Trudeau is wrong to back intervention in Venezuela

Apparently it’s wrong for Russia to interfere in U.S. or Canadian elections, but okay for the U.S. and Canada to pick Venezuela’s leader

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Gus Van HartenLast spring, much of the opposition in Venezuela boycotted a presidential election, which they lost.

Canadian monitors of the election reported that they “witnessed a transparent, secure, democratic and orderly electoral and voting process” and “felt confident that the result of the elections represents the will of the majority of Venezuelans who voted.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau now calls for a new Venezuelan president to be installed, to replace the elected one. And so we see how unprincipled our federal government has become under former prime minister Stephen Harper and Trudeau alike.

Apparently it’s wrong for Russia to interfere in U.S. or Canadian elections, but okay for the U.S. and Canada to pick Venezuela’s leader. Canada sells arms to Saudi Arabia but intervenes for democracy in Venezuela.

In condemning Venezuela, Trudeau is following U.S. President Donald Trump, whose own election was marred by mass disenfranchisement (politely, voter suppression) of Democrat-leaning voters, especially black males.

We’ve seen this movie before: Iraq, Libya, Syria, Grenada, Panama, Haiti, Honduras. This last country had its elected government overthrown in a brutal military coup in 2009, which then-prime minister Harper shamefully supported.

The interventions have left more than one million dead, several million displaced or refugees abroad, societies destroyed and public money wasted. Compliant journalists beat the drums for regime change, while ignoring past lies about weapons of mass destruction, equality for women, democracy and other pretexts.

To push for an overthrow in Venezuela, the Trump administration has appointed Elliott Abrams as its special envoy for the country. Abrams has a notorious history as a fixer for the Central American dirty wars and Iran-Contra scandal of the 1980s. These events saw death squads murdering nuns in El Salvador and Green Berets assisting in the systematic massacre of villages in Guatemala.

There are horrendous details for every intervention. In the Guatemalan case, all of the people in the village would be put in the church and burned alive. On my shelf is an inch-thick book produced by the country’s Catholic church as part of its Recovery of Historical Memory project. It lists in small font the names of tens of thousands of victims.

As for Venezuela, the real goals are to control its oil, hurt China (a major creditor of the country), and make clear that any effort to go another way will be sabotaged and starved into submission. And if that doesn’t work, it will be broken by force.

Voting masses of the world take note: you have less combined wealth than a few dozen billionaires and you’re not allowed to govern.

Since before the first failed coup in Venezuela in 2002 – aimed at Hugo Chavez and backed by the administration of then-U.S. president George W. Bush – the country’s government has been a thorn in the side of the U.S. To intervene now is to dust off the imperialist Monroe Doctrine, which says that U.S. elites decide what happens to Latin America’s resources, not Latin Americans.

The world is a more dangerous place thanks to all these invasions and coups, marked especially by the illegal invasion of Iraq in 2003, which former prime minister Jean Chretien courageously chose for Canada not to join. Nevertheless, Canadians born in the 2000s have lived their lives under a cloud of war and propaganda, which seems to be getting worse.

When I was a child, Pierre Trudeau was prime minister and Canada was a moderating voice that sometimes supported Third World experiments with nationalism and socialism as alternatives to foreign economic control. It was their right to try other ways, free from outside intervention, and it was our contribution to respect their right.

No more, sadly.

The closest parallel to Venezuela today is probably the overthrow of Salvador Allende (also elected) in Chile in 1973. Allende’s attempt at democratic socialism didn’t provide enough stability for U.S. copper interests, so the CIA orchestrated a sabotage campaign and then a military coup, led by Gen. Augusto Pinochet.

Poor neighbourhoods were drowned in blood as Allende supporters were rounded up and crushed with tanks in the national stadium. As Kate Millett describes in her book The Politics of Cruelty, political prisoners were rolled out on gurneys into amphitheatres where they were tortured, by experts, for an audience. In this intervention, tens of thousands were tortured, killed, or disappeared.

At the time, Canada didn’t cheerlead for an overthrow. Indeed, we helped many Chileans escape their hell. A father of a friend, working in Santiago, reportedly smuggled hunted individuals to the Canadian embassy, from which they could seek haven abroad.

Now the prime minister has joined those who demand a coup in Venezuela, backing the most anti-democratic elements in Washington and allying Canada with extreme right-wing governments in Brazil and Colombia.

Hey, the 1980s are back and ready to splash blood on Trudeau’s socks.

Say no to overthrows, prime minister, not yes, please.

Gus Van Harten is a professor at Osgoode Hall Law School of York University. He is the author of Sold Down the Yangtze: Canada’s Lopsided Investment Deal with China (Lorimer).

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The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.

Gus Van Harten

Gus Van Harten is a professor at Osgoode Hall Law School at York University in Toronto.

2 Responses to "Trudeau is wrong to back intervention in Venezuela"

  1. Ernesto Garcia   February 6, 2019 at 7:39 pm

    Dear Gus,
    There is too much misinformation in this article about the situation in Venezuela:
    You state that “last spring, much of the opposition in Venezuela boycotted a presidential election, which they lost.”
    Let me remind (or inform) you that Nicolas Maduro’s government banned any opposition leaders and parties with chances of winning from participating in this election. They even jailed some of those leaders.
    Let me explain how this would look like here in Canada. Imagine that Mr. Trudeau somehow manages to jail the leaders of the conservative party, and bans the NDP before the next elections. Then, he proceeds to name the Chief Electoral Officer of Canada as his deputy prime minister; and selects the new Chief Electoral Officer of Canada from his party.
    Yes, that is what has happened in Venezuela. Please go ahead and investigate about it, inform yourself better before writing an article like this one.
    Also, I invite you to go down there to Venezuela and see for yourself what is going on. It is very easy to talk about it while you sip a latte here in Canada, but it is a very different story if you actually have lived the situation first hand.
    I bet you have never lived over a week without running water at home or driven around for days looking for a pharmacy that carries a common antibiotic your pregnant wife needs. Have you ever lost a friend because no public hospital has supplies to cure basic illnesses or lined up at a supermarket’s door for hours under scorching sun to buy milk, oil, butter, flour, sugar, soap, toilet paper, diapers or other basic goods.
    Mr. Van Harten, people in Venezuela are being detained, tortured and sent to prison for “treason” for publishing articles such as the one you have written and published!
    God bless Canada, where we can voice our opinions and have a constructive dialog, respecting the opinion of others!
    I understand you want to use Venezuelan situation to validate a political ideology you believe in. However, I think that is plain wrong. Let’s talk about facts and the truth!
    Please, do not manipulate information about what is happening in a country where millions of real people are living the horrors of a terrible dictatorship.
    Doing that to gain some political ground thousands of miles away, Mr. Gus Van Harten, IS WRONG!

    • Gus Van Harten   February 11, 2019 at 7:46 am

      Dear Mr. Garcia,

      Thank you for this reply.

      Parts of your post attacks me personally (and inaccurately). I can understand you feel strongly about these issues, but I respectfully suggest we should discuss them without getting personal.

      The opposition’s boycotting of the spring election in Venezuela was widely reported and is not misinformation. While many Venezuelans support the opposition to the government, as you evidently do, others support Maduro, as they supported Chavez. Are their views and votes to be overridden by force from outside of the country? On what basis and on whose say-so?

      I sympathize greatly with those suffering from poverty and shortages of essential goods in Venezuela. The same goes for those living in destitution in other countries. But why invade Venezuela and not the other countries, such as Honduras, whose government is actually part of the self-appointed “Lima Group” of countries calling for the overthrow in Venezuela? The answer, it seems to me, is that those governments calling for an overthrow or invasion are not acting out of a concern for poverty.

      I suggest that our core difference lies in whether Canada should join a coup or invasion in Venezuela. My answer is no. Among other reasons, I do not think war is a good response to poverty.


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