Friday, February 21, 2014

Destablization in Venezuela and the accusation of a US role

Mark Weisbrot warns in The Guardian that US support for regime change in Venezuela is a mistake 02/13/2014. He doesn't cite any evidence of direct US involvement in the current disruptions driven by the opposition group led by Leopoldo López and María Corina Machado that aims at creating conditions for a military coup. But he does note, "there's $5m in the 2014 US federal budget for funding opposition activities inside Venezuela, and this is almost certainly the tip of the iceberg."

And he recalls from last year:

But what makes these current US statements important, and angers governments in the region, is that they are telling the Venezuelan opposition that Washington is once again backing regime change. [US Secretary of State John] Kerry did the same thing in April of last year when Maduro was elected president and opposition presidential candidate Henrique Capriles claimed that the election was stolen. Kerry refused to recognize the election results. Kerry's aggressive, anti-democratic posture brought such a strong rebuke from South American governments that he was forced to reverse course and tacitly recognize the Maduro government. (For those who did not follow these events, there was no doubt about the election results.)

Kerry's recognition of the election results put an end to the opposition's attempt to de-legitimize the elected government. After Maduro's party won municipal elections by a wide margin in December, the opposition was pretty well defeated. Inflation was running at 56% and there were widespread shortages of consumer goods, yet a solid majority had still voted for the government. Their choice could not be attributed to the personal charisma of Hugo Chávez, who died nearly a year ago; nor was it irrational. Although the past year or so has been rough, the past 11 years – since the government got control over the oil industry – have brought large gains in living standards to the majority of Venezuelans who were previously marginalized and excluded.
President Obama's brief remarks this week on Venezuela strike me on the face of it as indicating no great desire to get the US more heavily involved in the current unrest: In Mexico, Obama criticizes Venezuelan government Reuters 02/19/2014. But Nicolás Maduro's government took them as a further indication of US intent to intervene in Venezuelan affairs: Dura réplica a Obama del gobierno venezolano Página/12 21.02.2014.

It's worth noting that this is a case in which so-called "democracy promotion" programs sponsored directly by the US government to boost opposition groups in a country can be a two-edged sword for the US. Some of our military and intelligence agencies seem to have a boundless faith in US ability to change governments to fit the convenience of the US. Failures, blowback and the occasional outright disaster don't seem to dampen that attitude for the more zealous.

But in this case, I haven't seen anything in the Venezuelan's accusations against the US government that looks like evidence that the Obama Administration is specifically promoting the current opposition disruptions. I wouldn't be surprised if it turn out to be true. But there is a an inclination for people to believe their own national governments in these things, and in a fast-moving situation proof may not be available until it's no longer relevant to current action. And the fact that the US is openly sponsoring something that looks like boosting the opposition will certainly give credibility among the Venezuelan public to their government's current vague but dramatic accusations of American involvement, the charge that US agents are financing and supplying the militant opposition to promote "violence and destabilization."

Kristofer Lee Clark, Jeffrey Gordon Elsen and Breenan Marie McCusker are the three diplomats Venezuela expelled, according to the Página/12 report.

Otto Reich isn't a household word in the US. But they know him in Venezuela for his support of the 2002 coup when he was US Ambassador there. People more directly affected tend to remember things like that. For more on Reich's career prior to that time, and a reminder of the sordid recent history of US intervention in Latin America, see the National Security Archives' Public Diplomacy and Covert Propaganda: The Declassified Record of Ambassador Otto Juan Reich 03/02/2001.

The State Department's Assistant Secretary of the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, Roberta Jacobson, seemed also to have been trying to avoid any antagonistic tone in her public statement. (EEUU niega haber amenazado a Venezuela Últimas Noticias 21.02.2014) It's a matter of diplomatic course that the United States has to object to the expulsion of its diplomats, even if they actually are guilty of something that deserved expulsion.

There were reports and video from the night of Feb. 19-20 of motorcycle units of the Bolivarian National Guard (GNB), part of the official armed forces, firing indiscriminately at residencies in Caracas resulting in injuries. (Video | Motorizados armados sembraron terror en varias zonas de Caracas Últimas Noticias 21.02.2014)

Catherine Ashton, the EU's High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, called on both the government and the opposition to avoid violence in Venezuela, which also is a very cautious public position. (UE condena el uso de la violencia en Venezuela El Informador 21.02.2014)

The chief conservative opposition leader, Henrique Capriles, still seems to be walking a line between a commitment on his part to peaceful and parliamentary changes in opposition to the López/Machado rightwing radicals, on the one hand, and staying critical of the Maduro government, on the other. (Capriles: "A nadie le puede interesar una explosión social" Panorama 21.02.0214) He rejected what he took to be a government spokesman's implication that he is involved in a plot to have López assassinated. "No one is interested in a social explosion," he said. But he also charged, "todo lo que dice el gobierno es para seguir creando el clima de confrontación" ("everything the government says is to keep escalating the climate of confrontation").

That may well be true in some important sense. Maduro and his supporters may be calculating that they can stigmatize the López/Machado faction as tools of Yankee imperialism. Maduro this week declared publicly, “¡Fuera gringos, yankees go home!” (Página/12 19.02.2014) Part of that strategy would be to keep a clear division between Capriles and his supporters of peaceful change and the pro-coup López/Machado faction.

Here is a video from of the Capriles interview (Capriles en Venevisión: "A nadie le puede interesar una explosión social"):

The poor state of reporting in the US media on what's happening in Venezuela is illustrated by this piece in Slate from William Dobson Venezuela Erupts 02/20/22014.

You would never know from Dobson's report that the main conservative opposition leader, Henrique Capriles of the Primero Justicia party and current Governor of the state of Miranda, who ran close to Nicolás Maduro in last year's Presidential election, is distinctly opposed to the strategy pursued by Leopoldo López, the hero of this article. In fact Capriles, who says he is committed to the parliamentary system, isn't even mentioned. The group led by López and Machado are pretty much openly trying to create the conditions for a coup. (López was an activist in favor of the failed coup in 2002.) Maduro was overstating the case when he said last week's violence was a coup attempt; the military didn't make any move against his government. And I haven't seen anything specific about what he claims the three American diplomats he expelled were doing. But, man, is this a sloppy report!

The López/Machado faction are following a strategy called atajo (shortcut) formulated by Alberto Franceschi, as I related in an earlier post. In a YouTube rant I embedded there and that he posted on his website, he calls for a "civil-military" government, aka, a military coup. even more explicit in this article for the paper Noticias Venezuela, when he calls for "a military insurgency, a new regime, A New Order."

Maduro's has been claiming that the shooting were the responsibility of opposition provacateurs. But he also fired Manuel Bernal, head of the national intelligence service SEBIN on the grounds he violated orders to keep SEBIN forces in the barracks during last week's demonstrations. (El titular del Servicio de Inteligencia fue destituido Página/12 18.02.2014) If Maduro is running some kind of dictatorship, as you would gather from Slate's hysterical report, it sure ain't East Germany. I mean, if leading opposition figures to call in the press and YouTube and their website for a military coup, if the most visible militant leader López turns himself in to the police voluntarily as he did this week, and Maduro fires the head of his intelligence service in the middle of major opposition disruptions explicitly aimed at bringing on a coup - well, let's just say he won't be a strong favorite for the Erich Honecker Dictator of the Year Award for 2014 based on that!

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