In Venezuela’s Shoes

in Politics by

Imagine if, for the past few decades, some foreign power — Russia, or China — was budgeting millions of dollars a year to fund an organization — let’s call it the International Liberation Fund — which had a subgroup working in the United States with the stated mission of turning U.S. citizens against the government, specifically the party in power, whether Democrat, Republican, or Green. Imagine they did tons of community outreach and charity work, all toward their mission. What if they even invented fake social media apps to send anti-government messages to U.S. citizens. Again, imagine if all of this was paid for and steered by some foreign power, maybe even the most powerful country on earth.

What if this foreign power — let’s say it’s Venezuela, and that it’s the most powerful country on earth — wanted our coal. Let’s say they wanted to weaken us economically, by imposing sanctions which made it almost impossible for us to sell our coal on the global market, or borrow money from other countries.

Imagine this was the same foreign power that, 18 years ago, orchestrated a failed coup which ousted our president for two days by spreading lies through the mainstream media.

What if the combined mass of their various schemes now threatened once again to bring down the U.S. government and our economy? What would the President say? What would any president say?

If the President told the truth, and weren’t just trying to hold on to power by looking as if he had everything under control, he would explain how we were in an invisible war with this foreign power. (And then, if the President weren’t just trying to seize more power, he would ask Congress for a declaration of war.)

Everything I’ve just described about this hypothetical foreign power is exactly what the U.S. government has been doing to Venezuela ever since its people elected Chávez in 1998.

As Timothy Gill, a professor of sociology at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington and the editor of a forthcoming book on U.S. policy in Latin America, writes in The Washington Post:

[T]he United States and Venezuela have had an acrimonious relationship for the past 20 years — in part because the United States has long supported the Venezuelan political opposition. …

Shortly after Hugo Chávez’s initial election in 1998, the U.S.-funded National Endowment for Democracy (NED) took the lead in training and guiding political parties on how they might best compete against him. One of the NED’s sub-agencies, the International Republican Institute (IRI), led these efforts.

The IRI sponsored such Republican politicians … to travel to Venezuela and meet individually with Venezuelan party leaders from the opposition, offering guidance on how they might electorally defeat Chávez. IRI members also ran political workshops for party members on issues such as constructing political platforms and reaching out to youth. One IRI contractor who helped facilitate some of these workshops bluntly described their objective to me: to help the opposition “get [their] s— together so they could defeat Chávez.”

Gill explains how a U.S. foreign aid and assistance group, the Office of Transition Initiatives, “initiated a strategy to develop neutral-looking organizations in working-class neighborhoods” which put anti-government agitators in contact with pro-government chavistas in hopes of turning them against President Chávez. The plot “directly reached approximately 238,000 adults through over 3,000 forums, workshops and training sessions,” reports the then-ambassador to Venezuela in a leaked cable quoted by Gill.

In 2009, this time in Cuba, O.T.I. secretly set up a fake Twitter-like service, ZunZuneo, through which the Office planned to spread anti-Castro messages across the island. (Actually the O.T.I. directed its program from the capitals of Nicaragua and Costa Rica in Central America, but it had undercover agents operating in Cuba, too.)

“At its peak, the project drew in more than 40,000 Cubans to share news and exchange opinions,” the Associated Press reported in 2014. “But its subscribers were never aware it was created by the US government, or that American contractors were gathering their private data in the hope that it might be used for political purposes.”

Just as the program got going, a U.S. contractor named Alan Gross was arrested in Cuba while working on another project for the O.T.I.’s parent organization, the U.S. Agency for International Development. The Feds began trying to distance themselves from the O.T.I.’s pet project in Cuba, and eventually someone pulled the plug on the whole thing.

Juan Guaidó, today’s self-styled president of Venezuela, cut his political teeth in a student movement backed by the O.T.I. But the smoking gun is our president’s appointment as special envoy to Venezuela the same man who, as a national security adviser to President W., encouraged visits to the White House by Venezuelan coup plotters in the months and weeks before the failed golpe against Chávez in April 2002. His name is Elliott Abrams, and he’s famous for lying to Congress in the eighties about his role in helping President Reagan secretly sell weapons to the Iranians (through the Israelis) and use the money to secretly aid the anti-government Contras in Nicaragua, a scandal known as Iran-Contra. Abrams was ultimately pardoned by Reagan’s vice president and successor, W.’s dad, Bush Sr.

For what it’s worth, Bush Sr. was once head of the C.I.A., which has secretly meddled in the politics of foreign countries since the Italian elections of 1948, a year after the Agency was founded.

But maybe that little fact, combined with the work of U.S. groups like the N.E.D. and the O.T.I., the sea of black gold under Venezuela, and that Venezuela’s socialist government won’t let U.S. corporations have at it, and that the President’s point man on Venezuela has been organizing the overthrow of foreign governments since I was in diapers, and is the same man who even got caught with his hand in a failed coup in the same Venezuela back in 2002 — maybe that’s all just one, big, smoking coincidence.

Still, if it looks like a coup, and there are veteran coup plotters leading it, why speak in hypotheticals? Just call it what it is.

It’s a coup.

The question is: What should the people of Venezuela do? What should any people do?


Featured image: An opposition demonstrators holds a Venezuelan flag in front of a burning barricade during a protest against President Nicolas Maduro’s government in Caracas, February 15, 2014. Credit: Flickr

Hector is the editor and publisher of Enclave. A Chicago writer now floating on the edge of Las Vegas, he is also the former deputy editor for Latino Rebels, as well as the former managing editor for Gozamos, a Latino art-activism site based in his home town. He has contributed to RedEye, a Chicago daily geared toward millennials, and La Respuesta, a New York-based site for the Puerto Rican Diaspora, plus a number of publications, including The Huffington Post. He studied history (for some reason) at the University of Illinois-Chicago, where his focus was on ethnic relations in the United States.

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