Venezuela

Creeping coup

Print edition : March 01, 2019

President Nicolas Maduro addressing the troops at the naval base of Turiamo, Aragua State, on February 3. Photo: MARCELO GARCIA/AFP

Juan Guaido, Venezuela’s opposition leader and self-proclaimed interim President, at a rally in Caracas on February 2 against Maduro’s government. Photo: CARLOS GARCIA RAWLINS/ REUTERS

Maduro’s supporters at a rally in downtown Caracas on January 31. Photo: REUTERS

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence. He urged Guaido to invoke Article 233 of the Venezuelan Constitution to claim presidential powers. Photo: JOE RAEDLE/AFP

U.S. President Donald Trump. In comments broadcast on February 3, he said a military intervention in Venezuela was “an option”. Photo: JIM WATSON/AFP

U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton at the White House in Washington, D.C., on January 28, when the Trump administration announced economic sanctions against Venezuela and the state-owned oil company, PDVSA. Photo: JIM YOUNG/REUTERS

In an abortive bid to overthrow the elected government of Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela, the U.S. recognises Juan Guaido as the “interim” President and orders that revenue from its sale of Venezuelan oil be diverted to the puppet regime.

THE latest attempt at regime change in Venezuela by the United States and its regional allies appears to have been planned assiduously. 

Unlike the previous coup attempts, including the infamous one in 2002 to overthrow the Hugo Chavez regime, this time the U.S. wanted the job done by hook or by crook. 

More and more facts have emerged in the as yet abortive attempt to overthrow the democratically elected government of Nicolas Maduro. For instance, on the night before Juan Guaido declared himself the “interim President”, he had a long conversation with U.S. Vice President Mike Pence. Before that, the pretender to the Venezuelan presidency had held secret meetings with right-wing leaders of Brazil, Colombia and Argentina while waiting for the green signal for the proposed coup from the U.S..

Senior officials of the Donald Trump administration told The Wall Street Journal that Pence urged the novice Venezuelan politician to invoke Article 233 of the Venezuelan Constitution to claim presidential powers. Pence assured Guaido that if he did so, the U.S. government would back him to the hilt. Pence even took to the airwaves to speak to the people of Venezuela as part of the Trump administration’s ham-handed efforts to sway public opinion there. There were misplaced hopes in Washington, D.C., and a few other capital cities that the mass of the people would rise up in protest on the cue provided by the U.S. or that the military top brass would show the elected government the door.

Article 233, anyway, is not a valid basis for claiming the presidency of Venezuela. It can only be invoked if the sitting President “becomes permanently unavailable”. However, constitutional or democratic niceties have rarely stood in the way of the U.S. governments in their dealings with Latin America. After recognising Guaido as the President, the U.S. went ahead with its plan of denying the Venezuelan people the much-needed revenues from the sale of oil. In his address to the United Nations Security Council on January 26, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called on member countries to “pick a side” and to “stand with the forces of freedom”.

The imperial Trump government decreed that revenue from the sale of Venezuelan oil in the U.S. would be <FZ,1,0,15>diverted to the puppet Guiado government. “What we’re focussing on today is disconnecting the illegitimate Maduro regime from the source of its revenues,” declared John Bolton, Trump’s National Security Adviser and a notorious neocon war hawk. The oil revenue from the U.S., generated by CITGO, a large oil refiner in the U.S. and a subsidiary of PDVSA, the Venezuelan government-owned oil and natural gas company, is a much-needed source of hard currency for the Venezuelan government. CITGO runs more than 20,000 petrol pumps in the U.S. and owns extensive real estate assets.

The Wall Street Journal reported: “The late-night call set in motion a plan that has been developed in secret over the preceding several weeks, accompanied by talks between U.S. officials, allies, lawmakers and key Venezuelan opposition figures, including Mr Guaido himself.” Besides Pence, the leading characters in the plot to overthrow the Maduro government are Pompeo, Bolton and Marco Rubio, the Republican Senator from Florida. Rubio has been the spokesman for the corrupt and rich Venezuelans and Cubans who live in luxury in Miami. 

“Little Marco”, as he was once derisively called by Trump, has in the last couple of years emerged as a key adviser to the White House on matters concerning Venezuela and Latin America in general. According to reports in the U.S. media, Trump viewed regime change in Venezuela as among the most important priorities of his presidency. The other two issues being Iran and North Korea. It is not a coincidence that Venezuela and Iran are among the countries that have the largest hydrocarbon reserves in the world. 

The Guaido-led opposition has already prepared a blueprint to allow U.S. oil companies to enter Venezuela again. Guaido has also said that he wants to approach the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank to bail out Venezuela. Hugo Chavez and later Maduro saw to it that the country’s hydrocarbon resources remained under the control of the state. Chavez had described the IMF and the World Bank as organisations “dominated by U.S. imperialism”. While campaigning for the presidential election in 2016, Trump said that the U.S. ought to have seized Iraq’s oil assets as spoils of war. Venezuela, which has the world’s largest reserves of oil and gas, is a prize the Trump administration covets deeply. “It will make a big difference to the United States economically if we could make American companies invest in and produce oil capabilities in Venezuela,” Bolton told Fox News.

Military intervention

Diverting U.S. national attention to Venezuela came in handy for Trump, who is mired in scandals and the after effects of an ill-considered government shutdown. The Democratic Party, full of liberal interventionists, fell in line with the Trump administration’s interventionist policy. Among the prominent Democrats aspiring for the party’s nomination to run against Trump in 2020, only Tulsi Gabbard has strongly cautioned against the illegality of U.S. military intervention in Venezuela. Trump once again said in early February that he did not rule out military intervention in Venezuela. 

During a media briefing, Bolton was reportedly seen carrying a notepad on which were scribbled the words “5,000 troops to Colombia”. According to reports, the Trump administration has been trying to convince the right-wing governments in Brazil and Colombia to participate in a military intervention in Venezuela. The Brazilian Army top brass has apparently cautioned President Jair Bolsonaro against embarking on a military misadventure in a neighbouring country. Colombia’s President Ivan Duque is a protege of Alviro Uribe, the far-right former President of the country. During his two terms as President, Uribe had in tandem with the U.S. <FZ,2,0,15>tried his best to destabilise the Chavez government. Colombia is the U.S.’ closest military ally in the region. President Maduro has warned that if the U.S. intervenes militarily, it will face “a much worse Vietnam than you can imagine”.

The Trump administration has appointed Elliot Abrams as “special envoy” to Venezuela with the mandate to “restore democracy”. Abrams has been a prominent proponent of U.S. intervention in Latin America since the time he served in the Ronald Reagan administration in the 1980s. He was one of the architects of the “Iran-Contra” scam and was convicted for his role in the covert arming of right-wing Contra militias in Nicaragua. He escaped prison because of to a presidential pardon. He is said to have had advance knowledge of the 2002 coup attempt against Chavez when he was serving as a special assistant to President George W. Bush. “I have been a counter-revolutionary for a long time,” he boasted way back in 1986. Samuel Moncada, Venezuela’s Ambassador to the U.N., accused the U.S. of “manufacturing a case to promote and justify the recolonisation of Venezuela through the imposition of a puppet government in our country”. He said that what happened on January 23, the date on which Guaido proclaimed himself as President, was an attempted coup d’etat promoted, organised and financed by the U.S. along with a small group of countries in the region and Europe.

The United Kingdom, for instance, is refusing to allow the Venezuelan government to withdraw its gold reserves. The British government is as usual in lockstep with the U.S. Moncada said: “The arrogance of the British elite, who are so used to looting, leads them to believe that they can rob the wealth of all Venezuelans with impunity just because they have become Trump’s minority partner.” Canada, France and Austria are among those countries that recognise the political gambit of Guiado and his handlers in Washington, D.C. 

In France, “yellow vests” protesters have been staging huge demonstrations since the end of last year demanding the resignation of President Emmanuel Macron and the holding of fresh elections. The French police have been accused of using excessive force in subduing the anti-government protests. The international community has not condemned the heavy police action. On the other hand, the U.S. and its allies have been encouraging Venezuelans to stage violent protests against their government. The Western media deliberately ignored huge rallies, such as the one staged on February 2 by supporters of Maduro. Maduro had extended an olive branch to the opposition, offering to hold early parliamentary elections. “There is no dictatorship in Venezuela; there never will be,” Maduro said in a speech.

There are fears that the military option will be next after the Trump administration’s failure to get the endorsement of the Security Council or even the Organisation of American States for its regime change plans. An opinion poll taken in January showed that eight out of 10 Venezuelans oppose a U.S. military intervention.

The Venezuelan military remains solidly behind the elected government despite open threats from the U.S. Seizure of oil revenues and gold deposits are messages to the military and the Maduro government that they will be subjected to immense pressure through illegal sanctions. The latest set of sanctions are estimated to cost Venezuela more than $12 billion in lost revenues in the coming year. This is more than 90 per cent of what Venezuela currently spends on food imports. 

In other words, the Trump administration basically wants to starve an already suffering people into submission. In the past five years, the Venezuelan economy has shrunk by half and inflation has gone through the ceiling. Low global oil prices for the past seven years and tough U.S. sanctions since 2017 are mainly responsible for the situation Venezuela finds itself in. It is not surprising that only 36 per cent of Venezuelans have a favourable view of the U.S., as a recent opinion poll revealed.

Throughout the 20th century, the U.S. has blatantly interfered in the internal affairs of Latin American and Caribbean countries. Trump is continuing the trend set by President Woodrow Wilson. Wilson had said that it was the duty of the U.S. government to “teach the South American republics to elect good men”. When genuinely good leaders were elected, such as Jacobo Arbenz in Guatemala and Salvador Allende in Chile, they were overthrown by Central Intelligence Agency-sponsored coups. 

The U.S. disrupted the democratic process in several countries, including major ones such as Brazil and Argentina in the 1960s and the 1970s. But those events happened in the 20th century. Latin America has come a long way since then. As Hector Vasconcelos, the president of Mexico’s Senate Foreign Relations Committee, put it: “Nothing will contribute more to the questioning of the legitimacy and credibility of Juan Guaido than the support he is receiving from the United States. We are in Latin America, and this should be understood by the White House…. Learn something from history.”

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