On Thursday, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo pledged to send $20 million to the Venezuelan opposition in the form of humanitarian aid to address the shortages of food and medicine caused in part by harsh U.S. sanctions. Pompeo made the announcement while speaking at the OAS, the Organization of American States. Pompeo’s speech was interrupted by CodePink co-founder Medea Benjamin, who held a sign reading, ”OAS: Don’t Support a Coup in Venezuela.”
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: On Thursday, CodePink’s Medea Benjamin disrupted Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s speech before the Organization of American States. She held a sign that reads, ”OAS: Don’t Support a Coup in Venezuela. CodePink.”
MEDEA BENJAMIN: [inaudible] lead to more violence in Venezuela. Look what the U.S. has supported all over Latin America throughout the years.
AMY GOODMAN: While security was called in to remove Medea Benjamin, many in the room applauded her actions.
We’re joined right now by Medea Benjamin, joining us from Washington, D.C.
Medea, explain what happened yesterday, what Mike Pompeo, the secretary of state, was saying and why you interrupted.
MEDEA BENJAMIN: I interrupted because I’m really worried about what is about to happen in Venezuela. First let’s recognize how many millions of people in Venezuela are already suffering from the economic crisis, but how much worse it could get. The U.S. is helping to set the stage for a civil war in Venezuela. And so I thought it was important to get in there and say that we have to stop this from happening. We have to stand up and say that we believe in the principles of nonintervention, and we call for negotiations to end this crisis, not to follow in the footsteps of what the U.S. is doing, which is putting pressure on the Venezuelan military, to divide it, and to really set the stage for tremendous violence in Venezuela.
So it’s important for the left in the United States to stand up, not to say we love Maduro, but to say we’re against U.S. intervention. It’s important to call on our members of Congress. Where are they? Where are the progressive leaders? We’ve only had a handful, like Congressman Ro Khanna; Tulsi Gabbard; one of the new ones, Ilhan Omar; Bernie Sanders. But the rest of them have been silent. So, I think it’s important that we stand up, and before it is really too late. We call on the U.S. to back off, to not support a parallel government in Venezuela, and to say no to a coup.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Medea, were you surprised by the reaction to your protest? It’s not the type of reaction you normally get when you do a disruption in Washington.
MEDEA BENJAMIN: Well, I don’t know, actually, if the applause was in support or the applause was to drown me out. So, it’s not clear. But the OAS is very divided.
AMY GOODMAN: On Capitol Hill, the Democratic establishment has largely supported President Trump’s efforts to oust Maduro.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi tweeted Thursday, “America stands by the people of #Venezuela as they rise up against authoritarian rule and demand respect for human rights and democracy.”
Senator Dick Durbin tweeted Thursday, “I spoke at length to the new President of Venezuela, Juan Guaidó, today. I assured him of my strong support for a more peaceful and democratic future in Venezuela under his transitional leadership. The people of Venezuela deserve it.”
But there are many others who are not in agreement, some voices of dissent in Congress.
Independent Senator Bernie Sanders tweeted, “The Maduro government has waged a violent crackdown on Venezuelan civil society, violated the constitution by dissolving the National Assembly and was re-elected last year in an election many observers said was fraudulent. The economy is a disaster and millions are migrating. The United States should support the rule of law, fair elections and self-determination for the Venezuelan people. We must condemn the use of violence against unarmed protesters and the suppression of dissent. But we must learn the lessons of the past and not be in the business of regime change or supporting coups—as we have in Chile, Guatemala, Brazil and the DR. The US has a long history of inappropriately intervening in Latin American nations; we must not go down that road again.”
And Democratic Congressmember Ro Khanna of California tweeted, “Let me get this straight. The US is sanctioning Venezuela for their lack of democracy but not Saudi Arabia? Such hypocrisy. Maduro’s policies are bad and not helping his people, but crippling sanctions or pushing for regime change will only make the situation worse.”
Democratic Hawaiian Congressmember Tulsi Gabbard, who’s running for president, tweeted, “The United States needs to stay out of Venezuela. Let the Venezuelan people determine their future. We don’t want other countries to choose our leaders—so we have to stop trying to choose theirs.”
And Minnesota Democratic Congressmember Ilhan Omar tweeted, “A US backed coup in Venezuela is not a solution to the dire issues they face. Trump’s efforts to install a far right opposition will only incite violence and further destabilize the region. We must support Mexico, Uruguay & the Vatican’s efforts to facilitate a peaceful dialogue.”
This split in the U.S. Congress around Venezuela, Medea Benjamin?
MEDEA BENJAMIN: Yes, I think this is because there’s a small group of Venezuelans in Florida that is setting the agenda, and the rest of us are quiet. So, we’ve got to get out on the streets. We’ve got to get on the phones. Call your congressperson: (202) 224-3121. And tell them to put out a tweet, a statement, a resolution, calling for nonintervention. This is absolutely urgent. And anybody in the D.C. area, join us in front of the White House, Saturday at 1:00.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: I want to turn back to Steve Ellner and ask you about—you’ve written some interesting pieces, not just about what’s happening within the opposition, but also within the pro-government forces and the political—that there are differences between the Maduro wing of the Bolivarian movement and other wings, have a different perspective on how to deal with the crisis. I’m wondering if you could talk about that?
STEVE ELLNER: Yes. There is a degree of pluralism within the Chavista movement. These are leaders who support Maduro, but they have different priorities. They take a very firm position on the issue of corruption, which Alejandro referred to. For instance, Elías Jaua, who was one of the main leaders under Chávez and supports Maduro 100 percent, but he has a different take on economic policy. So there’s a degree of diversity within the Chavista movement.
And as long as the pressure is on the Maduro government, as long as you have this ongoing kind of aggression on the part of the United States, but also what political scientists call a disloyal opposition, an opposition that doesn’t recognize the legitimacy of the government, which has been practically the opposition’s position almost from the very beginning, these differences within the Chavista movement are not going to really come to the fore, because Chávez and Maduro, their slogan is “unity, unity and more unity.” That is considered—that is perceived as necessary, given the political context. But if the situation were to loosen up, if there were to be greater stability and less threats to the overthrow of the government, it’s quite likely that you’d see more diversity and more debate within the Chavista movement.
AMY GOODMAN: Alejandro Velasco, who is Guaidó, the president of the National Assembly, who’s just announced that he is the president of the country, in the streets?
ALEJANDRO VELASCO: [inaudible] four major opposition parties in Venezuela. It’s called Voluntad Popular, Popular Will, which is led visibly by Leopoldo López, who was jailed after leading a series of protests in 2014. And this party has really sort of grown from a position of significant confrontation with the government. It’s been known largely as one of the more radical of the opposition wings, as Steve mentioned or alluded to before.
What’s interesting about Guaidó, however, is that he was kind of a backbencher, even within Voluntad Popular, and the opposition more generally. Because so many of Voluntad Popular’s people have been either jailed or pushed into exile or barred from running for office, he kind of just emerged as the visible leader of the party, after what had been a negotiation among those major political parties of the opposition to rotate the presidency of the National Assembly, one each year through the 5-year period of the Assembly, following their victory in 2015. So, this year was Voluntad Popular’s turn, and Guaidó was the person standing, and so that’s why he came out. He was largely—
AMY GOODMAN: So, in the last minute, though, I want to ask each of you, the path forward. I mean, there’s going to be a showdown this weekend, with the U.S. saying they’re not going to leave Venezuela. Guaidó says they can stay, and the elected president, Maduro, says they can’t. What do you see as the path forward, Alejandro?
ALEJANDRO VELASCO: It has to be—yeah, it has to be negotiations, right? I mean, so, Uruguay and Mexico, and to some extent—I mean, the real key player here is going to be, I think, the European Union, which has been kind of wavering a little bit. And a couple of weeks ago, they had issued a report about having a group of contact. And so those are the measures that have to be supported, because, otherwise, Venezuela right now is on a knife’s edge, and you have the tremendously high-stakes game of chicken being played right now with Venezuelans’ lives at stake.
AMY GOODMAN: And Steve Ellner?
STEVE ELLNER: Yeah, I agree with Alejandro. The way forward is negotiations and dialogue, for one reason, because the decisions that the government is going to have to make, whether it be the Chavista government or a government of the opposition, whatever government takes necessary measures—
AMY GOODMAN: We have 10 seconds.
STEVE ELLNER: —in order to correct the economic situation, they will need a consensus. They will pay a political price. And if you don’t have a consensus, it will be politically infeasible for the government to carry out these measures, these difficult economic measures, as a way out of the crisis.
AMY GOODMAN: We have to leave it there. Steve Ellner, former professor and associate managing editor of the journal Latin American Perspectives. Thank you to Alejandro Velasco and Medea Benjamin. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.