By Boaventura de Sousa Santos *
The current situation in Venezuela is a tragedy in the making, and it will very likely cause the death of many innocent people. Venezuela is on the verge of foreign military intervention, and the ensuing bloodbath may take on dramatic proportions. This much has been stated by Henrique Capriles, the best-known leader of the opposition to Nicolas Maduro, when he said that puppet-president Juan Guaidó is turning Venezuelans into “fodder for cannon”. He knows what he’s talking about. He knows, for example, that Hugo Chávez took the fate of Salvador Allende’s socialist democratic experience in Chile very seriously. And he knows that, among other measures, Chávez has armed civilians by creating militias, which of course can be disarmed, but most probably not without some kind of resistance. He further knows that despite the tremendous suffering brought upon the country by the toxic mixture of domestic political mistakes and external pressure – notably by way of an embargo that the United Nations view as reprehensible from the humanitarian point of view –, the people of Venezuela remain imbued with a deep sense of nationalist pride that fervently rejects all foreign intervention.
Faced with the impending destruction of innocent lives, all Venezuelan Democrats who oppose the Bolivarian government are asking themselves a number of questions for which they are at pains to find the right answers. Why are the US and its European acolytes embarking on an aggressive and maximalist stance that makes any negotiated solution outright impossible? Why are ultimatums being given filled with echoes of imperial times, which bring back bitter memories to the Portuguese people? Why refuse the mediation proposal put forward by Mexico and Uruguay, premised as it is on the rejection of civil war? Why does a young man who until only a few weeks ago was all but unknown to Venezuelans – and furthermore, a member of a small right-wing party called Voluntad Popular, which has been directly involved in the violence that spread to the streets in recent years – proclaim himself president of the Republic after receiving a phone call from the vice president of the United States, and why are various countries willing to recognize him as Venezuela’s legitimate president?
Only time will tell. But what we already know is enough to indicate whence the answers will come. It is becoming clear that although he is little known in his own country, Juan Guaidó and his far right party, which has openly advocated military intervention against the government, have long been Washington’s favorites to carry out the infamous policy of “regime change” in Venezuela. This goes directly to the history of US interventions on the continent, a weapon-of-mass-destruction of democracy whenever democracy meant defending national sovereignty and opposing free access to the country’s natural resources by US companies. It is not difficult to conclude that the issue here is not the defense of Venezuelan democracy, but Venezuela’s oil. Venezuela has the largest oil reserves in the world (20 percent of the world’s reserves, against the US’s 2 percent). Access to Middle East oil led to the blood pact with the region’s worst dictatorship, Saudi Arabia, and to the devastation of Iraq, Syria, and Libya in North Africa; the next victim could well be Iran. In addition, Middle East oil is closer to China than the US, whereas Venezuelan oil is right on the US’s doorstep. The form of access to the resources varies from one country to another, but the strategic goal has always been the same. In Chile, it entailed a bloody dictatorship. More recently, access to Brazil’s vast mineral resources, the Amazon and the country’s pre-salt involved the rising of another Washington favorite, Sérgio Moro, from unknown judge of first instance to national and international notoriety. Moro thus gained privileged access to data that permitted him to become the avenger of the Brazilian left and pave the way for the election of an avowed apologist for dictatorship and torture, someone only too willing to sell off the country’s riches and form a government that was to include the pro-American favorite among its members.
But the bafflement of many Venezuelan democrats has mostly to do with Europe, not least because Europe has been active in the negotiations held between the government and the oppositions in the past. They knew that many of those negotiations had failed because of US pressure. Hence the question, You too, Europe? They know full well that if Europe truly cared about democracy, it would have severed diplomatic ties with Saudi Arabia long ago. And if Europe cared about the mass killing of innocent civilians, it would long have stopped selling Saudi Arabia the weapons it has been using to carry out its genocidal war in Yemen. But perhaps they hoped that Europe’s historical responsibilities toward their former colonies would justify some restraint. Why this full alignment with a policy that measures its own success by the level of devastation of countries and lives?
It will become gradually clear that the reason for such alignment lies in the new Cold War that has erupted between the US and China. With one of its centers located in the Latin American continent, this cold war resembles the one that preceded it in that it cannot be fought directly by the rival powers – in this case, a declining empire and a rising one. It is a proxy war that has to be waged between allies, namely the right-wing governments of Latin America and European governments on the one hand, and Russia on the other. No empire is a good empire in the eyes of those countries that are not powerful enough to fully benefit from the rivalry. At best, they will seek to reap benefits from the alignment that is closest to them. And the alignment has to be complete in order to be effective. In other words, better lose the saddle than the horse. This is as true about Canada as it is about the European countries.
Overall I feel I have been well represented by the government of my country, in power since 2016. However, the legitimacy granted to a puppet president and to a strategy that will most likely lead to a bloodbath makes me ashamed of my own government. My only hope is that the vast community of Portuguese immigrants in Venezuela will not suffer with such ill-advised diplomacy, not to use a stronger and more apt word for describing this government’s international policy.
*Boaventura de Sousa Santos is portuguese professor of Sociology at the School of Economics, University of Coimbra (Portugal), distinguished legal scholar at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Law School, and global legal scholar at the University of Warwick. Co-founder and one of the main leaders of the World Social Forum. Article provided to Other News by the autor