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A Call to Halt an Illegal Invasion of Venezuela

Not only is regime change illegal and morally wrong, it has proved to be disastrous.

"It is evident that our representative leaders don’t care about the health and welfare of the Venezuelan people any more than they cared about the Iraqi people," the author writes. (Photo: Carolyn Kaster/AP)

It seems like every time I pick up a newspaper or go online, our country is starting another war. As a veteran of both the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, I am consumed by the situation in Venezuela, which is becoming more and more concerning.

I’m not a war correspondent, and I don’t have a Ph.D. in political science. But I have seen these conflicts firsthand, and I have felt the effects. Like many in this country, I have lost family members and friends in both Iraq and Afghanistan. I don’t want anyone else to have to experience that. Unfortunately, the inertia over regime change in Venezuela bears a striking resemblance to what happened in the lead-up to the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003.

As one of the soldiers who illegally invaded Iraq, this scares me. I know an illegal coup/invasion when I see one. I knew it before being deployed to Iraq, but it became even more clear as we wandered around Baghdad looking for weapons of mass destruction that did not exist.

As was the case in Iraq, there are no legal or moral grounds to intervene in the affairs of Venezuela and no international laws to support such an intervention. There is nothing in the Constitution that sanctions meddling in the elections of a foreign country, and nothing in the Venezuelan constitution that legitimizes self-appointed presidents. Venezuela is not a threat. Venezuela is not firing missiles at the United States, attacking our allies or invading the U.S. with troops.

 

Sadly, the propaganda spewing from the mouths of American politicians and pundits is as predictable as it is hollow: “Venezuela is socialist.” “Their economy is in shambles.” “Their government is corrupt.” “There is food instability.” “There is a humanitarian crisis.”

What’s missing in the attempt to justify the overthrow of President Nicolas Maduro is recognition of the fact that many nations around the world are, to some degree, socialist, have economic challenges and battle corruption. There are humanitarian crises all over the globe. Are all those governments somehow illegitimate and therefore candidates for a U.S.-orchestrated coup?

To be clear, this is not an endorsement of Maduro, any more than I endorsed former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein (nor am I comparing the two). This is about our leaders thinking they have the right to interfere in the affairs of any country they choose. Not only is regime change illegal and morally wrong, it has proved to be disastrous.

Yes, Venezuela has problems. Many appear to be self-induced; others are circumstantial, like the massive drop in oil prices, which, combined with harsh, U.S.-led economic sanctions, is particularly devastating, considering that more than 90 percent of Venezuela’s export earnings come from oil revenue. Venezuelans also are dealing with a politically divided country, a situation to which I believe everyone in the U.S. can relate. However, it’s the external problems that I find most concerning. It is pretty clear from where I sit that the U.S. is waging illegal economic warfare against the people of Venezuela. From the sanctions to the freezing of assets to the blocking of Venezuela from the international financial system, this is what appears to be driving that country over the edge. So as our leaders publicly lament this “humanitarian crisis,” behind the scenes, that is exactly what they want.

Why this coup is taking place is transparent. Some of our government officials are actually telling us. Our leaders, yet again, feel entitled to another country’s resources. As was the case in Iraq, Venezuela’s oil reserves are not controlled by U.S. corporations or a pliant government. They are owned by the people of Venezuela. It is theirs and nobody else’s. This means the oil cannot be looted by Western corporations or controlled for political purposes by outside forces.

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Unless, of course, a coup takes place and the oil is taken by force. That is what it appears our leaders are going to do. In all fairness to members of the Trump administration, this belligerence toward Venezuela did not start with them. It is merely an extension of previous administrations’ policies. If Venezuelans believe Maduro has mismanaged their nation’s most valuable asset, it is their right to seek change, but this is not a right enjoyed by Donald Trump, Nancy Pelosi or Elliott Abrams.

Like Iraq, our interference is not about liberating the Venezuelan people from some tyrannical regime. Nor is it about saving them from starvation. So please don’t allow our leaders to use the goodness inside of you as a weapon for your own manipulation. The goal is to pillage and plunder a vulnerable nation. It is evident that our representative leaders don’t care about the health and welfare of the Venezuelan people any more than they cared about the Iraqi people.

If they cared, they would consult with the Venezuelan government and ask how the U.S. might provide unconditional assistance. If they cared, they would let Venezuelans sort out their own problems democratically. If they cared about democracy, sovereignty, individual rights, human rights and the rule of law, then they would keep their hands off of Venezuela.

Tomorrow is a critical day for Venezuela. The U.S. and the coup leaders plan to illegally bring $30 million worth of “aid” into Venezuela, which has been explicitly rejected by the Venezuelan government. The aid is being refused because the Venezuelan government understands that its humanitarian crisis is in part being caused by the same nation offering aid in bad faith. What makes the offer a sick joke is that Venezuela is estimated to be losing $30 million a day in oil revenue. This fraudulent olive branch is so transparently a political weapon that even the Red Cross and the United Nations are crying foul.

No matter how ridiculous the coordinated event sounds, history has shown that these gambits for power can and do work. The Trump administration and Venezuelan coup leaders are hoping for a spark, a catalyst, a skirmish to justify a U.S. invasion—anything that will create just enough chaos to open up this window of opportunity. It is reminiscent of the U.S. propaganda surrounding Saddam and weapons inspectors. It is meant to be an inciting event.

The heartbreaking reality is that if this is successful, Venezuelans could be killed, wounded, psychologically damaged or displaced at a level commensurate to what happened to the Iraqis. The fabric of Venezuelan society could be destroyed for generations. And yet again, U.S. soldiers and Marines will be shipped out for an illegal war to kill or be killed, wound or be wounded, and suffer or cause all kinds of trauma—a war the Venezuelans and our men and women in uniform could be fighting for years. I don’t want this to happen.

No country should have to suffer this fate. No soldier should have to participate in such an operation. No nation should ever do such a thing. And no democracy should allow its leaders to commit such crimes in our name.

I beg our elected representatives and anyone with authority inside our government to halt this strategy of aggression and put an end to what threatens to become a new cycle of violence.

Kevin Tillman

Kevin Tillman joined the Army with his brother Pat in 2002, and they served together in Iraq and Afghanistan. Pat was killed in Afghanistan on April 22, 2004. Kevin Tillman isan anti- Iraq war activist and received the Arthur Ashe Courage Award in 2003.

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