Plan Colombia has been on the lips of many U.S. officials lately, who tout the 15-year-old plan as a model to stabilize the country and promote human rights and transparency. This week, two new reports alleged sexual exploitation by U.S. security forces in Colombia, underscoring the detrimental (and hypocritical) role of Plan Colombia and U.S. military and police presence in the region.
A report [PDF]released Thursday by the U.S. Inspector General (IG) investigating the DEA found that DEA agents stationed in Colombia allegedly had “sex parties” with prostitutes bankrolled by drug cartels. This follows last month’s even more alarming report, commissioned to inform peace talk negotiations, that revealed sexual abuse of more than 54 young Colombian children at the hands of U.S. security forces between 2003 and 2007.
According to the IG report, Colombian police officers reportedly provided “protection for the DEA agents’ weapons and property during the parties.” It also states that “the DEA, ATF, and Marshals Service repeatedly failed to report all risky or improper sexual behavior to security personnel at those agencies” and expressed concern at the DEA’s general delay and unwillingness to comply with the investigation.
While the sex party report has garnered a fair amount of media attention, the Colombian report of sexual abuse has gone largely unmentioned. (Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting points out that, although the claims in have received some international attention, there has been almost no coverage of the claims in the U.S. media.) That report was commissioned by the Colombian government and the FARC in an attempt to determine responsibility for the more than 7 million victims of Colombia’s armed conflict. It reported that U.S. military personnel sexually abused 53 young girls, filmed the assaults, and sold the footage as pornographic material. In another instance, a U.S. sergeant and a security contractor reportedly drugged and raped a 12-year-old girl inside a military base. The alleged rapists, U.S. sergeant Michael J. Coen and defense contractor Cesar Ruiz, were later flown safely out of the country, while the girl and her family were forced from their home after receiving threats from “forces loyal to the suspects,” as Colombia Reports described them.
So far, the abuse cases documented in last month’s report have been met with impunity, as Colombian prosecutors’ hands are tied by U.S.-Colombian agreements giving the U.S. security forces in Colombia immunity. (Many such instances have been reported previously to be met with similar impunity.) Similarly, in the “sex party” case, some of the 10 DEA agents that admitted to participating received between two and 10 days of suspension but no further discipline. William Brownfield, currently Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, was U.S. Ambassador to Colombia at the time, with oversight of the DEA.
Commenting on the IG report, Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), Chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said, “Let there be no mistake, this is a national security threat. While the vast majority of employees do quality work, the bad apples highlighted in the report taint their service.’’ However, this isn’t the first time U.S. security forces in Colombia have been linked to such abuses, and the problem is not confined to these “bad apples.” They may take the blame for this particular case, but this is ultimately a systemic problem that must not be covered up.
Sex-crimes and gender-based violence are far from the only abuses perpetrated during the U.S.-led “War on Drugs,” of which Plan Colombia is a part, and represent deeper problems endemic to the U.S.’ heightened military presence in the region. While supporters of Plan Colombia tout its dedication to upholding transparency and security, reports of human rights violations committed by U.S.-trained-and-funded personnel continue to surface. Amnesty International has called the initiative a “failure in every respect,” and several reports show that extrajudicial killings have in fact increased since Plan Colombia went into effect in 2000. In a congressional briefing with CEPR last year, coordinator of the Human Rights Observatory of the Colombia-Europe-U.S. Coordination, Alberto Yepes, noted that between 2000 and 2010 there were 5,763 documented “false positive” extrajudicial civilian killings. This was over the same time period that the U.S. gave $6 billion in military assistance, supplying military advisors and training Colombian troops.
Amid such incriminating evidence of abuses by U.S. personnel and testimony of its flawed training programs, it seems clear that U.S. military and drug war “assistance” should be scaled back– or at the very least reassessed. These revelations should worry policy makers, considering perceptions of such actions condition how U.S. agents are received by other governments. The U.S. has been kicked out of Bolivia for using DEA agents to spy, and DEA agents are under investigation for an incident in which four Afro-indigenous civilians in Honduras were shot and killed from a helicopter, including a 14-year-old boy and a pregnant woman. Something is wrong with this picture.
However, not only does the State Department insist that Plan Colombia is a success, but Vice President Joseph Biden’s recently announced foreign assistance plan hopes to export the Plan Colombia model to Central America. As my colleague Alex Main has noted, proposed military assistance to Colombia under the Biden plan would remain at the same levels as in FY 2014, while funding for International Narcotics Control Law Enforcement assistance to Central America would more than double, from $100 million to $205 million. Such an increase seems to ignore the human rights implications foreshadowed by its model.
If the State Department hopes to avoid future sex party scandals and prevent its military from committing any more sex and abuse crimes, it should reevaluate its militarized approach to the drug war and the endemic impunity that this fosters.
An Argentinean appeals court has dismissed charges against the country’s president and foreign minister over an alleged cover-up said to have taken place with regards to a 1994 bombing.
On Thursday, the Federal Chamber voted 2-1 to reject the allegations leveled by late special prosecutor Alberto Nisman.
In July 1994, a car bomb exploded at the building of the Argentine Israelite Mutual Association, also known as AMIA, in the capital, Buenos Aires. Eighty-five people died and some 300 were injured.
The Israeli regime accuses Tehran of masterminding the terrorist attack. The Islamic Republic of Iran has strongly denied any involvement in the incident.
The prosecutor had accused a number of high-ranking Argentinean officials, including President Fernandez de Kirchner, Foreign Minister Héctor Timerman, and lawmaker Andrés “Cuervo” Larroqu of trying to “protect Iranians” in the case.
The government has staunchly denied the allegations and insisted that “there is no evidence whatsoever, not even circumstantial in nature,” that Fernandez de Kirchner or her aides committed any crimes.
On February 26, Federal Judge Daniel Rafecas said likewise that there were no elements to justify the continuation of an investigation into an alleged political effort by Kirchner to cover up the role claimed to have been played by Iran in the bombing.
The documents against Kirchner failed to meet “the minimal conditions needed to launch a formal court investigation,” the judge had said.
Nisman was found dead in the bathroom of his apartment in Buenos Aires on January 18. The initial police report said he had died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
Nisman’s death came hours before he was to testify in a congressional hearing about the AMIA attack.
The Buenos Aires Herald quoted Kirchner as saying on January 22 that the “real move against the government was the prosecutor’s death…. They used him while he was alive and then they needed him dead. It is that sad and terrible.”
Prosecutor German Moldes can still file another appeal against the ruling by the Federal Chamber.
An 800-page independent report commissioned by the US-friendly Colombian government and the radical left rebel group FARC found that US military soldiers and contractors had sexually abused at least 54 children in Colombia between 2003 and 2007 and, in all cases, the rapists were never punished–either in Colombia or stateside–due to American military personnel being immune from prosecution under diplomatic immunity agreements between the two countries.
The report was part of a broader historical analysis meant to establish the “causes and violence aggravators” of the 50-year-long conflict between the government and rebels that’s presently being negotiated to an end. As Colombia Reports (3/23/15) would spell out:
In his report, the historian [Renan Vega] cited one 2004 case in the central Colombian town of Melgar where 53 underage girls were sexually abused by nearby stationed military contractors “who moreover filmed [the abuse] and sold the films as pornographic material.”
According to Colombia’s leading newspaper, El Tiempo, the victims of the sexual abuse practices were forced to flee the region after their families received death threats.
Other Americans stationed at the Tolemaida Air Base allegedly committed similar crimes, but possibly also never saw a day in court due to an immunity arrangement for American soldiers and military contractors agreed by Washington and Bogota.
One case that has called most attention in Colombian media was that of a 12-year-old who in 2007 was raped by a US Army sergeant and a former US military officer who was working in Melgar as a military contractor.
Colombian prosecutors established that the girl had been drugged and subsequently raped inside the military base by US sergeant Michael J. Coen and defense contractor Cesar Ruiz.
However, prosecution officials were not allowed to arrest the suspected child rapists who were subsequently flown out of the country.
Thus far, however, these explosive claims seem to have received zero coverage in the general US press, despite having been reported on Venezuela’s Telesur (3/23/15), the British tabloid Daily Mail (3/24/15) and Russian RT (3/25/15).
But why? These aren’t fringe claims, nor can the government of American ally Colombia be dismissed as a peddler of Bolivarian propaganda. Indeed, the Miami Herald (9/3/09) documented the case of US Sgt. Michael Coen and contractor César Ruiz in 2009:
The US government has made little effort to investigate a US Army sergeant and a Mexican civil contractor implicated in Colombia in the raping of a 12-year-old girl in August 2007, according to an El Nuevo Herald investigation.
The suspects, Sgt. Michael Coen and contractor César Ruiz, were taken out of Colombia under diplomatic immunity, and do not face criminal charges in the United States in the rape in a room at Colombia’s Germán Olano Air Force Base in Melgar, 62 miles west of Bogotá.
So why no coverage? Certainly one of Washington’s stanchest Latin American allies co-authoring a blistering report about systemic US military child rape of a civilian population should be of note–if for no other reason than, as the report lays out, it undermined American military efforts to stop drug trafficking and fight leftist rebels:
However, prosecution officials were not allowed to arrest the suspected child rapists who were subsequently flown out of the country.
The case has caused major indignation among Colombians for years….
The special envoy will possibly have to deal with the role of the US military and its members in the alleged victimization of Colombians.
Yet here we are, over 72 hours since the Colombian and foreign press first reported on the allegations, and there’s a virtual media blackout in America over the case. Nothing on CNN, nothing on MSNBC, nothing in the New York Times or Miami Herald. Nothing in Huffington Post. Nothing in Fusion or Vice. Why?
As UK authorities and NATO officials stress the importance of clamping down on “false Russian” narratives in the media, perhaps our own media could stop providing a shining example as to why such anti-Western narratives are so often the only outlet for certain ugly truths.
Fifty-four Colombian girls were sexually abused by US troops and military contractors between 2003 and 2007, claims a new report by the country’s reconciliation commission. None of the perpetrators were ever prosecuted because US forces had immunity.
The claims are part of an 800-page report by an independent commission established by the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) rebel group. The commission’s goal is to determine the causes and document the consequences of the civil war that has ravaged the country for 50 years and claimed over seven million lives.
“There exists abundant information about the sexual violence, in absolute impunity thanks to the bilateral agreements and the diplomatic immunity of United States officials,” Renan Vega, of the National University of Colombia in Bogota, told Colombia Reports.
Vega authored the portion of the report documenting the allegations of sexual abuse by US military personnel and contractors, deployed in the country under ‘Plan Colombia’ to back the government against FARC and cocaine cartels.
Most of the abuses allegedly took place in Melgar, a town in the province of Tolima, located 61 miles (98 km) southwest of Bogota. In one instance, contractors based at Tolemaida Air Base were abusing more than 50 underage girls and making pornographic videos.
In another instance, in 2007, one US sergeant and a security contractor were accused of sexually assaulting a 12-year-old girl. An investigation by Colombian prosecutors established that the girl had been drugged and assaulted inside the military base by Sergeant Michael J. Coen and contractor Cesar Ruiz. Both were flown out of the country, as terms of the US-Colombian Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) gave US personnel immunity from local laws.
The girl and her family left Melgar and moved to Medellin, claiming harassment and threats from the US-allied government forces.
The Colombian daily El Tiempo reported that Melgar was dealing with a ”a growing societal problem” of sexually exploited minors, “augmented by the presence of foreigners, especially those from the United States tied to oil and military endeavors.” The newspaper reported that there had been 23 formal complaints in 2006 and 13 in 2007. Left-leaning news site El Turbion corroborated the numbers.
According to the government, 7,234 Colombian women were registered as victims of sex crimes during the conflict.
Read more: Immunity for US troops in Afghanistan reveals colonial nature of Security Pact
I have sometimes noted that in the current “four legs good, two legs bad” discourse about Venezuela, journalists can write almost anything about the country and no one will question it – so long as it is something negative. On Saturday, March 13, the Wall Street Journal published this chart on its front page in the print edition, below, and claimed health care spending as a percent of economic output was “lower in Venezuela than in all other major economies in Latin America.” The chart shows Venezuela’s health care spending at 1.6 percent of GDP.
The chart and text don’t say it, but they are referring to public (i.e., government) spending on health care, which one can find by looking at the original data from the World Health Organization. When I read this, I thought, this can’t be true: The Venezuelan government spends about the same percentage of GDP on health care as Haiti? The lowest of 19 countries in the hemisphere? Less than some of the poorer countries in Sub-Saharan Africa? And these numbers are for 2012, when the economy was booming (5.7 percent real GDP growth), Venezuelan oil was at 103 dollars per barrel, and the government built more than 200,000 homes. They had no money for health care?
This should have set off some alarm bells at the WSJ, if any editors were paying attention. This number is not plausible because it is wrong. When the government of Hugo Chávez in Venezuela decided to make health care a priority after getting control over the national oil industry in 2003, it was unable to accomplish very much by going through the health ministry and the public hospitals – running into various bureaucratic and political obstacles. So it created Misión Barrio Adentro, a system of health clinics that served people in both urban and rural areas where many did not previously have access to health care.
The short story is that the numbers used by the WSJ apparently didn’t include most of Venezuela’s health care spending, since it has gone through the misiones. In 2012, the national oil company contributed $5.5 billion for Misión Barrio Adentro. Also, the government of Venezuela has an actual agreement with Cuba, which provides specifically for the supply medical care through Misión Barrio Adentro in exchange for 98,000 barrels of oil per day, which Venezuela has provided. The value of that oil in 2012 was $3.44 billion. The medical services include not only 40,000 doctors but also medical equipment, medicines, and other health care services.
If we add in these expenses, and use the IMF’s 2012 exchange rate to convert to domestic currency, this adds another 3 percent of GDP to the government’s health care spending.
This would bring Venezuela’s health care spending to 4.6 percent of GDP. In the above chart, that would move Venezuela from 19th to 7th place among the 19 countries shown. And this figure does not include all of Venezuela’s government health care spending.
(Note: the WSJ article also claims that “the share of state spending on health, at 6%” was also “lower in Venezuela than in all other major economies in Latin America.” This is also false, for the same reasons discussed above.)
The following is the Declaration of the Extraordinary Summit of the Heads of States and Government of the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America – People’s Commerce Treaty (ALBA – TCP)
We, the heads of state and government, representatives of the member countries of ALBA, gathered on March 17, 2015 in Caracas, Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, declare:
1. Our rejection of the Executive Order issued on March 9, 2015 by the Government of the United States of America, on the basis that this Executive Order is unjustified and unjust, which constitutes a threat of interference that runs counter to the principle of sovereignty and the principle of non-intervention in the internal affairs of states.
2. Our commitment to the application of international law, a peaceful resolution to conflicts, and the principles of non-intervention that call on all governments to act within the framework of the universal principles and the Charter of the United Nations, in particular the necessity and willingness for governments to abstain from employing unilateral coercive measures that violate international law.
3. Our sovereign and sincere request that the government of the United States accept and engage in dialogue with the government of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela as an alternative to conflict and confrontation, based on ongoing respect for the sovereignty and self-determination of the peoples of independent nation-states.
4. Our proposal to create a Facilitator’s Group comprised of institutions from our hemisphere (CELAC, UNASUR, ALBA-TCP, and CARICOM) in order to facilitate an earnest diplomacy between the governments of the United States of America and the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela in order to reduce tensions and guarantee a friendly solution.
As such, we decided to:
1. Ratify our commitment and unconditional support with the sister nation of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela in search of the mechanisms for dialogue with the government of the United States, so that the aggressions by that government against Venezuela cease.
2. Reaffirm that Latin America and the Caribbean is a Region of Peace, where nations are driving processes of integration and friendly relations, with the aim of continuing to guarantee that greatest amount of happiness for our peoples.
3. Emphasize that the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela does not represent a threat to any country, being a country that practices solidarity, that has shown its spirit of cooperation with the people and governments of the whole region, becoming a guarantee of social peace and stability for our continent.
4. Demand that the government of the United States immediately cease the harassment and aggression against the government and people of Venezuela, as that policy encourages destabilization and the use of violence by a section of the Venezuelan opposition.
5. Highlight that the Executive Order approved by the president of the United States, Barack Obama, flagrantly ignores the “Declaration of Solidarity and Support for Democratic Institutions, Dialogue, and Peace in the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela” approved by the Permanent Council of the OAS on March 7, 2014.
6. Denounce the vicious international media campaign against the sister Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela and its government, designed to discredit the Bolivarian Revolution, attempting to create the conditions for a larger scale intervention and counter to a peaceful solution of differences.
7. Reiterate the strongest support for the democratically-elected and legitimate government of the president of the sister Federative Republic of Brazil, Dilma Rousseff, while contributing to the strengthening and consolidation of democratic values and principles of freedom and solidarity in Our America.
8. Express our deepest words of solidarity and support for the president of the Argentine Republic, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner and the rest of her government officials, who are being subjected to a campaign of personal and institutional discrediting by a section of the political and media right-wing in her country, at the same time as they are being attacked by vulture funds and international financial capital.
9. Applaud the constructive dialogue held during the 20th Meeting of the Association of Caribbean States (ACS), held in Antigua, Guatemala on March 10, 2015, which dealt with the disproportional Executive Order signed by the president of the United States, Barack Obama, against the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela.
10. Instruct the Ambassadors of the member countries of ALBA-TCP throughout the world to conduct an informational and publicity campaign covering the truth about what is happening in Venezuela, and the threats that loom over it and the region.
11. Urge social, worker, student, rural worker, indigenous, and women’s movements to mobilize in a permanent fashion and remain vigilante in order to inform the whole world and the people of Our America that Venezuela and the legitimate government of Nicolas Maduro are not alone and that the peoples of the world categorically reject this new imperialist intervention in the Greater Homeland, whose consequences could be dire for peace and stability in the region.
12. Reaffirm that ALBA-TCP will continue promoting unity, integration, solidarity, and peaceful coexistence as an expression of the ideal and commitment of Latin America and the Caribbean for the building of a peaceful region and a world, as the foundation for the consolidation of relations between peoples.
In addition, we declare and reiterate, in the context of an effective commitment to avoiding confrontation, our support for the “Letter to the People of the United States: Venezuela is not a threat” issued by the government of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, in particular where it refers to the following aspects:
a) The commitment of Venezuela to freedom, independence, and multilateralism
b) Venezuela’s fundamental belief in peace, national sovereignty, and international law
c) The reality of Venezuela as an open and democratic society according to its Constitution and the aspirations of its people
d) The long-standing friendship of Venezuela with the people of the United States
e) The false, unjust, unilateral, and disproportional action encompassed in the Executive Order of the government of the United States of America where Venezuela is declared to be a threat to the national security of the United States of America
f) The declaration by Venezuela that its sovereignty is sacred.
As a consequence, we the leaders of ALBA-TCP are in solidarity with Venezuela. We understand our fundamental freedoms and assert our rights. We unequivocally support Venezuela in the defense of its sovereignty and independence and the fact it does this standing tall and not on its knees.
To that effect, we ask the government of the United States of America, and specifically President Barack Obama, to repeal the Executive Order approved on March 9, 2015, which constitutes a threat to sovereignty and an intervention in the internal affairs of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela.
Approved in the city of Caracas, Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, March 17, 2015
Why did Obama declare a ‘national emergency’, claim that Venezuela represents a threat to US national security and foreign policy, assume executive prerogatives and decree sanctions against top Venezuelan officials in charge of national security, at this time?
Venezuela’s Support of Latin America Integration is Obama’s Great Fear
To answer this question it is essential to begin by addressing Obama’s specious and unsubstantiated charges of a Venezuelan ‘threat to national security and foreign policy’.
First, the White House presents no evidence … because there is nothing to present! There are no Venezuelan missiles, fighter planes, warships, Special Forces, secret agents or military bases poised to attack US domestic facilities or its overseas installations.
In contrast, the US has warships in the Caribbean, seven military bases just across the border in Colombia manned by over two thousand US Special Forces, and Air Force bases in Central America. Washington has financed proxy political and military operations intervening in Venezuela with intent of overthrowing the legally constituted and elected government.
Obama’s claims resemble a ploy that totalitarian and imperialist rulers frequently use: Accusing their imminent victims of the crimes they are preparing to perpetrate against them. No country or leader, friend or foe, has supported Obama’s accusations against Venezuela.
Obama’s charge that Venezuela represents a ‘threat’ to US foreign policy requires clarification: First, which elements of US foreign policy are threatened? Venezuela has successfully proposed and supported several regional integration organizations, which are voluntarily supported by their fellow Latin American and Caribbean members. These regional organizations, in large part, replace US-dominated structures, which served Washington’s imperial interests. In other words, Venezuela supports alternative diplomatic and economic organizations, which its members believe will better serve their economic and political interests, than those promoted by the Obama regime. Petrocaribe, a Central American and Caribbean association of countries supported by Venezuela, addresses the development needs of their members better than US-dominated organizations like the Organization of American States or the so-called ‘Caribbean Initiative’. The same is true of Venezuela’s support of CELAC (Community of Latin American and Caribbean States) and UNASUR (Union of South American Nations). These are Latin American organizations which exclude the dominating presence of the US and Canada and are designed to promote greater regional independence.
Obama’s charge that Venezuela represents a threat to US foreign policy is an accusation directed at all governments who have freely chosen to abandon US-centered organizations and who reject US hegemony.
In other words, what arouses Obama’s ire and motivates his aggressive threats toward Venezuela is Caracas’s political leadership in challenging US imperialist foreign policy.
Venezuela does not have military bases in the rest of Latin America nor has it invaded, occupied, or sponsored military coups in other Latin American countries – as Obama and his predecessors have done.
Venezuela condemned the US invasion of Haiti, the US-supported military coups in Honduras (2009), Venezuela (2002, 2014, 2015), Bolivia (2008), and Ecuador (2010).
Clearly, Obama’s ‘emergency’ decree and sanctions against Venezuela are directed at maintaining unchallenged US imperial supremacy in Latin America and degrading Venezuela’s independent, democratic foreign policy.
To properly understand Obama’s policy toward Venezuela, we have to analyze why he has chosen overt, unilateral bellicose threats at this time?
Obama’s War Threat Results from Political Failure
The principal reasons why Obama has directly intervened in Venezuelan politics is that his other policy options designed to oust the Maduro government have failed.
In 2013, Obama’s relied on US financing of an opposition presidential candidate, Henrique Capriles, to oust the incumbent Chavista government. President Maduro defeated Obama’s choice and derailed Washington’s ‘via electoral’ to regime change.
Subsequently, Obama attempted to boycott and discredit the Venezuelan voting process via an international smear campaign. The White House boycott lasted 6 months and received no support in Latin America, or from the European Union, since scores of international election observers, ranging from former President James Carter to representatives of the Organization of American States certified the outcome.
In 2014, the Obama regime backed violent large-scale riots, which left 43 persons dead and scores wounded, (most victims were pro-government civilians and law enforcement officers) and millions of dollars in damages to public and private property, including power plants and clinics. Scores of vandals and rightwing terrorists were arrested, including Harvard-educated terrorist Leopoldo Lopez. However, the Maduro government released most of the saboteurs in a gesture of reconciliation.
Obama, on his part, escalated the terror campaign of internal violence. He recycled his operatives and, in February 2015, backed a new coup. Several US embassy personnel (the US had at least 100 stationed in their embassy), turned out to be intelligence operatives using diplomatic cover to infiltrate and recruit a dozen Venezuelan military officials to plot the overthrow of the elected government and assassinate President Maduro by bombing the presidential palace.
President Maduro and his national security team discovered the coup plot and arrested both the military and political leaders, including the Mayor of Caracas.
Obama, now furious for having lost major internal assets and proxies, turned to his last resort: the threat of a direct US military intervention.
The Multiple Purposes of Obama’s ‘National Emergency’
Obama’s declaration of a national security emergency has psychological, political and military objectives. His bellicose posture was designed to bolster the spirit of his jailed and demoralized operatives and let them know that they still have US support. To that end, Obama demanded that President Maduro free the terrorist leaders. Washington’s sanctions were primarily directed against the Venezuelan security officials who upheld the constitution and arrested Obama’s hired thugs. The terrorists in their prison cells can console themselves with the thought that, while they serve ‘hard time’ for being US shock troops and puppets, their prosecutors will be denied visas by President Obama and can no longer visit Disneyland or shop in Miami. Such are the consequences of the current US ‘sanctions’ in the eyes of a highly critical Latin America.
The second goal of Obama’s threat is to test the response of the Venezuelan and Latin American governments. The Pentagon and CIA seek to gauge how Venezuela’s military, intelligence, and civilian leaders will deal with this new challenge in order to identify the weak links in the chain of command, i.e. those officials who will run for cover, cower or seek to conciliate, by giving in to Obama’s demands.
It should be remembered that during the US-backed April 2002 coup, many self-styled ‘Chavista revolutionaries’ went into hiding, some holing up in embassies. In addition, several military officials defected and a dozen politicians curried favor with the coup leaders, until the tide turned and over a million ordinary Venezuelans, including slum dwellers, marched to surround the Presidential Palace and, with the backing of loyalist paratroopers, ousted the golpistas (coup-makers) and freed their President Chavez. Only then did the fair-weather Chavistas come out from under their beds to celebrate the restoration of Hugo Chavez and the return of democracy.
In other words, Obama’s bellicose posture is part of a ‘war of nerves’, to test the resistance, determination and loyalty of the government officials, when their positions are threatened, US bank accounts are frozen, their visas denied and access to ‘Disneyland’ cut.
Obama is putting the Venezuelan government on notice: a warning this time, an invasion next time.
The White House’s openly thuggish rhetoric is also intended to test the degree of opposition in Latin America – and the kind of support Washington can expect in Latin America and elsewhere.
And Cuba responded forcefully with unconditional support for Venezuela. Ecuador, Bolivia, Nicaragua, and Argentina repudiated Obama’s imperial threats. The European Union did not adopt the US sanctions although the European Parliament did echo Obama’s demand to free the jailed terrorists. Initially Brazil, Uruguay, Chile and Mexico neither backed the US nor the Venezuelan government. The Uruguayan Vice President Raul Sendic was the only official in Latin America to deny US intervention. However, on March 16 at an emergency meeting of UNASUR in Quito Ecuador, the foreign ministers of Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, Peru, Surinam, Uruguay, and Venezuela unanimously denounced US sanctions and military intervention
President Maduro Stands Firm: They Shall Not Pass
Most important, President Maduro stood firm. He declared a national emergency and asked for special powers. He called for two weeks of nationwide military exercises involving 100,000 soldiers beginning March 14. He made it clear to the Pentagon and the White House that a US invasion would meet resistance. That confronting millions of Venezuelan freedom fighters would not be a ‘cake walk’ – that there would be US casualties, body bags and new US widows and orphans to mourn Obama’s imperial schemes.
Obama is neither preparing an immediate invasion nor giving up on ‘regime change’ because his coup operatives failed in two consecutive years. His militarist posture is designed to polarize Latin America: to divide and weaken the regional organizations; to separate the so-called ‘moderates’ in Mercosur (Brazil/Uruguay/Paraguay) from Venezuela and Argentina. Despite his failures thus far, Obama will press ahead to activate opposition to Venezuelan security policies among the Chilean, Peruvian, Mexican, and Colombian neo-liberal regimes.
Washington is building pressure externally and preparing for a new round of violent unrest internally to provoke a robust government response.
In other words – Obama’s military invasion will follow the well-rehearsed scenario of ‘humanitarian intervention’ orchestrated in Yugoslavia, Libya and Syria – with such disastrous consequences on the people of those countries. Obama, at this time, lacks international political support from Europe and Latin America that would provide the fig leaf of a multilateral coalition and has lost his key internal operatives. He cannot risk a bloody unilateral US invasion and prolonged war in the immediate future.
However, he is inexorably moving in that direction. Obama has seized executive prerogatives to attack Venezuela. He has alerted and mobilized US combat forces in the region. He understands that his current teams of operatives in Venezuela have demonstrated that they are incapable of winning elections or seizing power without major US military backing. Obama is now engaged in a psychological as well as physical war of nerves: to run down the Venezuelan economy, to intimidate the faint-hearted, and exhaust and weaken the militants through constant threats and widening sanctions over time.
The Venezuelan government of Nicolas Maduro has accepted the challenge. He is mobilizing the people and the armed forces: his democratically elected regime will not surrender. The national resistance will be fighting in their own country for their own future. They will be fighting an invading imperial power. They represent millions, and they have a ‘world to lose’ if the ‘squalidos’ (the domestic fifth column) should ever take power: if not their lives, their livelihoods, their dignity and their legacy as a free and independent people.
President Maduro has sought and secured Russian military support and solidarity in the form of arms, advisors, and an agreement to engage in joint military maneuvers to meet the challenges of Obama’s war of attrition. President Putin has addressed a public letter of support to the Venezuelan government in response to Obama’s threats.
Obama is engaged in a two-pronged economic and military strategy, which will converge with a US military invasion.
The overt military threats issued in early March 2015 are designed to force the Maduro government to divert large-scale financial resources away from meeting the economic crisis to building emergency military defense. Through escalating military and economic threats, the White House hopes to diminish government subsidies for the import of basic foodstuffs and other essential commodities during an internal campaign of hoarding and artificial shortages committed by economic saboteurs. Obama is counting on his Venezuelan proxies and the local and international mass media to blame the government for the economic deterioration and to mobilize the big protests of irate consumers. White House strategists hope a massive crowd will serve as a cover for terrorists and snipers to engage in violent acts against public authorities, provoking the police and armed forces to respond in a re-play of the ‘coup’ in Kiev. At that point, Washington will seek to secure some form of support from Europe or Latin America (via the OAS) to intervene with troops in what the State Department will dub as ‘peace mediators in a humanitarian crisis’.
The success of sending the US Marines into Venezuela on a peace mission will depend on how effective Special Forces and Pentagon operatives in the US Embassy have been in securing reliable collaborators among the Venezuelan military and political forces ready to betray their country. Once the collaborators seize a piece of territory, Obama can mount the charade that US Marines are there by invitation… of the democratic forces.
Under conditions of explicit military threat, Maduro must change ‘the rules of the game’. Under emergency conditions, hoarding is no longer just a misdemeanor: it becomes a capital crime. Politicians meeting and consulting with representatives of the invading country should lose their immunity and be summarily jailed. Above all, the government must take total control over the distribution of basic goods; establishing rationing to ensure popular access; nursing scarce financial resources by limiting or imposing a moratorium on debt payments; diminishing or selling assets in the US (CITGO) to avoid confiscation or their being made illiquid (“frozen”) by some new Obama decree. On the external front, Venezuela must deepen military and economic ties with its neighbors and independent nations to withstand the US military and economic offensive. If Obama escalates the military measures against Venezuela, the parliamentary elections scheduled for September should be temporarily suspended until normality is re-established.
In a significant change in reporting at The New York Times, the newspaper yesterday became the first major news outlet in the English language media to report on what the rest of the governments in the Western Hemisphere think of U.S. policy toward Venezuela.
This is potentially important because this part of the story, which has heretofore been ignored, could begin to change many people’s perceptions of what is behind the problems in U.S.-Venezuelan relations, if other journalists begin to report on it. The Obama administration is more isolated in Latin America than even George W. Bush was, but hardly anyone who depends on the major hemispheric media would know that, because the point of view of governments other than the U.S. is not reported.
The Times article contains this very succinct and eloquent comment on the new U.S. sanctions against Venezuela from Ecuadorean president Rafael Correa:
“It ought to be a joke in bad taste that reminds us of the darkest hours of our America, when we received invasions and dictatorships imposed by the imperialists,” Mr. Correa wrote. “Can’t they understand that Latin America has changed?”
The last line really sums up the situation: They really don’t understand that Latin America has changed. One can follow all the foreign policy debates in Washington about Latin America, in the media or in journals such as Foreign Affairs, and there really is almost no acknowledgment of the new reality. In this sense the discussion of hemispheric relations is different from most other areas of U.S. foreign policy, e.g., Afghanistan, Iraq, even Israel and Palestine – where there is at least some debate that reaches the intelligentsia and the public. (The new Cold War with Russia is perhaps exceptional in the pervasiveness of a sheep-like mentality and uniformity of thinking – as Russia expert Stephen Cohen of Princeton has pointed out reminiscent of the 1950s; but it remains to be seen how long this can last, and even in this robust display of groupthink there is a small smattering of exceptions that break through.)
Latin America really has changed, drastically, and Correa’s view represents the vast majority of governments in the region, even if some are more diplomatic in their expression of it. This can be seen in the strong statements criticizing U.S. actions from regional organizations such as the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, which includes every country in the hemisphere except the U.S. and Canada; and UNASUR (the Union of South American Nations). (The Times article mentioned that these two organizations “issued statements expressing concern,” although that was a bit of an understatement.)
More generally, the vast majority of Latin American governments now have a foreign policy independent of Washington, which has never been true before the 21st century; and they are also much more independent of Washington in their economic policies. As recently as 2002, for example, the U.S. was able to exert a major influence on the economic policy of even the region’s largest economy, Brazil, through the International Monetary Fund.
The White House’s latest move is seen throughout the region as so outrageous and threatening that it will likely be reversed, eventually, under pressure from Latin American governments. That is what happened in April 2013, when U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry refused to recognize the results of Venezuela’s presidential election, even though there was no doubt about the outcome. At first, Washington was able to get OAS Secretary General José Miguel Insulza, and the right-wing government in Spain, to join in refusing to recognize the result; but then these two allies gave in under pressure, and Kerry was left completely alone, whereupon Washington recognized the results.
Ecuador is working to rescue and promote the use of indigenous languages.
As reparation for historical injustices and as a means to strengthen the nation’s intercultural identity, the Ecuadorean government and citizens are prioritizing the recuperation of the country’s 14 indigenous languages.
Human migration and societies stigmatization of their tounge are two factors which have led to the near disappearance of some languages in recent years. Studies have shown that in 1950 14 percent of the population spoke an indigenous language, with that number plummeting to be 3.7 percent in 1990.
Director of the Center for Economic and Social Rights Eduardo Pichilingue told teleSUR English, “I think that language is fundamental for creating a group, so that it has identity. I work with the Waorani indigenous group, the Waorani thankfully have a relatively healthy language still, they were contacted not too long ago, this makes the change in their language not as drastic as in other nationalities.”
Giving a space to those previously excluded and ignored indigenous voices is the Ecuador Educational Coordination of Popular Radio. With the objective of democratizing communication, it allows Kichwa-speaking producers to design their own programs, and report on both national and international events.
“On behalf of the government I think there has been an effort above all else to strengthen processes of cultural exchange. I believe the government is working hard in communication processes between people and nationalities. 18 community radios have been implemented at a national level to strengthen processes of communication between people from distinct nationalities,” said Sandy Chavez, the Coordinator of Networks at CORAPE.
She went on to say, “From us as an institution, a great success has been incorporating producers, young people who did not speak Kichwa, into our educational initiative and transmit in the Kichwa language. So our first success has been that these young people are not embarrassed to speak in the language, but that they are part of this initiative to rescue indigenous languages, and this has been the first.”
A country with more than 10 indigenous nationalities, the 2008 constitution of Ecuador declares it a plurinational and intercultural state. The Foreign Ministry has expressed that it is willing to foster diplomatic relationships with these distinct nationalities within Ecuador, as a way to strengthen national identity as the country continues working to save and further the use of indigenous languages.
“A lot of what we do today was done covertly 25 years ago by the CIA.”
NED founding father, Allen Weinstein
The U.S. government and military have a long history of interfering in the affairs of numerous countries in Latin American and the Caribbean.
By the end of the 19th century, there had been at least 10 U.S. military interventions across the hemisphere including Argentina (1890), Chile (1891), Haiti (1891), Panama (1895), Cuba (1898), Puerto Rico (1898) and Nicaragua (1894, 1896, 1898 and 1899).
From this time onward, successive U.S. administrations applied different strategies and tactics for involvement in the region as a means to secure and protect its geopolitical and economic interests. However, only recently has there been wider acknowledgement about the role that U.S. funding to nongovernmental organizations, or NGOs, particularly from the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), plays in furthering U.S. foreign policy. For example, in 2012 governments of the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA) collectively signed a resolution to expel USAID from each of the signing countries. Those countries included Bolivia, Cuba, Ecuador, Dominica, Nicaragua, and Venezuela.
The National Endowment for Democracy (NED)
Created by the administration of former U.S. President Ronald Reagan in 1983, the NED operates as a foundation that provides grants for “democracy promotion.” The foundation is structured as an umbrella with an almost corporatist flavor, housing four other organizations reflecting U.S. sectoral and party interest: the U.S. labor affiliated American Center for International Labor Solidarity (ACILS) and Chamber of Commerce linked Center for International Private Enterprise (CIPE), along with the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs (NDI) and the International Republican Institute (IRI), both of which reflect Democrat and Republican affiliations, respectively.
In many ways the NED resembles previous CIA efforts in the 1950s, 60s and 70s to provide mostly public money for secret operations aimed to bolster pro-U.S. governments and movements abroad. In South America for example, between 1975 and 1978 the U.S. helped with the creation and implementation of Operation Condor. The U.S. provided right-wing dictatorships in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay, Uruguay, Colombia, Peru, Venezuela and Ecuador with technical and military support for the goal of hunting down and killing political opponents. Some estimate that Operation Condor killed between 60,000 and 80,000 people.
In 1986, then president of the NED Carl Gershman explained to the New York Times, “We should not have to do this kind of work covertly … It would be terrible for democratic groups around the world to be seen as subsidized by the C.I.A. We saw that in the 60s, and that’s why it has been discontinued. We have not had the capability of doing this, and that’s why the endowment was created.”
U.S. citizens unknowingly fund the NED with public money. The U.S. government allocates part the budget of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) under the U.S. State Department to the NED – which is most of the NED’s funding source. Although it receives practically all of its funding from the U.S. government, the NED is itself an NGO headed by a Board of Directors. The current board includes:
- Political economist, author and free market universalist Francis Fukuyama,
- Elliott Abrams, former deputy assistant and deputy national security adviser on Middle East policy in the administration of President George W. Bush,
- Moises Naim, Venezuelan Minister of Trade and Industry during the turbulent early 1990s and former Executive Director of the World Bank, and
- Former Deputy Secretary of State under George W. Bush (2005 – 2006) and Vice Chairmanship at Goldman Sachs Group, Robert B. Zoellick.
The scope of activity of the NED is truly impressive. According to the NED website, it supports more than 1,000 NGO projects in more than 90 countries.
At its inception in the early 1980s, its funding allocation was set at US$18 million and reached its peak in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Allocations for 2014 and 2015 have been approved for US$103.5 million, while over US$7 million was directed primarily to opposition organizations in Ecuador, Bolivia, Venezuela and Cuba in 2013.
Within the U.S. State Department Justification of Request documents which outline the reasons for funding requests, it is clear that funding priorities in Latin America and the Caribbean reflect the NED’s modern strategy of overtly carrying out old covert objectives.
Michel Chossudovsky, a professor emeritus of economics at the University of Ottawa in Canada, sees this funding as an element in “manufacturing dissent” against governments that the U.S. government dislikes. However, these funders do not work alone. “The NED (and USAID) are entities linked with the U.S. state department, but they operate in tandem with a whole of other organizations,” said Chossudovsky.
In May 2010 the Foundation for International Relations and Foreign Dialogue released their report Assessing Democracy Assistance in Venezuela which revealed that in addition to NED and USAID funding, a broad range of private and European based foundations funded opposition-aligned NGOs in the country with between US$40-50 million annually.
According to Dan Beeton, International Communications Director at the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) in Washington, D.C., NED funds in Latin American have been directed at “a lot of what are kind of the old guard political entities that are now kind of discredited,” such as the Trade Union Confederation of Venezuela (CTV), which was instrumental in the 2002 coup in Venezuela, as well as older political parties that are now marginal forces in their country’s political landscapes in spite of their considerable outside funding.
The United States Agency for International Development
Created in 1961 as a foreign assistance program under President John F. Kennedy, USAID commands a much larger budget and broader scope than NED. While U.S. diplomats continue to stress that USAID funding does not have a political basis, USAID documents nonetheless acknowledge its role in “furthering America’s interests” while carrying out “U.S. foreign policy by promoting broad-scale human progress at the same time it expands stable, free societies, creates markets and trade partners for the United States.” But critics are skeptical of USAID’s missionary work, noting how their strategy has changed over time.
“(USAID’s) mandate is to provide development aid and historically it has provided development aid, tied into debt negotiations and so on. Subsequently with the evolution of the development aid program it has redirected its endeavours on funding NGOs,” said Chossudovsky.
While the range of activities undertaken by NGOs can be broad and some of these programs may not have political intentions, Beeton nonetheless argues that this funding “ultimately can and often does serve a political end when the U.S. wants these grantees to help it fulfill its goals in these countries.”
The extent of U.S. political ambitions recently came into the international spotlight with the revelation that USAID had secretly spent US$1.6 million to fund a social messaging network in Cuba called ZunZuneo, with the stated purpose of “renegotiat(ing) the balance of power between the state and society.” The project was headed up by Joe McSpedon of the USAID’s Office of Transition Initiatives (OTI).
Other USAID officials accused of active political meddling in the affairs of sovereign countries include regional head Mark Feierstein. According to Venezuelan investigative journalist Eva Golinger, in 2013 Feierstein met Venezuelan opposition figures including right-wing politicians Maria Corina Machado, Julio Borges and Ramon Guillermo Avelado as well as political strategist Juan Jose Rendon to devise a plan to undermine the Venezuelan government.
At the State Department budgetary hearing, Feierstein also confirmed “a long-standing program in place to support those who are advocating and fighting on behalf of democracy and human rights in Venezuela … and we are prepared to continue those under any scenario.”
State Department cables revealed by WikiLeaks also brought to light previous activities by USAID/OTI in Venezuela, including the development of a five point, anti-government strategy for U.S. embassy activities, as well as the confirmation that grantees had been active in promoting street demonstrations in 2009.
Machado, a former anti-Chavista National Assembly member, was among the signatories of the Carmona decree following the Venezuelan coup in 2002, which abolished the legislative and judiciary powers, as well as the constitution. She was also among the most prominent promoters of last year’s opposition violence that claimed the lives of 43 people.
In Bolivia, local rural workers’ groups and the government expelled the U.S.-based Chemonics International Inc. after their US$2.7 million USAID-funded “Strengthening Democracy” program was accused of financing destabilization attempts against the government. Chemonics operates in approximately 150 countries, offering various technical services and “consulting.”
The Bolivian government publicly outlined what they argued was proof of USAID-funded programs to mobilize the indigenous population against the government, in particular an indigenous march protesting the construction of a highway. USAID funded programs were active in these areas, and had funded some of the leading organizations such as the Eastern Bolivia Indigenous Peoples and Communities Confederation (CIDOB).
“USAID refused to reveal who it was funding and the Bolivian government had strong reasons to believe that it had ties and coordination with opposition groups in the country which at the time was involved in violence and destructive activities aimed at toppling the Morales government,” said Beeton. “Now we know through WikiLeaks that that’s what really was going on.”
President Evo Morales also revealed transcripts of phone calls between the anti-highway march organizers and U.S. embassy officials. The U.S. embassy confirmed the calls, but explained that they were merely trying to familiarize themselves with the country’s political and social situation.
Officials also denounced the lack of accountability to the Bolivian government or to the recipient constituencies of USAID funds.
The head of the Eastern Bolivia Indigenous Peoples and Communities Confederation (CIDOB), Lazaro Taco, confirmed that they had received “external support for our workshops,” but would not identify the source.
These and other USAID activities led Bolivian President Evo Morales to claim that the agency was conspiring against his government. The government expelled USAID from the country in May 2013, while USAID denied any wrongdoing.
In June of 2012, an Ecuadorian daily revealed that 4 NGOs based in Ecuador were recipients of over US$1.8 million for a project called Active Citizens, whose political bend was critical of the Correa government.
Shortly afterwards, the Technical Secretariat for International Cooperation (Seteci) of Ecuador announced it would also investigate the “Costas y Bosques” (Coasts and Forests) conservation project, which received US$13.3 million in funding from USAID. The project, based in the provinces of Esmeraldas, Guayas and Manabí, was also being undertaken by the Chemonics International Inc, the same organization expelled from Bolivia.
Mireya Cardenas, National Secretary of Peoples, Social Movements and Citizen Participation, said that “there is every reason to consider USAID a factor of disturbance that threatens the sovereignty and political stability (of Ecuador)”. While the U.S. Ambassador in Ecuador Adam Namm tried to reassert that USAID did not fund political parties, he did confirm that certain opposition groups such as Fundamedios was funded “indirectly.”
In November 2013 the Ecuadorean government sent a letter to the U.S. embassy in the country’s capital Quito, ordering that “USAID must not execute any new activity” in Ecuador. USAID canceled its aid shortly after.
For Beeton, “lack of transparency is probably the biggest problem (with USAID) in that it really prevents the governments in the host countries from finding something objectionable, or even coordinating better”. This was in large part the principle concern from the Ecuadorian Seteci, who questioned the extent of expenditures on certain project and the lack of coordination.
In the wake of the devastating 2010 earthquake, CEPR conducted an extensive evaluation of USAID funding to Haiti, including the history of funding, and found transparency and coordination with local government to be a significant problem, especially when the local government experienced tensions with U.S. foreign policy.
“The U.S. government has been perfectly happy to not coordinate with governments, and that has a lot to do with politics… it was under [former Haitian President] Aristide really saw a lot of assistance bypass the Haitian government and go to NGO, including violent opposition groups and so called democratic opposition groups much like what you are seeing recently in Venezuela and Bolivia,” said Beeton.
For 2013, the combined NED and USAID allocations for Cuba, Venezuela, Ecuador and Bolivia alone totaled over US$60 million, with the bulk of these funds destined to Cuba and Ecuador. For the government and progressive social movements of these countries, there is a growing concern that these funds could be used to undertake what Chossudovsky qualified as a “consistent process of destabilizing government as part of non-conventional warfare, meaning you don’t send in the troops but you destabilize the government through so called colored revolutions or infiltrations.”
President Obama, who is currently engaged in multiple wars on both the African and Asian continents and is hell-bent on provoking a war in Europe with Russia, is now stepping to the very brink of war in South America, against Venezuela. On Monday, Obama declared a state of national emergency to justify freezing the assets of 7 Venezuelan officials that the U.S. claims are involved in human rights violations. In order to comply with U.S. law, Obama asserted that Venezuela represents a threat the national security of the United States. The White House pretended that the scary language was just a legal technicality, and does not mean that the president actually believes Venezuela is about to do harm to the United States. However, Obama is invoking the same language and law against Venezuela that was used against Syria and Iran, leading to Syria’s near destruction by the U.S. and its allies and proxies, and to vicious sanctions and a state of near-war with Iran. Venezuela has every reason to fear that Obama’s executive order might be a prelude to military attack.
Washington has been trying to topple the socialist government in Venezuela since at least 2002, when George Bush backed an unsuccessful coup against the late President Hugo Chavez. Since then, Venezuela has conducted more elections than any other nation in the hemisphere, all of them vouched for as free and fair by international observers. Unable to prevail at the polls, the rightwing, racist opposition hopes to come to power through another coup or direct military intervention by the United States. In that context, Obama’s assertion that Venezuela is a danger to U.S. national security ranks just short of a declaration of war.
Venezuelan President Maduro has thrown a few of the most brazen coup plotters in jail, which Obama ridiculously describes as a massive violation of human rights. However, the worst human rights violators in the hemisphere are Washington’s allies. Almost six million people, most of them Black and indigenous, have been displaced from their homes by political violence in Colombia, a U.S. client state. Mexico’s is a narco-state, as violent as Colombia. And Honduras, where the U.S. backed a military coup against the democratically elected government in 2009, is a place of lawlessness and state terror.
Luckily, the United States only has a few remaining allies left in Latin America. What unifies the southern part of the hemisphere is the common experience of the U.S. boot on one’s neck. CELAC, the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, which includes all of the nations of the western hemisphere except Canada and the U.S., has warned Washington to stop interfering in Venezuela’s internal affairs.
So, if Obama thinks that he can get away with waging a phony “humanitarian” interventionist war against Venezuelan President Maduro, as he did against Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi, he will find himself opposed by an entire continent.
Caracas – U.S. President Barack Obama issued an executive order this Monday slapping Venezuela with new sanctions and declaring the Bolivarian nation an “unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security”.
The sanctions target seven individuals accused by the White House of alleged human rights violations and “public corruption”, freezing their assets and barring entry into the U.S.
The figures include Justo Jose Noguera Pietri, President of the state entity, the Venezuelan Corporation of Guayana (CVG) and Katherine Nayarith Haringhton Padron, a national level prosecutor currently taking the lead in the trials of several Venezuelan political opposition leaders, including Leopoldo Lopez.
The executive order is the latest in a series of U.S. sanctions imposed on Venezuela over the past few months. On February 3, the Obama administration expanded the list of Venezuelan officials barred from entering the U.S., which now includes the Chief Prosecutor Luis Ortega Diaz.
“Venezuelan officials past and present who violate the human rights of Venezuelan citizens and engage in acts of public corruption will not be welcome here, and we now have the tools to block their assets and their use of U.S. financial systems,” announced White House spokesman Josh Earnest.
The U.S. has failed thus far to disclose evidence that might bolster its claims of human rights violations, leading Venezuelan and other regional leaders to condemn what they regard as the arbitrary and political character of U.S. sanctions.
While regional bodies such as the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) have called for dialogue, Washington has so far refused to support negotiations or to recognise the organisation’s stance.
“We will continue to work closely with others in the region to support greater political expression in Venezuela, and to encourage the Venezuelan government to live up to its shared commitment, as articulated in the OAS Charter, the Inter American Democratic Charter, and other relevant instruments related to democracy and human rights,” reads the latest White House statement.
The order goes on to call for the release of all “political prisoners” allegedly held by the Venezuelan government, including “dozens of students”.
The Venezuelan government, for its part, maintains that all of those arrested are in the process of facing trial for criminal offences linked to violent destabilization efforts spearheaded by the opposition.
Former Caracas Metropolitan Mayor Antonio Ledezma was arrested last month on charges of conspiracy and sedition related to the February 12 thwarted “Blue Coup” attempt. A Venezuelan judge found sufficient evidence linking the opposition figure to air force officials involved in the coup as well as to rightwing terrorist leaders such as Lorent Saleh, who was extradited by Colombian authorities to face charges last year.
The other high profile Venezuelan opposition leader currently facing trial is Leopoldo López, who was indicted for his role in leading several months of violent opposition protests last year with the aim of effecting the “exit”, or ouster, of the constitutional government. Known as the “guarimbas”, these violent protests and street barricades caused the death of 43 people, the majority of whom were security personnel or Chavistas.
Ledezma and López, together with far right leader Maria Corina Machado, were active in the 2002 coup against then president Hugo Chávez, which succeeded in temporarily ousting the Venezuelan leader until he was restored by a popular uprising.
All three opposition leaders also signed a “National Transition Agreement” released on the day prior to February’s “Blue Coup” attempt, describing the government of Nicolas Maduro as in its “terminal phase” and declaring the need to “name new authorities” without mentioning elections or other constitutional mechanisms. Many political commentators interpreted the document as an open call for a coup against the president.
The Venezuelan government has charged the U.S. government with hypocrisy on the issue of human rights, and in particular the mass repression and incarceration of Afrodescendent communities in the U.S.
On February 28, President Maduro announced new measures imposing a reciprocal travel visa requirements on U.S. citizens seeking to enter Venezuela as well as mandating a reduction in U.S. embassy staff to levels that match the number of Venezuelan personnel in Washington.
Maduro also announced the creation of an “anti-terrorist list” of individuals barred from entering Venezuela, which will include former U.S. officials such as George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, who have reportedly “committed human rights violations.”
Venezuelan Foreign Minister, Delcy Rodriguez, has confirmed that the Bolivarian government will soon issue an official response to the order.