The US and its ‘coalition of the willing’ are citing a humanitarian crisis in Venezuela to justify intervention. But the record of Colombia – one of Washington’s key allies in the attempted coup – suggests that the only thing regime change would free Venezuela from would be its national wealth.
Exposing Trump’s partner in crime
On 13 February, Colombian president Iván Duque discussed events in Venezuela with Donald Trump, telling reporters:
I think we have to give a very strong message to [Venezuela]… Obstructing the access of humanitarian aid is a crime against humanity.
Duque’s position mirrors that of the US government and corporate media. That is, the Venezuelan people need liberating from President Nicolás Maduro, who is actively starving the population by rejecting US ‘humanitarian aid‘. And Colombia’s support for the attempted coup isn’t just diplomatic. It currently functions as a base for US military operations and a possible entry point for invasion.
But Colombia is rife with human rights abuses. And by comparing US policy in both countries, we see how Washington creates humanitarian crises – and then decides which are worthy of condemning based on their usefulness to US imperialism.
Humanitarian crises: Colombia and Venezuela
Colombia has roughly seven million internally displaced persons, remains one of the most dangerous places in the world to be a trade unionist or social activist, and is overseeing the silent erasure of the country’s largest Indigenous group. For decades, it has been home to one of the world’s biggest humanitarian crises.
Since 2014, meanwhile, roughly three million Venezuelans have reportedly fled the country, mostly headed for nearby Colombia and Peru. Their reasons for leaving include shortages of basic necessities – caused by a complex economic crisis – and violence.
The ongoing crises in Colombia and Venezuela share a common denominator: US intervention.
For decades, the US sponsored the annihilation of Colombian social organisations deemed threatening to US interests by instructing the Colombian military in counterinsurgency. The legacy of this instruction remains. Since Duque’s election, killings of social activists and indigenous leaders have spiked. And as Whitney Webb wrote for MintPress News:
Colombia has been the site of ongoing genocide against the country’s largest indigenous group – the Wayuú – in the country’s Guajira region, after the Colombian government diverted their only source of water to support the operations of the country’s – and continent’s – largest coal mine.
The Wayuú people have reported the deaths of 14,000 children since the mine’s opening, and 5,000 children have reportedly died since the river was diverted in 2011. The Cerrejón mine – which is quite literally sucking the life from the Wayuú community – is owned by US and British corporations.
The US has been meddling in Venezuela, meanwhile, since the 1950s – and notably since the election of Hugo Chávez in 1998. In August 2017, Trump applied a new round of economic sanctions on Venezuela, making it “illegal for the Venezuelan government to obtain financing from US institutions or individuals”. From then, Venezuelan oil production – upon which the vast majority of its economy relies – plummeted. These sanctions have cost the Venezuelan government billions of dollars which it could otherwise have spent on social welfare. Fast-forward to 2019, and the Trump administration continues to intensify sanctions on Venezuela.
Worthy and unworthy crises
Washington’s silence on Colombia but apparent concern for Venezuela reveals which crises it sees as worthy and unworthy.
Despite Colombia’s massive humanitarian problems, the US continues to provide Colombia with diplomatic and military support. In fact, it seems likely that US assistance to Colombia remains directly linked to Colombia’s willingness to accommodate human rights abuses. As such, the erasure of the Wayuú people isn’t deemed a worthy crisis because it’s a necessary pre-condition to maximising the profits of the partly US-owned Cerrejón mine.
Meanwhile, Venezuela’s economic crisis is deemed worthy as it offers a ‘humanitarian’ rationale for intervention. But as The Canary has reported, this is a crisis very much engineered by the US. Brutal US sanctions seem to be a cynical attempt to starve the Venezuelan population into overthrowing their own government. And Washington’s preferred leader, Juan Guaidó, plans a massive restructuring of the country’s economy to open it up further to private enterprise.
The US is therefore an active and central agent in both crises. And while the contexts differ, Washington’s end-goal is the same: the opening of both economies to US business.
If the US-backed coup succeeds, Venezuela won’t be liberated from humanitarian crises – only its national wealth.
Featured image via Mohamed Elmaazi