Venezuela’s Democracy is Not a Threat: UE Officers' Statement on U.S. Sanctions Against Venezuela

March 31, 2015


On March 9 President Obama issued an executive order that declared “a national emergency” because, it said, Venezuela is an “unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States.” The executive order imposed sanctions against seven Venezuelan officials whom the White House accuses of “undermin(ing) democratic processes or institutions,” “violence or abuse of human rights,” undermining freedom of expression, and/or “public corruption.”

The president’s action come on the heels of a failed coup attempt in February 2015, when opposition leaders, many of whom receive U.S. funding, were arrested for attempting to overthrow their country’s democratically-elected government.

The Union of South American Nations (UNASUR), which speaks for the continent's 12 independent countries, demanded that the U.S. drop the sanctions, calling them “a threat to sovereignty and the principle of non-intervention in the internal affairs of other states.” The foreign ministry of Argentina declared, “It’s absolutely unbelievable that any marginally informed person would think that Venezuela, or any other South American or Latin American country, could constitute a threat to the national security of the United States.”

We agree with Venezuela’s neighbors. The Obama administration’s actions against Venezuela are outrageous and look like an attempt to revive the discredited U.S. policies of interference, bullying, and undermining democracy in Latin America. UE has been outspoken against such policies throughout our union’s history, and we have built solidarity relationships with unions in Latin America.

The U.S. unfortunately has a long history of such intervention in Latin America. This includes CIA-orchestrated coups against democratic governments in Chile in 1973, Brazil in 1964 and Guatemala in 1954; President Reagan’s funding of the “contra” army that tried to overthrow Nicargua’s government in the 1980s; several direct military invasions of Latin American countries by U.S. troops; and the 55-year old embargo against Cuba.

The George W. Bush administration was involved in the attempted overthrow of Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez in 2002, a coup which succeeded for a few days until a popular uprising by Venezuelan working people thwarted the coup and restored Chavez to office. Since Chavez’s first election, the U.S. government has continuously poured millions of dollars into funding the political opposition. In February 2015, President Nicolas Maduro announced that the U.S. ambassador along with officials of the Canadian and British governments collaborated with those attempting to overthrow the government. Maduro, who was Chavez’s vice president, assumed the duties of president when Chavez died in March 2013, and was then elected president in a special election in April 2013. Maduro is a former bus driver and union leader.

The domestic opposition to Chavez and now Maduro is centered among the wealthy elite that ruled the country for decades. When they controlled the government they grew richer through corrupt business practices and by siphoning oil industry profits, while the majority of Venezuelans sank deeper into poverty. Hugo Chavez was first elected in 1998 on a platform to change all that. He restructured the oil industry, which had been nationalized in 1976 but still operated like a private company. Under Chavez oil wealth was redirected into social programs, rebuilding infrastructure and creating jobs. His policies reduced poverty by over 50 percent, but angered the traditional ruling class. The movement  in Venezuela also inspired a political shift in other South American countries toward pro-worker governments, and led the formation of Latin American regional bodies that exclude the U.S. Venzuelans call these changes “the Bolivarian Revolution,” after Venezuela’s founding father Simon Bolivar, a leader in the independence struggle of all the former Spanish colonies in South America in the early 1800s. Chavez’s policies led to attempts by the U.S. and the Venezuelan rich to overthrow him. But what his opponents failed to understand is that Chavez was not just a charismatic leader with popular policies, but that millions of Venezuelans have been mobilized in a grassroots, rank-and-file revolution that they are ready to fight to defend.

The U.S. administration’s claims that it opposes the Venezuelan government because its “undemocratic” or violates human rights are pure hypocrisy. Robin Alexander, UE’s former director of international affairs was an international election observer both during Venezuela’s presidential elections in 2013, when Chavez was reelected and then the special election after Chavez’s death when Maduro won. What she saw in Venezuela was “a vibrant democracy with a far fairer, more inclusive electoral system than we have here.” Venezuela’s recent elections have had 95 percent voter registration and 80 percent turnout, and the voting has been certified as free and fair by international observers. Alexander adds, “Venezuela is now the country with the least inequality in Latin America. Perhaps that’s why the Venezuelan elite oppose the government while workers overwhelmingly support it.”

But while the U.S. attacks Venezuela as somehow undemocratic, one of our government’s closest allies, another oil-rich country, is immune to such criticism. Saudi Arabia is an extremely repressive absolute monarchy where women have never been allowed to vote or even to drive a car, and where dissidents and other prisoners are routinely executed by public beheading – the same tactic that horrifies the world when practiced by the terrorist army ISIS.  When Saudi Arabia’s old king died in January, President Obama traveled there to pay homage and express his support for the new king. Somehow democracy and human rights aren’t so important when it comes to the Saudi monarchy.

It is clear that the White House’s actions are motivated not by a commitment to protect human rights, but rather by a cynical desire to eliminate a government that favors working people over the rich, and to reassert past U.S. domination over Latin America. 

We encourage UE members to contact the White House at, where you can leave a written message or phone the number provided to leave a comment. You can send the president a message along these lines: “I urge you to remove the sanctions against Venezuela, which is no threat to the United States, but a democratic country whose people have the right to determine their own future.” 

Bruce J. Klipple

General President

Andrew Dinkelaker

General Secretary-Treasurer

Robert B. Kingsley

Director of Organization