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Will Venezuela be Trump's first war?

By Keith Suter - posted Thursday, 14 February 2019

Is President Trump about to embark on his first war? He was elected with the promise to get out of the wars involving his predecessors Bush and Obama: Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria. He is making some progress.

But Venezuela threatens his "isolationist" foreign policy. He wants to withdraw from some of the US's foreign entanglements (advice first provided by the US's first president George Washington, the 1796 founder of "isolationism").

But Trump is being drawn into the biggest crisis in Latin America.


Venezuela has the world's largest oil reserves and was once the richest country in Latin America. It is a tragic example of how a wealthy country can slide into bankruptcy and chaos.

Hugo Chavez (1954-2013) was elected president in 1998 and began an ambitious programme of economic and social reform to assist the country's poor people. He was inspired by the Cuban model of economic development. Oil prices were high and so there was money for this programme. Chavez died in office in 2013 and was replaced by Nicolas Maduro, who continued his policies.

As long as oil prices were high, progress could be made. The government spent 50 per cent of GNP on reducing unemployment, creation of worker-owned co-operatives and the nationalization of many industries. It tried to show there was an alternative to free market capitalism.

But from 2014 there has been a reduction in oil prices. The country has been slowly sliding into chaos. About 3 million people (almost 10 per cent of the population) have fled the country.

President Washington's doctrine of "isolationism" (trading with countries rather than fighting them) was complemented by President James Monroe's 1823 doctrine of keeping European countries out of Latin America. Once the Spanish and Portuguese colonies became independent, the US wanted to exclude further foreign intervention. Latin America became America's backyard: "the Monroe doctrine".

This tradition is now being eroded. Cuba, a playground for rich Americans and the mafia, rebelled against US influence in 1959 and Fidel Castro (1926-2016) became the new leader. He developed close ties with the Soviet Union.


The US has been hostile to Cuba since 1959 but has failed to remove the communist leadership. It is one of the US's longest running foreign policy failures. Not even Australia agrees with the way in which the US treats Cuba.

The US has feared that the Cuban model would become attractive to other Latin American countries. Generally speaking the Cuban model has not caught on. Military dictatorship and capitalism have stood their ground, with democracy gradually taking hold, albeit with a large gap between rich and poor.

John Bolton, President's Trump's national security adviser, now refers to the "troika of tyranny": Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela. The US has trade sanctions against all three of them.

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About the Author

Dr Keith Suter is a futurist, thought leader and media personality in the areas of social policy and foreign affairs. He is a prolific and well-respected writer and social commentator appearing on radio and television most weeks.

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