The Australian Labor Party leadership has failed its first foreign policy test in 2019 by falling in behind the Coalition government's support for the Donald Trump administration’s recognition of Juan Guaidó as un-elected “interim President” of Venezuela, in violation of international law.
Labor’s support for Trump’s regime change push, and its silence on the US's illegal sanctions and threats of military actions against a sovereign nation, should be cause for serious soul searching by Labor party members.
Just a few months ago, party leader Bill Shorten promised that a future Labor government would pursue an independent foreign policy. He signalled to those people worried about the Australia-US alliance and Trump’s erratic and dangerous foreign policy decisions that Labor would reserve its right to act independently of the US.
Shorten pointed out in November that Labor had stood up to Washington before in opposing the 2003 Iraq war, and that peace, justice, fairness and sustainability were the principles that would guide Labor’s approach.
But in January it declared its support for Washington's brazen attempt at regime change in Venezuela.
There is no doubt that Venezuela is in crisis — the result of falling oil prices, crippling US sanctions and government mismanagement and corruption.
Criticisms can be made of the Nicolas Maduro government, but the opposition parties have been able to campaign for their views, and run in elections. Venezuela is no dictatorship.
US meddling in Latin America, however, has a long history: Maduro and others have pointed to Salvador Allende's demise in Chile.
In addition, the US selectively apply the rules on “democracy”.
In Brazil, Workers’ Party (PT) president Dilma Rousseff was unconstitutionally removed from power by the parliament, while PT candidate and favourite Lula da Silva was jailed. The US didn't blink, and the path was opened for far-right candidate Jair Bolsonaro to win the election.
In Honduras, right-wing president Juan Orlando Hernandez defied the constitution to run for another term in 2017, going on to steal victory in elections that were denounced as fraudulent by regional observers. Again the US didn't blink.
Trump’s push for regime change in Venezuela, supported by Bolsonaro, Hernandez and Morrison, has nothing to do with democracy, or resolving the current crisis.
Instead, it is trying to deepen the crisis in Venezuela by unlilaterally implementing more devastating sanctions which will hit hardest those already most affected by the economic crisis. It is also threatening military intervention.
Has Labor forgotten the lessons of Iraq?
The Maduro government has continued to call for dialogue with the opposition. It is supporting a joint Mexico-Uruguay initiative for dialogue and negotiations. But Guaidó and Trump have ruled this out, while continuing to express support for a military coup, armed insurrection or foreign military intervention to depose Maduro.
By siding with Guaidó, Morrison and Shorten have lined Australia up with those gunning for violent regime change over finding political situations.
The Labor leadership could have taken a different approach; it could have joined New Zealand's Labour government in respecting Venezuela’s sovereignty and declining to recognise Guaidó as “interim president”.
It could have joined with colleagues in the British Labour Party, including party leader Jeremy Corbyn, who has spoken out against sanctions and outside interference and called instead for “dialogue and a negotiated settlement to overcome the crisis”.
Or, it could have followed the lead of United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who has also declined to recognise Guaidó and declared that he is working for a political solution in Venezuela.
Polls consistently show that the overwhelming majority of Venezuelans: want the US to lift its sanctions; oppose any kind of foreign military intervention; and want a negotiated outcome to the crisis. Their wishes should be respected.
The Labor leadership must reverse its decision to recognise Guaidó. It must also demand the Coalition government pressure the US to lift its sanctions on Venezuela and rule out any military intervention.