With Venezuela in political turmoil, the Trump administration has made it clear that it is firmly on the side of a regime change that would install Juan Guaidó, the right-wing-leaning leader of the National Assembly, to replace Nicolás Maduro, the current president and heir to the socialist legacy of his predecessor, the late Hugo Chávez.
America’s interest in Venezuelan politics comes not just as a remnant of Monroe Doctrine policies, but also because the country has the largest proven reserves of oil in the world and an oil industry that U.S. oil companies were largely shut out from profiting from after Chávez nationalized the oil business to ensure that revenues from the nation’s natural resources were shared equitably with all of the country’s citizens.
When oil prices were high, Venezuelans benefited from that nationalization through the social programs that oil revenue helped to finance. However, with a glut of petroleum in the world market and a global push to reduce reliance on fossil fuels, prices have fallen and created economic chaos in Venezuela.
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While the Trump administration and many wealthy Venezuelans attribute the economic decline and the widespread shortages of basic goods in the country to corruption and mismanagement in the Maduro regime, the Venezuelan president blames an economic boycott by the United States as well as other potentially hidden conspiracies by the Trump administration for its current hyperinflation and dire humanitarian crisis.
Yesterday, Congresswoman Ilhan Omar (D-MN) posted a tweet criticizing the Trump administration’s hostile, warlike posture towards the Maduro government, calling for a diplomatic rather than a military solution to the current crisis in Venezuela.
Just as in interventions past, those who oppose war are labeled supporters of dictators and haters of “freedom.”
We saw this playbook in Iraq.
The situation in Venezuela is dire and the Trump Admin is making it worse. We must support diplomacy, not war.
— Ilhan Omar (@IlhanMN) May 2, 2019
With the Minnesota progressive Muslim Representative being such a favorite target of the right-wing media in the U.S., it was unsurprising to hear Vice President Mike Pence attack her when asked about her comments in a Fox News interview, saying that “the congresswoman doesn’t know what she’s talking about.”
“Nicolás Maduro is a socialist dictator who has taken what was once one of the most prosperous nations in this hemisphere and brought it literally to a level of deprivation and oppression and poverty that we have never seen,” Pence told Fox News. “That’s not a result of U.S. policies.”
Pence later amplified his attack on Congresswoman Omar in a tweet.
As Venezuelans take to the streets to stand for their freedom against an oppressive dictator, Democrat Congresswoman @IlhanMN chooses socialism over freedom. The Trump Administration stands with the freedom-loving people of Venezuela. https://t.co/UYiPLPvKl5
— Vice President Mike Pence (@VP) May 2, 2019
Now, the unflappable Representative Omar has responded to Pence’s verbal assault with a perceptive counter-attack that exposes the sexism and racism in Pence’s comments while explaining why nothing the Trump administration says is worthy of being believed.
Women of color have heard this before. Instead of "we disagree," it's "she doesn't know what she's talking about." They have to make us feel small.
This from an Administration that thinks climate change is a Chinese hoax. https://t.co/8ZaHfY4hfH
— Ilhan Omar (@IlhanMN) May 3, 2019
Pence’s dismissive attitude towards the congresswoman got the perfect clap-back from Representative Omar who has likely seen enough of this type of demeaning behavior to last a lifetime.
Of course, for Republicans — particularly in the Trump era— diplomacy has a major failing when compared to a military response to Venezuela’s humanitarian crisis: no American companies can make massive profits from diplomacy like they can with supplying the tools of war to an invading army.
Hopefully, Trump won’t try to circumvent the constitution once again by engaging in an undeclared and congressionally un-approved military action against the Maduro regime.
It’s good to know at least that if he does try, we can count on at least one loud voice in Congress to rise up in opposition.
Follow Vinnie Longobardo on Twitter.
Original reporting by John Bowden at The Hill.