Venezuela crisis

Read this blog to see the future. Back in November, I noted a media report that Colombian president Ivan Duque had agreed to support Brazil or the US if they decided to invade Venezuela to overthrow the country’s socialist government. (Columbia and Brazil denied the report.)

Well, two months later (Jan 2) we learned that the US was laying the groundwork for some sort of intervention in coordination with Brazil and Colombia:

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is pledging to support allies in South America as they respond to the crisis in Venezuela.

In remarks Wednesday in Brazil, Pompeo said he and Brazilian Foreign Minister Ernesto Araujo discussed their “deep desire to return democracy” to Venezuela.

Later in Colombia, Pompeo said he discussed with President Ivan Duque how their nations might collaborate to help people in Venezuela while also responding to the flood of migrants fleeing that country’s economic collapse, though he provided few details on what was discussed.

And then on Wednesday, this happened:

Amid widespread protests on the streets of Venezuela, the newly elected chief of the country’s National Assembly declared himself “interim president” on Wednesday, prompting an immediate endorsement from US President Donald Trump.

“Today, I am officially recognizing the President of the Venezuelan National Assembly, Juan Guaido, as the Interim President of Venezuela,” Trump said in a statement from the White House.

“In its role as the only legitimate branch of government duly elected by the Venezuelan people, the National Assembly invoked the country’s constitution to declare Nicolas Maduro illegitimate, and the office of the presidency therefore vacant. The people of Venezuela have courageously spoken out against Maduro and his regime and demanded freedom and the rule of law,” the statement continued.

President Nicolas Maduro rejected this action, which he described as a US-backed coup, and gave US diplomatic personnel 72 hours to leave the country. The US responded by saying it stands with Guaido and “will take appropriate actions to hold accountable anyone who endangers the safety and security of our mission and its personnel.” Quoth Senator Marco Rubio:

President @jguaido has asked us to remain. The United States should NOT comply with this illegitimate order from Maduro.

It should be made clear that we are prepared to take all actions necessary to guarantee the safety of our diplomats in #Venezuela.

I sense another Grenada coming.

Ok, so I can’t claim to have predicted all this in my November blog post. But I did make this comment, which I continue to stand by:

Caution is needed here. The American public does not want another foreign war, and a major intervention in South America is guaranteed to be a multi-faceted disaster.

The gangs have spoken

Not everyone is happy with a proposal by Brazil’s new president:

Authorities in the state of Ceará have been overwhelmed by more than a week of violence, which has been most intense in the capital, Fortaleza, a metropolitan region home to 4 million people.

Security forces say three rival drug gangs have come together to carry out more than 160 attacks in retaliation for a proposal to end the practice of separating gang factions inside Brazil’s prisons.

Buses, mail trucks and cars have been torched. Police stations, city government buildings and banks have been attacked with petrol bombs and explosives. On Sunday, criminals blew up a telephone exchange, leaving 12 cities without mobile service. Other explosions have damaged a freeway overpass and a bridge.

The rash of violence is an early challenge for new president Jair Bolsonaro, who swept to power with his tough-on-crime proposals, which include military takeovers of Brazilian cities and shoot-to-kill security tactics.

The government isn’t cowed, however:

Despite the chaos, the government said it would not pull back on its plan to combat gang activities in prisons.

I like to follow events in Brazil, as it’s the fifth most populous country in the world, and happens to be located in the same hemisphere as the US.

Invasion of Venezuela in the works?

Things may be heating up in South America:

A top Colombian official told Brazilian newspaper Folha de Sao Paulo that its government will support Brazilian’s far-right President-elect Jair Bolsonaro if he wants to overthrow the socialist government of Venezuela.

According to Folha, a top diplomatic official said that “if [President-elect] Bolsonaro wants to help overthrow Maduro with a military intervention, he will have the support of Colombia.”

According to the anonymous source, Colombian President Ivan Duque and his political patron, the hard-right former President Alvaro Uribe, would agree with a military intervention.

“If it is [United States President Donald] Trump or Bolsonaro are the first to set foot in Venezuela, Colombia will follow suit without hesitation,” the diplomat told Folha. […]

Ivan Duque Colombia

Colombian president Ivan Duque

Colombia’s conservative President Ivan Duque, who is supported by the far-right in his own divided country, considers Maduro a “dictator” and has refused to rule out military intervention.

“Duque is confident that if such an operation is underway, with the involvement of Brazil, Colombia and perhaps the US, they will participate. The region can no longer bear a worsening of the Venezuelan diaspora,” said the source.

Regarding that diaspora, the Miami Herald reported in June:

Almost 1 million people from Venezuela are thought to have poured into neighboring Colombia in the last two years, amid a grinding economic, social and political crisis that has rattled the region.

On Wednesday, Colombian authorities said a nationwide census found that 442,462 Venezuelans are living in the country without proper documentation and 376,572 Venezuelans are in the country legally — for a total of 819,034. […]

The Venezuelan exodus is being felt throughout the hemisphere. According to the International Organization on Migration, there were at least 1.6 million Venezuelans living abroad in 2017 — up from 698,000 in 2015.

Venezuela exodus Columbia

Venezuelans looking for a better life in Colombia (Source)

On a possibly related note, the “Axis of Evil” has a successor in the Western Hemisphere:

Now the Trump administration has coined the term “Troika of Tyranny” to describe the group of oppressive Latin American dictators it is pledging to confront. The administration is right to call out the crimes of the leaders of Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua. But it remains to be seen whether the White House can deliver a comprehensive strategy to go along with the rhetoric.

National security adviser John Bolton gave a speech Thursday afternoon at the Freedom Tower in Miami to a crowd filled with people who fled Cuba and Venezuela to escape the cruelty and oppression of the Castro and Maduro regimes. Linking those situations with the escalating repression of the Daniel Ortega government in Nicaragua, Bolton promised a new, comprehensive U.S. approach that will ramp up U.S. involvement in pushing back against what the administration sees as a leftist, anti-democratic resurgence in the region.

Caution is needed here. The American public does not want another foreign war, and a major intervention in South America is guaranteed to be a multi-faceted disaster.

Daniel Ortega Nicolás Maduro

Nicolás Maduro and Daniel Ortega

Bolsonaro

Right-wing populist nationalist Jair Bolsonaro, of the confusingly named Social Liberal Party, sweeps to victory as Brazil’s new president-elect, winning 56% of the votes in the runoff election against left-wing candidate Fernando Haddad. Brazil being the world’s fifth most-populous country (#2 in the Western Hemisphere), this is certainly a result worth noting.

Bolsonaro’s campaign slogan: “Brazil above everything, God above everyone.”

Andrew Fishman reports in The Intercept:

Bolsonaro, who has taken aim at the media throughout his campaign, chose to make his first statement after the election via Facebook Live, rather than a press conference. “We could not continue to flirt with socialism, communism, populism, and the extremism of the left,” he said. The broadcast was picked up by major TV networks, but repeatedly froze due to connection issues.

Brian Winter of Americas Quarterly provides a useful rundown of what, in his estimation, Bolsonaro’s victory means:

1. Bloodshed.

If there’s one thing Bolsonaro’s supporters and critics tend to agree on, it’s that upcoming months will bring an onslaught of death in Brazilian cities.

This is after all Bolsonaro’s number-one policy priority: relaxing laws and rules for security forces, allowing them to shoot first and ask questions later (to an even greater extent than today, considering police already kill 5,000 people per year). The goal is to intimidate or kill drug dealers, thieves and other criminals – and thus reverse the inexorable rise in crime since democracy returned to Brazil in 1985.

Bolsonaro sounds like a Brazilian Duterte. Of course, Brazil already has plenty of bloodshed, with “a homicide epidemic that killed a record 63,880 people in 2017,” as Winters notes.

2. Pro-business economic policy. […]

3. Near-total alignment with the Trump administration.

As stated above, the United States has become a kind of North Star for Bolsonaro and his acolytes – so much so that the candidate even saluted the American flag and chanted “USA! USA!” with the crowd at a campaign event in Miami last October.

This would have been career suicide for virtually any other Brazilian candidate over the past 30 years. But in today’s climate, supporting the U.S. has become a kind of code for rejection of the ideological left, which governed Brazil from 2003-16 and led the country into its current disaster. […]

This will play well with Bolsonaro’s base, and put Brazil more firmly in line with other South American governments. Argentina, Colombia, Chile and (arguably) Peru are also now run by center-right presidents who have aligned themselves with Trump, although with less enthusiasm than Bolsonaro likely will.

4. Erosion of democracy and its norms.

Here, again, there can be no mistake – Bolsonaro despises democracy, at least the version that has been practiced in Brazil over the past 30 years.

And the promised End of History, having failed to arrive everywhere from Cambodia to Spain, continues to recede into the misty distance…

Having said that:

It’s worth mentioning that he may not have to [ignore or trample democratic practices and norms to get his way]. The outcome of Sunday’s election means Bolsonaro will be dealing with a far more pliant Congress than previously expected, especially if he wins the runoff by a healthy margin and has a strong mandate. Much of the judiciary may also support him.

Here’s Reuters on Bolsonaro’s policy platform.

Bolsonaro Facebook

President-Elect Bolsonaro makes first public statement on Facebook Live