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HomeBlogProgressives should have no qualms denouncing Trump’s aggression against Venezuela

Progressives should have no qualms denouncing Trump’s aggression against Venezuela

President Donald J. Trump delivers remarks to the Venezuelan American community at the Florida International University Ocean Bank Convocation Center Monday, Feb. 18, 2019, in Miami, Fla. (Official White House Photo by Andrea Hanks)

Donald Trump, who is looking for any re-election strategy to distract from the COVID-19 pandemic, sees this as a perfect time to strike against the last remnant of anti-Americanism to his south.

This article was originally published on Ricochet.

By Amadeus Narbutt

Accusations of narco-terrorism and military threats have now been piled on to a decades-long pressure campaign against Venezuela.

Since that country’s shift to the left in 1999, American foreign policy has sought to install a regime more friendly to U.S. business interests. Now with the COVID-19 pandemic and a recent collapse in oil prices (which are central to Venezuelan economic stability), the American tactic of sanctions and embargo against Venezuela cruelly continues and has been intensified by recent drastic U.S. actions. Caught in the thrall of great power politics and corrupt authoritarianism, it is Venezuelans who suffer from the poverty and isolation imposed by American power, yet there is little pushback against continued aggression.

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, Latin America experienced what has been dubbed as the “pink tide”: a wave of progressive and left-wing governments that gained power in nearly every country on the continent. Led by the election of Hugo Chávez in Venezuela, the pink tide led to an increase in anti-Americanism, regional cooperation, and anti-neoliberal reforms.

Over the past two decades, Western powers have slowly stamped out any threats to American rule over its southern continental neighbour through a myriad of soft and hard power mechanisms. These range from shady electoral interference through diplomatic pressure in Bolivia to outright coups in Honduras and Haiti, and even an attempt at one in Venezuela in 2002.

The pink tide has now all but subsided. With the exception of a recent populist Peronist resurgence in Argentina, Nicolas Maduro’s government in Venezuela remains the last frail vestige of the continent’s early 2000s leftist bloc. However, in recent years, Maduro’s governance has become increasingly authoritarian, leading to widespread human rights abuses. Consequently, progressive and left voices (with few exceptions) have had difficulty formulating a consistent argument against American intervention in Venezuela, allowing it to continue with little resistance from domestic pressure campaigns. Further, much of the Western world has acted in lockstep with the campaign of U.S. aggression.

Since 2017, sanctions have served as the primary tactic of American attempts to topple the Maduro government. Mark Weisbrot and Jeffrey Sachs of the Center for Economic Policy Research estimate that the sanctions contributed to an excess 40,000 deaths from 2017 to 2018 alone. The tactic of sanctions aims to weaken the economic stability of Venezuela even further, which could hypothetically loosen Maduro’s hold on power.

A year after sanctions began, Juan Guaidó declared himself president of Venezuela with Western diplomatic support, further attempting to destabilize the Maduro government. This development has allowed for seizure of Venezuelan assets abroad by Guaidó, who is considered by Western banks as the rightful head of the Venezuelan state. Recently, this led to US$342 million of seizures while Venezuela attempts to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Most alarming, however, is the recent appearance of a slight change in tactics by the U.S. state, or rather an addition of a new tactic on top of continuing sanctions. In late March, the U.S. Department of Justice indicted Maduro and several other Venezuelan officials on charges of narco-terrorism. Donald Trump, who is looking for any re-election strategy to distract from the COVID-19 pandemic, sees this as a perfect time to strike against the last remnant of anti-Americanism to his south.

While there is likely some cooperation between the Maduro government and Colombian rebel forces like the ELN and dissident FARC rebels, the evidence is far from clear-cut. In the past, the U.S. government has often simplistically labeled loose networks of traffickers as monolithic criminal syndicates in Colombia and Mexico. Further, the logic of these indictments is striking, since the U.S. Senate’s own intelligence briefings show that the vast majority of narcotics shipments out of South America depart from Western Colombia and Ecuador, not from Venezuelan ports.

The corresponding build-up of American naval power in the Caribbean is also startling. While U.S. Admiral Craig Faller has insisted that the threatening shift of forces towards Venezuela is not related to pressures against Maduro, U.S. intelligence shows that the Pacific is a far better target for counternarcotics operations at sea.

Instead, it seems that valid concerns of narco-trafficking emerging out of Latin America are being used as cover for an increase of pressure against Venezuela.

As it stands, a fragile economy with a growing humanitarian and migratory crisis is facing a collapse of its main export market, a looming healthcare crisis from COVID-19, and a blanket economic embargo by the United States. Donald Trump, who is looking for any re-election strategy to distract from the COVID-19 pandemic, sees this as a perfect time to strike against the last remnant of anti-Americanism to his south.

In fact, attempts at such a strike may have already occured (and failed) on May 3, 2020, when Venezuelan authorities detained 13 individuals who invaded the country with heavy arms, supposedly in hopes of launching terrorist attacks or a coup d’etat. It is yet unclear whether the attack was launched at the command of U.S. authorities; President Trump denies any involvement, but two of the individuals are former U.S. army members now working for American mercenary organization Silvercorp, which has been hired to provide security for Trump in the past.

Regardless of the exact nature of this latest attack, it certainly would have aided U.S. interests were it to have succeeded and bolstered their larger campaign of continued pressure. In light of this, progressives should have no qualms about denouncing a foreign policy establishment who beat the drums of war while the Venezuelan people’s suffering approaches new heights. If there is no coherent domestic opposition to Trump’s aggression, a situation that is already dire may turn into a catastrophe while nobody is looking.

Panel 4: Pathways to Manage Non-Proliferation in the Middle East (4:30 PM - 5:45 PM ET)

The Western powers have failed to effectively manage the increasing threat of proliferation in the Middle East. While the international community is concerned with Iran’s nuclear program, Saudi Arabia has moved forward with developing its own nuclear program, and independent studies show that Israel has longed possessed dozens of nuclear warheads. The former is a member of the treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), while the latter has refused to sign the international agreement. 

On Middle East policy, the Biden campaign had staunchly criticized the Trump administration’s unilateral withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), more commonly known as the Iran Nuclear Deal and it has begun re-engaging Iran on the nuclear dossier since assuming office in January 2021. However, serious obstacles remain for responsible actors in expanding non-proliferation efforts toward a nuclear-free zone in the Middle East. 

This panel will discuss how Western powers and multilateral institutions, such as the IAEA, can play a more effective role in managing non-proliferation efforts in the Middle East.  


Peggy Mason: Canada’s former Ambassador to the UN for Disarmament

Mark Fitzpatrick: Associate Fellow & Former Executive Director, International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS)

Ali Vaez: Iran Project Director, International Crisis Group

Negar Mortazavi: Journalist and Political Analyst, Host of Iran Podcast

David Albright: Founder and President of the Institute for Science and International Security


Closing (5:45 PM – 6:00 PM ET)

Panel 3: Trade and Business Diplomacy in the Middle East (3:00 PM - 4:15 PM ET)

What is the current economic landscape in the Middle East? While global foreign direct investment is expected to fall drastically in the post-COVID era, the World Bank reported a 5% contraction in the economic output of the Middle East and North African (MENA) countries in 2020 due to the pandemic. While oil prices are expected to rebound with normalization in demand, political instability, regional and geopolitical tensions, domestic corruption, and a volatile regulatory and legal environment all threaten economic recovery in the Middle East. What is the prospect for economic growth and development in the region post-pandemic, and how could MENA nations promote sustainable growth and regional trade moving forward?

At the same time, Middle Eastern diaspora communities have become financially successful and can help promote trade between North America and the region. In this respect, the diaspora can become vital intermediaries for advancing U.S. and Canada’s business interests abroad. Promoting business diplomacy can both benefit the MENA region and be an effective and positive way to advance engagement and achieve foreign policy goals of the North Atlantic.

This panel will investigate the trade and investment opportunities in the Middle East, discuss how facilitating economic engagement with the region can benefit Canadian and American national interests, and explore relevant policy prescriptions.


Hon. Sergio Marchi: Canada’s Former Minister of International Trade

Scott Jolliffe: Chairperson, Canada Arab Business Council

Esfandyar Batmanghelidj: Founder and Publisher of Bourse & Bazaar

Nizar Ghanem: Director of Research and Co-founder at Triangle

Nicki Siamaki: Researcher at Control Risks

Panel 2: Arms Race and Terrorism in the Middle East (12:00 PM - 1:15 PM ET)

The Middle East continues to grapple with violence and instability, particularly in Yemen, Syria and Iraq. Fueled by government incompetence and foreign interventions, terrorist insurgencies have imposed severe humanitarian and economic costs on the region. Meanwhile, regional actors have engaged in an unprecedented pursuit of arms accumulation. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have imported billions of both Western and Russian-made weapons and funded militant groups across the region, intending to contain their regional adversaries, particularly Iran. Tehran has also provided sophisticated weaponry to various militia groups across the region to strengthen its geopolitical position against Saudi Arabia, UAE, and Israel. 

On the other hand, with international terrorist networks and intense regional rivalry in the Middle East, it is impractical to discuss peace and security without addressing terrorism and the arms race in the region. This panel will primarily discuss the implications of the ongoing arms race in the region and the role of Western powers and multilateral organizations in facilitating trust-building security arrangements among regional stakeholders to limit the proliferation of arms across the Middle East.



Luciano Zaccara: Assistant Professor, Qatar University

Dania Thafer: Executive Director, Gulf International Forum

Kayhan Barzegar: Professor and Chair of the Department of Political Science and International Relations at the Science and Research Branch of Azad University

Barbara Slavin: Director of Iran Initiative, Atlantic Council

Sanam Shantyaei: Senior Journalist at France24 & host of Middle East Matters

Panel 1: Future of Diplomacy and Engagement in the Middle East (10:30 AM-11:45 AM ET)

The emerging regional order in West Asia will have wide-ranging implications for global security. The Biden administration has begun re-engaging Iran on the nuclear dossier, an initiative staunchly opposed by Israel, while also taking a harder line on Saudi Arabia’s intervention in Yemen. Meanwhile, key regional actors, including Qatar, Iraq, and Oman, have engaged in backchannel efforts to bring Iran and Saudi Arabia to the negotiating table. From a broader geopolitical perspective, with the need to secure its energy imports, China is also expected to increase its footprint in the region and influence the mentioned challenges. 

In this evolving landscape, Western powers will be compelled to redefine their strategic priorities and adjust their policies with the new realities in the region. In this panel, we will discuss how the West, including the United States and its allies, can utilize multilateral diplomacy with its adversaries to prevent military escalation in the region. Most importantly, the panel will discuss if a multilateral security dialogue in the Persian Gulf region, proposed by some regional actors, can help reduce tensions among regional foes and produce sustainable peace and development for the region. 


Abdullah Baabood: Academic Researcher and Former Director of the Centre for Gulf Studies, Qatar University

Trita Parsi: Executive Vice-President, Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft

Ebtesam Al-Ketbi: President, Emirates Policy Centre​

Jon Allen: Canada’s Former Ambassador to Israel

Elizabeth Hagedorn: Washington correspondent for Al-Monitor

Panel 4: Humanitarian Diplomacy: An Underused Foreign Policy Tool in the Middle East (4:30 PM - 5:30 PM ET)

Military interventions, political and economic instabilities, and civil unrest in the Middle East have led to a global refugee crisis with an increasing wave of refugees and asylum seekers to Europe and Canada. Moreover, the COVID-19 pandemic has, in myriad ways, exacerbated and contributed to the ongoing security threats and destabilization of the region.

While these challenges pose serious risks to Canadian security, Ottawa will also have the opportunity to limit such risks and prevent a spillover effect vis-à-vis effective humanitarian initiatives in the region. In this panel, we will primarily investigate Canada’s Middle East Strategy’s degree of success in providing humanitarian aid to the region. Secondly, the panel will discuss what programs and initiatives Canada can introduce to further build on the renewed strategy. and more specifically, how Canada can utilize its policy instruments to more effectively deal with the increasing influx of refugees from the Middle East. 



Erica Di Ruggiero: Director of Centre for Global Health, University of Toronto

Reyhana Patel: Head of Communications & Government Relations, Islamic Relief Canada

Amir Barmaki: Former Head of UN OCHA in Iran

Catherine Gribbin: Senior Legal Advisor for International and Humanitarian Law, Canadian Red Cross

Panel 3: A Review of Canada’s Middle East Engagement and Defense Strategy (3:00 PM - 4:15 PM ET)

In 2016, Canada launched an ambitious five-year “Middle East Engagement Strategy” (2016-2021), committing to investing CA$3.5 billion over five years to help establish the necessary conditions for security and stability, alleviate human suffering and enable stabilization programs in the region. In the latest development, during the meeting of the Global Coalition against ISIS, Minister of Foreign Affairs Marc Garneau announced more than $43.6 million in Peace and Stabilization Operations Program funding for 11 projects in Syria and Iraq.

With Canada’s Middle East Engagement Strategy expiring this year, it is time to examine and evaluate this massive investment in the Middle East region in the past five years. More importantly, the panel will discuss a principled and strategic roadmap for the future of Canada’s short-term and long-term engagement in the Middle East.


Ferry de Kerckhove: Canada’s Former Ambassador to Egypt

Dennis Horak: Canada’s Former Ambassador to Saudi Arabia

Chris Kilford: Former Canadian Defence Attaché in Turkey, member of the national board of the Canadian International Council (CIC)

David Dewitt: University Professor Emeritus, York University

Panel 2: The Great Power Competition in the Middle East (12:00 PM - 1:15 PM ET)

While the United States continues to pull back from certain regional conflicts, reflected by the Biden administration’s decision to halt American backing for Saudi Arabia’s intervention in Yemen and the expected withdrawal from Afghanistan, US troops continue to be stationed across the region. Meanwhile, Russia and China have significantly maintained and even expanded their regional activities. On one hand, the Kremlin has maintained its military presence in Syria, and on the other hand, China has signed an unprecedented 25-year strategic agreement with Iran.

As the global power structure continues to shift, it is essential to analyze the future of the US regional presence under the Biden administration, explore the emerging global rivalry with Russia and China, and at last, investigate the implications of such competition for peace and security in the Middle East.


Dmitri Trenin: Director of Carnegie Moscow Center

Joost R. Hiltermann: Director of MENA Programme, International Crisis Group

Roxane Farmanfarmaian: Affiliated Lecturer in International Relations of the Middle East and North Africa, University of Cambridge

Andrew A. Michta: Dean of the College of International and Security Studies at Marshall Center

Kelley Vlahos: Senior Advisor, Quincy Institute

Panel 1: A New Middle East Security Architecture in the Making (10:30 AM -11:45 AM ET)

The security architecture of the Middle East has undergone rapid transformations in an exceptionally short period. Notable developments include the United States gradual withdrawal from the region, rapprochement between Israel and some GCC states through the Abraham Accords and the rise of Chinese and Russian regional engagement.

With these new trends in the Middle East, it is timely to investigate the security implications of the Biden administration’s Middle East policy. In this respect, we will discuss the Biden team’s new approach vis-à-vis Iran, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, and Israel. The panel will also discuss the role of other major powers, including China and Russia in shaping this new security environment in the region, and how the Biden administration will respond to these powers’ increasing regional presence.



Sanam Vakil: Deputy Director of MENA Programme at Chatham House

Denise Natali: Acting Director, Institute for National Strategic Studies & Director of the Center for Strategic Research, National Defense University

Hassan Ahmadian: Professor of the Middle East and North Africa Studies, University of Tehran

Abdulaziz Sagar: Chairman, Gulf Research Center

Andrew Parasiliti: President, Al-Monitor