CO099 Jennifer Briney on Unity and Divisions

Jennifer Briney is the host of the Congressional Dish podcast.


A lot of people are kidding themselves.

We have two rival presidents in Venezuela. Nicolás Maduro, the elected president, the successor to Hugo Chavez. I won’t go so far as to say democratically elected, but … elected.

And Juan Guaido, the speaker of the national assembly who has declared himself interim president; he’s been supported strongly by the current US administration, despite the fact that he has no constitutional legitimacy at all, and to a lesser extent by the EU and other western countries.

People on the left have been calling this just another US-backed coup in Latin America, and there is some reason to say that, but they are kidding themselves if they think that is the only thing going on here. People like UK Labour Party leader tweeted in 2013 “Thanks Hugo Chavez for showing that the poor matter and wealth can be shared. He made massive contributions to Venezuela & a very wide world”.

Maybe not quite. Whatever about the aims of Chavez and his successor, their economics have been a catastrophe for the country. 90 per cent of people live in poverty, and the average Venezuelan lost 11kg, that’s 24 pounds, in 2017. Get that, the economy is in such a mess, people on average lost enough weight to make themselves a weightwatchers star, just because they can’t afford food.

That’s a disgrace in any country but for the nation with the world’s biggest oil reserves, that’s an outrage. It’s said that no society is more than two missed dinners from anarchy, so with years of the whole population going hungry, anyone saying that the current crisis is all down to American propaganda or destabilisation is kidding themselves.

But they’re not the only ones. We’ve had a lot of guff about free elections and democracy, but anyone who thinks that the only motivation the west has is fostering democracy, is really kidding themselves. Marco Rubio let the mask slip a little when he tweeted about how important Venezuelan oil is to Valero Energy and Chevron, and, perhaps as an afterthought, to oil refining jobs in Gulf Coast.

The US administration is bending over backwards to encourage a military coup against Maduro, and I’ve no doubt if he falls, a lot of people, most people, in Venezuela will cheer. A new government might even make life better; it could hardly make it much worse.

But the US strongly supports murderous authoritarian regimes such as Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan, which are ranked much lower than Venezuela on the world democracy index. They’re not encouraging the people in those countries to rise up and overthrow their government; they’re not openly inciting a military coup. The difference is, as Marco Rubio said, the importance of keeping the Venezuelan oil flowing to US oil companies. If you think that the motivation is democracy, then you’re kidding yourself.