Venezuela’s National Telecommunications Commission, CONATEL, announced plans Wednesday to begin sanctioning procedures against CNN en Español for its “direct aggression against the Venezuelan people and state.”
The announcement was made in response to a CNN en Español report released last week suggesting that the Bolivarian government “may have given passports to people with ties to terrorism.” More specifically, the report alleges that Venezuelan Vice President Tareck El Aissami is linked to 173 people from the Middle East, including some connected to the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah.
“As part of its traditional interventionist and imperialist policy, this U.S. agency abrogates extraterritorial powers that blatantly violate basic principles of international law,” CONATEL wrote in a statement.
“It (CNN en Español) has the ignoble and Machiavellian purpose of undermining the image of the National Executive Branch and, therefore, institutionality, governance, and stability of the country, as well as the Bolivarian Revolution, a socio-political project contrary to its interests of domination.”
CONATEL’s statement, which points out that CNN en Español’s allegations are based on unsubstantiated evidence, urges journalists around the world to launch an independent investigation of the report.
The statement also questions the validity of government “whistleblower” Misael Lopez’s claims that the government was “scheming” to sell passports and visas for thousands of dollars. Most of CNN en Español’s report is based on alleged testimony by Lopez, a former secretary of the Venezuelan embassy in Iraq who has strong connections with Venezuela’s U.S.-backed opposition.
Lopez is a close friend and business partner of Ana Argotti, a lawyer who defends violent right-wing activists facing charges for the opposition’s “La Salida” campaign. This was the campaign that left 43 people dead and over 800 injured from street blockades known as “guarimbas.”
“Lopez is an agent infiltrated by the Venezuelan opposition based in the United States,” Venezuelan Foreign Minister Delcy Rodriguez confirmed Wednesday, AVN reports.
The Bolivarian Revolution’s battle against fake news has intensified within the last few days.
On Monday, the U.S. placed El Aissami on a sanctions list reserved for “drug kingpins,” without offering any evidence or issuing any criminal charges. The U.S. government based their decision on CNN en Español’s report as well as other unsubstantiated claims parroted by mainstream media outlets.
Last week, the Miami Herald published a story claiming that Venezuelans are killing and eating flamingos amidst food shortages, citing unsubstantiated claims made by a biology student.
Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro says CNN is an “instrument of war” after his country pulls the network’s Spanish-language channel off the air.
During a televised Wednesday speech, Maduro claimed that the channel had been spreading “propaganda” over an alleged visa racket at the country’s embassy in Iraq, while adding that the channel was an “instrument of war in the hands of real mafias.”
He also warned US President Donald Trump to “open his eyes and ears” in the face of an “incorrect policy” adopted by CNN and the US State Department, which he said were “promoting a general, massive intervention and aggression against Venezuela.”
Earlier, the Venezuelan government issued a statement, announcing that the country’s National Telecommunications Commission had ordered “the immediate suspension of CNN Spanish broadcasts.”
Venezuelan Foreign Minister Delcy Rodriguez also stressed that the government had “ordered the relevant authorities to take action” against the channel.
She added that the February 6 report was “based absolutely on falsehoods,” and that the channel “has launched an operation of psychological warfare, a war propaganda operation.”
She also referred to one of the report’s sources, embassy employee Misael Lopez, as a “delinquent.”
The report also claimed that new Venezuelan Vice President Tareck El Aissami was behind the racket. Aissami was also recently sanctioned by the US Department of Treasury over alleged drug trafficking into the United States.
Meanwhile, Carlos Lauria, CNN’s senior program coordinator for the Americas, called on Maduro “to stop interfering with the work of the press.”
The suspension of CNN en Espanol, which allegedly generates “a climate of intolerance” and threatens “the peace and democratic stability” of the people of Venezuela is effective immediately starting on Wednesday on all “national territory,” CONATEL said on Wednesday, accusing the channel of “aggression” against Venezuela.
The commission also urged other media actors to offer the Venezuelan people timely and impartial information that corresponds to the values of the Venezuelan society and fulfills the constitutional guarantees of free communication.
The Venezuelan government reportedly launched an investigation into the work of the CNN en Espanol channel in August 2015, accusing it of spreading false reports on violence in the country.
The news comes as US President Donald Trump called CNN “fake news” and refused to give their reporter a question at a press event after the broadcaster had helped to fuel false rumors he had hired prostitutes at a Moscow hotel and engaged in lewd behavior.
The network that markets itself as centrist relief from hyper-partisan outlets Fox and MSNBC aired an uncorroborated, unverified report alleging that Russians had obtained compromising information on Trump. The report originated from a former UK intelligence operative, according to CNN and BuzzFeed, the first outlets to publicize the reports.
Following the national and global embarrassment, CNN desperately tried to distance itself from BuzzFeed. CNN claims their reporting of Russia potentially having compromising financial or personal information against Trump is part of its honorable First Amendment duty of “informing the people of the inner workings of their government.”
A bipartisan group of 34 U.S. lawmakers urged President Donald Trump to apply new sanctions against Venezuela’s Bolivarian government, alleging that it supports corruption, human rights abuses, and “terrorism.”
Cuban-American right-wing congresspeople Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Florida, and Sen. Robert Menendez, D-New Jersey, co-authored a letter sent to Trump endorsed by 32 other republican and democratic lawmakers.
The letter calls on Trump to investigate alleged drug trafficking and support for so-called Middle Eastern terror groups by the country’s new vice president, Tareck El Aissami, AP reported.
“Decisive, principled action in response to unfolding developments in Venezuela as one of the first foreign policy actions of your administration would send a powerful message to the Maduro regime and the Venezuelan people,” lawmakers said in the letter.
In addition to sanctioning Venezuelan officials and launching an investigation into the Bolivarian government’s alleged ties to terrorism, the U.S. lawmakers want to boost funding for right-wing opposition groups operating within the country.
Since 1999, the year former Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez took office, the U.S. government has provided opposition groups with hundreds of millions of dollars. Since 2014, US$5 million has been allocated in the federal budget to finance opposition activities inside the South American country, the Daily Mail reported.
These are the same groups that are responsible for the guarimbas — the violent practice of blocking roads, lighting tires on fire, and firing rocks and other materials at Venezuelan police. Members of opposition groups have also been caught hoarding and illegally selling foodstuffs for personal profit.
Despite the Venezuelan opposition’s well-recorded criminality, the bipartisan group of U.S. lawmakers is instead choosing to combat the democratically-elected government’s alleged “crimes.”
The lawmakers claim Venezuelan officials in charge of distributing food rations are “profiting” from shortages, citing a December 2016 report by AP. The investigation, however, quotes unsubstantiated claims made by opposition residents and former officials hostile to the incumbent government.
The lawmakers also claim El Aissami has connections to the Islamic Republic of Iran and Hezbollah in Lebanon, which they say automatically makes him complicit in supporting “terrorism,” but provided no evidence to back that accusation.
Trump’s administration has not commented on proposed plans to sanction and investigate Venezuela. Maduro’s administration continues to speak out against U.S. efforts to destabilize the democratically-elected government.
In a recent article, titled “Meet Venezuela’s new VP, fan of Iran and Hezbollah”, The Hill’s Emanuele Ottolenghi profiled the South American country’s new second in command, Tareck El Aissami.
Although El Aissami was appointed vice-president just a few weeks ago, he’s hardly a new face to anyone who has followed Venezuelan politics for a while. He previously served as Aragua’s governor, and also had a stint as interior minister a few years back.
So what’s so special about El Aissami? A lot, according to Ottolenghi, whose piece reads much like the biography of a minor goon from a Schwarzenegger flick, replete with semi-comical claims with the credibility, sophistication and nuance of Ninja Terminator.
Here’s a few highlights:
“Despite the Baathist family background — his father headed the Venezuelan branch of the Iraqi Baath Party — and his Lebanese Druze origins, El Aissami seems to prefer the Islamist Shiite revolutionary Hezbollah and Iran over the Baath’s supposedly secular pan-Arabism.
Like his Islamic revolutionary role models, he used violence to advance his politics.
Opposition figures have accused both El Aissami and Nassereddine of recruiting young Arab-Venezuelan members of the ruling party to undergo paramilitary training in South Lebanon with Hezbollah.
As if this were not enough, El Aissami reportedly facilitated drug trafficking, a crime for which he is being investigated in the U.S.”
In other words, El Aissami is every boogyman and right-wing scapegoat wrapped up in one nice little package, at least based on Ottolenghi’s depiction. He’s a mish-mash of Baathism, Sunni radicalism and Shiite extremism; plus he smuggles coke.
The obvious question is whether any of this is true. For one, El Aissami is indeed one of many suspects in a US investigation into Venezuela’s narcotics trade. We could discuss the politics of this investigation until the cows come home, but what about the juicier claims? For instance, the claim that El Aissami has been accused of sending young Venezuelans to Lebanon to train with Hezbollah, and that he has colluded with “guerrilla movements”?
If we follow the hyperlinks provided by Ottolenghi, we find that these claims were sourced from the Centre for Security Policy (CSP). It sounds credible, but has been widely dismissed by journalists as basically a joke. According to the Southern Poverty Law Centre, the Centre for Security Policy is “known for its accusations that a shadowy ‘Muslim Brotherhood’ has infiltrated all levels of government and warnings that ‘creeping Shariah,’ or Islamic religious law, is a threat to American democracy”.
“For the past decade, CSP’s main focus has been on demonising Islam and Muslims under the guise of national security,” the Southern Poverty Law Centre stated.
A cursory glance at the CSP’s homepage features ads for books with colourful titles like “CAIR is HAMAS”, “Civilisation Jihad”, “ObamaBomb” and “See No Sharia”. At the time of writing, some of their latest articles included one describing Islam as a “supremacist totalitarian ideology”, and another claiming Iran might already secretly have a “nuclear weapon” (which it doesn’t).
Well, that got weird fast.
So basically, Ottolenghi gets his best material from a website that is so far off the deep end, it has even been banned from the Conservative Political Action Conference.
As a side note, Donald Trump cited a report from the CSP back in 2015, when he falsely claimed one in four Muslims support violence against the US. At the time, the CSP’s claims were widely dismissed as junk.
But hey, that’s just one source – perhaps I’m not giving Ottolenghi’s narrative enough of a chance. Frustratingly though, Ottolenghi’s piece is very light on sources, and he provides no other references for his two most eyebrow raising claims.
Luckily, Ottolenghi is far from the first English language pundit to express this particular point of view on El Aissami. A few years ago, the Gatestone Institute published a piece that reads eerily similar to Ottolenghi’s more recent article. For example, the older piece details how El Aissami supposedly loved Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden. Ignoring the fact these two political figures espoused totally different and utterly incompatible political ideologies, the Gatestone article did a somewhat better job than Ottolenghi in terms of providing sources for their claims.
This is where things take a turn for the outright bizarre.
So, where did the Gatestone’s critical intelligence on El Aissami originate? According to the reference list they provided, the answer to that question is: Wikipedia and this obscure blog. Following the breadcrumbs, the blogger also provided a reference list for their sources. This list is extremely short for supposedly groundbreaking investigative reporting, and only features four different names: Al Arabiya, MEMRI, Jihad Watch and another blogspot blog called The Jungle Hut.
…. Okey-dokey then.
The trail runs dry over at The Jungle Hut, where there’s nothing more than a dead link and a nice photo of a waterfall. It’s not quite what I was expecting to find, so let’s look at the other two sources. Al Arabiya is Saudi Arabia’s state media outlet, though don’t let that bother you too much; they’ve actually produced some decent stuff in the past. Unfortunately, there’s no links to specific articles, so again, the trail runs dry. The same problem arises when we head to MERMI. Finally, we get to the El Dorado of anti-Islam trash: Jihad Watch, a blog created by the notorious Islamophobe Robert Spencer. For anyone who doesn’t know, Spencer is perhaps best known for co-founding two prominent anti-Muslim lobby groups, Stop Islamisation of America (SIOA) and the American Freedom Defence Initiative (AFDI). Both have been listed as hate groups by the Southern Poverty Law Centre. Spencer also garnered media attention in the wake of the 2011 Norwegian white supremacist terrorist attack carried out by Anders Behring Breivik. In his sprawling anti-Muslim manifesto, Breivik cited Spencer dozens of times.
This is where our journey down the rabbit hole ends; with an Islamophobe beloved by one of the worst white supremacist terrorists in recent years. I guess this is what I get for checking people’s sources: a browser history full of links to hate groups, anti-Islam garbage and one nice picture of a waterfall. I didn’t find much credible reporting, but I did learn that El Aissami is hated for one reason above all: he’s got a Muslim-ish sounding name.
You might think I’m being harsh on Ottolenghi.
And you’d be wrong.
Ottolenghi is a long time anti-Iran hardliner, and has authored books with names like “Under a Mushroom Cloud: Europe, Iran and the Bomb”. According to a review of this book over at The Jewish Chronicle, “Ottolenghi’s view that Iran, as an exceptional case, merits exceptional treatment, is perhaps unrealistically rigid. His argument is not helped by the absence from his text of source references by which the reader could cross-check the many, selective quotes he adduces in support of it.”
In other words, making far fetched claims based on no real evidence is something of a modus operandi for Ottolenghi.
Along with having an obvious disdain for the notion of providing sources, Ottolenghi seems like just another pundit with a bone to pick with Islam, and anyone who sounds like they might be Arab, Persian or any other ethnic group he doesn’t like. Ottolenghi’s writings seem better suited to publishers like Jihad Watch, and his presence at The Hill is surprising to say the least.
Unfortunately though, this whole saga is symptomatic of a deeper problem in the media. The fact that an article for The Hill can get away with featuring links to the Islamophobic fake news CSP is emblematic of the dismal state of international corporate media. Islamophobic rants are treated like credible political analysis, and conspiracy crackpots are put on pedestals. It’s a grim state of affairs, but the real question is: how much further will we slide?
By Lucas Koerner – Venezuelanalysis – January 23, 2017
Caracas – US congress members on both sides of the aisle have issued calls for new sanctions against top Venezuelan food ministry officials over corruption allegations.
Senator Marco Rubio, R-Florida, urged the new Trump administration to sanction Venezuela’s food minister, Gen. Marco Rodolfo Torres, and other leading officials charged with overseeing the country’s food imports.
“This should be one of President Trump’s first actions in office,” said Rubio, a hardline opponent of Venezuela and Cuba, who chairs the Latin America Foreign Relations subcommittee.
The statement comes in response to an AP report released last month that accused high-ranking military officials, including Rodolfo Torres and his predecessor Gen. Carlos Osorio, of receiving kickbacks from government contracts for food imports. The article relies largely on the testimony of retired military officers opposed to the government as well as internal ministry documents allegedly obtained by AP.
Senator Ben Cardin, D-Maryland, ranking member of the Foreign Relations Committee, echoed calls for further sanctions, citing unsubstantiated allegations of starvation in the country.
Republican congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida and Senator Bob Menendez, D-New Jersey, likewise stated that they would push for sanctions by the US State and Treasury Departments against the officials in question in addition to pressuring US companies to cut ties with Venezuelan firms linked to corruption.
In July, Rubio, Cardin, and Menendez co-authored a Senate resolution backing Organization of American States Secretary General Luis Almagro’s effort to suspend Venezuela from the body under the Inter-American Democratic Charter, citing “abuses of internationally recognized human rights”.
The latest drive for sanctions follows outgoing US President Barack Obama’s January 13 renewal of an executive order branding Venezuela an “unusual and extraordinary threat” to US national security. The decree was originally signed in March 2015 and included sanctions against seven Venezuelan government officials, freezing their assets and barring entry into the US.
More recently, Trump secretary of state nominee Rex Tillerson has indicated that if confirmed he would press for a “transition to democratic rule” in Venezuela, which has been widely interpreted as an endorsement of US-backed regime change efforts.
US President Barack Obama has declared the continuation of his country’s national emergency against Iran, claiming that despite full commitment to its nuclear deal with the six world powers, the Islamic Republic still poses “an unusual and extraordinary threat” to America.
The outgoing president informed Congress of his decision in a letter on Friday, saying that the national emergency, which was declared on March 15, 1995, “is to continue in effect beyond March 15, 2017.”
The National Emergencies Act requires the president to extend a national emergency within 90 days of its anniversary date, before it is automatically terminated.
Obama admitted in his letter that Iran had delivered on its commitments pursuant to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), a landmark nuclear deal that was struck between Iran and the P5+1 group of countries — the US, the UK, France, China, Russia, and Germany — on July 14, 2015.
Under the landmark deal, which entered into force on January 16 last year, Iran undertook to put restrictions on its nuclear program in exchange for the removal of nuclear-related sanctions imposed against the country.
“Since Implementation Day, the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) has repeatedly verified, and the Secretary of State [John Kerry] has confirmed, that Iran continues to meet its nuclear commitments pursuant to the JCPOA,” Obama said in his notice.
“However, irrespective of the JCPOA, which continues to ensure that Iran’s nuclear program is and remains exclusively peaceful, certain actions and policies of the Government of Iran continue to pose an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security, foreign policy, and economy of the United States,” the outgoing president added.
In November, Obama extended a separate national emergency against Iran, which was originally declared by former US President Jimmy Carter on November 14, 1979.
He also extended the state of emergency with respect to Libya, Ukraine, Zimbabwe, Cuba and Venezuela.
A state of emergency gives the US president special powers, including the ability to seize property, summon the National Guard and hire and fire military officers at will.
The state of emergency also forms the basis for most US sanctions against other countries.
Faced with the reality that the elected socialist government of Nicolas Maduro has not been toppled by the highly unpopular opposition despite a severe economic crisis, corporate journalists have grown increasingly desperate for even the scantiest of evidence supporting their narrative of the country’s descent into apocalyptic ruin.
The Washington Post’s Ruth Eglash brings this pernicious race to the bottom to new, awe-inspiring depths.
In an article titled “Venezuelan Jews are moving to Israel to escape deepening poverty”, the Jerusalem-based reporter decries the shocking flight of Venezuelan Jews to Israel.
Just how many Venezuelan Jews constitute this mass exodus?
111, says Eglash, “more than double the number who arrived in 2012.”
Yes, you read right: 111 Venezuelan Jews emigrated to Israel in 2015, just about fifty more than in 2012 when there was no economic crisis and oil prices topped $100 per barrel.
Apparently, Israel is such a popular destination that Venezuelan Jews are packing their bags to move by the dozens.
However, 2016 appears on track to set records. Eglash quotes the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, which has reported aiding a whopping 90 Venezuelan Jews emigrate this past year.
Eglash goes on to relay the jarring testimony of Venezuelan Jews who decided to move to Israel. Daniel Ortiz complains, “There was no meat, no sugar, no pasta.”
Indeed Venezuela has been hard hit by a deep economic crisis triggered by the collapse of global oil prices that has seen soaring inflation and chronic shortages, leading thousands to seek work in other countries.
However, the Washington Post correspondent never bothered to interview any of the approximately 9,000 Jews who have decided to remain in their country in spite of the economic difficulties. Not all Venezuelan Jews, she may be shocked to learn, view Israel as a promised land “filled with social innovation and opportunities”.
“I don’t think Israel is a very good option for emigration,” says Jaime Palacios, a Jewish student at Venezuela’s state-run Bolivarian University.
Palacios is a native of the Caracas neighborhood of Petare, which is one of the largest barrios in Latin America.
“There [in Israel] there is no freedom of religion and we see how the Israeli government attacks their Palestinian brothers and maintains constant conflict,” he told Venezuelanalysis, referring to Israel’s military occupation and its repression of the rights of Palestinian Muslims and Christians.
Nonetheless, Eglash insists on the apparently horrifying proportions of Venezuelan Jewish emigration. She notes that “about 50 percent of the 22,000 Jews who lived in the country when Chávez came to power have left,” as if to imply that this outflow was brought on by anti-Semitism that she says was “widespread under Chávez”.
Eglash’s only source for this charge of alleged anti-Semitism against the Chavista government is the Anti-Defamation League, which last year denounced a Venezuelan magazine for printing a cover suggesting that Orthodox Jews were behind illicit currency speculation in the country.
It’s no secret that the Anti-Defamation League has a long track record of dismissing any and all legitimate criticism of Israeli colonialism as “anti-Semitism”.
For example, in a 2014 report titled, “Venezuelan Government Fuels Incendiary Anti-Israel and Anti-Semitic Environment”, the ADL castigated President Nicolas Maduro– himself of Sephardi origin– for calling the Israeli-occupied Gaza Strip “a huge Auschwitz” during the Israeli government’s 50-day assault that left over 2,200 Palestinians dead, including 490 children.
These dubious charges of anti-Semitism were also leveled against late Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez over his condemnation of US-sponsored Israeli war crimes in Lebanon and Gaza, as well as his government’s geopolitical alliance with Iran.
While anti-Semitism is real in Venezuela, the ADL bases their claims exclusively on the government’s political stance vis-a-vis Israel, rather than seeking testimony from any Jews who may have experienced discrimination in the country.
“In Venezuela, you don’t see a large amount of anti-Semitism, though this isn’t to say that it doesn’t exist. The Jewish community in Venezuela has won the affection of many people,” explains Palacios.
Sadly, voices like Palacios’ are notably missing from the accounts of establishment journalists such as Eglash, whose confirmation bias leads them to systematically privilege the perspectives of upper class Venezuelans, such as 29 year-old Reisy Abramof, who studied for five years at a US university before emigrating to Israel.
Once again we note that basic journalistic standards seem simply not to apply when it comes to Venezuela.
Any story about the South American nation– whether it’s the emigration of several dozen Venezuelan Jews or the government’s confiscation of 4 million toys– is seamlessly woven into a preexisting narrative of the country’s catastrophic, socialism-inflicted collapse.
The era of post-truth has arrived, and international corporate media– as Glen Greenwald has observed– are its greatest purveyors.
Caracas – Venezuela’s Supreme Court (TSJ) has blocked an attempt by Congress to oust President Nicolas Maduro over the allegation that he has “abandoned his post”.
Earlier in January, the opposition-controlled National Assembly (AN) approved an agreement stating that the president should be dismissed, accusing him of being responsible for a “serious rupture of the constitutional and democratic order,” the “devastation” of the country’s economy, and human rights abuses.
Opposition lawmakers argued that the declaration was based on Article 233 of the Bolivarian Constitution, which outlines the circumstances under which the president can be considered to have permanently vacated the position.
However, on Monday, Venezuela’s highest court released a statement confirming that there were no constitutional grounds for President Maduro’s removal from office, and criticised the AN’s interpretation of the article as “fraudulent and insurrectional”.
“The President of the Republic, citizen Nicolas Maduro Moros, has not been absent, nor separated in any moment, from the exercise of his post, nor has he ceased to exercise his constitutional responsibilities since the beginning of his mandate, which is a public, well-known and communicable indisputable fact,” reads the declaration.
In the official ruling, the high court describes opposition lawmakers’ actions as an attempt to set in motion a “coup d’etat” against the president of the Republic and to “subvert the established constitutional order”.
“(This) responds to their interest in destabilisation, with the only intention of changing the legitimately constituted government through an unconstitutional procedure,” continues the top judicial body.
TSJ judges also went on to reprimand the opposition coalition, the Democratic Unity Roundtable, for having continuously flouted the court’s previous orders demanding that congress remove three opposition legislators pending investigations into voter fraud. The court has released several statements declaring the National Assembly to be in contempt of court and consequently void, as well as warning the legislative body not to overstep its constitutional boundaries.
According to the Constitution, the Venezuelan president can be considered to have “abandoned his post” through his death, resignation, destitution by the TSJ or his “physical or mental incapacity” as corroborated by a medical committee.
Nonetheless, opposition legislators have prioritised removing Maduro from office through a variety of initiatives since winning a congressional majority in the legislative elections of December 2015.
La Ceiba – The Venezuelan Ministry of Foreign Relations released an official statement Monday expressing its concern over Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos’ announcement that Colombia and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) are set to further military cooperation. Venezuela’s Bolivarian government recognizes the agreement as a threat against regional peace emphasizing Latin American institutions such as the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States’ (CELAC) commitment to peace of which Colombia is a member.
Santos celebrated the recently approved agreement and publicly reminisced how the process began nine years ago when he served as Defense Minister under former Colombian President Alvaro Uribe’s administration.
TELESUR reports that the agreement between the South American nation and Northern hemispheric military organization is based upon pre-existing cooperation tackling organized crime. In 2013, Colombia signed a cooperation memorandum with NATO in Brussels, Belgium the first of its kind for the military organization with a Latin American nation.
The 2013 memorandum was signed by former Colombian Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzón and NATO Vice-Secretary General Alexander Vershbow. Pinzón expressed then that the agreement sought to “access knowledge, experience, good practices in peace missions, humanitarian missions, human rights, military justice, transformation processes and improvement of the defense and security sector, in addition to help in the fight against drug trafficking.”
Venezuelan Foreign Relations Minister Delcy Rodríguez expressed her nation’s concern Monday via social media platform Twitter where she published the Bolivarian government’s official statement.
“The Venezuelan Government is strongly opposed to the attempt to introduce external factors with nuclear capability in our region, whose past and recent actions claim a policy of war, violate bilateral and regional agreements of which Colombia is a member (UNASUR, CELAC) and through which Latin America and the Caribbean have been declared a Peace Zone,” read the statement.
For the Bolivarian government, Santos’ announcement also “distorts the principles of Bandung that gave rise to the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), which expressly prohibits member states from forming military alliances.”
Additionally, “the Bolivarian Government of Venezuela, for the sake of union and integration of the Patria Grande, urges the Colombian government to not generate elements of destabilization and war in South America and vows to attend to our Liberators’ historic call for peace and unity.”
NATO was founded in 1949 and has been most recently criticized for waging wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya. Twenty-eight member states constitute the multi-governmental military organization.
News of Santos’ decision to build a stronger alliance with NATO comes after several tumultuous months for the Colombian people following the devastating results of the Peace Accords plebiscite.
In recent weeks, the Colombian government and Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) reached consensus on revised peace accords which suggest potential opportunities for peace in the South American nation.
By Mark Weisbrot | The Hill | November 6, 2016
The Vatican’s participation in the mediation effort in Venezuela poses an unusual challenge to US policy in Venezuela and the region. On Sunday, October 30, three of the four major opposition parties and other prominent opposition leaders met with the government, with mediators from the Vatican and UNASUR (the Union of South American Nations). Some progress was made. The government released four people who the opposition considers political prisoners, and the opposition called off a political trial against President Maduro and a planned demonstration that most observers believed ran a high risk of violence.
Thomas Shannon, the number three official in the US State Department, also went to Venezuela this week, met with President Maduro and opposition leaders, and supported the dialogue. I wish I could say that this represents an actual change in US policy in the region, but all evidence still points to the contrary.
The US government is not looking at Venezuela in terms of dialogue or compromise. The Obama administration has economic sanctions against Venezuela, which President Obama renewed last March. In renewing these sanctions, the executive order again declared that Venezuela presented “an unusual and extraordinary threat to US security.” The world knows what happens to countries that the US deems to be “an unusual and extraordinary” security threat. Look what happened to Iraq. Look what happened to Nicaragua in the 1980s. It doesn’t matter how many people are directly affected by the specific sanctions against Venezuela. The threat is what matters, and it is ugly and belligerent enough to keep many investors from investing in Venezuela and to raise the country’s cost of borrowing. (Not to mention that the whole premise of Venezuela as a “security threat” is absurd.) And the US government has also directly pressured financial institutions not to do business with Venezuela.
For all of these reasons, it is clear that Washington’s goal in Venezuela is currently the same as it has been for almost all of the past 15 years. Shannon’s support for dialogue is almost certain to turn out the same as previous diplomatic thaws in the past: a brief and insincere interlude. President Obama initiated the longest period (about five months) of calm US-Venezuela relations ― since the US-backed military coup of 2002 ―between March and July last year. It soon became clear that this was only because the Cubans ― with support from the rest of the region ― made it a condition of progress in their own negotiations for opening relations with the US. This was something that Obama wanted for his legacy. But as Venezuela’s National Assembly elections approached, the Obama administration went back to its regime change strategy, supporting an international campaign to delegitimize Venezuela’s elections. (This turned out to be unnecessary, since the opposition won in a landslide.)
The Venezuelan opposition pursued a “strategy of military takeover” for the first four years of the Chávez government, including the 2002 military coup. But since 2004, they have been divided on whether to pursue change through legal means. Whenever they had people in the streets supporting a violent or extralegal overthrow ― as in 2002–03, 2013, or 2014 ― the US government has taken their side. Washington has also led various campaigns to delegitimize the Venezuelan government, a vital part of any extralegal “regime change” strategy.
But for the moment, Pope Francis has altered everyone’s calculations. It is not good optics for the hard-line Venezuelan opposition to condemn the pope. And the Obama administration cannot exert the kind of pressure on the Vatican that it does on, e.g., European governments to support its sanctions against Russia, or various unpopular military adventures. Also, the international media cannot marginalize or ignore the pope in the way they do the rest of the hemisphere’s governments, e.g., when these governments resist Washington’s support for regime change in Venezuela, Honduras, and other countries.
The pope is likely to look at the Venezuelan crisis in a pragmatic way, rather than through the lens of Washington’s imperial and ideological imperatives. There is a divided government in Venezuela, with the chavistas controlling the presidency and to a large extent the judiciary. The fractious opposition controls the National Assembly. Until the next presidential election, there is no way to resolve the political conflict except through dialogue and negotiation.
Pope Francis can be a pragmatic diplomat, but he has certain principles and is not easily intimidated. He is likely to understand that Venezuela’s divided government is a result of a divided country. From 2003, when the Chávez government got control of the national oil industry, until 2014, the large majority of the population experienced enormous gains in their living standards. That is why, in December of last year, in the elections for National Assembly, the ruling PSUV still got more than 40 percent of the vote ― despite inflation running at 180 percent and widespread shortages of basic consumer goods.
A big part of the gains of the Chávez era have been lost in the past nearly three years, and especially over the past year. But the governing party still has a political base that remembers worse poverty and exclusion, if not worse shortages, in the pre-Chávez era. They do not see the political opposition, which is a right-wing political movement that has always represented the upper classes, offering solutions that will make their lives better.
The Vatican will therefore likely seek negotiation and compromise on both sides of the political divide. This poses a unique challenge to Washington and some of its closest allies in Venezuela.