In an act of breathtaking yet typical American hypocrisy, the Trump administration yesterday announced economic sanctions against Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin blasting the democratically elected leader as a “dictator who disregards the will” of his people. It is undeniable that Maduro’s increasingly authoritarian ways have gravely wounded the defiant participatory democracy his predecessor, the late Hugo Chávez, successfully wrought via the people-powered Bolivarian Revolution. Yet Maduro is no dictator. He was democratically elected in a process described by former US President Jimmy Carter, who won a Nobel prize for his work at the election-monitoring Carter Center, as “the best in the world.”
Yes, Maduro is moving in a disturbingly authoritarian direction. You know who else is? Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who like Maduro has proposed a constitutional overhaul that would greatly expand his power and, who like his counterpart in Caracas has also cracked down harshly on political opponents, journalists and ordinary citizens alike. Unlike Maduro’s Venezuela, torture, forced disappearance, extrajudicial killing and deadly repression of ethnic minorities — namely Kurds — plague Turkey. But after Erdoğan declared that freedom and democracy have “no value” in Turkey, President Donald Trump congratulated him on winning his constitutional amendment, which was deemed neither free nor fair by trusted international monitors. Nevertheless, Trump gushed that it was a “great honor” to welcome Erdoğan to the White House, where Turkish state security thugs proceeded to brutally beat demonstrators, including American citizens, protesting the regime’s brutality.
And who else? Well, there’s Rodrigo Duterte, the former Death Squad Mayor who’s now the Death Squad President of the Philippines. Despite moves to eliminate political opponents and an internationally condemned “war on drugs” in which thousands of otherwise innocent people have been murdered with state blessing, Trump has warmly embraced Duterte, telling him he’s doing an “unbelievable job on the drug problem.” Maybe it’s his homicidal, take-no-prisoners strongman brutality that attracts Trump to a man who’s admitted to personally murdering suspected criminals, or maybe it’s their shared penchant for slandering Barack Obama’s legitimacy and for rape jokes — although “grab ‘em by the pussy” sounded a lot more like an admission than a joke. Whatever the case, while Maduro gets sanctioned, Duterte — who has threatened to throw US troops out of the Philippines — gets bromance and free weapons.
I’ll stop at Turkey and the Philippines because they most closely mirror the the same sort of slide toward tyranny occurring in Venezuela, but with more horrific human rights violations — and dramatically different US reactions. There are far worse regimes, including some of the world’s most brutal dictatorships, that often enjoy even greater US support than do Erdoğan or Duterte. Remember, Mnuchin justified sanctions on the grounds that Maduro “disregards the will” of his people. Is it the will of the people of Saudi Arabia to live under a medievally repressive fundamentalist Islamic monarchy that affords them little or no freedom? Do Ethiopians and Equatorial Guineans really desire the iron-fisted rule of fantastically corrupt despots who can only stay in power through widespread state terror, repression, torture and murder? Where are the sanctions against these and other tyrants whose crimes against their people and against democracy make Maduro look like a Nobel Peace Prize candidate by comparison?
To preempt the realpolitikers out there, yes, I am aware of the strategic and economic interests that guide US policies and actions toward the world’s nations and actors. But to pretend the decision to sanction Maduro has anything to do with anything other than strategic and economic interests is to belie a hypocrisy that must be called and condemned. Venezuela is used to this hypocrisy. Recall George W. Bush’s attempt to oust the twice-elected Chávez — whose Bolivarian Revolution lifted many millions of Venezuelans from poverty and even provided free home heating oil for hundreds of thousands of needy people right here in the United States — in a failed 2002 coup. Meanwhile in neighboring Colombia, successive US administrations lavished a regime condemned for government and paramilitary death squad massacres and deadly corporate-backed crackdowns on indigenous peoples and workers with billions upon billions of dollars in military and other aid, as well as diplomatic cover, fueling some of the world’s worst atrocities.
The United States has almost always opposed, by slaughter, spies or sanctions, any attempt by people to freely choose political and economic paths that diverge from Washington’s corporate capitalist order. It has long sought to crush the boldly defiant Bolivarian Revolution, as it has crushed countless popular revolutions and movements before it, and as it will continue to do for as long as its hegemony endures. Yes, Nicolás Maduro is wildly unpopular, and rightfully so given his mounting repression and the economic privation crippling oil-rich Venezuela. But he hasn’t even served out the term to which he was freely and fairly elected, and to label him a dictator and slap him with sanctions is an exercise in the blatant, bloody hypocrisy for which the United States has long been infamous around the planet — especially among its poorer parts and peoples.