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Give Diplomacy a Chance in Venezuela

The United States is pushing for an overthrow of the government of Venezuela. The Trump administration has denounced Nicolas Maduro as a “dictator,” dismissing the 2018 election, which the opposition boycotted. Instead of a good neighbor policy or a policy of non-intervention, the Trump administration has set out intentionally to overthrow the regime.

Long before Trump, the United States was a bitter opponent of the Hugo Chavez regime. The fact that Chavez was wildly popular and freely elected made no difference. He represented a revolution that embraced Fidel Castro’s Cuba and implemented plans to redistribute wealth and empower the poor. In 2002, when the Venezuelan military moved to overthrow Chavez, an official in the Bush administration reportedly met with the coup leaders. The coup attempt was frustrated, however, when Venezuelans rose up in mass against the plotters.

Now with Chavez gone, the current president Nicolas Maduro unpopular, the economy a mess — in significant degree because the price of oil is near record lows — the Trump administration is apparently orchestrating another attempt.

It has continued to ratchet up pressure. It has imposed brutal sanctions on Venezuela, making a bad situation far worse, all the while blaming the government for the misery. Trump has openly threatened a “military option” for Venezuela. His bellicose national security adviser, John Bolton, boasted that “The troika of tyranny in this hemisphere — Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua — has finally met its match.”

The New York Times reported that Trump administration officials met with Venezuelan military officers who were considering a coup attempt.

Then, Juan Guaido, an obscure politician from a right-wing party, declared himself interim president, claiming that he had that right as head of the National Assembly. The U.S. immediately recognized Guaido, and right-wing governments across the region did the same.

Trump then named Elliott Abrams, infamous for committing perjury before Congress over the Iran-Contra fiasco, and for championing vicious military and paramilitary repression across Central America, as special envoy for Venezuela. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Florida) pumped up demands for intervention, growing so rabid that he tweeted a gruesome picture of the murder of Libya’s Qaddafi as a prediction of Maduro’s fate.

Bolton admitted that he was “in conversation with major American [oil] companies now,” stating that “it would make a difference if we could have American companies produce the oil in Venezuela. We both have a lot at stake here.”

Now Venezuela has been hit with a power blackout, taking out electricity, phone service and internet. In Forbes Magazine, an expert details how easily this could be done by the U.S. in a cyber first-strike.

The U.S. has a long and shameful history of intervention in this hemisphere, too often aligning itself with rapacious elites and the military against the vast majority. In the ’50s, the CIA overthrew a popularly elected government in Guatemala. After the Cuban revolution, the U.S. launched an invasion, terrorist attacks, economic sabotage and boycott, and assassination attempts to get rid of Castro. In 1973, the U.S. embraced the brutal Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet when he led the overthrow of the popularly elected government of Salvador Allende. As recent as 2009, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton endorsed the overthrow of the elected government of Honduras, a disaster that has resulted in bands of desperate Hondurans seeking refuge in this country.

Now Trump and his bellicose advisers seem intent on adding another chapter to this shameful history. There is another way. Instead of starving the Venezuelans into submission, we should be engaging with them. Instead of seeking to control their oil, we should recognize their national sovereignty. Instead of fanning coup attempts, we should be leading international negotiations to seek a diplomatic settlement that might lead to new elections.

Nicolas Maduro is far from blameless, but no one nominated the United States to decide who should govern Venezuela. Fomenting regime change — by a soft coup, by economic sabotage, by fostering a military revolt — is likely to lead to more violence and more suffering.

It is time for Congress to step up — to investigate exactly what the Trump administration is doing overtly and covertly, and to call for a return to diplomacy before it is too late.

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Jesse Jackson is the founder of Rainbow/PUSH.

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