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Larry Wilkerson joins Paul Jay as they discuss the special meeting of the Security Council that took place on January 26, where many small countries stood up against American pressure and refused to recognize Juan Guaido as president of Venezuela, and defended the UN principle of non-interference

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PAUL JAY: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay.

On Saturday morning there was a somewhat extraordinary meeting of the UN Security Council. It was an open meeting. Countries were invited to come give their opinion and response to the push by the United States, led by President Donald Trump, to recognize Juan Guaido. This is the man who is the president of the National Assembly in Venezuela who declared himself president. Apparently, as the Wall Street Journal is now reporting, that Vice President Mike Pence phoned Guaido the night before he made such a declaration. And either he suggested he make the declaration–that’s not clear–but at least what is clear, according to the report, Pence says that if he’d made such a declaration he would get U.S. support. And in fact, the United States supported Guaido’s declaration almost immediately after he made it.

Well, there’s been a very interesting split in the world that was–this was reflected at those meetings Saturday morning, where many countries refused to go along with this plan, saying that the UN Charter says there should be non-interference in the internal affairs of UN member countries, and that that should be respected. The United States says they don’t like the way the elections were held, and a bunch of countries have aligned themselves with the United States on this, on their position of recognizing Guaido and calling, essentially, what many people are calling a coup that Guaido should take power. And they are openly trying to foment support within the Venezuelan military, ‘they’ being the United States, to engineer such a coup.

At any rate, here’s a little sample of what took place at the UN on Saturday morning.

SPEAKER: Now we have a new leader, Juan Guaido, in Venezuela, who has promised to bring elections and constitutional order back to Venezuela, and security back to the region.

SPEAKER: This is not about foreign intervention in Venezuela. It is not an attempt to impose a result on the Venezuelan people. Democracy never needs to be imposed. It is tyranny that has to be imposed.

SPEAKER: But what about if we look at the international law, the Charter? Where is this based on? Are we simply setting aside international relations based on international law, and replacing the with international relations based on force?

AMBASSADOR FROM CHINA: China supports the efforts made by the Venezuelan government to uphold national sovereignty, independence, and stability.

SPEAKER: The meeting which we are being forced to be present is another element of the strategy of the United States to effect regime change in Venezuela. We regret that in this unethical ploy, in its unethical ploys, the United States is involving the Security Council.

AMBASSADOR FROM COLOMBIA: Colombia has come here to the Security Council to ask the international community to demand that the life and well being of Juan Guaido is upheld, and not just that he is protected but also the members of the National Assembly and all those who fight for democracy. And indeed, we have come to call for the international community’s support for all those Venezuelans who are sparing no effort to build a better future.

AMBASSADOR FROM BELGIUM: Belgium calls for the restoration of constitutional order in Venezuela. The presidential elections, which took place in May of last year, were in no way free, fair, or credible, thus stripping the government of Nicolas Maduro of any democratic legitimacy. The main threat to peace and security in Latin America and the Caribbean is, in fact, the bullying by the United States and its allies of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, which is a flagrant affront to the popular will of the people of Venezuela, and to the institutional framework of this country.

SPEAKER: I ask the question honestly: If we look back through history, which country has been better after an intervention by the United States of America? Have we not discussed in this very Security Council the serious adverse impact and consequences of situations such as the current situation in Iraq, or Syria, or in Libya?

PAUL JAY: So that was a sampling of what took place Saturday morning at the United Nations. Now joining us to discuss this somewhat realignment of forces in the world, I think, as well as what’s really at stake at this issue with Venezuela, is Larry Wilkerson. Larry is the former chief of staff to Secretary of State, former Secretary of State, Colin Powell. Thanks for joining us, Larry.

LARRY WILKERSON: Thanks for having me, Paul.

PAUL JAY: So it seems you can–the fundamental issue that was seemed to be raised by many countries at the UN was that this is an issue of non-interference, not an issue of how you assess the Venezuelan elections, although some countries went even further and said one should respect the outcome of those elections. But other countries, it seems to me, were saying it’s not up to countries outside Venezuela to decide on the domestic affairs of Venezuela, and that that principle trumps everything else. What do you–what’s your view of this?

LARRY WILKERSON: It’s all a discussion about how power should be managed and arranged in the world. And despite what anyone says, Xi Jinping, Vladimir Putin, or Donald Trump, or Mike Pompeo, these kinds of things are all about the distribution of power in the world and who’s going to have influence over who.

And so when you look at Venezuela, on the rim of the Gulf of Mexico and subject to the Monroe doctrine, and its oil, some say–many with reason–and experts say that Venezuela has the largest oil reserves in the world. Very difficult to get to, very difficult to get out of the ground, high economic costs for doing so, but nonetheless a lot of oil. And the United States has a long relationship with Caracas. And so you can understand this happening.

At the same time, the principle of non-intervention is just that: non-intervention. And not for a moment do I think that the United States, particularly with this administration, will restrain itself from intervening significantly in Venezuela. After all, I was there in 2002 when we began this more or less slow fuse coup d’etat against Chavez. And of course, I’ve read all about Salvador Allende, and Mohammed Mossadegh, and Jacobo Arbenz; all the other people in the world who we have overthrown from time to time.

So this is no surprise to me. It is somewhat of a surprise that we have this division of view in the world. And the majority of the world, if you want to go by population, seems to be in favor of a more pure definition of non-intervention than the United States likes to entertain.

PAUL JAY: Yeah, I think it’s it’s interesting the way that most of the corporate media is reporting on this. It’s as if the majority of the world, governments of the world, are with the United States with Trump on recognizing. But in fact, the governments that represent the majority of the people of the world are certainly not with this plan. India has refused to recognize Guaido, and considers this a domestic concern of Venezuela. China, Russia. And also, I thought, maybe even most interesting of all of this, is that Saturday morning the CARICOM, countries the Caribbean countries, they refused to buckle under U.S. pressure. Trump has been making a lot of threats about countries that take our aid and want to be allied with us, and then they “don’t even vote for us at the UN.” Well, they stood up to Trump. There were several very small countries that made a point of coming to speak at that meeting. They could have just gone with the CARICOM statement, which wasn’t as strong as what Barbados said, and St. Thomas and the Grenadines said, and some others. They really took up this position for non-interference in domestic affairs.

And the fact that Canada, which, you know, Canada’s whole international identity is supposedly based on its support for the United Nations and the Charter of the United Nations–of course, there’s a lot of history of that not being true. But Canada tries to pretend it’s true. Canada is supporting this. Germany, Spain, and France are now calling for elections. I mean, who are they to call for elections in Venezuela? And the hypocrisy of all this. Like, if they–if they don’t like the elections that took place in China–I’m sorry, in Venezuela–and that’s a reason not to recognize the government, then why don’t they apply that to China and Saudi Arabia and any number of countries, including the United States? There’s a lot of people that could say the United States, the American elections, weren’t all that democratic.

LARRY WILKERSON: I think you have to consider the situation in Venezuela. Now, I remember very well the words of Richard Nixon to his then-CIA director Richard Helms: Made the Chilean economy scream. That’s exactly what the President said to his CIA director as they prepared to overthrow Salvador Allende in Chile. So I’m not discounting the fact that–what I’m going to say now–might have in part or in large part been caused by the United States making the Venezuelan economy scream. That’s certainly a possibility.

Nonetheless, it is screaming. The Venezuelan people are flocking into Colombia, the only South American country that will take them, by and large. And the only reason Colombia is taking them is because it’s returning the good offices of Venezuela when the FARC was giving Colombia so much trouble and Colombians were going into Venezuela. So it feels like it owes Venezuela a debt, and rightfully so. But there are some three to four million Venezuelans now who are in the diaspora, and left Venezuela because of the economic conditions.

So whoever is responsible–Chavez, Maduro, the National Assembly, the United States–whomever is responsible for this chaos in Venezuela, it is, nonetheless, chaos. And so something needs to be done. But, as these other countries have said, I believe it’s up to the Venezuelan people to do this, and not the United States, and not Canada, and not France, and not Germany. That’s what non-intervention is all about.

PAUL JAY: And there is a proposal on the table from Mexico and Uruguay to help negotiate this. And it seems to me that this is–it is such a fundamental principle of international law, and it goes to the very core of why there is a United Nations, that it’s really something that Canada and some of these European countries that try to pretend they are believers in international law are going along with this. I can kind of understand the right-wing governments of Latin America that are supporting this in Brazil and some of the other countries. Although what a joke that they consider the Brazilian elections legitimate. You have a parliamentary coup against the Brazilian president, and then you have an election where the main opponent to Bolsonaro is sitting in jail. Lula is sitting in jail. They won’t let him run. And those elections are considered OK by the Trump administration.

LARRY WILKERSON: Let’s go back and look at Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama on Honduras. In my estimation the Honduran–recent Honduran exchange of governments was unconstitutional, unethical, immoral, and illegal. And yet the United States jumped right on top of it to recognize the new, more conservative, Honduran president. And I’ve been in Honduras, I’ve been in Tegucigalpa, and I know the kind of person that we recognize.

So this is something we do. If it’s in our interest we do it; if it’s not in our interest we don’t do it. That’s the simple formula that we use. The difference with the Trump administration is you never know when that formula is going to be applied or how it’s going to be applied. And I would suspect that one of the reasons you got such instant agreement, if you will, from countries like France, like Germany, like Canada, is because Trump has frightened them. He’s frightened them with his approach to NATO, and he’s frightened them with his trade wars, and so forth. And so on this particular issue, where they really don’t have a dog in the fight, not up close and personal, anyway, they’re not going to turn against Trump.

PAUL JAY: Yeah, I think that’s a very important point. I interviewed a Canadian general during the early stages of sending troops to Afghanistan. And I asked him, why did we send troops to Afghanistan? Lots of the opinion at the time after 9/11 was that this could have been more of a police-style operation in Afghanistan, going after al Qaeda, the Taliban. It didn’t need to be a full-scale military invasion with so many countries involved. It wasn’t a proportional or even, to large extent, legal response. And he told me it’s very simple why Canada sent troops to Afghanistan. He says we sent troops to Afghanistan because we need to pay in blood to send our goods across the border into the United States. That if we want the same kind of this easy trade relationship with the U.S., we have to take up some of the burden of military operations. And he didn’t use the word empire, but that’s what it came down to. We have to play our role in the world.

And Venezuela, I think, is a very good example of this. And it wasn’t just now that Canada has played this role. Canada has been playing this role in Venezuela from around the time of the coup in 2002.

LARRY WILKERSON: That’s the empire. That’s the lessons of empire throughout history, whether it’s Athens dealing with Corinth and Milos and others in her empire, or whether it’s Britain dealing with the subcontinent in her empire. You demand obeisance, and obeisance is given so that your people can have some sort of stability and prosperity, until you get rid of the empire.

PAUL JAY: And I think it’s important, just to add to your point about Honduras and Obama and Clinton, that some of the–several of the leaders of the Democratic Party, including Nancy Pelosi, have actually endorsed Trump’s strategy in Venezuela.

LARRY WILKERSON: This is a bipartisan issue. I think I told you, the other day I came out of a room that had a bipartisan national security elite group debating things. And one of the things–debating the future and all manner of issues, everything from whether or not we should plus up State’s 150 account, the international relations account, how we should go after the defense budget, and so forth. And so I came out of that with the distinct impression that everyone there, Democrat and Republican, had decided that perpetual war is the concomitant of empire. Put in plain English: War, interminable war, is this Empire’s debt to the future.

PAUL JAY: All right. Thanks for joining us, Larry.

LARRY WILKERSON: Thank you for having me.

PAUL JAY: Thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.

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Distinguished Adjunct Professor of Government and Public Policy

Lawrence Wilkerson's last positions in government were as Secretary of State Colin Powell's Chief of Staff (2002-05), Associate Director of the State Department's Policy Planning staff under the directorship of Ambassador Richard N. Haass, and member of that staff responsible for East Asia and the Pacific, political-military and legislative affairs (2001-02). Before serving at the State Department, Wilkerson served 31 years in the U.S. Army. During that time, he was a member of the faculty of the U.S. Naval War College (1987 to 1989), Special Assistant to General Powell when he was Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (1989-93), and Director and Deputy Director of the U.S. Marine Corps War College at Quantico, Virginia (1993-97). Wilkerson retired from active service in 1997 as a colonel, and began work as an advisor to General Powell. He has also taught national security affairs in the Honors Program at the George Washington University. He is currently working on a book about the first George W. Bush administration.