Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Venezuelan Protests and the U.S.

Mark Weisbrot says the U.S. shouldn't support regime change in Venezuela. I agree completely, though this isn't a particularly good case of the U.S. doing so. Vanilla statements about concern over treatment of protesters isn't exactly ringing endorsement of regime change.

An anonymous State Department spokesman was even clearer last week, when he responded to the protests by expressing concern about the government's "weakening of democratic institutions in Venezuela", and said that there was an obligation for "government institutions [to] respond effectively to the legitimate economic and social needs of its citizens". He was joining the opposition's efforts to de-legitimize the government, a vital part of any "regime change" strategy.

Meh. There is no doubt that democratic institutions in Venezuela are weakening. Saying so doesn't become a vital part of some strategy. Oddly enough, he even credits John Kerry for forcing the opposition to accept last year's loss.

There is no doubt that the U.S. would like to see someone other than Nicolás Maduro in power, so fair enough. But the evidence and examples don't match particularly well with a coherent strategy of externally imposed regime change.


Mark Weisbrot 7:31 PM  

Greg, maybe this will help your readers to understand what these statements mean. I wanted to include the White House statement on the Honduran coup for comparison but didn't have room.

You can find it here:


The White House statement on the day of the coup did not condemn it, merely calling on “all political and social actors in Honduras” to respect democracy.

This diplomatic language is very important. As any diplomat in this town will testify, this is one way in which governments communicate their positions and alliances. Everybody I know realized immediately from the White House statement after the Honduran coup that Washington supported the coup, and there were no surprises for us in what the Obama administration did in the months and years that followed.

So you see, these statements from Kerry and the State Department are not just random “vanilla” comments on the state of democracy or the economy in Venezuela or concern about arrests. (Maybe you didn’t read the piece very carefully, but my point on the arrests was that in other countries, if protesters are arrested for violent acts, the U.S. does not call for their immediate release.) These are carefully worded statements, like the White House statement on the coup in Honduras, that communicate their position without putting the U.S. government in the position of saying that they support a military coup in Honduras or a strategy of “regime change” in Venezuela, but making it clear to their allies and adversaries that they actually do. They have enormous impact, as you can understand. When Kerry changed his position on the April elections, he didn’t have to say “these elections were free and fair and the opposition should give up its attempt to pretend that they were stolen.” He just implicitly recognized the result and that was the end of the opposition’s campaign, since U.S. allies Spain and José Miguel Insulza at the OAS had already given up, so the Obama administration was the last ally that the Venezuelan opposition had holding out for non-recognition of the election results.

I hope this makes it clearer for you and your readers.

Mark Weisbrot

Anonymous,  10:45 PM  

I also think there are some problems with the U.S. statements. We're talking about a protest movement whose express purpose is to force the Maduro government from power, led by two figures who actively supported the 2002 coup. (It is a documented fact --acknowledged by Maria Corina Machado herself-- that she and her mother visited with coup leader Pedro Carmona during the coup. In light of the history, the protest leaders' personal backgrounds, and the express purpose of the protests, the U.S. decision to focus only on the purported excessiveness of the government's response sends a dangerous signal that the United States is prepared to look the other way if the most undemocratic sectors of the opposition resort to extra-constitutional activities. This is serious business. Independently of what one thinks of the Maduro government, the signals that the United States is sending are not befitting of a "liberal hegemon."

Greg Weeks 9:37 AM  

What I see is more conviction than evidence. The Honduran post you wrote was after a coup had already happened, and you do not discuss what the Obama administration said prior. You also argue in the older post that the signals were mixed after the fact. In this case you say the signals right now (a situation where there is no coup, knock on wood) are not mixed, but I think we (and my readers, whoever exactly they are) will have to agree to disagree on that point.

Ian Keenan 6:03 AM  

The US doesn't respond to protests or civil war in Colombia by calling for "government institutions [to] respond effectively to the legitimate economic and social needs of its citizens," despite a higher rate of unemployment there than in Venezuela, after Maduro's party reduced the rate of poverty by over a half in the past decade. There's a reason for that and people should spell it out.

Herrera 6:45 AM  

From which information platform are you getting the facts about venezuelan poverty rate...? What about inflation? Or violence or food scarcely where are those rates? Which one is your communication and information source... it's time to get help for a country which army is against the people ...who should the army protect? And who should the army kill?

Anonymous,  7:24 AM  

The Weisbrot post boils down to if the US does not say the same thing in every instance then it is implicitly calling for a coup (probably organizing one behind the scenes). Last week the US president urged the Kenyan president to not sign a punitive law on homosexuality. It called for restraint in the Ukraine. Austrian immigration policy? The State Department has probably issued dozens of comments on domestic developments in other countries the world over just in 2014. Many of these are, as Greg noted, are unremarkable. People look to the US to take a position on international issues whether the writer likes it or not. Most have little or no bearing on the outcome of events. If the point is that the US shapes its comments around its previous relationship with said government, that is true of every country's diplomacy. Last week China issued a statement "We believe that politicizing human rights issues is not conducive towards improving a country's human rights," in reference to the UN Human Rights Commission and its ally North Korea. Why doesn't Weisbrot analyze the implications of that statement?

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