi Arabia.

  3. Rex Williams says:


    This is a repeat performance of the 1973 US-initiated Chile coup all over again, then for copper and US control through the killer US puppet, Pinochet….. but this time OIL is the motivation
    Then it was Kissinger and Nixon, decidedly no better that Pompeo and Trump.

    It is the USA at it worst but sadly, the USA we all know. Coups, hegemony at any price and power mad…..and how.

    Batten down. This is the future until the empire falls, thankfully on its way.

  4. John Forrest says:

    “The USA has recognised Juan Guaidó as legitimate president on the grounds that President Maduro’s election was flawed and that the loser is therefore the democratic choice.”
    Jimmy Carter said the Venezuelan electoral system is world class, they use UK software with fingerprint verification. Maduro won with a greater turnout and a greater proportion of the votes than Trump.
    Guaidó did not stand in the presidential election. The opposition boycotted the election.

  5. Tony Kevin says:

    ‘ … The oil rich country has descended into economic chaos largely because of government mismanagement although US sanctions haven’t helped. This has led to widespread dissent and civil unrest ….”

    A suspect analysis in my view. The US has for years set out through tightening sanctions to worsen living standards for the poor . Yet the majority of Venezuelans are still sticking by Maduro, as polls and footage of pro-govt demonstrations show. I do not see evidence of widespread dissent or discontent, though certainly the (mainly white) upper and middle classes are unhappy. The challenger Guaidó comes out of virtual nowhere with an obviously CIA-scripted playbook. Russia and China and the national army are standing by Maduro. There is a thing called national sovereignty — words that do not appear in this essay – but a lot of Venezuelans value it highly. Russian advisors on the ground, and Russian and Chinese UNSC support, are important cards Maduro still holds. This game is far from over, though Cavan Hogue implies that it is nearly so ( ‘if, as seems likely, … ).

  6. Rex Williams says:

    Mr. Hogue’s article reflect a superior knowledge of the South American continent, its sad history of US imperialism and control, empire building as in the past but using military solutions. They are, as we all know, “on the table”.

    His experience alone in Chile must make him very concerned about the similarities of that fine country and the process it went through in the seventies as we see yet another US controlled coup on the horizon. Chile, all so familiar to the current climate in Venezuela.
    It was a nationalisation of a US own copper mining organisation in Chile that gave the US yet another trigger for expanding its political military and commercial interests by the simple means of supporting a coup. Standard fare for the world’s #1 terrorist, all with the blind and tacit agreement of the hapless UN.

    In Venezuela it is not copper this time, the protagonist being the arrogant US Secretary of State Pompeo, another Trump disciple in mirroring the actions in the successful coup in Chile in those days of hegemonic US empire building under Henry Kissinger, reporting to the disgraced Richard Nixon.

    So one cannot expect to see anything other than a further expansion of US-controlled states as with Ukraine of recent times, another puppet in the true sense. After all, as Pompeo has stated “every option is on the table?.

    And we all know what that means.

  7. Kerry Faithfull says:

    Totally missing the point that Maduro was democratically elected by the citizens of a sovereign nation. End of story …or at least it ought to be!
    Sadly here in Australia both major parties are lackies of the US Military Industrial complex and have been for a very long time.

    So no change of our government will make any difference to our complicity in the evil doings of the American Empire as it lurches bloated and drunk on its own excess, into inevitable self destruction.

    At this point we will all be going down with it unless ordinary Australians and Americans wake up and find a way to end this madness of endless US instigated war.

    • Rex Williams says:

      Images and portrayals of Venezuelans rioting in the streets over high food costs, empty grocery stores, medicine shortages, and overflowing garbage bins are the headlines, and the reporting points to socialism as the cause. Good old ‘socialism,’ something of a tired old hackneyed word these days.

      Guess who has caused this social situation. US sanctions, the primary weapon in Trump’s armoury.

      Now to add to the US pre-coup program, the US is to place an embargo on Venezuelan oil. That will add the icing to the US takeover cake
      Get used to these tactics. They have worked for years and continue to do so. The really sad part is that Australia supports everything the US does making us equally guilty. If you think Payne is any different to the previous incumbent, Bishop, look again. Just another US and Murdoch stooge.
      Any Australian who votes for either of the two major parties is contributing to this destabilising climate. The parties are identical in 2019. One as bad as the other.

      As for Australians and Americans “waking up”, sadly that will not happen and the Rothchilds and Murdochs of this world, all just having met in Davos to plan their continued successes, will ensure that the truth is in no fear of being read by anyone, supported of course by Reuters and Associated Press, the sole source of news for most of our mainstream media.

      Venezuela today, Iran tomorrow, Cuba the next with the little lapdog Australia bringing up the rear, always., carrying America’s bags. “Yes, Donald. We hear you. We’re ready.
      Just whistle”

  8. Jim Kable says:

    This sounds like a particularly facile reading of the political situation in Venezuela given the open hostility of the US over the past 20 years. And pretty disgusting that Australia would be poking its nose into the matter – calling for undemocratic processes as called for by Trump and Pompeo (really!!) to be followed – (Marise Payne – world historian of absolutely no note whatsoever!!) While in China Pyne calls on that country to follow democratic processes (again – honestly??). What kind of crazy world are we in right now? The sooner the current Morrison mob – in Canberra – are gone – the sooner Australia might disentangle itself from its subservience to the ugliest US government since George Dubya Bush. One throws up one’s hands! Madness rules!

  9. Bill Legge says:

    The Venezuelan electoral system introduced during the term of office of Chavez has been highly praised for its transparency and for the rigour with which the integrity of the process is maintained. Don’t ask me, ask the people at the Carter Centre.

    If Cavan Hogue has evidence that the recent presidential election was tainted, it would be good if he were to provide it – as opposed to apparent conjecture. Recently we had a UK mouthpiece claiming the election of Maduro resulted from “stuffing ballot boxes”, which is a stunning admission of ignorance of the actual electoral process.

    When I see and hear the ‘great and the good’ all singing the same chorus demonising an elected leader who apparently has the temerity to put the welfare and happiness of the people before the profits of metropolitan finance capital, I am put in mind of similar regime change operations.

    How many million Venezuelans must die to make the world safe for ‘democracy’?

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