Pence’s visit to Panama in the eyes of local Democrats
by Eric Jackson, Phil Edmonston and José Bonilla
It is reported that US Vice President Mike Pence will be in Panama on August 17, and that the subject matter of his talks with Panamanian President Juan Carlos Varela will be “security.” As Democrats, speaking for ourselves and not necessarily for our party at any level, we would like to say these things about the subject:
1. The United States and Panama have a canal security relationship embedded in the 1977 Treaty Concerning the Permanent Neutrality and Operation of the Panama Canal. This treaty was signed by a Democratic president, but on the US side it was the product of bipartisan efforts stretching back many years, arguably to the Eisenhower administration. At this point there seems to be no enemy on the horizon making existential threats against Panama or the Panama Canal. Vigilance and preparedness are and have been constant and we expect that they will continue, even if we do not read about it in the newspapers.
2. US governments have sometimes used the word “security” as a cover for military adventures in Latin America. Donald Trump, in political trouble after revelations about the disloyal conduct of himself, his campaign staff and members of his family, who at the very least solicited and heard proposals of foreign assistance for his presidential campaign, is now engaged in belligerent talk of US military intervention against Venezuela. Such a “regime change” war would promote the security of neither the United States nor Panama.
3. Venezuela has in the past few years seen a profound economic collapse, due its total dependence on oil revenues and the sharp drop in oil prices. The average Venezuelan has seen his or her personal real income drop by more than half. Many Venezuelans are desperately seeking to leave their country however they can. The countries of the Americas should lend a helping hand to the Venezuelans, but other countries can’t solve Venezuela’s problem. In the long term, the end of the fossil fuel age and the decline of oil economies are processes that the United States should not try to reverse. Donald Trump’s attempt to do this by abandoning international efforts to slow and reverse climate change is foolhardy. The “solution” that Mr. Trump would offer Venezuela is neither environmentally nor fiscally viable.
4. Venezuela has an unpopular and clumsy president. Sufficient valid signatures for a recall election were submitted last year but instead of giving Venezuelans the election that they are owed Nicolás Maduro has embarked on a process of replacing the constitution that the voters of his country adopted. In an already violent society, and in an already politically polarized country, this has inflamed deadly passions. Does he confuse his personal political career with the fate of his nation’s people? That’s a common enough delusion in all sorts of politics everywhere, but in today’s Venezuela it’s especially tragic.
5. As Donald Trump asked for Russian assistance on the 2016 campaign trail, so the Venezuelan opposition has sought US and other foreign assistance for years. The sort of disloyalty that Americans rightfully find sleazy in our own politics is also unbecoming in other countries. While collective international efforts to calm Venezuela, feed Venezuelans and help that country back onto a democratic path would be a good idea, US-led military intervention is a very bad idea. One reason why it’s a bad idea is that there are no obvious “good guys” in Venezuela. Foreign military intervention there would likely lead to years of more chaos and violence that might not be directly felt in the United States but would be destabilizing in our region of the world.
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