An Open Letter to the Washington Office on Latin America About Its Stance on US Effort to Overthrow Venezuelan Government

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We believe that the Trump administration’s regime change effort in Venezuela is wrong in every way: morally, legally, and politically.

U.S. Vice President of United States Mike Pence and Venezuelan opposition leader and declared acting president by the National Assembly Juan Guaidó meet during the Lima Group Summit on February 25, 2019 in Bogota, Colombia. The meeting occurs after Nicolás Maduro blocked humanitarian aid in the border with Colombia in Cúcuta. (Photo: Luis Ramirez/Vizzor Image/Getty Images)

 

The following open letter, signed by 124 academics from around the globe, is addressed to the Washington Office on Latin America and voices serious concerns over WOLA’s support for various components of the Trump administration’s policy towards Venezuela.

We write out of concern for the direction that WOLA has taken with regard to a matter of life and death, and possibly war and peace, in Latin America. This letter is an attempt to engage with WOLA about your support for various components of the Trump administration’s efforts to topple the government of Venezuela.

We believe that the Trump administration’s regime change effort in Venezuela is wrong in every way: morally, legally, and politically. Since war has been openly threatened repeatedly by Trump himself and his top officials, this effort also runs a high risk in terms of the loss of human life and limb, and other unforeseen consequences of war and political violence.

For these reasons and more, WOLA should oppose this regime change effort unequivocally, just as progressives throughout the world opposed the Iraq War of 2003. But it has not done so. Rather, it has endorsed much of it. People may have differing personal opinions regarding the internal politics of Venezuela or how Venezuelans might best resolve their differences. But there is no doubt that the Trump administration’s illegal regime change operation is greatly worsening the situation and should be opposed by all who care about human life and international law.

“WOLA should oppose this regime change effort unequivocally, just as progressives throughout the world opposed the Iraq War of 2003.”

Most dangerous is WOLA’s opposition to the offers of mediation by Pope Francis as well as the neutral governments of Mexico and Uruguay. WOLA has referred to these offers ― which have been called the Montevideo mechanism ― as a “non-starter.” Instead, WOLA has chosen the European Contact Group, which is dominated by Washington and governments allied with its illegal sanctions and regime change effort, as the only legitimate place for negotiations to take place.

Since the Trump administration clearly has no desire to negotiate, and has openly stated this, WOLA’s choice implies that there will be no real negotiations until the other (European and Latin American) governments in the group are willing to make a clean break with Washington. This is not impossible, but it is unlikely in the foreseeable future. WOLA’s choice of a Trump-dominated negotiating group therefore aids Trump and his team of extremists (John Bolton, Marco Rubio, and Elliott Abrams), in their rejection of dialogue or negotiation.

WOLA even rejects the involvement of the UN in negotiations, which the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has proposed, claiming that their role should be limited to overseeing a transition. The UN is the international body that has accumulated the most experience and knowledge in mediating inter- and intra-national crises. This includes successfully mediating the end to even seemingly intractable civil wars, such as in El Salvador in the 1990s. This expertise, alongside the moral authority the UN has as the most representative international body, means that a mediation process overseen by them would carry much more legitimacy than one led by the Trump administration and its political allies.

WOLA has been ambiguous about whether it supports the recognition of Juan Guaidó as “interim president,” a move that automatically creates a trade embargo on top of the current financial embargo. This is because the source of almost all of the country’s foreign exchange is from oil exports, about three-quarters of which goes to countries that have joined the Trump recognition of a parallel government, and therefore will not be expected to pay the current government of Venezuela for its oil.[1] 

This will deprive the economy of billions of dollars of foreign exchange, thus accelerating the increase in mortality (including infant and child mortality) from lack of medicines and health care, as well as worsening shortages of food ― an impact that is widely acknowledged. This is profoundly immoral. It also breaches international law, including Article 19 of the OAS Charter, the UN charter, and many other international treaties that the US has signed.

WOLA has also taken an ambivalent position on the August 2017 Trump sanctions, offering some criticisms but also offering suggestions for improvement. These sanctions imposed an illegal (for the same reasons as above) financial embargo that has been devastating, crippling oil production and thereby depriving the economy of billions of dollars for foreign exchange needed for vital imports. It also prevented any debt restructuring, as well as most other measures that would be necessary to exit from the country’s depression and hyperinflation.

WOLA defended these sanctions by arguing that “they complicate the Maduro government’s finances in such a way that they will not have an immediate impact on the population (although in the longer term, they likely would).” This is false, as anyone familiar with the sanctions and the Venezuelan economy knows. The Venezuelan economy ― not just the government ― depends on oil exports for almost the entirety of its foreign exchange. That is what pays for imports of medicine, food, and other vital necessities ― whether from government or the private sector.

“It is good that WOLA has distinguished itself from these people by opposing US military intervention and the manipulation of humanitarian aid for political purposes. But that is not enough.”

These positions are not defensible from a human point of view, and neither is the Trump administration’s apparent goal of extra-legal regime change. Why does the Trump team reject negotiation? Because they do not want a compromise solution which is necessary for the opposing political forces in a polarized country to co-exist. They are not concerned with the human costs of a winner-take-all solution; indeed it is possible that for people like Elliott Abrams and John Bolton, violence may be seen as an integral part of their strategy for vanquishing Chavismo and its followers, or gaining the control that both Trump and Bolton have stated that they want to have over the world’s largest oil reserves.

It is good that WOLA has distinguished itself from these people by opposing US military intervention and the manipulation of humanitarian aid for political purposes. But that is not enough. It should unequivocally oppose the whole sordid regime change operation, the violations of international law, and the illegal sanctions that are causing so much suffering.

WOLA should not pretend that this external regime change operation led by violence-prone extremists is actually a legitimate effort by the “international community” to help resolve Venezuela’s political and economic crisis. And most importantly, WOLA should abandon the implausible assertion that the only viable negotiation process is one that is controlled by the Trump administration and its allies, i.e., the European Contact Group.

 [1] The Trump administration subsequently carved out some temporary exceptions for some oil companies.

Signed (affiliations used for identification purposes only):

  1. Greg Grandin, Professor of History, New York University
  2. Noam Chomsky, Emeritus Professor, MIT
  3. Sujatha Fernandes, Professor of Political Economy and Sociology, University of Sydney
  4. Daniel Hellinger, Professor Emeritus of International Relations, Webster University
  5. John Womack Jr., Robert Woods Bliss Professor of Latin American History and Economics, emeritus, Harvard University
  6. Steve Ellner, Associate Managing Editor of Latin American Perspectives
  7. Richard Falk, Professor of International Law Emeritus, Princeton University
  8. Marisol de la Cadena, Professor of Anthropology, University of California-Davis
  9. Julio Yao, Professor of Public International Law, Agent of Panama to the International Court of Justice and Foreign Policy Advisor of General Omar Torrijos during Canal Negotiations
  10. Emir Simão Sader, Professor of Sociology, University of the State of Rio de Janeiro
  11. Gerardo Renique, Associate Professor, Department of History, City College of the City University of New York
  12. Mark Weisbrot, Co-Director, Center for Economic and Policy Research
  13. Sinclair S. Thomson, Associate Professor of History, New York University
  14. Brad Simpson, Associate Professor of History, University of Connecticut
  15. Thomas C. Field Jr., Associate Professor, Embry-Riddle College of Security and Intelligence
  16. Marc Becker, Professor of History, Truman State University
  17. Fred Rosen, Retired editor and director, NACLA
  18. Forrest Hylton, Associate Professor of History, Universidad Nacional de Colombia-Medellín
  19. Rosaura Sanchez, Professor of Literature, UCSD
  20. Suyapa Portillo, Associate Professor, Pitzer College
  21. Jocelyn Olcott, Professor, History, International Comparative Studies, Gender, Sexuality & Feminist Studies, Duke University
  22. John Mill Ackerman, Law Professor, National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM)
  23. Paul Ortiz, Associate Professor of History, University of Florida
  24. Bret Gustafson, Associate Professor of Anthropology, Washington University in St Louis
  25. Alexander Aviña, PhD, Associate Professor of History, Arizona State University
  26. Julie A. Charlip, Professor of History, Whitman College
  27. Richard Stahler-Sholk, Professor of Political Science, Eastern Michigan University
  28. Alex Dupuy, John E. Andrus Professor of Sociology Emeritus, Wesleyan University
  29. José Antonio Lucero, Associate Professor of International Studies, University of Washington
  30. Francine Masiello, Ancker Professor Emerita, UC Berkeley
  31. Elizabeth Monasterios, Professor of Latin American Literatures and Andean Studies and Co-editor, Bolivian Studies Journal, Department of Hispanic Languages and Literatures, University of Pittsburgh
  32. Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, Professor Emerita, California State University
  33. Guadalupe Correa-Cabrera, Associate Professor, George Mason University
  34. Christian Parenti, Associate Professor, Economics, John Jay College CUNY
  35. James Krippner, Professor of Latin American History at Haverford College
  36. William I. Robinson, Professor of Sociology and Global and International Studies, University of California-Santa Barbara
  37. James Cohen, University of Paris 3 Sorbonne Nouvelle
  38. Naomi Schiller, Assistant Professor of Anthropology, Brooklyn College, CUNY
  39. Jeb Sprague, University of Virginia
  40. Victor Silverman, Professor, Department of History, Pomona College
  41. Aviva Chomsky, Professor of History and Coordinator of Latin American Studies, Salem State University
  42. Jorge Majfud, Associate Professor of Spanish, Latin American Literature & International Studies, Jacksonville University
  43. Maryclen Stelling, Directora Ejecutiva del Centro de Estudios Latinoamericano, Celarg,  Analista político y de Medios de Comunicación
  44. Jeffrey L. Gould, Rudy Professor of History, Indiana University
  45. Jules Boykoff, Professor of Political Science, Pacific University
  46. Gavin Fridell, Canada Research Chair in International Development Studies, Saint Mary’s University
  47. Margaret Power, Professor of History, Illinois Institute of Technology
  48. Dr. Jerise Fogel, Classics & Humanities Dept, Montclair State University
  49. Clara Irazábal, Professor, University of Missouri— Kansas City
  50. Heather Williams, Associate Professor of Politics, Pomona College
  51. Kevin A. Young, Assistant Professor of History, University of Massachusetts Amherst
  52. Robert Austin, Honorary Associate, Department of History, School of Philosophical & Historical Inquiry , University of Sydney
  53. Bill Bollinger, Latin American Studies, California State University, Los Angeles
  54. Susan Spronk, Associate Professor, University of Ottawa
  55. Gregory S Kealey, CM, FRSC, Professor Emeritus of History, University of New Brunswick
  56. Rosalind Bresnahan, California State University San Bernardino (retired)
  57. Rich Potter, PhD, Assistant Professor, Chair, Department of Media Arts, The American Jewish University
  58. Silvia M. Arrom, Jane’s Professor of Latin American Studies, Emerita, History Dept, Brandeis University
  59. Christopher Helali, Graduate Student, Dartmouth College
  60. Van Gosse, Professor of History, Franklin and Marshall College
  61. Charles Bergquist, Professor Emeritus of History, University of Washington
  62. Bob Buchanan Ph.D., Faculty, Goddard College
  63. Francis Shor, Emeritus Professor, History, Wayne State University
  64. Barbara Weinstein, New York University
  65. Jessica K. Taft, Associate Professor, Latin American and Latino Studies, University of California at Santa Cruz
  66. Renate Bridenthal, emerita Professor of History, Brooklyn College, CUNY
  67. Hannah Gurman, Clinical Associate Professor, Gallatin School, New York University
  68. Pamela S. Murray, Professor, History Department, The University of Alabama at Birmingham
  69. Guillermo Calvo Mahe, Writer and political commentator; former Chair, Political Science, Government and International Relations at the Universidad Autónoma de Manizales
  70. Raymond Craib, Professor of History, Cornell University
  71. Shari Orisich, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Department of History, Coastal Carolina University
  72. Fernando Leiva, Associate Professor, Department of Latin American and Latino Studies, University of California Santa Cruz
  73. William Smaldone, Professor of History, Willamette University
  74. Robert C. H. Sweeny, Honourary Research Professor, Department of History, Memorial University of Newfoundland
  75. Joan Paluzzi, Ph.D. Medical Anthropologist
  76. Robert Hannigan, Scholar in Residence, History, Suffolk University
  77. Elizabeth Dore, Professor of Latin American Studies, University of Southampton, UK
  78. Sanford Kelson, attorney-at-law and labor arbitrator, past president of Veterans For Peace
  79. Marian Mollin, Ph.D., Associate Professor of History, Virginia Tech
  80. Osamah Khalil, Assoc. Prof., History, Syracuse University, Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs
  81. Bruce Levine, J.G. Randall Distinguished Professor, Emeritus of History, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
  82. Gabriela F. Arredondo, Associate Professor and Department Chair, Latin American & Latino Studies, University of California at Santa Cruz
  83. Patricia de Santana Pinho, Associate Professor, Department of Latin American & Latino Studies, University of California, Santa Cruz
  84. Lewis Siegelbaum, Jack and Margaret Sweet Professor Emeritus, Department of History, Michigan State University
  85. Sylvanna Falcón, Associate Professor of Latin American & Latino Studies, University of California, Santa Cruz
  86. John Marciano, Professor Emeritus, SUNY Cortland
  87. Shanti Marie Singham, Professor of History and Africana Studies, Williams College
  88. Ronald Grele, Columbia University
  89. Sandi E. Cooper, Professor Emerita, History, City University of New York
  90. Robert Samet, Assistant Professor, Department of Anthropology, Union College
  91. Keith Brooks, UFT, NWU
  92. Enrique Davalos, Chicana/o Studies Professor and Department Chair, San Diego City College
  93. Naoko Shibusawa, Associate Professor of History and American Studies, Brown University
  94. Celia E. Naylor, Associate Professor of Africana Studies and History, Barnard College, Columbia University
  95. Arnold J. Oliver, Ph.D., Emeritus Professor of Political Science, Heidelberg University
  96. Jeff Cooper, Professor of History, Santa Monica College (retired)
  97. John Munro, Associate Professor, St. Mary’s University
  98. Tanalis Padilla, Associate Professor of History, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  99. Karen Breda, Professor, University of Hartford
  100. Pat Lauderdale, Professor and Honors Faculty, Faculty of Justice and Social Inquiry, SST, Arizona State University
  101. Pennee Bender, Acting Director, American Social History Project/Center for Media and Learning, City University of New York—The Graduate Center
  102. Dale L. Johnson, Professor Emeritus, Sociology, Rutgers University
  103. John Beverley, Emeritus Distinguished Professor of Hispanic Languages and Literatures at the University of Pittsburgh, and a founding member of Democratic Socialists of America
  104. Rachel Elfenbein, Ph.D., author, Engendering Revolution: Women, Unpaid Labor, and Maternalism in Bolivarian Venezuela
  105. Judy Ancel, President, The Cross Border Network
  106. Guy Aronoff, Lecturer at Humboldt State University
  107. Jeffrey Erbig, Assistant Professor of Latin American and Latino Studies, University of California, Santa Cruz
  108. Paul Alexander, English Professor, San Diego City College
  109. Liisa L. North, Professor Emeritus, York University, Toronto
  110. Daniel Kovalik, Adjunct Professor of Law, University of Pittsburgh
  111. Frederick B. Mills, Professor of Philosophy, Bowie State University
  112. Brooke Larson, Professor, Department of History, Affiliated Faculty, Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies and Associated Faculty, Department of Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, Stony Brook University
  113. Howard Brick, Louis Evans Professor of History, University of Michigan
  114. Viviana Ramírez, BA (Hons), Dip. Ed., Senior Teacher of Spanish (retired) Queensland Dept. of Education (1994-2016), Australia
  115. Amy Chazkel, Columbia University
  116. Teishan Latner, Assistant Professor Thomas Jefferson University
  117. Richard Grossman, Instructor, Department of History, Northeastern Illinois University
  118. Chris Carlsson, author, co-director, Shaping San Francisco
  119. Tina Braxton, PhD Candidate in History, Georgetown University
  120. Emilie Vardaman, ESL Instructor, Retired
  121. Rupa Shah MD, FACC
  122. Jodie Evans, CODEPINK
  123. Roger Leisner, Radio Free Maine
  124. Frank Brodhead, Peace activist
  125. Miguel Ramirez, Professor of Economics, Trinity College

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