February 24, 2020
Juan Guaidó’s high-profile trip to Washington earlier this month seems to be paying off. After receiving a bipartisan standing ovation during Trump’s State of the Union address, attending a joint press conference with Nancy Pelosi, and meeting privately with Vice President Pence in the Oval Office, the Trump administration has just earmarked millions in additional funding to support regime change efforts in Venezuela.
According to the State Department’s recently released Congressional Budget Justification for the 2021 Fiscal Year, spending dedicated to regime change in Venezuela has received a significant boost.
The Trump administration requested $200 million in the FY 2021 Economic Support and Development Fund (ESDF), “to address the crisis in Venezuela,” which includes flexible programming “to support a democratic transition and related needs in Venezuela.” This represents a twenty-two-fold increase from the administration’s FY 2020 request, and about 26 percent of the ESDF’s total funding request for the entire Western Hemisphere.
Oftentimes this funding’s ultimate destination can change, and given the political situation, ends up being spent outside of Venezuelan territory. Last year, Trump diverted more than $40 million of Central American aid directly to the Venezuelan opposition led by Juan Guaidó, paying for, among other things, salaries, airfare, and technical training for Guaidó’s staff — many of whom reside in Washington, DC.
Other line items in the budget include the US Agency for Global Media (USAGM), which requested a $637 million budget to “inform, engage, and connect people around the world in support of freedom and democracy” while prioritizing “regions of strategic importance to United States national security” and “providing comprehensive coverage of Venezuela’s on-going leadership conflict.” This figure is conservative, as the previous two budgets significantly overshot similar requests, spending more than $810 million last year alone. It is unclear, however, how much of this budget will fund USAGM’s various Venezuela-related media campaigns.
Another new development in this year’s budget is the transfer of $25 million from the Diplomatic Progress Fund to “International Narcotics Control and Law Enforcement,” citing the “political transition in Venezuela” as one of the policy priorities of the funding. While vague on how the money will be used, it appears consistent with the politically charged rhetoric of “narcoterrorism,” which the Trump administration and their allies in the region have levied against some of the governments that they have sought to overthrow.
While some of the funding in this year’s budget is earmarked for humanitarian assistance to Venezuela, including $5 million to USAID’s Venezuelan Global Health Program, it’s merely a drop in the bucket compared to the devastating impact that US sanctions have had on the country since they were greatly expanded in 2017.
Sanctions on financial transactions with Venezuelan companies and economic sanctions against Venezuela’s national oil company have cost the country billions of dollars it needs to maintain vital health, water, and food security infrastructure, while also preventing imports of life-saving medicine and food. The result has been the death of tens of thousands of Venezuelans, and millions of economically driven refugees. These sanctions are also illegal under treaties that the US has signed, as well as under international law.
Despite Juan Guaidó’s international tour and Trump’s empty promises of support for “the Venezuelan people,” a peaceful, diplomatic resolution to the political crisis does not appear any closer. Trump’s new budget, instead of focusing on diplomatic solutions, facilitating depoliticized humanitarian aid, and assisting the recovery of the Venezuelan economy, doubles down on a failed regime change strategy that has only hurt millions of Venezuelans, and costs Americans hundreds of millions in tax dollars.