Tuesday, August 01, 2017

Venezuela and the US after Sunday

"Venezuela is Latin America's biggest exporter of crude oil and has the world's largest petroleum reserves." - Brian Ellsworth and Andrew Cawthorne, Venezuela death toll rises to 13 as protests flare Reuters 02/24/2014

"Venezuela claims the world’s largest proven reserves of petroleum, an estimated 298 billion barrels of oil." - Michael Klare, The Desperate Plight of Petro-States TomDispatch 05/26/2016

The Trump Family Business Administration is now calling the Venezuelan government a dictatorship and elected President Nicolás Maduro a dictator. And his CIA is all but explicitly declaring that they are actively supporting a regime change effort there. A State Department spokesperson today called the election for a Constituent Assembly in Venezuela on Sunday was "illegitimate." (State Department news briefing PBS Newshour 08/01/2017)

She mentioned that Vice President Pence has spoken directly to one of the main opposition leaders in Venezuela, Leopoldo López, and communicated to him that the US is concerned about what she called "grave human rights" abuses. She quoted Pence as saying, "The United States stands with the Venezuelan people and we call for the full and unconditional release of all political prisoners in Venezuela, free and fair elections, restoration of the National Assembly, and respect for human rights in Venezuela." She says "the United States urges the re-establishment of democracy in Venezuela."

At the same press conference, ExxonMobil Secretary of State Rex Tillerson addressed Venezuela starting at 35:00, saying that US policy is to work with like-minded governments in the Organization of American States (OAS) "as well as others who share our view of Venezuela's future." He articulated the current official US position representing Sunday's vote as abolishing democracy in Venezuela. Whether Secretary ExxonMobil cares about human rights and democracy in Venezuela or is thinking mainly of the oil, you can make your own guess. López and another major opposition leader who had been under house arrest were returned to prison after Sunday's election, charged with violating the terms of their house arrest. Tillerson presented that as a "re-arrest." And in what could easily been heard as a threat - to me it obviously is a threat - he said that "this could lead to an outbreak of further violence in the country." He followed it up by saying, "We are evaluating all of our policy options as to what can we do to create a change of conditions where either Maduro decides he doesn't have a future and wants to leave of his own accord, or we can return the government processes back to their constitution."

The US at this point isn't even calling for Bashar al-Assad's removal of head of government in Syria. We Americans are shocked, shocked that Russia would try to fiddle around in our elections last year. But Latin America, we can openly declare we're ousting an elected President there and it's just routine business, because we're Exceptional. None of this looks good to me. I wish I could expect to hear an outcry in Congress over something like this. But I'm not holding my breath.

Without belaboring it, I'll point out here that the current Venezuelan government, both President and National Assembly (Congress), were elected in competitive elections. A Constituent Assembly to write a new Constitution was not so long ago a demand of the anti-Maduro opposition. But the opposition boycotted Sunday's election. It's clear that there have been police and military abuses in Venezuela, which the anti-Maduro opposition has made sure are are presented to the American public via an all-too-uncritical media. The organized and spontaneous violent actions by the opposition have not received similar publicity in the US.

I'm not going to recount the past 18 years of Venezuelan politics in every post on Venezuela. And I'm not going to repeat every time I quote or share something from TeleSUR that it is primarily funded by Venezuela with contributions from several other South American countries and takes a sympathetic position toward the current Venezuelan government of Nicolás Maduro. I assume that readers can apply reasonably critical thinking to what they read and hear. Not everyone does, I know. But that's the operative assumption at this blog.

I also try to avoid facile comparisons between how the US approaches foreign affairs and how we object to similar practices on the part of other countries. That's partly because hypocrisy of that sort is part of the common currency of diplomacy. But the fact that the US feels so little embarrassment about regime change operations is one reason that we can't reasonably expect Latin Americans to be shocked, shocked by the accusations the US intelligence agencies and the media have been making about Russian interference in the 2016 American elections. And do you remember the last time we let somebody out of prison because a hostile foreign government demanded it? Me neither. But we're American and we're Exceptional.

Also, it's a useful exercise to imagine that the Russian Foreign Minister just gave a press conference declaring, "We are evaluating all of our policy options as to what can we do to create a change of conditions where either Trump decides he doesn't have a future and wants to leave of his own accord, or we can return the government processes back to their constitution."

TeleSUR carried this clip of Maduro responding to the escalation of the rhetoric from the US government against Venezuela

Abby Martin in this edition of her Empire Files program on TeleSUR interviews the head of the Venezuelan National Guard. And she elecits his responses to some of the serious accusations being made against him. Head of Venezuela National Guard on Insurgency & US Threats 07/31/2017:

The rhetorical - and almost certainly not only rhetorical - escalation that Venezuela now faces from the US certainly give Maduro the ability to frame the internal political struggle in Venezuela as an anti-imperialist stand for democracy and against US imperialism. In this clip (Maduro: Trump arremete contra el pueblo de México y nadie alza la voz TeleSUR 07/31/2017), he asks at the start (in Spanish), "Are you with Trump or are you with Venezuela? Are you with Trump or are you with democracy? Are you with Trump or are you with the destiny of the free peoples of the world? ... Are you with Trump or are you with the Free World?"

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