The U.S. has a substantial history of aggression toward Venezuela
Recently, several different spokespersons for the Obama administration have firmly claimed the United States government is not intervening in Venezuelan affairs. Department of State spokeswoman Jen Psaki went so far as to declare, “The allegations made by the Venezuelan government that the United States is involved in coup plotting and destabilization are baseless and false.” Psaki then reiterated a bizarrely erroneous statement she had made during a daily press briefing just a day before: “The United States does not support political transitions by non-constitutional means.”
Anyone with minimal knowlege of Latin America and world history knows Psaki’s claim is false, and calls into question the veracity of any of her prior statements. The U.S. government has backed, encouraged and supported coup d’etats in Latin America and around the world for over a century. Some of the more notorious ones that have been openly acknowledged by former U.S. presidents and high level officials include coup d’etats against Mohammed Mossadegh in Iran in 1953, Jacobo Arbenz in Guatemala in 1954, Patrice Lumumba in the Congo in 1960, Joao Goulart of Brazil in 1964 and Salvador Allende in Chile in 1973. More recently, in the twenty-first century, the U.S. government openly supported the coups against President Hugo Chavez in Venezuela in 2002, Jean Bertrand Aristide of Haiti in 2004 and Jose Manuel Zelaya of Honduras in 2009. Ample evidence of CIA and other U.S. agency involvement in all of these unconstitutional overthrows of democratically-elected governments abounds. What all of the overthrown leaders had in common was their unwillingness to bow to U.S. interests.
Despite bogus U.S. government claims, after Hugo Chavez was elected president of Venezuela by an overwhelming majority in 1998, and subsequently refused to take orders from Washington, he became a fast target of U.S. aggression. Though a U.S.-supported coup d’etat briefly overthrew Chavez in 2002, his subsequent rescue by millions of Venezuelans and loyal armed forces, and his return to power, only increased U.S. hostility towards the oil-rich nation. After Chavez’s death in 2013 from cancer, his democratically-elected successor, Nicolas Maduro, became the brunt of these attacks.
What follows is a brief summary of U.S. aggression towards Venezuela that clearly shows a one-sided war. Venezuela has never threatened or taken any kind of action to harm the United States or its interests. Nonetheless, Venezuela, under both Chavez and Maduro – two presidents who have exerted Venezuela’s sovereignty and right to self-determination – has been the ongoing victim of continuous, hostile and increasingly aggressive actions from Washington.
A coup d’etat against Chávez was carried out on April 11, 2002. Documents obtained under the U.S. Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) evidence a clear role of the U.S. government in the coup, as well as financial and political support for those Venezuelans involved.
A “lockout” and economic sabotage of Venezuela’s oil industry was imposed from December 2002 to February 2003. After the defeat of the coup against Chavez, the U.S. State Department issued a special fund via the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) to help the opposition continue efforts to overthrow Chavez. USAID set up an Office for Transition Initiatives (OTI) in Caracas, subcontracting U.S. defense contractor Development Alternatives Inc. (DAI) to oversee Venezuela operations and distribute millions of dollars to anti-government groups. The result was the “national strike” launched in December 2002 that brought the oil industry to the ground and devastated the economy. It lasted 64 days and caused more than $20 billion in damages. Nonetheless, the efforts failed to destabilize the Chavez government.
The “guarimbas” of 2004: On February 27, 2004, extremist anti-government groups initiated violent protests in Caracas aimed at overthrowing Chavez. They lasted 4 days and caused multiple deaths. The leaders of these protests had received training from the U.S. Albert Einstein Institute (AEI), which specializes in regime change tactics and strategies.
The Recall Referendum of 2004: Both NED and USAID channeled millions of dollars into a campaign to recall President Chavez through a national recall referendum. With the funds, the group Sumate, led by multi-millionaire Maria Corina Machado, was formed to oversee the efforts. Chavez won the referendum in a landslide 60-40 victory.
After the victory of President Chavez in the recall referendum of 2004, the US toughened its position towards Venezuela and increased its public hostility and aggression against the Venezuelan government. Here are a selection of statements made about Venezuela by U.S. officials:
January 2005: “Hugo Chavez is a negative force in the region.” – Condoleezza Rice.
March 2005: “Venezuela is one of the most unstable and dangerous ‘hot spots’ in Latin America.” – Porter Goss, ex-Director of the CIA.
“Venezuela is starting a dangerous arms race that threatens regional security.” – Donald Rumsfeld, ex-Secretary of Defense.
“I am concerned about Venezuela’s influence in the area of responsibility… SOUTHCOM supports the position of the Joint Chiefs to maintain ‘military to military’ contact with the Venezuelan military…we need an inter-agency focus to deal with Venezuela.” – General Bantz Craddock, ex-Commander of SOUTHCOM.
July 2005: “Cuba and Venezuela are promoting instability in Latin America… There is no doubt that President Chavez is funding radical forces in Bolivia.” -Rogelio Pardo-Maurer, Assistant Sub-Secretary of Defense for the Western Hemisphere.
“Venezuela and Cuba are promoting radicalism in the region…Venezuela is trying to undermine the democratic governments in the region to impede CAFTA.” – Donald Rumsfeld, ex-Secretary of Defense.
August 2005: “Venezuelan territory is a safe haven for Colombian terrorists.” – Tom Casey, State Department spokesman.
September 2005: “The problem of working with President Chavez is serious and continuous, as it is in other parts of the relationship.” – John Walters, Director of the National Policy Office for Drug Control.
November 2005: “The assault on democratic institutions in Venezuela continues and the system is in serious danger.” – Thomas Shannon, Sub-secretary of State.
February 2006: “President Chavez continues to use his control to repress the opposition, reduce freedom of the press and restrict democracy…. it’s a threat.” – John Negroponte, ex-Director of National Intelligence.
“We have Chavez in Venezuela with a lot of money from oil. He is a person who was elected legally, just like Adolf Hitler…” – Donald Rumsfeld, ex-Secretary of Defense.
March 2006: “In Venezuela, a demagogue full of oil money is undermining democracy and trying to destabilize the region.” – George W. Bush.
U.S. officials try to link Venezuela to Terrorism:
June 2006: “Venezuela’s cooperation in the international campaign against terrorism continues to be insignificant… It’s not clear to what point the Venezuelan government offered material support to Colombian terrorists.” – Annual Report on Terrorism, Department of State.
June 2006: The U.S. government through the Commerce Department and U.S. Treasury imposes sanctions against Venezuela for its alleged role in terrorism and prohibits the sale of military equipment to the country.
July 2006: “Venezuela, under President Hugo Chavez, has tolerated terrorists in its territory…” – Subcommittee on International Terrorism, House of Representatives.
U.S. increases its Military Presence in Latin America:
March-July 2006: The US military engages in four major exercises off the coast of Venezuela in the Caribbean Sea, with support from NATO, and based at the US air force base in Curaçao. A permanent military presence is established in the Dominican Republic and the bases in Curaçao and Aruba are reinforced.
The U.S. Embassy in Caracas establishes the “American Corners” in 5 Venezuelan States (Lara, Monagas, Bolívar, Anzoátegui, Nueva Esparta), to act as centers of propaganda, subversion, espionage and infiltration.
U.S. Ambassador William Brownfield intensifies his public hostility towards the Venezuelan government, making frequent sarcastic and unfriendly comments in opposition-controlled media.
NED and USAID increase funding to anti-government groups in Venezuela.
At the beginning of 2007, Venezuela is severely attacked in the international media & by U.S. government spokespersons for its decision to nationalize Cantv (the only national telephone company), the Electricity of Caracas and the Faja Orinoco oil fields.
In May 2007 the attack intensifies when the government decides not to renew the public broadcasting concession to popular opposition television station, RCTV.
A powerful international media campaign is initiated against Venezuela and President Chavez, referring to him as a dictator.
Private distributors and companies begin hoarding food and other essential consumer products in order to create shortages and panic amongst the population.
USAID, NED and the State Department via the Embassy in Caracas foment, fund and encourage the emergence of a right-wing youth movement and help to project its favorable image to the international community in order to distort the perception of President Chavez’s popularity amongst youth.
Groups such as Human Rights Watch, Inter-American Press Association and Reporters without Borders accuse Venezuela of violating human rights and freedom of expression.
September 2007: President George W. Bush classifies Venezuela as a nation “not cooperating” with the war against drug trafficking, for the third year in a row, imposing additional economic sanctions.
September 2007: Condoleezza Rice declares the U.S. is “concerned about the destructive populism” of Chavez.
January 2008: Admiral Mike Mullen, Chief of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the U.S. Armed Forces meets with Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, then Minister of Defense Juan Manuel Santos, U.S. Ambassador William Brownfield and the Commander General of the Colombian Armed Forces Freddy Padilla de Leon and declares during a press conference that he is “concerned about the arms purchases made by Chavez” and expresses that this could “destabilize the region.”
John Walters, the U.S. Anti-Drug Czar meets with Uribe in Colombia, together with 5 U.S. congresspersons and Ambassador Brownfield, and declares Venezuela a nation “complicit with drug trafficking” that presents “a threat to the US and the region”. He also expresses his wish that the Free Trade Agreement between the U.S. and Colombia be ratified by Congress soon.
Condoleezza Rice visits Colombia, together with Sub-Secretary of State Thomas Shannon and 10 congress members from the democratic party to push the FTA and back Colombia in its conflict with Venezuela.
President George W. Bush in his State of the Union address emphasizes the importance of the FTA with Colombia alerts to the threat of “populist” and “undemocratic” governments in the region.
February 2008: SOUTHCOM sends the Navy’s “4th fleet” to the Caribbean Sea (a group of war ships, submarines and aircraft carriers that haven’t been in those waters since the Cold War).
The Director of National Intelligence, General Mike McConnell, publishes the Annual Threat Report, which classifies Venezuela as the “principal threat against the US in the hemisphere.”
Exxon-Mobil tries to “freeze” $12 billion of Venezuelan assets in London, Holland and the Dutch Antilles.
A Report on Present Threats to National Security of the Defense Intelligence Agency classifies Venezuela as a “national security threat” to the U.S.
A Department of State report accuses Venezuela of being a country that permits “the transit of illegal drugs”, “money laundering” and being “complicit with drug trafficking.”
The U.S. Department of Treasury classifies three high level Venezuelan officials as “drug kingpins”, presenting no formal evidence. The head of Venezuela’s military intelligence, General Hugo Carvajal, the head of Venezuela’s civil intelligence force, General Henry Rangel Silva, and former Minister of Interior and Justice, Ramon Rodriguez Chacin are sanctioned by the U.S. government and placed on a terrorist list.
Rear Admiral Joseph Nimmich, Director of the US Joint Interagency Task Force, meets in Bogota with the Commander General of the Colombian Armed Forces.
March 2008: The Colombian army invades Ecuadorian territory and assassinates Raul Reyes and a dozen others, including 4 Mexicans, at a FARC camp in the jungle near the border.
General Jorge Naranjo, Commander of Colombia’s National Police, declares that laptop computers rescued from the scene of the bombing that killed Reyes and others evidence that President Chavez gave more than $300 million to the FARC along with a quantity of uranium and weapons. No other evidence is produced or shown to the public. Ecuador is also accused of supporting the FARC.
Venezuela mobilizes troops to the border with Colombia.
The US Navy sends the Aircraft Carrier “Harry Truman” to the Caribbean Sea to engage in military exercises to prevent potential terrorist attacks and eventual conflicts in the region.
President Bush states the U.S. will defend Colombia against the “provocations” from Venezuela.
Uribe announces he will bring a claim before the International Criminal Court against President Chavez for “sponsoring genocide and terrorism”.
March: President Bush requests his team of lawyers and advisors review the possibility of placing Venezuela on the list of “STATE SPONSORS OF TERRORISM” together with Cuba, Iran, Syria and North Korea.
May: A document from the U.S. Air Force shows the construction of a U.S. military base in Palanquero, Colombia, to combat the “anti-American” governments in the region. The Palanquero base is part of the 7 military bases that the U.S. planned to build in Colombia under an agreement with the Colombian government for a ten-year period.
February: The U.S. Director of National Intelligence declares Venezuela the “anti-American leader” in the region in its annual report on worldwide threats.
February: The State Department authorizes more than $15 million via NED and USAID to anti-government groups in Venezuela.
June: A report from the FRIDE Institute in Spain, funded by NED, evidences that international agencies channel between $40-50 million a year to anti-government groups in Venezuela.
September: Washington ratifies sanctions against Venezuela for allegedly not cooperating with counter-narcotics efforts or the war on terror.
President Obama authorizes a special fund of $5 million in his annual budget to support anti-government groups in Venezuela. In 2015, Obama increases this amount to $5.5 million.
NED continues to fund anti-government groups in Venezuela with about $2 million annually.
Each year, the US government includes Venezuela on a list of countries that do not cooperate with counter-narcotics efforts or the war on terror. Also in its annual human rights report, the State Department classifies Venezuela as a “violator” of human rights.
Subsequent to President Chavez’s death from cancer on March 5, 2013, new elections are held and Nicolas Maduro wins the presidency. Opposition leaders hold violent demonstrations that result in the deaths of more than a dozen people.
In February 2014, the violent protests resume, led by Leopoldo Lopez and Maria Corina Machado, who openly call for the overthrow of President Maduro, and over 40 people are killed. Lopez turns himself in to authorities and faces charges for his role in the violence. The U.S. government calls for his immediate release.
In December 2014, President Obama imposed sanctions on more than 50 Venezuelan officials and their relatives, accusing them of violating human rights and engaging in corruption. No evidence has been presented to date to support these serious allegations. The Commerce Department also expanded sanctions against Venezuela, prohibiting the sale of “any products” that could be destined for “military use” due to alleged human rights violations committed by the Venezuelan Armed Forces.
January 2015: Vice President Joe Biden warns Caribbean countries that the government of President Nicolas Maduro will soon be “defeated” and therefore they should abandon their discounted oil program with Venezuela, PetroCaribe.
State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki condemns the alleged “criminalization of political dissent” in Venezuela.
February 2015: President Obama unveils his new National Security Strategy and names Venezuela as a threat and stresses support for Venezuelan “citizens” living in a country where “democracy is at risk.”
Anti-government leaders circulate a document for a “transitional government agreement” which warns President Maduro’s government is in its “final stage” and pledges to overhaul the entire government and socialist system in place, replacing it with a neoliberal, pro-business model. The document is signed by Maria Corina Machado, jailed opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez and Antonio Ledezma, mayor of Metropolitan Caracas.
Days later, a coup plot against President Nicolas Maduro is thwarted and 10 active Venezuelan military officers are detained. Antonio Ledezma is arrested and charged with conspiracy to overthrow the government and the U.S. State Department issues a harsh condemnation of his detention, calling on regional governments to take action against the Maduro administration.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest denies any U.S. government role in the coup attempt against Maduro, calling such allegations “ludicrous”, but further reveals, “The Treasury Department and the State Department are considering tools that may be available that could better steer the Venezuelan government in the direction that we believe they should be headed.”
A coup plot against President Nicolas Maduro and the Bolivarian Revolution was thwarted this week as a retired Venezuelan Air Force general and 10 military and civilian opposition figures were arrested.
The bombing of the Presidential Palace, the National Assembly, Telesur TV network, the Defense Ministry and other Caracas sites was to take place February 12, the one-year anniversary of violent anti-government attacks known as “guarimbas,” which caused 43 deaths. A Tucano EMB 312 bomber would have been flown by renegade Air Force First Lieutenant José Antich Zapata to destroy the targeted sites.
U.S. spokesperson Jen Psaki and the Venezuelan far-right are dismissing the plot claim, but video evidence, a map of the bombing targets, and other key evidence have been unveiled on national television, with more details promised. Washington’s role in previous plots has been proven before.
According to President Maduro, detained coup leaders have confessed their role. He spoke on national television Sunday morning, to reveal more facts and accuse the United States government of conspiring with coup plotters.
Antich Zapata received U.S. visas for himself and other conspirators from the U.S. embassy in Caracas, for escape from Venezuela in case the plot failed.
Maduro also said that the script of an eight-minute video by the coup group – to air once the government was overthrown – was written with the help of a U.S. embassy advisor.
Rightwing opposition involved
In obvious preparation for the failed coup, three of the most belligerent opposition figures – Maria Corina Machado, Leopoldo Lopez and Antonio Ledezma – issued a “Call for a National Transition Agreement,” on February 11, the day before the overthrow was to take place. Lopez is currently awaiting trial for his role in the violent attacks last February.
The “transition agreement” is a plan for overthrow of the Bolivarian Revolution socialist project, including a demand for felony trials of current government leaders after the “transition,” the privatization of nationalized industries, and the takeover of PDVSA, the state-owned oil industry that has been the source of great social developments in Venezuela since 1999.
As if aware of a pending coup, German embassy representative Jorg Polster issued a letter of warning on February 5 to German citizens residing in Venezuela, to take unusual precautions such as in the event of “political unrest like that which began in the spring of 2014.” The letter suggests the German nationals obtain a two-week supply of food, water and emergency provisions of battery, radio and important documents. The letter also indicates a loss of electricity and Internet access could be a possibility.
National Assembly president Diosdado Cabello and Jorge Rodriguez, mayor of the Libertador municipality of Caracas – both leaders of Maduro’s political high command – also appeared on television, denouncing Julio Borges, leader of the right-wing group, Primero Justicia (“Justice First” in English), as drafting the list of the 20-plus targets to be bombed.
An unfolding plot since January
A series of actions was planned by the counterrevolutionaries to lead up to February 12.
First step was economic destabilization through major corporate hoarding of goods to create empty stores and mass discontent. That has been taking place for weeks, with the right-wing then accusing the socialist government of economic failure.
The government countered with “Operation Dignity,” confiscating the hoarded goods for redistribution at fair prices to the population, and arresting the corporate conspirators.
The second step was internationally-generated false accusations of a “humanitarian crisis” in Venezuela by the U.S. and international allies of Washington.
It is thus no coincidence that on January 24, three right-wing former presidents of Latin American countries, Andres Pastrana of Colombia, Felipe Calderon of Mexico and Sebastian Pinera of Chile came to Venezuela and tried to visit jailed opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez. Afterwards, they demanded his freedom and held a press conference accusing Venezuela of human rights violations.
On February 3, President Maduro warned Washington to stop its interventionist meddling, and accused U.S. officials of trying to bribe current and former government leaders to betray the government.
Via Telesur, he denounced U.S. Vice President Joseph Biden’s recent meetings with various Latin American leaders, in which he told them Maduro’s government would soon fall, and that the Petrocaribe program would be ended. Biden advised them to “keep Venezuela isolated.” Petrocaribe is the Venezuelan program that provides oil to Caribbean nations at a low price.
Telesur as target
Why was Telesur one of the targets to be bombed?
In 2002, when a fascist coup by a sector of the military and corporate opposition overthrew President Hugo Chavez from April 11 to 13, Venezuela’s revolution was new and a people’s media had not yet developed.
In the critical hours of the massive and spontaneous popular mobilization to demand Chavez’s release and return as president, the monopoly corporate media completely blocked out the news. It was clear that the Bolivarian process needed a revolutionary media to transmit vital information to the population.
Since then, dozens of community and television stations have been established; corporate violators of the new Communications Law have had their licenses revoked.
The Telesur network – promoting the integration of Latin America – was proposed 10 years ago by Chavez. It has become a vital conveyor of national and international information with a solid anti-imperialist prospective.
It provided uncensored live coverage and exposed the terror bombing by NATO/U.S. bombing of Libya.
Like the brutal bombing of Serbia’s national TV station, killing scores of journalists who courageously covered the criminal NATO/U.S. bombing of Yugoslavia in 1999, the planned bombing of Telesur was part of the plan to destroy the Revolution and install a fascist coup.
The smashing of this latest plot against Venezuela is a major blow to U.S. imperialism’s attempts to reverse the gains of the Bolivarian revolutionary process in Venezuela, the Cuban Revolution and all progress in Latin America.
Revolutionary mass organizations and the military high command are declaring their unity and defense of Venezuela’s Bolivarian Revolution.
Vladimir Padrino Lopez, the Minister of Defense and Strategic Operational Commander of the FANB, stood with a large group of high-ranking military officers to denounce the military plot. “The Bolivarian Armed Forces reiterates its support and loyalty to President Nicolás Maduro Moros and reaffirms its commitment to the will of the people, with the Plan of the Homeland, in the building of Socialism.”
More than ever, it is vital that international solidarity be mobilized to demand an end to U.S. machinations in Venezuela and all Latin America. Progressive groups and leaders in Latin America are expressing their support for Maduro’s government. From March 5-7, organizations in several cities in the United States plan actions in solidarity with the Venezuelan Bolivarian government and its people in struggle.
The danger is not over. The lessons of Latin America in the 1960s, 1970s and the U.S. war against revolutionary movements everywhere shows that the struggle must continue to defend Venezuela’s gains and oppose U.S. imperialism’s counter-revolutionary schemes.
The Non-Aligned Movement issued a statement Saturday rejecting the latest set of sanctions imposed by the United States against Venezuelan officials.
The 120-nation body described the sanctions as “intended to undermine Venezuela’s sovereignty, its political independence and its right to self-determination.”
The U.S. government announced a new set of sanctions last week which target former and current Venezuelan officials. The U.S. has justified various rounds of sanctions by claiming corruption and that human rights abuses occurred in the oil-rich county during a wave of opposition violence last year that left 43 dead.
However, the Venezuelan government has pointed out the sanctions are politically motivated and that they form part of U.S. plans to oust the country’s elected government, given that the overwhelming majority of the 43 fatalities were caused by right-wing extremists.
The Non-Aligned Movement considers the unilateral sanctions a “violation of international law, including the United Nations Charter and the basic principles of international law of relations between states.”
Furthermore, the group of nations considered the measure “coercive” and manifested its solidarity with the Venezuelan people and their government.
The UNASUR group of South American nations also rejected the sanctions and will launch a probe to evaluate Venezuela’s evidence of U.S. meddling in the country’s internal affairs.
All these headlines are wrong:
Ex-Los Alamos Scientist Gets 5 Years in Venezuelan Nuclear Bomb Plot
– NBC News (1/28/15)
US Nuclear Scientist Who Offered to Help Venezuela Build Nuclear Bombs Gets 60 Months
– Washington Post (1/29/15)
Ex-Los Alamos Scientist Heard Offering to Design Bomb Directed at NYC for Venezuela
– CBS New York (1/28/15)
Ex-Los Alamos Scientist Accused of Offering to Make Venezuela a Nuclear Weapon to Be Sentenced
– Minneapolis Star Tribune (1/28/15)
Scientist Sentenced After Offering to Build Nuclear Weapons for Venezuela, Bomb Targeting New York
– Syracuse Post-Standard (1/28/15)
What’s wrong is that there was no “Venezuelan nuclear bomb plot,” and the scientist in question, Pedro Leonardo Mascheroni, didn’t offer Venezuela anything. What Mascheroni was convicted of was telling undercover FBI agents, who were pretending to work for Venezuela, that he could give them nuclear weapons secrets. In real life, Venezuela had nothing to do with it.
The distinction is critical because accurate headlines would not leave casual readers with the impression that Venezuela was interested in getting a nuclear bomb, or in trying to nuke New York. From the point of view of the US government, no doubt, that misimpression is a feature and not a bug.
The United States officially imposed new sanctions on Venezuela Monday, amid accusations from President Nicolas Maduro that Washington is trying to destabilize his country.
The new sanctions expand the number of Venezuelan government officials barred from entering the United States.
“These restrictions will also affect the immediate family members of a number of those individuals subject to visa restrictions for believed involvement in human rights abuses or for acts of public corruption,” said State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki.
Psaki continued by stating, “We will not publicly identify these individuals because of U.S. visa confidentiality laws, but we are sending a clear message that human rights abusers, those who profit from public corruption, and their families are not welcome in the United States.”
Maduro hit back at the announcement by accusing the U.S. government of hypocrisy.
“They kill black youth in the street with impunity, they persecute and have concentration camps of Central American kids. They have abducted dozens of citizens of the world under no known legal system, submitting them to torture, isolation,” he said during a speech.
He asked, “What human rights are they talking about?”
The new U.S. sanctions are in response to a wave of unrest that hit Venezuela in early 2014. Around 43 people died as anti-government groups took to the streets with weapons ranging from firearms to molotov cocktails and home-made bazookas to demand Maduro step down. According to an analysis of the death toll by independent media collective Venezuelanalysis, around half the casualties were government supporters, state security personnel or ordinary members of the public likely killed by anti-government groups. Venezuelan authorities have arrested opposition figures it claims masterminded the violence including Leopoldo Lopez, while also pressing charges against security personnel accused of misconduct.
However, Psaki described the opposition violence as “peaceful protests.”
“We emphasize the action we are announcing today is specific to individuals and not directed at the Venezuelan nation or its people,” she said.
However, Venezuelan foreign minister Delcy Rodriguez told private broadcaster Venevision that the U.S. and corporate media are trying to mislead the international community about Venezuela.
“All imperialist wars have been precipitated by media campaigns such as this one, giving false information that aims to provide the world with the justification for an intervention,” said Rodriguez.
Caracas – Dozens of activists gathered outside the Ministry of Justice in the capital today in solidarity with Lucia Martinez de Romero, the widow of assassinated indigenous Yukpa leader Sabino Romero. Today she testified in the trial of Angel Antonio Romero Bracho, (aka “Manguera”) accused of murdering the indigenous chief or “cacique”.
Lucia herself also suffered multiple gunshot wounds the night of March 3, 2013 when her husband was shot and killed by hired assassins reportedly acting in the service of wealthy cattle ranchers.
Lusby Portillo, 66, Coordinator of the Zulia-based Homo Et Nature Society, explained what is at stake in today’s proceedings:
“Today there is a trial against the physical murderer, who shot and killed [Sabino] and wounded Lucia Martinez. Five police officers from Machiques have already been tried and given seven years of prison… They gave them seven years, because there was influence on the part of the cattle ranchers, who paid so that the court would decide a minimum sentence of seven years”.
Portillo is one of the principal activists to have followed the case over the past 23 months. He told Venezuelanalysis that many indigenous activists feared that a miscarriage of justice would take place unless supporters continued to draw attention to the case. One witness today also noted that the family of Manguera began to threaten Lucia before she was due to testify.
“If we let our guard down, if we don’t protest, if we don’t make movies, if we don’t write articles, if we don’t get the word out, these courts are going to give Manguera ten, eleven years, and then within two or three years he can go free with all of the benefits…So we are demanding thirty years of prison [for Manguera], and we’re also demanding that the trial against the five police officers be annulled, that there be a new trial, and that… the intellectual actors… the cattle ranchers who financed [the murder], who are millionaires, go to trial.”
In the leadup to his assassination, Rabino spearheaded a series of occupations by Yukpa campesinos of the expansive rancher haciendas established on their ancestral land in Sierra de Perijá, which were returned to them by the current socialist government under the Constitution. According to Portillo, these lands were violently confiscated by the government of dictator Juan Vicente Gomez in 1930, driving the Yukpa people into the mountains. When they subsequently attempted to retake their lands, as Sabino would do over eighty years later, they were brutally massacred by the cattle ranchers.
For indigenous rights activist Tibisay Maldonado, 52, however, this struggle goes much further back than eighty years.
“We are active in the organization National Front for Land Struggle, because, even though we are from Caracas we are from the city, this problematic of the land, this plundering from 500 years ago. We are the inheritors of a dispossession, of an invasion 500 years ago, and the indigenous peoples remain in resistance, and we must stand with them”.
Amid Trial, Impunity Continues for Murder of 8 other Yukpa Leaders
Portillo went on to criticize what he described as “impunity” for the hired killers of indigenous leaders and their intellectual and financial backers.
“Of the Yukpa [leaders] killed over the question of land, who are nine up until now, only the case of Sabino has been taken to the courts, but the [case of the] other eight murdered [leaders] has not been investigated nor brought to trial…Besides trial for [the case of] Sabino, there also needs be trials for the other eight Yukpa who were assassinated.”
Nonetheless, for Leonardo Dominguez, the problem goes well beyond these nine assassinated leaders, encompassing the issues of paramilitary violence in Venezuela writ large;
“This is something that is practiced in Colombia. These are new crimes in Venezuela. So I think the laws need to stipulate a decent punishment for this murderer to mark a precedent, because enough is enough. There have already been 359 campesinos assassinated at the hands of the hitmen, plus workers’ leaders, plus popular leaders. We want peace, but we believe peace is achieved through struggle. If you want peace, prepare for war,” he said.
A Test for the Revolution
For those present outside the Ministry of Justice, today’s trial represents a fundamental test of the Bolivarian government’s commitment to defending indigenous rights.
“Socialism has two paths,” warns Dominguez..”Either we’re with the indigenous people or we’re with the murderers.”
Despite the challenges faced by the Yupka people, including the relative inaction of the government, Jessy Rojas, 20, of Urbano Aborigen, is nevertheless hopeful. She stated that there had been a “fair amount of gains” for indigenous people under the Bolivarian Revolution, including the trial of Sabino’s murderer.
“In the past, there generally weren’t trials for indigenous cases. In the past, there wasn’t this openness to discussing indigenous issues in the capital”.
According to Jessy, these historic gains are propelling young activists to take the struggle evern further.
“This is the moment to demand,” she asserted.
The case has been adjourned until February 13th.
“I do not expect the changes I am announcing today to bring about a transformation of Cuban society overnight.”
— Barack Obama, Dec. 17, 2014
President Obama’s Dec. 17 statement announcing changes in U.S. Cuba policy was a mixture of historical truths and catch phrases drawn from the catalog of myths about Cuba and U.S. policy goals.
The first round of rule changes, announced by Jan. 16 by the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), was significant in the areas of trade and banking. At the same time, much of the language is drawn from the old justifications for regime change. (Let us put aside the hypocrisies in Obama’s speech such as the instruction — coming from a country where labor unions have been systematically destroyed — that “Cuban workers should be free to form unions.”)
In his speech, Obama reworked Einstein’s famous definition of insanity to support his partial abandonment of the half-century attempts to destroy the Cuban revolution. “I do not believe we can keep doing the same thing for over five decades and expect a different result,” said Obama. (If he means that the policy he has supported for six years is insane, what does that say about him?)
Nowhere in the speech did Obama renounce the longstanding U.S. commitment to regime change in Cuba or even acknowledge that it ever existed. While implicitly recognizing that the use of sanctions to achieve political results had failed, he continues to pursue them in Korea, Russia and elsewhere. One day after making the Cuba speech, he signed a bill imposing sanctions on Venezuela alleging that the government of President Nicolas Maduro had violated the human rights of protestors during violent anti-government demonstrations last February. The demonstrations were led by right-wing representatives of the Venezuelan elite who have long been backed by the United States.
We should note that the phrase about doing the same thing for over five decades and expecting a different result is incorrect. True, five decades ago the Eisenhower administration broke diplomatic relations with Cuba, but since then his 10 successors, who account for 14 presidential terms, tried a variety of other “things” besides cutting diplomatic relations. There were the commando raid things launched from U.S. territory by Cuban exiles burning cane fields and sugar mills and the CIA-trained underground blowing up movie theaters and shopping centers. Then of course, there was the Bay of Pigs invasion thing by an exile expeditionary force landing in a swamp. That was a really big thing. With that failure came Bobby Kennedy’s Operation Mongoose thing, which was expected to be a let’s-get- it-right-this-time do-over of the Bay of Pigs disaster.
Since the 1962 Missile Crisis, there have been endless “democracy promotion” things financed by CIA front organizations. There have been clandestine anti-Cuban shortwave things broadcast from all manner of conveyances — yachts, balloons, zeppelins, airplanes. Leaflets, books and pamphlets of every kind were surreptitiously sent to Cuba in tourist luggage, in diplomatic pouches, hidden in hollow trees and even dropped from airplanes. Then there were the hit-and-run attacks from speedboats shooting up Russian ships, Cuban fishing boats, coastal hotels and hamlets.
Alan Gross, pretending to bring computer equipment to synagogues in Cuba that didn’t need them, is only a recent and not the last example of the often ludicrous plotting of various U.S. government agencies. Currently, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) is at the forefront of the regime-change program. Obama did not mention the Gross thing but revealed that he would have proposed détente earlier had Cuba not imprisoned him.
Obama has it backwards. It’s not the “thing” that needs to be changed but the desired “result.” His new policy direction does not promise to end imperial bullying or to accept Cuban independence and sovereignty. Why else would he say the new thing he has in mind “will promote our values through engagement”?
Making the crime fit the punishment
To justify the long hostility toward Cuba, the United States has created a Cuba that never existed; a tropical gulag of indiscriminate terror where hordes of political prisoners rot while a cartoon dictator recites hours of his political poetry to a captive audience.
It is not surprising that the external and domestic opponents of the Cuban government, whether or not they are paid by the United States or its European partners, do not have their own vision of what a post-Castro society would look like. They and Obama are bound by the official blueprint drawn up by Congress in the Helms-Burton law of 1996, which essentially calls for a non-Cuban Cuba.
What would happen to employment, housing, health care and education in the new Cuba of Washington and Miami invention? Why is it that regime change is couched in fuzzy terms like “freedom” devoid of any economic, social or cultural content? And why is it that Obama criticizes the old policy because it “failed to advance our interests” without acknowledging what those interests really are?
Nothing in Obama’s speech corrects the half-century assault on truth. Many of the media commentaries on the Obama speech recite from the fantasies concocted over the years to mask the insanity of the policy. Here is just a sampling:
-Seventy-five Cubans dissidents were arrested in April 2003 in what is called the Black Spring. Ever since then they have been referred to as political prisoners or freedom fighters.
Actually, they were tried and convicted in a Cuban court for operating as paid agents of the pretend dissident movement funded by the United States. Roger Noriega, former assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere Affairs, conspired with James Cason, then head of the U.S. Interest Section in Havana, to openly encourage local dissidents hoping that the Cuban government would kick Cason out and give George W. Bush an excuse for closing the Cuban Interest Section in Washington and worsening bilateral relations. The scheme is what got the 75 arrested.
Among the 75 were journalists, few of whom ever practiced journalism. There also were pretend independent librarians paid by the United States to pose as part of a pretend grassroots defiance of a pretend Cuban control of what people could read.
A report to the American Library Association in 2001 described how one of the “independent” libraries in Cuba “consisted of four or five dusty shelves of books.” A woman in one of these libraries said, “No books had ever been confiscated [and] that she was not being intimidated or threatened by the government as a result of having this collection….The woman receives many of her books as well as payment for her activities from the U.S. and Mexico but would not identify individual sources. She said she was asked to operate the library because she is a dissident.”
-Cuba always blocks U.S. efforts to improve relations.
The example often cited is the shooting down in 1996 of two private exile planes near the Cuban coast. But Fidel Castro did not plot with well-known terrorist José Basulto, founder of Brothers to the Rescue, to have him organize provocative flights over the Cuban capital; Basulto did that on his own. It was the shootdown that led to enactment of the Helms-Burton law, which now prevents Obama from lifting the blockade. So, was it Fidel Castro or Helms, Burton and Basulto who torpedoed some supposed improvement in bilateral relations?
- The Cuban Five were spies.
Nearly every news outlet continues to refer to the five Cuban agents imprisoned in 1998 as “spies.” (The last three were released as part of the Obama opening.)
Actually, they were Cuban agents who infiltrated Brothers to the Rescue and other counterrevolutionary groups in Florida and then alerted the FBI to their plans for attacks against Cuba from the United States in violation of U.S. law.
- Alan Gross, who, was released from prison on “humanitarian grounds” as part of the Obama opening, was unjustly imprisoned in Cuba.
Actually, he was a sub-contractor working under a USAID grant and sent on five trips to Cuba to set up clandestine electronic networks as part of the U.S. subversion obsession and therefore correctly imprisoned. People who do that sort of thing in the United States can be tried as unregistered agents of a foreign power and sent to prison, just like Alan Gross.
Where did all those doctors come from?
The president’s positive comment on Cuba’s contribution to fighting Ebola in Africa has been noted as one of the inducements for change. Good, but Obama needs to explore what Cuba’s worldwide medical missionary program says about the island.
Imagine what it would take for the mythical Cuba the United States created, with its tiny population of the impoverished and the oppressed, to produce such quantities of surplus doctors, nurses and medical technicians who are now working in 66 countries. If Obama could admit that his mythical Cuba could never have done that, he might start setting the historical record straight and maybe ask the Cubans to advise him on Obamacare.
Today Cuba has 75,000 physicians or one per 160 inhabitants. Approximately 132,000 medical/health professionals have provided medical and dental attention to poor people abroad. At present, there are over 50,000 medical workers and no less than 25,000 doctors working outside of Cuba. In 2013, the health sector had 322,627 health professionals and technicians – that is, 28.9 per 1000 inhabitants — 76,836 physicians and 14,964 dentists as well as 88,364 nurses.
All of these accomplishments at home and abroad have taken place while the U.S. government persisted in enticing doctors, nurses and other professionals to leave Cuba. Remember, it was the people of Cuba who, we are incessantly told, make only $20 a month, who paid for their education even as Cuba confronted relentless U.S. financial and economic obstruction. Does Obama intend to reimburse the Cubans?
The United States calls the maze of economic and commercial sanctions an embargo. (The Cubans, referencing international law, call it a blockade.) Obama cannot unilaterally put an end to this kind of warfare but must wait for Congress to act. While the executive branch has the constitutional power to define foreign policy, Bill Clinton signed the Helms-Burton bill transferring control of Cuba policy to Congress. This was the second time he relinquished executive power over Cuba policy. The first was in 1992 when, running against George H.W. Bush, he announced his support for the Torricelli Act, which severely tightened trade restrictions. Obama’s Democratic predecessor made it necessary for him to go before Congress in his recent State of the Union message and ask Republicans to give back his foreign policy powers.
Clearly, the old rules lacked consistency. For example, when OFAC travel and remittance rules affecting Cuban-Americas were relaxed in the past, the justification was always to promote democracy and to separate Cubans from dependence on their government. But, when the same rules were made more severe, as under George W. Bush, the justifications were the same.
OFAC’s new regulations will materially ease the sanctions. Some of the changes sound like attempts through administrative regulations, to overturn fundamental sanctions in the Helms-Burton law. These include new rules allowing direct interbank transfers with the U.S. banking system, the use of U.S.-issued credit and debit cards and the elimination of “cash and carry,” which was a burdensome requirement for Cuba in paying for imports in convertible currencies.
Nevertheless, other changes may conflict with old practices. For example, will the U.S. Treasury Department protect credit/debit card companies from lawsuits by U.S. nationals seeking compensation from the Cuban government? The logistics of these transactions remains to be clarified.
Travel to Cuba can now be insured by U.S. companies and U.S. airlines could fly to Cuba from any city if market demand is sufficient instead of from a few government-selected cities. The major airlines could then reduce the advantage that the smaller companies enjoyed until now.
The travel ban has been relaxed even as OFAC preserves the principle of controlling travel for political purposes. The 12 categories of allowable travel remain in place although now without requiring a written specific license and organized travel and tours will be opened to more players.
Still, restrictions remain. Those who will be able to travel more freely are prohibited by a watchful government from having fun. New categories of travel are authorized under the new rules, “provided that the traveler’s schedule of activities does not include free time or recreation in excess of that consistent with a full-time schedule.”
Picking winners for a Cuban market economy
Trade sanctions have always had the effect of indirectly “managing” the Cuba economy. The new rules can determine who gets to invest in or trade with Cuba and which Cuban sectors will receive the most benefit. The majority of U.S. firms will be left out of the great Cuban market economy as envisioned in Washington.
Until now only agricultural and some medical and educational materials could be sold to Cuba. The new regulations allow for an increase in the kinds of goods that Cuba can import from the United States such as construction and agricultural tools and machinery. However, these can only be sold to non-state sectors such as co-ops and private entrepreneurs. Thus, certain sectors of the U.S. corporate world will be given preferential treatment.
OFAC is also giving Cuban entrepreneurs in the private sector an advantage over the state, but the Obama administration also wants U.S. information technology corporations to invest in Cuba’s telecommunications infrastructure, which means selling services, software and equipment to the Cuban government.
Rules applied to the banking sector raise significant questions. Financial institutions will be allowed to open accounts in Cuban banks to simplify transactions that are authorized by the United States and Cuba. But will Cuban banks be allowed to do the same in the United States?
Are these U.S. banks going to open dollar accounts in Cuban banks? Are they going to be held liable for breaking the restrictions that the United States Treasury Department imposed on dozens of banks for doing the same thing? Less than 24 months, ago the Bank of Nova Scotia, Commerzbak, Credit Suisse and many others were charged with billions of dollars in fines. Will the new rules be retroactively applied or is this a case of sorry — bad timing?
Since 1962, any ship that called on a Cuban port was prohibited from entering a U.S. port for at least six months. Now, ships transporting food, medicine, medical equipment and other materials may, in case of some emergency in Cuba, go to Cuba and then enter any U.S. port without prejudice as can any other ship owned by the same company. But Cuba is still not permitted to use U.S. currency in international transactions or purchase of technologies that might have more than 10 percent of U.S. components.
Some U.S. companies shall not suffer
Obama appears to have come around to where former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger was in 1972 when he limited the scope of economic sanctions to protect the interests of selected U.S. corporations. In April of that year, Kissinger approved export licenses for three U.S. automakers with subsidiaries in Argentina permitting them to sell cars to Cuba. The State Department issued a statement that read in part, “Our policy toward Cuba is unchanged. We did not wish to see these U.S. companies suffer as a result of U.S. policy.”
Stifling trade and financial transactions in Cuba by withholding all the utilities of capitalism was inconsistent with promoting a free market, which is mentioned 13 times in Helms-Burton.
Do the new regulations show that Obama is rejecting the old insanity and striking out toward true respect for Cuban sovereignty? While there is symbolic importance in resuming formal diplomatic relations, there is nothing in normal diplomacy that prevents Obama from carrying on regime change schemes by other means. As he said Dec. 17, “we can do more to support the Cuban people and promote our values through engagement.”
Relaxing the restrictions on travel is fine but does anyone find Obama’s reasoning for doing so a little suspicious? “Nobody represents America’s values better,” said Obama, “than the American people, and I believe this contact will ultimately do more to empower the Cuban people.”
Obama wants to transfer information technology to Cuba. Good. He could also transfer to dissidents the supplies of military-grade microchips that Alan Gross was imprisoned for doing.
The day for celebration should be postponed until we see whether the true potential of Cuba’s social and political experiment can proceed unobstructed by an enraged superpower and whether the United States is ready to work with Cuba in bringing a more constructive future to both countries. Maybe by then Cuba can show the United States how to form labor unions.
Robert Sandels lives in Mexico and writes on Cuba and Mexico.
Nelson P. Valdés is Professor Emeritus, University of New Mexico. For more information on Cuba visit: http://www.cuba-l.com
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro said Sunday he would consider the release of the jailed far-right opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez if the United States agreed to release Oscar Lopez Rivera, a Puerto Rican nationalist currently held in a U.S. prison.
Leopoldo Lopez was arrested in February after he helped launch a three-month wave of violent opposition demonstrations seeking Maduro’s ouster. Streets were blocked by violent masked protestors and dozens were killed, mostly at the hands of extreme right-wing terrorists.
Maduro suggested he could send Lopez to the United States if Washington secured the release of Oscar Lopez Rivera, who was convicted in 1981 of seditious conspiracy along with other militants who sought to secure Puerto Rican independence.
“The only way I would use (presidential) powers would be to put (Leopoldo Lopez) on a plane, so he can go to the United States and stay there, and they would give me Oscar Lopez Rivera — man for man,” Maduro said during a televised broadcast.
A spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Caracas said he had no immediate comment on the issue.
Negotiations between Uruguay and the U.S. are currently underway to release Lopez Rivera. Uruguayan President Mujica requested in an open letter to President Obama the release of the political activist.
Puerto Rican Governor Alejandro Garcia Padilla has also called on the White House to release the nationalist. The Puerto Rican singer Rene Perez, from the famous group Calle 13, has been vocal in his support of Lopez Rivera.
President Maduro made this clear to US Vice President Joseph Biden, in a brief meeting on Thursday during the inauguration of Brazil’s president, Dilma Rousseff, in the Planalto presidential palace in Brasilia, in the presence of Uruguayan President Jose Mujica, while greetings of foreign authorities were made to the Brazilian president.
“We ask the United States, what I told Vice President Biden and have said a thousand times, in public and in private, we want relationships of respect,” President Maduro told reporters transmitted by Telesur, after holding a bilateral meeting with Rousseff on Friday.
Maduro also mentioned sanctions the US government decided to apply, for alleged violations of Human Rights, against Venezuelan government officials who contributed to curb vandalism and terrorism promoted by political parties and sectors of the extreme right, which left 43 people killed.
Maduro described the sanctions as “a wrong step” and said Venezuela will seek, during future summits of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) and the Americas, a scenario to try to make the United States have second thoughts on these measures against Venezuelans.
The Venezuelan government “is based on respect for international law. It is a government appreciated and supported throughout the continent, by Latin America and the Caribbean,” said the Venezuelan President noting that Biden had to realize, during the ceremony of Rousseff’s inauguration, the “cordiality and brotherhood” in relations between the South American countries.
“It is the great virtue of South America: the different political positions and different projects that we live today and work jointly, center-right, center-left and revolutionary governments cooperate permanently between each other,” he said.
“In South America we all fit in, and I think that’s what North America should understand,” he added.
In a historic address on December 17, 2014 on “Cuba policy changes” President Barack Obama declared, “our shift in policy towards Cuba comes at a moment of renewed leadership in the Americas.” This “renewed leadership,” in our view, seeks to gradually undermine socialism in Cuba, check waning U.S. influence in the region, and inhibit a growing continental Bolivarian movement towards Latin American liberation, integration, and sovereignty. To be sure, normalization of relations with Cuba and the release of Gerardo Hernández, Ramón Labañino and Antonio Guerrero were long overdue, and the reunification of Alan Gross with his family was an important and welcome gesture. The rapprochement between the United States and Cuba and the simultaneous imposition of a new round of sanctions by the U.S. against Venezuela, however, do not signal a change in overall U.S. strategy but only a change in tactics. As President of Venezuela Nicolas Maduro remarked in a letter to President Raul Castro “there is still a long road to travel in order to arrive at the point that Washington recognizes we are no longer its back yard…” (December 20, 2014).
From Embargo to Deployment of U.S. Soft Power in Cuba
The Obama gambit arguably seeks to move Cuba as far as possible towards market oriented economic reforms, help build the political community of dissidents on the island, and improve U.S. standing in the region, and indeed in the world. In a Miami Herald op-ed piece (December 22, 2014), John Kerry (Secretary of State), Penny Pritzker (Secretary of Commerce) and Jacob J. Lew (Treasury Secretary) wrote that normalization of relations between the U.S. and Cuba will “increase the ability of Americans to provide business training and other support for Cuba’s nascent private sector” and that this will “put American businesses on a more equal footing.” Presumably the op-ed is referring to “equal footing” with other nations that have been doing business for years with Cuba despite the embargo. The essay also indicates that the U.S. will continue its “strong support for improved human-rights conditions and democratic reforms in Cuba” by “empowering civil society and supporting the freedom of individuals to exercise their freedoms of speech and assembly.” Such a version of “empowering civil society” is probably consistent with decades of U.S. clandestine attempts to subvert the Cuban government, documented by Jon Elliston in Psy War on Cuba: The declassified history of U.S. anti-Castro propaganda (Ocean Press: 1999). It is also in line with more recent efforts, through USAID funded social media (phony Cuban Twitter) and a four year project to promote “Cuban rap music” both of which ended in 2012, designed to build dissident movements inside Cuba. In December 2014, Matt Herrick, spokesman for USAID, defended the latter unsuccessful covert program saying, “It seemed like a good idea to support civil society” and that “it’s not something we are embarrassed about in any way.” Moreover, a fact sheet on normalization published by the U.S. Department of State mentions that funding for “democracy programming” will continue and that “our efforts are aimed at promoting the independence of the Cuban people so they do not need to rely on the Cuban state” (December 17, 2014). The Cuban government, though, has a different take on the meaning of “independence of the Cuban people.” They emphasize “sovereign equality,” “national independence,” and “self determination.” In an address on normalization, Raul Castro insisted on maintaining Cuban sovereignty and stated “we have embarked on the task of updating our economic model in order to build a prosperous and sustainable Socialism” (December 17, 2014). Obviously the ideological differences between Washington and Havana will shape the course of economic and political engagement between these two nations in the months and years ahead.
Rapprochement Between the U.S. and U.S. Isolation in Latin America
Through normalization of relations with Cuba, the U.S. also seeks to end its increasing isolation in the region. Secretary of State John Kerry, in his Announcement of Cuba Policy Changes, remarked that “not only has this policy [embargo] failed to advance America’s goals, it has actually isolated the United States instead of isolating Cuba” (December 17, 2014). In October 2014, the United Nations General Assembly voted against the U.S. Cuba embargo for the 23rd year in a row, with only the U.S. and Israel voting in favor. The inclusion of Cuba in the political and, to a certain degree, economic life of Latin America, has also been part of a larger expression of Latin American solidarity that clearly repudiates regional subordination to Washington. Since the sixth Summit of the Americas in Cartagena (April 2012), the U.S. has been on very clear notice by the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) that there will be no seventh Summit of the Americas in Panama in April without Cuba, a condition to which Washington has ceded.
The flip side of Washington’s growing “isolation” has been the critically important regional diversification of diplomatic and commercial relations between Latin America and the BRICS nations (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) and the construction of alternative development banks and currency reserves to gradually replace the historically onerous terms of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. The financial powerhouse of the BRICS nations is China. Over the past year, China has sent high level delegations to visit CELAC nations and in some cases these meetings have resulted in significant commercial agreements. As a follow up, there will be a CELAC–China forum in Beijing in January 2015 whose main objective, reports Prensa Latina, “is exchange and dialogue in politics, trade, economy and culture.” These ties with BRICS and other nations are consistent with the Chavista goal that the Patria Grande ought to contribute to building a multi-polar world and resist subordination to any power block on the planet. By bringing a halt to its growing isolation, Washington would be in a better position to increase its participation in regional commerce. The terms of economic engagement with most of Latin America, however, will no longer be determined by a Washington consensus, but by a North—South consensus. The Obama gambit, though, appears to be trading one source of alienation (embargo against Cuba) for another (sanctions against Venezuela).
Obama’s Gambit: Pushing Back the Bolivarian Cause at its Front Line–Venezuela
The Obama administration’s move to normalize relations with Cuba, while a welcome change of course, can be seen as a modification in tactics to advance the neoliberal agenda as far as possible in Havana while ending a policy that only serves to further erode U.S. influence in the region. Such diplomacy is in line with what appears to be a major U.S. policy objective of ultimately rolling back the ‘pink tide’, that is, the establishment, by democratic procedures, of left and center left regimes in two thirds of Latin American nations. It is this tide that has achieved some measure of progress in liberating much of Latin America from the structural inequality, social antagonism, and subordination to transnational corporate interests intrinsic to neoliberal politics and economics. And it is the continental Bolivarian emphasis on independence, integration, and sovereignty that has fortified the social movements behind this tide.
The Obama gambit, from a hemispheric point of view, constitutes a tactical shift away from the failed U.S. attempt to isolate and bring the Cuban revolution to its knees through coercion, to an intensification of its fifteen year effort to isolate and promote regime change in Venezuela. The reason for this tactical shift is that Venezuela, as the front line in the struggle for the Bolivarian cause of an increasingly integrated and sovereign Latin America, has become the biggest obstacle to the restoration of U.S. hegemony and the rehabilitation of the neoliberal regime in the Americas.
If this interpretation of U.S. hemispheric policy is near the mark, Obama’s grand executive gesture towards Cuba is immediately related to the context of Washington’s unrelenting antagonism towards Chavismo and, in particular, to the latest imposition of sanctions against Caracas. The reason for this is quite transparent. It has been Venezuela, more than Cuba, during the past fifteen years, that has played the leading role in the change of the balance of forces in the region on the side of sovereignty for the peoples of the Americas, especially through its leadership role in ALBA, CELAC, UNASUR and MERCOSUR, associations that do not include the U.S. and Canada. Argentine sociologist Atilio Boron, in an interview with Katu Arkonada of Rebelión (June 24, 2014), points out, “It is no accident… that Venezuela in particular is in the cross hairs of the empire, and for this reason we must be clear that the battle of Venezuela is our Stalingrad. If Venezuela succumbs before the brutal counter offensive of the United States…the rest of the processes of change underway on the continent, whether very radical or very moderate, will end with the same fate.” The latest U.S. sanctions against Venezuela can be viewed as one component of this counter offensive. It is to a closer look at the sanctions bill, signed into law by the president on December 18, 2014, that we now turn.
The “Venezuela Defense of Human Rights and Civil Society Act of 2014” (S 2142) not only targets Venezuelan officials whom U.S. authorities accuse of being linked to human rights abuses by freezing their assets and revoking their travel visas (Sec. 5 (b) (1) (A) (B)), it also promises to step up U.S. political intervention in Venezuela by continuing “to support the development of democratic political processes and independent civil society in Venezuela” (section 4 (4)) and by reviewing the effectiveness of “broadcasting, information distribution, and circumvention technology distribution in Venezuela” (section 6). One of the instruments of this support for “democratic political processes” has been the National Endowment for Democracy (NED). Sociologist Kim Scipes argues that, “the NED and its institutes are not active in Venezuela to help promote democracy, as they claim, but in fact, to act against popular democracy in an effort to restore the rule of the elite, top-down democracy” (February 28 – March 2, 2014). Independent journalist Garry Leech, in his article entitled “Agents of Destabilization: Washington Seeks Regime Change in Venezuela,” (March 4, 2014) examines Wikileaks cables that indicate similar efforts have been carried out in Venezuela by USAID’s Office of Transition Initiatives (OTI) during the past decade. Hannah Dreier (July 18, 2014), reported that “the State Department and the National Endowment for Democracy, a government-funded nonprofit organization, together budgeted about $7.6 million to support Venezuelan groups last year alone, according to public documents reviewed by AP.” The sanctions bill (S 2142), then, in light of these precedents, contains provisions that suggest an imminent escalation in the use of soft power to support the political opposition to Chavismo in Venezuela, though such funding has been banned by Caracas.
The current U.S. sanctions against Caracas are consistent with fifteen years of U.S. antagonism against the Bolivarian revolution. The measures send a clear signal of increased support for a Venezuelan political opposition that has suffered division and discord in the aftermath of their failed “salida ya” (exit now) strategy of the first quarter of 2014. The sanctions also undermine any near term movement towards normalization of relations between the U.S. and Venezuela. It is no surprise that provisions of the law that targets Venezuelan officials accused of human rights violations have gotten some limited traction inside this South American nation, with the executive secretary of the Venezuelan opposition Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD), Jesús Torrealba, openly supporting this measure. This is probably not going to get the MUD a lot of votes. According to a Hinterlaces poll taken in May, a majority of Venezuelans are opposed to U.S. sanctions. There has also been a swift repudiation of sanctions by the Maduro administration and the popular sectors. On December 15, 2014, in one of the largest and most enthusiastic gatherings of Chavistas in the streets of Caracas since the death of Hugo Chavez, marchers celebrated the fifteenth year anniversary of the passage by referendum of a new constitution (December 15, 1999) and vigorously protested against U.S. intervention in their country. Even dissident Chavistas appear to be toning down their rhetoric and circling the wagons in the face of Washington’s bid to assert “renewed leadership” in the region.
There is no doubt that the Maduro administration is under tremendous pressure, from left Chavistas as well as from the right wing opposition, to reform and improve public security and deal effectively with an economic crisis that is being exacerbated by falling petroleum prices. What the government of Venezuela calls an “economic war” against the country has domestic and well as international dimensions. Although there is no smoking gun at this time that exposes a conspiracy, some analysts interpret the recent fall in oil prices as part of a campaign to put severe economic pressure on Iran, Russia and Venezuela, countries whose fiscal soundness relies a great deal on petroleum revenues. For example, Venezuelan independent journalist, Jesus Silva R., in his essay entitled “The Government of Saudi Arabia is the Worst Commercial Enemy of Venezuela,” argues that the Saudis and Washington are complicit in the “economic strangulation, planned from the outside, against Venezuela” (December 22, 2014). Whatever the cause of falling petroleum prices and despite the domestic challenges facing Caracas, it will most probably be the Venezuelan electorate that decides, through upcoming legislative elections, whether to give Chavismo a vote of confidence, not outside intervention or a fresh round of guarimbas and terrorist attacks perpetrated by the ultra right. For the large majority of Venezuelans reject violence and favor constitutional means of resolving political contests.
U.S. Sanctions Against Venezuela Evoke Latin American Solidarity with Caracas
The good will generated by rapprochement between the U.S. and Cuba has already been tempered by the almost simultaneous new round of sanctions imposed by Washington against Venezuela. It is important to recall, perhaps with some irony, that it was precisely the late Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez’s establishment of fraternal ties with a formerly isolated Cuba that drew, in particular, the ire of Washington and the virulent antagonism of the right wing Venezuelan opposition. Now it is Latin American and to a significant extent, international solidarity with Venezuela that may prove to be a thorn in Washington’s side. On December 12, 2014, ALBA issued a strong statement against the Senate passage of the sanctions bill, expressing its “most energetic rejection of these interventionist actions [sanctions] against the people and government of the Bolivarian Government of Venezuela.” The statement also warned “that the legislation constitutes an incitement towards the destabilization of…Venezuela and opens the doors to anticonstitutional actions against the legal government and legitimately elected President Nicolas Maduro Moros.” The communiqué also expressed solidarity with Venezuela adding that the countries of ALBA “desire to emphasize that they will not permit the use of old practices already applied to countries in the region, directed at bringing about political regime change, as has occurred in other regions of the world.” MERCOSUR issued a statement on December 17, 2014 that “the application of unilateral sanctions… violate the principle of non-intervention in the internal affairs of States and does not contribute to the stability, social peace and democracy in Venezuela.” On December 22, the G77 plus China countries expressed solidarity and support for the government of Venezuela in the face of “violations of international law that in no way contributes to the spirit of political and economic dialogue between the two countries.” On December 23, the Movement of Non-Aligned Nations stated that it “categorically rejects the decision of the United States Government to impose unilateral coercive measures against the Republic of Venezuela…with the purpose of weakening its sovereignty, political independence and its right to the self determination, in clear violation of International Law.” It is also important to recall that on October 16, 2014 the UN General Assembly elected Venezuela (by a vote of 181 out of 193 members) to a non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council with unanimous regional support, even crossing ideological lines. This UN vote came as a grave disappointment to opponents of the Bolivarian revolution and reinforced Venezuelan standing in CELAC. In yet another diplomatic victory, as of September 2015, Venezuela will assume the presidency of the Movement of Non-Aligned Nations for a three year term. Clearly, it is Washington, not Venezuela that has already become an outlier as the Obama administration launches its “renewed leadership in the Americas.” If these immediate expressions of solidarity with the first post-Chavez Bolivarian government in Venezuela are an indicator of a persistent and growing trend, then by the time of the upcoming seventh Summit of the Americas, April 10 – 11, 2015 in Panama, President Obama can expect approbation for Washington’s opening to Havana, but he will also face a united front against U.S. intervention in Venezuela and anywhere else in the region.
Note: Translations by the authors from Spanish to English of government documents are unofficial. Where citations are not present in the text, hyperlinks provide the source.
William Camacaro MFA. is a Senior Analyst at the Council on Hemispheric Affairs and a member of the Bolivarian Circle of New York “Alberto Lovera.”
Frederick B. Mills, Ph.D. is Professor of Philosophy at Bowie State University and Senior Research Fellow at the Council on Hemispheric Affairs.
Santa Elena de Uairen – US entertainment channel MTV has signed a contract with a Venezuelan media group to purchase extensive footage of the violent anti-government protests that wracked the South American nation earlier this year, to be featured in the new reality series Rebel Music.
The footage, captured by citizen reporters with GoPro cameras, show masked and shirtless men throwing handmade grenades and wreaking general havoc in a coordinated effort to force president Nicolas Maduro’s resignation that lasted from February to May this year.
43 people were killed during that time, the majority while trying to clear rubbish from or cross the barricades set up by demonstrators. Numerous public institutions including hospitals, universities, and transportation agencies were also burnt down in protest.
Reporte Confidencial became known for editing the GroPro material nightly, adding in a pumping dubstep track befitting a London club scene, and posting the finished videos to YouTube, where they received thousands of views from around the world.
It is this material MTV now seeks to own.
The reality show Rebel Music claims to be inspired by young people who “are raising their voices to demand change for a better future…. often putting their lives on the line,” according to the show’s website.
With this premise, many Venezuelans fear the show’s narrative will grant hero status to those hardcore protestors – whose tactics were so violent they effectively drove away a majority of opposition supporters, according to polls.
Furthermore, as the White House approves sanctions against Venezuelan government officials, others accuse the MTV program of dovetailing too neatly with US foreign policy. […]
The series, which first aired last month, will also feature voices of dissent in Myanmar, Iran, Senegal, Turkey and US Native American communities.
The US media has made no effort to hide its contempt of Venezuela’s socialist government since the Hugo Chavez’s election in 1999, while Chavez, in turn, repeatedly accused Washington of funding subversive movements to remove him from office.
Shepard Fairey and USAID
Venezuelan political analyst Luigino Bracci pointed out the paradoxical use of red stars and other archetypal communist symbols in an op-ed for Caracas newspaper Alba Ciudad last week, which he attributes to the show’s executive producer, Shepard Fairey.
Fairey is the pop art empresario behind the OBEY campaign and the red and blue stencil portrait of Barack Obama, which featured the word HOPE and was used universally throughout the US president’s initial campaign.
Though he calls himself apolitical, Fairey has been criticized for reproducing communist Cuban and Korean poster art with slight twists and selling them as his own. In a 2008 interview with the magazine Mother Jones, reporter Liam O’Donoghue also called the artist out on appropriating images from social movements, usually created by artists of color, and stripping them of their political messages.
In a promotional video, Rebel Music features Venezuelan reggae artist OneChot whose 2010 video for the English-language single “Rotten Town” generated controversy for its depiction of Caracas as an Inferno of crime and murder, replete with images of dead and dying children.
Though the reggae singer also claims to abstain from politics, his music is more popular with Venezuela’s privileged class, the same sector that widely supports the opposition.
“You are not free of violence anywhere. That is why I fight for change in Venezuela,” OneChot says to the MTV cameras.
While many Caracas artists would be eager for such international exposure, some mistrust the pre-determined script many reality shows are known to possess, believing it may spell out further US defamation of Venezuela’s socialist leaders.
After being approached by MTV correspondents to represent the pro-Chavez version of events, underground hip hop artist Arena La Rosa announced her refusal on her Facebook page.
“My dignity and my ideas are worth more than a million [page] views, so I have wisely decided not to participate,” the chavista rapper said.
On the same day La Rosa posted her response, the Associated Press released documents detailing the US government’s failed attempt at infiltrating the Cuban hip hop scene, by way of the developmental organization USAID.
According to the AP, Washington had sought to build a network of young people seeking “social change” to spark a resistance movement against the government of Cuban president Raul Castro.
Incidentally, Maduro has accused numerous opposition leaders of attempting the same kind of subterfuge during February’s unrest. A committee of victims and their families has even assembled to seek justice from those public figures who they believe encouraged such extreme tactics.
Meanwhile, Venezuela will have to wait for the MTV segment to be released to understand how their high-stakes reality will be adapted to meet the lofty demands of broadcast entertainment.
The US and Cuba have reached a historic deal to swap notable prisoners and establish diplomatic relations after decades of mutual hostility. The announcement caught many by surprise, and begs the question: Are there more sinister geopolitical calculations at work behind the U.S.’ olive branch?
The tradeoff largely boils down to this: the US has released the three remaining members of the Cuban Five in exchange for jailed contractor Alan Gross, 53 US-selected “political prisoners,” and an unnamed intelligence source who was imprisoned over 20 years ago. As a result, both countries will now establish diplomatic relations and the decades-long US embargo will be largely eased.
Many people are rightfully cheering what seems to be an imminent end to U.S. hostility towards Cuba, but all of this may just be a deception. The U.S. needs Cuba more than the other way around, since it wants to use the island as a pivot to reverse the Caribbean Basin’s move to multipolarity and prolong Washington’s full control over its historic “lake.”
Regime Change Done Differently
Cuba no longer needs the U.S. as much as it did at the end of the Cold War, when its economy was in despair and the market hardly functioned. It’s come a long way since then, and although it still has its fair share of problems, it’s proved that it can survive on its own while being officially isolated from its massive northern neighbor. While the U.S. had plenty of opportunity to exploit Cuba when it was at its weakest in the 1990s, it missed the chance to do so, driven by the precondition that regime change must happen first.
Now, however, the tables have turned, and the U.S. is pursuing a policy of engagement first in order to facilitate the same regime change goal it’s been trying to pull off for over the past half century.
“I do not expect the changes I’m announcing today to bring about a change in Cuban society overnight,” Obama said, implying that he still wants the U.S. vision of change to occur. The removal of the embargo would only be a victory for the Cuban people if they are able to retain their independence, sovereignty, and preferred form of government afterwards.
Overt hostility hasn’t worked in the past against Cuba, and it likely won’t work in the future. Plus, there’s been a general trend in recent years for the US to pursue its objectives through covert and indirect means. This is where Cuba is most vulnerable in the recent ‘thaw’ in relations. The American economy doesn’t need Cuba at all, really, and Washington’s opening to Havana is a convenient cover to catch Cuba in its social and economic snare to more directly control the inevitable leadership transition process that will occur with Fidel’s passing. It already tried and failed to use USAID to create a ‘revolutionary Twitter’ on the island, as well as its embarrassing follies with anti-government Cuban rappers, to name but the few most recent regime change scandals there. And it must be kept in mind that Mr. Gross was working for the Agency when he was arrested in 2011 for trying to, as Cuban authorities described it, to “promote destabilizing activities and subvert constitutional order” to foster a “Cuban Spring.”
Cuba is also vulnerable to reverse migration, in that dissident and possibly extremist Cuban-Americans may return to the island in order to build a future Color Revolution’s social infrastructure to deploy when the time is right (likely in the aftermath of Fidel’s death). American businesses can fill a valuable development and investment gap on the island, in exchange for making Cuba ever more dependent on the U.S. This would give the U.S. another lever of influence over the island’s affairs, which could be activated in unison with a Color Revolution to create maximum disorder.
Bucking The Trend
The timing of Washington’s “outreach” to Havana isn’t coincidental, as it coincides with major processes going on in the region that the U.S. hopes to reverse. Most recently, the pro-U.S. Prime Minister of Haiti, Laurent Lamothe, was forced to resign last week amid protests and popular outrage over his corruption and ineffectiveness. Backtracking America’s hold on the region even further, the Chinese are slated to begin construction on the Nicaraguan Canal, which when completed, would create a major breach in America’s control of the Caribbean Sea. Finally, Venezuela has been a center of resistance to American hegemony over the hemisphere ever since the leadership of the late President Hugo Chavez.
Cuba is the symbolic leader of the Latin American resistance movement, and its “Cuban Spring” surrender would be disheartening for the other allied states that defy the U.S. via the ALBA grouping. Congress recently passed sanctions against Venezuela (largely overshadowed by the anti-Russian ones), which is the financial engine of the hemispheric resistance, to facilitate a Color Revolution there as well, as President Maduro himself has previously alleged Washington wants to do.
Venezuela’s economy is also hurting because of the recent oil price slump, which may inhibit its ability to subsidize the allied Nicaraguan, Ecuadorian, and Bolivian ones in the future. With Cuba out of the game, and perhaps even Venezuela, there’d be little ideological or economic support keeping Nicaragua, the future key to the Caribbean, from being next (to say nothing of Ecuador and Bolivia) and the Chinese-sponsored canal from becoming a failed infrastructure project. If this happens, then the U.S. would have reasserted its complete control over the Caribbean and begun to penetrate the Andes, thus tightening the containment noose around Brazil and strangling the future of multipolarity in the region.