Back in March John Kerry stated that the Obama administration is willing to impose sanctions on members of the Maduro government if they do not ease back from the mishandling of opposition-led protests that have erupted since February (reportedly, protesters themselves are responsible for some of the violence). Pursuant to this, the Senate Foreign relations Committee voted last week in favor of a bill that would allow Obama to freeze assets and ban US travel for former and current members of the Venezuelan government.
The main leader of the variegated opposition himself, Henrique Capriles, came out against such a legislative act back in March. Now fourteen democrats are joining South American ambassadors in denouncing this unilateral bill.
However, the bipartisan bill is not entirely punitive in its function. Section 6 of the bill outlines positive support for the development and protection of civil society in Venezuela and includes a promissory, financial contribution of at least $15 million (not explicitly or clearly stated in the document itself) to advance such a goal.
In the words of radical-leftists, the Venezuelan Foreign Minister Elias Jaua, and Chavistas: the US Government should mind its own freaking business and keep its hands off Venezuela. We should be wary of any actions the US government seeks to undertake in response to the litany of human rights abuses committed by the Venezuelan government.
First, the US government’s meddling in Latin American affairs within the last century alone, does not have a good track-record – political, social, and economic problems in the region were often exacerbated as a result of overt or covert interventions.
Second, the Manichean rhetoric (aptly described here) used to bolster the case for sanctions, severely downplays the potentially salubrious aspects of the Bolivarian movement: decentralization experiments in tackling socio-economic problems that have plagued the country for decades.
US Government’s “Backyard”
The CIA itself has admitted its involvement in the Pinochet coup d’etat. Pinochet liked his market-oriented reforms (I notice the word “neo-liberal” being thrown around profusely) mixed with infamously heavy-handed and bloody political repression that continues to haunt Chileans.
Another example is the short-lived deposing of Hugo Chavez and fellow Chavistas in 2002, which is still viewed as an uncorroborated machination by the US government in cahoots with the right-wing Venezuelan opposition. Again, this is probably the stuff of mere rumor, but not out-of-character for the US government, which has a history of throwing its support behind the “right kind” of authoritarian leaders, then ousting them when suitable.
Maduro’s conspiracy paranoia is laughable, but it is not totally detached from reality.
I disagree with almost every aspect of Bolivarian socialism. And I think the grievances expressed by the opposition— from high-inflation and endangerment of basic freedoms to shortages of goods and the lack of security—are legitimate. I also think that there is this derisive and simplistic narrative coming from some in the pro-Chavista corner that the protesters are a bunch of privileged elites throwing a hissy fit about wanting to return Venezuela to the good ol’ days.
Likewise, the appeal of Chavismo does not seem to be just about free stuff. Chavez’s 21st Century Socialism program sowed the seeds of decentralized decision-making at the local level through worker’s cooperatives and community councils. Institutionalized by law and financially beholden to the government, for sure. And these co-ops and councils seem pretty far from the “spontaneous order” voluntary associations of the kind that libertarians like myself would like to see. But there is potential there. Especially as more self-described Maduro supporters become disenchanted and realize that they can fix things themselves without the government looking over their shoulders (or without state funds).
These decentralized organizations, to the extent that they actually are decentralized, point to something that ordinary non-government official Chavistas have in common with the opposition: the yearning for economic and political self-reliance. I believe that prospective sanctions or any form of external interference and the Maduro government itself are just getting in the way. And they should stay out of the way—especially the US government.