America’s Ironic Sanctioning of Venezuela

America is ruining irony.

Irony is the difference between what is expected and what is realized. I want to be able to say that it is incredibly ironic that, on the eve of the Senate Intelligence Committee condemnation of America’s abuse of human rights, President Obama, the U.S. Department of Justice, and the incoming Senate Intelligence Committee itself all declared that they would leave the torture in the past and not follow up on the report, while the U.S. Congress voted to sanction Venezuela, a leader of one of the few regions in the world that did not help or accommodate America’s human rights abuses, for human rights abuses.

I want to say that is ironic. But it is only ironic if we still expected something different than what was realized. America has made such a banality out of hypocrisy that there is no longer any irony: only naïveté for having expected something different.

The U.S. will not follow up on the Senate Torture Report or provide any consequences. That, in itself, should be unbelievable. As a signatory to the U.N. Convention Against Torture, the U.S. is legally obliged to prosecute torturers. They have now confessed to harbouring torturers. Therefore, they are obliged to prosecute them. But instead, they will prosecute Venezuela, one of the apparently few countries in the world that was not bullied or bribed into accommodating America in its extraordinary renditions or torture programs.

Immediately following the release of the Senate Intelligence Committee report, the House of Representatives voted to authorize the president to impose sanctions on Venezuelan officials for human rights abuses against protestors that took to the streets earlier this year. The Venezuela Defense of Human Rights and Civil Society Act bill has already passed in the senate.

But Venezuela was not abusing the human rights of its citizens by suppressing protest. While Secretary of State John Kerry complained in February that “We are particularly alarmed by reports that the Venezuelan government has arrested or detained scores of anti-government protesters,” he didn’t add the, not unimportant, detail that the arrested protestors had committed crimes. Mark Weisbrot reports that protestors attacked police, threw Molotov cocktails, burned cars, set fire to government buildings and committed other acts of violence and vandalism. Fernando Vegas adds throwing stones, burning barricades and damaging government buildings. According to the Venezuelan Interior Affairs Minister, as of February 17, of the 120 people arrested in recent protests, only 14 remain in custody, and they have all been charged with specific acts of vandalism and violence. The Venezuelan government repeatedly called for dialogue with the protestors, and members of the security forces who were accused of violations were detained and investigated.

And the protests the government was responding to were no ordinary peaceful protests: they were a self identified coup attempt against the legitimately elected Maduro government. Defeated right wing opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez—who was also involved in the 2002 coup attempt against Hugo Chavez—called for his supporters to take to the streets and insisted that the violence go on until they “got rid of Maduro.”

In June 2013, a document entitled “Strategic Venezuelan Plan” was authored by the former President of Columbia, Alvaro Uribe’s Democratic Internationalism Foundation, the First Columbian Think Tank, the U.S. consulting firm FTI Consulting, the Director of USAID for Latin America and leaders of the Venezuelan opposition, including Maria Corina Machado, a leading player in the current protests. The plan’s intent is to destabilize Venezuela in order to “facilitate an opposition victory.” In order to facilitate the change in government, the plan sets out the intention to “Create situations of crisis in the streets that will facilitate U.S. intervention, as well as NATO forces, with the support of the Columbian government.” The plan tacks on the line “Whenever possible, the violence should result in death or injuries.”

The author of The Venezuela Defense of Human Rights and Civil Society Act bill, Florida Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, said that “The people of Venezuela have been crying out for help. Today, Congress speaks in a unified and bipartisan voice.”

But Venezuelans have not been crying out to America for help. They have been doing the opposite. They gave Hugo Chavez’ Bolivarian Revolution a second incarnation when, upon his death, they elected his chosen successor Nicolás Maduro. Though his margin of victory was narrow, his support from the people of Venezuela has expanded. In the most recent municipal elections, Maduro and his allies won 76% of the mayoral races. Nor were the protests as large, as universal or as widespread as the media portrayed them.

And, as for Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, her position on Venezuela has always been irrational and extreme. At a congressional event titled “Dangers in the Andes,” Ros-Lehtinen openly called for President Chavez’ removal from power. In 2008, Ros-Lehtinen introduced a House Resolution calling for the U.S. “to add Venezuela to the list of states which sponsor terror.” She also called Colonel Pedro Soto, one of the first Venezuelan officers to call for the coup against Chavez a “great patriot”.

Since America’s Senate Intelligence Committee’s thorough examination of six million pages of CIA documents has indicted American officials and operatives for torture, and since U.N. Convention Against Torture leaves America no choice but to prosecute torturers, one would expect America to prosecute the American officials who are guilty of human rights abuses. So, it should be ironic that congress announced that it would sanction Venezuela officials for human rights abuses instead. But there is no more irony in American politics: only the naïveté of those who still expected different. American exceptionalism has long demanded pardoning America for things it did do, while confronting countries for those same things, though it did not.

Ted Snider has a graduate degree in philosophy and writes on analyzing patterns in U.S. foreign policy and history.

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