Stephen Gowans

Lust for Profits, Not Love of Democracy: The Real Reason Washington Wants Maduro Gone

Posted in Venezuela by what's left on August 4, 2019

August 4, 2019

Billionaire investor Wilbur Ross, who currently serves as US Commerce Secretary, recently unveiled Washington’s plan for a post-coup Venezuela. The natural resources-rich country is to be transformed into a theme park for wealthy US investors, bursting with profit-making opportunities for US businesses. ’Socialism,’ announced Ross, will be reversed. That Washington feels it can define the economic system of another country, and conspire to install a proxy, Juan Guaido, to impose a US-investor-friendly system upon its citizens, speaks volumes about what US leaders—all of them connected to corporate America in multiple, significant ways—really think about democracy. That the plan, if implemented, would present them with a bonanza of profit-making opportunities, reveals their true motivation in seeking the ouster of the resource nationalist Maduro.

By Stephen Gowans

In Inventing Reality: The Politics of the News Media, political scientist Michael Parenti wrote that, “Even when we don’t believe what the media say, we are still hearing or reading their viewpoints rather than some other. They are still setting the agenda.” [1] And the agenda they’ve set on Venezuela is built on the questions of whether the government of Nicolas Maduro is authoritarian and whether its so-called ‘socialist’ policies have ruined the country’s economy.

This agenda affords ample space for anarchists, such as Noam Chomsky and others, to criticize what they regard as Caracas’s arbitrary use of state authority. And it allows others to play Sunday morning quarterback, speculating on how Venezuela’s economic situation may have worked out differently if only Maduro, and his predecessor, Hugo Chavez, had pursued different policies.

Billionaire investor Wilbur Ross, currently serving as US Commerce Secretary, recently unveiled  Washington’s plans for a post-coup Venezuela. The natural resources-rich country is to be turned over to corporate America. ‘Socialism’ is to be reversed.

As the Left engages with conservative forces on these questions, it locks itself into the latter’s agenda. And in accepting that agenda, a key issue is missed: The real reason Washington seeks to replace Maduro, the elected resource-nationalist president, with the unelected foreign-investment supporting Juan Guaido.

If you believe Washington, the goals of its campaign to replace Maduro with Guaido are to restore democracy and stabilize Venezuela’s economy.  A premise of this argument is that democracy has been lost in Venezuela. It hasn’t. Yet, even if it had been—and, on the contrary, by any meaningful definition of the word democracy, Venezuela has become, with the government’s emphasis on the needs of the majority, more strongly democratic—you would have to be seriously misinformed to believe that Washington cares one iota about democracy. Whatever hillock of evidence one can marshal to show that the US government has ever promoted or defended democracy, a Himalaya of evidence can be marshalled on the other side.

Washington’s shameful history of overthrowing democratically elected governments around the world, including in Latin America, and not least its support for the 2002 coup d’état that briefly ousted Chavez, reveals what US leaders really think about rule by the people. So too does the US government’s notorious support for authoritarian governments, dictatorships, and monarchies.

For example, Washington counts Egypt among its best friends in the Middle East, a country whose leader, President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi (formerly field marshal Sisi) overthrew the only democratically elected president Egypt has ever had. Afterward, Washington’s good friend rounded up and jailed tens of thousands of the ousted president’s supporters. Sisi continues to receive over a billion dollars annually in US military aid, the largest recipient of US military aid after Israel. [2]

Little needs to be said about the anti-democratic character of another top Washington ally, the Saudi dictatorship, upon which Washington lavishes extravagant attention and to which it extends unceasing support.

And then there’s Mohammed bin Zayed. However much Washington dotes on Sisi and the Saudi tyrants, to “many in Washington…America’s best friend in the region” is MBZ, the unelected ruler of the United Arab Emirates. MBZ abhors democracy as much as Sisi and the House of Saud do, declaring that “the Arab world is not ready for democracy,” a viewpoint that has hardly made him persona non grata at the White House, State Department, or on Capitol Hill—odd, since you would think a government so invested rhetorically with an affection for democracy would find the Emerati despot distasteful. [3]

The democracy-abominating, US-loving, prince has “recruited American commanders to run his military and former spies to set up his intelligence services.” Before becoming secretary of defense, Jim Mattis, worked as an unpaid advisor. Mercenary Erik Prince, brother of billionaire US Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, created the royal dictator’s internal security apparatus to prevent democratic uprisings from threatening his rule. [4]

This only scratches the surface of Washington’s disdain for democracy. The Monroe Doctrine, which defines all of Latin America as a US sphere of interest, along with the 1905 Roosevelt Corollary and the recent 2019 Bolton Corollary, is a doctrine of empire—hardly the kind of thing you would think a genuine democracy-loving country would countenance.

And while Washington may celebrate and call its own political system a democracy, the United States is no more a democracy because it holds regularly scheduled competitive elections than a sow is a race horse because it has four legs. Democracy means something more than elections; it means, in part, a government that is responsive to the majority. By this criterion, the US government fails miserably.

In their 2014 study of over 1,700 US policy issues, the political scientists Martin Gilens and Benjamin I. Page found that “economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial impacts on government policy, while average citizens and mass-based interest groups have little or no independent influence.”  In other words, the United States is not a democracy, where influence is distributed uniformly, but a plutocracy, where political power is concentrated in the hands of a numerically insignificant elite of wealthy investors and shareholders who, by virtue of their outsized wealth, are able to dominate US public policy. [5]

A plutocracy doesn’t promote democracies around the world; it promotes regimes that open their doors to US exports and investments and provide plenty of handsome profit-making opportunities to wealthy investors. Plutocracies favor foreign governments that are willing, indeed eager, to preside over pro-foreign-investment business-oriented regimes that offer corporate America generous rewards.

At a breakfast meeting in Brazil a few days ago, billionaire investor Wilbur Ross, currently the US Secretary of Commerce, quietly unveiled US plans for a post-coup Venezuela and, in so doing, revealed what the pro-Guaido, anti-Maduro, campaign is all about: lust for profits, not love of democracy.

Ross announced that at the request of the National Security Council his department had taken the lead in developing an economic program for Venezuela, to be implemented by Washington’s errand boy Guaido, if US efforts to topple Maduro come to fruition.

The program features “Liberalization of Venezuela’s business climate, the removal of state controls, a privatization strategy [and] the reform of commercial law [to] attract foreign investment.” [6]

“Venezuela’s central bank, tax system, fiscal institutions, debt, and banking sector” are to be overhauled, to suit US businesses and to shower investors, including Ross and DeVos, and their friends and relatives, with handsome business opportunities. [7]

The energy sector—that is, Venezuela’s El Dorado of black gold—is to be liberalized and “the participation of private firms, including from the U.S” is to be promoted. The entire program is built around facilitating “private investment,” [8] that is, supplanting Venezuela’s public ownership with the United States’ free enterprise.

The US government has already “engaged with the private sector and international financial institutions to move [infrastructure] projects forward,” announced the investment banker, so that US engineering firms can build roads, ports, and bridges, “vital for the mining and the oil and gas sector,” [9] enabling Western energy and mining companies to easily access Venezuela’s cornucopia of natural resources.

The Ross plan pledges to “revers[e] socialism.” Venezuela is to be transformed into a Disney World for the US business elite. “The U.S. will remove commercial restrictions for U.S. firms, mobilize business contacts with Venezuela, and foster a constituency for pro-market, pro-business reforms,” Ross announced. The “Department,” he added, “will promptly create a virtual and then in-country clearing house with real time intel on trade and investment opportunities for U.S. and international businesses.” [10]

In other words, the point of the campaign is the same as the point of every US regime change operation, now, and in the past—promotion of US free enterprise. As the US Army acknowledged in a classified document, a goal of US foreign policy is “Furthering free trade, unencumbered by tariffs, interdictions, and other economic barriers, and furthering capitalism to foster economic growth, improve living conditions, and promote the sale and mobility of US products to international consumers.” [11] The US Army’s admission corroborates US Marine General Smedley Butler’s confession that he was “a high class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street and the bankers…a gangster for capitalism.” [12] The Ross plan is simply the expression of this goal for Venezuela.

Unfortunately, much of the discussion about Venezuela side-steps the issue of the real reasons for the US campaign against Maduro. Instead, debate focuses, as stated previously, on the democratic credentials of the Maduro government and the reasons the Venezuelan economy is in crisis. Or it digresses into the question of whether Maduro’s policies are really socialist. The debate misses the point. Washington decries as socialism any policy that diverts the flow of wealth from private US investors to anyone else, and therefore as dangerous (to US investors) and a threat to the foreign policy of the United States (i.e., the foreign policy of corporate America.) As the political sociologist Albert Szymanski observed,

To continue to secure sizable profits from its activities in Asia, Africa, and Latin America, the United States has had to continually intervene against attempts to establish Socialist, Communist, or nationalist regimes. US foreign and military policy stresses the preservation of submissive regimes throughout the world. Nationalists who threaten to expropriate US interests and turn them over to local capitalists are as dangerous as Socialists and Communists who would turn them over to local workers or the state. All three alternatives threaten the profitability of American corporations, and therefore all are opposed by the US government. [13]

The US historian William Appleman Williams once remarked that “Joseph Stalin maintained that America’s record in world affairs was exactly the reverse of [its] view [of itself].” [14] The Soviet leader made an astute observation. The US record—one of expropriating the land of native Americans, stealing the labor of enslaved Africans, and plundering the natural resources and markets of Latin Americans and Asians—is certainly the reverse of the fairy tale Washington and the plutocrat-owned US media promotes. US citizens may be willing to support high-minded crusades, but not interventions whose goals are to defend and fatten the investment portfolios of US Brahmins. Consequently, the unholy trinity of Washington, Wall Street, and the US news media, validate US historian Bernard DeVoto’s observation that US history “began in myth and has developed through three centuries of fairy stories.” [15] The idea that the US regime change plan for Venezuela is aimed at “restoring democracy” (when democracy, in any meaningful definition of the word, has grown stronger) and stabilizing the economy on behalf of long-suffering Venezuelans (rather than in the interests of US corporations) piles yet another fairy story atop a mountain of fantasies.

Stalin made another observation, namely, that unconditional US economic expansion into the territory of a developing country is “as dangerous to a nation as foreign military invasion.” [16]

China’s refusal to accept the Open Door Policy is the main reason why the Trump administration is locked in a tariff war with Beijing. It hopes, by pressure, to force China to abandon its program of state-directed economic development, which favors Chinese firms at the expense of US companies, in certain areas.

Stalin’s point was that once the United States is in a position to dominate a country economically, it can impose its will. And since the objective of war is for one state to impose its will on another, the outcome of the Open Door Policy is the same as the outcome of a war.

Whatever you want to call the Maduro government’s economic policies—socialist or nationalist or otherwise—they are aimed at overcoming poverty and asserting national independence. To accept the antithetical program formulated by Ross, to be implemented by the Venezuelan Quisling, Guaido, would be tantamount to inviting a foreign military invasion.

Lastly, it should be noted that the Ross plan, at its base, is the same plan the United States has imposed on Latin America for over a century. And in that time, despite following US economic diktats, Washington’s informal colonies have remained mired in poverty. No, in that time, because they have followed US economic diktats, Latin Americans have remained poor and dependent. If the Open Door is supposed to benefit Latin America as much as it does US investors, why is that US investors have grown immensely wealthy and Latin Americans fall ever further behind?

Washington’s Open Door Policy demands that local governments implement policies favorable to the requirements of giant US businesses. Since these businesses have immense market power, their free entry into a country’s economic space means that locally-owned and indigenously–directed industries cannot even get off the ground, let alone compete. Infrastructure development is undertaken by US engineering firms, paid for with interest by loans from US banks, so that US energy and mining companies can extract the country’s natural resources.  While the Open Door is portrayed as a level playing field, in reality, the pre-existing economic supremacy of US firms tilts the field decisively in their favor. Indeed, US governments have favored the Open Door Policy precisely because it effectively closes the door on all but the major privately-owned enterprises of the United States (and other allied Western powers.)

Chavez, and his successor, Maduro, have tried to change this equation, so that Venezuela’s markets, land, natural resources, and labor are used to lift Venezuelans out the poverty to which decades of the Open Door Policy and over five centuries of plunder by Europe and its offshoots have condemned them. Washington, for obvious reasons, is opposed. Dominated by corporate lobbies, teeming with state officials who move in and out of  top level careers in major US corporations, peopled by politicians whose election campaigns depend on the money of the wealthy few, and led by a cabinet of billionaire investors and their wealthy advisors, Washington wants the plunder of Venezuela to resume.

A propos of Latin America, Butler confessed that

I helped make Mexico, especially Tampico, safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefits of Wall Street. The record of racketeering is long. I helped purify Nicaragua for the international banking house of Brown Brothers in 1909-1912. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for American sugar interests in 1916. [17]

At the head of the long line of those who have facilitated the plunder of the poor on behalf of “Big Business [and] for Wall Street and the bankers,” stands Juan Guaido, eager to play the role of the doorman, as well as all those who, in engaging in self-promoting virtue-signalling by deprecating Maduro’s alleged democratic lapses, are helping Washington galvanize support for its campaign to sweep away an obstacle to the rape of Venezuela.

Stephen Gowans is the author of Washington’s Long War on Syria (2017), Patriots, Traitors, and Empires: The Story of Korea’s Struggle for Freedom (2018), and Israel, A Beachhead in the Middle East: From European Colony to US Power Projection Platform (2019). All are published by Baraka Books.

  1. Michael Parenti, Inventing Reality: The Politics of News Media, St. Martins Press, 1993, p. 1.
  2. Jared Malsin, “US releases $195 million in military aid to Egypt,” The Wall Street Journal, July 25, 2018.
  3. David D. Kirkpatrick, “The most powerful Arab ruler isn’t MBS, it’s MBZ,” The New York Times, June 2, 2019.
  4. Kirkpatrick.
  5. Martin Gilens and Benjamin I. Page, “Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens,” Perspectives on Politics, Fall 2014.
  6. “Remarks by U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur L. Ross at the Venezuela Infrastructure Breakfast in Brasilia, Brazil” U.S. Department of Commerce, August 1, 2019, https://www.commerce.gov/news/speeches/2019/08/remarks-us-commerce-secretary-wilbur-l-ross-venezuela-infrastructure)
  7. Ross.
  8. Ross.
  9. Ross.
  10. Ross.
  11. “Army Special Operations Forces Unconventional Warfare,” September 2008, A10, https://fas.org/irp/doddir/army/fm3-05-130.pdf)
  12. Smedley Butler, 1933, https://fas.org/man/smedley.htm.
  13. Albert Szymanksi, The Capitalist State and the Politics of Class, Winthrop, 1978, p. 209.
  14. William Appleman Williams, The Tragedy of American Diplomacy, W.W. Norton & company, 1962, p. 20
  15. Quoted in Daniel Francis, National Dreams: Myth, Memory, and Canadian History, Arsenal Pulp Press, 2011, p. 11.
  16. William Appleman Williams, Empire as a Way of Life, IG Publishing, 2007, p. 174.
  17. Butler.

 

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