Venezuela: Why is Donald Trump Doing it?
Guess who's back, back again...
The United States of America has had a long and proud history of meddling in South America. The Cold War saw numerous American sponsored coups and petty dictators propped up all along Central and South America, near universally with horrifying results. In recent years however, America had gone quiet, and, at least for a while, it seemed like America had stopped its interference overseas. However, on the 23rd January 2019, the US supported Juan Guaridó’s claim as President of Venezuela, following a contested election in which the National Assembly refused to recognize Nicolás Maduro as the President (Daniels, Borger and Zuñiga, 2019). While this was a decision made by the Venezuelan National Assembly, support from the US was extremely quick to arrive, with the US declaring its support on the same day. Predictably, Russia, China and several other nations have refused to recognize Guaridó’s claim to the presidency, instead voicing their support for Maduro (Daniels, Borger and Zuñiga, 2019).
This has many different avenues of analysis, but subsequent follow up by the United States with Vice President Mike Pence failing to rule out military action when humanitarian aid was refused entry into the country was notable, seeming to suggest that the US was very willing to once again step into South American politics. Beyond that, Maduro and other figures in the Venezuelan government have accused the United States of staging a coup, and have called for the expulsion of various US (Daniels, Borger and Zuñiga, 2019). This entire venture though is somewhat paradoxical, given President Donald Trump’s documented stance against interventionism, most recently calling for a prompt withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan (Ali, Stewart, 2018). It seems strange that out of the blue, the US would once again be so willing to intervene politically in South America, or in fact start any sort of international venture that may involve dragging the United States into another costly occupation of a foreign nation, albeit one closer to home this time.
The main reason I can see for this sudden transition is Donald Trump’s new focus on socialism for the upcoming 2020 presidential election. Venezuela is the classic example of socialism failing in the modern day, and during Trump’s State of the Union address, he made blatant calls against socialism and especially the “poverty and suffering” that the people of Venezuela endured (Trump, 2019). Given the democrats recent turn towards more socialism-curious policies, with the Green New Deal and Bernie Sanders as the most probable democratic frontrunner, it is likely that this recent turn towards South American interventionism is meant to position Trump to more explicitly combat socialists, and enable him to talk about his record of “defending democracy from socialist destruction”. In doing so, Donald Trump will effectively be able to cast himself as a guard against the poverty that socialism will bring to a country, pointing to Venezuela as an example. While his mix of white identity politics and appeals to economic nationalism have increasingly rung hollow, especially given effects of the ongoing trade war with China, appealing to Middle America’s fear of godless socialism may give him a powerful rhetorical tool to reunite his base along with some former Never Trumpers, relying on his difference from a more outwardly socialism-curious Democratic Party to deliver him back into office in 2020.