The US government’s push for regime change in Venezuela has implications that will be felt across the planet, including in Israel and Palestine.
Israel would be emboldened, and its position strengthened should the right wing, self-proclaimed “president” Juan Guaido take power in strategically vital Venzuela. Pro-Palestinian elements in Latin America would become isolated. Israel hopes to arrest an alarming decline in its credibility in Latin America, while the Palestinians will be hoping that one of their staunchest supporters will retain its democratically elected president, Nicolas Maduro.
From a Middle Eastern point of view, the world is taking on an increasingly Cold War appearance. Led by the US, forces hostile to Palestinian freedom are strengthening, at least in the short-term. Israel forms part of this group, and as American power and influence grows, Israeli power also rises by default. A refusal front, headed by China and Russia, is what stands in the way of the US increasing its hegemony in Latin America and the Middle East.
Latin America had been remarkably successful in shaking off the shackles of the global system and asserting independence through the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas (ALBA) which isolated the US in the hemisphere, forcing President Obama to warm relations with Cuba in 2014 after decades of economic blockade. Venezuela was the avant-garde of this pan-Latin American movement.
Upon taking the presidency in 1999, Hugo Chavez shifted Venezuelan foreign policy to an anti-imperial, anti-racist approach that stood in solidarity with the Palestinian people and in strong opposition to Israel’s occupation. From the outset, the US sought to overthrow him. Unlike President Erdoğan of Turkey, Chavez was a strongman leader of an influential state who went beyond rhetoric and followed through on his support for the Palestinians and opposition to Israeli intransigence.
In 2008, Chavez cut diplomatic ties with Israel over its assault on the occupied Gaza Strip, saying:
“What was it if not genocide? … The Israelis were looking for an excuse to exterminate the Palestinians,”
…and calling for international sanctions to be applied to Israel and for the then Israeli president, Shimon Peres, to be tried at an international court.
In the Bolivarian revolution that Chavez spearheaded, the similarities between oppressed peoples were recognised and he emphasized the shared problems of the Venezuelan and Palestinian people suffering under the yoke of US domination in oil-rich regions and in societies divided along racial lines.
Under the Bolivarian regime, Palestinians have been allowed to enter Venezuela without visas. Relations warmed further with Venezuela supporting Palestine’s 2011 statehood bid at the United Nations, where Caracas also condemned the “barbarism” of Israeli policies in a letter to Ban Ki Moon, the then UN Secretary General.
Maduro & the Palestinians
Chavez died in 2013, but his successor Nicolas Maduro continued Venezuelan solidarity with Palestine. In 2014, Maduro launched the ‘SOS Palestine’ campaign in response to Israel’s latest assault on Gaza. On national television he urged Venezuelans to join the campaign and help end the attack. Galvanised by this, Ecuador, Peru, Chile, El Salvador and the region’s biggest country, Brazil, withdrew their ambassadors to Israel. President Evo Morales of Bolivia called Israel a “terrorist state”.
In 2015, the Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister Riyad Al-Maliki named Venezuela “Palestine’s most important ally” for giving without asking for anything in return. That same year, the opposition party in Venezuela gained control of the parliament and Maduro’s grip on power began to loosen.
Nevertheless, Venezuelan support for Palestine grew; at the UN Security Council in 2015, Maduro accused Israel of “promoting terrorism and violating Palestinian human rights”. When Israel responded to the 2018 Land Day protests with indiscriminate killings in Gaza, Maduro stated: “The Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, consistent in its support of the Palestinian cause and its just call for its existence and sovereignty, expresses solidarity with the Palestinian people”. Diplomatic ties were further strengthened by a January 2018 Palestinian state visit to Caracas to secure several economic deals to supplement the subsidized oil shipments, scholarships for medical students, and humanitarian aid.
When US president Trump declared Jerusalem to be Israel’s capital January 2018, Venezuela led the 125 nations of the Non-Aligned Movement in “categorically reject[ing] the unilateral and extremist actions of the United States government against the noble Palestinian people”.
Latin America & Israel
And this pro-Palestinian zest rippled across Latin America. In major countries like Brazil and Mexico, the negative view of Israel is four times that of the positive view among the public. This marks a deterioration and is a signal that Israel is losing the battle for the hearts and minds of Latin Americans. A coup in Venezuela, following on from the election of the extreme far-right Brazilian President, Jair Bolsonaro, offers Tel Aviv hope that the tide is turning.
Head of the National Assembly, Guaido, posturing presidentially, has already held talks with Israel about re-establishing diplomatic relations and is hoping to emulate Trump’s illegal and provocative opening of an embassy in Jerusalem.
Across Latin America, the US is opening a new front in its anti-Palestinian agenda with the imposition of a neo-liberal, far right ideology. The US and Israel have a long history of working together against progress in the region, being the only two countries in the world to vote against ending the blockade of Cuba at the UN. In Venezuela, though, they are backed by Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Costa Rica, Colombia, Ecuador, Paraguay and Peru, who have all recognised Guaido as president.
As well as securing regional support for the coup, Trump has placed old-school hawks in key positions, including Elliott Abrams as State Department Special Envoy to Venezuela. Abrams pleaded guilty over the Iran-Contra scandal and is linked to 1980s US-backed death squads in Central America and the 2002 coup against Chavez. National Security Adviser John Bolton has openly stated that the US is seeking access to Venezuela’s oil reserves. These powerful figures all believe that Israel has a right to violently occupy and dominate Palestine.
But much like views on the occupation of Palestine, regime change in Venezuela has bipartisan support in the US. Democrat House Speaker, Nancy Pelosi backs Guaido. And Barack Obama labelled Venezuela an “unusual and extraordinary threat” when imposing sanctions on the regime.
As for Europe, US Vice President Mike Pence has called on the European Union to back the overthrow of Maduro. All but one of the major European states have obliged, an Italian veto has prevented the EU from formally endorsing Trump’s illegal subversion of democracy. Should Italy, no friend of Maduro, succumb to the pressure then the EU will be united in its backing of what exactly?…
On the ground in Venezuela, the opposition to the Bolivarian government is broad, from leftists to the violent extreme right. Guaido has emerged from the latter: groups funded by USAID and other American sources and trained in covert destabilisation techniques. Covert became overt and opposition tactics have included setting black people on fire, assassinations of Chavistas and beheadings of political opponents. Despite this, opposition groups and Guaido are presented as a peaceful opposition across most western media.
Many Remainers never did have anything to say about the EU’s extreme foreign policy and would not speak out against a right wing takeover in Venezuela. Under the mask of respectability worn by Macron, Cameron, Obama etc. are the same things that Trump is unapologetic about: power and death.
Should Guaido become Trump’s man in Caracas, it will spell the end of Venezuelan solidarity with the Palestinians. Israel will receive a huge morale boost and will be emboldened in its bid to snuff out Palestinian solidarity, wherever it emerges.
Pay attention to the echoes from Venezuela and don’t think that the Palestinians, scattered and disenfranchised as they are, or even Venezuela’s oil reserves are the end game. The end game for the emerging global right is You…
by Tom Charles @tomhcharles