Trump’s Latin American Allies Pressuring Venezuela Are Hardly Beacons Of Democracy

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Brazil President Jair Bolsonaro (Photo from Brazil Senate)

Support from Latin American countries is widely seen as proof that President Donald Trump’s administration is right to pursue regime change in Venezuela.

Those who back what is unfolding with opposition leader Juan Guaido, who declared himself president on January 23, point to a coalition that has formed over the past couple of years to argue Trump is on the side of democracy.

But that ignores the nature of governments that rule many of the Latin American countries pressuring President Nicolas Maduro to step down.

Since August 2017, a group of countries called the Lima Group have challenged the Maduro government. The group includes Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, and Peru.

All of the Lima Group countries recognized Guaido as the interim president of Venezuela except for Mexico, which joined Uruguay in calling for a dialogue between the Maduro government and the opposition.

Both Brazil and Colombia have been cited as countries that give a “significant boost” to “Venezuela’s chances at democratic change.” This ignores how both governments have ties to right-wing militias known to carry out assassinations against indigenous activists.

The newly-elected far-right president of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro, spoke fondly during his campaign about the military dictatorship that once ruled the country. Bolsonaro and his family currently face a scandal after payments to the militia that assassinated city council member Marielle Franco in 2018 were exposed.

When Bolsonaro took office, Bolsonaro mounted an attack on non-governmental organizations and issued an executive order that imposed restrictions over how they could operate in Brazil. It directed the government to “monitor” groups involved in campaigning for human rights.

Ivan Duque, the conservative president of Colombia, hired an official who was behind a terrorist plot in 2004 that targeted activists and politicians in southwest Colombia. His government has failed to take action against right-wing militias that threaten indigenous activists in Colombia, despite the fact that they are gunned down at an alarming rate.

He campaigned against a peace deal with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), and is a close ally of former president Alvaro Uribe. The ex-president resigned from the country’s senate in 2018 when he was asked to testify about whether he was involved in bribery or witness tampering. Uribe allegedly helped form a death squad that killed thousands in his home province.

Chile’s president, Sebastian Pinera, is a center-right billionaire businessman, who profited off the U.S.-backed coup against Salvador Allende in 1973. He is connected to former officials of Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship.

It gets even more unpleasant. Pinera’s interior minister Andres Chadwick once supported Pinochet. According to the Guardian, Chadwick and justice minister Hernan Larrain were “supporters and defenders of the secretive German enclave Colonia Dignidad, which was established by the fugitive Nazi officer and pedophile Paul Shafer in the early 60s. It later emerged that the enclave was used by security officials to torture and murder opponents of the regime.”

The three opposed the arrest and detention of Pinochet in London in 1998.

Guatemala is run by Jimmy Morales, a former TV comedian linked to right-wing extremists responsible for the assassinations of indigenous activists. It is believed the country may be going back to the days of violence that gripped Guatemala when Elliott Abrams was at the State Department. (Abrams was appointed by the Trump administration to be the special envoy for coordinating with the Venezuela opposition.)

Morales is trying to stop a United Nations anti-corruption investigation. His allies are working to block any candidates who support the investigation from running so he is not prosecuted after his term ends. He also has moved to kneecap a constitutional court that will bring back impunity for political and economic elites.

The New York Times published a scathing column by Francisco Goldman on Morales on January 17:

Subverting a justice system so that it can no longer protect society and institutions from the predations of powerful criminals is one way to kill a democracy, as happened in Guatemala. But Mr. Morales’s lawless actions against the anti-corruption commission, known as Cicig, and his intentional sabotaging of the rule of law could never succeed without the seemingly unconditional support of the Trump administration and Republicans in the United States Congress. It is up to Democrats in Congress to recognize what is at stake for Guatemala, for the region and even for the United States, and act.

Juan Orlando Hernandez of the conservative National Party of Honduras is the country’s president. In 2017, Hernandez stayed in power after an illegitimate election, even though the secretary general of the Organization for American States (OAS) said there were many irregularities and it “lacked integrity.”

The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace published a report, which detailed how government and business interests, “out-and-out criminals, and violent groups” represent a kleptocratic network that rules Honduras.

Conservative Mario Abdo Benitez is president of Paraguay. His father was private secretary for Alfredo Stroessner, a dictator whose bloody rule lasted from 1954 to 1989.

When Benitez campaigned in 2018, he emphasized “family values and hinted at enforcing obligatory military service. He repeatedly refused to condemn the dictatorship outright, expressing regret for the 425 people killed and nearly 19,000 tortured under Stroessner but emphasizing what he called the ‘achievements’ of the military regime.”

Many of these right-wing governments with ties to militias responsible for assassinating indigenous people, especially human rights defenders, stand to benefit from backing the Trump administration’s agenda in Venezuela.

These Latin American countries provide the Trump administration the cover it needs to suggest to the world that the U.S. government is not acting unilaterally to overthrow the Venezuelan government. In return, the Trump administration agrees to help them consolidate their power and thwart democratic challenges they face within their countries.

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