16 progressive members of Congress sent a letter to the Trump administration, demanding an end to economic sanctions and to military threats against Venezuela. We speak to Rep. Ro Khanna, who led the initiative.
SHARMINI PERIES: It’s The Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries, coming to you from Baltimore.
Progressive Democrats, including Rep. Ro Khanna, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Tulsi Gabbard, Ilhan Omar, Pramila Jayapal, and others, including Sen. Elizabeth Warren, have signed a letter to the Secretary of State Mike Pompeo demanding that the U.S. stay out of Venezuela, and to rule out any military intervention. The letter also criticized the economic sanctions against Venezuela. In addition to all of this, Congressman David Cicilline from Rhode Island introduced a bill almost a month ago that would stop the Trump administration from using military force in Venezuela. The bill, HR 1004, now has 52 cosponsors to date, and is being considered in the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.
In a recent CNN interview with Jake Tapper, John Bolton reaffirmed the Trump administration’s commitment to the Monroe Doctrine, which claimed a right to unilateral intervention in the western hemisphere.
JAKE TAPPER: Do you do not see that the United States support for other brutal dictators around the world undermines the credibility of the argument you’re making?
JOHN BOLTON: No, I don’t think it does. I think it’s separate. And I think–look, in this administration we’re not afraid to use the phrase Monroe Doctrine. This is a country in our hemisphere. It’s been the objective of American presidents going back to Ronald Reagan to have a completely democratic hemisphere. I mentioned back at the end of last year that we’re looking very much at the troika of tyranny, including Cuba, Nicaragua, as well as Maduro. Part of the problem in Venezuela is the heavy Cuban presence; 20,000-25,000 Cuban security officials, by reports that have been in the public. This is the sort of thing that we find unacceptable, and that’s why we’re pursuing these policies.
SHARMINI PERIES: In addition to military threats and diplomatic isolation, and possible covert operations in Venezuela, the U.S. is also imposing new economic sanctions on Venezuela. John Bolton on Wednesday said that the Trump administration was putting foreign banks on notice, threatening to wield sanctions against those who facilitate transactions that would benefit the Venezuelan president, Nicolas Maduro. This is, of course, an effort to get some more pressure placed on President Maduro and to get him to cede power to opposition leader Juan Guaido.
Also recently, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michele Bachelet, the former president of Chile, said that the situation is exacerbated by the economic sanctions. Let’s listen.
MICHELLE BACHELET: The situation in Venezuela clearly illustrates the way violations of civil and political rights, including failure to uphold fundamental freedoms and the independence of key institutions can accentuate the decline of economic and social rights. This situation has been exacerbated by sanctions, and the resulting current political, economic, social, and institutional crisis is alarming.
SHARMINI PERIES: Joining me now to discuss the letter that’s been submitted to Mike Pompeo and to discuss HR Resolution 1004 is representative Ro Khanna. He’s joining us from Washington DC. He represents the California’s 17th Congressional District, located in the heart of Silicon Valley. Congressman Ro Khanna, thank you for joining us today.
RO KHANNA: Thanks for having me back on.
SHARMINI PERIES: Congressman Ro Khanna, the letter that you have submitted is very assertive. But what is the status of bill HR 1004? I understand that there’s 52 cosponsors for the bill now, and that it is in committee, but timing is of the essence, here. What is the status of the bill?
RO KHANNA: Well, the bill would prevent unilateral action and intervention in Venezuela without congressional consent. We don’t want to get in another unconstitutional war. The bill is now in the House Foreign Affairs Committee. We are pushing for it expeditiously to get out of committee and get onto the floor for a vote. And I’m confident that that will happen.
SHARMINI PERIES: Congressman, I was just in Venezuela. What is crippling the country is the economic sanctions. The government does not have enough money to pay wages, take care of the needs of the people. I suppose that is the very effect that the Trump administration wants to have. But what can Congress do to stop these aggressive economic sanctions that are ultimately hurting the very people that the U.S. is proposing to assist and protect? Not to mention that this is against the law, international law, as well as U.S. law.
RO KHANNA: Well, we sent a letter calling for a repeal of the broad-based sanctions precisely for your point. They’re hurting the poorest folks in Venezuela. They’re giving Maduro an excuse to blame the United States, as opposed to taking responsibility for his own failed economic policies and his own cronyism. So I don’t think that they are productive.
I was just with President Carter, actually, this morning, and I shared a concern that these elections weren’t legitimate. I mean, the Carter Center was not allowed to monitor any of the elections. The United States should be calling for clean new elections, and a process of peaceful negotiation that the Pope, Mexico, and Uruguay are calling for. No one is saying that we ought to be defending Maduro when he’s committing human rights violations, or getting elected by an election that wasn’t transparent. But what we shouldn’t do is make the situation worse. And either military intervention or draconian sanctions actually allows Maduro to rally support, and is counterproductive.
SHARMINI PERIES: Congressman, the Venezuelan government claims that various observers, including the EU and the UN, were invited to observe the 2018 Presidential Elections. Now, I know in an interview that I did with the Foreign Minister of Venezuela at the United Nations, he said that he himself went to the UN, and of course invited the EU; and Mogherini, the EU Foreign Minister, was specifically asked to come and observe. But he claims that there was a prior plan to not participate in observing the elections. And of course this sounds and rings true because the former Prime Minister of Spain, Zapatero, had negotiated with the opposition of Venezuela and brought them all to the table. In fact, he got them to agree to participate in the 2018 elections. He passionately writes about the fact he was holding the pen, waiting for them to come and sign it, but he believes that they got a call from Washington. At the last minute, in the tenth hour, they actually withdrew from signing the agreement that he had negotiated over a long period of time and refused to participate. In fact, they abstained from participating in the elections. So, what can we say about this?
RO KHANNA: I mean, he’s just lying. I mean, no one has more credibility on these issues than President Carter. President Carter actually had a terrific relationship with Hugo Chavez, and he was very clear that the Carter Center wanted to go in to monitor, that Maduro didn’t allow the Carter Center to have any role in the elections. And you know, no one would say that President Carter wants intervention. In fact, no one is for intervention, despite Maduro having been elected through a tainted process without any supervision. And it’s totally obvious that Maduro has committed human rights violations, detaining journalists, having extrajudicial killings. So I don’t think that a call, a progressive call for ending broad-based sanctions, or a progressive call for not having military intervention, should in any way absolve Maduro from some serious violations. That said, I don’t think our intervention is going to make the situation better.
SHARMINI PERIES: All right. Now, Rep. Ro Khanna, your thoughts on the way in which John Bolton is talking about implementing the Monroe Doctrine.
RO KHANNA: I don’t understand how Bolton is still allowed to be near foreign policy. I mean, here’s someone who is the architect of the biggest blunder in American foreign policy, the Iraq war. He is the architect of us failing in North Korea. I mean, President Carter helped negotiate with Kim Jong-un’s grandfather. He provided that framework to President Clinton. President Clinton almost had the deal with North Korea in the late 1990s. And then John Bolton comes in and scuttled that deal, calling North Korea part of the axis of evil, when North Korea had nothing to do with 9/11.
And Bolton doesn’t understand how destabilizing some of our policies in Central America have been. It’s the irony in this administration; an administration that is concerned with refugees coming from Guatemala, coming from Honduras, coming from El Salvador, should recognize that a lot of those–the reason that we have those refugees is because precisely of the policies that Bolton and Abrams pursued in the 1980s to destabilize regimes, to side with the autocracies over democracy. And that led to the destabilization of that region at America’s expense. So Bolton, I think, is one of the most misguided foreign policy players in the last quarter century.
SHARMINI PERIES: All right. Now, finally, Congressman, President Maduro has offered to, of course, invite anybody to come to Venezuela to observe the situation, to discuss the situation, including the Pope. And the offer on the table by Uruguay and Mexico, and the contact group with the European Union is involved. Are you in support of such an action? And also, can Congress not facilitate a similar, say, a delegation to Venezuela?
RO KHANNA: Well, I think that the Pope would be a terrific intermediary, and other nations there. But Maduro should agree to new elections under international monitoring, and to some just arrangement. He can’t simply claim that the previous elections were legitimate and lie about inviting in the Carter Center, which we know was factually incorrect. So Maduro has to be open to that negotiation. And I’ve called for the Pope or other regional players to help facilitate that.
The problem with the U.S. intervention, when we just anoint or choose to recognize the speaker of the House, Guaido, as the president, it actually emboldens Maduro, because he goes to his base, and he says “Look at the United States. They’re trying to pick our leader.” Actually having an organic process where Venezuela gets to decide Venezuela’s future, and the United States is just urging a recognition of fair elections and human rights, would be a more prudent strategy.
And actually, John Bolton should read John Quincy Adams, who was secretary of state around the time of Monroe, and caution against these interventions. That should be the reading of history that informs our foreign policy.
SHARMINI PERIES: All right. Congressman, I thank you so much for joining us today, and we hope to have you back soon.
RO KHANNA: Thank you very much.
SHARMINI PERIES: And thank you for joining us here on The Real News Network.