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Fiction + Coercion = Reality: Illegitimacy of the US-led Coup in Venezuela.

Fiction Plus Coercion Makes Reality: The Illegitimacy of the US-led Coup in Venezuela. [Republished]
By Maximilian Forte
Zero Anthropology, 14th February, 2019.

After considering the economic foundation [A War for Oil: The US Economic War on Venezuela - https://zeroanthropology.net/2019/02/12/a-war-for-oil-the-us-economic-war-on-venezuela/] of current US intervention, designed to erase Venezuela’s economic sovereignty, the purpose here is to focus more on the political side of the equation, not that we can neatly divide the politics from the economics of either the intervention or the defence of sovereignty. What we find is a situation where the anti-government opposition inside Venezuela is limited on three fronts:

(a) it has a narrow base of support among the public, and is thus incapable of producing a “popular uprising,” nor does it command the state machinery;

(b) it relies heavily on foreign support, in other words, the opposite of legitimacy in a democracy—having gone the route of seeking foreign intervention, their real foundation is coercion, not authority; and,

(c) in the absence of any real authority, the leadership is suspended in a web of fiction, which means that it spins fictions of its own power and authority.

Also undermining the legitimacy of the opposition is the US, imposing itself as a supreme tribunal that has arrogated to itself the right to decide on the course of Venezuela’s political future. Right now what we are witnessing is not so much an attempted coup (not yet at least), as much as an intended coup.

Since there is little movement on the ground that would seem to promise anything like an impending removal of the Maduro administration by local forces and by peaceful means, this heightens the possibility of both escalating local violence combined with foreign military intervention. This is especially true since, following the Americans, the opposition rejects dialogue with the government. When claims are exposed as fictions that lack substance, the only way to force them into the domain of reality is through violence.

“Maduro Must Go”: The US as the Ultimate Elector in Venezuela

On February 1 in Miami, in a brazen act of bellicosity that violated international law, US Vice President Mike Pence publicly declared that, “Nicolas Maduro must go,” smearing Maduro as “a dictator with no claim to power” (language oddly reminiscent of the domestic opponents of his own boss). More than that, Pence proceeded to directly threaten Venezuela’s government if it should continue to defy US wishes, in language redolent of classic imperialism:
Let’s be clear: this is no time for dialogue. This is time for action. And the time has come to end the Maduro dictatorship once and for all…. The United States will continue to assert all diplomatic pressure to bring about a peaceful transition to democracy…. But those looking on should know this: All options are on the table…. And Nicolas Maduro would do well not to test the resolve of the United States”.

The resolve of the United States”; a US Vice President deciding on whether a foreign leader has the right to stay in power, regardless of those who voted him into power—these examples clearly establish that the real line of conflict here is between the US and Venezuela, and not between Guaidó and Maduro.

Speaking as an official of a rogue state, John Bolton uttered a ridiculously crass threat against President Maduro, in a display of naked imperialism gone wild:
I wish him [Maduro] a long, quiet retirement on a pretty beach far from Venezuela. And the sooner he takes advantage of that, the sooner he’s likely to have a nice, quiet retirement on a pretty beach rather than being in some other beach area like Guantanamo”.

Interestingly, this is precisely the language of dictatorship: commanding, threatening, abducting, disappearing opponents. The US has a history of not just deposing foreign leaders, but even kidnapping them, when not executing them outright. It is also the speech of a rogue state—no state that respects international law allows its officials to routinely and casually threaten others in this manner. After expressing desires to loot Venezuela’s wealth, they now publicly entertain fantasies of abducting Venezuela’s elected president.

These were not the only times that the Trump administration directly threatened the government of Venezuela with regime change. In July of 2017, then CIA director Mike Pompeo spoke at the Aspen Security Forum about working with Colombia, the Venezuelan opposition, and the CIA in developing “options” for regime change, just a month after Colombia joined NATO as a “Global Partner”. Then on August 5, 2018, an attempted assassination against Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro took place. Soon after that, Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the UN at the time, went on a tour to Colombia’s border with Venezuela, covered exclusively by Fox News, in which she advocated for the illegal overthrow of Venezuela’s government. Outside of the UN building in New York, US ambassador Nikki Haley chose to violate the UN Charter itself by openly advocating for the overthrow of a foreign government and hinting loudly that it would happen thanks to strong US intervention. On Thursday, September 27, 2018, Haley shouted into a megaphone in front of demonstrators: “We are going to fight for Venezuela and we are going to continue doing it until Maduro is gone!… We need your voices to be loud, and I will tell you, the US voice is going to be loud”.

I will tell you, the US voice is going to be loud,” said Haley in reprising George W. Bush’s threat prior to invading Afghanistan (America’s 18-year tale of “success” in Central Asia). The fact of the matter is that the US never imagined that the removal of Maduro’s party from power could ever happen organically and thanks purely to local dynamics. It was always to be something artificial, a fiction brought to life through American violence. The threat of military intervention, which itself flouts international law, was made in the first months of the Trump administration.

From as early as August of 2017 Trump was already suggesting the possibility of a US military coup to overthrow Venezuela’s government. This was before the elections it would discount were even announced. Then Secretary of State Rex Tillerson repeated the suggestion in February 2018, and said Maduro should leave the country altogether and retire in Cuba, much like Bolton above would later do. (The suggestion that Tillerson was among those “pushing back” against Trump’s move to military conflict with Venezuela, is thus pure fantasy. It’s part of the liberal “resistance” veneration of transnationalist oligarchs like Tillerson as representing one of the “adults in the room”.) Again, even before elections had been called in Venezuela, Trump threatened Venezuela with US military intervention.

Venezuela’s government made it clear that one thing that would never be “discussed” with the US (which wants to discuss nothing) would be Venezuela’s sovereignty, and Maduro announced that the military was ready to fight back against US intervention. As for Trump’s repeated threat that military options are “on the table,” Maduro simply replied: “There will be no war or military intervention”. In the meantime, however, Venezuela is preparing to make any US military escalation as costly as possible to the US—something which several forces in the world have successfully done, starting with Vietnam, and then especially since 2001. In addition, Maduro in a letter to Trump asked if politicians in Washington were ready to send their country’s “sons and daughters to die in an absurd war” (unfortunately, we already know the answer to that question).

However, underlining the illegitimacy of the intended coup, the overwhelming majority of Venezuelans are very far from supporting either Guaidó or the US when it comes to US military intervention and economic sanctions. Even before Trump threw his support behind Guaidó, local polling data from Venezuela showed that 86% of Venezuelans were against any foreign military intervention, and 81% opposed the US’ sanctions. With respect to seeking US intervention, Guaidó represents the 14%. In addition, recently launched was a largely symbolic, political campaign to get 10 million signatures of Venezuelans denouncing US intervention; a large rally came out in support to start the process. Should foreign military intervention happen, done in the name of “helping Venezuelans,” it should be remembered that such intervention has virtually no support in Venezuela itself.

The “Early Elections” Ruse

Call new presidential elections—this has been one of the key commands coming from the Venezuelan opposition’s foreign backers. Before 2019 the command was call early elections. Yet when the US and their Venezuelan force multipliers previously pressed the Venezuelan government to hold early elections—just as their EU counterparts would do again in January 2019—they then turned around and condemned the announcement of early elections. Now once again the demand is for new, early elections: states like Spain instructed the Venezuelan government to declare, within eight days, that new elections would be held, or else Spain and others would recognize Guaidó—an ultimatum on how Venezuela should conduct its domestic politics. Venezuela’s government of course rejected this demand outright.

This then raises a key question: if these outside interests did not accept the last elections, why would they accept the results of the next ones? All previous elections had been widely recognized as free and fair, and it was the same system which produced the opposition’s victory in the now defunct National Assembly. Indeed, as recently as August of 2017, the opposition itself accepted the new Constituent Assembly’s call for gubernatorial elections. It was the same system in which Maduro won his re-election, and would be the same for any new elections. Yet the same governments that oppose Maduro, falsely claim that he “stole” the election—and if he had stolen it, it wasn’t from Guaidó, who did not run as a candidate. Clearly the ultimatum, unacceptable as it was shockingly arrogant, was meant as bait to trigger even further intervention: EU-supervised and EU-designed elections perhaps (and let’s not forget the Haitian elections that were rigged under UN auspices). Those EU states which then officially recognized Guaidó were rightly denounced by Russia for engaging in brazen intervention in a sovereign nation’s internal affairs.

In order to denounce past elections while calling for new ones, the US had to fabricate the myth of illegitimate elections in Venezuela. Thus the Trump administration directly threatened with targeted sanctions a leading opposition candidate, Henri Falcón, who was considering launching a presidential campaign, warning him not to do so. The US’ top diplomat in Venezuela even met with Falcón, to persuade him not to run. Widely reported polls showed that he had a good chance of winning the election too. The Venezuelan opposition was instructed by the US to boycott the election, in order to produce what could then be called a “sham”. Mike Pence thus decided in advance that the elections would be a sham, without a shred of evidence provided. The same argument was made by some of the opposition, that Maduro’s election was illegitimate—an election held using the very same system that won the opposition their own seats. There is no evidence to deny that Maduro’s election followed all of the proper legal procedures, and though the turnout was low, Maduro’s share of eligible voters was higher than that of Trump in 2016 and Obama in 2012.

Now here is where myth-making has taken a new turn. Those states which now recognize Guaidó as the president of Venezuela, cannot very well press the demand for new elections on Maduro. To do so would be to continue legitimizing Maduro as the President. So it is now up to Guaidó to call for early elections. Has he done so? After all, if he really believed he was the interim president, with all of the rights and duties of an interim president, then it was his job to call new elections in 30 days. Guaidó has not done so, and this violates the very Constitution which he claims to be defending. The defunct National Assembly has instead invented some new parts of the Constitution—because they simply do not exist in that document—about “technical conditions” that give Guaidó the right to be interim president not just for 30 days, but for a whole year now. Talk about dictatorship. The idea is to deny Maduro and his whole government any legitimacy, an argument that also fails, and it backfired on the opposition with all of its petty, selective, and inventive legalisms about “the Constitution” (which they themselves violate).

The legitimacy of Maduro’s government was rarely respected by his domestic opposition, and almost never by the more powerful extraterritorial opposition represented by US power. And as Maduro clearly pointed out, Venezuela has had no deficit of elections (six occurred in the past 18 months alone, at different levels of government)—so elections themselves are neither the root of the problem, nor can they be a solution.

The Venezuelan government repeated that it was open to holding talks with the opposition, which the opposition continues to publicly refuse. President Maduro also held out the offer of early elections for the legally constituted Constituent Assembly. That offer has also been rejected.


“No Dialogue” Means Violence, No Democracy

Imagine you claim to be interested in defending democracy. Then imagine you reject any dialogue whatsoever with fellow citizens who have views that differ from yours. Are you really interested in democracy then? Imagine you believe yourself to represent the majority, but still the opposing side represents a significant minority, and yet you refuse to deal with the other side. Does that advance democracy?

The US claims that it is seeking peaceful and diplomatic means of securing regime change in Venezuela, a goal which is neither peaceful nor diplomatic. Unable to reconcile this harebrained contradiction, the US inevitably rejects any dialogue with the government of Venezuela, dismissing an offer of mediation by Mexico and Uruguay. This underscores the perverse definition of “diplomacy” that the US has adopted. For successive US regimes, “diplomacy” is merely a default position—it means everything that is not outright “shock and awe”. Saying there can be no dialogue whatsoever, narrows the avenue of peaceful solutions. Moreover, whatever the US seeks, by seeking it in Venezuela its actions can only go against democracy—Venezuelans did not elect the US government, and did not elect to have it involved in their affairs, let alone usurp the authority of Venezuelans.

Guaidó has dutifully echoed the US line in consistently dismissing dialogue, while Maduro has been just as consistent in offering it. Meanwhile, other top opposition leaders in the country—for example, the two former presidential candidates of the two main traditional parties, Claudio Fermín and Eduardo Fernández—have instead favoured “electoral participation and recognition of the legitimacy of the Maduro government”. Not all of the opposition has chosen the avenue of treason that beckons violence.

One thing is certain, this time Venezuela has reached a turning point and there is no going back. The most tragic and extreme steps have been taken, precisely the kinds which should never have been taken. A number of actors are going to have to pay a very high price for their decisions. On the opposition’s side, those who actively involved a foreign imperial power in the domestic affairs of Venezuela, who behave as if it were natural and normal for the US to have a say in Venezuelan politics, and who proceed like they have the full support of US military power authorizing their actions—the price they will need to pay will have to be the maximum one. On the government’s side, those whose decisions and whose many errors of omission and commission have helped to fan the flames of crisis, may find their own future is not assured.

Temir Porras Ponceleón, who served as chief of staff to Nicolás Maduro from 2007 to 2013, and is now a visiting professor at Sciences Po in Paris, has shared a series of important observations and questions about the election issue and the civil war issue, in a hypothetical post-Maduro Venezuela. In a recent interview, he raised these questions:
We can imagine the crisis getting deeper. Probably the government collapsing, but what about the day after? What about the military of Venezuela? What about the divisions within the military? What I am concerned is, to have a stable and democratic country the day after. And that requires not provoking each other, political dialogue and understanding”.

About the opposition, if it came to power, he asks:
Do they have a plan to guarantee that this country remains stable and democratic? The day after, do they guarantee that they will not allow, for instance, the US government or the US troops to enter Venezuela? Do they have a plan to deal with the Venezuelan military?

Then there is the real possibility of a civil war erupting if Maduro leaves or is forced from power:
And what guarantees that the departure of Maduro doesn’t create a civil war, for instance? The reality of Venezuela is that it is a very polarized country. It is totally unrealistic or irresponsible to think or to assume that there are all the guarantees for Venezuela to be in a peaceful situation. In order to be an election, you have to agree on the terms of that election. When will the election be held? Who can be allowed to run for those elections? And that’s exactly the problem—saying there will be elections is assuming that the problem is solved before even addressing it”.

Ponceleón thinks that it is “highly likely” that the situation will escalate into a civil war in Venezuela. On one point at least, we can already address his question: the opposition cannot guarantee a democratic Venezuela, because it has chosen the most undemocratic means available to it: foreign military intervention. It would be useful to remember that one of the principal ways of conceiving democracy, that came out of many formerly colonized nations, was that democracy meant freedom from alien domination. Any time a foreign power exercises its might in determining the affairs of another people, no matter what those people produce cannot be democratic because the context in which they operate itself stands against democracy.

US intervention, by definition, cancels out self-determination and that means democracy is impossible under such circumstances.

Fictions: Delusions of Authority

There is a serious problem with the person who was appointed and announced himself as the “interim president” of Venezuela, Juán Guaidó. The problem might be diagnosed as megalomania—having serious delusions of authority. In just the last three weeks, Guaidó has gone on record with the following positions:


With the possible exception of the third point, there is a definite pattern here. It involves a realty-denial problem, that is prone to spin fictions. It is what one can expect from someone, unknown to the vast majority of Venezuelans and whose party controlled only 14 seats of the 167 in the defunct National Assembly. It is the posture of a person who was not elected to be president, claiming that the elected president is a sham. The only thing authorizing Guaidó’s fabrications is the power of the US standing behind him. From not having dialogue with Venezuelans, to not having a dialogue with reality, the program represented by Guaidó is that of a fiction waiting—wanting—to become reality. The only chance it has of becoming reality is that it has to be forced through, with massive violence. Why? Because it is artificial; because it is not a program that arises from its grounding in facts. It is pure ideology, at its worst; it is the kind of ideological stance that leads one to foolishly engage in comical stunts on the one hand, while begging for war on the other hand.

Fictions: Movement on the Ground

“What’s going on within Venezuela itself?” asks Paul Dobson—“The answer, however, is not much”. With all the media noise about governments backing the opposition’s claim to presidential authority (in a transparent violation of international law), there is little to show for the opposition making any headway inside Venezuela itself. In fact, most of the hum-drum of everyday life continues, with a few isolated protests, and no public disorder—“conspicuously absent are any of the tell-tale signs of a genuine power shift that might indicate that the government is about to fall”. As Dobson observes, “the man whose name 81 percent of Venezuelans didn’t even know one month ago has not managed to spur the country into the sort of popular action at all levels of society which he probably needs to make this attempted coup a reality”. Guaidó’s primary base of power is his foreign backing, primarily that of the US; his only claim to authority is acting as a gatekeeper of foreign aid allegedly smuggled into the country. As a real president, little would be different, having vowed to sell off Venezuela’s oil facilities to foreign private interests. Guaidó’s greatest achievement would be to become Venezuela’s version of Ashraf Ghani—a figurehead, propped up by foreign aid, overseeing a badly divided country. The only way for a fiction of authority to become a reality is through massive force (violence), and then it only becomes a farcical reality whose life will be short.

On Saturday, February 2, Guaidó’s loudly touted opposition protests occurred, passing without changing anything in the country and even receiving minimal international media coverage. Loudly denounced as a “brutal dictatorship,” the government did absolutely nothing to “repress” the demonstrations, and nobody was reported as hurt or killed. At the same time, a pro-government march countered the opposition protest, and according to some reports, was much larger. In fact, footage of the pro-government demonstration was dishonestly used by Fox News’ Neil Cavuto as he spoke of the opposition rally—when the screen behind him showed a huge mass of people wearing red, the governing party’s colour, along with members of militias. The BBC was at least able to tell the two apart. The opposition protesters were said to number in the “tens of thousands,” which falls far short of the millions who attended pro-government rallies in the past, or a number rivalling the opposition that turned out for Maduro on the same day. Guaidó clearly lacked faith in the possibility of a popular uprising materializing, and he thus continued to call for high-level military defections and for US intervention (though some of the so-called “defectors” were revealed to be fakers)—and the US was reportedly making direct contacts to persuade Venezuelan officers to “defect”. The Saturday protests followed from those held earlier, on Wednesday, January 30, which were reported to be very small and largely confined to the traditional opposition stronghold. Guaidó called for new opposition protests to be held on February 12, clearly not confident that any change would happen anytime soon. The protests came and went, without incident, and without any change. So now the opposition invented a new milestone: February 23, when they said they would push to unblock “aid” sent by the US, which would indeed be using such aid to provoke a violent confrontation, which is likely one of the US’ original objectives in sending the “aid” against the wishes of the legitimate government. (Meanwhile even Colombia’s International Red Cross views the “aid” as a US ploy and said it would have no part in distributing it.)

Indicative of Guaidó’s own lack of confidence, which stems from his lack of legitimacy and the opposition’s over-reliance on foreign support, he made the absurd declaration that he was not ruling out “authorizing” US military intervention. Apparently he was usurping power in the US too now. Responding appropriately, US Representative Ro Khanna stated: “Mr. Guaido, you can proclaim yourself leader of Venezuela but you don’t get to authorize US military interventions”. Khanna added that US legislators would authorize no such action. In a further attempt to pretend he has authority, Guaidó then “ordered” Venezuela’s military to let in “aid” sent by the US—with no sign whatsoever that the military intends to “obey” him.

The Question of International Recognition

In North America, most of the media instruct us on the names and/or numbers of countries that have called on Maduro to step down, and which have recognized Guaidó’s interim presidency. They say little or nothing about all of the countries which have not done so; instead, they occasionally select a certain few that have been the loudest in denouncing the intended coup. The fact of the matter, however, is that the overwhelming majority of the United Nations’ member states continue to acknowledge President Maduro as the legal and legitimate head of government and state in Venezuela—they have made no move whatsoever to withdraw that recognition.

Note that the US took its attempt to shore up support for its force multipliers—the opposition “led” by Guaidó—to the UN Security Council, and not the UN General Assembly which would have meant allowing all member states a vote. The proportion of those supporting the US is greater in the UNSC than in the UNGA. Americans, great tellers of tall tales and ardent fans of impression management, believe that “optics matter”—any performer of magic tricks would immediately agree.

The US failed in its effort to get the United Nations Security Council to support its coup initiative of delegitimizing Maduro and recognizing Guaidó. China, Russia, Equatorial Guinea, and South Africa were some of the countries that expressed support for the Maduro government at the UNSC on January 26, and blocked the US from passing its resolution. China was in fact one of the countries that sent an official delegation to Maduro’s inauguration earlier in the month. Venezuela’s foreign minister, also speaking at the UNSC, declared: “The United States is not behind the coup d’état, it is in the vanguard”. He also blasted a European ultimatum demanding new elections: “Nobody is going to give us deadlines or tell us if there are elections or not”. Russia’s position at the UNSC was not just correct, it was absolutely correct: Venezuela’s internal affairs should never have been brought to the Security Council for discussion in the first place. As Russia’s foreign minister explained, Venezuela “does not represent a threat to the international community, but Washington’s actions do”. This has apparently not stopped the US from returning to the UNSC with a proposed resolution asking it to intervene in Venezuela’s domestic politics, by demanding a new presidential election. Meanwhile, Guaidó’s imagination knows no limits when it comes time to assuming authority: he reportedly told RT that the UNSC has endorsed his side and its attempted coup, not the only “fake news” which he tried to manufacture in that interview.

The UN has since said it would support, not the “Lima Group,” but the Montevideo dialogue, of which Caribbean states have been a key source of momentum (also in opposition to the OAS’ head). The UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, also explicitly condemned any move toward foreign military intervention in Venezuela: “The time for an era of foreign intervention passed long ago”. As for the Lima Group, the main outcome of its Ottawa meeting to discuss ways to screw Venezuela, was essentially to call on the military to engage in a coup—so much for “liberal democracy”. Maduro has rejected all EU intervention and also affirmed his support for the Montevideo dialogue instead. That dialogue, however, had thus far only produced a European-backed resolution which Bolivia opposed. The first meeting thus ended with a non-unanimous statement—the obstacle being the Europeans pressing for new presidential elections.

While about 48 governments have recognized Guaidó (usually not in consultation with their electorates), 141 countries, that is, the vast majority of UN members did not heed the US’ call to recognize him. No wonder the US never took its case to the UN General Assembly, where its defeat would have been even more humiliating, and instructive, than it was at the Security Council. Yet, some of the propagandistic North American media, such as Bloomberg, essentially whited out most of the world in order to claim that “global leaders” have backed Guaidó. The rest simply do not exist on their map. They count as those opposing recognition of Guaidó only those that have openly said they would not do so—dismissing those who also have not offered recognition, but who have stayed quiet on Maduro (which is what actual non-intervention looks like). In addition, Bloomberg’s graphic is suitably small enough that we cannot see more than a dozen Caribbean states that have explicitly rejected foreign intervention and recognition of Guaidó. Bloomberg also fails to question the opposition’s fanciful imagining of Russia, China, and Turkey as being “neutral”—so even those countries’ opposition is rhetorically whitewashed. This is a reality-denial problem. Much better, though not perfect, are Venezuelanalysis’ accurate and up-to-date infographics which demonstrate one basic reality very starkly: the world is mostly divided between the “Global North,” made up mostly of former colonial and imperial powers, and the “Global South,” but even more than that it shows what an increasingly multipolar world looks like.

Among the countries that continue to recognize Maduro are the overwhelming majority of African states (with a single exception), Caribbean states (with a single exception), all of Asia, and the Middle East (with one exception).

As for Turkey, rather than the “neutrality” imagined by Venezuelan opposition spokespersons, we have the words of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Apparently addressing the US, he recently asked:
Is Venezuela yours?… How do you oust a person who came to office through elections? How do you hand over presidential [powers] to someone who did not even get elected? Do you know what democracy is?

Earlier, Erdogan in a message to President Maduro exclaimed: “Maduro, brother, stand tall”. Turkey has developed close economic and political ties with Venezuela, and the two leaders have visited each other’s countries in recent years. As for any possible outreach to Russia, the Venezuelan opposition will find itself immediately blocked. Russia does not respect Guaidó as anything other than an instrument of a foreign power, and thus there is no point in holding talks directly with him.

The Venezuelan government promised to review its ties to states that recognized Guaidó, and also promised a symmetrical response to US sanctions and seizures of Venezuela’s assets. Nothing about Maduro suggested he was either intimidated or considered surrendering to US wishes. Maduro insisted he was still interested in good relations with the US, but explicitly not with its government, saying that relations in areas except diplomacy and politics were welcome. What else does one say to those who will not even speak to you?

Lastly, let’s consider those illustrious members of the US Congress: when interviewed on the subject of intervention in Venezuela, they displayed a remarkable degree of not just dishonesty and hypocrisy, but what could also be easily classed as gross intellectual incompetence and even cowardice. It is difficult to locate a better collection of buffoonery in which alcohol was ostensibly absent.

While on the right, figures like Senator Rand Paul stood out in their opposition to US foreign intervention, on the subject of Venezuela it is a small group of particularly bright and courageous young Democrats who have taken the right stand: Tulsi Gabbard, Ro Khanna, and the unflappable Ilhan Omar, who recently interrogated Elliot Abrams. Abrams is the neoconservative Never Trumper whom Trump has appointed the US “special envoy” for Venezuela. Omar’s comments were not only accurate and on target, they were long overdue. Fox News could only express “shock” (eloquence usually has that effect on them), repeatedly calling the exchange between Omar and Abrams “stunning” (because facts are loathsome things)—but without ever offering a single substantive point to counter Omar’s presentation. They did, however, raise the issue of her identity.


A War for Oil: The US Economic War on Venezuela. [Republished]

A War for Oil: The US Economic War on Venezuela.
By Maximilian Forte
Zero Anthropology, 12th February, 2019.




A Bridge Too Far

It resembled something from a post-apocalyptic setting in a movie: images of the blocked highway bridge linking Colombia to Venezuela, silent and desolate containers behind fences, not a person in sight, no movement. It was like a makeshift monument to a people’s understanding of how “humanitarian aid” is used by empire to subvert, provoke, and subjugate. Two US aid trucks arrived at the border crossing on February 5, only to find their way blocked—not the only time US AID has been rejected in Latin America in recent times. Some suspected that the US was looking to create an international incident at the border, as a provocation for US military intervention. “LET THE AID REACH THE STARVING PEOPLE,” an ever-expanding Mike Pompeo, the US Secretary of State, bellowed in Twitter–the same administration demanding a permanent wall on its southern border, decried a makeshift temporary blockage at one of Venezuela’s four border crossings with Colombia. A UN spokesman, Stephane Dujarric, criticized the US’ cynical manipulation of “aid”:
Humanitarian action needs to be independent of political, military or other objectives. What is important is that humanitarian aid be depoliticized and that the needs of the people should lead in terms of when and how humanitarian aid is used”.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres also firmly stated that, “Humanitarian aid should never be used as a political pawn”. The brazen, transparent move of the Trump administration threatened to reveal “humanitarian aid” as such in a bold, ugly new light: as a mere tool of imperial intervention, the missionaries’ favourite way to bait desperate locals. The risk that this perception might acquire greater currency is one which the UN, with its various aid programs, cannot afford.

President Maduro obviously saw through the US move:
The package is very nice on the outside: humanitarian aid. But on the inside it brings the poison of humiliation. It tries to cover up what is the biggest crime committed, the crime of stealing resources through the blockade and the sanctions of the United States government on Venezuela”.

Elsewhere, President Maduro added:
We are not beggars. The humanitarian aid is a show to humiliate us and is intended to justify military aggression; a macabre plan which does not hide the robbery of more than $10 billion from our nation by the United States. If they want to help, they must stop the blockade, the persecution, and the aggression against Venezuela”.

The barricade was to prevent a foreign power from abducting a nation, by providing Band-Aid support after putting in motion the forces needed to destroy the economy. (The bridge in question has, some say, been closed since 2016, yet the Colombian authorities reported they monitored its closing on February 5, 2019.) On February 4 in Canada, the “Lima Group” also developed plans for sending “aid” to Venezuela.


Questions about a War for Oil

What the images also underscored was the economic nature of this entire conflict, one imposed on Venezuela by the US. In North America, politicians and the media (if that distinction is even plausible) routinely instruct us that “socialism has failed” in Venezuela, and now in the US a caricature of “Venezuela” is used to mock and dismiss the new brand of “domestic enemies,” the so-called “socialists”. The question however is: what role has the US itself played in bringing Venezuela’s economy to its knees? Another question is: is the Venezuelan case an example of the US’ “war for oil”? Trump boasts that the US has achieved supremacy as a producer of energy, and presumably does not need Venezuela’s oil, so we have another question: how do we know that oil matters in this case, and how does it matter? We also need to remind ourselves of how, historically, oil occupies a large place in Trump’s foreign policy thinking. Knowing that, what does it say about the Venezuelan opposition’s judgment? And if this really is a “war for oil,” then: what does this tell us about the role of “democracy promotion” in the US’ effort to “save” Venezuela?


“To the Victor Go the Spoils”: What Oil Means for Trump


First, let’s recall how much oil matters in Trump’s foreign policy thinking, which he himself has put on the record. In his book, Time to Get Tough: Make America Great Again! first published in 2011 and then republished in 2016 for his presidential campaign, Trump writes in a passage dealing with Iraq something that all Venezuelans should pay attention to, since it reflects on the kind of deal the opposition leaders are making with Trump:
When you do someone a favor, they say thank you. When you give someone a loan, they pay you back. And when a nation like the United States sacrifices thousands of lives of its own young servicemen and women and more than a trillion dollars to bring freedom to the people of Iraq, the least—the absolute least—the Iraqis should do is pick up the tab for their own liberation. How much is it worth to them to be rid of the bloodthirsty dictatorship of Saddam Hussein and to have gained a democracy in which they can vote and have a freely elected parliament?” (Trump, 2011, p. 9)

That passage comes from chapter 2 of his 2011 book, a chapter he titled: “Take the Oil”. A subsection of that chapter is titled, “To the Victor Go the Spoils”. When the subject switched to Libya, Trump’s lust became even more acute. Trump wrote that if the Libyan rebels had come to him asking for help, he would have told them:
Sure, we don’t like the guy [Gaddafi] either. We will help you take out Gaddafi. But in exchange, you give us 50 percent of your oil for the next twenty-five years to pay for our military support and to say thank you for the United States doing what you could never have done on your own”. (2011, pp. 102-103).

Thus for a military campaign that Trump admitted cost the US no more than $1 billion, he would have wanted Libya to pay the US what amounted to grand total of $129 billion—the cost of 50% of Libya’s oil production, for 25 years, at current prices in 2016. At 129–1, that is extreme asymmetry even by American standards that tolerate gross inequality.

For the sake of wearing a presidential sash and being called “Mr. President,” a figure like Juán Guaidó and his supporters are apparently willing to exchange Venezuela’s wealth. Ignorance is no excuse here, since Trump has put his thoughts down, black on white, and has repeated this theme. Trump is not out to get Maduro, no matter what he says; he is out to get the oil.

Trump has long resented the power of OPEC, a cartel which he would love to smash. Anything that rivals US supremacy, in his view, is deserving of destruction. Let’s be very clear then: demolishing Venezuela’s ability to produce or market its oil, is a valid and real objective in Trump’s worldview.

What cannot be broken, needs to be stolen. Nothing can be left behind for Venezuelans. This will become imperative—Trump is almost certain to fail in getting China to bend its knee as a result of these ongoing trade negotiations about which we conveniently hear so little in the media (because there is so little to raise American nationalists’ hopes). So Trump will need loot from elsewhere to parade in front of the eyes of his supporters. We may not have gotten what we wanted from China, but we more than made up for it with Venezuela.


On Venezuela, How do We Know that Oil Matters for the US?

What “threat” does Venezuela pose to the United States? What would justify US intervention in Venezuela, especially with a US president who has made so much hay of his withdrawals from Syria and Afghanistan, and has promised not to engage in “nation building”? Or, as President Nicolás Maduro plainly asked,
What casus belli does Donald Trump have against Venezuela? Have we got weapons of mass destruction? Are we a threat to the US? You know what the real casus belli is here?

—and this is how Maduro answered his own question: “Venezuelan oil. Venezuela’s riches— gold, gas, diamonds, iron, water”.

If oil did not matter, and it was simply a question of “democracy,” then the US could just as well have applied this policy to Honduras and Haiti, its two client states in the region which are such capitalist showcases of success (whose major export these days are…people). Elections in recent years have been plainly rigged, in both cases. Instead, Trump recognized Honduras’ Juán Orlando Hernández after he took power following an election that was widely observed as fraudulent, nor has Trump condemned his predecessor’s involvement in electoral fraud in Haiti. If mismanagement and economic crisis were Trump’s concerns, then he has another of the region’s capitalist showcases to deal with, Puerto Rico (whose indices of capitalist success are a debt crisis, and that it too is a major exporter of people). Puerto Rico, Haiti, and Honduras were each used as US pawns, as “bulwarks against communism”—and they don’t look too pretty for it. But when the putative Communist Party leader Xi Jinping recently declared himself president-for-life in China, the avowed anti-socialist and democracy-loving Trump should not have praised the move as he did.

So what can we learn from this mess of hypocritical garbage? A number of useful things: oil matters, but what also matters is who holds it—hence Saudi Arabia’s lack of democracy is not up for discussion. Saudi Arabia is a US ally, and Bolivarian Venezuela is not. Democracy matters too, but only for states that are targets of US destabilization. Americans do not care about democracy in their own country, so we cannot take their concerns about any other country seriously. Not even “socialism” bothers the US, as long as the socialists in question are willing to finance American consumption. Unlike China and Saudi Arabia, Venezuela cannot afford to keep a bankrupt American lifestyle on life-support. Unlike Honduras, Haiti, and Puerto Rico, Venezuela is unwilling to serve as a pawn of empire, only to reap the rewards of pauperization.

While I am on record as being loath to support simplistic “war for oil” theses, which see US interventions everywhere and anywhere as drawn to some hitherto unknown oil reserve or some hypothetical discussion of an oil pipeline that only exists on blueprints, I think that Venezuela’s case can be convincingly argued as one in which oil is the prime concern. That fact is also manifested in the pattern of US economic warfare against Venezuela, which was also designed to make it look like “socialism” was a “failure”. The analysis has to go where the facts are.


War for Oil or Failure of Socialism?

Venezuela became a target of US aggression as a result of nationalizing over 1,000 companies, as well as the oil fields owned by US oil giants Exxon Mobil and Conoco Phillips. For similar reasons, it has been the target of Canadian aggression, led by corporations in the oil sector and gold mining interests that felt they had been “burned” in Chavez’s Venezuela (thanks to Yves Engler for his continued, detailed exposition of Canadian foreign policy). The US has been engaged in economic warfare against Venezuela, with US sanctions directly harming the Venezuelan economy. The “failure of socialism” trope so abundantly over-exploited by the talking heads at Fox News is deceit meant to mask the impact of US economic destabilization, and then blame Venezuelans for it. Selling its intervention as “promoting democracy,” the reality is that the US’ chief concern is economic. And its chief economic concern has for many years and decades been oil, as WikiLeaks recently reminded us by pointing to this State Department cable.

Numerous successive governments in Venezuela have pursued a development policy that is highly dependent on exporting oil, and importing consumer goods, with little diversification of the local economy—there was thus a number of prior oil booms, and busts, with the busts leading to severe economic downturns that adversely affected the working class’ standard of living. However, the current downturn in Venezuela seems to be even more severe than the previous ones. How is that possible? Alejandro Velasco convincingly explained that while the arguments of “oil dependency” and “socialism” seem like plausible explanations, they are dangerously wrong—meaning, not without some merit and some evidence to back them up, but they are incomplete explanations and thus misleading. Venezuela also does not have a “socialist” economy—it is, at best, a mixed economy with a significant private sector. What Velasco leaves out of the frame is something essential to understanding the picture: the fact of US political and economic destabilization. Any analysis that does not include this fact, cannot be an analysis at all.

Though entirely ignored by most of the US media, most of the time, the fact is that the US has engaged in a calculated program of economic warfare against Venezuela, designed to destabilize the economy and impoverish most Venezuelans. Trump escalated the Obama administration’s sanctions, which caused Venezuela’s oil production to plunge. US economic warfare cut Venezuela off from global capital markets; the Trump administration went as far as threatening bankers with 30 years in prison if they negotiate a standard restructuring of Venezuela’s debt. Even the UN Human Rights Council formally condemned the US: it noted that sanctions targeted “the poor and most vulnerable classes,” while it also called on all member states to break the sanctions, and even began discussing reparations the US should pay to Venezuela. (Thanks to Alan MacLeod for this summary.)



In January, it seemed that the US would seek to increase its economic destabilization, and likely move to take control of CITGO’s assets in the US, as it in fact did. Some expected the US to impose an embargo on Venezuela to prevent it from selling oil abroad (which if effectively did), a widening of the US’ economic warfare against Venezuela which violates international law and has inflicted severe human suffering.

Oil was at the front and centre of this whole drama, from the start— Venezuela, as mentioned before, has the world’s largest proven oil reserves. Venezuela’s case was certainly an example of the now classic “war for oil” phenomenon. Trump’s national security adviser, the John Bolton, was quite open about oil being at the forefront of US interests in Venezuela, opining that the coup would be “good for business” in the US. Senator Marco Rubio made virtually identical remarks (when not engaged in comical stunts), about capturing Venezuela’s oil capacity for the benefit of US corporations.



Thus on January 28, the US Department of the Treasury announced new sanctions against the Venezuelan state oil company, PDVSA. This amounted to a de facto oil embargo against Venezuela, as any new exports of Venezuelan oil to the US would only proceed if payments were made to a blocked account which the Venezuelan government could not access—which meant there was no point exporting oil to the US. This would also effectively cease CITGO, as any of its revenues in the US would also go to a blocked account. Also, Venezuela’s gold reserves in the Bank of England were seized, apparently after prompting by a telephone call from John Bolton and Mike Pompeo.

US sanctions, as the Russian foreign minister pointed out, amounted to confiscating Venezuelan state property. This is thinly disguised looting and piracy, Trump’s foreign policy thus successfully revived brigandage in international relations. It also follows a line established by Trump in his book, cited above.

The US’ manoeuvre, which is done with the pretext of diverting control over Venezuelan state revenues to Guaidó, was a little preposterous even if all of the media (including those critical of US intervention) failed to notice the one basic hole in the logic: Guaidó controls no state machinery, has no authority over the central bank, and even his own accounts have been frozen by the government of Venezuela. Guaidó not only has no access to revenues, he has effectively sworn off ever having them: in return for the US installing him, as he hopes, Guaidó has already promised to privatize the Venezuelan oil industry—the loot that Trump is always after.



Bolton was reported as saying that the US new sanctions would “deprive the Venezuelan government of $7 billion worth in assets and cost around $11 billion in lost export revenue in 2019”; others added that this would cause the Venezuelan economy to “contract by an additional 15 percentage points as a result of the new sanctions, on top of the 11% decline already anticipated”. This was a direct attack on Venezuela’s economy, and was meant to harm all Venezuelans. Then the US turned around and announced an attempt to send “humanitarian aid” to Venezuela, a move whose obvious cynicism was denounced by Venezuela’s government. While Fox News announced on its February 6 nightly newscast that the Venezuelans “attempted” to block the entry of this “aid,” they misleadingly omitted mentioning that they did indeed block its entry, and the footage of the highway bridge at the border crossing with Colombia clearly showed not a single vehicle or person moving past the barriers completely sealing off the highway. As for the US’ sanctions, Maduro pointed out that by raising oil production, and tapping new markets in China and India, while halting oil exports to the US (which would thus hurt the US back), Venezuela could survive—however, this might be an optimistic outlook.

In fact, it turns out that US oil sanctions on Venezuela are both more immediate and more wide-ranging than what we were led to understand at first. The sanctions promise to utterly devastate Venezuela’s economy, in short order. It’s not just US companies that are being barred from buying oil directly from the Venezuelan authorities and the state-owned PDVSA, but all companies everywhere that have any financial transactions in the US that are barred from doing business with Venezuela. As a result, unable to find alternative buyers right now, Venezuela’s oil is building up. Oil tankers remain offshore, unfilled, because their companies have not paid the PDVSA up front, as demanded. The US, in repeating the kinds of sanctions regimes it imposed on Iraq, North Korea, and Iran, seems to think that by inflicting maximum economic damage, the Maduro government will collapse.

Who Pays the Price? You Do

However, as oil exports quickly fall, and a new phase of Iran sanctions are about to start, international oil prices will likely climb quickly, inflicting economic damage on the working class everywhere, including the US. The US is stuck on this path now, because of the irreversible nature of Trump’s recognition of Guaidó. Guaidó himself seems to be utterly unmoved by all this, and has not denounced the US for its collective punishment aimed at all Venezuelans.

As expected, international oil prices began to rise, during a bitter winter in North America, though it was unclear to what extent the manufactured crisis around Venezuela played a role, at first.

If Americans are serious about a “Green New Deal” (daily hysteria on Fox News suggests that might be the case), then perhaps in the future the “war for oil” will become obsolete. In the meantime, another addiction will require intense rehabilitation: the addiction Americans have for pushing their fists under everybody else’s noses and instructing us what to do and how to live in our own countries.

For now, there is no “new deal” even in sight to deal with that addiction.

Against Intervention in Venezuela: The Case of CARICOM [Republished]

Against Intervention in Venezuela: The Case of the Caribbean Community.
By Maximilian Forte
Zero Anthropology,  26th February, 2019


As discussed in the previous article, the membership of the Organization of American States is in fact not at all united around support for foreign intervention and recognition of an alternative second “president” (Juán Guaidó). Standing opposed to the denial of recognition of Maduro’s legitimacy as the elected leader are not just Cuba, Nicaragua, Bolivia, and for now Mexico and Uruguay, but also Caribbean states such as Dominica, St Vincent and the Grenadines, and Suriname. Trinidad and Tobago, St Kitts and Nevis, Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, and Belize abstained from the OAS resolution—which, it turns out, does not mean the same as indifference. The action by the OAS implicitly threatened all governments in the region, which has already significantly damaged the organization’s integrity, as discussed below.


CARICOM

 

Caribbean states, including those that abstained from voting on the OAS resolution, stood firmly on anti-interventionist principles that respected Venezuela’s sovereignty. Leaders of the member states of the Caribbean Community and Common Market (CARICOM) held an emergency meeting to discuss Venezuela on January 24. The heads of government of Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Belize, Dominica, Jamaica, Montserrat, St. Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Trinidad and Tobago, and the Foreign Ministers of Grenada and Suriname, participated in the meeting. Guyana, which has a long standing territorial dispute with Venezuela, nonetheless endorsed the CARICOM position the next day. The resulting statement “reaffirmed” the members’ “principles of non-interference and non-intervention in the affairs of states, respect for sovereignty, adherence to the rule of law, and respect for human rights and democracy”. In addition, they insisted that the crisis should only be “resolved peacefully through meaningful dialogue and diplomacy”. Without naming the US and the Trump administration, CARICOM heads explicitly rejected foreign intervention in Venezuela’s affairs, and threats of violence against the country:
“Reaffirming their commitment to the tenets of Article 2 (4) of the United Nations Charter which calls for Members States to refrain from the threat or the use of force and Article 21 of the Charter of the Organization of American States which refers to territorial inviolability, the Heads of Government emphasized the importance of the Caribbean remaining a Zone of Peace”.

Taking aim again at US policy, CARICOM,
“called on external forces to refrain from doing anything to destabilize the situation and…called on all actors, internal and external, to avoid actions which would escalate an already explosive situation to the detriment of the people of Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela and which could have far-reaching negative consequences for the wider region”.

Trinidad & Tobago and CARICOM vs. the OAS

 

Within CARICOM, the case of Trinidad & Tobago deserves special mention. First, Trinidad, mere miles from Venezuela with which it has long historical and demographic ties, is now home to a growing number of Venezuelan refugees. Recent events have triggered fears of an even larger refugee crisis in the making and although many locals would like to assist there are others who resent their presence. In addition, Venezuelans protesting in the capital, Port of Spain, against Maduro and demanding that the government of Prime Minister Keith Rowley recognize Guaidó instead, faced a mixed reaction at best. Aside from being denounced by Trinidadian commenters, the protesters drew a sharp rebuke from the leader of one of the parties in parliament, David Abdulah:
“Citizens of Venezuela can appeal to the Government of Venezuela and the parties in Venezuela but Venezuelans here in Trinidad and Tobago cannot determine what the foreign policy of Trinidad and Tobago ought to be. It is the Government of Trinidad and Tobago and the citizens of Trinidad and Tobago ultimately and the governments of Caricom and the citizens of Caricom who must determine the foreign policy of Trinidad and Tobago and of Caricom”.

Abdulah also took exception with the protesters’ claim that Guaidó had popular support, while Maduro was isolated as a dictator. Abdulah said Maduro got significant support at the February 2nd  demonstration in Venezuela, which was much bigger than Guaidó’s rally:
“So it is not as if President Maduro is clinging on to power by himself and so on and the vast majority of the Venezuelans are against him. That is not the case”.

Moreover, Abdulah condemned the opposition:
“Very regrettably, but not surprising, Guaido has taken the consistent right-wing line of the opposition rejecting any talks, rejecting any mediation and simply wanting for [sic] resolve the thing by force backed, of course, by the United States and some other coun­tries”.

Squaring off against his domestic opposition, Prime Minister Keith Rowley took direct aim at the United National Congress in parliament, which is pro-US and pro-interventionist. Rowley openly called them “traitors” for trying to undermine CARICOM’s mission of mediation.

Prime Minister Rowley has also clashed with the leadership of the OAS, precisely on the question of Venezuela, well before this latest crisis erupted. Back in 2017, Rowley called for the dismissal of OAS secretary-general Luís Almagro. Prime Minister Rowley’s point, which was correct, is that the OAS was compromised by taking an interventionist stance towards Venezuela, and delegitimizing its duly elected leader. Rowley further accused the OAS leadership saying that the result was that, “the OAS has now removed itself from any meaningful participation and has deteriorated now into partisan attacks”.

The conflict between CARICOM, and Trinidad & Tobago in particular, and the head of the OAS was reignited with the latest crisis. CARICOM, and Trinidad’s Minister of National Security, expressed shock that Almagro would dare to speak for all OAS members in personally denouncing Maduro. In a January 31 letter to the OAS’ Almagro, CARICOM’s leadership instructed Almagro that the OAS does not speak for CARICOM members on this issue. The letter from CARICOM’s chairman, Prime Minister Timothy Harris of St Kitts and Nevis, stated:
“The Heads of Government consider it imperative that you publicly clarify that you did not speak on behalf of all the member states of the Organisation of American States….We are aware that this is not the only occasion on which you have made public utterances in the name of the organisation without authority”.

CARICOM described Almagro’s actions as a “clear departure from normal practice and cause for great concern”. Almagro has gone as far as advocating a foreign military invasion of Venezuela. Journalists noted that, “the OAS website lists media and press releases for the month of January and there is nothing about the OAS’s support for Guaido”. Trinidad & Tobago joined a CARICOM team to meet in Uruguay on February 7, as part of a mediation effort led by Mexico and Uruguay. Calls for dialogue continue to be flatly rejected by Guaidó, echoing the same line taken by Trump and his team.

Meeting in Montevideo

 

The meeting of 15 Caribbean nations plus Mexico, Uruguay, and parties in Venezuela, taking place in Montevideo tomorrow, represents the formation of a bloc that can act as a significant counterweight to the so-called “Lima Group” of US dependents in Latin America and neocolonial states such as Canada. Unlike the Lima Group, no foreign media have been banned in advance— the Canadian government blocked Russian and Venezuelan media from covering the Lima Group meeting in Ottawa on February 4, an act of suppression of press freedoms that occasioned no outcry at all in Canada.

The largely right wing “Lima Group” that opposed Maduro itself consisted of a range of shady and extreme characters tarred by their involvement in corruption scandals and with ties to death squads, along with Canada with its liberal authoritarian tradition and its penchant for necolonial violence. Once again, none of the “decolonial” crowd, fashionable as they are in academia, has drawn any of the logical and historical connections between Canada’s internal colonialism and its external neocolonialism, which are united by the same principles and interests, even the very same parties and actors. This failure of intellect is not an accident either, but is a subject best explored at another time.

In the meantime, I strongly recommend that you listen carefully to RT's interview with Nicolás Maduro:



Published by RT on Feb 5, 2019