Venezuela Update: 3 Sources
Why is Venezuela Spiraling Out of Control
Every day the news about Venezuela seems to get worse.
On March 29th the Supreme Court dissolved the National Assembly. The partial reversal of this decision days later did not prevent the outbreak of a new wave of deadly protests in the beginning of April. The death toll now stands at thirty, and is rising by the day. Both opposition and government supporters have been killed. Government offices have been looted and set aflame, and government officials murdered. No end is in sight.
The Organization of American States (OAS) is set to hold yet another emergency meeting of foreign ministers to discuss Venezuela’s crisis. Venezuela has declared it will leave the OAS, possibly to preempt being suspended from the organization. In the eyes of many this action will make Venezuela even more of a pariah nation than it already is.
Venezuela’s deep economic and social crisis shows no signs of abating, and will likely get worse amidst the chaos and violence wracking the country. The opposition has shown its willingness to sacrifice possibilities for economic recovery to achieve its goal of removing President Nicolás Maduro from office, with the Associated Press reporting that opposition-led National Assembly head Julio Borges recently contacted over a dozen leading international banks, urging them not to do business with Venezuela. The government, in turn, faces increasing criticism for its seemingly complete inability to solve, or even admit the full severity of, the nation’s socioeconomic crisis, and what many see as its slide into authoritarianism.
How should we make sense of all of this?
There are two contrasting narratives currently circulating about Venezuela’s crisis. The first, prominent in mainstream western media, portrays the government as a dictatorial regime engaged in ruthless repression of a heroic opposition peacefully seeking a return to democratic rule. The second, put forward by the government and certain sectors within the small (and likely dwindling) international solidarity community, portrays a democratically elected government besieged by a violent, unhinged opposition that (a) represents a small minority of wealthy elites; (b) enjoys full support from the US empire; and (c) will stop at nothing to achieve regime change, regardless of the legality or morality of its actions.
Both narratives contain elements of truth, but neither does justice to Venezuela’s crisis.
The idea that Venezuela is authoritarian has been repeated ad nauseam for nearly the entire eighteen-year period of Chavista rule, which began when Hugo Chávez was elected president in 1998. Until recently, it has been relatively easy to refute this claim, which ignores the fact that Venezuela’s ruling party has been repeatedly affirmed at the polls, winning 12 of 15 major elections between 1998 and 2015, and conceding on the three occasions when it lost (December 2007, September 2010, and December 2015). On the five occasions Chávez stood for office between 1998-2012 he won by substantial margins (his lowest margin was 55-44% in 2012, and his highest was 63-37% in 2006). Venezuela’s current president, Nicolás Maduro, was also democratically elected. Regularly repeated charges of electoral fraud are baseless, as fraud is all but impossible in Venezuela’s electoral system, which Jimmy Carter has called “the best in the world.”
Yet, while previous claims of Venezuela’s authoritarianism have had little merit, this is no longer the case. A series of government actions since early 2016 has made it increasingly difficult to challenge claims that Venezuela is moving in an authoritarian direction. First, throughout 2016 the Supreme Court, which is clearly and even openly subordinate to the executive branch, blocked the opposition-controlled National Assembly, which won the legislative majority in December 2015, from passing any major legislation. In some cases, the legislature was attempting to act beyond its authority, for example, in seeking to grant amnesty to prisoners like Leopoldo López. Yet the Supreme Court’s systematic blockage of the National Assembly effectively rendered the opposition’s newly-captured legislative majority—and thus the December 2015 election results—null. Second, after months of dragging it feet, the government cancelled a constitutionally allowed recall referendum process in October 2016. Third, the government indefinitely postponed municipal and regional elections that should have occurred in 2016, according to the constitution (although Maduro recently moved to set a date for the elections). Fourth, as noted, the Supreme Court issued a ruling dissolving the National Assembly in March, before partially reversing itself days later, after Maduro asked the Supreme Court to review its decision. Maduro was spurred to action when his own attorney general, Luisa Ortega, took the unprecedented step of publicly condemning the Supreme Court decision as “a rupture in the constitutional order.” Fifth, in April 2017 Henrique Capriles, a leading opposition figure and two-time former presidential candidate (in 2012 and 2013), was banned from participating in politics for fifteen years, on highly dubious grounds.
By cancelling the recall referendum, suspending elections, and inhibiting opposition politicians from standing for office, the Venezuelan government is systematically blocking the ability of the Venezuelan people to express themselves through electoral means. It is hard to see what to call this other than creeping authoritarianism. But it is also hard to agree with characterizations of Venezuela as a full-scale authoritarian regime, given the opposition’s significant access to traditional and social media and substantial ability to engage in anti-government protest, notwithstanding certain restrictions (some if not all of which appear justified; such as limiting protesters’ access to parts of Caracas appear reasonable in light of repeated episodes of destruction of government property).
The government deserves strong criticism for its authoritarian actions, and its continuing failure to take meaningful action to resolve the country’s socioeconomic crisis. Yet, the opposition is far from the blameless victim mainstream media reports so often make it out to be.The government deserves strong criticism for its authoritarian actions, and its continuing failure to take meaningful action to resolve the country’s socioeconomic crisis. Yet, the opposition is far from the blameless victim mainstream media reports so often make it out to be. A particularly egregious example of the mainstream media’s whitewashing of the opposition’s past and present embrace of violence appears in an April 19 New York Times article, which miraculously transforms the violent 2002 military coup that overthrew Hugo Chávez into a seemingly peaceful “protest movement”: “While past protest movements by the opposition have often sought to topple the leftist government — one in 2002 even briefly deposed Hugo Chávez, the president at the time…”.
There is ample evidence the opposition’s willingness to use violent and unconstitutional means against the government is not confined to the 2002 coup, but continues into the present, as I discuss elsewhere. In April 2013 the opposition refused to recognize Maduro’s victory, despite zero evidence of fraud, and engaged in violent protests that led to at least seven civilian deaths. 41 died in another wave of opposition-led violence between February and April 2014. It is widely agreed that these deaths were a result of the actions of both opposition activists as well as state security forces, with some reports indicating that each side was responsible for approximately half the deaths, although it is challenging to collect fully reliable information on this contested issue.
The opposition has engaged in numerous acts of violence during the current round of protests. In an on-the-ground report from Venezuela on April 23, Rachel Boothroyd Rojas, wrote:
“A catalogue of the violence over the last 18 days is shocking – schools have been ransacked, a Supreme Court building has been torched, an air force base attacked, while public transport, health and veterinary facilities have been destroyed. At least 23 people have been left dead, with many more injured. In one of the most shocking cases of right-wing violence, at around 10 PM on April 20th, women, children and over 50 newborn babies had to be evacuated by the government from a public maternity hospital which came under attack from opposition gangs.”
One of the more tragic recent deaths occurred Sunday April 23 when Almelina Carillo, a “47-year-old nurse was on her way to her afternoon shift when she crossed paths with [a] Chavista march [in downtown Caracas] and was critically injured by [a frozen bottle] presumably thrown [from a high-rise apartment] by an opposition sympathizer.”
It is not clear when, or how, Venezuela’s downward spiral will end. In the face of this, the task for anyone who cares about Venezuela, and particularly left-of-center activists, scholars, and journalists who have applauded and documented the many important achievements of the “Bolivarian Revolution,” is threefold.
First, to tell the truth. This means, of course, documenting and publicizing the opposition’s brutal and deadly use of violence against government officials, grassroots Chavistas, and innocent bystanders. This issue deserves far more attention than it receives in mainstream news accounts of Venezuela. Yet, the Left cannot turn a blind eye to the government’s slide into authoritarianism, nor its inept policies. This is not out of an unwarranted blind faith in liberal, representative democracy, but because authoritarian rule is incompatible with the beautiful-albeit-contradictory-and-flawed project of building “participatory and protagonistic democracy,” which Chavismo helped advance.
Second, to reject any and all calls for imperialist interventions aimed at “saving” Venezuela. Attempts to do so will not only fail, but are likely to transform a difficult situation into a tragic one, as the horrors of Iraq and Afghanistan show all too well.
Third, to stand in solidarity with the majority of Venezuelans who are suffering at the hands of a vengeful, reckless opposition, and an incompetent, unaccountable government. If any slogan captures the current mood of the popular classes living in Venezuela’s barrios and villages it is likely this: Que se vayan todos. Throw them all out.
Gabriel Hetland is an assistant professor of Latin American, Caribbean and U.S. Latino Studies at University at Albany, SUNY. His research examines participation, politics, and protest in Latin America and the United States.
(Correction: A previous version of this article contained a link to a venezuelanalysis.com article that mischaracterized Venezuela Analysis (VA)’s work, making it appear VA’s analysis is essentially the same as that of the Venezuelan government, in terms of being uncritical and fully supportive of the government. While this stance can be found amongst some within the international solidarity community it is inaccurate to include VA within this group. The author did not mean to suggest this, and has removed the link. To prevent any misunderstanding the author wishes to add that while his analysis is not 100% in line with that found in VA, he finds their work to be highly informed, nuanced and very important for putting forward a side of the Venezuelan situation that is all too often ignored in both mainstream western and Venezuelan state media.)
Who Is Behind the State Department's Coup Plot in Venezuela?
Creating a distorted image of the humanitarian crisis is the starting point. Painting a picture of a country on the verge of collapse is the alibi.
The coup plot against Venezuela has already been written and presented. On March 2, 2017, during the first round of OAS talks, Shannon K. O'Neil (Latin America director of the Council on Foreign Relations, CFR) presented the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee with a portfolio of actions and measures to be taken by the United States if it wanted to remove Chavismo from political power in Venezuela.
Origin and Key Players of CFR
The Council on Foreign Relations, or CFR, is a think tank founded in 1921 with money from the Rockefeller Foundation. It is aimed at creating a group of experts to shape U.S. foreign policy and its leadership positions, including the president and the State Department, which does not act for its own reasons but rather according to the interests of these lobbyists.
Since it was created, the council, which is made up of 4,500 members, has placed a number of senior officials in positions to implement CFR strategy. These include Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, Madeleine Albright and Colin Powell, responsible for the war in Vietnam, Yugoslavia and Iraq respectively, and in the case of Powell, a major player in the April 2002 coup.
Moreover, an honorary member and ex-vice president of the think tank was David Rockefeller, the former owner of Standard Oil Company who has great interests and influence in Venezuela. His penetration in the country's national political life reached such a point that he was one of the sponsors of the Punto Fijo pact that gave rise to the Fourth Republic.
Corporations That Finance the CFR and Use It as a Political Platform
Corporations born from the dissolution of Standard Oil also finance the CFR, namely Chevron and Exxon Mobil. The former was involved in financing the sanctions against Venezuela and the latter wants to create conflict between Guyana and Venezuela in order to take advantage of the large oil reserves in Essequibo.
Among CFR's financiers is Citibank, which last year blocked the accounts of the Central Bank of Venezuela and the Bank of Venezuela, affecting the country’s ability to import essential goods. The financial corporation JP Morgan is responsible for using financial aggression as an excuse to declare Venezuela in default of payments in November 2016, using manipulative maneuvers to affect Venezuela’s financial credibility.
Both banks aimed to hurt Venezuela’s ability to attract investment and loans that would stabilize its economy. The most aggressive players of the financial and economic coup against Venezuela are part of CFR. These same players are now responsible for designing the agenda of the political coup — in the same way that Colin Powell, a CFR member, devised and armed the 2002 coup against Chavez when he was George W. Bush’s secretary of state. Now, just like then, the MUD (today called Democratic Coordinator) only responds to a political line designed by these large, factual powers — the real power that governs the United States.
Presentation to the United States Senate
For this reason, O'Neil is no more than a delegate of the royal leaders of this private organization. He is in charge of presenting to the Committee on Foreign Relations of the U.S. Senate the actions that must be taken to change the political course of Venezuela, using unconventional war tactics, as outlined by the interests of the great economic powers represented by CFR.
The audience begins by reporting, without solid and reliable figures, that the Venezuelan population currently lives on par or worse conditions than the citizens of Bangladesh, Republic of Congo and Mozambique, countries brought to extreme misery by private and irregular wars which sought to plunder their natural resources.
Creating a (media-distorted) image of the humanitarian crisis in Venezuela is the starting point for the rest of the plan. Painting a picture of a country on the verge of collapse is the alibi.
During the presentation, O'Neil said that the PDVSA is on the brink of default, omitting that the state oil company has continued to pay its external debt payments in honor of its international commitments. Before proposing these options to the U.S. government, the CFR delegate says that Venezuela is strategic for U.S. interests in the hemisphere, and that a hypothetical collapse in oil production would hurt the U.S. (because it would increase prices), while also affirming — without any proof — that the incursions of the Zetas and Sinaloa drug cartels in Venezuela poses a threat to the region.
The Coup Plot
Th CFR proposes three major political actions for the U.S. to execute a coup in Venezuela in the immediate future. Options that, because of the political and financial weight embodied in CFR, are already in full operation (and running for months). Indeed the CFR have directed the anti-Chavista leadership to strictly follow this coup manual.
1. CFR proposes to continue sanctions on "human rights violators, narco-traffickers and corrupt officials" to increase pressure on the Venezuelan government. Anti-Chavez leaders, following that script, have backed these actions and the false positive in question, since there is no evidence linking Venezuelan Vice President Tareck El Aissami to international drug trafficking. Even leaders like Freddy Guevara have gone to Washington directly to "demand" that the sanctions be extended, under the support of the anti-Venezuelan lobby led by Marco Rubio.
2. The United States must take a tougher stance within the OAS to implement the Democratic Charter against Venezuela, co-opting countries in the Caribbean and Central America to support this initiative, which in recent OAS (illegal) sessions have resisted supporting. Marco Rubio's threat against Haiti, the Dominican Republic, and El Salvador was not an isolated action, but a coordinated maneuver led by the State Department to increase pressure against Venezuela's international alliances.
The CFR also proposes that the Treasury Department convinces China to withdraw its support for Venezuela to increase political and economic pressure on the country and the government. The MUD has been a stellar actor in this part of the script, using Luis Almagro to demand the Democratic Charter be applied against Venezuela. The latest statement from the U.S. State Department on the march convened by the MUD on April 19, aims not only to harden its stance toward Venezuela to increase pressure from the OAS (trying to bring together the largest number of allies with this critique), but legitimizes, with premeditation, violent and lamentable acts that could occur in the march. Clinging to false narratives such as the use of "collectives" to suppress demonstrations and "tortures" carried out by Venezuelan state security forces, the State Department proposes calling April 19 a turning point to escalate the siege against Venezuela and expand sanctions against the country, making them more aggressive and direct.
3. The CFR states that the United States should work together with Colombia, Brazil, Guyana and Caribbean countries to prepare for a possible "refugee increase," channeling resources to various NGOs and U.N. organizations from the United States Department of Agriculture State. But beyond this warning of an intervention in Venezuela, there is a real political operation in place: the NGO funded by the same Department of State, Human Rights Watch (HRW), published today, April 18, 2017, a report on how the "humanitarian crisis" has spread to Brazil. Based on specific testimonies and by magnifying immigration data, HRW took the opportunity to call on the governments of the region (with special emphasis on Brazil) to put pressure on the Venezuelan government, as required by the strategy proposed by CFR. Luis Florido, leader of Popular Voluntad, is currently touring Brazil and Colombia to try to reactivate the diplomatic siege against Venezuela from border countries.
The U.S. think tank also requires that these countries under the leadership of the United States and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) organize a financial guardianship plan for Venezuela, that hides Russian and Chinese investments in strategic areas of the country. In recent days, Julio Borges has used his role in parliament and as a political spokesperson to continue the message that propagates the false narrative of the "humanitarian crisis" in Venezuela. It is the same strategy outlined by the CFR, arguing that the United States should increase its level of involvement in the internal affairs of Venezuela from the State Department, now headed by Rex Tillerson, linked to oil company Exxon Mobil (he was its general manager since 2007 until he took over this public position), a CFR financier.
Where the Opposition Leaders Come into Play
These ongoing actions, while unveiling the geopolitical urgency in the coup strategy against Venezuela (affiliated with the latest statements by U.S. Southern Command Chief Admiral Kurt Tidd on the need to displace China and Russia as allies of Latin America), also reflects how they have delegated the generation of violence, programmed chaos and diplomatic procedures (in the best of cases and exclusive use of Luis Florido) to their intermediaries in Venezuela, specifically, the leaders of the radical parties of anti-Chavism. These actions led by the United States (and corporations that manage its foreign policy) lead toward one final aim: intervention by financial and preventive military means.
How to Justify Intervention
The evidence presented by President Nicolas Maduro links leaders of Primero Justicia with financing vandalism against public institutions (the case of the TSJ in Chacao). What, beyond this specific case, reveals the very probable promotion of para-criminal, irregular and mercenary (allied and politically directed) factors to escalate and encourage violence in order to legitimize the position of the State Department.
The badly named MUD is a private embassy that works on the basis of the great economic interests of these factual powers, which are vital for its strategy to advance. Whether these strategies can keep pace with this global moment will depend on what their supporters can do on the ground. Given the resources of financial and political warfare applied by these powers (financial blockade, international diplomatic siege, programmed attack on PDVSA payments, etc.) and State Department maneuvers, are on their account, generating all the conditions of Pressure, siege and financing needed by its operators in Venezuela for the much-announced breakpoint that does not finish arriving.
And that it is necessary that it arrives for those who financed and designed this agenda.
Despite the tactics of the financial and political war (financial blockade, international diplomatic siege, programmed attack on PDVSA payments, etc.) and the maneuvers of the State Department, made on its behalf, to generate all the conditions of pressure, siege and investment needed by their Venezuelan operatives, the highly anticipated breaking point in Venezuela has still not arrived.
But for those who financed and designed the agenda against Venezuela, it is important this point come as soon as possible.
False Beliefs and the War on Venezuela
Western media coverage of this latest coup attempt by Venezuela’s right-wing opposition has tried to establish false beliefs.
A basic reality underlies the self-evident role of Western media as their ruling elites’ cultural and psychological warfare arm against both their own peoples and the peoples of the majority world.
The Western power elites can no longer freely externalize the costs of their countries’ prosperity and democracy onto the majority world. They have always defended their global power and control of global resources through military and economic aggression overseas. Now they are intensifying repression of civil and economic rights at home.
In that global context, psychological warfare takes on disproportionate importance as a means to promote acceptance among whole populations of overseas military aggression and domestic curtailment of civil and economic rights. Over the last 50 years, military developments of psychology and social science have gone from “brainwashing” and “perception management,” through what used to be called low-intensity warfare to what many people call fourth generation warfare.
Since World War Two, the United States and allied country film and television industries have been fundamental components of Western cultural and psychological warfare. Internet monopolies like Google and Facebook have multiplied the power and reach of Western cultural mass reproduction many times over. The elites managing these corporations control the supply and demand of messages on an international industrial scale. Together with their governments’ global surveillance and intelligence apparatus, they also shape how those messages are consumed.
This concentration and control of intellectual production and cultural reproduction ensure a permanent flow of information endlessly asserting and reaffirming the views and values of the imperialist Western ruling elites and their governments. Their constant global cultural and psychological warfare has developed to the point where it operates via infinite feedback loops needing virtually no intervention.
Effectively, by means of relentless suggestion, fake corroboration, and systematic omission, the West’s system of disinformation and intellectual production constructs collective false memories. Over time, relentless cultural propaganda and psychological warfare manipulate people’s imaginations building false memories and beliefs immune to rational analysis. Over decades, this process establishes a received wisdom that ratifies and entrenches a set of false beliefs whose effect no amount of factual debunking and exposure can erase. The clearest example of this is how exposure to U.S. and British government lies about Iraq has made no difference. The Western elites and their psychological warfare machinery simply move on to create the next big lie, always using the same techniques: relentless suggestion, fake corroboration, and systematic omission.
In relation to North Korea, for example, the big omission is that North Korea is and has been the victim of permanent military threat by the United States, involving the regular mobilization on its borders of hundreds of thousands of U.S. and allied military personnel and the threat of nuclear attack, ever since the Korean War. In the case of Iran, the big omission is that revolutionary Iran has been a force for relatively progressive change in the region since 1979, challenging Western-allied feudal tyrannies and Israel’s genocidal occupation of Palestine. For nearly 60 years the big omission in the coverage of Cuba’s Revolution has been the success against all odds of its political system and its huge social, scientific and cultural achievements recognized and admired around the world despite the permanent illegal U.S. blockade.
The false validity of the black and white silhouette monsters created by these systematic omissions gets corroboration via well-worn infinite feedback loops. For example, in Latin America, the regional right wing will circulate a given falsehood which is then repeated as true by the Western news and entertainment media. The regional right wing then takes Western repetition of their falsehood as vindication of its truth which is then recycled. In Latin America, since the turn of the century, Venezuela has been the most high-profile victim. But all the region’s progressive governments and political movements have been similarly targeted to a greater or lesser degree. Fundamentally, everything is aimed at manipulating and shaping people’s imaginations and memories, both within the region and beyond.
Right now, the regional battle referred to on May 5 by Lula da Silva and Pepe Mujica at a rally in Sao Paulo is playing out intensely and literally in Venezuela. Western media coverage of this latest coup attempt by Venezuela’s right-wing opposition has tried to establish false beliefs such as:
- President Nicolas Maduro is a dictator (whereas Nicolas Maduro is the legitimately elected president of the government working together with four other separate powers of state)
- President Maduro used the Supreme Court to eliminate the legislature (in fact President Maduro convened the National Security Council of State which secured the reversal of the Supreme Court’s ruling affecting the National Assembly)
- the opposition has overwhelming popular support (but surveys show most people in Venezuela reject opposition violence and the opposition’s political program)
- the government is provoking violence by attacking peaceful demonstrators (precisely the reverse is true)
- people killed and injured in the violence are victims of state violence (almost all the people killed and injured have been victims of opposition attacks)
- convoking the national constituent assembly is a coup d’etat (in fact it enables Venezuelan people at grassroots to decide their country’s future)
- the national constituent assembly is rigged in favor of the government (but if the opposition is as representative as they say then it gives them the chance to take power legitimately)
Despite being clearly untrue, all these falsehoods have been reported as true while the contradictory reality has been suppressed. One infamous example of this process figured in Western reports of the opposition attack on the maternity hospital in the El Valle district of Caracas on Apr. 20.
Reports in leading Western news media outlets played down the terrorist nature of this attack and in one case even tried falsely to attribute the evacuation of the hospital to the use of tear gas by the police. Western coverage of that outrage resembled all too closely similar coverage of the Odessa massacre of May 2, 2014 in Ukraine, when police stood by while Nazi gangs set fire to a trades union building killing 42 people. In both cases, the most prestigious liberal Western media failed to report truthfully the aggression of fascist terror gangs.
Right now the priority for everyone who supports progressive change in Latin America and the Caribbean is to support all efforts at a peaceful settlement of the crisis in Venezuela. President Maduro’s call for a national constituent assembly represents the best hope for a peaceful outcome. That is precisely why the U.S. government, Luis Almagro and his team at the OAS and right-wing leaders from Mexico’s President Peña Nieto to Argentina’s Mauricio Macri want it to fail.
The regional right wing know that, without duress, a majority of people in Venezuela will vote to defend peace and stability and the legacy of Comandante Hugo Chavez. For the moment the outcome is very much in the balance. The only thing for sure is that Western media will continue to suppress the facts and justify the terrorist violence of Venezuela’s minority opposition.
Tortilla con Sal is an anti-imperialist collective based in Nicaragua producing information in various media on national, regional and international affairs. In Nicaragua, we work closely with grass roots community organizations and cooperatives. We strongly support the policies of sovereign national development and regional integration based on peace and solidarity promoted by the member countries of ALBA.