War in Venezuela?

  • A masked anti-government protester waves a Venezuelan flag during clashes with security forces who fire tear gas from La Carlota airbase in Caracas, Venezuela, May 1. AP PHOTO/ARIANA CUBILLOS

Published: 7/18/2019 9:31:20 AM

As President Donald Trump’s dwindling attention has seemed to waiver regarding the overthrow of the Venezuelan government, it is important that American legislators still consider resolutions preventing war with Venezuela. If not to ensure the safety of the Venezuelan people from any opportunity of an American military strike, then for the sake of the American Congress to assert the powers vested in them and to use congressional procedures to prevent normalizing reckless authoritarian war at the behest of a hawkish presidential administration.

Recently, Massachusetts Sens. Ed Markey and Elizabeth Warren both cosigned SJRes11, a bill that opposes any funds from being used to introduce or support military action in Venezuela. Its companion bill, HR1004, introduced in the House by Rhode Island Rep. David Cicilline, has 77 cosponsors including five Massachusetts reps: Lori Trahan, William Keating, Ayanna Pressley, Seth Moulton and James McGovern.

Despite the growing momentum to prevent war in Venezuela among our delegation, there are some glaring omissions in the HR1004 co-sponsor list from Massachusetts. Representatives Richard Neal, Joseph Kennedy III, Katherine Clark and Stephen Lynch have yet to weigh in.

There is a bloody and undemocratic history of military intervention in Latin America that has resulted in nothing less than total failure; Chile, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, El Salvador. Too often politicians have dropped the buzzword “democracy” in defense of their threats of these military interventions, and the hawkish political and media monologue on Venezuela resembles an all too familiar specter. This can be observed when investigating the intentions of President Trump threatening war, with John Bolton stating “We are not afraid to use the term Monroe Doctrine,” and infamous Elliot Abrams, who has a history of supporting right-wing death squads and coups in Latin America, becoming the special envoy for Venezuela.

The goal has become clear: shape the government of Venezuela to their will, and gain access to the world’s largest oil reserve.

A war in Venezuela would result in catastrophic death and destruction on both sides. The military is still remarkably cohesive and loyal to President Nicolás Maduro, as demonstrated by the failed coup early this May. In contrast to the American media’s representation of Venezuelan instability, there is still a massive political base among the citizenry willing to fight and defend their sovereign nation, including the civil militia that has a membership of over 1.5 million Venezuelans.

However, there hasn’t been much reporting on Venezuela or constant war mongering against Venezuela that was, two months ago, commonplace by the Trump administration. Trump has even seemed to have grown bored with the endeavor.

While no explicit military intervention has taken place in Venezuela by the U.S., a deadly economic war has already been waging. According to a recent study led by the Center for Economic Policy and Research, the illegal sanctions that began in 2017 has left 40,000 Venezuelan civilians dead.

While the crisis in Venezuela may be slipping from the American attention span, there is an important political implication that comes with this situation. According to Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution and The War Powers Act of 1973, the power to declare war lies directly with Congress. Although historically underused, the War Powers Act was revived recently in a joint resolution attempting to withdraw U.S. support for the Saudi war on Yemen that is currently causing the largest humanitarian catastrophe in the world. The difference between the bill regarding Yemen, which achieved bipartisan support, and Venezuela is simply the location of the intervention. Neither of these bills has passed, and with the erratic actions of the president being so close to launching a military strike on Iran, the importance of support for these bills cannot be understated.

Looking to the Constitution, it very simply states where the authority to declare war lies, and that is not in the executive branch. Yet, today, we face a president and his administration threatening war in Venezuela and Iran, vetoing the withdrawal of support from the Saudi war against Yemen — all while troops are still deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan.

For the sake of democracy and the lives of millions of people abroad, support from the Massachusetts legislature is necessary. I urge my state representatives who have not yet signed HR1004 or any legislation calling to The War Powers Act of 1973 and the Constitution to do so. Reps. Richard Neal, Joe Kennedy III, Katherine Clark and Stephen Lynch: please recognize your own power as members of Congress and oppose the authoritarian trend that the executive branch has been reaching for.

Jesse Gwilliam is a resident of Amherst and a student advocate with the nonprofit Just Foreign Policy.

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