On Monday, President Obama announced a “special state of emergency,” saying that the situation in Venezuela is one that represents an extraordinary danger to U.S. interests and foreign policy. He also imposed sanctions on seven Venezuelan officials, claiming that they were complicit in repressing Venezuelan civil society and freedom of the press.
Worldwide, and within the United States also, this set off an epidemic of head scratching, as people tried to figure out how internal developments in Venezuela somehow represent a danger for the United States. In Latin America, the reaction was more intense, as leaders and ordinary citizens recalled past instances in which U.S. interventions have led to “regime change” involving the deaths of thousands.
In the 19th century, the United States seized more than half of Mexico and all of Puerto Rico, plus the Guantanamo Bay area in Cuba. In the first half of the twentieth century, U.S. troops directly intervened in all of the countries of Central America, plus Cuba, Haiti and the Dominican Republic and some South American countries. In these interventions peoples’ movements for democracy were crushed, dictators put in and propped up in power, and dissident leaders murdered, such as Augusto Cesar Sandino in Nicaragua and Charlemagne Peralte in Haiti.
The CIA-engineered overthrow of Guatemalan President Jacobo Arbenz in 1954, set off decades of civil war in which at least 200,000 people, mostly poor indigenous farmers, died. Multiple projects to destabilize Cuba began with the triumph of the Cuban Revolution in 1959, including the disastrous Bay of Pigs adventure.
In 1965 President Lyndon Johnson ordered the invasion of the Dominican Republic to prevent a dictator from being overthrown by pro-democracy forces. In 1973 the U.S., after having done everything possible to destabilize the Chilean economy, backed a military coup against Socialist Party President Salvador Allende which led to the death of at least 3,000 and the imprisonment or exile of tens of thousands.