Where Are Democratic 2020 Hopefuls on the Trump-Backed Coup Attempt in Venezuela?

Of the major Democrats or progressives who have declared--or are expected to--Joe Biden and Cory Booker have expressed their support for the coup. We will update the story if others speak out.

Marco Cartolano

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) (C) and Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) (L) pictured at a news conference on Capitol Hill, March 10, 2015 in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

Update: Of those seek­ing — or like­ly to seek — the Demo­c­ra­t­ic nom­i­na­tion for the 2020 pres­i­den­tial con­test, only Sen. Bernie Sanders (I‑Vt.) and Rep. Tul­si Gab­bard (D‑Hawaii.) have pub­licly opposed rec­og­niz­ing Juan Guaidó as the inter­im Pres­i­dent of Venezuela. Sen. Kirsten Gilli­brand (D‑N.Y.) and for­mer Vice Pres­i­dent Joe Biden both sup­port rec­og­niz­ing Guaidó. Sens. Cory Book­er (D‑N.J.), Amy Klobuchar (D‑Minn.) and Sher­rod Brown (D‑Ohio) gave unclear state­ments on whether they rec­og­nize Guaidó. Sen. Eliz­a­beth War­ren (D‑Mass.) also gave an unclear answer on rec­og­niz­ing Guaidó, but voiced sup­port for eco­nom­ic sanc­tions against Venezuela. 

The silence of potential challengers to Trump is especially noteworthy since the president has the authority to commit troops on the ground as commander in chief.

The Huff­in­g­ton Post col­lect­ed state­ments from a hand­ful of can­di­dates or their spokes­peo­ple and post­ed an arti­cle on Jan­u­ary 30. Mered­ith Kel­ly, com­mu­ni­ca­tions direc­tor for Gillibrand’s explorato­ry com­mit­tee for the pres­i­den­cy, released a state­ment to The Huff­in­g­ton Post say­ing, Sen­a­tor Gilli­brand sup­ports work­ing with our allies to rec­og­nize Juan Guaidó — who was legit­i­mate­ly elect­ed — as the inter­im pres­i­dent under the Con­sti­tu­tion until Venezuela can hold new elec­tions.” Kel­ly added that while [Gilli­brand] believes eco­nom­ic sanc­tions are the appro­pri­ate response to achieve this, she does not sup­port send­ing troops to Venezuela.” 

Sen. Brown, a pos­si­ble pres­i­den­tial con­tender, told The Huff­in­g­ton Post that he believes the Trump administration’s loose talk of pos­si­ble mil­i­tary inter­ven­tion” is reck­less and irre­spon­si­ble.” While Brown did not give his view on rec­og­niz­ing Guaidó or sanc­tions, he did add, We should work with our allies and use eco­nom­ic, polit­i­cal and diplo­mat­ic lever­age to help bring about free and fair elec­tions, lim­it esca­lat­ing ten­sion, and ensure the safe­ty of Amer­i­cans on the ground,” 

Sen. Klobuchar gave a brief state­ment to The Huff­in­g­ton Post out­lin­ing her sup­port for Venezue­lans work­ing to oust Maduro. I sup­port the peo­ple of Venezuela stand­ing up against Maduro, installing a new leader, and restor­ing democ­ra­cy in Venezuela,” she said.

Addi­tion­al­ly, Sen. Bernie Sanders was asked about the Venezuela con­flict in a Feb­ru­ary 19 inter­view with Uni­vi­sions Jorge Ramos. Sanders cast doubt on the legit­i­ma­cy of the country’s May 2018 elec­tion, say­ing, There are seri­ous ques­tions about the recent elec­tion. There are many peo­ple who feel it was a fraud­u­lent election” 

But when Ramos asked whether the sen­a­tor rec­og­nized Guaidó as the inter­im pres­i­dent, Sanders respond­ed, No.”

On Feb­ru­ary 23, in response to a con­flict over an U.S.-backed aid con­voy to Venezuela, Sanders tweet­ed that he believes the Maduro régime must put the needs of its peo­ple first, allow human­i­tar­i­an aid into the coun­try, and refrain from vio­lence against protesters.”

Appear­ing on the Feb­ru­ary 21 episode of the pod­cast Pod Save Amer­i­ca, War­ren said, This notion of using our diplo­mat­ic tools. I’m all for it. I think recog­ni­tion. I think get­ting our allies to do it its way to bring diplo­mat­ic pres­sure eco­nom­ic sanctions.”

Update: On Febru­ray 9, for­mer vice pres­i­dent and pre­sump­tive pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Joe Biden tweet­ed his sup­port for régime change in Venezuela, say­ing: The inter­na­tion­al com­mu­ni­ty must sup­port Juan Guai­do and the Nation­al Assem­bly. It is time for Maduro to step aside and allow a demo­c­ra­t­ic transition.”

Update: On Feb­ru­ary 1, Repub­li­can polit­i­cal strate­gist and pun­dit Ana Navar­ro said on Twit­ter that she asked Sen. Cory Book­er (D‑N.J.) about his stance on Venezuela. Book­er report­ed­ly respond­ed Maduro has to go.” Nei­ther Navar­ro nor Book­er elab­o­rat­ed fur­ther on Book­er’s stance.

Update: Sen­a­tor Bernie Sanders (I‑Vt.), wide­ly expect­ed to seek the Demo­c­ra­t­ic nom­i­na­tion, released the fol­low­ing state­ment Thursday:

The Maduro gov­ern­ment in Venezuela has been wag­ing a vio­lent crack­down on Venezue­lan civ­il soci­ety, vio­lat­ed the con­sti­tu­tion by dis­solv­ing the Nation­al Assem­bly and was re-elect­ed last year in an elec­tion that many observers said was fraud­u­lent. Fur­ther, 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. How­ev­er, we must learn the lessons of the past and not be in the busi­ness of régime change or sup­port­ing coups – as we have in Chile, Guatemala, Brazil, and the Domini­can Repub­lic. The Unit­ed States has a long his­to­ry of inap­pro­pri­ate­ly inter­ven­ing in Latin Amer­i­can coun­tries; we must not go down that road again. 

Update: Pres­i­den­tial can­di­date and con­gress­woman from Hawaii, Tul­si Gab­bard, declared Thurs­day on Twit­ter, 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.”

Ear­li­er: Every major Demo­c­rat or pro­gres­sive who has declared — or is expect­ed to declare — his or her can­di­da­cy for U.S. pres­i­dent has been silent in the wake of Wednesday’s announce­ment that Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump will rec­og­nize Venezuela’s Nation­al Assem­bly pres­i­dent Juan Guaidó as the inter­im president.

In These Times request­ed com­ment from Kamala Har­ris (D‑Calif.), Bernie Sanders (I‑Vt.), Kirsten Gilli­brand (D‑N.Y.), Eliz­a­beth War­ren (D‑Mass.), Sher­rod Brown (D‑Ohio) and Cory Book­er (D‑N.J.) — but received no response. An email sent to Beto O’Rourke, a for­mer Rep­re­sen­ta­tive of Texas, bounced. Not a sin­gle top 2020 pres­i­den­tial hope­ful on the Demo­c­rat side has released a state­ment — or even tweet­ed — about the development.

Trump called Venezue­lan Pres­i­dent Nico­las Maduro’s gov­ern­ment ille­git­i­mate” two weeks after Maduro’s inau­gu­ra­tion for a sec­ond term. The dec­la­ra­tion came after Guaidó swore him­self in as pres­i­dent with the sup­port of sev­er­al right-wing gov­ern­ments in Latin Amer­i­ca. The Lima Group, a coali­tion of most­ly con­ser­v­a­tive-led Latin Amer­i­can coun­tries, along with Cana­da, released a state­ment on Jan­u­ary 4 deny­ing the legit­i­ma­cy of Venezuela’s May 2018 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion while rec­og­niz­ing the Nation­al Assem­bly as a demo­c­ra­t­i­cal­ly elect­ed con­sti­tu­tion­al body.” Sec­re­tary of State Mike Pom­peo has par­tic­i­pat­ed in meet­ings with rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the Lima Group through video con­fer­ence at least since last May. The devel­op­ments, which are mov­ing rapid­ly, are being denounced by some as a coup attempt.

Brazil, one of the group’s mem­ber nations, has ramped up its oppo­si­tion to Maduro after far-right Pres­i­dent Jair Bol­sonaro was inau­gu­rat­ed at the start of Jan­u­ary. Bol­sonaro met with exiled Venezue­lan oppo­si­tion lead­ers and threat­ened Maduro that he would do every­thing for democ­ra­cy to be re-established.”

In spite of the Assembly’s sup­port from right-wing gov­ern­ments, sev­er­al Demo­c­ra­t­ic leg­is­la­tors joined Trump in denounc­ing Maduro’s pres­i­den­cy. Sen­ate Minor­i­ty Whip Dick Durbin (D‑Ill.) released a state­ment prais­ing Trump for appro­pri­ate­ly” rec­og­niz­ing Guaidó, and sev­er­al House Democ­rats announced in a video that they will intro­duce leg­is­la­tion to sup­port the peo­ple of Venezuela and hold the ille­git­i­mate Pres­i­dent account­able for the cri­sis he cre­at­ed.” On Thurs­day, House Intel­li­gence Com­mit­tee Chair Adam Schiff (D‑Calif.) called rec­og­niz­ing Guai­do, an appro­pri­ate step.”

So far, Rep­re­sen­ta­tives Ro Khan­na (D‑Calif.), Ilhan Omar (D‑Minn.) and Alexan­dria Oca­sio-Cortez (D‑N.Y.) have expressed oppo­si­tion to Trump’s dec­la­ra­tion. On Wednes­day, Khan­na accused the Trump admin­is­tra­tion of hypocrisy for attack­ing Maduro while con­tin­u­ing their sup­port for the Sau­di Ara­bi­an gov­ern­ment. While Khan­na crit­i­cized Maduro’s poli­cies, he also warned that, crip­pling sanc­tions or push­ing for régime change will only make the sit­u­a­tion worse.”

Omar shared Khanna’s tweet on Wednes­day from her offi­cial con­gres­sion­al account and called for the uni­ver­sal appli­ca­tion of human rights, not just when it’s polit­i­cal­ly convenient.”

On Thurs­day, Oca­sio-Cortez retweet­ed a response to Durbin from Khan­na that reit­er­at­ed his oppo­si­tion to both his régime change and Trump’s sanc­tions while sup­port­ing Uruguay, Mex­i­co, & (sic.) the Vat­i­can’s efforts for a nego­ti­at­ed settlement.”

The silence of poten­tial chal­lengers to Trump is espe­cial­ly note­wor­thy since the pres­i­dent has the author­i­ty to com­mit troops on the ground as com­man­der in chief. It remains unclear if any of the can­di­dates are will­ing to chal­lenge Trump’s move or oppose a series of eco­nom­ic sanc­tions against Venezuela that cut off Venezuela from most inter­na­tion­al finan­cial markets. 

The Trump administration’s move fol­lows bipar­ti­san U.S. efforts to oppose Venezuela’s gov­ern­ment since it was first elect­ed in 1998 ago by the Boli­var­i­an social­ist move­ment. The Oba­ma admin­is­tra­tion fund­ed some groups crit­i­cal of the Venezue­lan gov­ern­ment, issued a 2015 exec­u­tive order declar­ing Venezue­lan crack­downs on pro­tes­tors an extra­or­di­nary threat” to U.S. nation­al secu­ri­ty, and imple­ment­ed sanc­tions against sev­en Venezue­lan gov­ern­ment offi­cials. Trump built on Obama’s sanc­tions to fur­ther block Venezue­lan involve­ment in finan­cial mar­kets in 2017, despite warn­ings this would wors­en the food and med­i­cine sup­ply in Venezuela — and pre­vent the coun­try from achiev­ing eco­nom­ic recovery.

Demo­c­ra­t­ic 2020 hope­fuls’ silence on Venezuela con­trasts with their will­ing­ness to dis­cuss oth­er inter­ven­tions: Sen­a­tor Bernie Sanders has crit­i­cized U.S. mil­i­tary spend­ing and led the Senate’s push to end U.S. sup­port for the war in Yemen, and some have called for troop with­draw­al from Afghanistan and Syria.

Mar­co Car­tolano is an edi­to­r­i­al intern at In These Times.
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