Does Democracy Fit The Corporate Mind of Rex Tillerson?

U.S. Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, has returned to Washington from his tour of Mexico, Argentina, Peru and Colombia, and a final stop in Jamaica. We will not know the details of his report, much less his personal impressions about his meetings with Latin-American heads of state. But we do know the message he was carrying, and preliminary outcomes from his tour. We ask, do Venezuelan democracy, peace, and constitutional process fit in the corporate mind of Secretary of State Tillerson?

The messenger, Mr. Tillerson, has quite an extensive profile in the private sector. He has spent most of his professional life working for Exxon Mobil Corp. in different capacities, becoming very wealthy as he climbed the business ladder from engineer in 1975 to CEO of Exxon Mobil in 2006, gaining financial benefits in the order of millions of dollars.

For example, Wikipedia says: “Mr. Tillerson is estimated to be worth at least $300 million.” I couldn’t afford a single hair on his head if it was put up for sale. But that is nothing compared to giant corporation he headed that “had 80,000 employees, did business in nearly 200 countries, and had an annual revenue of nearly $400 billion.”

More interestingly, Tillerson lobbied against the Dodd Frank Act Rule 1504 reform and protections of 2010, which would have required Exxon Mobil to disclose payments to foreign governments. We can only guess the motive for him to reject more transparency in such dealings. Then suddenly, in 2017, Congress voted to overturn Rule 1504 one hour before Tillerson was confirmed as Secretary of State. We can assume that now nothing will stop resource extraction businesses to make unspecified payments to foreign governments. That must be Tillerson’s legacy to the industry that treated him so well.

On the foreign front, Tillerson was also very successful and made business deals on behalf of Exxon Mobil with Russia. In fact, in 2013, he was awarded the Order of Friendship by President Vladimir Putin for his contribution to developing U.S.-Russia cooperation in the energy sector. Maybe Tillerson decided to oppose U.S. sanctions against Russia in 2014 in order to oblige?

That was Rex Tillerson wearing his corporate hat. But suddenly, wearing his brand new Secretary of State hat, he urged Russia to withdraw from eastern Ukraine stating “the United States will consider working with Russia when we can find areas of practical cooperation that will benefit the American people. Where we do not see eye to eye, the United States will stand up for the interests and values of America and her allies.” When did his view of the “interests and values of America” change since 2014?

The interaction of CEO Tillerson with Venezuela has also had a bumpy history. When the Chavez government re-nationalized the oil industry in 2007, Exxon Mobil claimed $15 billion as compensation, but an international arbitration court only granted $1.6 billion. Is Tillerson seeking today a payback for his former friends?

These facts are important to establish a person’s character and level of integrity. After all, the U.S. Senate must have reviewed Tillerson’s “performance” as a corporate citizen before confirming his appointment. So can we.

This person with a single-minded business view of the world suddenly became the foreign arm of a U.S. president who has a similar worldview. What kind of state diplomacy, morals, ethics, honour, and public sector experience are at play in running a corporation? Where do democracy, peace, and constitutional process fit in a corporate-trained mind? It’s anybody’s guess because such values in U.S. foreign policy are being replaced with sanctions, threats and actual military interventions in countries that dare to challenge the empire’s design of domination. Countries that cave in may be “rewarded” with trade deals that make sure “America first” is the outcome.

Rex Tillerson, the U.S. messenger to the world, travelled to some Latin American countries not to promote real democracy, peace and respect for constitutional process but just the opposite. By his own words, he has incited a military coup in Venezuela, immediately echoed by senator Marco Rubio on Twitter: “The world would support the Armed Forces in #Venezuela if they decide to protect the people & restore democracy by removing a dictator” This is a diabolical “marketing-style” means to sell havoc and death. A commercial would probably say, “Your family members would love you if you would protect them by buying our life insurance policy.”

Days after Tillerson’s tour, Argentina said it would consider an embargo of Venezuelan oil. Colombia, mimicking the U.S., declared that it would be impossible to recognize the upcoming elections in Venezuela. Colombia and Brazil have just announced a build up of troops close to their Venezuelan borders, a treasonous action by regional compatriots. The Lima Group has also joined the chorus of protests against Venezuela.

The U.S. government has declared Venezuela a threat to its national security. It has applied multiple sanctions, including a virtual financial blockade, that only intend to promote discontent, not to mention suffering, in the population. It has issued threats of military intervention, and it has called the Venezuelan armed forces to rebel. Canada and the EU have followed suit at least on sanctions. The U.S. government actively seeks unlawful regime change in Venezuela.

Equivalent in spirit to Trump’s “shithole” remark, Tillerson said that the military “oftentimes” handles regime change in Latin America. That is insulting, to say the least, but more seriously it is an undiplomatic seditious message to the Venezuelan military.

The implementation of the 1823 Monroe Doctrine has had a devastating impact in the region. It is seen by many as raw U.S. imperialism, precisely the kind that the Bolivarian Revolution wants to eradicate to put an end to the rapacious exploitation of Latin America.

While Tillerson was on his tour planting seeds of treason in Latin America, the Venezuelan government continued its dialogue with the opposition in the Dominican Republic. When it came time to sign an agreement on Feb. 6, the opposition did not show up after reportedly receiving a phone call from Colombian President Santos. Tillerson happened to be in Colombia at the time. The unsigned agreement had an election date already set. Responding to the no-show of the opposition, the Maduro government was consistent with its promise of going to elections with or without agreement: it then released the unratified agreement with the date that was set: April 22, 2018.

Without an understanding of the historical U.S. imperial role in Latin America it would be impossible to comprehend the level of contradiction between preaching democracy, and at the same time stopping the only viable process that promotes democracy – dialogue and a peaceful electoral process without preconditions or threats.

However, after the Secretary of State returned to Washington, more threatening statements were heard. The State Department issued on February 8 a statement supporting “the decision by opposition parties” to reject the Venezuelan elections. President Maduro immediately tweeted “Venezuela is open to giving all of the necessary guarantees and to receive all international observers who would like to come [observe our elections]. Beyond inspecting, they may learn from the impeccable electoral system that we’ve built.” How will the U.S. respond to that? A sensible government with serious intentions towards peace would immediately seize the opportunity through a mutually agreed mediated effort.

Venezuela refuses to fit the neoliberal, right wing mold of the U.S. empire. It has an internationally recognized sovereign right to do so within the legality of its own constitution, legislation and the will of the people. As the often repeated slogan says, everybody else should keep their #HandsOffVenezuela.

Nino Pagliccia

Nino Pagliccia has two Master’s Degrees from Stanford University and is a retired researcher on Canada-Cuba collaborative projects at the University of British Columbia. He has published many peer-reviewed journal articles and has contributed chapters to books on topics about Cuba, the Cuban healthcare system and solidarity. He has been a long-time activist and has organized groups to do voluntary work in Cuba for almost 15 years.

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