Biden's Venezuela Policy: Continuity with Trump

In Venezuela, brutal sanctions and the recognition of a phony president continue to wreak havoc. Biden has not implemented any real change to US policy towards the country. Historians Steve Ellner and Greg Wilpert discuss the reasons why.


Greg Wilpert

Welcome to theAnalysis, I’m Greg Wilpert. Recently, the Biden administration announced that Venezuelans living in the United States would be able to qualify for temporary protected status or TPS.

This means that about 300,000 Venezuelans could remain in the U.S. for another 18 months or longer if the program is extended. Also recently, Secretary of State Anthony  Blinken had a phone call with so-called interim president and hard-line opposition leader Juan Guaidó, where Blinken reaffirmed that the United States continues to recognize Ecuador as the legitimate president of Venezuela, even though he no longer leads Venezuela’s national assembly and was never elected. The European Union, in contrast, withdrew its recognition of Guaidó following last December’s legislative elections in Venezuela.

Joining me to discuss the recent developments in U.S. Venezuela relations is Steve Ellner. Steve is a retired history professor from Venezuela’s Universidad de Oriente. Currently, he’s an associate managing editor of the journal Latin American Perspectives and editor of the recently published book Latin American Extractivism: Dependancy, Resource Nationalism, and Resistance in Broad Perspective. Thanks for joining me today, Steve.

Steve Ellner

Thanks for having me on. Greg.

Greg Wilpert

So there have been a number of adjustments in U.S. policy towards Venezuela since Biden came into office, but there’s also some important continuity, as I mentioned, the major change has been the TPS program, which Trump did not want to provide to Venezuelans, presumably because of his anti-immigration stance. He canceled TPS for all kinds of other nationalities, such as the Nicaraguans, Hondurans, et cetera, but then there are the sanctions and the recognition of Guaidó as President of Venezuela.

Now, how would you characterize the differences and the continuities between Biden’s policies towards Venezuela and that of Trump?

Steve Ellner

Well Greg you pretty much said it all. The Biden administration claims that there is a new policy, that it’s embarking on a new course in rejecting anything that Trump said stood for dead, but we really see how false that is with regard to foreign policy. With regard to domestic affairs it’s a whole different ballgame, but with regard to foreign policy, nothing is really changing in a big way. Just to take one example, doesn’t have to do directly with Venezuela. The military budget.

Trump just announced that the budget will remain the same, even though it increased by astronomical amounts during the four years of the Trump administration, but with regard to Venezuela, I mean, you pretty much said that the Biden administration claims it’s embarking on a new approach, but it really isn’t, with the exception of Venezuelan immigrants in the United States, but with regard to Venezuelan policy, with regard to Venezuela itself. Firstly, the Biden administration is maintaining the international sanctions which have caused so much suffering among the Venezuelan people.

In the second place, as you also mentioned, the Biden administration is continuing to recognize Juan Guaidó who’s really sort of a bogus president, but the Biden administration recognizes him, even though, as you also said, the European Union is pulling their recognition of Guaidó, and in addition to that, the Trump administration really highlighted the fact that there were so many countries that were supporting Guaidó and that the United States basically had international support for its policy towards Venezuela, but the fact of the matter is, firstly, the vast majority of nations that belong to the United Nations, more than 100 nations do not recognize Fuiado and those that do, the 57 countries that don’t recognize Guaidó, all but I think 11 also recognize Maduro.

They have diplomatic relations with both Guaidó and with the Venezuelan government so that the United States is really taking a go-it-alone approach to a very great extent.

In the third place, the Biden administration’s claim to be going on a new course, Blinken and others are saying, well, we’re now consulting our allies. We’re now consulting other countries, which Trump didn’t do, but the fact of the matter is, as you mentioned, the European Union is no longer recognizing Guaidó as the Venezuelan president.

And secondly, with regard to Latin America the Trump administration promoted the campaign to isolate Venezuela in the hemisphere and was able to do that because much of Latin America, most of Latin America was controlled by reactionary, not even conservative governments, reactionary governments, but that’s changed also beginning with Mexico, with the election of López Obrador in 2018 and the election with a two Fernández’s in Argentina and now with Bolivia, the election of Arce, who belongs to the MAS party of Evo Morales and the recent elections in Ecuador.

So that there are winds of change in Latin America and the United States by continuing to support Guaidó and by not modifying its policy it’s really going against the change that’s taking place both in Europe and Latin America. It would seem that the Biden administration has not learned anything from these four years of disaster, this fiasco that it looked like the Democrats were understanding, because last year in the Senate, the senator from Connecticut, my home state, Chris Murphy, interrogated Elliott Abrams and stated that the policy of the Trump administration towards Venezuela was an unmitigated disaster.

That was the term that he used, and so it looked like Biden was going to change things. It looked like it. The Democrats won the elections in November that things were going to change. But up until now, really nothing’s changed. Hmm.

Greg Wilpert

Yeah, that’s quite amazing, actually, considering that they had announced that there would be significant changes, and now there’s so little in that sense, at least in terms of foreign policy.

Steve Ellner

Exactly, there are a lot of liberals and progressives in the United States who make a distinction between the Democrats and Republicans, and there is a definite divide when it comes to domestic issues, but what a lot of people don’t realize is that in foreign policy, there is a consensus between the Democrats and Republicans not to say that there aren’t differences, there are momentary differences, but they are both equally hawkish on foreign policy. We see that now it looked like the Democrats were harder on Russia than Trump and softer on China than Trump.

But now the pivot to Asia strategy, which really goes back to the Obama administration, and Biden was the vice president, of course, at the time. They’re implementing that policy of a hard-line approach to China. So there really aren’t basic differences, and if you listen to the discourse of the Biden administration, you see that. There is more emphasis, this is at the level of rhetoric, but sometimes rhetoric says a lot.

It used to be that U.S. policymakers, both Republicans, and Democrats, but mainly Democrats, would emphasize democracy promotion throughout the world, and, of course, you continue to hear that naturally, but that gets conflated with our strategic interests and the strategic interests are mentioned are emphasized more and more so that when the policymakers attempt to justify interventionism, then rather than harp on, we’re promoting democracy, which is a harder case, a harder sell, increasingly so, they emphasize national security, U.S. national security, strategic interests, and sometimes just plain interests.

Greg Wilpert

Now, I want to turn to the issue of the sanctions, they continue to be in place. There has been no modification practically of the sanctions. Now, they say that they’ve made some minor modifications, it seems, but in effect, I think there’s a question as to whether that has any real-life effect, and so I just want to ask you, what would you say have been the most important effects that the sanctions have had so far, which, have been intensified under Trump and are being continued now?

Steve Ellner

Yeah, the sanctions have had a devastating effect on the Venezuelan economy and on Venezuelans. The rhetoric coming out of Washington, both Democrats, and Republicans, is that the sanctions are really targeting Maduro and his closest allies, his political allies, but, I don’t think anybody believes that. Anybody that knows anything about Venezuela, knows that Venezuela is completely dependent on oil. It’s been dependent on oil since the mid-late 1920s when Venezuela became the world’s leading exporter of oil, status which it had maintained until 1970. Oil exporting countries in the Third World tend to be more dependent on oil than other countries are dependent on their main export commodity.

In the case of Venezuela, that’s always been the case, and so when you have oil income being reduced to practically one percent of what it was before because of the sanctions which are targeting Venezuelan oil, well, that’s got to affect the whole economy, and it’s got affect all Venezuelans in a big way. The opposition says in Venezuela that the blame should not be placed on Washington because the economic problems that Venezuela is facing is not due to the sanctions.

It’s due to Maduro’s mistaken policies, but the fact of the matter is, because they say that those mistaken policies go back before the Trump administration, the first big sanctions were imposed in August of 2017. So the narrative of the opposition and the narrative coming out of Washington, accept that lock, stock, and barrel, that it’s really Maduro’s fault because the economic problems really began in 2013. They really began when Chavez went off to Cuba for the last time, Maduro became the acting president.

And it’s true that there were no problems with the exchange controls, there were problems with inflation, but still Venezuela was a privileged third world country up until those sanctions were imposed. I can tell you, I’m a university professor in Venezuela and university professors in Venezuela were privileged by Latin American standards, and it was that way in 2015, 2016. The deterioration took place in 2017. I would say that 95 percent of the deterioration in the living standards of Venezuelans has occurred over these last four years.

So it’s because of the sanctions and the sanctions actually go back to before Trump because Obama imposed sanctions in early 2015, and that’s when U.S. corporations such as Ford, Kimberly-Clark, and then after that, General Motors, Kellogg, a whole slew of companies left Venezuela because those sanctions signaled something to the business community. Probably most of your audience know about the specifics in terms of the suffering of Venezuelan people. The study that was done by Jeffrey Sachs and Mark Weisbrot stated that 60,000 Venezuelans had died directly due to the sanctions, and that was modified by a study that was done by Alfred de Zayas, formerly of the United Nations.

He updated that and his figure was 100,000 people had been have died as a result of those sanctions, but a lot of people don’t know is because the narrative coming out of the State Department, coming out of Washington is that, no, the sanctions aren’t hurting the Venezuelan people because there are exceptions with regard to medicine and with regard to food. So that’s what the policymakers are saying, but the fact of the matter is that the sanctions are formulated in such a way and are carried out in such a way that exporters that is, commercial outfits throughout the world are reluctant to have anything to do with Venezuela because they fear the sanctions.

The Trump administration went after those commercial establishments in such a way that their actions intimidated all commercial corporations, and so as a result, the few corporations that are willing to risk it, they’re willing to sell, say, food or medicine to Venezuela, they sell their side, they take advantage of the fact that there’s no competition and also in accordance with the law of supply and demand, less supply, the prices go up.

That’s exactly what’s happened, and not only that, with regard to the oil, the same thing is happening. The few companies that were willing to deal with Venezuelan oil were also intimidated. Rosneft, which is a Russian company. Part-state part-private. They were serving as intermediaries. They were buying the oil, but they weren’t paying for it in money because they were afraid of being sanctioned, and so there was a barter kind of arrangement, and they would ship the oil off to two other companies.

In India, for instance, a reliance in India, which was buying a lot of Venezuelan oil, but this indirect network meant that Venezuela was getting very little as a result and Rosneft was intimidated and they pulled out of Venezuela because even though Rosneft is partly state-owned, it’s also owned by different private companies internationally, and so they pulled out and the Chinese pulled out as well, and so the Venezuelans engaged in the stock market. That means these one-shot transactions rather than a contract over a period of time.

So they would pay a transportation company to send the oil to Curaçao to be refined, and instead of paying one dollar or less of one dollar for that transportation, they were paying between two and three. Venezuela was paying those companies between two and three dollars, and with regard to the refining, something similar to that, the prices were jacked up more than 100 percent, and so this is the situation for Venezuelan oi. This is the reason why Venezuelan revenue from oil declined precipitously.

And like I say, it affected the Venezuelan economy and the Venezuelan people in a big way. The Trump administration and now the Biden administration are going after those intermediaries, and that’s part of the intimidation process so that the case of Alex Saab, who is a Colombian Venezuelan, who was engaged in commercial activity. He was on his way to Europe. His plane landed in Cape Verde, which is a country off the shore of Africa, and the United States demanded his extradition.

Just yesterday, his case went to their Supreme Court and they decided against Saab, and so Saab will be sent off to the United States, and the accusation against Saab is firstly money laundering and secondly, corruption. I really don’t know the specifics, I confess, but I think common sense will tell you that those are probably trumped-up charges with regard to the corruption. Naturally, anybody who is involved in this kind of activity is going to be afraid of exactly what’s happening now to Saab.

So they’re going to be demanding more. The Venezuelan government is going to have to pay more for any kind of trading activity because it’s dangerous and with regard to money laundering, of course, these traders have to find devious ways in order to place the money through these transactions because their money could be easily frozen as a result of the sanctions. So this is what’s going on, and like I say, it’s affecting the economy. A lot of different ways.

Greg Wilpert

Yeah. Now, of course, there’s also the question of what’s the point of these sanctions? I mean, on the face of it, they say that it’s to prevent the Maduro government from being involved in corruption, from stealing money from its population, et cetera, and then there is also the more kind of, as you say, other arguments that have been made, but not quite as overtly, but certainly suggested or not officially, perhaps, but unofficially, that the aim is regime change, but when you look at, for example, political science studies of the effects of sanctions they across the board show that they never have the intended effect. So what do you think is the actual purpose of these sanctions?

Steve Ellner

Well, I would say that there are two purposes. One is to teach Venezuela a lesson. It serves as an example, and the second point is that they serve as leverage for U.S. negotiators to jack up the demands on Venezuela, enforce concessions from Maduro. With regard to the first, the United States has attempted to punish Chavez  almost from the very beginning, at least from the beginning of the Bush administration.

When Chavez criticized the bombing of Afghanistan this was in late 2001. After that, the Bush administration and after Bush, Obama did everything possible in order to isolate Venezuela, in order to create difficulties on all fronts. Maduro uses the term economic war. I use the word war in Venezuela because it transcended economic measures. The Cablegate documents that WikiLeaks divulged demonstrate that the U.S. government was funneling money through the NED, through USAID, through a whole host of organizations. Firstly, the organizations that are affiliated with NED, one of which is the Republican Institute and its equivalent in the Democratic Party, and they allocated money to all kinds of activity in Venezuela with regard to election monitoring, security, military affairs, crisis resolution, all kinds of activity.

Practically all the people who received that money were opposition people. And so there was a campaign against Chavez. And of course, you could say, well, the United States always acts to undermine anybody who is critical of the United States, but the fact of the matter is that Washington has always targeted Chavez, has always targeted the Chavistas, has always targeted Venezuela, much more so than any other country. In the 21st century, we have the phenomenon of the pink tide, these progressive governments that came to power in Brazil with the case of Lula, of Argentina in the case of Kirchner, Evo Morales in the case of Bolivia, Correa in the case of Ecuador, in other countries, but the fact of the matter is that Venezuela was singled out.

The Office of Transition, which was established in Caracas in the U.S. embassy and remained there for a number of years. Now, these offices of transition are usually instruments of U.S. foreign policy in very unstable countries, like in Syria and Libya and in those countries in which, there are regime change possibilities, but in the case of Venezuela, that was unlikely and Venezuela was certainly not an unstable country back in the days of Chavez.

So this campaign against Venezuela goes way back, and I believe that the sanctions were really designed to teach Venezuela a lesson and to show the rest of the world, because, Chavez was a symbol for the region and for the world, much more so than other heads of states, much more so than Evo Morales and Correa. They were also critical of the United States and they clashed, especially in the case of Morales with the United States.

Morales broke diplomatic relations, but he didn’t have the charisma at the international level, and Chavez, for the very outset, uses the term multipolar world, which is really a euphemism for anti-imperialism, and so the United States targeted Chavez, and so what’s happening under Maduro has to be seen in this broader context, and I think that there is plenty of evidence that the United States has that in mind. They, like you say, at one time it looked like they were going to destabilize the federal government in 2019 when Guaidó proclaimed himself president.

And then one month after that, when they attempted to bring in humanitarian aid from Colombia. They were a couple of months there in which it looked like they might have been successful, but then there was a coup attempt on April 30 of 2019, which was a complete fiasco, but it became evident and Trump himself started indicating that this wasn’t going to work and that Guaidó had been somewhat of a failure. So your question is a good one.

And I think that that’s part of the answer. The other part is it has to do with leverage. That’s a term that’s being used in Washington increasingly, that the sanctions, OK, the sanctions aren’t going to bring about regime change, which means that the sanctions are not going to really achieve their objectives in terms of regime change and maybe not even in terms of democratic change, but the United States can use that as leverage in order to further its interests.

Elliot Abrams demonstrated exactly what this policy consists of because in October of last year, right before the U.S. elections, he implemented sanctions on diesel oil and gas oil, which had been exempted from the sanctions. In the midst of the covid epidemic and everything else, the sanctions should have been at least softened, if not lifted completely, but the Trump administration did just the opposite, and that was especially horrendous because diesel is used for transportation and the electricity plants of hospitals use diesel fuel.

So depriving Venezuela of diesel was going to have a horrendous effect and to this day, Venezuela has a shortage of diesel now as a result of that. Well, after Biden was elected president, Abrams told the Biden administration, they should lift those sanctions on diesel and gas oil, but should get something out of it. So obviously, this is a maneuver on the part of Washington to force on Venezuela by sending demands that the Biden administration is making on Venezuela, and those demands don’t necessarily have to do with democracy in Venezuela.

Greg Wilpert

Hmm. I just want to turn now to the political situation in terms of, perhaps there’s a parallel here that, is with U.S. support for Juan Garrido, the so-called interim president that the U.S. continues to recognize. Now, why would the Biden administration continue to support him, especially considering that Guaidó seems to have practically no support with Venezuelans, as a matter of fact, and Henrique Capriles who ran for president twice under the opposition banner, has now called on the U.S. to stop recognizing him? So why is the U.S. going it alone here as well?

Steve Ellner

Well, again, I think this has to do with leverage. I don’t think that, and this is my opinion. I may be wrong, but I don’t think that the Biden administration is thinking of maintaining recognition of Guaidó. I think it’s a negotiation, a bargaining chip, and it is so evident that Guaidó has been a failure. He has lost support among the opposition, not only among the opposition in Venezuela, because the opposition in Venezuela is very much divided over electoral participation, and there’s an important bloc of the opposition that didn’t participate in the elections in December for the National Assembly, and there are important historic leaders of the opposition. Presidential candidates such as Claudio Fermín and Eduardo Fernandez, two very prestigious, long-standing politicians in Venezuela, ex-presidential candidates going back to the elections of 1988 and 1993 that support electoral participation and other important, fairly prestigious politicians so that the opposition is divided.

Not only those members of the bloc that support political participation are opposed to the sanctions and criticize Guaidó very openly now, but members of the radical opposition, what I call the radical opposition, those members of the opposition that support the sanctions and even support military invasion, which Guaidó has indicated that he’s open to. Antonio Ledezma for instance, who is a radical opposition person who was close to Guaidó, is now maintaining a certain distance because of the issue of corruption, which is really significant because one of the aspects of the narrative against Maduro is that there is corruption in Venezuela.

Yet, the accusations against Guaidó are so blatant that another political leader of the opposition and presidential candidate, Humberto Calderón Berti, who was the ambassador for Guaidó in Colombia, there was money coming into Colombia for humanitarian aid to alleviate the situation for Venezuelan immigrants in Colombia, and that money was getting misused, and Calderón Berti brought that to the attention of Guaidó, Guaidó didn’t do anything, and Calderón Berti resigned as a result, and something very similar to that happened in Great Britain with Vanessa Neumann, who comes from a very wealthy family in Venezuela, and I know her personally.

She taught at Columbia University. I was an adjunct professor there, and we shared podiums on a number of occasions. She was talking in opposition to Maduro and I was defending some of his policies, but she was the ambassador of Guaidó in Great Britain and she resigned also as a result of accusations of corruption, which she was denouncing. So that the situation is such that Guaidó really has lost credibility among Venezuelans, has lost credibility among Venezuelan politicians in the opposition. He’s lost all mobilization capacity, after that failed coup attempt in April of 2019.

Every time, actually, the following day there was a May Day mobilization, and then the following year as well. He was unable to mobilize more than a handful of people, and it’s been that way every time he calls his people onto the streets. So that has been a complete fiasco, and I can’t believe that the Biden administration is really serious about maintaining recognition of Guaidó as President. I think that they’re using that in order to pressure Maduro into bargaining and imposing certain policies on Venezuela according to U.S. strategic interests.

Greg Wilpert

Now, of course, in order to bargain, it takes two sides, both sides to agree. Now, there are questions, I think, whether the U.S. is serious about even negotiating, because so far that they haven’t really said that. They’ve engaged in negotiations, but maybe they’re just waiting for the right moment or something, I don’t know.

But there’s also the question of what is Maduro doing with regard to the United States? Do you think that Maduro is interested in negotiating with the U.S. and the hard-line opposition? What’s going on within Venezuela in that regard?

Steve Ellner

Yeah, there’s no question that Maduro is interested in negotiating with the United States. He’s said that time and time again, even under Trump, in the moments in which Trump was using the most aggressive of language against Maduro and against the Venezuelan government, he stated repeatedly that he wanted to negotiate with the United States, but I think that Maduro has implemented certain policies which are designed to make Venezuela attractive to the United States in order to show that, look, something might happen to Venezuela and similar to Cuba in which for so many years you had investments, at least in the tourist industry and a few other sectors by Europeans, but Cuba was off-limits to the United States and nobody listened.

David Rockefeller was one of the foremost advocates of reestablishing commercial relations with Cuba because U.S. capitalists were losing out., And I think there’s something similar. The New York Times published an article about six months ago. Very interesting article. They’re reporting on Venezuela has been terrible or very one-sided, couldn’t be any more one-sided. Sometimes you read their articles and you think that they were written by members of the Venezuelan opposition.

But there was one article a while back which talked about the back channel negotiations between Venezuela and the United States, and it indicated that in the Trump administration or people in Trump’s circles or business people were interested in investing in Venezuela and that Maduro chose as an intermediary, Raul Gorrin, who is the owner of Globavision, one of the main cable TV networks, and he negotiated with the Trump administration, and there was a certain amount of interest, but the hard-liners beginning with Marco Rubio and others have the upper hand, and so those negotiations didn’t prosper, and the Trump administration placed Gorrin on the blacklist of people who were being sanctioned, but the possibility that something similar to that might happen now.

That there may be negotiations and those negotiations could involve economic opportunities for U.S. investors. I think that is a very definite possibility, and it’s something that is very polemical in Venezuela.  Polemical within the Venezuelan left, because there are sectors of the Venezuelan left that are very critical of any possibility of any kind of opening up to foreign capital.

I really don’t agree with that. I think that it is legitimate given the difficulty, given the devastating circumstances in Venezuela, anything that Maduro can do practically in order to alleviate the economic situation in Venezuela is justifiable, but Maduro passed a legislation a few months ago called the Anti-Blockade Law, which is very controversial and opens possibilities for foreign investors, but it opens the possibility of secret negotiations with those foreign investors, and sectors of the left have been very critical of Maduro, specifically with regard to that law.

As a matter of fact, the Communist Party, which was somewhat of a critical ally, but nevertheless an important ally. They have a certain following in Venezuela and they certainly are prestigious because they are the oldest party in Venezuela. They go back to the 1930s and they form part of the official coalition or alliance, but they pulled out partly because of this law and because of Maduro’s policies of opening up to foreign investors. They claim that these what they call neoliberal policies are not the way to go, and not only the Communist Party and other groups but people who are fairly close to Maduro such as the intellectual Luis Britto García, who’s an outstanding Venezuelan intellectual, very pro-Chavista.

He has also denounced the Anti-Blockade law. I’ve been critical of Maduro. It’s not like I support everything he says and does, and you can read my articles if you want to see details along those lines, but it seems to me that the Soviet Union after 1917, after the civil war in 1918, Lenin opened up to private capital. He opened up to big foreign capital, Occidental came in, Occidental Oil Company, Armand Hammer.

He started investing in drilling for oil in the Soviet Union after 1917, and you had the new economic policy, which was an opening up to the middle class and the countryside. So, I mean, there’s a precedent for this kind of thing, and it doesn’t mean that it’s going to go on forever, but it seems to me at this particular moment that policy of opening up to foreign investment for economic reasons and also political reasons, I think that’s the strategy behind the Anti-Blockade law, possibly, convincing the Biden administration to lift the sanctions or at least soften the sanctions and to negotiate with Venezuela.

I think that is an acceptable strategy given the circumstances. I do believe, though, and I’ve stated this in an article that was posted recently, that the Maduro government should make clear from the very outset that we’re open to negotiations. We want a negotiation. We want to negotiate, but there’s one thing that we will not negotiate, and that’s regime change or anything along those lines. That means setting a new date for elections, for presidential elections.

That’s what the opposition is hoping for. That’s what Capriles and that’s the strategy behind the European Union, to try to force Venezuela into rescheduling elections. It seems to me that the Maduro government should be clear that that’s not on the table.

Greg Wilpert

Considering that’s the main demand, though, on the part of the United States, I guess that’s going to mean perhaps more impasse and no more progress, but we’ll see. I want to get to another point which you raised, which is the kind of criticisms within Venezuela of the Maduro government. Now, the Communist Party and other parties had complained, particularly not just about the policies, but also that they were basically shut out of the legislative elections effectively. What do you make of those arguments and how serious is the situation and how widespread is political debate within Venezuela?

Well, I think that the criticism of the Maduro government and not so much Maduro himself necessarily, but the PSUV, the governing party being somewhat closed in terms of negotiating with allies and trying to develop policies that create a consensus among the different allies and what was the Polo Patriótico coalition? I think it’s a valid criticism of the Maduro government. It’s sort of polarizing on the left in that sense, but the rhetoric is you’re either with us or against us, and it’s understandable in a situation like that in which the aggression against Venezuela is so great.

The opposition up until recently, practically a united opposition, supported by the United States, as we’ve discussed, and supported by Europe, and Venezuela is so isolated in Latin America. You can understand the attitude of the Chavistas in power that anybody that criticizes them is really playing the game with the opposition. That’s basically been their attitude all along. It even goes back to Chavez, who was very tolerant in a lot of ways, but in other ways, he was sometimes rather sectarian also.

So I think that criticism of the Communist Party is valid, and I think that debate is necessary, but I think also it’s necessary to establish the difference between those people who call themselves leftist, who say that they support socialism or support change, radical change, etc, but in effect, they put the Maduro government in the same sack as the opposition. What I call a plague on both your houses approach and you see that a lot. Anybody that reads anything about Venezuela, you see that in the U.S. alternative media also.

A lot of people who are opposed to the sanctions are opposed to the U.S. government, but they say that Maduro is a sellout and they talk about corruption and there is corruption in Venezuela, but there’s corruption throughout Latin America as well. So, I mean, that’s another issue that I won’t get into, but it’s been used by these people on the left who consider Maduro to be just as bad as Guaidó, so a distinction has to be made between what political scientists call loyal opposition, in this case, loyal allies on the left who are critical and those who consider Maduro a sellout and basically support regime change. This is just like Washington does and just like Guaidó does. So I think that this is a distinction that has to be made.

Greg Wilpert

OK, well, we’ve covered a lot, I think we’re going to leave it there for now, but I’m sure we’re going to come back to you again very soon as things develop. Hopefully, they continue to develop, although there’s been a lot of stagnation that seems in terms of U.S. policy at least, and hopefully, people will recognize just how brutal this sanctions regime is.

So we’re going to leave it there. I’m speaking to Steve Ellner, retired history professor from Venezuela’s Universidad de Oriente. Thanks again, Steve, for having joined us today.

Steve Ellner

Thanks for having me on.

Greg Wilpert

And thank you to our viewers and listeners for joining us as well. Please don’t forget to visit our website at, and please make a donation.


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  1. Biden Policy on Venezuela: continuity with Trump, and with Obama/Biden. Frankly this much can be said for all of South American policy, African Policy, East Asia Policy, the only oddity might be Middle East. Biden’s ((former?) paying) clients even restarted start killing liberation theology nuns, LGBTQ activist, environmentalist and so on now that Hollywood is back to brunch ala Biden.

  2. Appreciate the article. (While understanding the limits of time and resources, it should be edited for accuracy and to eliminate errors making it unclear in parts)

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