The U.S. State Department announced yesterday that it was expelling three Venezuelan diplomats after “similar action against three U.S. consular officials in Caracas.” When nations expel diplomats from their respective countries, it is an indication tensions are somewhat serious.
The media here in the U.S. has covered the protests in Venezuela predictably by portraying the post-Chavez Maduro government as brutal and unpopular and the protest movement as hungry for freedom. Contrast this depiction with, say, the protest movement and harsh regime crackdown in Bahrain where the U.S. strongly supports the dictatorial monarchy and thus does its best to ignore the long-repressed Shiite minority protesters.
In any case, it’s worth looking into why the Venezuelan government expelled U.S. diplomats this week. Some context for that question and for the American depiction of what’s going on is provided by Lauren Carasik at Al Jazeera America:
Venezuela is facing a protracted political crisis. Images depicting its streets tell the tale: Student unrest coalesced into massive demonstrations around the country, triggering a violent crackdown on opposition leaders and protesters. The ensuing violence and destructive confrontations over the last several weeks have left at least 13 people dead and scores wounded, with casualties on both sides. Tensions remain high.
Headlines in the United States broadcast unchallenged narratives of widespread discontent with mounting economic woes and denounce the ensuing repression by an unpopular and discredited administration barely clinging to power. But the reality in Venezuela is far more complicated and nuanced than what the media and the U.S. government spin suggests.
For instance, it is difficult to say who is responsible for provoking the conflict. Despite the uncertainty over who is inciting the violence, the U.S. government and press largely condemn President Nicolas Maduro’s administration while framing the protests as popular revolution, in some cases tacitly or even overtly rooting for regime change.
The United States’ disenchantment with Venezuelan politics in the last 15 years is no secret. The U.S. has a sordid history of exerting unfettered influence in Latin America. It has supported the ouster of democratically elected governments and backed strongmen whose policies advance U.S. economic and political interests, inflicting incalculable suffering on the most vulnerable citizens of those countries.
After being sworn into office in 1999, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who died in office last year, instituted policies that have been a thorn in the side of successive U.S. administrations and posed a lasting challenge to Washington’s hegemony in the region. The U.S. has not taken kindly to that, providing funding for “democracy promotion” initiatives in the country through organizations that have historically destabilized left-leaning governments. The 2014 U.S. foreign operations budgetincludes at least $5 million for supporting opposition activities in Venezuela. Despite their lofty labels, these projects did little to enhance the popular political participation of Venezuela’s people. While the U.S. casts its condemnation of the government’s response as unswerving support for principles of democracy and freedom, its position runs contrary to the democratically expressed will of the Venezuelan people.
It’s hard to blame Caracas for being suspicious of the presence of U.S. officials as all this is going on. Successive attempts at regime change and continual efforts to undermine a democratically elected government would make most people paranoid.
The point is not that the Maduro government is wonderful. If I were Venezuelan, I’d probably be protesting too. The point is that Washington has no business meddling in internal Venezuelan affairs. From Bahrain to Venezuela, taking sides as a matter of U.S. policy is illegitimate.