U.S. Strategy of Regime Change

The Associated Press is reporting President Trump repeatedly asked senior White House advisers last year about the possibility of a U.S. invasion of Venezuela, in a bid to depose President Nicolás Maduro and his government. Trump reportedly brought up the U.S. invasions of Panama and Grenada in the 1980s. The AP reports Trump’s comment stunned then-National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster and then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who warned military action could backfire. But then, the next day, on August 11, Trump raised the issue publicly. We’re joined by Mark Weisbrot, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research and president of Just Foreign Policy.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: The Associated Press is reporting that President Trump repeatedly asked senior White House advisers last year about the possibility of a U.S. invasion of Venezuela, in a bid to depose President Nicolás Maduro and his government. Trump reportedly brought up the U.S. invasions of Panama and Grenada in the 1980s. The AP reports Trump’s comments stunned then-National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster and then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who warned that military action could backfire. But then, on the next day, August 11th, Trump raised the issue publicly.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We have many options for Venezuela. And by the way, I’m not going to rule out a military option. We have many options for Venezuela. This is our neighbor. This is—you know, we’re all over the world. And we have troops all over the world, in places that are very, very far away. Venezuela is not very far away. And the people are suffering, and they’re dying. We have many options for Venezuela, including a possible military option, if necessary.

AMY GOODMAN: He was speaking at his golf club in New Jersey.

We’re joined by Mark Weisbrot, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research and president of Just Foreign Policy, to talk about Venezuela, Brazil, Mexico and the mass protests in Haiti now.

But let’s start with this, Mark Weisbrot, President Trump threatening to invade Venezuela, the news just coming out from AP.

MARK WEISBROT: Yes, well, I mean, they’ve made no secret about their strategy of regime change. And Marco Rubio is probably the person who’s most in charge of this. And, you know, he has called for a military coup, and other Trump administration officials. And this is really unusual. I mean, you can go back to the coup in Chile even in 1973 and which the U.S. was involved in, and other—many other coups, and they never said it before it happened that they were in favor of such a thing. And, of course, the threat of military intervention is illegal under the U.N. Charter, and it’s completely outrageous.

But I think what’s missing a lot from the news is the financial embargo that they already have in Venezuela, which is killing people. I mean, it is depriving—it is worsening the shortages of essential medicines. It’s worsening the food situation. And they have—and this is also illegal under the charter of the Organization of American States, and it’s also illegal under other conventions that the U.S. has signed, The Hague Conventions. And yet, this—it seems like everybody—almost everybody who has a voice in this country is OK with that. And it’s very odd because, you know, almost all the same people are against the embargo against Cuba, for example, but somehow they think that this is OK to try and topple a government and destroy their economy right here in the Western Hemisphere.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Mark, I wanted to ask you—you mentioned the financial embargo, but yet the United States continues to import oil from Venezuela. And, obviously, Citgo has still a major presence in this country. So how does the financial embargo work at the same time that it continues to import the major product of Venezuela?

MARK WEISBROT: Right. Well, they don’t have a trade embargo, but the financial embargo is quite deadly. So, for example, Citgo is not allowed to send a lot of money back to Venezuela. But even more importantly, they can’t borrow. So, they spent billions of dollars last year paying off loans. The government is paying off loans because they can’t borrow. And this embargo actually prevents them from borrowing from the U.S. financial system or anything that goes through the U.S. financial system. And the banks, you know, and financial institutions are very conservative about this, so even though there’s allowances for a certain kind of trade credits or loans that could be used to get food or medicine, they will cut off—in many cases, they’ll cut off that, as well, just to be careful, because they don’t want to get fined by the U.S. government.

So, it’s a very serious embargo. If they want to restructure their debt, which would be a very big part of getting out of the depression and hyperinflation that they have right now, they can’t do that under the embargo, either. So it’s definitely—and they’re not making any secret about it. Again, this is all open. They are trying to strangle the economy, and they’re trying to overthrow the government.

AMY GOODMAN: So it was Tillerson, then-secretary of state, no longer; it was H.R. McMaster, then-NSA, national security adviser, no longer, who were saying no. Neither of them are there right now.

MARK WEISBROT: That’s right. And so, you don’t know what, you know, else they actually would do. But again, they’re committed. They’re organizing other countries. You know, this could never happen a few years ago, when you had left governments in Argentina and Brazil, you know, and even Santos in Colombia had taken their side on these questions of hemispheric relations. And so, now you have all these right-wing governments, and so you have what is euphemistically called in the U.S. media “the international community,” but is really just the United States and right-wing allies trying to topple this government and using every means that they can, short of the military option that Trump himself had proposed.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And you mentioned the role of Marco Rubio in terms of influencing the administration on Venezuela. I mean, what’s the connection there? I mean, clearly, there is a large community of wealthy Venezuelans who fled Venezuela, are now—have settled in South Florida, in the Miami area. But is that the reason why Rubio is so interested in what happens in Venezuela?

MARK WEISBROT: Well, he’s got a whole—you know, he has a whole right-wing program. He wants to get rid of all of the left governments. And so, that’s kind of the strategy. And, you know, this is not really that different from the strategy of the prior 16 years, under President Obama and President Bush. They all—they did want to get rid of almost all the left governments, and they did take actions to undermine most of them, and they did get rid of some. And they contributed, of course, to the coup in Honduras, as you’ve reported on this show; in Paraguay in 2012, the parliamentary coup. You had, of course, the coup in Haiti in 2004. So they were able to get rid of some of the governments they wanted to, get rid of and undermine other governments. They took actions against Bolivia, as well. And I think the difference now is it’s more open and more aggressive with direct threats that are really almost unprecedented in the last, you know, 50, 60, 70 years.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to turn to Mexico’s president, Andrés Manuel López Obrado, AMLO, this recent, you know, epic election that took place in Mexico, which actually relates directly to Venezuela. Here he is, responding to a question about the approach that his government will take to the crisis in Venezuela.

PRESIDENT ANDRÉS MANUEL LÓPEZ OBRADOR: [translated] We are going to apply the foreign policy principles of noninterventionism and the self-determination of a people.

AMY GOODMAN: Mark Weisbrot, you’ve written extensively about the new Mexico, Peña Nieto certainly working with the United States in opposition to Venezuela. Talk about what the election of AMLO means, not only for Venezuela, but for Mexico, of course?

MARK WEISBROT: Yes. Well, for Mexico, I think, you know, you’re seeing, obviously, this election was the result of a 40-year economic failure. And, you know, you have—real wages are lower in Mexico than they were in 1980. You have poverty that’s worse than it was 25 years ago. You have economic growth, just if you look at just the 21st century. Of course, it collapsed from 1980 to 2000, like the rest of Latin America, but even in the 21st century, where a number of countries recovered, Mexico ranks 18th out of 20 Latin American countries for the 21st century in terms of the growth of income per person. So, that, I think, is a real driving force. And AMLO has promised to do something about it, and especially for the poorest people. And I think he will deliver on that. I mean, you know, the bottom 10 percent only gets about 1.8 percent of national income there, and it wouldn’t take very much to improve their living standards in terms of redistribution of income. So, I think he will do something there.

But what you mentioned, in terms of the U.S. relations, U.S. foreign policy, the quote you had about him respecting sovereignty and self-determination and noninterference—and he’s also said and his new foreign minister have said things about, you know, not supporting hegemony or interference in the internal affairs of other countries—you know, this is normal language for most people in the world, in the planet, and, of course, in Latin America. But in the U.S. foreign policy establishment, if you look at the reaction to those statements, it’s like hate speech to them to say that you’re going to respect sovereignty and self-determination, because they’ve mobilized these right-wing governments, they want to topple the Venezuelan government, they’ve helped—you know, they’ve supported this coup against—parliamentary coup against Dilma in Brazil and the jailing of Lula and everything else. They have a whole plan. I mean, they’re—and when I say “they,” I mean the whole, you know, the U.S. government, the intelligence agencies, the Pentagon, the State Department, the foreign policy committees of Congress. This is rollback time. It was containment in the first decade of the 21st century, and now they’re going for the whole thing. And this is a real setback to them. And that’s where I think you’re going to see real friction, even more than on—you know, on the immigration and the NAFTA issues. You’re going to see this part of the government, the foreign policy apparatus—and all the pundits, you know, were horrified by these—again, these statements, which are not radical statements, about sovereignty and self-determination. So, they’re—

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: You mentioned that this would be more so on foreign policy than on immigration and NAFTA, but I’ve been hearing from people who came back from Mexico recently, who were there for the elections and were close to the AMLO apparatus, that there’s been some discussion in the government, because—or the about-to-come-into-power government of AMLO, of actually being much more aggressive in terms of reaching out to the Mexican-descended community in the United States, because people forget that of the roughly 58 million Latinos in the United States, about 36, 37 million are of Mexican descent—it’s by far the largest group of Latinos in the country—and that there appears to be at least a willingness of López Obrador to begin to reach out much more, not only to support Mexican nationals who are in the United States and subject to some kind of repression, but also to reach out to the Mexican-American community, as well.

MARK WEISBROT: No, I think that’s right. And don’t get me wrong. I mean, I think that’s part of the reason he was elected. You know, he was expected to—and I think he will—stand up more to Trump than the prior government did. And there will be conflict over this. What I meant, really, was, it’s something that you’re not going to see so much, because it will be more in the background. But this is something—this is a reason that these powerful sections of the so-called national security state will be against him, even if Trump decides to—you never know what Trump is going to do. I mean, you know, the reports you see recently show that he seems to like AMLO. This could disappear in a day. But the point is that that part is going to be there, and it’s going to be a very important part of U.S. policy towards Mexico.

AMY GOODMAN: I also want to ask you about Haiti, where these massive anti-austerity protests recently shut down parts of the capital Port-au-Prince. The protests began Friday, when the government tried to dramatically raise fuel prices at the behest of the International Monetary Fund. Prices for gasoline, diesel, kerosene were to rise as much as 50 percent. But due to the protests, the Haitian government rescinded the price hikes. Can you comment on what’s taking place? A few people have been killed right now. The various U.S. airlines have stopped flying into Haiti.

MARK WEISBROT: Well, you know, in the ’70s and ’80s, you had a lot of these—they used to call them IMF riots, because they were caused by IMF austerity policies. And this is part of it. This is actually what triggered it. You had this 6-month period where Haiti was supposed to make these reforms in order to get a loan from the IMF. And this is something I think people here also don’t know, because it’s not emphasized enough, but he IMF has this power in poor countries—and it used to have it in a lot more countries—where if they don’t give a loan, then they don’t get money. For example, Haiti was going to get money last week. It was approved from the European Union and the Inter-American Development Bank. And you don’t get money from anyone else, if you don’t get the IMF money.

And the IMF was saying, “You’ve got to cut these subsidies to gas and kerosene and energy.” And so, this was, obviously—you know, there’s a certain rationale to this. I mean, it’s not like these subsidies are progressive in terms of income distribution. But you’ve got, you know, half the country—majority of the country living under $2.40 a day. They’re living in 58 percent poverty rate, and the economy has been stagnating for years. And so, people are on the edge. And you can’t just cut these subsidies. The government thought, you know, without providing—without protecting, people are going to be hurt. And so, the government didn’t do anything to provide for that. And they thought they were going to get away with it because they announced it right in the middle of the Brazil-versus-Belgium soccer match on Friday. And it didn’t work at all. People were in the streets immediately.

And, you know, here, I think you also have to—and you’ve covered this on the show, and you know this history, but, you know, this is a very disenfranchised population. And the U.S.—you know, only 20 percent voted in the election that elected the current president in 2016, and they had to fight to get that election, because in 2015 you had this totally fraudulent election that the U.S. was trying to force the government to accept. And so, you have this history, this very long history. But even just since 1990, the United States has helped overthrow the government twice. And people used to vote in large numbers. And they’re very, very disenfranchised now. They really—I think our government played a major role in destroying what democracy that Haiti had.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: But, Mark, I wanted to also ask you about Brazil, where a legal and political battle has erupted after a judge ordered former president and the current presidential front-runner, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, known as Lula, to be released from prison as he appeals a corruption conviction that he says is politically motivated. Hours after the Sunday morning ruling, a second judge, a higher-level judge, overruled the order. Lula remains in jail. I wanted to ask you how you saw what’s going on there now.

MARK WEISBROT: Well, this kind of further makes it obvious. I mean, why is Lula in jail? He has a constitutional right to be free on appeal. There’s no reason to keep him there. You know, he surrendered to the authorities. He’s not leaving the country. And they don’t have any real excuse for it, except that he’s the front-runner in the October election, by a large margin, and he would win the presidency.

And this is a—you know, again, this is part of a pattern that you see of persecution against the former left governments. Argentina, you have—you know, some people are calling it “lawfare,” but I think it’s much worse than that. They’re really trying to put these people in jail—the president of Ecuador also, former President Correa. So you have this all over. And, of course, to varying degrees, it has U.S. support. The U.S. Justice Department was involved in the investigation in Brazil that, you know, led to this, these charges against Lula, which had no material evidence. So, again—

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And how was the Justice Department involved?

MARK WEISBROT: Yeah, well, they were just—they helped with the investigation. And we don’t even know everything they did. There are people trying to find that out now. But it is—you know, you can see why people in Brazil see this as very unusual. I mean, imagine that, you know, Russia was involved in the investigation of Mueller’s investigation here. You know, it’s inherently suspicious. But I want to say just I hope, you know—

AMY GOODMAN: We just have 30 seconds, Mark.

MARK WEISBROT: Yeah, OK. So, this is one thing I want to say so people don’t think this is all hopeless. You know, you do have the 76-member Progressive Caucus in the U.S. Congress that has taken very strong positions. There’s a letter circulating right now in Congress that’s calling for the release of Lula. And they put out a statement, congratulated AMLO on his victory and supporting this kind of foreign policy. You have people like Ro Khanna, who just had a piece in The Nation with Danny Glover. And all these people, you have a real force here that is saying that—that is clearly against any kind of regime change efforts, that respects sovereignty in Latin America. And this is a very big thing, and it’s a very hopeful thing. And I want to make sure people understand that, that this is a major effort at resistance to these kinds of policies, that we haven’t had for quite a while.

AMY GOODMAN: And Danny Glover just visited Lula in prison in Brazil.

MARK WEISBROT: That’s right.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, if people want to hear our hour interview with Lula right before he went to prison, you can go to democracynow.org. Mark Weisbrot, we want to thank you for being with us, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, president of Just Foreign Policy. We’ll link to your pieces on these variety of issues on Latin America.


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