Vigil for independence: Viva Venezuela

Anis Chowdhury | Published: 00:00, Mar 17,2019 | Updated: 23:17, Mar 16,2019


Local people line up to replace empty propane gas drums in Las Minas de Baruta neighbourhood, Caracas, Venezuela, on March 14. Venezuela’s public employees were called to return to work Thursday after the government ended a nearly week-long hiatus caused by an unprecedented nationwide blackout that deepened widespread anger against president Nicolas Maduro. — Agence France-Presse/ronaldo Schemidt

VENEZUELA is on the brink of a US ‘takeover’. The dominant narrative, through western press, is of dismal failures of a ‘corrupt authoritarian regime.’ Thus, on January 10, the opposition-dominated national assembly declared its president Juan Guaidó to be acting president of the nation alleging as fraudulent the May 2018 election that elected president Maduro. In late January, Juan Guaidó swore himself in as the country’s rightful president.
Shortage, long-queues, hyper-inflation and now blackouts — for all ills, the Maduro government is blamed. These are shown as results of rampant corruption and cronyism and more importantly vindication of ‘failures’ of socialist experiments. It is argued that the distributive policies, designed to help the poor and under-privileged, ultimately cause their suffering.
The solution, therefore, lies in allowing the business to flourish, a code word for opening the nation’s natural resources and market to large multinational corporations.

The US meddling
THE United States quickly recognised Juan Guaidó, swiftly followed by its allies, the United Kingdom, France, Canada, Germany, Australia and Brazil, including several Latin American countries.
Venezuela is a rich country, abundantly endowed with natural resources — worth an estimated $14.3 trillion — such as diamonds, bauxite, gold, iron ore, natural gas and petroleum. Venezuela has the second-largest oil reserves in the world. For decades, Venezuela has been a reliable source of oil to consumers in the western hemisphere and, in particular, to the United States.
Historically, big businesses exploited Venezuela’s resources to benefit the rich — local elite connected to the global finance capital, in particular US multinational corporations. The US oil companies had large investments in Venezuela in the early 20th century, but were locked out after Venezuelans voted to nationalise the industry in 1973.
Since then, the US has been trying to destabilise the country and retake the Venezuelan oil fields. John Bolton, president Trump’s national security adviser, talking to Fox Business host Trish Regan, admitted on January 24 that he was ‘in conversation with major American [oil] companies now’, stating that ‘it would make a difference if we could have American companies produce the oil in Venezuela. We both have a lot at stake here.’
On Fox Business, Bolton told host Stuart Varney that getting rid of Maduro was paramount since he was bringing ‘countries with interests hostile to ours’ into the country and ousting him would be a ‘potential major step forward’ for ‘business’ opportunities in the region.
Bolton is not the only one to admit that oil is a primary factor in US actions in Venezuela. Republican senator Marco Rubio tweeted on the same day with a gruesome picture of the murder of Libya’s Gaddafi as a prediction of Maduro’s fate.
In Forbes Magazine, an expert detailed how Venezuela’s power blackout could easily be done by the US in a cyber first-strike.
Trump named Elliott Abrams, notorious for perjury before the US Congress over the Iran-Contra fiasco and for championing vicious military and paramilitary repression across Central America, as special envoy for Venezuela.

The death of Pink Tide
HUGO Chávez launched the ‘Pink Tide’ (the surge of leftist, non-communist, socialist governments) by toppling the political establishment in the 1998 presidential election. By the mid-2000s, the Pink Tide was a regionwide phenomenon.
But the big business and multinational corporations succeeded in pushing back, first in Argentina in 2015. In Chile, they were helped by the World Bank’s manipulation of its Doing Business ranking to present Michelle Bachelet’s socialist government poorly just before the elections. In Brazil, they mounted a constitutional coup against Lula da Silva’s successor Dilma Rousseff and after using its conservative court to convict Lula on corruption charges, now they have Jair Bolsonaro, the most right-wing president. In 2016, Mexican political scientist Jorge Castañeda declared the Pink Tide dead in he New York Times (March 22).
Venezuela is the prized country to fall. If the socialist government in Venezuela is crushed and a neoliberal government privatises everything, multinational corporations will gain enormous profits.

Re-run of failed 2002 coup
THE current US-inspired political crisis is the re-run of the failed 2002 coup d’état. When president Hugo Chávez took office in February 1999, he launched reforms of Venezuela’s oil policy, overturning the previous decade’s process of ‘oil liberalisation’ and seeking to collect a greater share of oil revenues for the state by imposing royalties on oil production.
Chávez also launched measures to re-establish OPEC’s pre-eminence in managing the international oil market, resulting in a quick rise in crude oil price from an average of $8.43 a barrel when Chávez came into office.
These reforms, thus, generated a great deal of tension between the Chávez Government and the US.
Chávez’s oil policy reform also re-established a predominant role for the ministry of energy and mining in the design and implementation of oil policy. This challenged vested interests in Petróleos de Venezuela, the state-owned oil company (Pdvsa), which had grown accustomed to taking the lead in defining oil policy in Venezuela.
The Pdvsa leadership called a strike which was backed by the country’s key business federations. During the protest march on April 11 at the headquarters of Pdvsa in the city of Chuao, the protest leaders decided to continue their march to the government palace with the explicit objective of ‘getting rid of Chávez.’ Pedro Carmona, the head of Venezuela’s largest business association, was declared the leader of a transitional government. This served as the platform for the attempted coup.
But the coup failed in just two days as Venezuelans rose up en masse against the plotters.
Hours after Chávez was overthrown, Ari Fleischer, then the White House spokesman, said, ‘the Chávez government provoked the crisis.’ Philip Reeker, a sdate Department spokesman, said that ‘undemocratic actions committed or encouraged by the Chávez administration provoked yesterday’s crisis.’
But based on declassified intelligence documents, the New York Times (December 3, 2004) reported that the CIA was fully aware of the coup plan. Pedro Carmona had visited the Bush in White House several times and met diplomatic official Otto Reich. Even the US inspector general reported that US agencies ‘provided training, institution building, and other support to individuals and organizations understood to be actively involved in’ the coup.

Chávez’s Bolivarian missions infuriates US
PRESIDENT Hugo Chávez used the country’s oil wealth to fund the Bolivarian missions, named after South America’s independence hero. This included a large set of social programmes using nearly half the country’s budget (obtained largely from oil royalties) to benefit low-income citizens. As a result, the country’s GINI coefficient, a measure of inequality, plummeted from 0.489 to 0.39 and illiteracy among youth fell to under 2 per cent.
Chávez also used some of windfall oil revenues to support progressive governments in the region. For example, Venezuela bought $538m of Argentine debt and built houses in Cuba. It also financed cooperatives in Argentina and expanded subsidised oil shipments to Cuba. Venezuela set up Petrocaribe, under which it offered to Caribbean countries cheap credit for oil imports.
Venezuela’s alliance helped Cuba to subvert American trade embargo. Its refusal to collaborate with Colombia’s government in its war against leftist guerrillas caused difficulties for the Americans’’ chief ally in the region.
Venezuela also funded 70 per cent of the start-up cost of an alternative regional television channel, Telesur, as a home-grown answer to CNN, backed by the governments of Argentina, Cuba and Uruguay.
Therefore, as a counter measure, the Bush administration lobbied very hard for the Central American Free Trade Agreement, narrowly passed by the House of Representatives. Donald Rumsfeld, Bush’s defence secretary, called this ‘a national-security vote.’
At the urging of Florida Republican Connie Mack, the US House of Representatives approved an amendment to the Foreign Appropriations Act calling for rival propaganda broadcasts to counter Telesur.

US sanctions are crimes against humanity
DE ZAYAS, the first UN rapporteur to visit Venezuela in 21 years, has told the UK’s the Independent (January 26) that US sanctions are killing citizens. According to him, the US sanctions on the country are illegal and could amount to ‘crimes against humanity’ under the international law.
While internal overdependence on oil, poor governance and corruption had hit the Venezuelan economy hard, de Zayas believes that ‘economic warfare’ practised by the US, the EU and Canada are significant factors in the economic crisis.
Eugenia Russian, president of Fundalatin, one of the oldest human rights NGOs in Venezuela, agrees. She told the Independent that while there may be some policy errors, ‘one of the fundamental causes of the economic crisis in the country is the effect that the unilateral coercive sanctions that are applied in the economy, especially by the government of the United States.’
De Zayas, an expert on the international law and former senior lawyer with the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, recommended in his report, among other actions, that the International Criminal Court should investigate economic sanctions against Venezuela as possible crimes against humanity under Article 7 of the Rome Statute. The US sanctions are illegal under the international law because they were not endorsed by the UN Security Council.
‘Modern-day economic sanctions and blockades are comparable with medieval sieges of towns. Twenty-first century sanctions attempt to bring not just a town, but sovereign countries to their knees’, de Zayas said in his report.
The US imposed new sanctions against Venezuela on March 9, 2015, when president Barack Obama issued executive order 13692, declaring the country a threat to national security. Obama also continued the Bush-era funding to opposition political organisations in Venezuela and repeatedly lobbied regional governments to censure Venezuela in multilateral organisations. The Obama administration also refused to accept a Venezuelan ambassador to Washington.
Donald Trump intensified sanctions and outrageously threatened military invasion and discussed a coup.
The sanctions are part of a US effort to overthrow the Venezuelan government and install a more business-friendly regime, as was done in Chile in 1973 and elsewhere.

UN ignores its own report
SADLY, de Zayas’ report is ignored by the UN and the media. It has caused little debate within the Human Rights Council and has not sparked the public debate it deserves.
De Zayas believes that this is because his report goes against the popular narrative that Venezuela needs regime change. The powerful mainstream media of the west just want the simple narrative that socialism failed and it failed the Venezuelan people.
The then UN high commissioner, Zeid Raad Al Hussein, reportedly refused to meet de Zayas after the visit and the Venezuela desk of the UN Human Rights Council also declined to help with his work after his return despite being obliged to do so, de Zayas claimed.
De Zayas told the Independent that the office gave him the ‘cold shoulder’ because they were worried his report would be too independent. According to him, ‘They are only interested in a rapporteur who is going to… do grandstanding, is going to condemn the government and ask for regime change.’
In his report, de Zayas expressed concern that those calling the situation a ‘humanitarian crisis’ are trying to justify regime change and that human rights are being ‘weaponised’ to discredit the government and make violent overthrow more ‘palatable.’
De Zayas has since signed an open letter with Noam Chomsky and over 70 other academics and experts, condemning the US-backed coup attempt against the Venezuelan government.

Jesse Jackson
HUMAN rights activist, Reverend Jesse Jackson, in an opinion piece in People’s World (March 12) wrote, ‘Trump and his bellicose advisers seem intent on adding another chapter to [US’s] shameful history… Instead of starving the Venezuelans into submission, we should be engaging with them. Instead of seeking to control their oil, we should recognize their national sovereignty... no one nominated the United States to decide who should govern Venezuela.’

Anis Chowdhury, an adjunct professor at Western Sydney University and the University of New South Wales (Australia), held senior United Nations positions in New York and Bangkok.

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