Branding aid for Venezuela as a US coup is dead wrong

Branding aid for Venezuela as a US coup is dead wrong
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Inscribed on the statue of Benito Juárez, in Washington D.C. are his words, “Among individuals, as among nations, respect for the rights of others is peace.” The words of the founding father of the modern democratic republic of Mexico are as deeply ingrained in the national identity of the Mexican people as those of the Declaration of Independence are indelible in Americans.

This ideal — of respect for individual rights as a means of peace — defines a shared historic and enduring democratic aspiration that defines our two nations, and it is the same spirit we have seen as hundreds of thousands of demonstrators in Venezuela and exiled around the world, unite in the streets to voice their support for a new leader, interim-President Juan Guaidó.

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Yet, despite this moving and dramatic democratic groundswell against brutal dictatorship, we have also seen a concerningly pervasive narrative thread weaving its way through international coverage and social media commentary. There are those, on the right and left, who are promulgating that this Constitutional triumph of the Venezuelan people is actually a U.S. manufactured coup.

This corrosive rhetoric has now even extended to the detainment of journalist Jorge Ramos. The seizure of his team and their equipment makes clear the dictator’s toolbox. The repression of free speech that has long been known to the Venezuelan people is now laid bare for the world to see.

In Latin America, we are more than sensitive to the dark history of Monroe Doctrine-inspired US interference across our hemisphere. Let me be very clear, to abhor the cruel dictatorship of Nicolás Maduro is not to support any form of U.S. military intervention. We must recognize this dangerous history and reject it, especially with war hawks like national security advisor John BoltonJohn BoltonTrump ramps up rhetoric on Iran Iran's strength and strategy show with Saudi oilfield attacks The Hill's Morning Report - Trump takes 2020 roadshow to New Mexico MORE drawing on its memory; but in this case U.S.-backed coup commentary can also be particularly harmful.

First, it dismisses the agency, self-determination and efforts of the Venezuelan people who are working to restore democracy in their country after decades of violent dictatorship. Hypocritically, this habit of the world’s “enlightened” expressing how they “know what’s best” or what is “truly happening” in another country is a classically colonial dog whistle — and is a tactic that has often been invoked throughout history to justify global interventionism.

Secondly, it disregards the key fact that contested president Maduro only held the position after stealing sham elections in May 2018 that were plagued by irregularities. In that election,the main opposition party leaders were jailed, and the company that provides voting machines, Smartmatic, left the country after reporting it could not certify results. Amid this and reports from international observers, the United Nations and the 14-nation Lima group of Latin American countries (and Canada) did not recognize the election as legitimate. This, after March 2017, when the Venezuelan Supreme Court loyal to Maduro stripped the National Assembly (its version of Congress) of its legislative powers and effectively established a ruling United Socialist Party dictatorship.

The true coup d’état was led by Maduro, when he threw out the Venezuelan constitution and publicly dissolved democracy in the country.

After a brief international tour, Guaidó returned to Caracas, having democratically invoked Article 233 of the Venezuelan constitution, which states that in the absence of a legitimate president the leader of the National Assembly must assume the presidency and call for new presidential elections. This is democracy in the face of tyranny.

Government violence and repression

For two decades under the ruthlessly repressive and negligent regimes of Hugo Chávez and Maduro, Venezuelans have faced systematic and violent crack downs on civil society, the free press and democratic opposition. They are plagued by organized crime, homicide and fear. What was once one of the most stable, prosperous nations in Latin America is now considered the second most dangerous in the world. Indeed, national security forces, considered a criminal cartel by the people, are under United Nations’ investigation for “shocking” human rights abuses— including the purposeful deaths and “disappearances” of hundreds of civilians.

A growing economic and humanitarian crisis

This is not even to mention the blunt mismanagement of Chavismo rule. As United Socialist Party members and loyalists squander oil wealth and fill their personal bank accounts with national revenue, devastating economic collapse and hyperinflation estimated to hit 1,000,000 percent have left shop shelves empty and basic items unaffordable and unavailable to the majority of the population, even in the capital Caracas.

In May 2018, it was estimated that a cup of coffee or one box of cereal costs an entire month’s typical salary — if you can even find them. Over one year, the average Venezuelan reported losing on average 24 pounds (11 kilograms), and 90 percent of the population now lives in poverty as the dire humanitarian situation only continues to grow.

Hospitals and clinics are understaffed and unable to provide basic healthcare. In hospitals, patients must provide their own medications. And the most basic drugs for chronic illness, such as insulin for diabetes must be smuggled in from family abroad. To have an accident, to have a difficult pregnancy, or to be diagnosed with a chronic disease in Venezuela could be a death sentence.

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And now, as his people continue to starve, in a final insult added to dictatorial injury, Maduro has closed Venezuela’s borders, blocked bridges and deployed the military to keep necessary aid from entering the country. Branding aid as a U.S. coup is a disservice that plays into the controlling, falsified authoritarian propaganda Maduro invokes to cling to power — that the “evil U.S.” seeks to overthrow their fearless leader. It feeds an old Chavismo rant that Maduro invokes, as he literally danced while military fired tear gas and killed four innocent people for trying to bring aid across the border to their families.

A nation that has suffered too much

At least 3 million Venezuelans have been forced to flee their country as their health, safety and most basic rights have been stolen, as citizens were abused by their government, and as rule of law and democracy disappeared.

Any truly democratic nation or individual that respects human rights, rule of law, and free and fair elections should support the self-determination of the Venezuelan people, their legitimate demands for individual rights and peace, and their support for interim-President Guaidó.

Ricardo B. Salinas is the chairman and founder of Mexico-based Grupo Salinas and founding member of FIRST Global, which work to develop future generations of innovative leaders.