Tag Archives: Hugo Chavez

Brazilian ex-President Lula da Silva on Op. Car Wash, Bolsonaro, Assange, US meddling and more

In April 2018 former Brazilian President Lula da Silva (of the Workers’ Party or PT) was convicted on charges of money laundering and corruption and sentenced to serve 12 years following the largest investigation into corruption in the country’s history; this was so-called Operation Car Wash.

Although Lula’s sentence was upheld at appeal, he has always vigorously denied all the charges and consistently claimed the case against him was politically motivated: Lula’s conviction immediately opening the way for Jair Bolsonaro to be elected with his main challenger now eliminated from the race. As if to settle the matter, Judge Sérgio Moro, who had presided over the case, was shortly afterward appointed as Bolsonaro’s Minister of Justice:

In a transaction that even anti-Lula crusaders found highly distasteful, the judge who found Lula guilty and cleared the path for Bolsonaro’s ascension to the presidency — Judge Moro — thereafter accepted a position in Bolsonaro’s government that has been described as a “Super Justice Minister”: a newly designed position consolidating powers under Moro that had previously been dispersed among various agencies. It rendered Judge Moro — less than a year after putting Lula in prison and thus removing Bolsonaro’s key obstacle — one of the most powerful men in Brazil.

From an article written by Glenn Greenwald based around an interview he conducted with Lula while he was still in prison. In the same piece, Greenwald explains in more detail how Lula’s conviction paved the way for Bolsonaro’s accession:

Lula’s criminal conviction on corruption charges last year came under highly suspicious circumstances. All year long, polls showed him as the clear front-runner for the 2018 presidential race. After anti-PT forces finally succeeded with [former President] Dilma [Rousseff]’s impeachment in doing what they spent 16 years trying with futility to accomplish at the ballot box — removing PT from power — it seemed that Lula’s 2018 return to presidency was virtually inevitable and that only one instrument existed for preventing it: quickly convicting him of a felony which, under Brazilian law, would render him ineligible to run as a candidate. And that’s precisely what happened. 1

Lula was finally released in November 2019 after serving 580 days in prison. This followed revelations also published by Glenn Greenwald in The Intercept based on:

[G]roup chats between Car Wash prosecutors and conversations between task force coordinator Deltan Dallagnol and Moro, showing that the then-judge and the prosecutors were unethically and inappropriately collaborating in secret. Despite repeatedly insisting in public that they were acting ethically and impartially, the chats revealed that the judge was passing on advice, investigative leads, and inside information to the prosecutors — who were themselves plotting to prevent Lula’s Workers’ Party from winning last year’s election. 2

Click here to find the full “Secret Brazil Archive” published by The Intercept (The quote above is from Part 4 of the 14 part series).

On his release, Lula spoke to supporters saying, “They did not imprison a man. They tried to kill an idea.”

Adding that under Bolsonaro, “Brazil did not improve, Brazil got worse. The people are going hungry. The people are unemployed. The people do not have formal jobs. People are working for Uber – they’re riding bikes to deliver pizzas.” 3

Click here to read an earlier post about the coup against Dilma Rousseff entitled “‘Brazil’: now more than ever, a satire for our age”.

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On Saturday, RT’s Going Underground devoted its show to an extended interview with Lula da Silva, which is embedded below. He told host Afshin Rattansi:

In Brazil some important things took place that the world needs to know about. For the first time in its history, during my government, Brazil became an international player. Brazil had created UNASUL [the Union of South American Nations] demonstrating a beautiful relationship within South America. Brazil had developed a relationship between South America and Africa; between South America and the Arab countries. Brazil had taken part in the creation of the BRICS. Brazil had created IBAS [or IBAS initiative (India, Brazil and South Africa), also called the G-3]. That is, Brazil was becoming an international player and that is something that the Americans never allowed.

Now Brazil is returning to the colonial period. After the coup on President Dilma, they would never want to have Lula back as the President of the Republic to continue our domestic social inclusion policy and our international protagonism policy. They want Brazil to continue to be a colony.

So they conjured this lie called the Car Wash Operation against me. They invented a lie during the procedure. They condemned me without any evidence. I’ve proved my innocence and I am waiting for them to prove any guilt on my part. I have challenged the Federal Prosecutor and the Judge who headed my trial. But I am much more concerned with Brazil at this moment. [from 4:55 mins]

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Continuing:

We had eliminated hunger in Brazil and hunger has returned. We were in a process of raising education in this country and now we have a great setback in education as well as in science and technology.

We have major setbacks in the environmental legislation, in deforestation and in the preservation of our forests and out water resources. Obviously Brazil would be better off if I had been allowed to be a candidate [during the last Presidential elections]. They withdrew my candidacy for presidency with a legal procedure because they knew that if I ran in the elections I would have won in the first round.

And here in Brazil, a part of the country’s elite cannot stand to see poor people eating in restaurants, or travelling by plane, or buying cars. They cannot stand to see poor people ascending, which is what we achieved through hundreds of public policies to improve the lives of the poor people in this country.

I am proud that the President of the United Nations acknowledged that Brazil had eliminated hunger. I am proud that in 2010, Brazil was the country with the highest level of hope in the world – with the happiest people in the world – because we had so many expectations; so many dreams. And Brazil was about to become the fifth global economy.

Now we see Brazil experiencing a rise in poverty. People are hungry in Sao Paolo, in Rio de Janeiro and all over the country people have gone back to the streets. Wages dropped drastically and unemployment has risen. This is the country of the fascists who rule it.

I want a democratic country, a sovereign country, a country where people are happy and proud to say they are Brazilian. [from 6:25 mins]

When asked whether leaving the oligarchs in power to falsely prosecute him and afterwards to remove Dilma from office in a de facto coup, Lula replies:

I won an election; I did not start a revolution. I do not believe that a metalworker, like myself, could have become President of the Republic if it had not been for democracy; and if it had not been, most of all for democracy and for the Brazilian people’s comprehension and maturity when they voted.

I confess that I ruled for all. I doubt that there was any moment in Brazil’s history when everyone benefited so much. It is true that businesses won. It is true that bankers won. It is true that big landowners won. But it is also true that the poor workers won too.

We had the greatest pay rise for the poor during my government; the greatest rise in education. We are already known in history as the government that built the greatest number of universities and technical schools; invested the most in science and technology; and for sure we must have made mistakes, or else there would have been no coup against President Dilma.

The coup was the beginning of a new attitude in Brazil. In my opinion it was organised by the US Department of Justice with the participation of the CIA. We have video recordings. The Intercept has publicly exposed all the scams of the Federal Prosecutor and Judge Moro – and the participation of the US DOJ in destroying the construction and engineering sector in Brazil; the gas industry in Brazil; and the country’s politics. Because the US never accepted the fact that Brazil would become an international player.

You must remember that the US and Europe had a hard time dealing with Iran, because they could not reach an agreement with regards to uranium enrichment. Ambassador Celso Amorim and I went to Iran with the President of Turkey, and we were successful in convincing Iran to accept an agreement which was better than this deal that was signed by the Americans and the European Union.

Regretfully, when we proposed the agreement I expected that the US and the EU would thanks Brazil and Turkey; instead they applied more sanctions against Iran in a clear demonstration that they were telling us that Brazil is a small third world country that cannot meddle with major countries’ affairs.  [from 8:50 mins]

In 2008, Lula had also negotiated with French President Nicolas Sarkozy to win a contract with naval supplier DCNS [renamed Naval Group] for the sale of five submarines. This deal permitted a transfer of technology enabling Brazil to assemble four conventional submarines and one submarine with nuclear capability. During Operation Car Wash in 2016, DCNS was investigated over concerns of “corruption of foreign officials”. Asked about this part of the scandal, Lula says:

I am certain that the Americans did not agree that we should settle an agreement with France to build the nuclear submarine. I am certain that they did not appreciate it when I created the South American Defence Secretariat because as soon as we discovered the pre-salt oil, which was the major oil discovery of the twenty-first century – one thousand meters deep in the Atlantic Ocean – the Americans announced that they would reactivate their Fourth (maritime) Fleet in the Atlantic Ocean, which had ceased to operate after World War II.

Petrobras, the Brazilian state-run energy giant, had discovered the Tupi oilfield, which is located in the Santos Basin’s subsalt layer and estimated to hold recoverable reserves of between 5 billion and 8 billion barrels of oil, back in November 2007. It began pumping in May 2009. 4

Our oil is on the maritime border with international waters. So I believe that the US truly is interested in taking over our oil, just as they grabbed so much oil in so many countries around the world.

As you know Afshin, all political confusions around the world occur because of oil and the Americans do not want Petrobras, or the Brazilian people, to keep all that oil. [from 15:15 mins]

Lula also spoke about the assistance gave to his friend Hugo Chavez in Venezuela:

I had a fantastic relationship with President Chavez for many years, and I created a group of “Friends of Venezuela” to prevent any American intervention. And we were very successful during the Bush administration and later in the Obama administration with the following phrase: The people of Venezuela take care of democracy in Venezuela.

An American citizen who wins elections based on fake news like Trump has no moral authority to talk about democracy – likewise Bolsonaro in Brazil. Certainly I may have been naive, as well as Dilma, in believing in democracy; in believing in the conduct of the Brazilian elite, and we are paying the price for that. But nevertheless, I think that the solution is a democratic one. It involves democracy; freedom of the press; freedom of labour unions; freedom of association; respect for human rights. This is what motivates me and this is what I will fight for because it is only with democracy that we will be able to improve the quality of life of the poor; of the workers; and of the excluded people in our country. [from 17:00 mins]

Regarding the current political situation in Brazil, Lula says he thinks his former prosecutor Sérgio Moro will not run for President in 2022:

Moro will never become president. Moro was fabricated by Globo TV. Moro is an invention of the media and without the media, he is nothing. Moro is a citizen who I believe seems to be a coward because I have challenged him to debate with me. Now that he’s no longer a judge he could debate with me, but he won’t. And I do not think Globo will have the guts to support him. But if he is it is not a problem at all. [from 21:50 mins]

While at another point Lula says:

I am sure that Moro and [lead prosecutor of Op. Car Wash, Deltan] Dallagnol must take very heavy drugs to sleep because their conscience is not calm. They know that they lied about me. Dallagnol knows that he formed a gang in the Car Wash taskforce to pass on information to the US, and to strike a deal – a financial deal even – through which Dallagnol would raise a 200 million real fund to do something here in Brazil. My conscience is clear because my innocence is proven. Now I want to prove their guilt in the crimes they committed against Brazil. Attempting to destroy Brazil’s sovereignty.

Today I do not feel any hatred or resentment. I am actually destined to continue fighting for democracy, because as you know, although I will be 75-years old on October 27th, I have the energy of a thirty-year old and the political will of a twenty-year old. Therefore I still have a lot of energy to fight for democracy and for the Brazilian people and also to try to contribute to a world with new leaders that are more impetuous and brave for politics, because world governance nowadays has been outsourced.

Crises are no longer managed by governments, but rather by bureaucrats. So there are no more political leaders and this weakens politics and originates people of the like of Trump and Bolsonaro. [from 12:15 mins]

The full story is available in the “Secret Brazil Archive” at The Intercept but you can also read a summary of some of these allegation in a Guardian report published in June 2019.

Asked why he did nothing to reform oligarch-owned media in Brazil, Lula says:

I didn’t do anything because in Brazil to change the rules for the media you need to submit a bill to be voted in the National Congress and the majority in Congress being so conservative will never approve the rules to make the media more democratic.

We created a public TV channel. Certainly we did not make the necessary investments to make it competitive – not financially competitive – but competitive with regards to providing more information to society. This is something I regret not having one.

We developed a project to regulate the media – it was complete by mid-2009. We did not have support from Congress because elections would be held the following year, and we left it for the new administration. This is one thing that we will need to do when the PT returns to the government, because information that is meant for society cannot have an owner. Information cannot be conveyed to society from the viewpoint of ‘the economy’, or of a part of that society. [from 20:00 mins]

And regarding the incarceration and looming potential extradition to America of Julian Assange, Lula reminds us:

It is true that the Americans may hate Snowden because he was a State Department employee and he leaked information, but the fact is that Assange should be considered a hero by all democratic countries around the world. Because he was the one who used Snowden’s leaks to expose US espionage in Petrobras, in Brazil, in Germany, in Argentina, in France. That is why Assange cannot be handed over to the US. Assange should win the Nobel Peace Prize because he managed to expose the rotten espionage of the US in the rest of the world.

It is a pity that European and South American countries are not brave enough to stand up for Assange for all the good he did for mankind. [from 18:30 mins]

At the beginning of the interview, Afshin Rattansi asks Lula directly “why are you accusing your successor Jair Bolsonaro of genocide?” To which he replies:

For a very simple reason, our president did not take care of Brazil and of the Brazilian people as he should have done. This pandemic did not reach Brazil without prior notice. We already had experience of what was going on in other countries around the world, and the president should simply have done the obvious, only what common sense teaches us to do.

The president, since he doesn’t know about anything except weapons and violence, should have set up a technical committee with experts and scientists. He should have gathered all state governors as well as mayors and established a crisis committee to guide Brazilian society – to participate in the process of mitigating the impact of the pandemic in Brazil.

He did not do this. He decried the pandemic. He said that people should not wear masks. He proscribed a drug called chloroquinine to the population without any scientific basis. And to this date he continues to vulgarise death because effectively he does not believe in science, or in the Brazilian people, and he does not respect individuals. The only thing he does is compliment Trump and to try to copy the same foolish things that Trump does in the US. [from 1:27 mins]

Later in the interview, Lula is asked what he believes the likely consequences of Bolsonaro winning 2022 election will be, especially when it comes to impacts on the environment. He replies:

[Protection of] the Amazon must remain an issue for the Brazilian society. The Amazon does not need to have squatters or invaders. Instead of cattle breeders and soy bean farmers, the Amazon needs to be occupied by researchers, anthropologists and scientists to study its plants and animals, and all of the pharmacological wealth it has, as well as its potential to feed our society.

The Amazon is extraordinary for mankind and Brazil needs to have the obligation, the moral and ethical commitment, to preserve the Amazon in order to provide balance to Planet Earth. This is an irresponsibility of the Bolsonaro government, which has destroyed the entire surveillance system. Even the director of the agency that monitored deforestation with spatial imaging was dismissed. Now they are blaming the indigenous people and the small farmers for deforestation.

I have high hopes that in 2022, Brazil will return to democracy: that the people will elect a democrat for president who respects the environment and our air space; our borders; and who knows the meaning of our country’s sovereignty. [from 22:30 mins]

Adding finally:

I am convinced that the only solution we have is to strengthen democracy including for the American people now. They have the right to change American politics by electing someone who is civilised; someone who has some humanity; someone who has at least some respect for blacks, for native Americans, for the women and for differences between human beings. Therefore we have the duty to rebuild democracy in the world, so that we can prevent the destruction of Planet Earth, which is like a boat and we are all sinking in it.

I think we need to realise that the Americans are going backwards in exercising democracy. Recently I saw Trump calling Obama a communist. Calling Biden a communist. Calling Clinton a communist. He doesn’t even know what communism is.

I think ignorance is defeating intelligence and… intelligence, humanism, solidarity need to be restored in the world. The world today is being ruled by committees, not by governments. I think that governments need to rediscover their role in governance including the United Nations.

The UN needs to change its role. Today’s UN cannot be the same as it was in 1948. We need to have African countries in the UN Security Council. We need Latin American countries in the Security Council. And countries like India. It cannot be the same five countries as in 1948. We need to create a new global governance.

In 1948 the UN was strong enough to create the State of Israel. In 2020 the UN does not have the power to create the Palestinian state.

It is shameful because we need to renegotiate the role of the UN and other institutions. We need to discuss the IMF. What is the use of the IMF? What is the use of the World Bank?

I have already talked to Pope Francis. I have gone to the World Council of Churches in Geneva. We need a global campaign against inequality on our planet. It is not possible that half a dozen entrepreneurs in digital corporations make in one year what billions of human beings do not ever have. We also need to discuss the role of capitalism. And I am willing to do this.  [from 24:35 mins]

Note that: The transcript above is my own although based on the translation provided by the show. It is more or less complete but reordered with time stamps for each section.

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1 From an article entitled “Watch: Interview With Brazil’s Ex-President Lula From Prison, Discussing Global Threats, Neoliberalism, Bolsonaro, and More” written by Glenn Greenwald, published in The Intercept on May 22, 2019. https://theintercept.com/2019/05/22/lula-brazil-ex-president-prison-interview/

2 From an article entitled “Their Little Show” which is Part 4 of a series of 14 articles based upon what is described as “A massive trove of previously undisclosed materials provid[ing] unprecedented insight into the operations of the anti-corruption task force that transformed Brazilian politics and gained worldwide attention”, entitled “Secret Brazil Archive” published by The Intercept. https://theintercept.com/series/secret-brazil-archive/ 

3 From an article entitled “Brazil’s former president Lula walks free from prison after supreme court ruling” written by Dom Phillips, published in the Guardian in November 8, 2019. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/nov/08/lula-brazil-released-prison-supreme-court-ruling

4 https://www.rigzone.com/news/oil_gas/a/75679/petrobras_pumps_first_crude_from_massive_tupi_field_offshore_brazil/ 

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Filed under analysis & opinion, Brazil, neo-liberalism, Venezuela

five independent journalists reporting on-the-ground from Venezuela

Aaron Maté

In mid-February, ‘The Grayzone’s Aaron Maté (former host and producer for ‘The Real News’ and  ‘Democracy Now!’) went to Bolivar Square in Caracas and spoke with people who were queuing up to sign a petition opposing US meddling in Venezuela:

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Max Blumenthal

Shortly afterwards, founder of ‘The Grayzone’, Max Blumenthal, visited to Caracas to investigate Venezuela’s widely-reported ‘humanitarian crisis’ and took a tour of a local supermarket:

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Update:

On March 19th, Max Blumenthal spoke at a UN Human Rights Council session in Geneva on a panel titled “Humanitarian crisis in Venezuela: Propaganda vs. Reality”:

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Eva Bartlett

Eva Bartlett is a Canadian journalist better known for her on-the-ground reports from Gaza and Syria. She arrived in Caracas on Sunday 10th and has since been issuing reports on a regular basis at her ‘Patreon’ site. Her latest report is reprinted below along with her most recent video:

I filmed these scenes on March 15, but until now have been too busy and also lacking good enough internet to upload.

My objective in filming is not to say there is no poverty in Venezuela, nor to imply there is no hunger or shortages anywhere. However, when corporate media is flat out saying shelves are empty all over Caracas and the city is in crisis, well this is false. The scenes I’m seeing are much like I saw in 2010. I know there are differences since then and now, of course, but there isn’t the pandemonium MSM is attempting to claim is happening here.

Also, this is not a wealthy area of Caracas, its perhaps lower middle class. I’ll film the wealthy areas where typically opposition live in coming days.

Further, in the days since filming this, power has fully returned to Caracas and most of Venezuela, metro is running, things are as they were before the power cuts.

I have had the opportunity to visit organized communities growing massive amounts of produce, also breeding rabbits (apparently a high source of protein)…and also one of the cities urban garden initiatives. I’ll upload more on that when time allows, but for now, day 1, no “crisis”, but people were dealing with the effects of the nation wide power outage, one believed most likely due to US acts of sabotage on the electricity grid.

Click here to read more reports from Venezuela by Eva Bartlett on Patreon

On March 17th Eva Bartlett was interviewed on ‘The Jimmy Dore Show’:

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Updates:

On March 31st, Eva Bartlett published an extended post from Caracas entitled “US is manufacturing a crisis in Venezuela so that there is chaos and ‘needed’ intervention”. Regarding the cancellation of flights, she writes:

On  March 9, American cancelled my Miami-Caracas flight on the basis that there wasn’t enough electricity to land at Caracas airport. Strangely enough, the Copa flight I took the following day after an overnight in Panama had no problem landing, nor did Copa flights on the day of my own cancelled flight, according to Copa staff.

The cancellation of flights to Venezuela then lends legitimacy to the shrill tweets of Marco Rubio, Mike Pence, John Bolton, and the previously unknown non-president, Juan Guaido.

I’ve been in various areas of Caracas since March 10, and I’ve seen none of this “civil unrest” that corporate media are talking about. I’ve walked around Caracas, usually on my own, and haven’t experienced the worry for my safety corporate media is telling Westerners they should suddenly feel more than normal in Venezuela.

In fact, I see little difference from the Venezuela I knew in 2010  when I spent half a year here, except the hyperinflation is absurdly  worse and in my absence I missed the years of extreme right-wing  opposition supporters street violence – a benign term for the guarimbas which saw opposition supporters burning people alive, among other violence against people and security.

So it strikes me that the decision of American Airlines to stop flying to Venezuela is not about safety and security issues, but is political, in line with increasingly hollow rhetoric about a humanitarian crisis that does not exist, even according to former UN Special Rapporteur, Alfred de Zayas.

I asked Paul Dobson, a journalist who has lived in Venezuela the last 14 years, if anything like this had happened before. Turns out it has, also at a very timely moment.

“At the time of the National Constituent Assembly elections, July 30, 2017, the major airlines –  including Air France, United, American, pretty much all of the European airlines – suspended their flights one day before the elections, citing  “security reasons.” Most of the services were reopened about four days after the elections, some of them two weeks after the elections.”

So were there ‘security concerns? I asked Paul.

“This was towards the end of street violence (guarimbas) that had been going on for six months in the country. Why didn’t they suspend their activity six months before, two months before? They did it the day before the elections, clearly trying to influence votes and the  way that people see their country internationally. There were no extra security concerns that day than any day over the last 6 months. So, there was really no justification for it. And it caused massive problems on the ground, around elections.”

Click here to read the full article at Patreon.

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On March 17th, President Nicolás Maduro met with the US Peace Council delegation for over an hour, speaking on issues related to the recent power outage, how the Venezuelan people responded, and the US draconian policies against Venezuela. Eva Bartlett filmed and uploaded around 10 minutes of their meeting:

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Alan Gignoux and Carolina Graterol

British photojournalist Alan Gignoux whose work has been published in The New York Times, CNN Traveller, The Independent, Reuters and World Photography News, among others (www.gignouxphotos.com); and Venezuelan journalist-filmmaker Carolina Graterol, who has worked for the BBC World Service (Spanish) and Telesur; both based in London, went to Venezuela for a month to shoot a documentary for a major global TV channel. They talked with journalist Paul Cochrane about the mainstream media’s portrayal of Venezuela compared to their experiences on the ground. The full transcript is reprinted below:

Paul Cochrane (PC): What were you doing in Venezuela, how long were you there and where did you go?

Alan Gignoux (AG): We went in June 2018 for a month to shoot a documentary; I can’t disclose what channels it will be on right now, but it should be on air soon. We visited the capital Caracas, Mérida (in the Andes), Cumaná (on the coast), and Ciudad Guayana (near the mouth of the Orinoco river).

PC: How did being in Venezuela compare to what you were seeing in Western media?

Carolina Graterol (CG): I am a journalist, I have family in Venezuela, and I knew the reality was very different from what the media is portraying, but still I was surprised. The first thing we noticed was the lack of poverty. Alan wanted to film homeless and poor people on the streets. I saw three people sleeping rough just this morning in London, but in Venezuela, we couldn’t find any, in big cities or towns. We wanted to interview them, but we couldn’t find them. It is because of multi disciplinary programmes run by the government, with social services working to get children off the streets, or returned to their families. The programme has been going on for a long time but I hadn’t realized how effective it was.

PC: Alan, what surprised you?

AG: We have to be realistic. Things look worn down and tired. There is food, there are private restaurants and cafes open, and you could feel the economic crisis kicking in but poverty is not as bad as what I’ve seen in Brazil or Colombia, where there are lots of street children. Venezuela doesn’t seem to have a homeless problem, and the favelas have running water and electricity. The extreme poverty didn’t seem as bad as in other South American countries. People told me before going I should be worried about crime, but we worked with a lady from El Salvador, and she said Venezuela was easy compared to her country, where there are security guards with machine guns outside coffee shops. They also say a lot of Venezuelan criminals left as there’s not that much to rob, with better pickings in Argentina, Chile or wherever.

PC: How have the US sanctions impacted Venezuelans?

CG: Food is expensive, but people are buying things, even at ten times their salary. Due to inflation, you have to make multiple card payments as the machine wouldn’t take such a high transaction all at once. The government has created a system, Local Committees for Production and Supply (known by its Spanish acronym CLAP) that feeds people, 6 million families, every month via a box of food. The idea of the government was to bypass private distribution networks, hoarding and scarcity. Our assistant was from a middle class area in Caracas, and she was the only Chavista there, but people got together and created a CLAP system, with the box containing 19 products. Unless you have a huge salary, or money from outside, you have to use other ways to feed yourself. People’s larders were full, as they started building up supplies for emergencies. People have lost weight, I reckon many adults 10 to 15 kilos. Last time I was in Venezuela three years ago, I found a lot of obese people, like in the US, due to excessive eating, but this time people were a good size, and nobody is dying from hunger or malnutrition.

PC: So what are Venezuelans eating?

CG: A vegetarian diet. People apologized as they couldn’t offer us meat, instead vegetables, lentils, and black beans. So everyone has been forced to have a vegetarian diet, and maybe the main complaint was that people couldn’t eat meat like they used to do. The situation is not that serious. Before Hugo Chavez came to power, Venezuela had 40% critical poverty out of 80% poverty, but that rate went down to 27%, and before the crisis was just 6 or 7% critical poverty. Everyone is receiving help from the government.

PC: So food is the main concern?

CG: The real attack on the economy is on food. When you have hyperinflation everything goes up in price, but food has become the main source of spending because this is the variable going up in price at exorbitant levels. Bills like water, electricity, public transport haven’t gone up that much and represent a small percentage of any family spending. This is why the distortions in the economy are not intrinsic, but caused by external factors, otherwise everything should have gone up, no matter what it is.

PC: Alan, did you lose weight in Venezuela?

AG: No! What surprised me was how many people are growing their own vegetables. It is a bit like in Russia, where everyone has a dacha. Venezuela is tropical, so it is easy to grow produce. Mango trees are everywhere, so you can pick a mango whenever you want.

PC: So the crisis we read about everyday is primarily due to the US sanctions?

CG: The sanctions have affected the country. I want to be fair. I think the government was slow to act on the direction the country was being pushed. It was probably not a good idea to pay off $70 billion in external debt over the past five years. In my opinion, (President Nicolas) Maduro decided to honor the external debt, thinking this was the right way to pay our commitments, but at the same time, this economic war started waging internally, and also externally, blocking international loans.

The government should also have taken action against Colombia for allowing over one hundred exchange houses to be set up on the border with Venezuela. These exchange houses eroded the currency as they were using different exchange rates, and that contributed to the Bolivar’s devaluation. I think they should have denounced the (Juan Manuel) Santos government. If Colombia says that Venezuelan oil that crosses its border is contraband, why not currency? Remember, the biggest industry in Colombia is cocaine – narcotics trafficking – and it has grown exponentially, so they’ve an excessive amount of US dollars and need to launder them, which drained the Venezuelan currency. It is induced hyperinflation. Also, in Miami, the Venezuelan oligarchy created a website called DolarToday about 12 years ago to destroy the Venezuelan economy.

PC: What else struck you?

CG: People are still smiling and making jokes about the situation, which I find incredible. People are willing to share, and we were in some tricky situations, like when our car broke down at night.

AG: Everyone says don’t drive at night in Venezuela. We were on the road, and figured we’d only half hour to go, what could go wrong? Then a transformer burned out. I thought I was about to have my Venezuelan nightmare, stuck in the middle of nowhere on a dark road at night. Who would ever find you?

CG: As there were no lights we had to use our phones to let big trucks know we were on the road.

AG: We pretended I was deaf as I couldn’t pass for Venezuelan with my Spanish accent. So, a really old old pick-up truck pulls up, and the occupants looked rather salty, but they were very nice and took us to a petrol station.

CG: I told you Alan, you are not in the US, you are not going to be shot!

AG: I was with three women with money, I thought OK I will be shot, but it all turned out fine, and they thought I was deaf.

CG: We were told we could sleep in a shop but we slept in the car instead, and it was fine.

PC: What about the power cuts that have plagued the country?

CG: During blackouts, people told stories, played music, or went out and talked on the streets. It was a paradise, no TVs, smartphones, but real human contact. People cook together. During the day they’re playing board games, dominoes, and kids are having fun. People with kids are possibly more stressed, especially if you live in a tower block, as if you’ve no electricity, you’ve no water. That is why the US hit the electricity grid as it means no water in Caracas – a city of 10 million people. Luckily there are wells with clean water around the city, so people queue up to get it.

PC: So there was a real discrepancy between the image you were given of Venezuela and the reality?

AG: Sure, there are queues for oil, but people are not dying of starvation and, as I said, poverty is no where near what it is like in Brazil. I wouldn’t say a harsh dictatorship, people were open, and criticized the government, and the US, but also Chavez and Maduro. The Partido Socialista Unido de Venezuela (PSUV) have admitted they had made bad economic decisions. I thought it would be more repressive, and it wasn’t. People were not fearful about speaking out. I think Venezuelans blame the Americans for the situation more than Maduro.

PC: What do you make of the hullabaloo in February about US and Canadian aid being blocked by Venezuela?

AG: It is a Trojan horse, a good way to get the US in, and why international agencies were not willing take part in the plan. Instead there has been Chinese and Russian aid.

CG: There’s not the chaos US and Trump were expecting. (Opposition leader and self-proclaimed president Juan) Guaidó is the most hated guy in Venezuela. He has to stay in luxury hotel in La Mercedes, an expensive neighbourhood of Caracas. They have electricity there, as they were prepared, so bought generators. That is why Guaidó went there, and has a whole floor of a luxury hotel for him and his family. While people are suffering Guaidó is trying on suits for his upcoming trip to Europe. It is a parallel world.

AG: You think Guaidó will fail?

CG: Venezuelans are making so many jokes with his name, as there’s a word similar to stupid in Spanish – guevon. And look at the demonstration in La Mercedes the other day (12 March), the crowds didn’t manifest. It is becoming a joke in the country. The more the Europeans and the US make him a president, the more bizarre the situation becomes, as Guaidó is not president of Venezuela! Interestingly, Chavez predicted what is happening today, he wrote about it, so people are going back to his works and reading him again.

PC: There’s plenty of material on the history of American imperialism in South America to make such predictions, also, more recently, the Canadians and their mining companies, in Paraguay, Honduras, and now backing Guaidó.

CG: Exactly. Look at Chile in 1973, what happened to the Sandinistas in El Salvador, in Guatemala.

It is a well rehearsed strategy to destroy an economy using external forces to drive up prices of supplies and products. When you have such a cycle, it explodes.

Click here to read the same transcript as published today by Counterpunch.

Please note that I will try to update this post as soon as the documentary shot by Gignoux and Graterol is released.

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Elliot Abrams and the Trojan horse of humanitarian aid

The unrepentant war criminal Elliot Abrams, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, was last month appointed by Trump as Special Representative for Venezuela. Abrams, who has a long history of support for murderous dictators across Latin America, is perhaps best known for his conviction over the Iran-Contra arms smuggling scandal that armed death squads in Nicaragua, when he was subsequently found guilty of giving false testimony to Congress. As The New York Times reported at the time:

Assistant Secretary of State Elliott Abrams has defended his role in authorizing the shipment of weapons on a humanitarian aid flight to Nicaraguan rebels, saying the operation was “strictly by the book.”

Mr. Abrams spoke at a news conference Saturday in response to statements by Robert Duemling, former head of the State Department’s Nicaraguan humanitarian assistance office, who said he had twice ordered planes to shuttle weapons for the contras on aid planes at Mr. Abrams’s direction in early 1986. 1

Investigative reporter Whitney Webb highlights the incident in an excellent piece published by Mint Press News last week, in which she draws parallels with today’s shipments of “aid” to Venezuela. She writes:

The parallels between aspects of the Contra scandal and the current situation in Venezuela are striking, particularly given the recent “outrage” voiced by mainstream media and prominent U.S. politicians over Maduro’s refusal to allow U.S. “humanitarian aid” into the country. Maduro had explained his rejection of the aid as partially stemming from the concern that it could contain weapons or other supplies aimed at creating an armed opposition force, like the “rebel” force that was armed by the CIA in Syria in 2011.

Though the media has written off Maduro’s concern as unfounded, that is hardly the case in light of the fact that the Trump administration’s recently named special envoy in charge of the administration’s Venezuela policy, Elliott Abrams, had been instrumental in delivering weapons to the Nicaraguan Contras, including hiding those weapons in “humanitarian aid” shipments. In subsequent testimony after the scandal broke in the 1980s, Abrams himself admitted to funneling weapons to the Contras in exactly this way.

Moreover, in the same piece, Webb points to direct evidence of CIA ties to a more recent covert arms smuggling operation:

Last Tuesday, Venezuelan authorities announced that 19 rifles, 118 ammo magazines, 90 radios and six iPhones had been smuggled into the country via a U.S. plane that had originated in Miami. The authorities blamed the United States government for the illicit cargo, accusing it of seeking to arm U.S.-funded opposition groups in the country in order to topple the current Maduro-led government. […]

Publicly available flight radar information shows that the plane, although it has not returned to Venezuela since the discovery of its illicit cargo, has continued to travel to Medellin, Colombia, as recently as this past Monday.

In addition to the dramatic and abrupt change in flight patterns that occurred just weeks before U.S. Vice President Mike Pence prompted Venezuelan opposition member Juan Guaidó to declare himself “interim president,” a subsequent McClatchy follow-up investigation also uncovered the fact that two top executives at the company that owns the plane in question had previously worked with a company connected to controversial CIA “black sites.” 2

Click here to read the full article entitled “US Air Freight Company that Smuggled Weapons Into Venezuela Linked to CIA ‘Black Site’ Renditions” written by Whitney Webb, published on Wednesday 13th.

If Washington is genuinely concerned to provide humanitarian assistance to the Venezuelan people then the best and most straightforward course of action would be to lift the sanctions that have been crippling its economy. Meanwhile, although barely reported upon, Venezuela is in fact accepting aid from international partners:

Twenty-five million euros-worth of humanitarian aid was delivered to Puerto de la Guaira, Venezuela from international partners in Cuba, China, Russia, Palestine, Turkey, among others.

Over 22,570 units of spare parts for medical equipment, 192,000 kit for diagnostic tests and “more than 100,000 kit for cytology” were included in the shipment, which Health Minister Carlos Alvarado said is received regularly in the port city.3

Click here to read more in a report by Telesur entitled “Venezuela Receives 933 Tons of Medical Aid From Allies Abroad” published on Thursday 14th.

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Additional: the coup in Venezuela explained by Aaron Bastani

As crisis engulfs Venezuela, Aaron Bastani looks at the political and economic history of the country since Hugo Chavez won power in 1998. His conclusion? That sanctions and oil prices are to blame for the country’s economic plight, while it boasts a far greater tradition of democracy than critics often realise let alone dare to admit:

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1 From an article entitled “Abrams Denies Wrongdoing In Shipping Arms to Contras” published by The New York Times on August 17, 1987 and available in the print archive. https://www.nytimes.com/1987/08/17/world/abrams-denies-wrongdoing-in-shipping-arms-to-contras.html

2 From an article entitled “US Air Frieght Company that Smuggled Weapons Into Venezuela Linked to CIA “Black Site” Renditions” written by Whitney Webb, published in Mint Press News on February 13, 2019. https://www.mintpressnews.com/us-company-that-smuggled-weapons-into-venezuela-linked-to-cia-renditions/255049/

3 From an article entitled “Venezuela Receives 933 Tons of Medical Aid From Allies Abroad” published on February 14, 2019. https://www.telesurenglish.net/news/Venezuela-Receives-933-Tons-of-Medical-Aid-From-Allies-Abroad-20190214-0025.html

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Filed under analysis & opinion, Nicaragua, USA, Venezuela

the counter-revolution will be televised (by its cheerleaders): on the latest attempted coup in Venezuela

Background

A 2003 documentary entitled The Revolution Will Not Be Televised (Spanish: La revolución no será transmitida) provides a fascinating insight and behind the scenes account of the US-backed but failed Venezuelan coup of April 2002. Irish filmmakers Kim Bartley and Donnacha Ó Briain, who had been given direct access to Hugo Chavez with the intention only of making a fly-on-the-wall biography, suddenly finding themselves trapped in the midst of quite extraordinary political turmoil and turnaround:

The Youtube upload has since been taken down, however, I have embedded another version below:

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If at first you don’t succeed…

NEUMANN: Thank you very much. Vanessa Neumann, Asymmetrica. I am a dual America and Venezuelan citizen. So here goes my question, because we’re not covering anything about Western Hemisphere in this forum. Obviously Maduro in Venezuela regime change looks to be, we hope imminent or spiraling down until we either become Cuba in two weeks time or – and die forever or there’s a change in 60 to 90 days. I’m interested in your open assessment on American interests in or threats from Venezuela and which of course has Russian, Iranian et cetera interests and – for the region. Thank you, sir.

POMPEO: So I appreciate the question. At any time you have a country as large and with the economic capacity of a country like Venezuela, America has a deep interest in making sure that it is stable, as democratic as possible. And so, we’re working hard to do that,

I am always careful when we talk about South and Central America and the CIA, there’s a lot of stories.

(Laughter)

POMPEO: So I want to be careful with what I say but suffice to say, we are very hopeful that there can be a transition in Venezuela and we the CIA is doing its best to understand the dynamic there, so that we can communicate to our State Department and to others. The Colombians, I was just down in Mexico City and in Bogota a week before last talking about this very issue trying to help them understand the things they might do so that they can get a better outcome for their part of the world and our part of the world.1

This exchange between Mike Pompeo, then-Head of the CIA, and businesswoman Vanessa Neumann took place during a Q&A session at a security forum organised by the foundation funded Aspen Institute ‘think tank’. It is an admission that the US is once again covertly engaged in a regime change operation in “America’s backyard”.

Click here to read more in an article entitled “CIA chief hints agency is working to change Venezuela government” published by The Independent on July 25th 2017.

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The night before Juan Guaidó declared himself interim president of Venezuela, the opposition leader received a phone call from Vice President Mike Pence.

Mr. Pence pledged that the U.S. would back Mr. Guaidó if he seized the reins of government from Nicolás Maduro by invoking a clause in the South American country’s constitution, a senior administration official said.

Click here to read the full article published by The Wall Street Journal entitled “Pence Pledged U.S. Backing Before Venezuela Opposition Leader’s Move”.

The clause in question is Article 233 of Venezuela’s Constitution. It reads as follows:

“The President of the Republic shall become permanently unavailable to serve by reason of any of the following events: death; resignation; removal from office by decision of the Supreme Tribunal of Justice; permanent physical or mental disability certified by a medical board designated by the Supreme Tribunal of Justice with the approval of the National Assembly; abandonment of his position, duly declared by the National Assembly; and recall by popular vote.”

“When an elected President becomes permanently unavailable to serve prior to his inauguration, a new election by universal suffrage and direct ballot shall be held within 30 consecutive days. Pending election and inauguration of the new President, the President of the National Assembly shall take charge of the Presidency of the Republic.”

None of this is applicable of course. Nicolás Maduro is not and never has been absent in any way whatsoever. Moreover, he was re-elected only eight months ago in May 2018 having won 67.8% of the vote in free and fair elections monitored by European observers, when Guaidó chose not to stand. Unlike Maduro, Guaidó has never stood in any presidential election. In short, this is the flimsiest of fig leaves to cover a flagrant breach of international law.

As former British Ambassador to Uzbekistan, Craig Murray, writes:

But I can think of no precedent at all for recognising a President who does not have and has never had control of the country – and has never been a candidate for President. This idea of the West simply trying to impose a suitably corrupt and biddable leader is really a very startling development. It is astonishing the MSM commentariat and political class appear to see no problem with it. It is a quite extraordinary precedent, and doubtless will lead to many new imperialist adventures.

Click here to read the full article posted by Craig Murray on Thurs 24th entitled “The Coup in Venezuela Must Be Resisted”

Wikipedia quickly fell into line adjusting its entry for Juan Guaidó and validating his illegitimate claim to being “interim president” of Venezuela:

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Update:

On January 29th Max Blumenthal and Dan Cohen released an extended exposé on The Grayzone Project detailing how presidential wannabe Juan Guaidó is “the product of a decade-long project overseen by Washington’s elite regime change trainers”. Here is just one of incidents documented in their article:

Around 43 were killed during the 2014 guarimbas. Three years later, they erupted again, causing mass destruction of public infrastructure, the murder of government supporters, and the deaths of 126 people, many of whom were Chavistas. In several cases, supporters of the government were burned alive by armed gangs.

Guaidó was directly involved in the 2014 guarimbas. In fact, he tweeted video showing himself clad in a helmet and gas mask, surrounded by masked and armed elements that had shut down a highway that were engaging in a violent clash with the police. Alluding to his participation in Generation 2007, he proclaimed, “I remember in 2007, we proclaimed, ‘Students!’ Now, we shout, ‘Resistance! Resistance!’”

Guaidó has deleted the tweet, demonstrating apparent concern for his image as a champion of democracy.

Click here to read the full article entitled “The Making of Juan Guaidó: How the US Regime Change Laboratory Created Venezuela’s Coup Leader”.

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It’s the economic war, stupid!

The political and economic crisis facing Venezuela is being endlessly pointed to as proof of the superiority of the free market.

Images and portrayals of Venezuelans rioting in the streets over high food costs, empty grocery stores, medicine shortages, and overflowing garbage bins are the headlines, and the reporting points to socialism as the cause.

The Chicago Tribune published a Commentary piece titled: “A socialist revolution can ruin almost any country.” A headline on Reason’s Hit and Run blog proclaims: “Venezuelan socialism still a complete disaster.” The Week’s U.S. edition says: “Authoritarian socialism caused Venezuela’s collapse.”

So begins an article by Caleb T. Maupin published back in July 2016. Maupin continues:

In reality, millions of Venezuelans have seen their living conditions vastly improved through the Bolivarian process. The problems plaguing the Venezuelan economy are not due to some inherent fault in socialism, but to artificially low oil prices and sabotage by forces hostile to the revolution.

Starting in 2014, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia flooded the market with cheap oil. This is not a mere business decision, but a calculated move coordinated with U.S. and Israeli foreign policy goals. Despite not just losing money, but even falling deep into debt, the Saudi monarchy continues to expand its oil production apparatus. The result has been driving the price of oil down from $110 per barrel, to $28 in the early months of this year. The goal is to weaken these opponents of Wall Street, London, and Tel Aviv, whose economies are centered around oil and natural gas exports.

Venezuela remains a deeply divided country and there is no doubt that the government under Maduro is at fault in part for the current economic crisis, but as Maupin points out, the opposition is extremely fractured and many do not wish to see a return to the rampant neo-liberalism of the pre-Chavez era:

The artificially low oil prices have left the Venezuelan state cash-starved, prompting a crisis in the funding of the social programs that were key to strengthening the United Socialist Party.

It is odd that the mainstream press blames “socialism” for the food problems in Venezuela, when the food distributors remain in the hands of private corporations. As Venezuelan political analyst Jesus Silva told me recently: “Most food in Venezuela is imported by private companies, they ask for dollars subsidized by the government oil sales to do that; they rarely produce anything or invest their own money.”

According to Silva, the economic sanctions imposed on Venezuela by the U.S., in addition to the oil crisis, have made it more difficult for the Venezuelan government to pay the private food importing companies in U.S. dollars. In response, the food companies are “running general sabotage.”

“Venezuela’s economy depends on oil sales. Now that oil prices are dropping down, the challenge is to get other sources of economic income,” he explained. “Meanwhile, the opposition is garnering electoral support due to the current economic crisis.” […]

While a clear majority cast a voto castigo (“punishment vote”) in December, punishing the government for mismanaging the crisis, the Maduro administration has a solid core of socialist activists who remain loyal to the Bolivarian project. Across Venezuela, communes have been established. Leftist activists live together and work in cooperatives. Many of them are armed and organized in “Bolivarian Militias” to defend the revolution.

Even some of the loudest critics of the Venezuelan government admit that it has greatly improved the situation in the country, despite the current hardships.

In December, I spoke to Glen Martinez, a radio host in Caracas who voted for the opposition. He dismissed the notion that free market capitalism would ever return to Venezuela. As he explained, most of the people who voted against the United Socialist Party — himself included — are frustrated with the way the current crisis is being handled, but do not want a return to the neoliberal economic model of the 1999s.

He said the economic reforms established during the Chavez administration would never be reversed. “We are not the same people we were before 1999,” Martinez insisted.2

Click here to read the full article entitled “US-Led Economic War, Not Socialism, Is Tearing Venezuela Apart”

On January 25th, Sharmini Peries hosted a discussion for ‘The Real News’ on this latest attempted coup in Venezuela with Abby Martin, Greg Wilpert and Paul Jay:

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The Empire never gives up

‘Dictator’ is the epithet of choice the corporate media dishes out whenever it wishes to denigrate foreign leaders not fully subordinate to western interests. Likewise, ‘regime’ operates as a preferred synonym to denounce the members of every government hostile to Anglo-American imperialism. Hugo Chavez was routinely branded a ‘dictator’ even though he fought and won more elections than any other contemporary world leader. Like Chavez before him, Nicolás Maduro is the elected head of a democratic state.

Conversely, the media has its blinkers firmly attached whenever exalting those in opposition to a targeted ‘regime’. ‘Rioters’ become more benign ‘protesters’, and ‘insurgents’, ‘separatists’ or ‘terrorists’ are elevated to the level of ‘freedom fighters’. Thus in Libya, the murderous salafist gangs who lynched black Africans were portrayed as the valiant ‘rebels’. In Ukraine the brown-shirted brigades that gathered under wolfsangels and swastikas were heralded as Europhile crusaders for democracy – at one point the BBC actually embedded one of its journalists within the ranks of the neo-Nazi Azov Battalion. And in Syria, the al-Qaeda affiliated ‘rescue workers’ known as the White Helmets became the ‘indomitable first responders’ of an Oscar-winning documentary – they have also been promoted by human rights organisations including Amnesty International. Indeed, with the arrival of ISIS, some purportedly less savage though self-proclaimed al-Qaeda militia have come in for more favourable mainstream coverage – take for instance this BBC Newsnight report.

Yet the propaganda coverage of the crisis suddenly engulfing Venezuela is arguably more egregious again. For unlike each of the cases cited above, the West is not (at least not officially) engaged in any conflict inside Venezuela. Indeed, the fog of war offers no excuse for comparable lapses in journalistic integrity. Furthermore, recent history ought to make all journalists extremely cautious when it comes to covert US-led intervention in Latin America and suspicious of opposition claims in Venezuela especially given what we know about the last failed coup. Here is a New York Times editorial the day after Hugo Chavez was kidnapped and military junta briefly installed in April 2002:

UPRISING IN VENEZUELA: THE GOVERNMENT; VENEZUELA’S CHIEF FORCED TO RESIGN; CIVILIAN INSTALLED

By JUAN FORERO APRIL 13, 2002

A transitional government headed by a leading businessman replaced President Hugo Chavez today, hours after military officers forced him to resign. It was a sudden end to the turbulent three-year reign of a mercurial strongman elected on promises to distance his country from the United States while uprooting Venezuela’s old social order —

Pedro Carmona Estanga, the head of Venezuela’s most important business association, was installed as interim president at a ceremony at 6 p.m. He promised that the new government would adhere to “a pluralistic vision, democratic, civil and ensuring the implementation of the law, the state of law.”

Elections will be held within a year, officials said. The Bush administration laid the blame for Mr. Chavez’s overthrow firmly with the ousted leader. Officials portrayed the ouster as a victory for democracy —

And here is the New York Times offering a retraction (of sorts) the following day:

Popular Uprising Allows Chavez to Reclaim Venezuelan Presidency

By GINGER THOMPSON and JUAN FORERO APRIL 14, 2002

Two days after one huge political movement forced President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela out of power, a countervailing uprising that swept like wildfire through the slums surrounding the capital carried the populist leader back to the presidency today.

Once in power, the short-lived interim government, led by a prominent businessman, Pedro Carmona Estanga, dismantled the National Assembly, fired the ministers of the Supreme Court, arrested high-level members of the Chavez government and sent others into hiding.

The new government announced that Mr. Chavez had resigned from power. But word began to spread mostly through international television news reports that Mr. Chavez had not resigned. His followers in slums and poor towns across the country began to worry for his safety. They took to the streets to demand that Mr. Chavez be freed. And they won.

The extracts above are drawn from a well-sourced article entitled “Venezuela Regime Change Project Revealed” written by David William Pear and published on August 6th, 2017. Note that even after the coup which admittedly “dismantled the National Assembly, fired the ministers of the Supreme Court, arrested high-level members of the Chavez government and sent others into hiding” has failed, the NYT continues to describe the criminals behind the coup as a “short-lived interim government”.

As Pear says:

The Bush Administration, the New York Times and the mainstream media showed no remorse or shame—the U.S. government continued to watch and undermine the Chavista movement, Venezuela’s Bolivarian Socialism, in any way that it can. The U.S. continues to be involved and fund a long-term regime change project. The Empire never gives up. 3

Click here to read a post entitled “the Latin American Spring they never mention” published to mark the death of Hugo Chavez in March 2013.

Also on January 25th, Ben Norton of ‘Moderate Rebels’ spoke with Jordan Chariton to discuss the US-led coup in Venezuela:

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Final thoughts

As America struts about the world stage bullying the poorest nations into submission, a complaisant media can always be relied upon to leap to the defence of every imposition of sanctions and every regime change operation. Even a president as weakened and reviled as Trump (loathed by a supposedly hostile liberal press) can command support just as soon as he calls for the leader of any enemy state to be deposed. Quick to abandon any pretence to upholding international law, senior political figures in the West can also be relied upon to follow suit. America’s allies are ever eager to carry water for the empire. Indeed the leaders in Europe responded to Trump’s latest call for regime change by issuing their own ultimatum:

Three major European countries – Germany, France and Spain – have come out on Saturday saying they are ready to recognize Juan Guaido as Venezuela’s interim president if elections are not called within eight days.

“The government of Spain gives [President] Nicolas Maduro eight days to call free, transparent and democratic elections,” said Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said in statement.

“If that doesn’t happen, Spain will recognize Juan Guaido as interim president in charge of calling these elections.”

In what appears to be a coordinated message from European Union countries, at almost the same time French President Manuel Macron sent a tweet echoing Sanchez’s comments.

Macron’s tweet reads: “The Venezuelan people must be able to freely decide their future. Without elections announced within 8 days, we will be ready to recognize @jguaido as “President in charge” of Venezuela to initiate a political process. We are working on it between European partners.”

Yes, this is the same Macron whose government is deploying water cannon, tear-gas and rubber bullets to crackdown on the Gilets Jaunes protests sweeping France during the last three months.

From a Reuter’s report entitled “Germany, France, Spain poised to recognise Venezuela’s Guaido”.

This post is a reworking of an earlier post entitled “as the empire strikes back in Venezuela, our news media does its bidding (again)” published on August 9th 2017.

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Additional: Hands Off Venezuela

The Stop the War Coalition released this statement on January 28th:

“The United Kingdom believes Juan Guaido is the right person to take Venezuela forward. We are supporting the US, Canada, Brazil and Argentina to make that happen”. Jeremy Hunt’s comments last week are solid proof that the UK remains fully on board with US-led regime change In Venezuela as with other parts of the globe. Such statements show utter contempt for even the most basic democratic principles and demonstrate an open willingness on behalf of the Conservative government to use its ‘soft power’ to bolster those aligned with Donald Trump.

The briefest glance at the catastrophic history of US intervention in Latin America proves that this latest attempted coup is motivated purely by self-interest on the side of the US and its puppet politicians in Venezuela. Whatever the failings of Maduro’s regime a US intervention will do nothing to improve the lives of Venezuelans and must be opposed.

Venezuela Solidarity Campaign have organised an emergency rally this Thursday at which Stop the War’s Convenor, Lindsey German, will be speaking alongside Tariq Ali and Kate Hudson.

Please also sign the Stand up to Trump & Pence’s threats of ‘regime change’ in Venezuela petition here.

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On Jan 18th, Democracy Now! interviewed Venezuelan Minister of Foreign Affairs, Jorge Arreaza, who said:

“You see this man, who nobody knows in Venezuela—you ask in the streets, “Who is Juan Guaidó?” and nobody knows him—but he’s being pushed to say that he is the new president, by the U.S. He hasn’t said that, but Pompeo says it, Almagro from the OAS says it, and other presidents say that now he’s the president. They are trying to push a political conflict in Venezuela. They are calling the armed forces to make pronunciations against President Maduro. That’s what they want, a coup d’état in Venezuela. They want a war in Venezuela. And it’s not going to happen.”

Asked about the role being played by the United States, Arreaza replied:

“They are the bosses of the opposition. They tell them what to do. Nothing that the opposition does is without the permission or authorization of the State Department, at least, here in the United States. And they confess this. They say, “We have to make consultations with the embassy. We have to make consultations with the Department of State.” It happens. I mean, they are not free. They are not independent.”

Click here to read the full transcript and to watch the interview on the Democracy Now! website.

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On Thurs 24th, Democracy Now! spoke with Alfred de Zayas who visited Venezuela as a United Nations rapporteur in 2017:

ALFRED DE ZAYAS: Well, the mainstream media has been complicit in this attempted coup. The mainstream media has prepared, through a conundrum of fake news, an atmosphere that the public should accept this regime change imposed by the United States on the people of Venezuela because, ultimately, it’s supposed to be for the good of the Venezuelans.

Now, this reminds us of the run-up to the Iraq invasion of 2003. Now, the mainstream media supported all the lies, all the manipulations of George W. Bush and of Tony Blair to convince the world that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. And on this excuse, it was made somewhat palatable to world public opinion that you would enter Iraq and change the government by force. Now, the fact is that here you had not only a crime of aggression, not only an illegal war, as former—the late Secretary-General Kofi Annan, in more than one occasion, stated. Here you have actually a revolt of 43 states, the “coalition of the willing,” against international law. If there is one tenet of the U.N. Charter that is jus cogens, that is peremptory international law, it’s the prohibition of the use of force. And this attack on Iraq was conducted by 43 states in collusion, breaking all the rules of international law. Now, that was preceded by this media campaign.

Now, we have had, for the last years, actually, a media campaign against Venezuela. And I am particularly familiar with it, because before I went to Venezuela, I had to read everything and all the reports, not only of The Washington Post and of The New York Times, but also the reports of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, the reports of Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, etc., proposing that there was a humanitarian crisis in Venezuela.

Now, when I went to Venezuela, I again took the opportunity to interview representatives of Amnesty International and PROVEA and the other opposition NGOs, but I also had the opportunity to study the documents, to compare, to see the statistics, etc., etc. And, of course, there was no humanitarian crisis. There was hunger. There was, what we say in Spanish, zozobra. There was suffering. There was malnutrition, etc., etc. But it’s not just stating that there is an economic crisis. That’s not the crucial point. The crucial point is which are the causes of that so-called humanitarian crisis. And certainly, those who are crying humanitarian crisis should be the least to say that they should now solve the problem. There’s a principle of international law called ex injuria non oritur jus, which is the principle to estoppel. So they should be estopped from demanding regime change when they themselves are the ones who are aggravating a situation, caused initially by the dramatic fall of the oil prices.

I wanted to make a reference to a professor, Pasqualina Curcio, of the University of Caracas. I had the opportunity of seeing her for a couple of hours when I was there. And she published a book called The Visible Hand of the Market. This is a book that documents the financial blockade, documents the whole complex economic war being waged against Venezuela, which reminds you of the economic war that was waged against Salvador Allende. And what’s interesting is, after three years of economic war against Allende not succeeding in toppling Salvador Allende, it took a coup d’état by General Augusto Pinochet, which brought the Chilean people 17 years of dictatorship.

Click here to read the full transcript and to watch the interview on the Democracy Now! website.

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1 From official transcript of “Aspen Security Forum 2017: The View From Langley” on July 20, 2017, published by The Aspen Institute. http://aspensecurityforum.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/The-View-from-Langley.pdf

2 From an article entitled “US-Led Economic War, Not Socialism, Is Tearing Venezuela Apart” written by Caleb T. Maupin, published in Mint Press News on July 12, 2016. http://www.mintpressnews.com/us-led-economic-war-not-socialism-tearing-venezuela-apart/218335/

3 From an article entitled “Venezuela Regime Change Project Revealed” written by David William Pear, published in Off-Guardian on August 6, 2017. https://off-guardian.org/2017/08/06/venezuela-regime-change-project-revealed/

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Filed under analysis & opinion, campaigns & events, Craig Murray, did you see?, USA, Venezuela

as the empire strikes back in Venezuela, our news media does its bidding (again)

Background

A 2003 documentary entitled The Revolution Will Not Be Televised (Spanish: La revolución no será transmitida) provides a fascinating insight and behind the scenes account of the US-backed but failed Venezuelan coup of April 2002. Irish filmmakers Kim Bartley and Donnacha Ó Briain, who had been given direct access to Hugo Chavez with the intention only of making a fly-on-the-wall biography, suddenly finding themselves trapped in the midst of quite extraordinary political turmoil and turnaround:

The Youtube upload has since been taken down, however, I have embedded another version below:

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If at first you don’t succeed…

NEUMANN: Thank you very much. Vanessa Neumann, Asymmetrica. I am a dual America and Venezuelan citizen. So here goes my question, because we’re not covering anything about Western Hemisphere in this forum. Obviously Maduro in Venezuela regime change looks to be, we hope imminent or spiraling down until we either become Cuba in two weeks time or – and die forever or there’s a change in 60 to 90 days. I’m interested in your open assessment on American interests in or threats from Venezuela and which of course has Russian, Iranian et cetera interests and – for the region. Thank you, sir.

POMPEO: So I appreciate the question. At any time you have a country as large and with the economic capacity of a country like Venezuela, America has a deep interest in making sure that it is stable, as democratic as possible. And so, we’re working hard to do that,

I am always careful when we talk about South and Central America and the CIA, there’s a lot of stories.

(Laughter)

POMPEO: So I want to be careful with what I say but suffice to say, we are very hopeful that there can be a transition in Venezuela and we the CIA is doing its best to understand the dynamic there, so that we can communicate to our State Department and to others. The Colombians, I was just down in Mexico City and in Bogota a week before last talking about this very issue trying to help them understand the things they might do so that they can get a better outcome for their part of the world and our part of the world.1

This exchange between Mike Pompeo, Head of the CIA, and businesswoman Vanessa Neumann took place during a Q&A session at a security forum organised by the foundation funded Aspen Institute ‘think tank’. It is an admission that the US is once again covertly engaged in a regime change operation in “America’s backyard”.

Click here to read more in an article entitled “CIA chief hints agency is working to change Venezuela government” published by The Independent on July 25th.

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Whenever the media fixates on street protests in far-flung corners of the world (especially regions that it ordinarily overlooks) it is advisable to be on your guard. Check the vocabulary and consider honestly whether the coverage betrays an unspoken allegiance of any kind. Ask the obvious question: is there a colour revolution taking place?

Consider, for instance, how comparable events at home would be described, or happening elsewhere in the western world, say on the streets of other allied powers, and if, for instance, ‘protesters’ began torching barricades or hurling Molotov cocktails at those police lines? At what point would levels of violence in Britain, Europe and America be condemned and police retaliation deemed proportionate and necessary? Now consider this:

A police helicopter launched grenades at Venezuela’s supreme court building on Tuesday evening following months of protests against the country’s president, Nicolás Maduro.

Maduro said “terrorists” had lobbed two grenades that failed to detonate. Some reports put the number of grenades higher. Local media suggested a former police intelligence officer had carried out the attack.

This is how Guardian journalist Virginia López decided to report an armed assault against Venezuela’s Interior Ministry and Supreme Court little more than a month ago on June 28th. So imagine for a moment if a similar attack were carried anywhere inside Europe, America, Canada, Australia, Israel, or even inside one of our despotic client Gulf States – would apostrophes be inserted around the word “terrorists” or Maduro’s reference to the incident as an “act of terrorism”? By any definition, the unlawful use of violence in the pursuit of political aims is an act of terrorism.

Shortly afterwards, video was released (embedded above) featuring former captain in the CICPC, Venezuela’s intelligence and investigative body, Oscar Pérez, the alleged pilot of the helicopter. Flanked by masked men with assault rifles, Pérez read out a statement: “We are nationalists, patriots, and institutionalists. This fight is not with the rest of the state forces, it is against the tyranny of this government”. Details are given in the Guardian piece and commented upon as follows:

Later, information minister Ernesto Villegas read a statement accusing the helicopter of firing 15 shots against the interior ministry as a reception was taking place for 80 people. It then flew a short distance to the government-stacked supreme court, which was in session, and launched what he said were four Israeli-made grenades of “Colombian origin”, two of them against national guardsmen protecting the building.

The president of the high court said there were no injuries from the attack and that the area was still being surveyed for damages. Villegas said security forces were being deployed to apprehend Pérez, who the government accused – without giving evidence – of working under the instructions of the CIA and the US embassy in Caracas, as well as to recover the helicopter.

Many of Maduro’s opponents accused the president on social media of orchestrating an elaborate ruse to justify a crackdown against Venezuelans seeking to block his plans to rewrite the constitution.2

Thus, official government accusations of CIA involvement are presented as “without evidence”, whereas opposition accusations on social media rumouring that Maduro was “orchestrating an elaborate ruse” go unchallenged. In this fashion, the Guardian is rather quick to divert attention from US meddling for which there is a great deal of historical precedence, and perfectly happy to accuse the Venezuelans of orchestrating a ‘false flag’ attack without any supporting evidence. In fact, in a follow up article later the same day, López writes:

But on Wednesday, speculation was growing that the incident may have been staged by a government eager to divert attention from three months of protests, fueled by mounting anger at the country’s chronic lack of basic foods and medicines.

Julio Borges, president of the opposition-led assembly, said that he and other opponents of Maduro were still analysing the events.

“It seems like a movie,” he said. “Some people say it is a set-up, some that it is real … but I summarize it like this: a government is decaying and rotting, while a nation is fighting for dignity,” he added.

It soon emerged that Perez had an active Instagram account with images of him posing in fatigues with a German shepherd dog, horse riding, and scuba diving while clutching a rifle. The account has since been deleted.

He also has an eclectic CV which included a starring role in a 2015 action movie called Suspended Death in which he played an investigator rescuing a kidnap victim.

Beneath the strapline “some speculate that Oscar Perez’s actions were an orchestrated distraction from the Maduro regime’s further consolidation of power”, the same piece continues:

But skeptics questioned how an aircraft was allowed to circle above such sensitive government buildings in a city where even drones are illegal.

No other members of the police or armed forces have joined or expressed support for Perez.

“If the incident of the helicopter is a hoax, it means the regime is desperate, and if it was a coup attempt and no one defended it, then it’s even worse,” said one Twitter user.

Adding:

And the attack came hours after one of the worst outbreaks of looting since protests erupted in April. For most of Monday night and Tuesday the city of Maracay – which is home to one of the country’s most important military bases – was wracked by a wave of unrest in which at least 64 shops were sacked. It is unclear why the National Guard was unable to contain the rioting.

Before finally concluding:

“Regardless of whether this was a hoax or an act by a lunatic, the impact is the same: it suggests that the government is entering a new stage and willing to escalate violence,” said Phil Gunson, a senior analyst at the International Crisis Group.

“It seems the government is trying to find the right level of repression that can put the ‘genie back in the bottle’.” 3

Apparently then – according to the Guardian as it quotes directly from Soros funded International Crisis Group 4– it doesn’t actually matter whether this attack with grenades against the government and the Supreme Court was a hoax or not because “the impact is the same”. Either way, Maduro and his ‘regime’ is to blame!

In February 2014, Abby Martin spoke on RT’s “Breaking the Set” with Eva Golinger, author of the “Chavez Code”, about the Western backed ‘resistance groups’ and how there is a coup already underway in Venezuela:

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It’s the economic war, stupid!

The political and economic crisis facing Venezuela is being endlessly pointed to as proof of the superiority of the free market.

Images and portrayals of Venezuelans rioting in the streets over high food costs, empty grocery stores, medicine shortages, and overflowing garbage bins are the headlines, and the reporting points to socialism as the cause.

The Chicago Tribune published a Commentary piece titled: “A socialist revolution can ruin almost any country.” A headline on Reason’s Hit and Run blog proclaims: “Venezuelan socialism still a complete disaster.” The Week’s U.S. edition says: “Authoritarian socialism caused Venezuela’s collapse.”

So begins an article by Caleb T. Maupin published a year ago. Maupin continues:

In reality, millions of Venezuelans have seen their living conditions vastly improved through the Bolivarian process. The problems plaguing the Venezuelan economy are not due to some inherent fault in socialism, but to artificially low oil prices and sabotage by forces hostile to the revolution.

Starting in 2014, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia flooded the market with cheap oil. This is not a mere business decision, but a calculated move coordinated with U.S. and Israeli foreign policy goals. Despite not just losing money, but even falling deep into debt, the Saudi monarchy continues to expand its oil production apparatus. The result has been driving the price of oil down from $110 per barrel, to $28 in the early months of this year. The goal is to weaken these opponents of Wall Street, London, and Tel Aviv, whose economies are centered around oil and natural gas exports.

Venezuela remains a deeply divided country and there is no doubt that the government under Maduro is at fault in part for the current economic crisis, but as Maupin points out, the opposition is extremely fractured and many do not wish to see a return to the rampant neo-liberalism of the pre-Chavez era:

The artificially low oil prices have left the Venezuelan state cash-starved, prompting a crisis in the funding of the social programs that were key to strengthening the United Socialist Party.

It is odd that the mainstream press blames “socialism” for the food problems in Venezuela, when the food distributors remain in the hands of private corporations. As Venezuelan political analyst Jesus Silva told me recently: “Most food in Venezuela is imported by private companies, they ask for dollars subsidized by the government oil sales to do that; they rarely produce anything or invest their own money.”

According to Silva, the economic sanctions imposed on Venezuela by the U.S., in addition to the oil crisis, have made it more difficult for the Venezuelan government to pay the private food importing companies in U.S. dollars. In response, the food companies are “running general sabotage.”

“Venezuela’s economy depends on oil sales. Now that oil prices are dropping down, the challenge is to get other sources of economic income,” he explained. “Meanwhile, the opposition is garnering electoral support due to the current economic crisis.” […]

While a clear majority cast a voto castigo (“punishment vote”) in December, punishing the government for mismanaging the crisis, the Maduro administration has a solid core of socialist activists who remain loyal to the Bolivarian project. Across Venezuela, communes have been established. Leftist activists live together and work in cooperatives. Many of them are armed and organized in “Bolivarian Militias” to defend the revolution.

Even some of the loudest critics of the Venezuelan government admit that it has greatly improved the situation in the country, despite the current hardships.

In December, I spoke to Glen Martinez, a radio host in Caracas who voted for the opposition. He dismissed the notion that free market capitalism would ever return to Venezuela. As he explained, most of the people who voted against the United Socialist Party — himself included — are frustrated with the way the current crisis is being handled, but do not want a return to the neoliberal economic model of the 1999s.

He said the economic reforms established during the Chavez administration would never be reversed. “We are not the same people we were before 1999,” Martinez insisted.5

Click here to read the full article entitled “US-Led Economic War, Not Socialism, Is Tearing Venezuela Apart”

Last November Al Jazeera invited Economist and former Venezuelan Planning Minister Ricardo Hausmann to debate with former Hugo Chavez adviser Temir Porras on “UpFront”:

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The Empire never gives up

‘Dictator’ is the epithet of choice the corporate media dishes out whenever it wishes to denigrate foreign leaders not fully subordinate to western interests. Likewise, ‘regime’ operates as a preferred synonym to denounce the members of every government hostile to Anglo-American imperialism. Hugo Chavez was routinely branded a ‘dictator’ even though he fought and won more elections than any other contemporary world leader. Like Chavez before him, Nicolás Maduro is the elected head of a democratic state.

Conversely, the media has its blinkers firmly attached whenever exalting those in opposition to a targeted ‘regime’. ‘Rioters’ become more benign ‘protesters’, and ‘insurgents’, ‘separatists’ or ‘terrorists’ are elevated to the level of ‘freedom fighters’. Thus in Libya, the murderous salafist gangs who lynched black Africans were portrayed as the valiant ‘rebels’. In Ukraine the brown-shirted brigades that gathered under wolfsangels and swastikas were heralded as Europhile crusaders for democracy – at one point the BBC actually embedded one of its journalists within the ranks of the neo-Nazi Azov Battalion. And in Syria, the al-Qaeda affiliated ‘rescue workers’ known as the White Helmets became the ‘indomitable first responders’ of an Oscar-winning documentary – they have also been promoted by human rights organisations including Amnesty International. Indeed, with the arrival of ISIS, some purportedly less savage though self-proclaimed al-Qaeda militia have come in for more favourable mainstream coverage – take for instance this BBC Newsnight report.

Yet the propaganda coverage of the crisis suddenly engulfing Venezuela is arguably more egregious again. For unlike each of the cases cited above, the West is not (at least not officially) engaged in any conflict inside Venezuela. Indeed, the fog of war offers no excuse for comparable lapses in journalistic integrity. Furthermore, recent history ought to make all journalists extremely cautious when it comes to covert US-led intervention in Latin America and suspicious of opposition claims in Venezuela especially given what we know about the last failed coup. Here is a New York Times editorial the day after Hugo Chavez was kidnapped and military junta briefly installed in April 2002:

UPRISING IN VENEZUELA: THE GOVERNMENT; VENEZUELA’S CHIEF FORCED TO RESIGN; CIVILIAN INSTALLED

By JUAN FORERO APRIL 13, 2002

A transitional government headed by a leading businessman replaced President Hugo Chavez today, hours after military officers forced him to resign. It was a sudden end to the turbulent three-year reign of a mercurial strongman elected on promises to distance his country from the United States while uprooting Venezuela’s old social order —

Pedro Carmona Estanga, the head of Venezuela’s most important business association, was installed as interim president at a ceremony at 6 p.m. He promised that the new government would adhere to “a pluralistic vision, democratic, civil and ensuring the implementation of the law, the state of law.”

Elections will be held within a year, officials said. The Bush administration laid the blame for Mr. Chavez’s overthrow firmly with the ousted leader. Officials portrayed the ouster as a victory for democracy —

And here is the New York Times offering a retraction (of sorts) the following day:

Popular Uprising Allows Chavez to Reclaim Venezuelan Presidency

By GINGER THOMPSON and JUAN FORERO APRIL 14, 2002

Two days after one huge political movement forced President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela out of power, a countervailing uprising that swept like wildfire through the slums surrounding the capital carried the populist leader back to the presidency today.

Once in power, the short-lived interim government, led by a prominent businessman, Pedro Carmona Estanga, dismantled the National Assembly, fired the ministers of the Supreme Court, arrested high-level members of the Chavez government and sent others into hiding.

The new government announced that Mr. Chavez had resigned from power. But word began to spread mostly through international television news reports that Mr. Chavez had not resigned. His followers in slums and poor towns across the country began to worry for his safety. They took to the streets to demand that Mr. Chavez be freed. And they won.

The extracts above are drawn from a well-sourced and recent article entitled “Venezuela Regime Change Project Revealed” written by David William Pear and published on August 6th. Note that even after the coup which admittedly “dismantled the National Assembly, fired the ministers of the Supreme Court, arrested high-level members of the Chavez government and sent others into hiding” has failed, the NYT continues to describe the criminals behind the coup as a “short-lived interim government”.

As Pear says:

The Bush Administration, the New York Times and the mainstream media showed no remorse or shame—the U.S. government continued to watch and undermine the Chavista movement, Venezuela’s Bolivarian Socialism, in any way that it can. The U.S. continues to be involved and fund a long-term regime change project. The Empire never gives up. 6

Click here to read a post entitled “the Latin American Spring they never mention” published to mark the death of Hugo Chavez in March 2013.

On May 11th political activist and analyst, Tariq Ali, discussed the worsening situation in Venezuela on TeleSUR:

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1 From official transcript of “Aspen Security Forum 2017: The View From Langley” on July 20, 2017, published by The Aspen Institute. http://aspensecurityforum.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/The-View-from-Langley.pdf

2 From an article entitled “Venezuela: police helicopter attacks supreme court with grenades” written by Virginia López, published in the Guardian on June 28, 2017. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/jun/28/venezuela-supreme-court-grenade-police-helicopter

3 From an article entitled “Patriot, or government plant? Rumors fly over Venezuela helicopter attack” written by Virginia López, published in the Guardian on June 28, 2017. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/jun/28/venezuela-helicopter-attack-oscar-perez-rumors

4 Board Members of ICG include Zbigniew Brzezinski, Wesley Clark and George Soros. Soros, Chairman of the Open Society Institute (listed in the donors below), also sits on the ICG Executive Committee.

Foundation and private sector donors include The Atlantic Philanthropies; Carnegie Corporation of New York; Ford Foundation; Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation; Flora Hewlett Foundation; Henry Luce Foundation; John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation; John Merck Fund; Charles Stewart Mott Foundation; Open Society Institute; Ploughshares Fund; Sigrid Rausing Trust; Sasakawa Peace Foundation; Sarlo Foundation of the Jewish Community Endowment Fund; United States Institute of Peace; and Fundacão Oriente.

From Sourcewatchhttp://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php/International_Crisis_Group#Foundation_and_private_sector_donors_include

5 From an article entitled “US-Led Economic War, Not Socialism, Is Tearing Venezuela Apart” written by Caleb T. Maupin, published in Mint Press News on July 12, 2016. http://www.mintpressnews.com/us-led-economic-war-not-socialism-tearing-venezuela-apart/218335/

6 From an article entitled “Venezuela Regime Change Project Revealed” written by David William Pear, published in Off-Guardian on August 6, 2017. https://off-guardian.org/2017/08/06/venezuela-regime-change-project-revealed/

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Filed under analysis & opinion, did you see?, Venezuela

the Latin American Spring they never mention

On February 27th 1989, the Venezuelan army, under orders from President Carlos Andrés Pérez, put down a mass uprising against the imposition of IMF led “austerity measures”; a protest which became known as the Caracazo (“the big one in Caracas”). According to official government reports “only” 276 people were killed in their attempts to “restore order”, however estimates for the actual number of casualties range between 500 to more than 3000.

Just a few years on, in 1993, and having narrowly survived two failed coups attempts, Carlos Andrés Pérez (otherwise known simply as CAP) was suddenly forced out of office when the Supreme Court found him guilty of embezzlement. With the impeachment of CAP, the next directly elected President was Rafael Antonio Caldera Rodríguez, and it was Rafael Caldera who, during his second term in office, had pardoned the leader of the original coup against CAP, a then little known military officer by the name of Lt. Colonel Hugo Chavez Frías.

Back in the 1990s news stories from Venezuela rarely if ever made our headlines, and unless you happen to be Venezuelan, there is a good chance you have never heard of either Carlos Andrés Pérez or Rafael Caldera. But this is not the case for the man who succeeded Caldera following the 1998 elections. For whatever else might be said of the late Hugo Chavez, there is no dispute that his political leadership during the last fourteen years – Chavez having been voted into office on four separate occasions in free elections – has put Venezuela altogether more firmly on the political map. So when Chavez died on Tuesday, it was an event that reverberated across the world. The debate over what his lasting legacy will be, and what happens next for Venezuela, buzzing in newsrooms and all over the internet.

Hugo Chavez was a social reformer, outspoken and with unashamedly revolutionary intent; his frequently stated ambition being nothing less than to inspire the downtrodden and oppressed of Latin America and beyond with his own brand of Bolivarian “participatory socialism”. To those ends, Chavez had immediately set about nationalising the Venezuelan oil industry, and then redirecting the huge profits to fund social projects both at home and abroad. Poverty levels in Venezuela were soon halved, and extreme poverty reduced by more than two thirds. Chavez also opened up education for the poorest in society and brought in a system of universal free healthcare.

That his programme of reforms has gradually improved the standard of living for the vast majority of Venezuelans is now acknowledged even by his fiercest critics, and so during last year’s election campaign, which he again won comfortably, the main opposition parties did not even challenge his social programme – their criticisms being reserved for his failures in other ways. That his policies have not allowed the Venezuelan economy to flourish as it should have (which seems odd given that Venezuela has actually maintained growth even throughout these troubled economic times), that inflation levels are unacceptably high (which is perhaps true although inflation is only a little higher now than during the period immediately prior to his presidency), and that Venezuela is suffering from a breakdown in law and order. This last charge is perhaps the most warranted, with Chavez unquestionably paying too little attention to the vital issue of ensuring law and order, but even here his supporters will fairly claim that the escalation in violent crime is to some extent a direct consequence of drug trafficking from neighbouring Colombia.

Incidentally, you can find a useful breakdown of all the statistics here.

Of course, the most serious charge levelled against Chavez is that his government has systematically turned a blind-eye or actually encouraged the violation of the human rights of his opponents. Human rights abuses that mostly seem to have come in the form of threats and intimidation, but which also include use of blacklists, other forms of exclusion, and in a few cases, even false imprisonment. This is obviously not acceptable. That said, it is sadly the truth that nearly every government on earth can also be charged with comparable abuses and more often than not with tactics that are very much more brutal again.

In Venezuela, unlike in America and the fifty and more states (including the UK) that have helped them out with “extraordinary rendition”1, torture and kidnapping are not sanctioned. In Venezuela, there is no equivalent to Guantánamo or the many “black sites” where inmates are indefinitely detained without charge. And if you still imagine that America, to return once more to the self-proclaimed home of freedom, has no political prisoners of its own then you evidently fail to take into account what has recently happened to John Kiriakou and Bradley Manning. In reminding readers of all this, it is not my intention to make excuses for Chavez and his government, but simply to put the charges against him into a more honest context.

Overall, it is surely fair to say that Chavez not only fundamentally altered the course of his home nation, with a dramatic shift away from the imposed neo-liberalism of his predecessors and the new emphasis placed on social justice, but alongside the popular success of those policies, he also more directly helped to establish other socialistic leaders across the whole of Latin America. In other words, it was Chavez above all others who spearheaded the Latin American Spring (not that it is ever called this of course) – the beginnings of a social and economic revolution that has been sweeping an entire continent for more than a decade, bringing with it a desperately needed power shift away from the oligarchs and the interests of their neo-imperialist associates. An upheaval, which being against the interests of the ruling establishment in the West (their own puppets having been vanquished), and by virtue of remaining fundamentally peaceful, has been consistently overlooked and misrepresented.

In short then, Chavez steadily won the political debate in South America, and not only in the barrios of Caracas, but also more widely, and this is the reason why millions to have taken to the streets to mourn his loss. A devout Catholic, Chavez was not a saint and he certainly was not infallible, but neither was he a tyrant or a dictator. He was a shrewd politician and more rarely and importantly, an uncommonly reliable one – a politician who actually abided by his own manifesto promises. A national leader who encouraged the previously disenfranchised to become actively involved in the democratic process of change and someone who engendered real hope in a people trying to transform their own future for the better.

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Also last Tuesday, a trial began in Argentina that is set to reveal new details about how six Latin American countries coordinated with each other in the 1970s and 1980s to eliminate political dissidents. The campaign known as Operation Condor had involved military dictatorships in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay, Peru and Uruguay. It was launched by the Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, but evidence shows how both the CIA and former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger were complicit from its outset. The objective of Operation Condor has a familiar ring: it was to track down, kidnap and kill people they labelled as subversives and terrorists — leftist activists, union leaders, students, priests, journalists, guerrilla fighters and their families.

On Thursday [March 7th] Democracy Now! spoke with John Dinges, a professor at the Columbia School of Journalism and the author of “The Condor Years: How Pinochet and his Allies Brought Terrorism to Three Continents”, who explained the significance of the latest hearings:

Well, there have been several trials, and this goes back to when Pinochet was arrested in London in 1998. That unleashed an avalanche of evidence that went across Europe and led to trials in many places—Rome, Paris, Argentina, Chile—but all of them much smaller than this one. This one has 25 people accused. Unfortunately—or fortunately, who knows?—many of the people who were involved in this have already died, they’re getting old, of the top leaders. But this is 25 Argentinians and one Uruguayan, all of whom were in military positions, all of whom were involved directly with the actions of Operation Condor.

This is historic in the sense that we’re going to hear from 500 witnesses. And really, in the Latin American legal system, it’s unusual. It’s really only coming to the fore now that you hear witnesses, as opposed to just seeing them give their testimony to judges in a closed room, and then later on people like me might go and read those testimonies, but really it doesn’t become public. This is all public. And apparently, a lot of it is being videotaped. So this is—this is the first time that the general public is going to hear the details of this horrible, horrible list of atrocities that killed so many people.

The United States, in this period, the 1970s, was a major sponsor of the military dictatorships that had overthrown some democracies, some faltering civilian governments, [and] whatever it was, the result [of the overthrow] was governments, like Videla, like Pinochet, like Banzer in Bolivia, who were killing their citizens with impunity. The United States knew about the mass killing. We had this kind of schizophrenic, Machiavellian attitude toward it. We really don’t want these communists to be taking over governments, and we fear that democracy is leading to communist governments. Indeed, a leftist government led by Salvador Allende installed a democratically elected, civilian and revolutionary government in Chile, and that’s why—and Pinochet overthrew that government. The United States was deathly fearful that this would spread in Latin America, and so supported the coming of dictatorships.

Click here to read the full transcript or to watch the interview on the Democracy Now! website.

In April 2002, Chavez had himself narrowly survived an American-backed coup, and a 2003 documentary entitled The Revolution Will Not Be Televised (Spanish: La revolución no será transmitida) provides a fascinating insight and behind the scenes account of the attempted overthrow. Irish filmmakers Kim Bartley and Donnacha Ó Briain, who had been given direct access to Chavez with the intention only of making a fly-on-the-wall biography, suddenly finding themselves trapped in the midst of quite extraordinary political turmoil. Three days which changed the course of Venezuelan history:

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Chávez: Inside the Coup (as the documentary is also known) first aired on RTÉ1 on 18th February 2003, as an installment of the Irish channel’s True Lives documentary series. It was later broadcast on BBC2 on 16th October 2003, as part of the channel’s Storyville documentary strand, and repeated on BBC4 on 18th November 2003.

The October broadcast by the BBC had caused considerable furore, the corporation receiving 4,000 e-mails demanding that Storyville‘s commissioning editor, Nick Fraser, should be sacked. And these attacks could hardly have come at a worse time. Already under the spotlight of the Hutton Inquiry, which had been set up ostensibly to investigate the circumstances surrounding the death of David Kelly, although as it turned out Lord Hutton was actually more intent on censuring the BBC. Blaming the messenger for accurately leaking the truth about the “sexed up” intelligence dossiers used justify the invasion of Iraq, rather than the government and security services who had conspired to fabricate those lies. For the BBC to re-screen Bartley and Ó Briain’s film just a month later must therefore have taken considerable courage.

Meanwhile, the claims made by those critical of the film were taken up by Ofcom, who eventually ruled in September 2006 that it had not upheld the complaints. A subsequent appeal in November was also dismissed by Ofcom, validating the BBC’s original decision to air the documentary.

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Additional:

In an article from March 5th for Vice Magazine and also posted up on his own website, Greg Palast asks:

Despite Bush’s providing intelligence, funds and even a note of congratulations to the crew who kidnapped Chavez (we’ll get there), Hugo remained in office, reelected and wildly popular.

But why the Bush regime’s hate, hate, HATE of the President of Venezuela?

The answer, of course, is the obvious one:

Reverend Pat [Robertson] wasn’t coy about the answer: It’s the oil.

“This is a dangerous enemy to our South controlling a huge pool of oil.”

A really BIG pool of oil. Indeed, according to Guy Caruso, former chief of oil intelligence for the CIA, Venezuela hold a recoverable reserve of 1.36 trillion barrels, that is, a whole lot more than Saudi Arabia.

If we didn’t kill Chavez, we’d have to do an “Iraq” on his nation. So the Reverend suggests,

“We don’t need another $200 billion war… It’s a whole lot easier to have some of the covert operatives do the job and then get it over with.”

A short (about 25 mins) made for BBC television film based on Palast’s own encounters with Chavez, his kidnappers and his would-be assassins is also available as a FREE download.

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1A groundbreaking document published by the Open Society Foundation, on Tuesday shows that 54 countries, a quarter of the world’s nations, cooperated with the CIA’s extraordinary rendition programme.” Taken from an article entitled “Extraordinary Rendition: Israel, Russia and France ‘Surprisingly’ Not on List” written by Jessica Elgot, published by Huffington Post (UK) on February 5, 2013. http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2013/02/05/extraordinary-rendition_n_2622079.html

A full list of all 54 countries is published beneath the same article.

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Filed under analysis & opinion, Argentina, did you see?, Greg Palast, Latin America, neo-liberalism, obituary, Venezuela

Brown, Bernanke, Chavez and the price of gold

They say that a fool and his gold are soon parted, and it turns out that was certainly the case when it came to Gordon Brown; squandering not his own reserves, but the nation’s:

Between 1999 and 2002, Mr Brown ordered the sale of almost 400 tons of the gold reserves when the price was at a 20-year low. Since then, the price has more than quadrupled, meaning the decision cost taxpayers an estimated £7 billion, according to Mike Warburton of the accountants Grant Thornton.1

Having settled for such a poor return on our national savings — a decision described in the article as “one of the Treasury’s worst mistakes” (which is putting things mildly) — we also learn (in the same article) that Brown and the Treasury “have repeatedly refused to disclose information about the gold sale amid allegations that warnings were ignored.”

Here is financial journalist Max Keiser trying to get to the bottom of what’s become known as, ah-hum, “Brown’s Bottom”:

Meanwhile, in another part of the world, Hugo Chavez sat tight on his own country’s gold reserves – and now he’s asking for them back:

Venezuela plans to transfer billions of dollars in cash reserves from abroad to banks in Russia, China and Brazil and tons of gold from European banks to its central bank vaults, according to documents reviewed Tuesday by The Wall Street Journal.

The planned moves would include transferring $6.3 billion in cash reserves, most of which Venezuela now keeps in banks such as the Bank for International Settlements in Basel, Switzerland, and Barclays Bank in London to unnamed Russian, Chinese and Brazilian banks, one document said.

Venezuela also plans to move 211 tons of gold it keeps abroad and values at $11 billion to the vaults of the Venezuelan Central Bank in Caracas where the government keeps its remaining 154 tons of bullion, the document says.2

As Venezuela demands its gold back, some commentators are feigning incomprehension. Why on earth would anyone want their gold back at a time like this…? But perhaps the question they should really be asking is this: what if Chavez is refused?

Keiser, a former equities broker, runs a campaign that encourages people to buy up physical silver in an effort to crash JP Morgan; an organisation that he describes as “the biggest financial terrorist on Wall Street”. He says that Chavez’s demands for the return of Venezuelan gold could have a similar effect on JPM:

The fun begins if Chavez demands physical delivery of more than 10.6 tons of physical because as today’s CME update of metal depository statistics, JPM only has 338,303 ounces of registered gold in storage. Or roughly 10.6 tons. A modest deposit of this size would cause some serious white hair at JPM as the bank scrambles to find the replacement gold, which has already been pledged about 100 times across the various paper markets.

Posted at maxkeiser.com on 17th August.

The price of gold has skyrocketed during the last few weeks, but this doesn’t automatically mean we are witnessing a bubble, at least not in the usual sense. If you look over the longer term, you’ll see that the price of gold has actually been rising steadily for around a decade (about the same time when Gordon Brown decided to sell). That same trend is true for silver, as well as other “physicals”. So is it that the value of gold and silver are rising, or is it that paper currencies (most significantly the dollar) have been devalued?

About a month ago, when the price of an ounce of gold was a mere $1,500, Congressman Ron Paul confronted Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke in a U.S. House Financial Services Committee. Paul asked Bernanke directly: “do you think gold is money?” Bernanke’s answer: “No”.

But if gold isn’t money, then just what is? The ever increasing supply of virtual ones and zeros orbiting the global markets, or those tattered pieces of paper in your wallet which declare: “I promise to pay the bearer on demand the sum of five pounds” – five pounds, ten pounds, twenty pounds, but pounds of what exactly? Hugo Chavez isn’t waiting to find out, and he’s not alone.

1 From an article entitled “Explain why you sold Britain’s gold, Gordon Brown told”, by Holly Watt and Robert Winnett, published March 24, 2010. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/personalfinance/investing/gold/7511589/Explain-why-you-sold-Britains-gold-Gordon-Brown-told.html

2 From an article entitled “Venezuela Plans to Move Reserve Funds” by Jose De Cordoba and Ezequiel Minaya, published in The Wall Street Journal on August 17, 2011. http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424053111903392904576512961180570694.html

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Filed under Britain, Max Keiser, Uncategorized, Venezuela