The following open letter, signed by 124 academics from around the globe, is addressed to the Washington Office on Latin America and voices serious concerns over WOLA's support for various components of the Trump administration's policy towards Venezuela.
We write out of concern for the direction that WOLA has taken with regard to a matter of life and death, and possibly war and peace, in Latin America. This letter is an attempt to engage with WOLA about your support for various components of the Trump administration’s efforts to topple the government of Venezuela.
We believe that the Trump administration’s regime change effort in Venezuela is wrong in every way: morally, legally, and politically. Since war has been openly threatened repeatedly by Trump himself and his top officials, this effort also runs a high risk in terms of the loss of human life and limb, and other unforeseen consequences of war and political violence.
For these reasons and more, WOLA should oppose this regime change effort unequivocally, just as progressives throughout the world opposed the Iraq War of 2003. But it has not done so. Rather, it has endorsed much of it. People may have differing personal opinions regarding the internal politics of Venezuela or how Venezuelans might best resolve their differences. But there is no doubt that the Trump administration’s illegal regime change operation is greatly worsening the situation and should be opposed by all who care about human life and international law.
"WOLA should oppose this regime change effort unequivocally, just as progressives throughout the world opposed the Iraq War of 2003."
Most dangerous is WOLA’s opposition to the offers of mediation by Pope Francis as well as the neutral governments of Mexico and Uruguay. WOLA has referred to these offers ― which have been called the Montevideo mechanism ― as a “non-starter.” Instead, WOLA has chosen the European Contact Group, which is dominated by Washington and governments allied with its illegal sanctions and regime change effort, as the only legitimate place for negotiations to take place.
Since the Trump administration clearly has no desire to negotiate, and has openly stated this, WOLA’s choice implies that there will be no real negotiations until the other (European and Latin American) governments in the group are willing to make a clean break with Washington. This is not impossible, but it is unlikely in the foreseeable future. WOLA’s choice of a Trump-dominated negotiating group therefore aids Trump and his team of extremists (John Bolton, Marco Rubio, and Elliott Abrams), in their rejection of dialogue or negotiation.
WOLA even rejects the involvement of the UN in negotiations, which the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has proposed, claiming that their role should be limited to overseeing a transition. The UN is the international body that has accumulated the most experience and knowledge in mediating inter- and intra-national crises. This includes successfully mediating the end to even seemingly intractable civil wars, such as in El Salvador in the 1990s. This expertise, alongside the moral authority the UN has as the most representative international body, means that a mediation process overseen by them would carry much more legitimacy than one led by the Trump administration and its political allies.
WOLA has been ambiguous about whether it supports the recognition of Juan Guaidó as “interim president,” a move that automatically creates a trade embargo on top of the current financial embargo. This is because the source of almost all of the country’s foreign exchange is from oil exports, about three-quarters of which goes to countries that have joined the Trump recognition of a parallel government, and therefore will not be expected to pay the current government of Venezuela for its oil.
This will deprive the economy of billions of dollars of foreign exchange, thus accelerating the increase in mortality (including infant and child mortality) from lack of medicines and health care, as well as worsening shortages of food ― an impact that is widely acknowledged. This is profoundly immoral. It also breaches international law, including Article 19 of the OAS Charter, the UN charter, and many other international treaties that the US has signed.
WOLA has also taken an ambivalent position on the August 2017 Trump sanctions, offering some criticisms but also offering suggestions for improvement. These sanctions imposed an illegal (for the same reasons as above) financial embargo that has been devastating, crippling oil production and thereby depriving the economy of billions of dollars for foreign exchange needed for vital imports. It also prevented any debt restructuring, as well as most other measures that would be necessary to exit from the country’s depression and hyperinflation.
WOLA defended these sanctions by arguing that “they complicate the Maduro government’s finances in such a way that they will not have an immediate impact on the population (although in the longer term, they likely would).” This is false, as anyone familiar with the sanctions and the Venezuelan economy knows. The Venezuelan economy ― not just the government ― depends on oil exports for almost the entirety of its foreign exchange. That is what pays for imports of medicine, food, and other vital necessities ― whether from government or the private sector.
"It is good that WOLA has distinguished itself from these people by opposing US military intervention and the manipulation of humanitarian aid for political purposes. But that is not enough."
These positions are not defensible from a human point of view, and neither is the Trump administration’s apparent goal of extra-legal regime change. Why does the Trump team reject negotiation? Because they do not want a compromise solution which is necessary for the opposing political forces in a polarized country to co-exist. They are not concerned with the human costs of a winner-take-all solution; indeed it is possible that for people like Elliott Abrams and John Bolton, violence may be seen as an integral part of their strategy for vanquishing Chavismo and its followers, or gaining the control that both Trump and Bolton have stated that they want to have over the world’s largest oil reserves.
It is good that WOLA has distinguished itself from these people by opposing US military intervention and the manipulation of humanitarian aid for political purposes. But that is not enough. It should unequivocally oppose the whole sordid regime change operation, the violations of international law, and the illegal sanctions that are causing so much suffering.
WOLA should not pretend that this external regime change operation led by violence-prone extremists is actually a legitimate effort by the “international community” to help resolve Venezuela’s political and economic crisis. And most importantly, WOLA should abandon the implausible assertion that the only viable negotiation process is one that is controlled by the Trump administration and its allies, i.e., the European Contact Group.
 The Trump administration subsequently carved out some temporary exceptions for some oil companies.
Signed (affiliations used for identification purposes only):
Greg Grandin, Professor of History, New York University
Noam Chomsky, Emeritus Professor, MIT
Sujatha Fernandes, Professor of Political Economy and Sociology, University of Sydney
Daniel Hellinger, Professor Emeritus of International Relations, Webster University
John Womack Jr., Robert Woods Bliss Professor of Latin American History and Economics, emeritus, Harvard University
Steve Ellner, Associate Managing Editor of Latin American Perspectives
Richard Falk, Professor of International Law Emeritus, Princeton University
Marisol de la Cadena, Professor of Anthropology, University of California-Davis
Julio Yao, Professor of Public International Law, Agent of Panama to the International Court of Justice and Foreign Policy Advisor of General Omar Torrijos during Canal Negotiations
Emir Simão Sader, Professor of Sociology, University of the State of Rio de Janeiro
Gerardo Renique, Associate Professor, Department of History, City College of the City University of New York
Mark Weisbrot, Co-Director, Center for Economic and Policy Research
Sinclair S. Thomson, Associate Professor of History, New York University
Brad Simpson, Associate Professor of History, University of Connecticut
Thomas C. Field Jr., Associate Professor, Embry-Riddle College of Security and Intelligence
Marc Becker, Professor of History, Truman State University
Fred Rosen, Retired editor and director, NACLA
Forrest Hylton, Associate Professor of History, Universidad Nacional de Colombia-Medellín
Rosaura Sanchez, Professor of Literature, UCSD
Suyapa Portillo, Associate Professor, Pitzer College
Jocelyn Olcott, Professor, History, International Comparative Studies, Gender, Sexuality & Feminist Studies, Duke University
John Mill Ackerman, Law Professor, National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM)
Paul Ortiz, Associate Professor of History, University of Florida
Bret Gustafson, Associate Professor of Anthropology, Washington University in St Louis
Alexander Aviña, PhD, Associate Professor of History, Arizona State University
Julie A. Charlip, Professor of History, Whitman College
Richard Stahler-Sholk, Professor of Political Science, Eastern Michigan University
Alex Dupuy, John E. Andrus Professor of Sociology Emeritus, Wesleyan University
José Antonio Lucero, Associate Professor of International Studies, University of Washington
Francine Masiello, Ancker Professor Emerita, UC Berkeley
Elizabeth Monasterios, Professor of Latin American Literatures and Andean Studies and Co-editor, Bolivian Studies Journal, Department of Hispanic Languages and Literatures, University of Pittsburgh
Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, Professor Emerita, California State University
Guadalupe Correa-Cabrera, Associate Professor, George Mason University
Christian Parenti, Associate Professor, Economics, John Jay College CUNY
James Krippner, Professor of Latin American History at Haverford College
William I. Robinson, Professor of Sociology and Global and International Studies, University of California-Santa Barbara
James Cohen, University of Paris 3 Sorbonne Nouvelle
Naomi Schiller, Assistant Professor of Anthropology, Brooklyn College, CUNY
Jeb Sprague, University of Virginia
Victor Silverman, Professor, Department of History, Pomona College
Aviva Chomsky, Professor of History and Coordinator of Latin American Studies, Salem State University
Jorge Majfud, Associate Professor of Spanish, Latin American Literature & International Studies, Jacksonville University
Maryclen Stelling, Directora Ejecutiva del Centro de Estudios Latinoamericano, Celarg, Analista político y de Medios de Comunicación
Jeffrey L. Gould, Rudy Professor of History, Indiana University
Jules Boykoff, Professor of Political Science, Pacific University
Gavin Fridell, Canada Research Chair in International Development Studies, Saint Mary’s University
Margaret Power, Professor of History, Illinois Institute of Technology
Dr. Jerise Fogel, Classics & Humanities Dept, Montclair State University
Clara Irazábal, Professor, University of Missouri— Kansas City
Heather Williams, Associate Professor of Politics, Pomona College
Kevin A. Young, Assistant Professor of History, University of Massachusetts Amherst
Robert Austin, Honorary Associate, Department of History, School of Philosophical & Historical Inquiry , University of Sydney
Bill Bollinger, Latin American Studies, California State University, Los Angeles
Susan Spronk, Associate Professor, University of Ottawa
Gregory S Kealey, CM, FRSC, Professor Emeritus of History, University of New Brunswick
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Rosalind Bresnahan, California State University San Bernardino (retired)
Rich Potter, PhD, Assistant Professor, Chair, Department of Media Arts, The American Jewish University
Silvia M. Arrom, Jane’s Professor of Latin American Studies, Emerita, History Dept, Brandeis University
Christopher Helali, Graduate Student, Dartmouth College
Van Gosse, Professor of History, Franklin and Marshall College
Charles Bergquist, Professor Emeritus of History, University of Washington
Bob Buchanan Ph.D., Faculty, Goddard College
Francis Shor, Emeritus Professor, History, Wayne State University
Barbara Weinstein, New York University
Jessica K. Taft, Associate Professor, Latin American and Latino Studies, University of California at Santa Cruz
Renate Bridenthal, emerita Professor of History, Brooklyn College, CUNY
Hannah Gurman, Clinical Associate Professor, Gallatin School, New York University
Pamela S. Murray, Professor, History Department, The University of Alabama at Birmingham
Guillermo Calvo Mahe, Writer and political commentator; former Chair, Political Science, Government and International Relations at the Universidad Autónoma de Manizales
Raymond Craib, Professor of History, Cornell University
Shari Orisich, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Department of History, Coastal Carolina University
Fernando Leiva, Associate Professor, Department of Latin American and Latino Studies, University of California Santa Cruz
William Smaldone, Professor of History, Willamette University
Robert C. H. Sweeny, Honourary Research Professor, Department of History, Memorial University of Newfoundland
Joan Paluzzi, Ph.D. Medical Anthropologist
Robert Hannigan, Scholar in Residence, History, Suffolk University
Elizabeth Dore, Professor of Latin American Studies, University of Southampton, UK
Sanford Kelson, attorney-at-law and labor arbitrator, past president of Veterans For Peace
Marian Mollin, Ph.D., Associate Professor of History, Virginia Tech
Osamah Khalil, Assoc. Prof., History, Syracuse University, Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs
Bruce Levine, J.G. Randall Distinguished Professor, Emeritus of History, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Gabriela F. Arredondo, Associate Professor and Department Chair, Latin American & Latino Studies, University of California at Santa Cruz
Patricia de Santana Pinho, Associate Professor, Department of Latin American & Latino Studies, University of California, Santa Cruz
Lewis Siegelbaum, Jack and Margaret Sweet Professor Emeritus, Department of History, Michigan State University
Sylvanna Falcón, Associate Professor of Latin American & Latino Studies, University of California, Santa Cruz
John Marciano, Professor Emeritus, SUNY Cortland
Shanti Marie Singham, Professor of History and Africana Studies, Williams College
Ronald Grele, Columbia University
Sandi E. Cooper, Professor Emerita, History, City University of New York
Robert Samet, Assistant Professor, Department of Anthropology, Union College
Keith Brooks, UFT, NWU
Enrique Davalos, Chicana/o Studies Professor and Department Chair, San Diego City College
Naoko Shibusawa, Associate Professor of History and American Studies, Brown University
Celia E. Naylor, Associate Professor of Africana Studies and History, Barnard College, Columbia University
Arnold J. Oliver, Ph.D., Emeritus Professor of Political Science, Heidelberg University
Jeff Cooper, Professor of History, Santa Monica College (retired)
John Munro, Associate Professor, St. Mary's University
Tanalis Padilla, Associate Professor of History, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Karen Breda, Professor, University of Hartford
Pat Lauderdale, Professor and Honors Faculty, Faculty of Justice and Social Inquiry, SST, Arizona State University
Pennee Bender, Acting Director, American Social History Project/Center for Media and Learning, City University of New York—The Graduate Center
Dale L. Johnson, Professor Emeritus, Sociology, Rutgers University
John Beverley, Emeritus Distinguished Professor of Hispanic Languages and Literatures at the University of Pittsburgh, and a founding member of Democratic Socialists of America
Rachel Elfenbein, Ph.D., author, Engendering Revolution: Women, Unpaid Labor, and Maternalism in Bolivarian Venezuela
Judy Ancel, President, The Cross Border Network
Guy Aronoff, Lecturer at Humboldt State University
Jeffrey Erbig, Assistant Professor of Latin American and Latino Studies, University of California, Santa Cruz
Paul Alexander, English Professor, San Diego City College
Liisa L. North, Professor Emeritus, York University, Toronto
Daniel Kovalik, Adjunct Professor of Law, University of Pittsburgh
Frederick B. Mills, Professor of Philosophy, Bowie State University
Brooke Larson, Professor, Department of History, Affiliated Faculty, Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies and Associated Faculty, Department of Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, Stony Brook University
Howard Brick, Louis Evans Professor of History, University of Michigan
Viviana Ramírez, BA (Hons), Dip. Ed., Senior Teacher of Spanish (retired) Queensland Dept. of Education (1994-2016), Australia
Amy Chazkel, Columbia University
Teishan Latner, Assistant Professor Thomas Jefferson University
Richard Grossman, Instructor, Department of History, Northeastern Illinois University
Chris Carlsson, author, co-director, Shaping San Francisco
Tina Braxton, PhD Candidate in History, Georgetown University
Emilie Vardaman, ESL Instructor, Retired
Rupa Shah MD, FACC
Jodie Evans, CODEPINK
Roger Leisner, Radio Free Maine
Frank Brodhead, Peace activist
Miguel Ramirez, Professor of Economics, Trinity College