President Donald Trump's full-fledged backing of Juan Guaido, who declared himself interim president of Venezuela last week, was met with a bipartisan support among American political leaders. But one stubborn segment of the ideological spectrum is unimpressed and has gone so far as to compare Trump's move to America's 20th century transgressions in the region.
These protests are being led by Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor Noam Chomsky and other notable cheerleaders of former Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez, who brought socialism to the country two decades ago. The elder statesman of America's left penned a tone-deaf letter, co-signed by dozens of U.S. intellectuals, rejecting attempts by Venezuela's opposition to remove Nicolás Maduro from office and insisting that U.S. sanctions are to blame for "worsening" Venezuela's economic calamities.
Although the Democratic Party establishment has fully embraced Guaido, freshman members of its new House majority have troublingly joined the chorus against Trump's decision.
Rep. Ro Kahnna (D–Calif.) took a shot at Sen. Dick Durbin (D–Ill.) for embracing the opposition leader, calling Venezuela's situation an "internal, polarized conflict." Rep. Ilhan Omar (D–Minn.) took to Twitter to decry "U.S. meddling," adding that Venezuela's Supreme Court, stacked with Maduro loyalists, had declared Guaido's action "unconstitutional." Never mind that in 2017, that same court allowed Maduro to strip Venezuela's Congress—the only governing institution he did not then control—of its powers and set up a parallel legislature, essentially giving him dictatorial power.
To be clear, supporting Maduro or downplaying the catastrophe he and Chavez have overseen in Venezuela is a fringe position. The leadership there is responsible for human rights abuses, rampant corruption, and a full-blown humanitarian crisis in the region, with the United Nations putting the number of Venezuelan refugees abroad at a staggering 3 million, or almost 10 percent of the country's total population.
Last year, Maduro was re-elected in what the U.S. called "a sham election," which the European Union said was neither free nor fair. Among the abuses, second-place candidate Henri Falcon accused the government of buying votes through food and money giveaways at polling stations.
Internationally, Guaido has the backing of a vast majority of Latin America nations, the U.K., Canada, Australia, and counting. The E.U. has given Maduro eight days to call new, credible elections or it will also back the 35-year-old opposition leader.
With Maduro's dismal record and a nearly worldwide consensus against him, why are some on America's left turning their fire on the United States instead?
Venezuela's Socialist Failure
Hugo Chavez's experiment was cleverly dubbed "socialism of the 21st century," in part to lure and charm the international left, which was hungry for another shot at making socialism work somewhere.
It was a brilliant move, giving Chavez an army of apologists in American intellectual circles ready to make excuses for his questionable economic policies and, when they failed, blame the U.S. and Venezuela's "rich elites" for the results.
They were clearly played. As Chomsky admitted in a 2017 interview, Chavez only haphazardly implemented socialism. Instead, his regime established a corrupt machine that would ultimately develop into just another kleptocracy.
When Chavez did implement socialist-style policies, they served as the blueprint for Venezuela's current economic catastrophe. The expropriation of industries, the pillaging of state oil company PDVSA, the currency exchange controls, and the war on the private sector all made Venezuela a case study in how hardcore tampering with the market economy ruins nations.
Leftists in the U.S. won't disavow Maduro because they cannot accept that they were wrong about Venezuela, that the socialist experiment they pinned their hopes on not only failed but led to a humanitarian crisis.
U.S. Imperialism, Again?
Reps. Khanna and Omar suggest that American sanctions are largely to blame for the hyperinflation, food shortages, and other hallmarks of life in Venezuela today and imply that they're merely opposing U.S. intervention in another country's affairs. But no U.S.-backed coup has taken place in Venezuela. In fact, a coalition of Latin American nations, the Lima Group, has led the fight against Maduro and has specifically requested U.S. help.
This is far different from the 1953 overthrow of Jacobo Arbenz in Guatemala or the coup in Chile that helped install Augusto Pinochet in 1973, both of which were backed by the CIA to further U.S. political and economic interests. Needless to say, one doesn't have to defend economic sanctions, let alone support military intervention in Venezuela, in order to reject Maduro's legitimacy. But for those on the hard edges of the American left, nothing has changed since the end of the Cold War: The U.S. continues to be the boogeyman, and Latin America continues to be a victim that lacks agency.
Neither Omar nor Khanna seem to be bothered by that the fact that China and Russia are financially and politically propping up Maduro for their own strategic benefit. These countries have also delivered weapons that are used to bolster the regime and intimidate a population into submission.
Photo Credit: Andrea Romero Xinhua News Agency/Newscom