Report. The White House decision to recognize Guaidó as the acting president of Venezuela put US Democrats at pains over how to respond. Democratic Socialists condemned a possible Washington 'coup.'

American left divides over Trump’s Venezuela intervention

The Venezuelan government has accused the United States of trying to plot a coup, after Donald Trump announced that the US was recognizing the opposition leader, Juan Guaidó, as the new leader of Venezuela. Trump made the announcement shortly after Guaidó, the new head of the Venezuelan National Assembly, declared himself to be president during a large opposition protest.

Trump’s move drew strong opposition from the American socialist grassroots. The first to speak out was Ro Khanna, a Democratic representative from California, who wrote a rebuke on Twitter against Illinois Democratic Senator Dick Durbin, who had thrown his support behind Guaidó: “With respect Senator Durbin, the US should not anoint the leader of the opposition in Venezuela during an internal, polarized conflict. Let us support Uruguay, Mexico, & the Vatican’s efforts for a negotiated settlement & end sanctions that are making the hyperinflation worse.”

Senator Bernie Sanders struck a similar tone, first condemning Maduro’s violence against protesters and his anti-democratic maneuvers. Then he urged the US to stay out of it:

“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 & the DR. The US has a long history of inappropriately intervening in Latin American nations; we must not go down that road again.”

Khanna’s statement was opposed by many moderate Democrats, while it earned him a retweet from Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. However, in the end no other politician spoke out in such direct terms as Khanna did.

Only the Democratic Socialist of America put out an explicit statement condemning Trump’s move: “As US socialists, we have a duty to do everything we can to stop US imperialism and make the world safe for democracy and socialism … [W]e call upon the US government to immediately cease and desist all attempts to intervene in the internal politics of Venezuela and break with its shameful legacy of imperial control in the region,” said a statement published by DSA on their website. “These imperial interventions must stop immediately; the future of the Venezuelan people, and the broader prosperity of Latin America depend on it.”

The silence on the left is in part justified by the focus on the internal situation in the US, still highly critical because of the continuing shutdown. In a matter of hours, both Venezuela and the US Congress hit back, for different reasons, against Trump’s reckless moves.

After Trump said he was recognizing Guaidò as leader of Venezuela, Maduro expelled the US diplomats from the country. Just a few hours later, Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic House Speaker, officially denied The Donald’s request to come to the House of Representatives and hold the traditional yearly State of the Union speech on account of Trump’s ongoing government shutdown.

Initially, Trump announced he would still deliver his speech to Congress, irrespective of the shutdown, but the woman who holds the third-most-powerful office in the United States government disagreed. Pelosi postponed Trump’s address until after the reopening of the government, and announced in a public letter to the White House that the speech will be held “on a mutually agreeable date for this address when government has been opened.”

When a journalist asked her what she would do if Trump went to Congress anyway intending to give his speech, Pelosi answered that she would not authorize the presence of TV cameras or allow him to hold it on the House floor, but that the president could still make his speech on the steps outside the Congress building if he wanted.

For most of the day, Trump seemed willing to push on with his plans regardless—but in the end, reality won out: with a late night tweet, Trump announced that he would not hold his speech on Jan. 29 after all.

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