Discover more from The AfricaBrief
Secret: U.S. Adds to Immigration and Energy Crises
Everything about the tortured relationship of the U.S. to Venezuela and Latin America is obscured by choking clouds of conflicting bullshit from different political camps.
When 50 exhausted Venezuelan refugees got off two chartered planes on Martha’s Vineyard last month, it captured national attention. But Americans were told by the news media and our government that it was the result of petty domestic political scheming by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott. The message was: Nothing to see here.
Since then, the news has delivered effusive detail about the lies that lured these migrants onto those expensive private planes and the murderous journey that got them to the U.S.border. But the deeper question has been treated like a secret, not to be touched by the press or the politicians, despite being obvious: What caused these impoverished Venezuelans to leave their homes in the first place and make a perilous 3,000-mile journey to seek a life in the U.S.?
It’s surprisingly hard to find an honest answer to that question. First, it’s very difficult to trust anyone’s version of the facts. Everything about the tortured relationship of the U.S. to Venezuela and Latin America is obscured by choking clouds of conflicting bullshit from different political camps. (My best effort at summarizing the facts: “The Sad, Deadly History of America’s War on Venezuela”) When the U.S. media report anything at all about the situation in their news pages, which is rare, they tend to parrot the U.S. government’s version of the story, which is solely about countering “authoritarian” Latin governments. If any fuller explanation, context, or history reaches mainstream audiences, it is usually through the occasional op-ed by an academic.
See related article: "The Sad, Deadly History of America’s War on Venezuela"
In all the widely seen stories about the Martha’s Vineyard incident, the American news media failed to offer a hint of how past and current U.S. policy has contributed significantly to making Venezuela one of the world’s worst humanitarian disasters. There’s been no mention of U.S. efforts to control Venezuela and its oil reserves, which are the world’s largest. Those efforts include a failed illegal coup attempt in 2002 against Hugo Chavez, the democratically elected president, and sweeping economic sanctions imposed by Donald Trump in 2017 and 2019 that have decimated the country’s economy, starving, sickening, and impoverishing millions of Venezuelans.
Since 2017, increasingly severe U.S. sanctions have worsened the lack of food and medicine in Venezuela, killing tens of thousands, including infants and children, according to an independent analysis by the Washington-based Center for Economic and Policy Research in 2019. The analysis also concluded that the sanctions violate international law. Overall, an astounding 6.8 million people have been forced to flee the country, a number significantly swollen by the U.S. sanctions, which essentially cut off Venezuela from foreign exchange. These sanctions, put in place by Trump and Mike Pompeo, his second secretary of state, have now been ratified by Biden, whose National Security Council Spokesperson Adrienne Watson told Reuters last week, “We will continue to implement and enforce our Venezuela sanctions.”
An exhaustive search of news reports about the Martha’s Vineyard incident found no questions about any of this from numerous reporters and editors — not from the lofty, globe-girdling New York Times; not by anyone at the lowly, hyper-local Martha's Vineyard Times; not by the White House, and not by State Rep. Dylan Fernandez, a Democrat from Falmouth, or any of the other Massachusetts officials who showed up at the church where the immigrants found temporary shelter after being dumped on the island.
Editors at the New York Times, apparently recognizing their initial failures, finally ran a front-page story this past weekend (with a link to their Martha’s Vineyard coverage) about the deadly journey north that Venezuelans are now making in increasing numbers. The story (“In Record Numbers, Venezuelans Risk a Deadly Trek to Reach the U.S. Border”) involved significant effort and it’s worth reading. But the word “sanctions” never appears (except in one of 245 reader comments online). To omit such information about the U.S. role in this disaster is so at odds with the basics of journalism that it raises questions about the level of self-censorship needed to keep American journalists quiet about the lethal and counterproductive history of American foreign policy in the region.
All the lies and silence tend to cover up how U.S. policy has helped create and worsen the United States’ and the world’s massive migration crises. Hiding America’s contribution to this humanitarian disaster makes it impossible to understand how a seemingly small story about four dozen migrants, a couple of planes, and vicious local politics in Florida and Texas is intimately connected to everything in the vast, global mess we all face — an interconnected catastrophe that presently involves worsening widespread poverty, inequality, and forced migration in Latin America and the Caribbean; a brutal war in Europe that may become a nuclear war; a worsening climate catastrophe that governments seem unwilling to counter; inflation-wracked economies being pushed by central banks into global recession; energy and food prices rapidly growing beyond the reach of ordinary people; OPEC resurgent; and authoritarianism and racism on the rise again, driving more human rights abuses around the world.
These awful events are united by their cumulative result: a growing global crisis of mass migration. The world’s total number of displaced persons stood at 89.3 million at the end of last year and grew to an estimated 100 million or more by mid-2022, according to the UN. The three countries whose people have been forced to emigrate in the largest numbers are Ukraine, Syria, and, you may have guessed, Venezuela. In a seemingly unending feedback loop, the impacts of these migration crises are being used by the far right to destabilize democracies around the world and accelerate political pressure for more right-wing populism, authoritarianism, and facism.
Kirk Cheyfitz is a political narrative expert, writer, editor, commentator on narrative and media, investigative reporter, strategist, marketer, manager, close observer of pop culture. He's learned how to integrate organizations to function in multi-discipline teams, which is crucial in an age of multi-channel media. He originated the term "post-advertising" and helped create modern content marketing. His website is Political Narrative.