In November 2013, then-Secretary of State John Kerry declared: “The era of the Monroe Doctrine is over.”1 The reality of Obama administration policy did not entirely support this assertion; there was the executive order against Venezuela in 2015, support for the coup in Honduras in 2009, and ominously close ties with right-wing governments across the region. But with other more encouraging steps such as the normalization of relations with Cuba and the (belated) show of support for the Colombian Peace Process, there were at least some modest steps towards greater mutual respect for national sovereignty in the Hemisphere. Then came the unexpected election of Donald Trump. Though throughout his election campaign he expressed a preference for US isolationism and opposition to senseless war, once in office he appointed the very neoconservative war hawks he had earlier criticized for engineering such foreign debacles as the disastrous invasion of Iraq. His appointments to hemispheric policy posts have been the least encouraging, with figures such as the convicted criminal Elliot Abrams reemerging from obscurity to saber-rattle against traditional Latin American foes. Ever since Trump entered the White House, there has been a growing sense that the Monroe Doctrine is back. Now, that suspicion has been confirmed. On April 17, National Security Advisor John Bolton said: “Today, we proudly proclaim for all to hear: the Monroe Doctrine is alive and well.”2
Category Archives: Council on Hemispheric Affairs
It’s Official: the Monroe Doctrine Is Back. And as the Latest US Attack on Cuba Shows, Its Purpose Is to Serve the Neoliberal Order.
As the coup attempt in Venezuela stumbles, it’s time that Guaidó recognize that regime change has failed and accept the path of dialogue
On January 28, COHA’s Editorial Board released a statement condemning the US-backed coup attempt in Venezuela and in support of the dialogue promoted by the government of Mexico and the United Nations to settle the conflict peacefully. Since then, the regime change effort has severely lost momentum. The strained attempt to legitimize self-proclaimed “interim president” Juan Guaidó, a previously unknown 35-year-old National Assembly member of the right-wing Voluntad Popular party, has largely failed. The government of President Nicolás Maduro remains firmly in power and only a handful of military leaders have defected to Guaidó’s side. In spite of multiple US allies in the Western Hemisphere, Europe and beyond having formally recognized Guaidó as Venezuela’s legitimate president, four of the five major emerging BRICS nations – Russia, China, India, and South Africa – continue to recognize Maduro, along with 15 other African countries, some of the Caricom nations and stalwart regional allies Bolivia, Nicaragua, and Cuba.
Coup attempt in tatters
To witness the growing cracks in the coup plotters’ strategy, one need only to observe Guaidó’s own increasingly desperate antics. At the international level, he has been frantically attempting to gain control of foreign-held government assets – so far, to little avail. On the domestic front, having promised amnesty to members of the military who are willing to defect to his side, he is now struggling to get a measure to keep this promise passed by the opposition-controlled National Assembly that he leads. And in the latest provocative move, he recently called on supporters to surround military bases and “demand the delivery of humanitarian aid.” As a result, the opposition camp seems to be fracturing even further, with several of its major figures – including Claudio Fermín and Laidy Gómez – now calling Guaidó’s strategy into question.
On Wednesday, President Obama called on the Venezuelan government to respect the “legitimate” efforts by the country’s opposition leaders to trigger a recall referendum against the country’s beleaguered president, Nicolás Maduro. The Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD) coalition of opposition parties is hoping to stage the recall vote in order to remove Maduro from office and bring about the election of an MUD candidate to the executive branch.
Obama made the remarks during a visit to Ottawa, Canada’s capital city, in which he met with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto for the 2016 North American Leaders Summit. He issued a harsh warning to the Maduro government, describing the situation as “very serious” and indicating that Trudeau and Peña Nieto were on board with his pro-opposition stance.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry made the unexpected move yesterday of agreeing to a direct, bilateral dialogue with Venezuela in order to reestablish full diplomatic relations. Kerry met with Venezuelan Foreign Minister Delcy Rodriguez during a gathering of the OAS General Assembly, that has been taking place in the Dominican Republic this week, to discuss how to forge a less confrontational relationship between the two countries in the future. The State Department said in a statement released yesterday that the meeting is intended to be the beginning of a process for “establishing a positive path forward in the bilateral relationship.” Striking an unlikely image, the pair were pictured shaking hands in front of their respective countries’ flags at the Chancellery building in Santo Domingo, the Caribbean nation’s capital city. Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro welcomed the offer of relations based on mutual respect and responded by calling for an exchange of ambassadors. Kerry has appointed veteran ambassador Thomas Shannon to oversee the dialogue and develop a diplomatic strategy going forward.
Perhaps most surprisingly of all, Kerry also distanced the United States from attempts by the Secretary-General of the Organization of American States, Luis Almagro, to invoke the OAS’s Inter-American Democratic Charter against Maduro’s government. He stated: “At this moment, I think it’s more constructive to have dialogue than to isolate.” Such sentiments come at a time of growing confrontation between the interventionist course pursued by Almagro and the insistence on national sovereignty by the Maduro administration. Kerry’s remarks represent the United States’ increasing acknowledgement of the rejection of Almagro’s stance by the region’s leaders and reflect a dampening of support for his aggressive posturing. Earlier this month an OAS meeting to discuss the possibility of invoking the Charter against Venezuela led to a unanimous declaration denouncing intervention and a rejection of applying the Charter from all but one of the countries’ representative in attendance.
COHA Director Larry Birns Delivers Open Letter to Almagro’s Secretary in Washington as Protesters Denounce Interventionism
Yesterday, COHA’s Director Larry Birns handed an open letter (read here in English or Spanish) to an assistant of the Organization of American States’ Secretary-General Luis Almagro at the regional body’s Washington headquarters on behalf of scores of human rights, solidarity, and community organizations and individuals based in the United States and Canada; an action supported by nearby demonstrators expressing their opposition to Almagro’s invocation of the Democratic Charter against Venezuela. The aid promised to deliver the document to the Secretary-General directly.
The protest, which took place in the sweltering Washington summer heat, drew the participation of several U.S.-based organizations including the Boliviarian Circle of New York “Alberto Lovera,” ANSWER Coalition, Code Pink, COHA, The Latin American and Caribbean Solidarity Committee (DC), the Latin American and Caribbean Action Network (DC), and the National Network of Salvadorans in the Exterior (RENASE-DC). COHA Research Fellow Peter Bolton was interviewed by TeleSur and RT to discuss the contents of the letter and the context of the action.
Venezuelan opposition protesters on Wednesday marched to the office of the country’s National Electoral Council (CNE) to deliver a petition demanding that the process for a recall referendum against beleaguered President Nicholás Maduro be expedited. In a tense face-off, supporters of the Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD), a coalition of parties opposed to the governing United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), were prevented from entering the premises by state security personnel, prompting the recall effort’s chief proponent and former opposition presidential candidate, Henrique Caprilles, to declare that Maduro “is using force in the belief that it is going to stop us.” The high-profile tactic, which as usual has attracted frenzied attention in the Western press, is so far the clearest example of what Reuters has described as the opposition’s new “multi-pronged approach” to removing Maduro from office.
It’s not that the kinds of violent extra-democratic methods such as those utilized by the ultra-right elements of the opposition during the 2014 street protests have given way to entirely peaceful and legal means, however. On the very same day as the CNE march, a video emerged of opposition extremists attacking public property and police officers in Caracas, including dousing two with gasoline. This follows a wave of violent anti-government mobilizations across the country on Monday. According to one report, in the Tachira state “hooded militants hijacked a truck belonging to the Venezuelan state telecommunications company CANTV, subdued the driver, and set the vehicle on fire.” As Ryan Mallet-Outtrim pointed out in Venezuela Analysis last month: “Today’s right-wing has repeatedly shown it not only has no interest in disavowing violence, but is willing to turn on the Venezuelan people for their own political gain.”
In the bitter campaign to reverse the normalization of U.S.-Cuba relations that has been driving forward since December 2014, human rights have again entered center stage. Critics of President Obama’s rapprochement with the Cuban government are “claiming vindication this week,” according to yesterday’s front-page article in The Washington Time titled “Cuba’s Communists dig in despite Obama’s outreach.” The article claims that Communist Party hardliners are maneuvering to cement their grip on power once Raul Castro steps down from the country’s presidency in 2018. This charge is based on news that the Cuban leader will nonetheless remain in his post as first secretary of the Communist Party and that fellow “old-line enforcer of party orthodoxy” Jose Ramon Machado will retain his post as the party’s second-in-command. The article cites Ana Quintana, a Latin America and Western Hemisphere policy analyst at The Heritage Foundation and a former student trainee at the Defense Intelligence Agency, who argues that, “by every indicator, in terms of progress, this was a sign of failure.”
Apparently for Quintana, this later development proves beyond a doubt that every last one of President Obama’s overtures of the last two years, from reopening the Cuban Embassy to removing Cuba from the list of state sponsors of terrorism, “have only served to embolden the Cuban government.” As a result of this policy of appeasement, “the Castro government’s treatment of human rights and democracy activists has grown only more harsh.” Yet, the Times hastens to add, not all is lost since Washington “does still hold one key bit of leverage – the continuing U.S. embargo on most direct trade with Cuba.” In the final paragraph the article notes that Republicans in Congress won’t accept an end to the embargo “without clear evidence that the government in Havana has taken steps to improve its record on human rights.”
The Washington Post, in an op-ed issued yesterday by its Editorial Board, suggests that the remedy for the “accelerating spiral toward an economic and political crash” that now awaits Venezuela is “political intervention by its neighbors.” It recommends intervention by the Organization of American States’ (OAS) Inter-American Democratic Charter, which, the Post claims, “provides for collective action when a regime violates constitutional norms.” Amongst these allegations of constitutional violations, the Post accuses the government of President Nicolás Maduro of waging “scorched-earth warfare with the National Assembly,” which since December of last year has been controlled by the opposition Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD), and of illegally packing the Supreme Court with government supporters in order to “strip the opposition majority of its constitutional powers and reject every measure it has passed.”
The Post could have added some balance to the discussion by mentioning, for instance, that upon winning their two-thirds majority the opposition’s first order of business was passing an amnesty law that, in addition to including a worryingly broad set of crimes, has unsettled victims of right-wing violence, some of whom view it as sanctioning impunity. In addition to open acts of provocation such as taking down all symbols of the Bolivarian cause from the walls of the legislature and immediately laying out a plan to ensure Maduro will be out of office within six months, the opposition have wasted no time in introducing legislation to privatize the public housing mission and roll back progressive labor law.
Recent reports about Venezuela’s ongoing infrastructural difficulties have given particular attention to such matters as electrical grid outages, which are said now to be chronic across the country. Much has been made, for instance, of President Nicolás Maduro’s announcement this month that his government is implementing a three-day weekend to conserve energy resources. Similarly, increasing attention has been given to the water shortage, which is said to be leaving Venezuelans without access for weeks on end.
The tone of these reports, like most of the coverage of Venezuela in the Western-controlled press, is laced with undercurrents implying that news of doom and despair is all that ever emanates from the South American country. In a special report for USA Today, for instance, Peter Wilson claims that President Maduro’s recent moves have become necessary to “avert a collapse of the power grid.” A Wall Street Journal article claims “the nationwide water shortage is crippling Venezuela, leaving faucets dry and contributing to rolling blackouts.” Words like disaster, breakdown and ruin adorn the prose of these reports and communicate a sense of ominous foreboding, as if Venezuela were about to fall into a dark hole toward the center of the earth. The implication is that as long as the Chavistas are in government all Venezuela news is bad news and that every last piece of it represents one last nail in the coffin of a failed political project.
Reports in the English-language press last week highlighted a series of small-scale street protests in Venezuela that bemoaned the scarcity of certain basic products, chronic shortages of medical supplies, and continued power and water outages throughout the country. According to Reuters, for instance, more than a thousand such protests occurred in January and February and, taken together, “show the depth of public anger” and “could become a catalyst for wider unrest.” News accounts proclaiming Venezuela’s state of emergency are not new but in recent weeks have reached hysterical levels, with the Boston-based Global Post claiming that Venezuela’s economic situation is now “worse than 1960s Cuba.”
The mainstream narrative explanation is that the crisis is the result of economic mismanagement and the ideological rigidity of the country’s “authoritarian” Chavista led-government. For instance, Andreas E. Feldmann, Federico Merke, and Oliver Stuenkel, writing for the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, wrote last November that “Venezuela’s steep recession has been worsened by economic mismanagement leading to mounting inflation, a widening fiscal deficit, and growing shortages of essential goods including food, soap, and diapers.” Similarly, Arlecchino Gomez at The Daily Signal, wrote, also last November, that Venezuela’s recession “was largely due to government incompetence and mismanagement.”