Vermont Independent and self-described Democratic socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders acknowledged on Thursday that the “economy is a disaster” in Venezuela — but he cautioned against U.S. involvement in that county’s affairs and condemned what he called “inappropriate” past interventions.
Sanders, a fierce advocate for progressive proposals like Medicare for All and boosting both corporate tax rates and the federal minimum wage, made the comments in a statement and a series of social media posts as Venezuela, a socialist nation, continued its descent Thursday into political and economic turmoil.
Venezuela’s government — which in recent years has limited citizens’ access to foreign currency, implemented substantial subsidies and price controls on food and other items, and fallen victim to sweeping corruption — effectively collapsed this week. Some analysts have placed the principal blame on the country’s socialist policies, while others have pointed to fallen oil prices and mismanagement.
Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido declared he was temporarily assuming presidential powers in a bid to unseat Nicolas Maduro, whose powerful loyalists went on the offensive Thursday in support of the embattled leader.
“The Maduro government has waged a violent crackdown on Venezuelan civil society, violated the constitution by dissolving the National Assembly and was re-elected last year in an election many observers said was fraudulent,” Sanders wrote. “The economy is a disaster and millions are migrating.”
Sanders continued, “The United States should support the rule of law, fair elections and self-determination for the Venezuelan people. We must condemn the use of violence against unarmed protesters and the suppression of dissent.”
Sanders then seemingly responded to suggestions that the U.S. might military intervene in the county. President Trump reportedly considered a military strike in Venezuela last summer, and top Republicans have refused to rule out an armed response to the current crisis.
Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio said this week that if Maduro harms any U.S. diplomats, the consequences will be “swift and decisive.”
As for Sanders, he wrote: “We must learn the lessons of the past and not be in the business of regime change or supporting coups—as we have in Chile, Guatemala, Brazil & the DR. The US has a long history of inappropriately intervening in Latin American nations; we must not go down that road again.”
Guaido has disappeared from view since swearing before tens of thousands of cheering supporters to uphold the constitution and rid Venezuela of Maduro’s dictatorship, and his whereabouts remained shrouded in mystery on Thursday.
A defiant Maduro, meanwhile, called home all Venezuelan diplomats from the United States and closed its embassy, a day after ordering all U.S. diplomats out of the country by the weekend. Washington has refused to comply, but ordered its non-essential staff to leave the tumultuous country, citing security concerns.
The Trump administration says Maduro’s order isn’t legal because the U.S. no longer recognizes him as Venezuela’s legitimate leader.
Tensions soared between the U.S. and Venezuela after Trump recognized Guaido’s leadership. Attention has been on the military, a traditional arbiter of political disputes in Venezuela, as a critical indicator of whether the opposition will succeed in establishing a new government.
Venezuela’s top military brass pledged unwavering support to Maduro, delivering vows of loyalty earlier Thursday before rows of green-uniformed officers on state television.
A half-dozen generals belonging largely to district commands and with direct control over thousands of troops joined Maduro in accusing the United States of meddling in Venezuela’s affairs and said they would uphold the socialist leader’s rule.
Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino Lopez, a key Maduro ally, later delivered his own proclamation, dismissing efforts to install a “de-facto parallel government” as tantamount to a coup.
Speaking at the White House on Thursday, Trump said officials were closely monitoring the situation in Venezuela — and he took a swipe at a proposal by another high-profile Democratic socialist in the U.S., New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, to implement a 70 percent marginal tax rate on the rich.
“We’re looking at Venezuela, it’s a very sad situation,” Trump told reporters. “That was the richest state in all of that area, that’s a big beautiful area, and by far the richest — and now it’s one of the poorest places in the world. That’s what socialism gets you, when they want to raise your taxes to 70 percent.”
The president’s comments mirrored those of South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, who charged on Thursday that Ocasio-Cortez “and her new socialist colleagues seem hell-bent on making sure that our last 12 years will be spent as Venezuelan socialists, not Americans” — a reference to Ocasio-Cortez’s claim that the world will end in 12 years due to climate change.
Much of the international community is rallying behind Guaido, with the U.S., Canada and numerous Latin American and European countries announcing that they recognized his claim to the presidency. Trump has promised to use the “full weight” of U.S. economic and diplomatic power to push for the restoration of Venezuela’s democracy.
Meanwhile, Russia, China, Iran, Syria, Cuba and Turkey have voiced their backing for Maduro’s government.
China’s Foreign Ministry called on the United States to stay out of the crisis, while Russia’s deputy foreign minister warned the U.S. against any military intervention in Venezuela.
Russia has been propping up Maduro with arms deliveries and loans. Maduro visited Moscow in December, seeking Russia’s political and financial support. Over the last decade, China has given Venezuela $65 billion in loans, cash and investment. Venezuela owes more than $20 billion.
Fox News’ Jennifer Earl and The Associated Press contributed to this report.