Since taking office in January 2001, the Bush administration targeted Hugo Chavez for removal. It tried and failed three previous times:
– in April 2002 for two days; aborted by mass street protests and support from many in Venezuela’s military, especially from its middle-ranking officer corp;
– the 2002 – 2003 general strike and oil management lockout causing severe economic disruption; and
– the August 2004 national recall referendum in which Chavez resoundingly prevailed with a 59% majority.
Other disruptions have occurred since and now may again be ongoing. US intervention is innovative and determined to regain control of Venezuela and its vast hydrocarbon resources, the largest by far in the hemisphere after Canada. Perhaps the world with the US Department of Energy’s estimate of 1.36 trillion extra-heavy oil barrels included besides its proved 80 billion barrels of light sweet reserves, ranking it seventh overall behind the five largest Middle East producers and Canada.
Throughout most of his tenure and since the Bush administration took over, CIA and various misnamed US quasi-governmental agencies have been active in Venezuela. Ones like the National Endowment of Democracy (NED). The International Republican Institute (IRI) with John McCain as its chairman and its ties to extremist Republican party elements, and the US Agency for International Development (USAID). All are imperial instruments. Undemocratic and for rule by the power of money.
They fund opposition groups and coup supporters. Arrange (staged for media) anti-Chavez marches and street protests. Spend millions to subvert democracy to return the country to its past. Oligarchs who once controlled it. Washington and Big Oil that control them.
They plot assassination attempts, according to Chavez to remove him. To reverse Bolivarianism and its socially beneficial gains in health care, education, housing, feeding the hungry, lifting millions out of poverty, and enfranchising all Venezuelans in the country’s participatory democracy. Strengthening it at the grassroots.
Recent Disturbing Events
On September 10, Venezolana de Television’s (VTV) La Hojilla program disclosed a recording (from an undisclosed source) of a planned military coup against Chavez – by active and retired plotters. Participants named were Vice Admiral and National Guard Forces Inspector General Carlos Alberto Millan Millan. National Guard General Wilfredo Barroso Herrera, and retired Air Force General Eduardo Baez Torrealba (involved in the April 2002 aborted coup). Unknown is who else is behind this and how deep the suspected plot runs.
Conversations recorded were about "tak(ing) the Miraflores (presidential) Palace (government headquarters and) the TV installations….that is all effort towards where (Chavez) is. If he’s in Miraflores, the effort goes toward there." Talk also was about seizing the "command headquarters (with) the troops inside" and about Maracay, Aragua state’s Air Base Libertador where Venezuela’s F-16s and other planes are based.
Baez Torrealba was heard saying: "We are divided into four zones….east, west, and two in the centre" and have an F-16 pilot. He mentions either attacking Chavez’s plane or capturing it. Possibly the presidential palace the way the CIA engineered it in Chile for Augusto Pinochet against Salvador Allende on September 11, 1973 – with bombs, rockets and tank fire. Open warfare on Santiago’s streets. Whether planned for Caracas is anyone’s guess but it certainly is possible.
Chavez knows the history as well as past conspiracies against himself. He said on-air that his government "infiltrated the most radical and fascist movements (and have) known for a long time that they are looking for land and air rockets and sophisticated equipment to blow up the presidential plane" and that past plans were to bomb the Miraflores. He also knows that CIA is behind them and said if there’s a coup, "the counter-coup would be overwhelming" – meaning a mass popular uprising to reverse it with military support, similar to 2002.
Chavez then confirmed the detentions of several suspected coop plotters and said others fled the country. He also expelled US ambassador, Patrick Duddy. Gave him 72 hours to leave, and recalled his Washington envoy, Bernardo Alvarez, in sympathy with Bolivia’s Evo Morales. On September 10, he declared US ambassador, Philip Goldberg, persona non grata. Accused him of supporting eastern Bolivian fascist elements and working with them to plan a coup against his presidency.
On September 20, another incident occurred, so far unexplained. In west Caracas, a grenade was thrown from a residential building, killing two and injuring 19 others. A 23-year old man was identified as the perpetrator, who then, it was claimed, jumped to his death from the building’s eighth floor. No further information is available at this time but authorities are investigating.
Then around the same time in London, Samuel Moncada, Venezuela’s UK ambassador, attended a fringe Labour Party meeting and expressed "fear(s) that the next few weeks will be very dangerous for us." He believes that the Bush administration may try to oust Chavez in its remaining months. Others in Venezuela also think something is going on to destabilize the country. Possibly a plot to assassinate their president and bring down his government.
Disturbing Latin American stirrings in the final Bush administration months along with all else on their plate and planned in the Middle East, Central Asia and elsewhere. Plus the November presidential and congressional elections and a hugely calamitous financial crisis commanding daily headlines and top-level meetings as first order of business because of its seriousness.
Nonetheless, the Bush administration expelled Venezuela’s Washington ambassador after he’d been recalled following Chavez saying "When there is a new government in the United States, we’ll send an ambassador." Given the campaign rhetoric by both US presidential candidates, he may have a change of heart. Both promise permanent wars. New fronts to wage them on, and an uncompromising pro-corporate agenda. Not good news for independent democrats like Chavez, especially ones in oil-rich countries like Venezuela.
Separately on September 12, the Bush administration went further with US Treasury officials announcing sanctions and the freezing of assets against Hugo Carvajal Barrios and Henry Rangel Silva, both Venezuelan intelligence chiefs. Also named was Ramon Rodriguez Chacin, the country’s former Justice and Interior Minister. Serious and unwarranted accusations against high government officials for supporting drugs trafficking and supplying arms to Colombia’s FARC-EP resistance.
On September 17, Washington also blacklisted Venezuela (for the fourth time) and Bolivia (for the first time) for not cooperating in the "war on drugs" and designated both countries and Burma as "hav(ing) failed demonstrably during the previous 12 months to adhere to their obligations under international counternarcotics agreements," in a statement released by the White House. The State Department listed 20 countries as illicit major drugs producers or transit sites.
It omitted what scholar/researcher Peter Dale Scott calls "Deep Events (or "deep politics" that governments try to suppress) and the CIA’s Global Drug Connection" in his article by that title. The "complex geography or network of banks, financial agents of influence and the ‘alternative’ or ‘shadow’ CIA" and its possible involvement in major "deep events" like the Kennedy assassination and 9/11. A "global financial complex of hot money uniting prominent business, financial and government (elements) as well as underworld figures." An "indirect empire (between) CIA, organized crime, and their mutual interest in drug-trafficking."
For the enormous profits that CIA uses for its operations and helps it plot coups against countries like Iran (1953), Guatemala (1954), Venezuela (2002) and maybe again in 2008 along with Bolivia and the current Iranian government. For state terrorism like Operation Condor (in Latin America in the 1970s). Iranian and Pakistani incursions currently. All its other nefarious activities, including "strengthening drug networks….in Laos, Pakistan, Lebanon, Turkey, Columbia," Thailand and Afghanistan – the world’s largest by far opium producer after Washington replaced the Taliban and allowed regional "warlords" to ramp up replantings.
Also its involvement in a possible plot against Chavez. At the least, the latest Bush administration efforts to tarnish and disrupt his democratic government with considerable media support for its accusations and much more.
The Corporate Media on the Attack
A New York Times September 18 Simon Romero article is headlined: "Alleging Coup Plot, Chavez Ousts US Envoy." In it he suggests the accuracy of a Human Rights Watch’s (HRW) biased 2008 Venezuela report discussed below. That "into its 10th year (Chavez’s) government has consolidated power by eliminating the independence of the judiciary, punish(ed) critical news organizations, and engag(ed) in wide-ranging acts of political discrimination against opponents." Leaving mentioned the Chavez government’s views to suggest his own and HRW’s.
Do it in spite of its tainted state. An example is how it "condemn(es) human rights abuses in Colombia." Not the repressive government. The most fascist in the region, but the FARC-EP and ELN resistance against it. More on HRW below.
A Miami Herald op-ed piece is headlined: "Expulsions Underscore Chavez’s Intolerance for Dissent" and states that expelling "two respected human rights monitors from Venezuela is the latest evidence that President Hugo Chavez is determined to muzzle dissenting views….Mr. Chavez never misses an opportunity to rail against the United States, but his real enemies are those who dare to take issue with his politics. His anti-democratic agenda has restricted legitimate political activity by his opponents for years, and his arbitrary behavior is getting worse." The most far right US elements couldn’t say it better or be more mirror opposite the facts.
A Los Angeles Times August 9 editorial accused Chavez of a "power grab (and) attack(ing) democracy." The Washinton Post calls him a Venezuelan caudillo or strongman. So does the Wall Street Journal repeatedly. Reckless commentaries accuse him of rigging elections. Excluding his most formidable opponents. Violating Venezuelan law, and now engaging in drugs trafficking, terrorism, and delivering a suitcase with $800,000 in slush money to Argentina’s Cristina Kirchner for her 2007 presidential campaign. The Inter-American Dialogue’s Peter Hakim has "no doubt" this latter charge (playing out in a Miami courtroom) is politically motivated and "is coming from the US government." So are all the others.
The Journal’s Mary O’Grady wages constant war against Chavez, and her latest September 15 op-ed refers to his "Russian Dalliance." His holding joint exercises with Moscow’s "flotilla." Russia "evoking memories of the 1962 Cuban missile crisis by playing war games with another would-be Latin strongman." Chavez "only too happy to be used." Suggesting he and Evo Morales are communists and all the negatives that implies. That Chavez is a "dictator." That his "economy (is) in shambles" when, in fact, it’s had 19 consecutive impressive quarters of growth and grew at 7.1% in the second quarter – compared to America’s unprecedented economic crisis and contraction. That Chavez is so worried about a "serious challenge to (his) chavismo (that he) trotted out the Uncle Sam boogeyman, called in the Russians, and (sent) Washington’s ambassador packing."
Human Rights Watch on the Attack
Too often, Human Rights Watch (HRW) fails to practice its stated mandate – that it’s "dedicated to protecting the human rights of people around the world….stand(ing) with victims and activists….upholding political freedom (and) bring(ing) offenders to justice." Instead it functions the way James Petras characterizes similar NGOs as the "executing agents of US imperialism."
Its support for the oppressed is dubious at best. Tainted at worst, and its latest September 18 Venezuela report is disturbing, biased, and inaccurate. It’s not dissimilar to how it covers the Israeli – Palestinian conflict. Distorting it to downplay Israeli violence. Playing up to the Israeli Lobby, and operating more by a political agenda than as a credible human rights organization. Clearly with its funding sources in mind that must be placated and never offended. HRW does it skillfully.
From its 1978 beginnings as the US Helsinki Watch Committee (or Helsinki Watch), HRW advanced America’s interests as a propaganda instrument against Soviet Russia. Despite occasional good work, too often it’s "serv(ed) as a virtual public relations arm of the (US) foreign policy establishment," according to Edward Herman, David Peterson and George Szamuely in their 2007 report titled: "Human Rights Watch in Service to the War Party."
Exhibits A and B: against Serbia’s Slobodan Milosevic and Saddam at a time "the United States and Britain were clearly planning an assault on Iraq with a ‘shock and awe’ bombing campaign and ground invasion in violation of the UN Charter." HRW ignored the impending onslaught. The "supreme international crime," and focused on Saddam’s much lesser ones. A "valuable public relations gift to US and British leaders" instead of denouncing them.
When the Pentagon-led NATO countries bombed Yugoslavia in 1999, HRW attacked the victim and absolved the aggressor. It supported regime change "either through (Milosevic’s) indictment or a US war (for) the same outcome." It blamed him for the conflict America began and waged throughout the 1990s with its NATO allies. It ignored Washington’s imperial aim to dismantle Yugoslavia. Its outrageous war crimes in doing it, and instead cited Serbia’s "vicious wars in Bosnia, Croatia and Kosovo." It demanded responsible Serbs be held to account before the kangaroo International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTW). Run by made-in-Washington rules to avoid any prosecution of its own role.
It showed HRW’s commitment to human rights is hollow and hypercritical. Its analysis opposite of the truth. Its disdain for the rule of law, and its judgment fully supportive of its funding sources. Organizations like:
– the Ford Foundation;
– the Rockefeller Foundation;
– the Carnegie Corporation of New York; and
– Time Warner.
– Edgar Bronfman, Jr., corporate CEO and member of one of Canada’s most wealthy and influential Jewish families;
– Katherine Graham (now deceased) of the Washington Post Corporation with her son and current chairman, Donald Graham, likely continuing her support;
– and George Soros who was active in founding HRW jointly with the US State Department.
Some of its Americas Advisory Board members are also closely linked to the National Endowment of Democracy (NED) and its anti-democratic agenda. Figures like George Soros and Robert Pastor, Jimmy Carter’s Latin American National Security Advisor and Senior Fellow at the Carter Center on Latin America and the Caribbean.
HRW failed to denounce CIA’s 2002 coup attempt against Chavez or the 2004 one against Haiti’s Jean-Bertrand Aristide. The thousands of Lavalas supporters murdered in its aftermath. The continuing daily human rights abuses committed by so-called UN Peacekeepers, police and other security forces. The unconscionable human misery in the coup’s aftermath.
It said nothing about Venezuelan dominant media’s advance knowledge about and support for the 2002 coup. The air time they gave plotters. Their virulent propaganda and calls for people to take to the streets "for freedom and democracy" by ousting Chavez. Their suppressing all pro-government reports and opinions. Their falsely reporting that Chavez resigned when, in fact, he was forcibly removed and was being held against his will. They knew because they were briefed in advance and were part of the scheme.
When hundreds of thousands of Chavez supporters were on the streets demanding his reinstatement, they ignored them and aired old movies and cartoons. Even when the coup was aborted, they maintained strict censorship in a further act of defiance. Yet, when Chavez refused to renew RCTV’s VHF license (a mere slap on the wrist for an act of sedition), HRW vehemently complained and denounced the act as censorship. It continues to criticize Chavez, most noticeably in its 230 page 2008 report titled, "A Decade Under Chavez: Political Intolerance and Lost Opportunities for Advancing Human Rights in Venezuela."
The report is unfairly one-sided and biased by criticizing the "government’s willful disregard for the institutional guarantees and fundamental rights that make democratic participation possible." In response, the government expelled two HRW employees – America’s Director, Jose Miguel Vivanco, and his Deputy, Daniel Wilkinson. A Foreign Relations Ministry press release stated: Vivanco and Wilkerson "have done violence to the constitution (and) assaulted (Venezuela’s) institutions (by) meddling illegally in (its) internal affairs."
The statement added that HRW is linked to America’s "unacceptable strategy of aggression" and expelling them was done to defend "the people against aggressions by international factors." Not accidently was the report released two months before Venezuela’s November 23 regional and local elections for governors and mayors. HRW did the same thing previously to sway voters away from Chavez candidates and issues and toward ones embracing a pro-Washington agenda. In October 2007, ahead of the December constitutional reform referendum, it criticized the measures and warned about the loss of freedoms if the vote was positive. Its latest report also comes at a time of increased tension between Washington and Caracas ahead of elections in both countries.
The Washington-based Venezuela Information Office (VIO) released an analysis of HRW’s report titled: "The Truth Suffers in Human Rights Watch on Venezuela." It’s summarized below and can be read in full along with other current Venezuela information on: rethinkvenezuela.org.
VIO is blunt and accurate in calling HRW down on its blatantly biased account. Not surprising given its history as explained above. It exaggerates and lies about human rights deficiencies, and at the same time, ignores Venezuela’s impressive social and other advances under Chavez. Unparalled in the country’s history. Nothing comparable in America where human rights and social gains are vanishing under both parties. Along with democracy that’s pure fantasy. Facts that HRW is loath to point out nor would it dare at the risk of offending its funding sources.
VIO deconstructs the HRW report by stating "myths," and "facts".
HRW myth: political discrimination defines the Chavez presidency.
VIO fact: HRW mischaracterizes Chavez’s condemnation of the aborted 2002 coup as "political discrimination" against the plotters. An absurdity on its face, but not to HRW.
HRW: Chavez disdains the separation of powers and an independent judiciary.
VIO: Chavez inherited a government for the rich. Mass poverty, and (according to an earlier HRW report) a judiciary plagued by "influence-peddling, political interference, and, above all, corruption….In terms of public credibility, the system was bankrupt." Since 1999, Chavez made great strides in cleaning it up. He still has a long way to go, but he’s heading in the right direction.
HRW: Chavez "shifted….the mass media in the government’s favor."
VIO: In print and electronically, Venezuela’s corporate media are dominant. The five leading private TV channels control 90% of the market and most viewers. They operate freely with no government censorship. Are unrestrained in their one-sided anti-goverment reporting, including "calling for the overthrow of elected leaders" as they did in 2002. All major newspapers are corporate-owned. TVes (Venezuela’s first public broadcaster) and TeleSur (the regional, multi-nation supported operation) reach much smaller audiences.
HRW: Chavez "has sought to remake the country’s labor movement in ways that violate basic principles of freedom of movement."
VIO: In fact, Chavez is actively pro-labor. Supports unions and collective bargaining on equal terms with management. In 2003, pro-government workers founded the National Workers Union (UNT). Chavez is responsive to its rights and equitable demands.
HRW: Chavez has been "aggressively adversarial….to local rights advocates and civil society organizations."
VIO: Chavez is responsive to local leaders. Promotes the creation of community councils to address their own needs and find solutions free from federal government control and influence. The idea is democracy at the grassroots, and it works.
VIO concludes that HRW systematically mischaracterizes the Chavez government. Wrongly accuses it of political discrimination and targeting opponents. The truth is mirror opposite even to the extent of pardoning coup plotters and promoting open dialogue.
In addition, Venezuela has a vibrant and improving participatory democracy, anchored at the grassroots. Each government branch provides "strong checks and balances" against the others. The nation is a free and open society. The Bolivarian Constitution respects and guarantees human and labor rights for all Venezuelans equally. Social ones also, including healthcare, education, food, housing, jobs, security and more.
In its biased and inaccurate account, HRW reports none of this and all other impressive achievements under Chavez. Doing so would offend its corporate and other backers. They want Chavez ousted. Bolivarianism ended, and Venezuela returned to its past. HRW is an imperial agent. On board to make it happen.
Targeting Latin American Democracy
Subversion in Venezuela and possible civil war in Bolivia threaten Latin America’s democracy. Fascists never rest and now control five of Bolivia’s richest states, according to long-time regional expert, James Petras. They "forcefully oust(ed) all national officials, murder(ed), injur(ed) and assaulted leaders, activists and voters who have backed the (Morales) national government – with total impunity."
Why so? Because, in nearly three years in office, Evo Morales tried to bargain with the far right. Be conciliatory and compromising. Back down from even "the mildest social reforms." Favor business over progressive social change in spite of winning a nearly 70% majority in an August 10 recall election. Allowed the opposition to be "aggressive(ly) violent." Seize power in Santa Cruz, Pando, Beni, Tarija and Chuquisaca. Rule by thuggery and intimidation. Head the country toward fascism. Erase the few social reforms achieved in the past three years. Hand the country back to oligarchs and their Washington bosses.
Threaten to take the model to Venezuela. End the region’s most impressive participatory democracy. Its social gains, and a leader who’s committed to improving them. Stand up against the same dark forces targeting Bolivia. Refuses to surrender the way Morales has done. Share power with the fascist right. Give in to their demands. Back their neoliberal agenda. Betray the people who elected him overwhelmingly. And face the possibility of what Michel Chossudovsky calls the "Kosovo Option."
Break up Bolivia by the Yugoslav model. Use extreme violence to do it. It made Kosovo an independent state. Planning the same scheme for Bolivia’s resource-rich states. Perhaps the same fate for Venezuela and extinguishing all Latin American democracy.
A very disquieting option. Unthinkable but possible under the current US administration and which ever new one succeeds it. More conceivable given a shaky world economy and how that distracts away from politics. Even the most destructive kind. Allowing democracy to be lost without even noticing.
Unlikely? Who back in summer 2007 imagined the kind of financial crisis that emerged. A potential economic armageddon. An unprecedented situation with no rules around to address. The possibility that nothing can stop a meltdown. And if it happens that democracy may go with it.
Preventing a similar Latin America outcome is crucial. Confronting the region’s dark forces to stop them. Understanding, as Petras states, that "you cannot ‘make deals’ with fascists." You don’t defeat them "through elections and concessions to their big property-owning paymasters." You confront them head on. Forcefully. Expose and denounce them. Ally with a democratic constituency and beat down their threat that’s real, menacing and must be stopped or its heading everywhere. Maybe sooner than anyone imagines.
Some hopeful signs, however, are present, and maybe more will follow. In mid-September, nine South American presidents held a crisis summit in Santiago, Chile and expressed "their full and firm support for the constitutional government of President Evo Morales (and) reject(ed) and will not recognize any situation that attempts a civil coup (or) rupture of (Bolivia’s) territorial integrity." Let’s hope they mean what they say and will back their words with resoluteness. Except for Chavez away on foreign tour, they met again on September 24 at the UN in New York to continue discussions.
In addition, on September 17, the National Coalition for Change (CONALCAM indigenous, campesino and urban movements) signed a pact with the Bolivian Workers Central (COB) to "defend the unity of the homeland that is being threatened by a civil coup lead by terrorists and fascists" directed out of Washington.
Events are fast-moving. They affect Venezuela and the region, and Roger Burbach, Director of the Center for the Study of the Americas (CENSA), reports that 20,000 miners, peasants and coca growers marched on Santa Cruz. The "bastion of the right wing rebellion" against Morales. He calls it a "popular upheaval" sweeping the country. But it’s too soon to predict an outcome, and much to worry about given Morales’ weak-kneed approach and reluctance to be as resolute as his supporters. Burbach calls it "restraint." For Petras, it’s capitulation, surrender, and a doomed strategy.
But not if mass protests can help it with Joel Guarachi, head of the National Confederation of Peasant Workers, saying 600,000 protesters are located throughout the 16 Santa Cruz provinces alone. Venezuelans share a common interest and may react the same way if Bolivarianism and their president are threatened.
Let’s hope so. With a few months left in office, the Bush administration may be unleashing its last hurrah in Latin America. A "hail Mary" effort to reclaim the region. Remove its weak democracies in countries like Bolivia and strong ones in Venezuela. And do it in the face of overwhelming domestic problems at home and lost wars abroad. Will it work? Not if Bolivians and Venezuelans have anything to say about it, and they’re saying plenty. Stay tuned.
Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached [email protected] Also visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com.