October 11, 2018

EMEM ELEMENT | Democracy Promotion from a Pseudo-American Democracy

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Trump is determined to restore democracy in Venezuela. Mantras of egalitarianism and humanitarianism flood the American discourse surrounding the Venezuelan crisis. Promises of the restoration of democracy and socio-economic development for the Venezuelan people are allegedly at the forefront of Trump’s concern—but simultaneously, the Trump administration continues to issue threats of a military intervention.     

The Trump administration’s illusory rhetoric surrounding democracy promotion should be taken with a grain of salt. Donald Trump, the most despotic president in our country’s history, wants to promote democracy abroad, albeit at gunpoint. The conundrum is twofold: First, why does the Trump Administration believe military intervention is key to promoting democracy? Second, how can America promote something it has never actually had?

The situation in Venezuela is complex, leading some to validate the Trump administration’s threat of military intervention. Millions of Venezuelans are hungry, ill, and dying from lack of food and medicine, President Maduro’s ruthless rule has led to political turbulence, and out of control inflation has hurt the economy exponentially. These factors have compounded a crisis of emigration on a massive scale: nearly 2.3 million Venezuelans over the past two years have left the country as refugees. Accordingly, some believe that the situation in Venezuela has magnified to a point where military intervention is needed, since the political opposition in Venezuela has thus far been unsuccessful in dislodging the Maduro government. “The Venezuelan military is the levee that’s keeping the democratic movement at bay to protect the Maduro regime. Only if the military breaks can the river of democracy jump the banks,” says Ozan Varol, law professor at Lewis & Clark Law School. There is no question that Venezuela’s current political  atmosphere is turbulent, but there is there is no rationale to presume that an unstable government can invariably be fixed by means of direct military intervention. This oil-rich, yet economically deficient nation is dealing with internal issues largely stemming from policy errors, errors that can be solved by other means desisting from a civil war.

The Trump Administration’s economic sanctions have severed Venezuela from most financial markets, resulting in increased shortages of fundamental human necessities such as food and medicine— making economic recovery virtually impossible.

Regardless of how one feels about Venezuela’s current government, it is time to acknowledge that U.S. policy towards that country is making things worse. It is generating greater economic pain, instability and political polarization in Venezuela and undermining the odds of reaching a peaceful solution to the country’s political crisis. – Alexander Main

One of the core beliefs of modern liberalism holds that if the world were filled with democracies, there will be less interstate war. Thus, democracies should not fight other democracies, and democratic ideals should be spread cross-culturally. There is no question that democracy is a good idea in principle. It stands on this fundamental ideal that citizens should have a say in government, and that government should address the most basic needs of its citizens. However, America, nominally in the name of democracy, has gone to war with several nations around the world—failing to promote democracy whilst actively furthering the spread of  unrest and instability. For the past century, the U.S. has had an abhorrent history in Latin America—supporting military regimes ambivalent or actively hostile to democracy. In the early 20th century, American marines via gunboat diplomacy invaded Cuba, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Mexico, with the express intent of setting up puppet governments of Washington’s choosing. These interventions were far from democratic. This irony should not come as a surprise. How can America—where elected representatives of the “people” are only focused on their own re-elections and the support of their donors, and where socio-economic inequality and a classist healthcare system deprives its citizens of life; the most visceral human right there is—preach democracy when America is living proof of inegalitarianism? “On what basis can a country that resembles an oligarchy more than a democracy criticize other countries for flouting democratic norms?” says Gabriel Hetland, professor at University at Albany. He continues: “…is it possible for anyone to believe that the Trump administration truly cares about ordinary Venezuelans’ well being given its profound disregard for the wellbeing of U.S. citizens living in Puerto Rico, Detroit, and elsewhere?” Democracy has strong rhetorical power, but that rhetorical power does not inevitably transend into reality.

All in all, no political system is perfect. America’s representative democracy fairs better than other systems of government around the world. However, for America to tout its existence as the manifestation of democracy and freedom is misleading. America’s promotion of democracy in Venezuela through harsh economic sanctions and military intervention undermines the potential for actual democracy promotion. American liberal rhetoric and promises of democracy serve as an illusory belief of American Exceptionalism. All things considered, then, what exactly does true democracy promotion even look like?

Fostering an economic recovery program is democratic. Humanitarian aid is democratic. Investing time and effort into reshaping the systemic inequalities brought about by economic and financial instability is democratic. Mobilizing popular protests, having people go to the streets to fight for their rights is democratic. It is evident that there are no clear-cut solutions. Nevertheless, promoting a military intervention that could lead to civil war and harsh economic sanctions is far from the answer. It’s time that we rethink democracy promotion.