Oil is a huge factor. Venezuela is one of the world’s largest oil producers, though now most of its oil revenues go to pay off Russia. Now the Trump administration seeks to channel the oil revenues to its preferred president, Juan Guaido.
Trump doesn’t want to fight land wars in the Middle East, but he does need to look and feel tough. An attack on the socialist legacy of Hugo Chavez and the failed rule of Chavez’s successor Nicolas Maduro offers a way to project his manliest self without the intolerable demands of being a wartime president.
Trump has been filibustering about Venezuela since August 2017, when he said of the U.S. military:
“They have many options for Venezuela — and, by the way, I’m not going to rule out a military option. We’re all over the world, and we have troops all over the world in places that are very, very far away. Venezuela is not very far away, and the people are suffering, and they’re dying. We have many options for Venezuela, including a possible military option, if necessary.”
And “filibuster” is the apt term. Long before “filibuster” signified lengthy speech in the U.S. Senate, a filibuster (filibusteroin Spanish) referred to an American adventurer who sought to foment insurrection in Central and South America in the 19th century.
John Bolton was filibustering when he leaked his intentions toward Venezuela on an artfully displayed notepad: “5,000 troops to Colombia.”
In Bogota, former Colombia President Alvaro Uribe tweeted back, “No, gracias,” but was otherwise supportive.
What a change from 15 years ago. In 2002, president Hugo Chavez, the self-proclaimed Bolivarian revolutionary, confronted a military coup supported by the United States. Governments across Latin American rallied in defense of Chavez’s government, and the coup fizzled.
Now Latin America has more conservative governments that feel threatened by the exodus of some 3 million Venezuelans into neighboring countries.
What remains the same is what Latin American scholar Abe Lowenthal calls the “hegemonic presumption” of the U.S. government. The presumption is that Latin America is the United States’ “backyard.” In this mental construct, Venezuela is seen as a private domain where Washington can do what it pleases, with or without the support of other countries.
The cast of characters hasn’t changed.
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