Latin American Deja Vu

Deja vu is French for the feeling that something is strangely familiar. You feel like you are experiencing something that you have already experienced. For anyone even vaguely familiar with the history of U.S. interventions in Latin America, the news about Venezuela should spawn Deja vu. In the words of a song by Vietnam veteran Pat Scanlon,

“I’ve got a feeling I’ve been here before

In a jungle in a dirty little war

Young men can die so fast

My God let’s not repeat the past

I’ve got a feeling I’ve been here before.” *

The U.S. has frequently intervened in other countries, usually with disastrous results for us and the victim country. We have supported military dictators and overthrown democratically elected leaders. We have destabilized local economies with economic sanctions. Civil wars have been prolonged by our taking sides. Guatemala (1953), Chile (1973), Nicaragua (1979) El Salvador (1970-80s) and Honduras (2009) are just a few of the more disastrous interventions in Latin America. Seldom has our interference brought freedom, democracy, or prosperity to the victims of our bullying.

Why do we interfere in other countries? In the 19th and early 20th centuries it was to protect business interests. Marine Corps General Smedley Butler served for 33 years and led many interventions in Latin America. He later wrote,

“I spent most of my time being a high class muscle-man for Big Business, for Wall Street and for the Bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism.”

During the Cold War our wars, covert actions, and other military interventions were about opposing Communism. Our paranoid anti-communism extended to any nation that attempted to be neutral. Any movement toward liberal social democracy was unacceptable. We have never tolerated left leaning governments in Latin America. Any government that asserted its right to control natural resources or limit foreign business interests was targeted for regime change. Henry Kissinger, Secretary of State under President Nixon, said about the election of socialist Salvador Allende in Chile,

“I don’t see why we need to stand by and watch a country go communist because of the irresponsibility of its own people.”

This arrogant belief that we know what is best for the rest of the world has resulted in millions of people dying. One estimate says the U.S. is responsible for, or contributed to, 20-30 million deaths in 37 countries since WWII.

In Venezuela we are repeating the mistakes of the past. Recent Trump administration statements and actions have all the hallmarks of a CIA orchestrated coup. Conflict with the U.S. began with the election of President Hugo Chavez in 1998. He was a “socialist” and began trying to improve conditions for the majority of Venezuelans. Chavez asserted national sovereignty over oil resources. He nationalized oil and steel production and challenged domination and control of U.S. companies. He used oil revenues to fund health, education, housing and other social programs. The Trump administration’s recognition of Juan Guaido, the self-appointed rival President, is a clear sign that the U.S. is going to oust Nicolas Maduro, the current, elected President. We are setting the stage for another “dirty little war.”

Venezuela is experiencing a political and economic crisis. The country is a mess. The Maduro government is corrupt and incompetent. There is political and social unrest. Like other countries there is a huge class divide between the upper classes and the rest of the population. But many of the problems come from low oil prices. This has cut national revenue which funded liberal social policies. Oil is 95% of Venezuela’s exports and is most of its national income. In addition, U.S. opposition to Chavez and Maduro has exacerbated the problems. Venezuela, like all governments, needed access to international financing to cover budget shortfalls. The U.S dominated international financial system has denied this help. U.S imposed economic sanctions, including freezing revenues from CITGO, Venezuela’s U.S. gasoline refining company, has helped cripple the country.

Whatever Venezuela’s problems, our fomenting a coup is wrong. It is not our place to decide the leaders of other countries. A socialist Venezuela is not a threat to the us. Even if it was, it is illegal under international law to intervene. Instigating regime change is immoral, and contrary to our principles of sovereignty and national self-determination.

In addition to being disastrous for Venezuela, our interference is counterproductive for our nation. Many times, our military and economic interventions have failed. Vietnam and Iraq are examples. As our current relationships with Vietnam and China show, we can trade and have normal relations with communist nations. Peaceful relations, based on mutual respect, benefits all parties. The U.S. would be better off building peaceful relationships, strengthening international law, and supporting non-violent resolution of conflicts.

In Venezuela we need to get out of the way and let other neutral mediators work to resolve the conflict. Common Dreams published an open letter from 70 Latin American experts condemning U.S. support for violence and calling for a negotiated solution. I would recommend reading whole letter.** They say,

“The US and its allies must cease encouraging violence by pushing for violent, extralegal regime change. If the Trump administration and its allies continue to pursue their reckless course in Venezuela, the most likely result will be bloodshed, chaos, and instability. The US should have learned something from its regime change ventures in Iraq, Syria, Libya, and its long, violent history of sponsoring regime change in Latin America.”

The American people have too often been silent when these interventions started.

Too often we have believed the lies used to promote the next war, intervention, or “regime change” fiasco. When will we ever learn?

We all need to contact our elected representatives. This CAN work if enough people will DO it. Sign the online Code Pink letter to Congress at

Educate yourself by reading some of the good articles in Common Dreams. This time “let’s not repeat the past.”

* Find this song at Track 13