Renegade Inc. met up with the head of Latin American Studies Research Group at Middlesex University, Dr. Francisco Dominguez and the Professor of Human Rights at Birkbeck, Professor Oscar Guardiola-Rivera to discuss what’s really going on in Venezuela.
The Latin-American 9/11
Dr Dominguez related the experiences of the first 9-11 of 1973 in Chile under socialist President Allende to the current events unfolding in Venezuela:
“Chile had a vigorous European style democracy since about 1920”, says Dominguez. “Ever since the election of Allende in 1970, the United States, threw everything at us including the kitchen sink. By 1973 the economy was completely destroyed. The coup formally began at 5 o’clock in the morning. By about 7am the presidential palace was surrounded and the military forces were moving around the country taking over things and assassinating people on the spot. By about 8 o’clock the president made a desperate appeal to the population to help defend the Palace.”
Noam Chomsky talks about the first 9/11 in Chile (part of Four Horsemen documentary)
Dominguez was one individual among many who responded to the Presidents request, only to discover that the palace had already been surrounded by opposition troops, with Allende, his aides and ministers inside. The researcher described the unfolding deaths including that of the president and other horrors. He described how anybody resisting what was being done to them were under the immediate threat of execution. “People I knew – my friends – were being executed on the spot”, he says.
By the early afternoon a second communique was issued:
“They were banning everything. They closed down Congress and stopped elections indefinitely. No political parties could exist, no trade unions, no nothing. The democracy that it took us so many struggles to build over 50 something years was destroyed by 3 o’clock that day”, said Dominguez.
Terrorism of the kind outlined above enacted by the West against official enemies is never described as such. It is only regarded as terrorism when “they” attack “us”. Noam Chomsky reaffirms this central truism:
The Venezuela context
The current situation unfolding in Venezuela is best viewed in the context of Chile and other regional coups. Dominguez points to the examples of the former and Argentina:
“In Chile the military assassinated…5000 people…In Argentina the military junta – also supported by the US – between 1976 and 1982/83 – assassinated 32,000”, said Dominguez.
The researcher continued:
“If one looks at the scale, looks at the level of hatred and intensity the United States has against us and had against the poor people of Argentina, you can imagine the way they feel about [the Venezuelan government] that lasted 20 years and they haven’t been able to destroy.
Nevertheless, this hasn’t stopped them trying over the course of two decades to wreck the country:
“They never stop”, posits Dominguez. “They will purge society. As the head General in charge of the Air Force in the military junta of Chile, said, ‘We have to extricate this Marxist concept from society, and the best Marxist is a dead Marxist.’
Professor Guardiola-Rivera referenced a more recent example of US imperialist aggression – in his home neighbouring country of Colombia. The scale of the atrocities, reflected in the numbers, is staggering:
“Seven million people were forcibly displaced by the military and the paramilitary working together with the US government. More than 40,000 disappeared – just in one country. That is to say, far more than those who were disappeared in all of the dictatorships of the southern cone combined”, exclaimed Guardiola-Rivera.
Those allied to the United States who committed the atrocities, not only got away with them, they remain in power in Colombia, having recently won another election. Without the assistance of the local paramilitary and military groups inside Colombia, the US would not have been able to carry out their regime change operation in Venezuela.
“When people like Colombia’s new President, his political mentor and others tell us that they have the humanitarian interest of Venezuelans at heart, we Colombians know better”, says Guardiola-Rivera. “These are people who [are prepared to] kill over 250,000 of their own citizens…If we allow a humanitarian crisis in Venezuela – in which 2.4 million have left [the country] – to continue, it will be absolutely horrendous”, he adds.
Neoliberal ‘Shock Therapy’ – making the economy scream is the price for exporting ‘democracy’ & ‘freedom’.
The US benchmark for regime change in Venezuela, was crystallized in reforms that underpinned the economic ‘shock doctrine’ of neoliberalism whose leading exponent was Milton Friedman. Chile in the early 1970s was South America’s testing ground for these reforms, which was the price to be paid for exporting the US versions of democracy and freedom. The implementation of shock therapy in Chile, in other words, became the US economic blueprint for the rest of South America.
“The blueprint began to be implemented in ’74, right away”, claims Dominguez. “They went through several experiments [before arriving] at a coherent strategy from a right-wing neoliberal point of view. Soon after, Friedman came to Chile to evaluate how his experiment was going.”
“He [Friedman] came to monitor the thing. He was interviewed on television. The whole country saw it. He was asked about whether the level of economic liberalisation – which at the time was much worse than anything that anybody knew anywhere in the world – was being brutally implemented. He said that as far as he was concerned, the levels were not sufficient and much more had to be done. He was tremendously vigorous about it.”
“Immediately after that – around the time the regime assassinated most of the people and the worst brutalities and atrocities were committed – journalists on television asked him about the question of political liberalisation. And in ’75 he said that many more restrictions had to be implemented. And the reason he said this was because in his view the remaining freedoms that he saw there would have complicated the implementation of the neoliberal paradigm.”
“So that gives you an idea of how far they were prepared to go.”
“Notice how Francisco was referring to Friedman as coming to Chile to check how they were doing. Now ‘they’ are the so-called Chicago boys. Chilean young leaders – student leaders and politicians who had already imbibed these ideas of hatred towards any sort of political dissent. This is very important because those young Chileans….are the exact equivalent in today‘s Venezuela… In fact when you look at Juan Guaido…and….the members of the so-called Popular Will Party who ended up proclaiming themselves as the interim presidency of Venezuela. You have the exact same career path.”
Guardiola-Rivera remarked on the toxic mixture and backgrounds of the various individuals involved:
“They were educated in elite business schools in Caracas. They were educated precisely in the neoliberal dogma. Then they emerged…during the student protest 2007/2014. And then they are – we now know – trained and funded by US aid – by the Endowment for Democracy – in programs that used to be covert. One of them is being run in Serbia. They were trained in how to use street mobilizations in order to destabilise a democratic country. And now those programs…are overt, run by the Department of Justice. This is where these guys….and others were prepped, funded and trained. This is also when and why they get to meet people who moved in those circles in the United States – in intelligence services and so on and so forth. That is to say people like Mike Pompeo or John Bolton or the very notorious Elliot Abrams.
Guardiola-Rivera outlined the broader context:
“This, of course, not only evokes what happened in Chile in the 1970s, but what was repeated thereafter during my time in Panama in the ’80s then in Haiti and, more recently, Honduras, Paraguay, culminating last year in the coup d’etat in Brazil. This follows the exact same script. Number 1: Make the economy scream so that whatever popular support this regime has is undermined [and eroded]. Number 2: Try and divide the military – which is what they did in Chile….Number 3: If that doesn’t work then you rain hell from above on that country. And that’s of course what not only Chavez supporters in Venezuela but also people who are critical of Maduro want to avoid. They fear most the possibility of all-out war in Venezuela. A phenomenon contained in one country will be a regional conflagration that very quickly could spill over into a global one.”
Humanitarian intervention as propaganda
It’s somewhat ironical that President Trump, who lost the popular vote in the US and therefore whose concepts of democracy and freedom are skewed, is willing to export them through a form of political-economic and military coercion. As Dr Dominguez points out, in the case of Venezuela, this is being done through the auspices of humanitarian aid as a form of propaganda:
“The United States could easily help but rather than doing that it’s militarizing what they call humanitarian aid in order to try to come in with guns blazing”, says Dominguez.
This is a point, similarly picked up on by Dr. Marcus Papadopoulos who, in a tweet, argued:
“The delivery of humanitarian aid by the US to the Colombian/Venezuelan border is a sickening component of Washington’s propaganda war against Venezuela. If the US really wants to help the Venezuelan people then it should lift the sanctions it has placed on them.”
“Look they [the US administration] might fool some of the people but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time. You cannot believe that [John] Bolton, whom we all remember from the Iraq war and human rights champion Elliott Abrams whom we all remember for having lied to its own congress – a convicted war criminal, and so on – have the humanitarian interests of Venezuelans inside their hearts.”
Recently President Trump offered Venezuela’s military officers a choice – work for a democratic future for all Venezuelans or see the financial circle closed for their families and loved ones.
This kind of imperialist-colonialist mentality is not merely pernicious but, in the view of Dominguez:
“It’s bullying. The intention is to split the armed forces in Venezuela to facilitate what they’re trying to do. They’ve been calling on the Armed Forces in Venezuela to split and to abandon the government and their constitution since 2017. So far very little has happened. That’s why there’s going to be more of those very soon again.”
The critical eye & the ‘mainstream’ cacophony
Guardiola-Rivera has written numerous critiques of the US role in Venezuela. The human rights professor says the reaction to his work has been mixed. He notes, however, that the majority of people appear to be able to analyse what’s presented to them with a critical eye:
“You get people calling you a Putin puppet or they ask you how much do they pay you for saying these lies and so forth”, he says, but adds, “For the most part what I’ve got is the following reaction, ‘Thanks for writing an article that actually tries to paint a truthful picture of what is happening, it’s very difficult to find it in the mainstream media.’ You have to go….elsewhere because in the mainstream media what you have is a cacophony of very much the same stories that we heard back in 2001 during the run-up to Iraq.”
The imperialist right-wing propaganda of the one per cent is inculcated in the cacophony of anti-Maduro/pro Western establishment voices. One such figure is Richard Branson, who Guardiola-Rivera claims “behaves as if he was God for the poor suffering Latin Americans.”
According to Guardiola-Rivera, “people have got wiser” with regards to understanding what the real motives of the imperialists are around the world. But specifically, in terms of Venezuela, the professor is:
“very concerned about the fact that nobody is asking the real question. The question is. Why now? The changes in leadership in Latin America, particularly in Venezuela’s most important neighbouring countries, Colombia and Brazil.”
“Colombia used to be ruled by a liberal who had just got the Nobel Prize for Peace. That guy was not going to roll over for this kind of US adventurism. So he was replaced by a puppet. And then in Brazil, you have neo-fascist, Bolsonaro. I tell you these two leaders would be more than happy to commit their own troops to this kind of exercise.
In propaganda terms, such proxies would likely be more devastating for the region than would be the case if Trump decided to commit his own troops to the ground in Venezuela. As Guardiola-Rivera attests, what American presidents fear the most are “the media depicting coffins coming back. But if you have these proxies – and this is my fear – we may not see a sort of all out invention but a sort of war by proxy. The kind of thing that we have already been seeing in Syria.”
Dr Dominguez interjected:
“It seems to me there is a very interesting dimension here. Nothing legitimizes US foreign policy internationally more than the support it gets from the European Union. The European Union capitulates and.. sometimes…[this capitulation involves]….taking decisions against it’s own interests….Countries such as China, Russia India – just to mention a few – are quite substantial economically – already been very strong [defending Venezuela]….[In terms of}…the whole African Union, there’s this statement defending Maduro and opposing what is being done to them and so on. It seems to me that the difficulty…Trump/Bolton, Rubio, Abrahms etc, have is this: The Venezuelan opposition has been pretty useless to be able to get the job done. Every time they mess it up – and there is a very peculiar twist in this – the United States seems to be very frustrated with them because they don’t get things done. The trouble is, the Venezuelan opposition is not independent and as a result of this they follow what they are told from Washington.”
“And the opposition is very discredited. Very very discredited. With this, you know if this fails – and there are chances that it does – I think the opposition is going to find it impossible to recover.”
The geopolitical angle
In the view of Guardiola-Rivera:
“There are two aspects to the Venezuelan crisis from a world geopolitical perspective. One of which was made clear by an American historian whose knows Latin America very well, Greg Grandin. He posted a tweet saying, ‘The road to Tehran seems to pass through Caracas.’ Readers of Bob Woodward’s book on the Trump administration – Fear -would surely remember Chapter 14 where we’re told this very weird story about an NSA operative who may have persuaded Donald Trump’s son in law – Jared Kushner – that the next war was coming from Iran – specifically Hezbollah – and that Hezbollah had operatives in Latin America.”
Guardiola-Rivera referenced terrorism and an additional economic-political dimension:
“We’ve heard Mike Pence but also Mike Pompeo and others saying that the threat posed by Venezuela is not just corruption of human rights but terrorism. He’s already hinting at alleged presence of Hezbollah in Venezuela. The other aspect is the economic political aspect. Clearly this is a move to oust China. China has important [predominantly infrastructure] investments in the region as a whole – not just Venezuela.”
“During the last decade and a half the world has became more multipolar. This is what the Trump administration is trying to rollback”, says Guadiola-Rivera.
How is this all likely to pan out?
For Guardiola-Rivera, the US strategy in Venezuela is widely viewed as a:
“show of strength by the United States”, but “actually it is the very opposite. They are running out of time. They know that the days of their far right-wing allies in the region are counted. So this can only pan out in one of two ways. Either the United States manages to produce a division within the Venezuelan army which then leads to a military coup. But that road ends in violence. Or else by weaponising humanitarian aid and human rights along the Venezuela/Colombia border they provoke a heavier handed response by the Venezuelan army. This could possibly result in people being killed in the very act of trying to get some aid which would provide the sort of moral justification for a humanitarian intervention, perhaps with the approval of the Organization of American States. But that road also ends in violence. The only way this would work for the United States is the worst possible scenario for Venezuelan people, Latin American and the whole world. Which is why so many people inside Venezuela and outside are opposing, very firmly, this possibility.”
In the view of Dominguez, the endpoint is indicative of Pompeo’s perceived failings in terms of his ability to secure votes at the United Nations Security Council and the Organization of American States during the emergency meetings their. “This is what made them so desperate”, claims Dominguez. “That’s why they’re going to go for war. That’s what they’re trying to do. And they know the complications. This is not an easy thing. And although the danger is supreme, time is working against them….There is something new in the picture: Mexico’s initiative to actually engage in dialogue and try to get Venezuelans to sort themselves out. This is getting a lot of traction. So the more wider phase and the more the United States is unable to do these things, the more chances there are that no war takes place.
“What is at stake is the national sovereignty of Venezuela and the whole of Latin America because if they get away with this, they can get away with it anywhere in the world. Not just in Latin America.”