Analysis: SNP’s backing of the coup in Venezuela is the cost of Western alignment

Ben Wray

The SNP’s intervention is unnecessary and a clear overture to more powerful forces

THE SNP has finally come out on the side of the growing international clamour for the overthrow of the Venezuelan government, spearheaded by US President Donald Trump.

A statement in the House of Commons by Stephen Gethins MP, SNP spokesperson for international affairs and Europe, stopped short of recognising Juan Guaidó, a member of Venezuela’s National Assembly who declared himself President last week, as the interim-President of the country as the United States has, but left the door open to that development.

Since Guaidó’s bold claim, an international effort has begun to oust the Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro and hisgovernment, which includes all manner of support to the violent opposition, sanctions and the freezing of the country’s assets in the UK among much else.

But why are the SNP, a party without fundamental interests in such an escapade, backing this coup attempt?

The SNP’s intervention

Gethins’ statement came in the wake of an urgent question from backbench Labour MP Mike Gapes.

He said: “We’d like to reflect the calls of the minister and [EU foreign policy chief] Federica Mogherini that democracy cannot and should not be ignored.”

Importantly, Mogherini has said that the EU could imminently recognise Guaidó if there are not steps towards fresh elections within days.

Gethins continued: “There’s a desperate need for free and fair elections, and we condemn the violence and condemn the regime carrying out the violence as has also been condemned by Amnesty International as well and we’d do well to reflect on their remarks here.”

The SNP MP made no critical remarks about the UK Government’s staunch backing of Trump’s position, that Guaidó is the interim-President, with the overall thrust of his remarks aimed at encouraging the Foreign Office to outline the details of its plan.

He said: “So can he set out, in particular, how we are working with our European partners, what’s our long term strategy in terms of free and fair elections and standing up to this regime…”


The parliamentary session was as much about denouncing the left in the UK as it was about Venezuela.

A letter to the Guardian signed by politicians including shadow Chancellor John McDonnell, journalists, campaigners, cultural figures and academics against intervention and calling for a peaceful resolution was denounced by Gapes as a list of “Stalinists, Trotskyists and anti-semites”, adding that they were “signatures of shame” and MPs who did not support the coup should be “deplored”. Nicholas Soames MP implied that under Labour the crisis in Venezuela “could happen here”.

In sharp contrast, the pro-war Labourite Gapes was slathered with praise from the Tory benches.

Gethins was in for praise from the Tory front benches. 

Responding to his statement, Foreign Office Minister Alan Duncan said: “Can I thank the member for North East Fife [Gethins] for the, how should I put it, responsible nature of his questions and observations.”

“Responsible” in Foreign Office language is code for compliant with Western foreign policy.

Concern for Venezuelan democracy?

The SNP’s bandwagon jumping displays an acute ignorance of the history of US backed subterfuge and coups in South America.

The continent, contemptuously described as the US’ backyard by imperial strategists, has been subject to repeated fits of violent, authoritarian regime change in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Costa Rica, El Salvador and Nicaragua among many others.

The CIA and its various front operations are a constant presence in modern Latin American history, responsible for lengthy campaigns of disinformation, subversion, and outright terrorism.

Venezuela itself, and the Bolivarian revolution first headed by Hugo Chavez, has been the focus of constant pressure from the US, regional allies and the forces they support within the country. In 2002 Chavez was briefly deposed, only to be saved by mass action by the poor of Caracas, who overthrew the coup plotters. The US recognised the new regime of the 2002 coup, before hastily having to change tact when it became clear Chavez was back in power.

But Venezuela’s right and far right, supported from the US and representing the interests of the country’s wealthy elite, have continued to back violent opposition to the government, including repeated assassination attempts against Maduro.

Given this recent history, claims from the Western powers – who have always opposed the Venezuelan regime in more vociferous terms than similar states due to its socialist identity – that they are concerned to protect democratic norms, is ridiculous.

Yet it is because the EU and the major powers of the European and global order are driving the coup in Venezuela that the SNP feels it needs to make this statement.

Western alignment

The course of the SNP’s foreign policy in recent years has been clear. Under Sturgeon, the party has moved from a careful and ambigious negotiation of British foreign policy, to a largely uncritical display of loyalty to the Western axis.

The drift has been clear since the party’s re-orientation on Nato in 2012 under Alex Salmond, but has accelerated in recent years with increasing overtures to the EU leadership. Sturgeon’s luke-warm defence of the Catalan independence referendum and subsequent crackdown on Catalan pro-independence politicians by Madrid – backed in Brussels – is a case in point. 

It was obvious from Gethins statement and the minister’s response to it that the EU’s position of support for the coup, adopted on the 26 January, was at the forefront of the party’s thinking.

The SNP’s new foreign policy bent shows alignment to the West’s ‘club’ comes with a price. When institutions like Nato, the EU, and above all the leading states of the axis like the US and the UK, decide that organised violence, the subversion of a nation’s sovereignty, or all out war and destruction are necessary to bring down a perceived ideological threat, all members of the club must support that action.

Of course, no amount of ‘respectable’ pro-axis behaviour will ever be enough. The SNP’s core aim of Scottish independence will never be in the British state’s interest, and therefore the axis will always oppose independence, just as it did in 2014.

The party’s claims to a just foreign policy stance and respect for the sovereignty of other small and relatively weak nations in the global order will be burned at the altar for nothing.

Neutrality and peace

It should be added that Labour’s shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry also heavily criticised Maduro’s government, but resisted the idea of western intervention into the country. She instead called for dialogue.

Weak though this response may be in the face of a rapidly escalating international campaign backing the coup, it at least has the virtue of recalling the untold disasters of the era of the war on terror, when countries including Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya were all destroyed after the deployment of very similar arguments now being used against Maduro.

The threat of extreme violence in Venezuela in aid of overthrowing the government isn’t even suppressed by the global coup alliance.

Guaidó himself has warned that the struggle of his supporters was not just against one man (Maduro): a clear notification that his backers must be prepared for violence against the Bolivarian movement, which still boasts mass and active support, particularly among sections of the country’s poor and marginalised.

Under these circumstances, and given the violent and far right make-up of many on Guaidó’s side of the national divide, it is likely that a protracted and bloody civil strife would accompany the foreign backed overthrow of the government.

As far as figures like Trump and Bolsonaro are concerned, knocking down Venezuela should be the first act in a continent wide swing to the far right.

There are alternatives to this grim scenario, including the call for dialogue from the Mexican and Bolivian governments. The SNP’s choice was not only to back Trump’s alliance, but to reject a peaceful way forward.

Picture: Jeso Carneiro

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