Vol. XLIII No. 20 May 19, 2019
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Imperial Fangs on Venezuela

R Arun Kumar

THE fangs of US imperialism are bared once again. In a brazen attempt to dislodge the democratically elected president of Venezuela, Nicolas Maduro, US has extended its open support to Juan Guaido to carry out a coup. It has even called on the military to rebel against the Maduro government. This is yet another instance of the extent the US can go, to ensure regime changes in countries that stand up to its hegemonic policies.

Juan Guaido, who had illegally proclaimed himself as the ‘president’ of Venezuela, called the military and people to begin an uprising against the legitimate government of President Nicolas Maduro, on April 30. The failed uprising started in the early morning hours, when a handful of renegade military and intelligence officers had released the opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez from house arrest. Lopez then joined Guaido and a handful of soldiers on the Altamira overpass in east Caracas, outside the Francisco de Miranda Airbase, known as La Carlota. Anti-government protesters and opposition law makers then joined them and unleashed violence. Armed confrontations between the soldiers who backed Juan Guaido and those inside La Carlota Airbase took place. Venezuelan armed forces fired tear gas towards the Altamira overpass, whereas Guaido’s soldiers returned live fire.

Maduro’s government immediately responded to this coup attempt and called on the country's population to denounce the coup by marching towards the Miraflores Presidential Palace to protect the country from the far-right, US-backed coup. Thousands of citizens responded to the call and marched to the palace. According to reports, many of the originally deployed soldiers withdrew from the scene and later revealed that they had been ‘deceived’ by their superiors. Guaido later attempted to lead a march which included some armed soldiers, into western Caracas but was stopped by Venezuelan National Guard forces in Chacaito, some 10 kilometers away from Miraflores.

Localised outbreaks of violence followed subsequently in Caracas and several other cities, with protesters setting up burning barricades. Violent protests were particularly focused in traditional opposition strongholds of eastern Caracas, including outside La Carlota Airbase. Clashes took place between pro-government and anti-government protesters in various places.

Nicolas Maduro addressed the country in a televised speech on the 30th evening, accusing those responsible for the military uprising of trying to provoke a ‘massacre’. In his address, he exposed the people behind the coup and the support extended to them by the US administration led by Donald Trump. “Who benefits from these (confrontations)? Who finances them? Undoubtedly the leadership of the terrorist ultra-right party Popular Will,” Maduro declared, referring to the party of Lopez and Guaido.

The other part of the reply to his questions, about the role of the US, was answered by the imperial US itself. Immediately after the call for the coup was given by Guaido on social media, US Republican senator, Marco Rubio, tweeted 30 messages supporting the coup and expressing his desire to see President Nicolas Maduro deposed. The US administration led by President Trump was only waiting to join the bandwagon. US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo said his government “fully supports” the coup and labelled it as “Operation Liberty”. US National Security Advisor John Bolton warned Venezuelan Defence Minister Vladimir Padrino and Supreme Court President Maikel Moreno that this was their ‘last chance’ to support Guaido. He was joined by Vice President Mike Pence and later by Trump himself. President Donald Trump tweeted that the US “stands with the people of Venezuela and their freedom”! That there is not much difference between the Democrats and Republicans on the question of Venezuela, was promptly on display with a tweet by the former vice president and now a presidential aspirant from the Democratic Party, Joe Biden. “Maduro's regime is responsible for incredible suffering. The US must stand with the National Assembly and Guaidó in their efforts to restore democracy through legitimate, internationally monitored elections”. Soon, House Speaker, Nancy Pelosi followed him in criticising Maduro.

According to the news agency Reuters, Erik Prince, the founder of the controversial private security firm Blackwater (notorious for its operations in Iraq during Bush period) and a prominent supporter of Trump, has been pushing for a ‘plan to deploy a private army to help topple Maduro’. They had quoted an unnamed source who had stated that Prince had conducted meetings as recently as mid-April on this issue. He is reportedly seeking $40 million from private investors to hire soldiers who would comprise “Peruvians, Ecuadoreans, Colombians, Spanish speakers” to carry out the task in Venezuela. This is yet another example of US intervention in the sovereign affairs of Venezuela.

Banking on the support of other Latin American countries where the right-wing gained during this period, the US has its tail up and thinks that it can ensure a regime change. The ‘Lima Group of countries’, did not disappoint the US. Their intentions are clear in their statement: “The governments of Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, Panama, Paraguay, Peru and Venezuela (as they recognise Guaido as the president)…once again call on the Venezuelan national armed forces to demonstrate their loyalty to acting President Juan Guaido”. Despite all these ‘appeals’ and threats to the Venezuelan armed forces, they till date remain loyal to the Maduro administration.

FAKE NEWS PROPAGANDA MACHINE

The US has unleashed its fake news propaganda machine to spread rumours. Mike Pompeo claimed in an interview to the CNN, “Maduro had an airplane on the tarmac, he was ready to leave this morning as we understand it and the Russians indicated he should stay”. According to him, Maduro planned to go to the Cuban capital of Havana. This is a reflection of the unease of the US administration at the strong bonds of friendship between Cuba and Venezuela. This is made further clear when Trump tweeted: “If Cuban troops and militia do not immediately CEASE military and other operations for the purpose of causing death and destruction to the Constitution of Venezuela, a full and complete embargo, together with highest-level sanctions, will be placed on the island of Cuba. Hopefully, all Cuban soldiers will promptly and peacefully return to their island”!

Cuba's Minister of Foreign Affairs, Bruno Rodriguez, replied to this threat by answering: “There are no Cuban troops in #Venezuela; nor are there any Cubans taking part in military or security operations there. Only medical staff in humanitarian mission. I strongly reject Trump's total blockade threat”. It is to be remembered here that US had imposed new sanctions on Cuba very recently, despite overwhelming opposition from world countries. Sanctions are a weapon in the arsenal of the US to destabilise countries and ensure a ‘regime change’. They were imposed on all the countries that are opposed to the US and apart from Cuba, the list includes Venezuela, Syria, Russia and many such countries.

US imposed sanctions on Venezuela are found to have had a grave impact on the country. According to a study done by US based Center for Economic Policy Research (CEPR) and authored by economists Mark Weisbrot and Jeffrey Sachs, these sanctions “are depriving Venezuelans of lifesaving medicines, medical equipment, food, and other essential imports…American sanctions are deliberately aiming to wreck Venezuela’s economy and thereby lead to regime change”. They further argue that “the loss in foreign exchange, needed for vital imports of food, medicine and productive inputs, caused by US sanctions, were the ‘main shock’ that pushed Venezuela into hyperinflation in late 2017”. They also contend that sanctions have also stunted any possibility of tackling hyperinflation and Venezuela’s severe economic crisis.

Sanctions were significantly increased in January, following Guaido’s self-proclamation as ‘president’. The CEPR paper highlights that the latest measures further accelerated the decline in oil production, which was compounded by the March electricity crisis. On the basis of a number of different studies, the report estimates that “sanctions were responsible for 40,000 deaths in 2017-18, and there are a further 3,00,000 people at risk due to lack of access to medicines. This includes 80,000 HIV patients who have not had antiretroviral treatment since 2017; 16,000 people who need dialysis; 16,000 people with cancer, and 4 million with diabetes and hypertension”.

Trump and his officials have repeatedly stated that all options are on the table to ensure a regime change in Venezuela, which include – economic sanctions, financing right-wing opposition groups, encouraging violence, sending armed mercenaries, trying to win Venezuelan armed forces through various means to their side and carry out a coup. Absent in all their planning is ‘people’. As long as the people of Venezuela are strongly committed to Chavismo and the continuation of the Bolivarian revolution, all these myriad efforts of the US are bound to fail. It would do well for the US to remember the day on which the coup they had propped up took place – April 30. That is the day, forty four years back that the US was dealt a deadly blow in Vietnam with the ‘fall of Saigon’.

Maduro has called the people of Venezuela to mobilise in large numbers to observe the May Day. Reports indicate that there was tremendous response to this call. On the other hand, Lopez the leader of Guaido’s party and one of the masterminds of the coup had sought refuge in Chilean embassy first and later shifted to the Spanish embassy. 25 soldiers who participated in the coup sought refuge in Brazilian embassy. Guaido’s call has yet again fizzled out due to lack of popular support.