Venezuela: Why it matters

By: Kevin McDonnell

NIAGARA UNIVERSITY, N.Y. – In November 1991 the Berlin Wall fell and soon after the Soviet Union collapsed. The Western world rejoiced as they celebrated the end of the Cold War and the cessation of tensions between the United States and Russia. During this time, it may have been easy to assume that conflicts between Russia and the United States had finally subsided.

Whether it was Afghanistan or Vietnam, it seemed that the proxy wars that plagued countries around the globe as battlefields for world superpowers would finally succumb to being simply vestiges of history. However, it seems that while the ideological elements of the Cold War are no longer, conflicts between Russia and the United States have continued without impediment. The most notable example of these is the conflict within Syria, but it seems that more recently tensions between the two countries could hit even closer to home.

Traditionally, American news coverage of Latin American politics has been mediocre at its best and abysmal at its worst.  Oftentimes news interpretations particularly in the 1980s, 1990s and until today has focused heavily on Americans’ infatuation with the Latin American narco traffickers or burgeoning cartels. Rather than focusing on the United States and their foreign policy towards these countries, the news today has focused its attention on Mexico and Central America with regards to immigration.

Generally, news has shied away from delving into the history of Latin America which is rife with U.S. involvement and colonialization. It is easy to characterize the situation in a country like El Salvador as one that is not an American concern. However, in countries like El Salvador and Nicaragua they find themselves grappling with a political life that has been directly impacted by American policies that supported authoritarian governments through both training, financial aid and the shipment of weapons. This takes us to the situation in Venezuela.

Venezuela under the leadership of socialist Nicolas Maduro, has found itself in economic turmoil. The country’s petroleum industry is nationalized and accounts for 90 percent of the country’s revenue. As oil prices have plummeted in the marketplace, the Venezuelan economy was plunged into financial ruin which led to hyperinflation and massive food shortages.

To make matters worse, the United States imposed sanctions on Maduro as a response to his lack of regard for human rights, but those sanctions have largely affected the Venezuelan people and not Maduro’s regime. Now the United States has backed Juan Guaido who asserts that Maduro’s recent re-election is illegitimate.

Why does this matter? John Bolton who is President Trump’s National Security Adviser unabashedly supports a Neo-Con foreign policy position rooted in realism. Bolton believes that America’s foreign policy should support the creation of an American empire. The only viable method of obtaining American security is by focusing on offensive capabilities. In his mind, the way to achieve that goal is to commit American troops to conflicts around the globe. Russia has a long history of relations with Venezuela and may already have troops within the country. Venezuela boasts the largest oil reserves in the world which means that a relationship with the country could be incredibly beneficial to an ally’s energy sector.

All of this is to say that with heightened tensions within Venezuela right now, U.S. involvement could mean yet another long conflict for U.S. forces with seemingly no end with Venezuelan citizens being caught in the crossfire. This is a prospect that should be deeply concerning for a generation who has reaped the economic consequences of the Iraq War and will continue to in the near future.

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