Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) (C) and Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) (L) pictured at a news conference on Capitol Hill, March 10, 2015 in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

Where Are Democratic 2020 Hopefuls on the Trump-Backed Coup Attempt in Venezuela?

Of the major Democrats or progressives who have declared–or are expected to–Joe Biden and Cory Booker have expressed their support for the coup. We will update the story if others speak out.

BY Marco Cartolano

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The silence of potential challengers to Trump is especially noteworthy since the president has the authority to commit troops on the ground as commander in chief.

Update: Of those seeking—or likely to seek—the Democratic nomination for the 2020 presidential contest, only Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii.) have publicly opposed recognizing Juan Guaidó as the interim President of Venezuela. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and former Vice President Joe Biden both support recognizing Guaidó. Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) gave unclear statements on whether they recognize Guaidó. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) also gave an unclear answer on recognizing Guaidó, but voiced support for economic sanctions against Venezuela. 

The Huffington Post collected statements from a handful of candidates or their spokespeople and posted an article on January 30. Meredith Kelly, communications director for Gillibrand’s exploratory committee for the presidency, released a statement to The Huffington Post saying, “Senator Gillibrand supports working with our allies to recognize Juan Guaidó—who was legitimately elected—as the interim president under the Constitution until Venezuela can hold new elections.” Kelly added that “while [Gillibrand] believes economic sanctions are the appropriate response to achieve this, she does not support sending troops to Venezuela.” 

Sen. Brown, a possible presidential contender, told The Huffington Post that he believes  the Trump administration’s “loose talk of possible military intervention” is “reckless and irresponsible.” While Brown did not give his view on recognizing Guaidó or sanctions, he did add, “We should work with our allies and use economic, political and diplomatic leverage to help bring about free and fair elections, limit escalating tension, and ensure the safety of Americans on the ground,” 

Sen. Klobuchar gave a brief statement to The Huffington Post outlining her support for Venezuelans working to oust Maduro. “I support the people of Venezuela standing up against Maduro, installing a new leader, and restoring democracy in Venezuela,” she said.

Additionally, Sen. Bernie Sanders was asked about the Venezuela conflict in a February 19 interview with Univision’s Jorge Ramos. Sanders cast doubt on the legitimacy of the country’s May 2018 election, saying, “There are serious questions about the recent election. There are many people who feel it was a fraudulent election”  

But when Ramos asked whether the senator recognized Guaidó as the interim president, Sanders responded, “No.” 

On February 23, in response to a conflict over an U.S.-backed aid convoy to Venezuela, Sanders tweeted that he believes the Maduro regime “must put the needs of its people first, allow humanitarian aid into the country, and refrain from violence against protesters.”

Appearing on the February 21 episode of the podcast Pod Save America, Warren said, “This notion of using our diplomatic tools. I’m all for it. I think recognition. I think getting our allies to do it its way to bring diplomatic pressure economic sanctions.”

Update: On Februray 9, former vice president and presumptive presidential candidate Joe Biden tweeted his support for regime change in Venezuela, saying: “The international community must support Juan Guaido and the National Assembly. It is time for Maduro to step aside and allow a democratic transition.”

Update: On February 1, Republican political strategist and pundit Ana Navarro said on Twitter that she asked Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) about his stance on Venezuela. Booker reportedly responded “Maduro has to go.” Neither Navarro nor Booker elaborated further on Booker's stance.

Update: Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), widely expected to seek the Democratic nomination, released the following statement Thursday:

The Maduro government in Venezuela has been waging a violent crackdown on Venezuelan civil society, violated the constitution by dissolving the National Assembly and was re-elected last year in an election that many observers said was fraudulent. Further, the economy is a disaster and millions are migrating.

The United States should support the rule of law, fair elections and self-determination for the Venezuelan people. We must condemn the use of violence against unarmed protesters and the suppression of dissent. However, we must learn the lessons of the past and not be in the business of regime change or supporting coups – as we have in Chile, Guatemala, Brazil, and the Dominican Republic. The United States has a long history of inappropriately intervening in Latin American countries; we must not go down that road again.  

Update: Presidential candidate and congresswoman from Hawaii, Tulsi Gabbard, declared Thursday on Twitter, “The United States needs to stay out of Venezuela. Let the Venezuelan people determine their future. We don't want other countries to choose our leaders–so we have to stop trying to choose theirs.”

Earlier: Every major Democrat or progressive who has declared—or is expected to declare—his or her candidacy for U.S. president has been silent in the wake of Wednesday’s announcement that President Donald Trump will recognize Venezuela’s National Assembly president Juan Guaidó as the interim president.

In These Times requested comment from Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.)—but received no response. An email sent to Beto O’Rourke, a former Representative of Texas, bounced. Not a single top 2020 presidential hopeful on the Democrat side has released a statement—or even tweeted—about the development.

Trump called Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s government “illegitimate” two weeks after Maduro’s inauguration for a second term. The declaration came after Guaidó swore himself in as president with the support of several right-wing governments in Latin America. The Lima Group, a coalition of mostly conservative-led Latin American countries, along with Canada, released a statement on January 4 denying the legitimacy of Venezuela’s May 2018 presidential election while recognizing the National Assembly as “a democratically elected constitutional body.” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has participated in meetings with representatives of the Lima Group through video conference at least since last May. The developments, which are moving rapidly, are being denounced by some as a coup attempt.

Brazil, one of the group’s member nations, has ramped up its opposition to Maduro after far-right President Jair Bolsonaro was inaugurated at the start of January. Bolsonaro met with exiled Venezuelan opposition leaders and threatened Maduro that he would do “everything for democracy to be re-established.”

In spite of the Assembly’s support from right-wing governments, several Democratic legislators joined Trump in denouncing Maduro’s presidency. Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) released a statement praising Trump for “appropriately” recognizing Guaidó, and several House Democrats announced in a video that they will introduce legislation to “support the people of Venezuela and hold the illegitimate President accountable for the crisis he created.” On Thursday, House Intelligence Committee Chair Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) called recognizing Guaido, “an appropriate step.”

So far, Representatives Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) have expressed opposition to Trump’s declaration. On Wednesday, Khanna accused  the Trump administration of hypocrisy for attacking Maduro while continuing their support for the Saudi Arabian government. While Khanna criticized Maduro’s policies, he also warned that, “crippling sanctions or pushing for regime change will only make the situation worse.”

Omar shared Khanna’s tweet on Wednesday from her official congressional account and called for the universal application of human rights, “not just when it’s politically convenient.”

On Thursday, Ocasio-Cortez retweeted a response to Durbin from Khanna that reiterated his opposition to both his regime change and Trump’s sanctions while supporting “Uruguay, Mexico, & (sic.) the Vatican's efforts for a negotiated settlement.”

The silence of potential challengers to Trump is especially noteworthy since the president has the authority to commit troops on the ground as commander in chief. It remains unclear if any of the candidates are willing to challenge Trump's move or oppose a series of economic sanctions against Venezuela that cut off Venezuela from most international financial markets.  

The Trump administration’s move follows bipartisan U.S. efforts to oppose Venezuela’s government since it was first elected in 1998 ago by the Bolivarian socialist movement. The Obama administration funded some groups critical of the Venezuelan government, issued a 2015 executive order declaring Venezuelan crackdowns on protestors an “extraordinary threat” to U.S. national security, and implemented sanctions against seven Venezuelan government officials. Trump built on Obama’s sanctions to further block Venezuelan involvement in financial markets in 2017, despite warnings this would worsen the food and medicine supply in Venezuela—and prevent the country from achieving economic recovery.

Democratic 2020 hopefuls’ silence on Venezuela contrasts with their willingness to discuss other interventions: Senator Bernie Sanders has criticized U.S. military spending and led the Senate’s push to end U.S. support for the war in Yemen, and some have called for troop withdrawal from Afghanistan and Syria.


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Marco Cartolano is an editorial intern at In These Times.

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