If the US disregards the UN Charter and stages a military intervention in Venezuela a dangerous precedent will have been set, with potential ramifications for the African continent. Just as successive US administrations ended up overthrowing 41 governments in Latin America between and 1898 and 1994, a successful overthrow of the Maduro government will empower the Trump administration to pursue this model of regime change elsewhere in the world.
The US has already threatened Iran, Cuba and Nicaragua, and the domino effect won’t necessarily end there, it could add Zimbabwe to the mix - right on our doorstep. This is why the determination of the US to overthrow the Maduro government by force is of particular concern to South Africa and the African Union, which has steadfastly fought against regime change through unconstitutional means and fought for the right of sovereign states to self-determination.
This week South Africa’s Ambassador to the UN Jerry Matjila delivered a powerful intervention on Venezuela during the UN Security Council debate, which was broadcast live on television. One of the most crucial points Matjila made on behalf of the South African government was that the UN Security Council, which was established to ensure peace and security among nations, is based on the principle of the sovereign equality of all members. He further said that the UN Charter and international law proscribes the threat of force. That really is the crux of the matter - once a hegemon starts to undermine the UN Charter and international law, it only leads down the path of chaos - as happened in Iraq, Libya and Syria.
It is crucial that the international community reverse the trend of the powerful using nefarious means to overthrow democratically elected governments of the less powerful. Otherwise, the rush to acquire nuclear weapons as a deterrent against regime change will become the norm in international relations. South Africa, which laudably gave up its nuclear arsenal for the sake of peaceful coexistence, has the right to insist that the nuclear powers curtail their urge to determine the destiny of other nations. What makes South Africa all the more anxious about such external aggression is the legacy of colonialism, where the African continent as a whole suffered hugely over many decades as foreign powers used force to determine the who ruled and controlled the resources of African countries.
When the left talks about the US and other Western powers as being neo-imperialist, it is not far from the truth. There is no question that a large part of what drives the US interest in regime change in Venezuela is to control the massive oil reserves of the country which are larger than those of Iran or Saudi Arabia. If it was all about bringing democracy to Venezuela and installing a more economically responsible leader, then why has the strong arm of US imperialism not altered the trajectory of other countries whose people live under repression or fail to get the service delivery they deserve? What about US unbridled support for an absolute monarchy like Saudi Arabia which has an appalling human rights records and its citizens don’t even have the opportunity to vote in national elections? Or what about US complete support and massive financial backing of a repressive government in Egypt? Why is political dialogue the way forward when it comes to North Korea, but not for Venezuela?