Venezuela and American Manifest Destiny – Gerald Horne
A core concept of “Americanism” is the belief that the United States has a God given right to control all of the Americas in the name of democracy and freedom–but in reality, for plunder and commercial interest – historian Gerald Horne joins Paul Jay
PAUL JAY: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay.
The supposedly right of the United States to interfere in the affairs of Venezuela has deep roots in American economic history and culture. This painting, American Progress from 1872 by John Gast, is a representation of the modernization of the new west. Columbia, the woman in the white robes, is a personification of the United States and is shown leading civilization westward with the American settlers. She’s shown bringing light from the east into the west, stringing telegraph wire, holding a school textbook that will instill knowledge, and highlights different stages of economic activity and evolving forms of transportation. As she moves westward, Indigenous people and a herd of buffalo are seen fleeing her and the settlers.
With the ushering in of these developments, the Indigenous people living in the west and their way of life is cast out. The Monroe Doctrine of the 1820s, which was originally meant to keep European colonizers and competitors out of South America, later became a rationale for asserted U.S. power and interest throughout the Americas. This deep-seated belief, the right of the United States to bring democracy and freedom, just as Colombia did in the west, without regard for international law, and in real terms, assert American commercial interest in South America without regard for international law, is a core concept of American exceptionalism. And just before I introduce the guest, let me give some credit to Wikipedia for this, and I think I donate to Wikipedia because it’s often very useful.
Now joining us to discuss the historical context of the Venezuela U.S. attempted coup is Gerald Horne. Gerald holds the John J. and Rebecca Moores Chair of History and African American Studies at the University of Houston. His many books include Storming the Heavens and The Apocalypse of Settler Colonialism. Thanks for joining us, Gerald.
GERALD HORNE: Thank you for inviting me.
PAUL JAY: So put the Venezuela attempted coup, intervention, into a historical context. I mean, whole sections of the corporate media, certainly the corporate leadership of the Democratic Party, the foreign policy establishment, it just goes without saying somehow the United States has a right to do what it’s doing. They can dress it up in the fight for democracy, but with the exception of a small number of progressive congresspeople who have put a resolution, H.R. 1004, calling for non-intervention in Venezuela, the whole foreign policy establishment just seems to accept that the Americans have a right to do this. So give us some of the history of this.
GERALD HORNE: Well, first of all, the United States prides itself on its alleged anti-colonial origins, born in an uprising against the British Empire in 1776. But if you look a bit more closely, the conclusion you will arrive at is that the newly formed United States of America in the late 18th century began the overthrow itself of Native American polities stretching from the Atlantic to the Pacific. The Monroe Doctrine that you just referenced also should be viewed in that context. That is to say that keeping European nations out of the Americas was seen to be in the naked self-interest of the United States of America. For example, when England and the United States came to blows, came to war, during the War of 1812, London basically helped to sponsor Native American uprisings and uprising amongst enslaved Africans. And that helps to give rise to this impulse to keep London out of the Western Hemisphere.
Likewise, when the United States says that it does not want European nations in this hemisphere, it was also responding to the fact that at the time of the Monroe Doctrine circa 1823, you also saw an effort by Russia creeping down what is now the West Coast of the United States of America and Canada. Recall that one of the major arteries in Northern California as we speak is called the Russian River. It was seen as important to keep Russia out of the Western Hemisphere as well. And likewise, note that patriots like Jose Marti of Cuba oftentimes called for a united Latin America. It was felt on the part of the United States of America that Latin America should be balkanized, that it should not be part of any empire, not necessarily because this was an anti-colonial impulse, but because a balkanized Latin America would make the individual nations much more susceptible to U.S. encroachment, which is precisely what happened to Mexico when a good deal of its territory was snatched by the United States during the war of 1846 to 1848, including the now most populous U.S. state that is California.
So I think that this conflict with Venezuela needs to be seen in this wider context of the United States seeking domination and hegemony in this hemisphere. It has been seen as crucial to the growth of the United States for the last two hundred years. And in some ways, it reflects the United States’ present approach to the European Union. Recalled that Mr. Trump has oftentimes expressed disdain for the E.U. He would like to deal with European nations one on one, and sees the fact that Europe is united as an impediment to United States’ manipulation of individual European states. A similar impulse helps to govern U.S. relationships with Latin America, leading to this attempt to overthrow the duly constituted government in Caracas, Venezuela.
PAUL JAY: One of the things that seems to be at the core of this idea of American exceptionalism and the American’s right to violate what would be norms of international law in South America because it’s “our backyard,” if you look at that painting again, while she’s not carrying a Christian cross, part of this idea was that this manifest destiny was a God-given right to the United States, to colonize the West, to cast out, as I said, the Native peoples who were not Christian. This kind of overt use of what was clearly a colonizer’s slogan everywhere, where the Europeans colonized to bring Christianity to the Pagan unbelievers, whether it’s Africa or Latin America or Asia, it seems that that idea, number one, still has some currency about the God-given right, especially given how much of Trump’s support is within evangelical and Christian sections of the population.
And number two, the code word now, or similar use of words, instead of God and Christianity, it’s now democracy and freedom to essentially justify the same kind of grabbing of land and resources and such.
GERALD HORNE: Well, I would make a friendly amendment. I would say that more than Christianity, we’re talking about the Protestant sect within Christianity. That is to say, if you look historically at the antipathy that has been expressed by Washington towards other nations in the hemisphere, you cannot separate that from the religious wars between London and Madrid that left London as the victor. And with the United States of America as a successor state to that Protestant impulse, and given the fact that much of South America is dominated by Catholicism, and given the fact that anti-Catholicism has been a core component of U.S. history going back to the 1820s at the time of the Monroe Doctrine, when convents were being burned to the ground and when Catholics were being persecuted.
Once again, this was not only an expression of religious bigotry, it was also an attempt to loot predominantly Catholic countries the way that Mexico was looted during the War of 1846 to 1848 and the way that Washington intends to loot, plunder, and pillage Venezuela, as national security adviser John Bolton made clear during a now infamous interview with Fox Business just a few weeks ago, when he suggested that the interests of the United States in Venezuela is taking its oil. That is to say that we have to take with more than a grain of salt, perhaps a shaker of salt, the evangelical Christianity that is said to undergird U.S. foreign Policy, which in many ways is just a cover and a veneer for a naked lust for profit.
PAUL JAY: There also is a lot of growth in Latin America of the evangelical church and variants of, to a large extent financed by the United States. In fact, I think evangelicalism is the fastest growing religion now in Latin America.
GERALD HORNE: Well, that is true. I mean, keep in mind that with the rise of liberation theology in Latin America a few decades ago and the option for the poor that at one time the present Pope was sent to represent, you have had a contrasting tendency within Christianity of so-called evangelical Christians, so-called Protestant sects who have sought to combat liberation theology on behalf of Washington, on behalf of Wall Street, on behalf of U.S. imperialism. And you see that same impulse at play, not least with the arrival in Bogota, Colombia of late, of Vice President Michael Pence, who is the political representative of that evangelical Christian tendency, a heartbeat away from the presidency.
PAUL JAY: The use of this religious imagery and grammar, and as I say, the use of the words democracy and freedom are akin to it for I guess a more secular audience, it’s part of the strategy of this modern version of the Monroe Doctrine. But I think it’s about the plunder of the resources and the reestablishment of the oligarchs in power, especially in the countries that were part of that pink tide, Brazil and Venezuela and they’re hoping for Bolivia and Nicaragua. But there’s another element to it which I think is important. When Tillerson was Secretary of State, and he was one of the more recent invokers of the Monroe Doctrine, what he was very concerned about, and I think U.S. policy is very concerned about, was the extent of which, because of these pink tide governments, China had become a major power in Latin America, I think Brazil’s number one trading partner, maybe the number one trading partner of Argentina.
And the geo strategy of trying to push back Chinese power and influence, this Venezuelan attempted coup needs to be looked at in that regard too, because both Russia, and particularly China, had loaned lots of money and were making real inroads into the Venezuelan oil sector. Let me add one other little piece to this. I mentioned this in another interview, but the largest source of heavy crude in the world, the reserves, is Venezuela, and one of the biggest refineries of heavy crude is owned by the Koch brothers in Texas. And Mike Pompeo, Secretary of State, is a Koch brothers creation. His businesses were financed by the Koch brothers, his political candidacy in Congress as a Tea Party candidate, number one donor the Koch brothers, and now the Koch brothers have him as Secretary of State. So both oil objective, but geo strategic objective of pushing China out of its very strong position in South America and Latin America.
GERALD HORNE: Well, I think you’ve hit the nail on the head. First of all, as is well known, Michael Pompeo hails from the prairie region of Kansas, is exactly what you said, a creation of the Koch brothers. In fact, there’s been some talk about him running for the U.S. Senate for an open Senate seat from the state of Kansas. Second of all, with regard to China, you not only find heavy Chinese influence in Venezuela in terms of oil, but also, as you noted correctly, with regard to Brazil and Argentina. In fact, during the G20 summit that took place a few months ago in Argentina, you had the conservative president of Argentina reprimand a U.S. spokesperson who made a critique of the Chinese role in Latin America precisely because the Argentine government is very close financially to the Chinese government.
But it’s not only in South America. If you look right off the shores of southern Florida, with regard to the Bahamas, you’ll find that China has become a major and important investor. Cuba, as is well known, has very close ties, not only to China but also to Russia. And indeed, it’s no accident that in demonizing Maduro and the Caracas-based regime, there has been a related demonizing of Cuba as a major supporter, particularly in the way that it helps to influence the Venezuelan military. And even in the Caribbean, Jamaica, for example, you see that the Chinese have been very active, building a road from north to south, which has been a long term wish of the Jamaican government going back to independence in 1962. So certainly, with regard to pushing out Venezuela, or that is to say the regime in Venezuela, this has everything to do not only with Chinese and Russian influence, but also the fact that in the waters off Venezuela, Exxon Mobil has just “discovered” five billion barrels of oil to recover. There is a territorial dispute between Guyana and neighboring Venezuela.
The Guiado cabal, which is seeking to come to power in Caracas has made clear–
PAUL JAY: Just quickly let me insert, Guiado is the guy who is the President of the National Assembly who declared himself president, something that was planned months before with the Canadian-led Lima group and the U.S. CIA and State Department. So Guiado is a part of this American scheme.
GERALD HORNE: And he’s made clear that he’ll be more willing to play ball with regard to Exxon Mobil than the current patriotic regime of Maduro in Caracas. So this is the actual situation that I’m afraid to say that is not only being ignored by the corporate media, but as well, you have many Democratic Party chieftains who are somehow looking past this reality.
PAUL JAY: Talk a little bit more about corporate news coverage of the current crisis in Venezuela and the extent to which the sort of “corporate democrat liberal,” big quotations around the word liberal, foreign policy establishment seem to have no problem whatsoever syncing up being on board with people like Elliott Abrams, who was responsible for war crimes and coups and facilitating the invasion of Iraq, and on and on. Both corporate TV news and these corporate Dems aren’t saying a word about being in the same boat with Abrams and the neocons.
GERALD HORNE: It’s quite curious, is it not. I mean, here you have Democrats, who accuse the 45th president of being a fraud and a con-man, some Democrats say he’s actually a traitor and in the pay of a foreign power, but yet they’re willing to go over the cliff with him with regard to what’s happening in Venezuela. I think that you should draw a lesson with regard to the bipartisan nature of the backing and support of U.S. imperialism. And quite frankly, it’s rather disappointing that you have people like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, who take progressive domestic positions, referring to Mr. Maduro as a quote “dictator,” giving aid and comfort to the coup mongers in Washington. And in fact, one of the few Democrats who’s spoken out vigorously against this impending coup attempt, or attempted coup in Caracas, is Congresswoman Omar of Minnesota, who has been demonized herself because of what she has raised with regard to the Israel lobby.
PAUL JAY: Just to mitigate a bit the Sanders thing, although I agree with you, I think especially he came out today or yesterday where he made a comment about the Venezuelan government should let the foreign aid through, supposed aid. Even serious progressive Venezuelan critics of Maduro, people like Edgardo Lander who are very critical of the Maduro government and critical even of the 2018 elections and so on, have denounced this foreign aid as a scheme to promote U.S. intervention. Sanders came out and called for allowing this aid through, so either he’s very badly informed or he’s caving to some of the pressure on this Venezuela issue.
On the other hand, at least he has opposed the intervention, and this bill I mentioned, H.R. 1004, has 33 members of the Progressive Caucus have signed on, calling for no U.S. military intervention. We’ll see how far that bill gets. So there are a small section of these progressives who have come out straightforwardly against intervention, which is not unimportant, but certainly the majority of the Democratic Party and the leadership are totally on board with the neocon vision for Latin America.
GERALD HORNE: Well, I think that that’s understandable in light of the fact that even the New York Times has suggested that the so-called opposition lacks a plan B. That is to say, they expected the Maduro regime to collapse like a house of cards. That has not happened, and therefore they’re flailing and floundering, looking for a way to push the regime out of power. But I would like to warn Washington and would like to warn Mr. Trump himself, personally, that it would be a grave error, and indeed a catastrophe, to contemplate a military intervention, not only because the Venezuelan military thus far is holding firm, but also recall that there are Colombian militants inside Venezuela who would like nothing more than to give Uncle Sam a bloody nose if Washington is so bold and outrageous as to contemplate a military intervention. Not to mention the fact that the most battle-hardened troops in the hemisphere, those are precisely Cuban troops and Cuban military advisors who work hand in glove with the Caracas-based regime. And so, I think that to a degree, this Democratic Party dovishness with regard to military intervention is understandable and certainly supportable.
PAUL JAY: Let me just add one thing. I’m going to show you some pictures here. This massive rally, demonstration, which is far as the eye can see, took place just a couple of days ago on Saturday. This is a pro-Chavista demo, protest, opposing any U.S. intervention, opposing Guiado. Our colleague that’s down there, Sharmini Peries is down there, and she says it’s as big as she’s ever seen. She was guessing at perhaps a million and a half people because it looked like as big as at the height of the Chavez years. There was also a large anti-government protest. I don’t know the numbers. It may even have been as big, but corporate media completely ignored the million and a half people or so that came out to oppose American intervention.
And you know, there’s a lot of people in that protest that I would guess have a lot of critique of the Maduro government, but their demand is that this is up to the Venezuelan people to sort this out, and the Americans should have nothing to do with it. And of course, they’re completely behind Guiado and were completely behind the coup in 2002. And it was people like this million and a half people that came out and defended Chavez in 2002 and prevented the coup from succeeding and brought Chavez back, literally, from a firing squad. And if the Americans ever try to use military intervention in Venezuela, they’re not just going to be facing the Venezuelan army, this million and a half people that are in the streets are likely going to be fighting them as well.
GERALD HORNE: Well, as is well known in Venezuela, there are militias that are comprised of many neighborhood groups that I think would be more than willing to go toe to toe with U.S. invaders. And likewise, I think the U.S. military invasion would split the opposition. It would split the Lima group as well. I think it would also help to split the European Union, which has thus far, generally speaking, been rather supportive, surprisingly enough, of the Trump team and their coup-mongering in Caracas, despite the fact that it’s well known that Mr. Trump has a bone to pick with the European Union as well.
PAUL JAY: All right. Thanks for joining us, Gerald.
GERALD HORNE: Thank you.
PAUL JAY: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.