The New Cold Warrior in the Triangle of Terror

When addressing the new Latin American policy in Miami’s Freedom Tower in late 2018, the new National Security Advisor John Bolton targeted Nicaragua and Venezuela in a striking geographic metaphor. He offered a new metaphor for described the dangers of a “triangle of terror stretching from Havana to Caracas to Managua,” in November 1, 2018, demonizing Latin America and the island of Cuba in terms that suggested possible plans for “taking direct action against all three regimes to defend the rule of law, liberty and basic human decency in our region.” As if to displace attention from the Northern Triangle from which so many asylum seekers have fled to the United States in recent years, including unaccompanied minors, and where civil society is overwhelmed by drug trafficking, gang violence, and police corruption, the new triangle Bolton seeks to shift attention is a target.

So it may have been no surprise that when attacking the legitimacy of Socialist Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela by imposing expansive sanctions ton Venezuelan oil and gas, Bolton seemed to tip the cards of power. Upping the ante from defining the Socialist regime of Venezuela as an apex in a triangle, in previous saber-rattling that committed the United States to striking a blow at a “triangle of terror” tied to the Socialist heritage of Hugo Chavez and to Raúl Castro, Bolton “appeared to disclose confidential notes written on a yellow pad” to reposition military troops to Venezuela’s border, standing before a global map the divided the globe in no uncertain terms, as if announcing a new configuration of power in his role as National Security Advisor for Donald J. Trump. The “triangle of terror” Bolton warned of in November 2018 seemed to essentialize the fundamentally dangerous notion a Latin American region ripe for instability. But it may have also been sheer coincidence that alliterative force of a rather pointless if powerful polygon was a powerful cartographic conjuring of a strategy of national defense, not located in the Northern Triangle, or the former Triangle of Terror where ISIS cultivated troops, but a new borderless triangle of even allegedly even greater danger–a triangle with a rich political genealogy from the Cold War.

Bolton’s adoption of the rare tired stock term of a triangle seemed to shift attention from the other Triangle of Terror, located when it was most recently in the news on the Afghan-Pakistan border, the very site from which negotiations have been announced to start to withdraw American troops. It may have been sheer coincidence, but Bolton seemed to shift attention from a triangle in the Middle East where American troops had been long stationed and that had been a hide-out of Osama bin Laden and Taliban fighters, as if by the powerful abilities of the friction-free nature of GPS–

–to a triangle that was closer to America’s own sphere of influence from the triangle of Peshawar, Quetta, and Kabul, from which the US was busy extricating itself. Bolton’s November speech was quickly taken, one might remember, as defining the intent of team Trump in relation to focus on a new Axis of Evil, adopting a hard line in Central America as sphere ripe for intervention–“This is not a time to look away. It’s a time to increase pressure, not reduce it,” Bolton announced–and the recent exercise of economic muscle to bolster American refusal to recognize the self-declared electoral victory of Nicolás Maduro, and to declare the legitimacy of Juan Guaidó as President of the nation, demanded a map to concretize the global geopolitical stakes that Bolton and Trump were ready to commit to Venezuela, although the map before with Bolton spoke revealed few of the roots for the focus on this new Triangle, but rooted confrontation with Maduro’s claims to legitimacy in the defense of democratic liberties.

Bolton cast the region as a geopolitical battleground for American interests in stark and rhetorically powerful alliterative terms. He openly opposed the United States to a “Troika of Tyranny”–a term that lexically hinted at a vehicle driven by Russia, but wasn’t the 2016 Presidential election–and almost openly evoked the chills or breezes of a new Cold War, with its division of the world to spheres of recognizing two possible Presidents in Venezuela in ways that expanded an electoral map of one nation to spheres of geopolitical influence–if not alliances–expanding in bizarre terms an electoral map to the world to show that it had global consequences–as if global power dynamics were as simple as an electoral map.

The infographic seems to advertise how much “other countries” had at stake in who was Venezuelan President, keeping mum as to why they did. It helped that Bolton looked the part of an inveterate Cold Warrior. And one could not but recall the openly proprietorial terms of last November, when he announced “Cuban military and intelligence agencies must not disproportionately profit from the United States, its people, its travelers, or its businesses” but pointedly attacked Venezuela by imposing sanctions on its gold, and attacking the “triangle of terror” or “troika of tyranny” perhaps metaphorically tied to a Bermuda Triangle, redolent with weirdly alchemical associations of unknown dangers near islands on the high seas–

–as if one could pretend that the declaration was about the rocky shoals of securing needed democratic reform and less to do with oil revenues and resources, as with the defense of democracy.

The transposition of the polygon of a triangle from Afghanistan to the hemisphere was close to a notion of hemispheric dominance, if it also turned attention from a long war in Afghanistan to a closer, seemingly more surgical, winnable military confrontation. The map affirmed the need for using economic muscle by seizing income from oil as a way to undermined as a Socialist dictator, however, whose socialist government was corrupt and based on cronyism, linked in the global map to authoritarian governments in Turkey, China, Russia, and Iran, and their allies, linking an argument of hemispheric dominance to broad geopolitical warning of the consequences of failing to recognize Guaidó as being Venezuela’s legitimate President in American eyes.

Bolton Declares Sanctions on Venezuela’s national oil and gas company at White House Press Briefing/january 28, 2019
Evan Vucci/AP

Maps often lie, as do infographics: but the international magnification of the lack of legitimacy Bolton had been preparing to declare for some time came not only with trappings of objectivity, but with a not so coded message, that might be the true legend of the global divisions in the infographic, and was the major social media take away: a proposed movement of US troops whose removal from the Syrian and Afghan military theaters was in the process of being negotiated by the Secretary of State: the image, unintentional or not, immediately raised fears and concerns about American military plans and sent a shudder in global media.

While it may have been sheer coincidence that the metaphorical migration of the triangle of terror from one theater of global confrontation to the next was occurring in Bolton’s rhetoric and was mirrored in the imagined frictionless switch in deployment of soldiers in the legal pad Bolton displayed to television cameras–

NSA Advisor Bolton’s Yellow Pad

The mobility of the metaphor and the military seemed to echo the new logic of the Universal Transverse Mercator map, where territorial boundaries and sovereignty have far less prominence than specific sites of dispersed geographic location, and imagined transfers of military power could be a frictionless motion in space.

The infographic provided a sort of parallel world carved up and divided by entrenched political interests but whose alliances helped sovereign boundaries to recede similarly. The global two-color map almost made it difficult to understand that he addressed Venezuela–the topic of his Press Briefing in January, 2019–save by the legend identifying red as “Maduro” and blue as “Guaidó”, elevating each man who had claimed the presidency as holding a global constituency, and dividing the globe to magnifying the geopolitical centrality of the Venezuelan election. In the early February State of the Union, Donald Trump elevated–behind the rubric “Abortion”–the pressing concern of Venezuela immediately after “National Security” and “North Korea,” in ways that similarly monumentalized the question of recognition of the future president of the nation, under the rubric of “never apologize for advancing America’s interest, moved from the Border to “National Security” and withdrawal from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, a historic arms control accord of forty years in standing–with the commitment to “outspend and out-innovate” all other nations in weaponry–to North Korea and Venezuela, regions that were almost designated as areas of future combat.

Trump’s pledged to the union in a mid-February address to “stand with the Venezuelan people in their quest for freedom” against unspecified enemies, but targeted dictators tinged with Socialism. The gripping evocation of a struggle against “the brutality of the Maduro regime, whose socialist policies have turned that nation . . . into a state of abject poverty” may have foregrounded the prominence of Trump’s interest in targeting Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Occasion-Cortez as Socialists, in order to taint the Democratic party. But it was also a crisis that recalled how John Bolton, his new National Security Advisor, had conjured a new danger for the United States’ geopolitical position, independently of nuclear disarmament treaties, but which evoked our historical need for intermediate-range missiles to protect domestic interests.

The role of Maduro in Venezuela has been disastrous for its citizens, to be sure, and mismanagement of natural resources by the state demands attention: But much as Trump distorted actual policies by targeting the “Socialist regime” of Venezuela in a speech marked by excessive flag-waving, patriotism, and rally-like chants of “USA, USA,” the prominent place of map before which Bolton spoke distorted the situation, by literally taking our eyes off of the ground. The map obscured the flows of refugees from Venezuela and the humanitarian crisis in South America, as well as access to the vast oil reserves lying beneath the Orinoco River basin’s Belt. The extensive reserves to which America has limited access is mapped by USGS, but was left tacit in the American declaration of sanctions, but motivating an abrupt change in returning attention to the Western hemisphere for the National Security Advisor. And the assumption of Venezuela as OPEC Presidency, as much as the defense of democratic principles, made the clear ties of National Security to the preservation of access to and production from the Orinoco Reserves–shown below by PDVSA–and the truly globalized investment in the fields shown below, estimated to include three hundred billion barrels of bitumen–the black, viscous, organic “sludge” that contains petroleum–in what are estimated to be the largest reserve on earth, involving multiple international players–from Statoil of Norway to ExxonMobil to Chevron to BP, but also CNPC of China and TOTAL of France, as well as even if the private ownership in the Orinoco Belt was ended in 2007 by Hugo Chávez, whose Presidency haunts the current crisis. But although nationalized in name, the project of oil extraction are only majority owned by he vast majority of bitumen remains too deeply buried for surface mining–some 88-92%–by Petróleos de Venezuela (PDVSA)–creating a site that was used by Chávez to finance social reforms and projects, and created revenues of $30 billion annually in 2011, making Venezuela a sort of bit of an economic bubble in a globalized world, tied to international markets for carbon and oil, and making Venezuela a “hidden” global petroleum power, estimated to have hundreds of billions of barrels of oil.

Petróleos de Venezuela (PDVSA)

The international ties to projects of extracting bitumen and refining oil in Venezuela–which produced about 2 millions of barrels a day in 2015–estimated to have far more technologically accessible reserves. The decision to amplify the level of rhetoric used to isolate Maduro and acknowledge Guaidó as President surely has close ties to the assumption of increasing attempts of national oil and gas company to reroute its oil supplies to Europe and Asia, as members of the Maduro regime told the Russian news agency Sputnik, not only responded to the sanctions, but undercut the Venezuelan crude that usually flowed to CITGO refineries in Texas, Louisiana, New Jersey, and Illinois which made access to crude that lay in Venezuelan territory a national security question–as Oil Minister Eulogio del Pino tweeted hopes to “continue consolidating strategic alliances between PDVSA and Rosneft” in November, disturbing images of hemispheric dominance, as well as undermining American energy security.


USGS has estimated 513 billion barrels lying in the Orinoco Oil Belt, without determining or publishing the proportion technologically or economically able to be extracted
Venezuela Oil Holdings – Deep Resource
CITGO’s Petroleum Terminals in USA/CITGO

Bolton’s–and Trump’s–description of Venezuela as an ideological struggle is all one sees in the two-color division of the globe that almost heralded hopes for a return to a Cold War where maps were understood primarily as a global battleground, recalling the days at which a vertiginous sense of power in postwar Europe led us to map exchanges of nuclear missiles, and imagine apocalyptic scenarios where the world was divided by global war–but a global war that seemed to really be about American interests on access to energy reserves, hiding behind the scrim of a ratcheted up rhetoric of democratic legitimacy.

The economic crisis in Venezuela is both tragic, and an acute crisis of humanitarian scope. But the global map seemed to reduce it into a global confrontation of two blocks, if not a crisis of global consensus about representation and political legitimacy, that seemed to hollow out the term of democracy of its content: despite national sovereign division in South American, the sharp divisions of the blue of North America and most South and Central American nations described inexistent international blocks of consensus. What seemed a legitimate record of global divisions about the crisis the legitimacy of the Venezuelan government to lay claims to Venezuela’s rich reserves of oil. Without acknowledging the political or economic actualities in the South American nation, the map hinted at a global crisis, its stark red v. blue color-scheme reflecting the offers of Russia to restructure the debt of Venezuela’s oil and gas companies, and China to lay claim to a stake in Venezuela’s oil, by asserting the reserves to lie within America’s hemispheric interests, and equating those interests as lying with America’s National Security.

As if to bolster Guaidó’s claim that he is backed by the democracies of the world–in ways that nothing better than an infogram can attest–

Just 25% of the world’s governments have publically recognised Guaido as President; the remainder recognise Maduro’s election
(Paul Dobson / 6, 2019

The map before which Bolton spoke has become a topic of recurrent interest, as the nature of the global divide has been parsed and examined. The divide, this post argues, was less an informative one–deisgned to generate debate–than to paper over the situation in Venezuela’s political crisis as a question of alternative candidates for President, treating the contest as an election, and using the colors of an electoral map to suggest that the election was conclusive, and the legitimacy of Guaidó reseted on clearly ideological foundations.

Bolton spoke at the White House briefing before a map revealing a broad global divide ostensibly about recognizing Maduro’s legitimacy as Venezuela’s President but that hauntingly recalled the geopolitical divide that was firmer than many since the Cold War. It provided an image of the Cold War as it was seen from Washington, in some way, as if ideological divides that are clearcut still maintain legitimacy in a globalized world. The infographic on two screens seemed to affirm the broad global consensus of questions of the legitimacy of Maduro’s government, as if this justified the decision to block access to all property located in the United States of the national oil and natural gas company, Petróleos de Venezuela, S.A. (PDVSA), place its assets in escrow, and prohibit American citizens from paying the company directly for access to unrefined or refined oil assets. But the “press briefing” was also a transformation of the White House into a new newsroom of sorts, that exposed the illegitimacy of the Maduro government through a map that tied the United States to the defense of democratic principles–coded in blue, with other democratic allies, in opposition to “reds” linked to Socialism or Communism–China, and Russia, even if it was not Soviet, but also some questionable allies–that reinstated the for-us or against-us global space to make a point. The disclosure before this map of a threat of sensitive statement that echoed a bespectacled Bolton’s assertion that “all options are on the table” provided a powerful infographic that tied Washington to an image of legitimacy, even if the awfully crude map lacked legitimacy to orient American viewers to global affairs.

The new global imaginary that Bolton promoted as he stood beside U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin painted a global schism as the consequence of Maduro’s declaration of his victory in a second term as President, as a violation of that nation’s constitution–and as standing in violation of the Venezuela’s constitutional elections–but was as much a response to the defense of a restatement of American economic sovereignty in the Western hemisphere, a phrase going back to the turn of the last century, if not the Monroe Doctrine, but which gained new currency in the Cold War as issuing from the Dept. of State, and as a question of national security rather foreign affairs, by tactically magnifying the geostrategic role of the Venezuelan election, rather than offering evidence of a constitutional argument about sovereign legitimacy. The question of sovereignty seemed intentionally blurred, as the Secretary of the U.S. Treasury took questions about sanctions against a foreign state-owned oil company, currently OPEC chair, whose assets were being frozen to promote democratic legitimacy, but in fact to strengthen America’s hemispheric dominance.

This time, the map–whose stark divisions into blue and red blocks suggested a map of American alliances, echoing an imaginary of detente, rather than legal rights–seemed to place the defense of denying the flow of economic goods from American territory as a globalist argument, by reframng the issue of constitutional rights or legality in globalist terms that preserved an image of American dominance within the color scheme that it divided the world.

And National Security Advisor John Bolton, who in less than a year in the Trump administration has become an advocate for military interventions in both Iraq and Iran, used the briefing before a map to raise rather openly the possibility of a military resolution of the crisis over the Venezuelan Presidency, as the Commander of US Southern Command, General Mark Stammer, is set to meet the Ministry of Defense of Venezuela’s neighbor Colombia, and Maduro has conjured fears of a “coup” driven from the United States. But the fear that the invitation of American oil companies to organize the refining and extraction of Venezuela’s abundant crude reserves after the January 23, 1958 Democratic uprising, just before the Cuban revolution, sent shock waves into the United States, pushing the Trump administration rather precipitously into a search for infographics that could substantiate dangers of infringement of its hemispheric interests and geopolitical dominance, and to convince the world of the danger of Maduro’s disenfranchisement of elected members of the Congress, and the lack of legitimacy of a regional vote that supported Maduro’s government against a fractured opposition–and led to the invitation from Russia to restructure the state-owned oil and gas company’s massive debt, recasting the struggle about the government’s legitimacy into new global terms.

The colors on the global map reflect, to be sure, the contested results of elections in Venezuela, where compromised elections had produced the heavily disputed endorsement of Maduro’s Presidency just last May. After an offer from Russia to restructure the massive national debt in November, 2017, Maduro declared new elections in May 2018, which the opposition decided not to recognize, and which polls suggested he wouldn’t win, but in which he was victorious–coincidentally at the same time thatJohn Bolton gains the portfolio as director of the Trump NSA.

October, 2017 AP/A. Cubillos
2017 Regional Elections of State Governors in Argentina
Distribution of votes for Maduro in the election whose low turnout led its legitimacy to be quickly questioned by the EU, US, and OAS

Familiar blue v. red electoral maps were used to describe the votes of the Great Patriotic Pole and opposition  Coalition for Democratic Unity that were recast suddenly in global terms in late January in Washington. Socialist Maduro affirmed independence in his inauguration, and in rebuke Parliamentary President Guaidó won immediate support from Donald Trump after he declared himself Interim President and leader of the nation and of oil company, precipitating a powerful infographic to be devised in Washington that oriented audiences to an electoral map in global terms. But for Trump–and for Bolton, who cast the election as a question of National Security–the global divisions in globally strategic terms.

Trump’s segue in his February 7 State of the Union from the INF to Venezuela, included a transition about North Korea, but suggested global imbalances that any obscure the question of access to petroleum reserves in Venezuela, and the deep, implicit question of whether the American military should or would be used to guarantee access to Venezuelan oil. In ways that must have crossed Bolton’s radar, but have faded from most public comments, Maduro when he pledged to decouple the pricing of Venezuelan crude from the dollar, use of non-dollar currencies as the Chinese Yen for Venezuelan oil, and seeking to cut oil production to “stabilize” oil prices–and entertaining the cryptocurrency Petro, based on the five billion barrels of oil found in Field No. 1 of the Orinoco Oil Belt–possibly less than a quarter of Veneuela’s considerable total oil and gas reserves, whose accessibility to the American economy has suddenly become increasingly tenuous.


The events tied to the assumption of the Presidency of OPEC led to ‘slow coup’ of January 23–the anniversary of the overthrow of the Jiminez dictatorship by Venezuelans in 1958–as opposition politico Juan Guaido auto-invested himself with the presidency with broad American support, followed by a chorus of right-wing governments in Latin America, including Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro.

The result was to pretend that the elections which the opposition party had boycotted last May could be cast again as an electoral map, this time not involving Venezuelan votes–or the self-determination of the nation–but symbolically recasting the election in terms of a global map. Even as Maduro offered to negotiate, he bristled “The presidential elections in Venezuela took place, and if the imperialists want new elections, let them wait until 2025,” perhaps reacting to the provocative recasting of the national elections, whose legitimacy has been questioned by observers, in ways that led Bolton to take to Twitter to threaten “serious consequences for those who attempt to subvert democracy and harm Guaidó”–as if he were the victor of an election. Bolton had escalated attacks on the “legitimacy” of Maduro from mid-January and the “illegitimate claims to power” of the Venezuelan “dictator” as abrogating the “a government duly elected by the Venezuelan people” and democratic practice. But the stark divide of the global map seemed to resist any discussion of negotiations and affirm the United States’ ability to shift troops from Afghanistan to Venezuela’s border immanently–while preserving something of the illusion that the “blue” votes for Guaidó would be affirmed by American muscle.

Win McNamee/Getty Images, off CBC

The gruff determination and stoniness that registers in Bolton’s face as he sought to communicate the divisions of the world that potentially lay in the failure to affirm America’s recognition of Guaidó bled far beyond the defense of democratic principles, and seems to have threatened to cast more than a shadow over Europe. Bolton’s slightly veiled message of national security seemed, in classic America First style, to cast a shadow over European allies, here symbolized by the actual shadow that his pensive head cast on the United States’ traditional NATO allies.

Was Bolton in the act of forging global divisions of a new Cold War, military detente and hemispheric dominance, sneakingly if all too familiarly tied to defense and affirmation of democratic principles?

The map recalled the deep fear of Bolton has long expressed to any hindrance or reduction of the short-range nuclear missiles that act as hemispheric deterrents. In the year Bolton has emerged as a fierce proponent of peaceful strategies of negotiation, but in a masterful doublespeak took time at the press briefing to invite Maduro “to accept the peaceful, democratic and constitutional transfer of power.” He is well known for his aggressive dismissal of the “Church of Arms Control” that imposed Cold War limits on nuclear arsenals, which failed to allow America from an ability to “upgrade military capacities to match its global responsibility” in an imaginary map of global advantages that he argued in Surrender Is Not an Option: Defending America at the United Nations, to be endangered by an “arms control theology” rooted in “devotion and prayer rather than hard reality,” and the ability to develop needed nuclear deterrents to face global challenges through intermediate-range missiles. He has argued that the growth of small nations investing in such missiles–even as five nations already have abilities to hit any place on earth through their arrays of intercontinental nuclear missiles beyond 196 miles in range, and whose arsenals have recently expanded. The odd outside man seems South America, long held back from economic expansion by its northern neighbor

New York Times (2018)

The new role of the US monitoring of global balances of power has been argued to be hampered by constrained by an outdated model of arms control. Yet the ingrained view that national defenses by understood in a global game of geopolitics, where the United States needs to expand its global abilities more aggressively–and may face a global crisis in losing its advantage, and all foreign relations must critically be recognized in an optic of global competition for military advantage.

While Bolton has personally ratcheted up fears by the scope of Russia’s expansive capability for missile strikes in Trump’s administration, long pressuring Donald Trump to withdraw from the treaty, and seeing the withdrawal from the INF as a personal victory– and linking the reassessment of the longstanding arms control treaty to the 2019 defence spending bill–as a need in the face of changing global geopolitical struggles.

Bolton argued departing from restraints on ground-launched missiles would allow America to engage in a global game that is haunted by the Cold War that such anti-proliferation treaties allowed us to leave: Vladimir Putin’s oddly game response to come up with a “tit-for-tat response” to America’s departure from the INF nuclear weapons’ treaty, “Our American partners have announced the suspension of their participation . . . , so we will suspend as well,” launching development of “a hypersonic ground-based intermediate-range missile,” opens the ground for remilitarization of the globe. And while the exit from arms treaties seems a bit removed from the assertion of hemispheric interests in Venezuela’s election, the global imaginary of geopolitics in which Bolton embedded the legitimacy of the Venezuelan Presidency belonged to a strikingly similar terrain of globalized military confrontation across continents.

The sustained campaign of successive tweets and social media pronouncements that John Bolton has issued against Socialist Nicolás Maduro and for regime change in Venezuela that date from January 9 suggest nothing less than a tentative toward the sort of state-run cable TV news–a “Worldwide network to show the World the way we really are, GREAT!” as Trump put it in late November, 2018. The series of tweets Bolton posted about regime change in Venezuela that began from Venezuela as President of OPEC, and the arrival of OPEC’s Secretary General for Maduro’s swearing in, unleashed a broadly based media attack on the Maduro dictatorship, the violent oppressive measures of Maduros’ thugs, and reaffirming American support for “Venezuela’s fight to “regain Venezuela’s democracy” by recognizing Juan Guaidó as Interim President, led to the Bolton’s presser exercising hemispheric muscle by announcing billions of dollars of sanctions against the nation’s state-owned oil monopoly, Petroleos de Venezuela.

The result of a global brinksmanship that Bolton has long advocated sprung alive in the map before which he spoke in the White House briefing of January 23, where he summoned all his mustachioed gravity beneath bushy eyebrows to describe the crisis of the Maduro’s legitimacy as President in terms of a global division–even in a map that showed China in the same red as Russia, Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan, but isolated Taiwan in white, as if the infographic took no pains in reflecting actualities so much as the imagined image of the world–and stark global schisms in support of Maduro’s legitimacy–that rallied Americans behind the support for escalating existing petroleum sanctions into a policy of placing all funds that would be sent to Venezuela’s oil companies in escrow, and threatening Venezuela’s assets in the United States, based in Houston, in an explicit desire to affirm America’s support for “the legitimate government” of the neophyte Guaidó, and what he termed the “peaceful, democratic and constitutional transfer of power,” emptying the terms of that much meaning but elevating them by a map that showed who he saw as the defenders of democracy in any color but red, even as Pope Francis feared Pope Francis, the first Latin American to hold the office, openly expressed fears of being “terrified of a bloodbath” approaching in Venezuela shortly after the White House briefing announcing the imposition of sanctions on PDVSA to bring regime change, saying it would be “pastoral imprudence” to chose any side.

Why red v. blue wasn’t clear, but the legend helped divide the world into clearcut Maduro and Guaidó camps, in ways that imposed a Bostonian world-view of for-us and against-us onto a world map, as its coloration–undoubtedly more destined for American audiences familiar with red v. blue divides–pronounced a global split as reflecting democratic principles. But as much as a struggle for democracy, did the specter of declining oil production push the balance? The precipitous decline of oil production and threaten to diminish the amount of oil flowing to North America through CITGO, a state-owned subisidiary of the national oil group PDVSA, and refusing to allow monies to move to Venezuela until the “blue block” grew to include Venezuela, and Bolton was predictably increasingly stoney-faced as the press briefing ended.

Evan Vucci/AP

The origins of this infographic bore traces of conservative news agencies–why else provoke China by showing Taiwan as separate from the mainland?–but the likelihood that it came courtesy of Bolton’s immediate past employers at FOX is not to be discounted. The odd framing of one image that showed Bolton beneath heavy eyebrows with the amassed red blocks of China, Iraq, and Russia behind him acted as a bizarre thought bubble of his pensive expression of international relations–and the message which he may or may not have been aware he was displaying to the world.

The map seemed designed to grab global attention.  As Bolton addressed the world before an infographic that was haunted by the image of confrontational global division, the National Security Advisor sought to make good on Beyond pronouncing sanctions on Venezuela’s oil, Bolton went further than anyone expected in issuing an open military threat–whether intentionally or not remains a question–as he revealed . a cryptic scrawl on a yellow paper pad to television cameras that ricocheted over the internet. In what may have been a mistake, his note threatened unilateral military action to anyone who cared, hinting at the global readiness of an American military would respond to the problem of Maduro refusing to abdicate the presidency, and relinquish control over the nation’s oil reserves.

For the message, written as a reminder, seemed to follow from Trump White House’s pronouncement that “everything is on the table,” as it contemplated a response to Maduro holding power, by revealing the option to transfer American military stationed in Afghanistan to a long war that seemed as if it was winding down to a nation that neighbored Venezuela, Colombia, in order to apply some greater pressure against Maduro’s claim to legitimacy.

Coming on the heels of announcing proposed negotiations for military withdrawal from Afghanistan, the global shift in American armed forces seems perhaps premature, but was an exercising of global muscle rarely seen, treating the globe both as an American military theater writ large, and telegraphed the remapping of Venezuela’s election through American strategic geopolitical interests in one fell swoop. The scrawled threat invested Bolton’s public comments on Venezuela’s election with immense geopolitical significance, by raising the specter of military intervention, and casting the Presidency’s legitimacy in broad brushstrokes as a global geopolitical crisis. In what seems to have amounted to a gambit for strong-arm tactics against a strongman if not dictator, Bolton sought to signal a broad shift in interventionist policies to South America in the attempt to erase the legacy of the socialist Venezuelan leader Hugo Chávez.

As massive anti-Maduro street protests were organized in many cities in Venezuela, January 31 protestors support Maduro/ Jhon Zerpa/EPA/Miraflores Press Office

For in coupling the United States’ reaction to the illegitimate Presidency of Nicolás Maduro to negotiations for military withdrawal from Afghanistan, it conjured the image of a new military presence in Colombia, on Venezuela’s border. As the map that displayed the division of the world into those ready to accept Maduro’s legitimacy and those ready to question it as the primary divisions of global politics, what was numbered on Bolton’s pad as the “third option” reaffirmed the illusion that the United States is now free to exercise its global military supremacy by shifting military to wherever they are needed to back up American interests. If the map was less than informative–and startling parochial, as a global map–by conjuring a global opposition between who accepted and who questioned the Presidential elections over which the Socialist had named himself victor, the scrawled threat–and one has to call it that–arrogated the status of the United States as a kingmaker of the hemisphere and puffed up the nation’s chest.

While the move wasn’t an official part of Bolton’s energetic speech, which described the placement of sanctions on Venezuela’s oil, the National Security Advisor of hawkish tendencies unceremoniously displayed a scrawled note on a pad to news reporters that seemed destined to circulate on Twitter–but maybe just an accidental display of the foreign policy decisions that a National Security Advisor might make. But his pad spelled out the mechanics of globally allocating troops in ways that were left openly unexpressed. And even without the tipping of his hand, the infographic prominently displayed on a screen in the White House as a backdrop to discuss oil sanctions against Venezuela–by reviving a scarily familiar division of the globe into two starkly opposed camps.

The take-away seemed to announce the return of a new “doctrine” of dividing the world. The world was divided into those recognizing Maduro as national President and those according legitimacy to a Guaidó Presidency, in ways that eerily echoed the red v. blue electoral maps of the United States elections, and seemed, more strikingly, to project the global vision of the United States onto the world in a new two-color map, which, presented in the White House, divided the globe to two starkly contrasting colors, nominally and ostensibly around the issue of which candidate they recognized as Venezuela’s president on January 27.

The deep consternation that weighed on Bolton was augmented in interesting ways before the map, as if the world rested on his shoulders, or all those years of experience made him see Venezuelan’s presidential election through a lens of competing spheres of influence, and to mediate that view to the world,

and the visible consternation apparent in his furrowed eyebrows only seemed to grow greater before the new “red”-hued expanse that included not only Russia and China–the usual allies of corrupt socialist regime that he sought to isolate with the President–but the states of Turkey and Afghanistan, illuminated red as if to convey the basic point that he sought to telegraph to the nation. Colors of maps are arbitrary, but the blue v. red dichotomy was clear, as if it had migrated from the divisions used most often in own Presidential elections, but the “red” seemed to be Communist or Socialist, now, and the world colored to define the unity of states seeking to deny the legitimate claim of Maduro to the Presidency, if it seemed awfully parochial to project the color ramp of our most familiar infographics onto a global scale.

Bolton, directly appointed to Trump’s cabinet, fresh from Fox News, must be seen as one of the master-communicators, indeed, who Trump desired to help with his messaging, and who he liked watching on the station where he had been a featured news commentator since 2007–or since just before the Presidential election–and seems to have regarded the position as one from which he could jump start a second life in politics, and was hired in a spate of appointments from the FOX news network, that suggested an interest in creating something like a Trump-TV in the White House itself–bringing the men and women he cunningly used as his sounding board to understand his constituency, from Sean Hannity to Lou Hobbs to Laura Ingraham, who he had long ago named as a source for national security advice, and took to providing Trump with free counsel on the air, as well as providing unsolicited ideas about one of his all-time meme favs, “regime change,” a word almost interchangeably used from Saddam to Iran to Kim Jong-Un, in the most measured and reassuring of manners.

Did the trafficking in deceptive if persuasive infographics make this crowd so appealing, given Trump’s attraction to the medium? Sliding across the map seemed to be no problem for Bolton as a commentator, and the bold infographic was a somewhat new prop in White House pressers. A world-weary Bolton in the White House deeply emphasized the illegitimacy of Maduro’s presences to power, after President Trump decided to recognize on January mapped the broad global acceptance by the bold US recognition of Venezuelan National Assembly Leader Juan Guaidó as being the country’s interim president already blew up the issue of legitimacy of the election into global terms which would be recognized as a new geopolitical state-of-play that returned us all to the Cold War, quite elegantly, to give prominence and legitimacy to the interests of the United States in the Venezuela’s oil industry, as much as defend its peoples. For oil, economy, and sovereignty are all intertwined in a nation that sits over the largest oil reserves in the world: exporting 2.4 million barrels/day as of 2010, sending about 1.4 million barrels/day to the United States, mostly refined and distributed through the Citgo chain it owns.

When Bolton questioned the legitimacy of the election from Washington, he mapped the question in the global political situation against the “reds”–Russia, China, Nicaragua, and Cuba, this time with Iran, Syria, and Turkey, for good measure–describing the urgency of the situation as global, and looking as tired as if he bore the geopolitical divisions of the Cold War on his shoulders: the map cast the supporters of Guaidó as the partners of our allies, but the map concealed the deeper underlying question of the legitimacy oversee ownership of the Citgo gasoline chain. Indeed, the map reminded us of the division of the globe into spheres of natural enemies to amplify the urgency that Bolton conveyed, despite the surprise of the resurgence of Cold War geopolitical divisions within Trump’s inner circle. He seemed to have marked as much when he attacked the “Troika of Tyranny” in Cuba, Nicaragua, and Venezuela as having met their match by an administration ready to attack the “poisonous ideologies” they had spread in the hemisphere, suggesting a notion of hemispheric dominance that was oddly delivered in Miami before a picture of the ships of Juan de Ponce arriving in the New World–the mural credited to Miami artisans 1987 was perhaps a perfect stage to traffic in tropes of “hemispheric dominance,” first raised at the turn of the previous century, and readily recycled and given renewed currency before an American flag.

The point of that rhetorical escalation of conflict in early November in Miami was in part taken to be about rallying the refugee communities on the eve of the gubernatorial and senate elections, tapping into their collective memories and suggesting the influence of Ted Cruz. But the move forecast the declaration of a new doctrine in the Latin American theater that has come to its full fruition in the actual crisis over the recognition of the legitimacy of Venezuelan elections. But the striking iconographic juxtaposition of the American flag and the flag born by Ponce’s caravel seemed particularly apt. As a FOX commentator, Bolton was no doubt familiar speaking before a map, and explicating infographics, and describing the “oppression, socialism, and totalitarianism” that will result from “poisonous ideologies left unchecked” was aimed to end what he called a strategy of appeasement that the Obama administration had implicitly encouraged, recalling the image of “freedom fighters” so dear to Pres. Reagan. Speaking before a map magnified the effects of the pronouncement, and treated the backdrop as a cue for making the sort of statement of geopolitical dominance that Bolton has for so very long relished.

The division of the world before which Bolton delivered a White House  briefing on January 27 where he announced adopting sanctions against Venezuela’s oil industry, tightening screws on the Maduro Presidency after Trump refused to acknowledge the self-declared victory of Venezuela’s Socialist President. Bolton spoke, with members of the Trump cabinet, before a different global cartographic backdrop that resembled an infographic, and which pointedly dividing the world into red and blue. The screen Bolton and other Trump cabinet members used in making public comments at the White House suggested the victory of a new American world-view, simplifying the question of for- and against-us into a two color map, and revised the maps that had already circulated for some time in the news to clarify where nations stood about recognizing Maduro or respecting the auto-declaration of Guaidó, creating a new, clearer, oppositional logic in the question of Presidential succession for the benefit of television audiences, as if from a new Bureau of Information. Bolton’s map eliminated the category of those nations who called for further dialogue, recasting its already clear divisions mapped on January 24 by Bloomberg to still starker tones that reminded one that democracy was at stake–

Bloomberg/January 24, 2019, “Trump Support Sprarks Global Backing of Venezuela’s Guaido”

Bolton’s map replaced news visualizations of the international reactions to the contested and disputed elections that led Nicolas Maduro to declare his victory for a second term in a swearing in as President before the Venezualan state oil company–and stood to delimit the authority that Maduro would wield over the revenues of oil on the global stage. Speaking before a map that magnified a geopolitical division more than necessary to describe the imposition of sanctions against Petroleos de Venezuela, known as PDVSA, but presented his argument in terms of local governance, but for all the reference to the “people in Venezuela,” it seemed to fit Venezuela within a map of global power relations–and eliminating any more subtle shadings of positions that might call for dialogue on the question of Presidential succession and precipitate something of a global crisis around Maduro’s claims to legitimacy and Presidential power–and specifically, if not explicitly, at this point, around his access to revenues from Venezuelan oil.

Doug Mills/New York Times, January 28

To be sure, the map left several other geographies implicit, or rather obscured them, by describing the question of Maduro’s legitimacy as a global crisis: as well as not indicating the flows of refugees who had left Venezuela in such staggering numbers to create a refugee crisis among bordering nations, the map covered the questions of access to petroleum that made the Venezuelan presidency into a topic of American interests after all.

The “state of play” was more than a bit more complicated, and offered openings to a less oppositional global path to conflict, as Axios and others sought to remind us, by inserting the “call for dialogue” that Bolton had left off the table–

‘The map was increasingly refined, in later days, as folks seemed to want to de-escalate the confrontational tones in which Bolton, a FOX news commentator, as so many recently appointed members of the Trump cabinet in its most recent 2018 incarnation, who are well-versed, no doubt, in speaking before maps, and the effects of visuals as they are relayed on global media. The tempering of the map that Bolton used in announcing the sanctions–which by January 28, as if to restore Venezuela to the center of the map for the first time, and to remind us that elections can be called again, and the state of global politics is not so fixed in stone after all, and global allegiances are not dichotomous or so clearly oppositional., January 30, 2019

Where regional countries “stood” to some extent varied, but the constellation of South American politics and Central American dynamics that the United States could not afford to lose–and stood with a surprising share of South American countries, given the suggestion of intervention in local politics that Bolton suggested. While he agreed to continue to take any oil sold by Venezuelans–who make up the fifth greatest importer of crude and petroleum products that enter the United States, just slightly above Iraq, the map offered a smokescreen in the urgency of global divisions around the recognition of the legitimacy of a government, more than the economic prominence of oil production, but effectively declared a policy of economic strangulation of a nation whose three Citgo refineries in the United States produce 750,000 barrels of refined oil daily, the purchase of which would all be sent to an escrow account, as would all payments to Venezuela oil producers.

The possessive Bolton had so freely used at Freedom Tower back in November 2018 earlier defined his intent to defend our region” was perhaps not the greatest surprise of Bolton’s announcement in Miami’s Freedom Tower. In that address, given just before he turned attention to staking out a new Africa policy for the United States that was unveiled in December, as “which the President approved yesterday and which the administration will begin executing immediately,” and was unveiled to adopt “a strategy [that] remains true to his central campaign promise to put the interests of the American people first–both at home and abroad.”

The formulation that was expressed in the release of the “Africa strategy”–an America First strategy on Africa?–was described as one of effectively countering Chinese influence on the continent, and defining the entire continent as something of a battleground between Chinese and American military presence. In attacking the readiness with which implicitly corrupt Chinese government has encouraged how “China uses bribes, opaque agreements and the strategic use of debt to hold states in Africa captive to Beijing’s wishes and demands”–a formulation of economic enslavement that odd to foreground in discussing America’s African policy–linking the new position to his experience in Zambia in the Reagan administration, and noting “morally bankrupt [African] leaders” as a reason to shift emphasis from humanitarian at a time when china funneled billions to African nations–over 4121 billion–for projects built by Chinese companies.

The global mapped focused attention on the recognition of different candidates for President. But the urgency that it communicated was more likely animated by the interest not only in obstructing the currency that arrives in Venezuela through Petróleos de Venezuela, S.A., or PDVSA, through which US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo took pains to attack Maduro (and other corrupt actors and agents of evil) as having systematically kept “enriching themselves at the expense of the long-suffering Venezuelan people,” as if Pompeo south primarily to defend the people of Venezuela from socialist leaders. But the true target that the global map hid may have been the estimated 380–652 billion barrels of recoverable underground oil that the USGS estimates lies in the Orinoco Belt–an estimated 1.037×1011 m3, which would make the region among the largest (if not the largest) in the world.

The sanctions on oil not only puts huge pressures on Venezuela’s economy, which is based on oil extraction, but beyond confronting the socialist Maduro with an ultimatum but comes Guaidó seeks to wrest control of Citgo before a payment linked to bonds maturing in 2020 comes due in April, which not only stands to freeze all of PDVSA’s assets in the United States ($7 billion “plus over $11 billion in lost export proceeds”); defaulting on payments would allow creditors of the petroleum group (including Americans?) to lay claims on Citgo’s assets in the United States, if not the oil reserves that the state company extracts from the Orinoco Basin, and allow the major players who buy from Venezuela’s crude–including Chevron, Valero Energy, and, among those operating in Venezuela, Haliburton and Schlumberger NV.

Citgo Refinery in Sulphur, Louisiana/Jonathan Bachman, Reuters

While most Americans see Citgo as a place to fill their tanks–

Citgo Station in Kearny, NJ/Eduardo Munoz (Reuters)

The promotion of Maduro’s isolation to a question of global politics may well prioritize the interests of the oil industry, as much as be a fight for democracy designed to elevate the needs of Venezuela’s citizens or any public good. The design may even be bent on promoting the extractive industries of Venezuela that Trump & Co are so intent on dissociating from the Venezuelan government, which can be blamed for much of the social disorder in the country that the applications of sanctions on oil would not only exacerbate but cause to explode, creating a true refugee crisis and economic collapse.

The maps that are obscured by Bolton’s map of democracy and tyranny are not only overly crude, but conceal some of the maps that would be most prominent for many of the members of Trump’s own cabinet–if not Mnuchin and Bolton himself, including a map of natural resources. The designs on extractive industries in Venezuela fits frighteningly with the premium Trump’s administration has given extractive industries: as the recent shutdown paralyzed workers across the nation, as Mary Creasman has revealed, the Bureau of Land Management helped to advance 22 new drilling permit applications from oil companies to allow them to explore public lands in Alaska, North Dakota, New Mexico and Oklahoma on twenty-two sites so efficiently that the American Petroleum Institute’s director crowed that the extractive industries “have not seen any major effects of the shutdown on our industry.” As the Trump administration’s acting Interior Secretary worked to return furloughed employees advance to advance drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and the Western Arctic region of Alaska.preserve, and allow the leasing of public lands to the oil and gas industry, the promise that, according to the USGS, Venezuela’s oil reserves continue to hold for other companies–if not open the reserves to companies beyond the “corrupt” PDVSA.

The maps that USGS offers of the extent of oil resources on which the Venezuelan government–and whoever controls the Orinoco Oil Belt–would have been central targets in the possible defaulting of the national oil company, and the repercussions of the fate of Citgo.

But this is not the geopolitical picture that Bolton wanted the world to know, and which he centered about the Venezuelan people and ostensibly about Democratic ideals. The map made that explicit when Bolton conspicuously gave that January 2019 speech that seemed to crystallize the global divisions of a new Cold War.

If Bolton’s speech sought to undermine the self-declared re-election of Maduro in Venezuela, by declaring sanctions against the Venezualan oil company on which the state exercises a monopoly, this time announced the refusal of the United States to recognize his election against a backdrop of the global divisions against the cryptic assertion of his scrawl, all the more simply stated as if it were a formula for global that stood independently, as if self-evidently, on his “Top” pad, whose “Docket Gold” seemed a subconscious evocation of Trump’s Executive Order to apply new sanctions on Venezuelan gold. The open display of such secrets of National Security telegraphed to the traveling press corps the intent to mobilize troops on the border of Venezuela, as well as simply apply devastating sanctions on its economy, in an undiplomatic display of strong-arm diplomacy, designed to brush the value of borders aside in a world where we could shift troops around to the points of a Universal Transverse Mercator projection, and call whatever reinforcements needed to substantiate the United States’ commitment to supporting Guaidó as interim President of the nation, lest his words were not clear.

Bolton’s Open Display of “Secret Plans” of National Security

While this makes one wonder what steps (1) and (2) entailed–closing the Syrian bases that seem not to be closing so quickly?accelerting the abandonment of Afghan allies beyond the timetable that Trump seems to be standing by now? or just that, indeed, “all options are on the table,” and this is one?–the display of the note, and its latent threat, seemed designed to show just how much strong-arming Bolton was prepared to engage in, and how ready he was to magnify the election into geopolitical terms. True, there have been similar cases of negligence in the Trump administration, when talking points have been accidentally displayed to a White House Press Corps, during half-private meetings, by a President who is not used to being continuously part of the public record, and as the snapping cameras are as resourceful as Tom Brenner’s.

“THERE WAS NO COLUSION [sic]”/Tom Brenner, July 17 2018

WeWe’ll probably never know if the option to shift 5,000 troops out of Afghanistan–an amazing suggestion, given the lack of clear deadline that exists for shifting 7,000 troops from Afghanistan and reduce the costs of continued aerial surveillance of Afghanistan as well as the costs of supporting overseas troops–echoing Trump’s longstanding desire to “get the hell out of Afghanistan,” even if it means plunging the nation into civil war, in a face-saving deal that seems bent on preventing anyone from noticing the terrible failures of involvement Afghanistan, and the danger of NATO abandoning interest in Afghanistan after United States troops leave..

The image of globalism mirrored how Trump himself had dangled the “military option” of entering Venezuela’s territory and ending the misery of socialism, as if on the heals of withdrawing the military from Syria and Afghanistan, and shifting the pieces on the board game of the world map, both continuing a military engagement but reallocating the military for what seemed a far more popular war. Clutching the pad with the secret message, cast as something of a theorem for the Trump era or linked action, “Afghanistan –> welcome the talks. 5,000 troops to Colombia,” that took members of the National Security Counsel by surprise but also preempted the UN by illustrating American policy over the world wide web, the mustachioed Bolton, his own blue tie matched with the color division of the global map behind him, seemed to bear the weight of a decision to redeploy troops usually reserved for the chief executive.

Had Bolton planned a new constellation of power since being chosen to serve as Trump’s third National Security Advisor in March, 2018, whose notions of national security were not only rooted in the reconfiguration of the global map with ease, and compared President Obama’s foreign policy to a “dithering” to Chatham House in ways that risked likening him to “history’s paradigmatic weak leader,” Aethelred the Unready, whose response to Viking raiders compromised English sovereignty–and the metaphors of marauding, tactical offensive action, and national defences informed the geographical imaginary that Bolton seems to be practiced in applying to different global regions, from Africa to Central America, placing each in a puzzle whose policing is needed to secure stability in contemporary geopolitics.

Perhaps Bolton’s eagerness to apply metaphors of marauding, tactical struggles of power, and national security suggest a distinct geographic imaginary that helps to magnify the office of National Security Advisor into a broad international portfolio, and perhaps they suggest a sense of being slightly out of touch.

Bolton turned on a similar over the top oratory of mapping when he evoked in November an anti-American “Troika of Tyranny” as a subject to confront, as if it replaced the “Axis of Evil” in Miami. He seemed to be staking the “troika” as the target of a Trump doctrine that would “no longer appease dictators and despots near our shores in this Hemisphere,” as if it were still a “sordid cradle of communism” and delivering the auspicious assurance that “this Troika will crumble” under Trump’s guidance, as “each corner will fall,” enjoining its members to “look to our flag and look to your own” to realize the inevitability of their demise would not be far off, even if he had unveiled few strategic plans to reconfigure Latin American policy so broadly or comprehensively. The odd prominence he gave to two lines of his scrawl to the news media.

Bolton had presented himself as the architect of a new Republican foreign policy for some time, honing it not only as an somewhat stealth under-the-radar temporary US Secretary to the United Nations, never confirmed by the US Senate, and after having positioned himself as the Republican Secretary of State in waiting–to the extent that it was widely seen that his ideas were redesigning the Republican party, even if he did not declare his candidacy, but promised to “make the strongest contribution to our future by continuing as a clear and consistent advocate for a strong, Reaganite foreign policy that values peace through strength,” in ways so widely accepted to lead his walrus moustache to migrate onto the faces of most all of the GOP field and to throw his support behind “national security candidates” in ways that suggested a fully articulated if not publicly voiced strategy of regional intervention–most recently by promising to confront Latin American “dictators” who enriched themselves from their nations’ natural resources. In placing the floating signifier of walrus moustaches on many in the Republican field–save Carly Fiorina, thankfully, the graphic that circulated on Twitter sought to describe the Deep State that already circulated across the entire Republican field.

Washington Post Graphic

The policy of adopting an aggressive foreign policy that fit American interests was one to which Bolton had long dedicated himself, even as he decided to sit out the Presidential elections of 2012 and 2016, but to keep interest in his potential future candidacy for top-level administrative positions alive. Bolton was quite active, devoting $2.6 million to the 2016 senate elections, much funneled through the PAC from Robert and Rebekah Mercer. Bolton voiced his strident views on FOX, befitting his history of championing military intervention as well as an architect of the Iraq war; his visit to Trump Tower in December 2016 may have been nixed by Rex Tillerson, if not Stephen Hadley and other Republicans, but Bolton had positioned himself as a new architect of American foreign policy who was eager to fill the spot of National Security Advisor where he would come to hold considerable cache after having lamented that staffing changes in mid-2017 left him without the access to the President that he had been after John Kelly had wisely limited White House visitors, even if he seems to have stayed in close touch with Trump via cel–even if he took care to keep whatever document he carried to Trump Tower was more closely concealed–and kept in a private envelope.

Bolton in the lobby of Trump Tower in December, 2016/
Sam Hodgson, New York Times

But the Cold Warrior’s rhetoric had long honed a defense of an American sphere of defense, as he prepared himself to advise any future presidents, and provide a model of defending American interests against its enemies.

More than somewhat surprisingly, in a globalized age where the real fear such regime posed to their neighbors was first and foremost understood in terms of refugees, they support the unprecedented reach that Bolton seems set to assert into South America. For the map that many nations face in supporting the possibility of American intervention and Guaidó’s legitimacy responds to the threat of Venezuelans’ sustained exodus as refugees into its neighbors, a movement of some 1.5 million to have resettled in search of better work conditions, during the government of Hugo Chavez–including many in numbers that have grown to staggering proportions in recent years, as claims for asylum to neighboring countries have created internal problems that the UNHCR has not been able to adequately address, but have been deeply felt across South America, and created a problem of governance as their untenable escalation has created global pressures that are bordering on immense humanitarian disasters, in ways we cannot even count clearly, as the numbers of refugees known to have arrived from Venezuela in Brazil quadrupled between 2015-17, as those arriving in Argentina have tripled, and skyrocket in Peru in two years–and many more have gone uncounted.

Miami Herald/International Organization for Migration/
December 20, 2017

The previous years have seen a massive movement of people not on the roads of the nation, or in Caravans, but 820,000 arriving in Columbia in the eighteen months, including many Columbians returning from Venezuela to resume residence in their native country, and 32,000 Venezuelans seeking asylum in Brazil, 4,000 of whom live in temporary shelters run by UNHCR. Of over 1000,000 refugees in Columbia, 50,000 are five or younger. The human rights disaster of refugees and migrants in other countries who have left Venezuela for Brazil has been created in large part by social insecurity (83%), as well as lack of work and essential services, and many cite 52% generalized violence that have increase in the Maduro regime: Ecuador is a frequent point of transit for those Venezuelans leaving through Colombia, where Venezuelans arrived in record numbers May 2018 of 5,000/day–where the numbers of Venezuelan refugees have grown tenfold since the economy collapsed, leaving thousands of children to die from malnutrition, repeated electric blackouts creating looting, and consequent repression: over 1.2 million Venezuelans fled the country over 2017-18, according to the Center for Strategic and Immigration Studies, as we were following the US Presidential race, and in 2017 alone, the average Venezuelan lost twenty-four pounds, as 90% of the nation fell below poverty level.

Skye Gold/Business Insider, June 28 2018/
“Millions of Venezuelans have Fled their Homes, and it’s Affecting the Entire Region”
Venezualans Entering Colombia on Bridge in February, 2018/ Moises Rendon/CICIS

Numbers of daily migration have dramatically exploded since 2018, as entries into neighboring nations have ballooned at unrecognized border points or points of entry, as an expanding crisis of migration of refugees from Venezuela stands only to go through the roof with the application of oil sanctions, that would strike at the heart of the nation’s economy, and create a sense of panic in what has already developed as a full humanitarian disaster across the continent.

Venezuela’s Crisis is Now a Regional Humanitarian Disaster”/CSIS
March 30, 2018

The tragically increasing flow of migrants from Venezuela has changed the political context in which Bolton’s rather unprecedented strong stance toward intervention in Latin America is received. The pressures on nearby countries are indeed huge: UNHCR counted some 1.6 million Venezuelans fleeing their native land since 2015 alone, leading eleven South American and Central American nations to support Trump’s call for recognizing Guaidó as President, isolating Bolivia, Cuba and Nicaragua in their vocal support for the legitimacy of Maduro’s presidency and the Socialist government. Bolton’s own recent stony-faced comment that even Maduro’s own military are no longer on his side seems to have helped to force Maduro’s hand toward negotiations with a change of power, as the “rogue socialist dictator” was isolated by Guaidó’s decision to name himself Constitutional Interim President “and the rest of the Free World,” as FOX had it, and Bolton presented the victory as a way to prevent Vladimir Putin from establishing a foothold “in our own hemisphere.”

The crisis of Venezuelan refugees that has gone neglected in the alternative world of Fox infographics has gained new attention, perhaps, by being recast in globalist terms, and as a victory for American interventionists and a relatively retrograde foreign policy. As Bolton celebrated the degree to which “the free nations of this hemisphere have spoken” in declaring their willingness to be opposed to the “corrupt, socialist regimes” who have “impoverished the people of Venezuela” with one voice that follows that of the United States, Bolton used infographics to recast economic collapse of a nation, in an image of how Maduro and his predecessor Ugo Chavez, unlawfully “systematically looted oil resources,” that was a sort of myth about socialism. More recently, Bolton tightened the screws further when he hinted on his platform of FOX that, in this case, not even the Venezuelan military might be on Maduro’s side–a clear threat of the consequences of the economic strangulation of Venezuela’s national oil company, and reassignment of all oil assets to Juan Guaidó, bolstered by noting that Venezuela’s National Assembly has granted a general amnesty. For Bolton, the economic intervention in the ownership of the rich oil resources in the recognition of Guaidó, as Maduro seems to entertain peaceful compromise or negotiation, is presented as a start to overturn the “Troika of Tyranny” by upsetting its Venezuelan vertex, to help have American oil companies come in to produce and work in the Venezuelan oil fields and raise the nation’s standard of living that has fallen to one of the lowest world-wide.

The geopolitical situation that has led the domestic policies of Venezuela’s neighbors have led them to be more understanding of the strong-arm tactics of American foreign policy that Bolton has returned to the White House which South American nations would resist. Bolton had already adopted significantly more bellicose language to justify a reorientation of Trump’s foreign policy to one of aggression, blaming socialist governments for the economic and social unrest that Venezuela and its socialist neighbors face, and casting them in a rhetoric of liberty and freedom. “This Troika of Tyranny, this triangle of terror stretching from Havana to Caracas to Managua, is the cause of immense human suffering, the impetus of enormous regional instability, and the genesis of a sordid cradle of communism in the Western Hemisphere,” Bolton told groups refugees from Cuba and Venezuela on November 1, 2017. “Under President Trump, the United States is taking direct action against all three regimes to defend the rule of law, liberty, and basic human decency in our region.”

The on the ground situation for Venezuela’s immediate neighbors is obscured by the global maps that have gained currency within global and local media outlets. The both surprisinq and fairly unprecedented sport for the notion of American intervention in this new policy stems from the scale of refugee traffic to other nations, suggesting a development that has been months in the planning, that runs against the opposition to the history of American intervention in Latin American nation state.

weAFP, Janary 25 2019/EEUU intenta una “asfixia económica” a Maduro mientras la UE debate reconocer a Guaidó

The skillfulness with which Bolton wielded rhetoric before maps suggested the global nature of the conflict, both in the global polarity of support for “interim President Guaidó” and his oil assets, as the real map seems not to be about the political terrain or sovereignty of different governments, than the wealth that is lying under the river basin and the access that American companies might be able to gain to the oil fields of Latin America, starting by granting diplomatic credentials to Juan Guaidó.

The point is not that Maduro has legitimacy as President, or that he has not effectively created unprecedented inflation and a dangerous economy, or used police forces in illegal ways against opposition. But it is rather that the facility in welding infographics has worked so effectively to help to isolate him on a world stage, and to use his illegitimacy to help resuscitate an old imaginary of geopolitics, and that this is a process with which John Bolton seems to be central. Bolton, after all, is particularly clear on the global geopolitical map he sees the American president as working, and is one of the few Americans who openly stand by the Iraq War as a necessary act for global security. And his FOX-land facility in speaking before maps and infographics to make a point–

–should be placed in the context of the broad trafficking in deceptive infographics in his most recent ecosystem, where the generation of graphics helped increase a sense of national vulnerability that stands in contrast with most global security experts, and which seemed only to magnify threats to make a rather cheap political point to the largest audience possible about Presidential leadership.

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Filed under geopolitics, latin America, national security, news graphics, Venezuela

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