But many western leftists will deny it

By Joe Emersberger, Originally published on his Substack page.

I am tempted to say that US congressperson Alexandria Ocasio-Cortes (AOC) has a talent for receiving softball interviews and undeserved praise from western leftists. But AOC has no such talent. The fault lies with her leftwing apologists.

conversation she had with Noam Chomsky comes to mind that was particularly embarrassing. For decades Chomsky helped radicalize people like me through books that meticulously documented US barbarism all over the world. My favourite Chomsky quote is from fifty years ago when he said “We have to ask ourselves whether what is needed in the United States is dissent – or denazification.” But during his talk with AOC, he may as well have been some guy who never wrote a word about US crimes. He was so determined to stroke AOC’s ego during their conversation that ongoing US aggression around the world never came up. Flattering, not pressuring, Democrats from the left is what Chomsky believes in at this point, and he is not alone.

The Jacobin and Verso Books-affiliated podcast, The Dig, just gave AOC an hour to talk about Latin America without challenging anything she said. I was surprised by how much AOC talked about Venezuela because, as of 2019, she deflected questions about Venezuela by simply saying that she would “defer” to the likes of Nancy Pelosi on the issue. Pelosi, a unhinged warmonger and imperialist, was fully supportive of Trump’s designation of Juan Guaido as Venezuela’s interim president.


I’ll go over what AOC has said recently about Venezuela and Latin America. Leftists should be giving her flak for it, not praising it.

AOC’s migration whopper

AOC claimed that most migrants on the southern US border are from Venezuela – that it’s a key “truth” the left must address. It’s not a “truth” at all, and indicative of how completely she has swallowed negative propaganda about Venezuela:

… the bulk of migrants that have been coming to the United States have been coming from Venezuela and when we do not engage in that truth we create a vacuum through which the right wing does its thing….

If you check the website of US Customs and Border Protection you’ll find no data to support AOC’s claim. The website defines “encounters” to mean incidents where people were apprehended, turned away or deported at the border.  As of 2023, it says there were a monthly average of about 200,000 “encounters” per month at the USA’s southern border. Encounters with people from Venezuela averaged about 25,000 per month – roughly fifteen percent of the total. Mexico, as anyone should expect since it has a much larger population than Venezuela and is right next door to the U.S, averaged about 70,000 encounters per month in 2023.

Turning to data for the growth of the foreign-born Latino population in the U.S. from 2013 to 2021, there is no basis to describe the US as having been swamped by Venezuelans in recent years. Despite Venezuelan immigrant propulation’s very rapid growth it probably accounts for only about a third of the increase in the Latino immigrant population since 2016 when mass migration from Venezuela took off. [1]

Ecuador has half Venezuela’s population and is further away from the US, and yet its foreign-born population in the US is today about the same size as Venezuela’s. Mass migration from Ecuador has happened during the 1990s and early 2000s under rightwing governments with strong ties to the US that closely followed the ruinous advice of US-dominated organizations like the IMF.

Propaganda hostile to Venezuela has frequently involved very dubious and inflated figures for migration to suggest a need for “humanitarian intervention”. For example, during the early weeks of the COVID pandemic, a former Human Rights Watch official , Tamara Taratiuk (and Kathleen Page of Johns Hopkins University) linked migration from Venezuela to a “global threat” allegedly posed by Venezuela’s health care system. As it turned out, it was the shambolic response to the pandemic of the US and its allies like Brazil and Peru that ended up posing a global threat. [2]

AOC’s whitewash of Obama’s aggression

AOC was correct to say that the dramatically intensified sanctions that Trump unleashed on Venezuela in 2017 has driven migration. But she whitewashed Obama’s role in the crime, and George W Bush’s role was never even mentioned. The US has been trying to overthrow Venezuela’s government since at least 2002. [3]

When Hugo Chavez first took office in 1999, he ended a political system similar to the one the US has had in place for over a century where two factions of the elite swap power periodically. In 1999, Venezuela had a poverty rate of 50% despite having been a major oil exporter since the 1930s – and despite its governments having close ties to the US (hence no need to worry about sanctions).

Neither Hugo Chavez’s government nor Maduro’s eradicated the US-backed seditionist opposition. It is stunning, for example, that Juan Guaido was never arrested when he acted openly for years as Trump’s subversive agent in Venezuela. It was also remarkable that Chavez granted numerous US backed coup plotters a wide -ranging amnesty at the end of 2007. Countries targeted by the US are often very restrained in dealing with US-backed subversives lest they give the US a pretext to escalate its aggression against them.

But Venezuela’s extreme tolerance for US-backed sedition since 2002 did not prevent Obama from saying he needed to stop Maduro from “criminalizing dissent”. Obama sniffed blood in Venezuela’s economic problems and imposed illegal sanctions in early 2015 by declaring Venezuela an “extraordinary threat to the national security of the United States” in an executive order.  Trump, and then Biden, renewed Obama’s wildly fraudulent executive order every year.

Consider how AOC whitewashed Obama’s aggression against Venezuela:

They were sanctions, yes, but they were very targeted towards certain Venezuelan elite that were making unjust movements in the country. They were quite narrow.

There is nothing “unjust” about thwarting US-backed coup attempts, and there is no such thing as “targeted” US sanctions. US economist Mark Weisbrot remarked in 2016 that investors “know what happens to countries that are labeled an extraordinary threat to the United States” and noted that Obama had “also pressured US financial institutions not to do business with Venezuela”.

A technical sounding word – “overcompliance” – has been coined to describe the USA’s mafioso-like effectiveness in making others avoid dealings with a government targeted by US sanctions. If a sufficiently scary gangster tells you not to shop at a list of stores on a certain street, many people will avoid that street entirely. Why take a chance?

Another thing that exposes the myth of “targeted” sanctions is shown by AOC referring to Maduro’s government as a “regime” during the podcast.

Obama helped solidify the lie that Maduro’s government is a “regime” that the US has the right to punish. So if the “regime” doesn’t collapse under US pressure, it is not surprising that Obama’s sanctions were drastically intensified. When political debate is constrained by imperial assumptions, the only question is how severely the US should punish “regimes” it seeks to overthrow.

The word you are looking for is “impunity”

I wonder what foreign government AOC thinks is entitled to deliberately destroy the US economy in order to overthrow Biden? And if a foreign government’s actions killed millions of US citizens, would she be content to get an apology to “reset” the relationship [as she recently suggested the US offer Latin Americans], or would she want top officials from that government jailed?

Like all liberals, AOC loves to use morally neutered language to downgrade US crimes to mistakes for which it should merely apologize: too much “interventionism” was “bad policy”.

Joe Biden (who AOC endorsed in July) just nominated Elliott Abrams for a government job for example. Abrams was key to managing Ronald Reagan’s terrorist war against Nicaragua during the 1980s. Any decent and informed person must be outraged that Abrams has not spent decades in jail for what he has helped US clients do to Salvadorans, Nicaraguans and Guatemalans. The crimes Abrams was involved with in the 1980s were so blatant that the World Court ordered the US to pay Nicaragua reparations in 1986. Of course, the US never paid, and Abrams is wealthy and free – just like Biden, Kissinger, George W. Bush and every top US criminal who has soaked the world with blood.

By nominating Abrams, Biden has, as usual, flaunted US impunity and his contempt for anyone to the left of raging neocons. So how do liberal politicians like AOC, who endorse ghouls like Biden and Pelosi become heroes to western leftists?

Why praise AOC?

In Jacobin, Branco Marcetic wrote a lengthy apologetic for AOC and the “Squad”. On Twitter he boasted that he “did something novel and did reporting, actually talking to advocacy orgs, unions, activists”. In other words, he spoke to various groups that have failed for over a century to ever hold a US mass murderer accountable, or to get Nicaragua the reparations it has been owed since 1986, and – unsurprisingly – these groups have exonerated both themselves and AOC over the failed strategy of trying to reform the Democratic Party.

It’s very easy to be happy with AOC if you’re living in a wealthy country and you’re indifferent to US impunity, or given up on the idea of ever ending it.

That said, disillusionment with liberals like AOC can make people dismissive of electoral politics entirely. That’s a horrible mistake that ignores the lessons from Latin America in this century where people have often combined electoral and non-electoral activity to put leftists in power. Bolivia’s election in 2020 is a striking example. Held under a murderous US-backed dictatorship (that seized power in a military coup in 2019) it still resulted in the MAS party sweeping back into power and soon putting the deposed dictator, Jeanine Áñez, in jail.

Another bad direction leftists can go after giving up on “progressive” Democrats is to start sucking up to rightwingers like Tucker Carlson, and even Trump. Ralph Nader – whose 2000 presidential campaign was completely vindicated by the cynicism of Obama and Biden – became so taken with the absurd idea of left – right alliance that he wrote a novel entitled “Only the super-rich can save us”.

One way or another US impunity will end. The desirable way is with the rest of the world becoming strong enough to fight off US aggression combined with the emergence of a left wing party strong enough to serve as useful allies in that cause.



[1] The figures in the chart were calculated by multiplying Pew’s figures for Latino  populations living in the U.S. by the percentage who were born outside the U.S. The 2013 figures were found here. If you assume all of Venezuela’s immigrant population growth of 316,400 took place after 2016 and that the other populations shown in the table grew linearly since 2013 then then the total growth for the countries listed from 2016 to 2021 would be 910,083.

It is also quite possible that when the figures are updated for 2023 that Venezuela will account for a smaller percentage. One reason for that might be a huge increase in migration from Ecuador to the US since 2021.

[2] According to the Worldmeters website Peru was first (ie. the worst) in the world in COVID deaths per capita, the USA fifteenth, Brazil twenty-first, Ecuador fifty-eighth and Venezuela one hundred sixty-first

[3] For details see the book I wrote with Justin Podur: “Extraordinary Threat: The U.S. Empire, the Media, and Twenty Years of Coup Attempts in Venezuela


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