Friday,23 February, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1236, (5 - 11 March 2015)
Friday,23 February, 2018
Issue 1236, (5 - 11 March 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Chronicle of a coup foretold

The US has a long history of attempting to bring about regime change in Venezuela, writes Faiza Rady

Al-Ahram Weekly

“Yet another coup attempt by the US-sponsored opposition against Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro was thwarted in February,” said Juan Antonio Hernández, Venezuela’s ambassador to Cairo, at a press conference on 25 February.

He was speaking to reporters in Cairo, where he was asked about earlier statements about the attempted coup by the Venezuelan president. On 12 February, Maduro told the Venezuelan people that the plan was to bomb Miraflores, the Presidential Palace, in addition to launching attacks on other strategic targets in the Venezuelan capital Caracas.

These were to include the headquarters of the news agency Telesur, the military intelligence building, the Ministry of Defence and the Caracas municipality.

Charged with conspiring to overthrow the government, the mayor of Metropolitan Caracas, Antonio Ledezma, and ten army officers were arrested and detained. The US State Department condemned Ledezma’s arrest and told Latin American governments to take action against Venezuela.

In preparation for the attempted coup, anti-government leaders distributed pamphlets documenting a “transitional government agreement.” The pamphlets said that Maduro’s government had reached its “final stage” and that the socialist Bolivarian system would be replaced with a neoliberal, “free-market” version.

The “agreement” was signed by Maria Corina Machado, jailed opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez and Antonio Ledezma, the mayor of Metropolitan Caracas.

In January, US Vice President Joe Biden warned Caribbean countries that the government of Maduro would soon be “defeated” and therefore that they should abandon their discounted oil programme with the Venezuelan oil company PetroCaribe.

Days later, the coup plot against Maduro was thwarted and the ten active Venezuelan military officers detained.

In order to strike the capital the conspirators intended to use a Super Tucano fighter plane, a sophisticated and highly manoeuvrable aircraft. “The plane, which is registered under the serial number N314TG, is manufactured by the Brazilian company Embraer and was sold to the US military contractor Blackwater,” said Hernández.

The ambassador recalled that Blackwater gained international notoriety in 2007 because of its role in the massacre of civilians in Iraq, for which several of its contractors were indicted in US courts.

Blackwater’s sinister role in the CIA’s global assassination programme was also documented by Jeremy Scahill, national security correspondent for the US magazine The Nation.

The Venezuelan president accused the US government of instigating the coup, saying he had evidence of US embassy personnel attempting to bribe members of the Venezuelan armed forces to induce them to join the insurrection against the Bolivarian government.

Venezuela is not the only country in the region to accuse the US of involvement with the Venezuelan opposition, as other Latin American governments and organisations share the same sentiments.

On 15 February, the Latin American Parliament, a regional consultative assembly representing the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean, condemned the coup attempt.

The president of the regional body, Angel Rodriguez, recommended that Venezuelan prosecutors launch a comprehensive investigation and advised Venezuelans to remain “alert” to the machinations of US-backed “extremist groups.”

Ernesto Samper, secretary-general of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR), extended his organisation’s support to the people of Venezuela and the Maduro administration. The presidents of Bolivia and Nicaragua also expressed their solidarity with Venezuela.

Pointing the finger at the superpower, Bolivian President Evo Morales said, “We all have the obligation to enforce respect for democracy and elections, and if we all have a clear conscience, not even the empire can defeat us.”

Because the Obama administration effectively foretold the event, Venezuela’s regional support was not surprising.

To answer charges of US involvement, spokespersons for the Obama administration said that the US government did not interfere in internal Venezuelan affairs.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest vehemently denied the charges, rejecting them as “ludicrous,” but contradicted himself by disclosing that the “Treasury Department and the State Department are considering tools that may be available that could better steer the Venezuelan government in the direction that we believe they should be headed.”

Department of state spokeswoman Jen Psaki claimed that “allegations made by the Venezuelan government that the US is involved in coup plotting and destabilisation are baseless and false,” adding that “the US does not support political transitions by non-constitutional means.”

“Such assertions are surreal, to say the least,” commented Hernández. “Numerous declassified US government acts have documented US involvement in effecting regime change not only across the continent, but also around the world.”

The list includes the involvement of the CIA and other US agencies in coup d’états against Mohamed Mossadegh in Iran in 1953, Jacobo Arbenz in Guatemala in 1954, Patrice Lumumba in the Congo in 1960, Joao Goulart of Brazil in 1964 and Salvador Allende in Chile in 1973.

More recently, the US government has overtly supported coups against presidents Hugo Chavez in Venezuela in 2002, Jean-Bertrand Aristide of Haiti in 2004, and Jose Manuel Zelaya of Honduras in 2009.

In all these cases, in addition to others, US involvement in the illegal overthrows of democratically elected governments is on record. It was because of these leaders’ spirit of economic independence and their uncompromising rejection of the Washington Consensus that they were “disappeared,” with the noted exception of Chavez.

What happened in Venezuela during the attempted coups of 11 April 2002 and 27 February 2004 was that the people fought back to rescue their president and the Bolivarian Revolution.

Investigations subsequently revealed that the leaders of the actions against the Chavez government had received training from the US-based Albert Einstein Institute, which specialises in regime change.

Following its failure to overthrow Chavez in 2002, the US decided to invest in political sabotage, as well as economic warfare and media disinformation. To this end, the State Department set up a special fund at the National Endowment for Democracy to further assist such efforts.

In addition, USAID set up an Office for Transition Initiatives in Caracas, subcontracting US defence contractor Development Alternatives Incorporated to supervise operations and pad “opposition” coffers with millions of dollars.

Since then the cash has continued to flow. President Barack Obama authorised a special fund of $5 million in his annual budget to support anti-government groups in Venezuela. He increased this amount to $5.5 million as a result of inflationary pressures in 2015.

Today, the US-backed opposition is the same one that instigated coup attempts against Chavez in 2002 and 2004. What it is essentially doing is replaying the same scenario, with the assistance of the international and local media focusing on food shortages and suggesting that the government is failing to produce essential foodstuffs.

However, while the shortages are real, they are being manufactured by the opposition, which has excelled in the business of food hoarding. Because private businesses control about 70 per cent of food production, the owners of the industry are opposed to the government’s socialist-oriented policies. Accordingly, they have been easily enlisted by the opposition.

In 2014, food inspectors seized a cache of more than 28,000 tons of food that were to be sold in contraband operations. In 2015, the Herrera Company was found guilty of hoarding a ton of food and basic goods in one warehouse alone. At a different location, the same company had been hoarding foodstuffs for 45 days.

What has caused the relentless assaults on the part of the US against Venezuela since the early days of the Chavez presidency?

“It is explicable in terms of what an Oxfam report once defined in reference to Nicaragua as the ‘threat of a good example’,” says political analyst Michael Albert, explaining that Chavez and Madura have pursued socialist policies promoting the fate of the poor in their country — and beyond.

“The remarkable change in fortune for millions of people in Latin America is at the heart of US hostility.”

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