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

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.

 

Once Again Chomsky and Achcar Provide a Service to the US Global Dictatorship

By Stephen Gowans

July 26, 2019

Noam Chomsky recently co-authored an op-ed in The New York Times, portraying the embattled Venezuelan government as an arbitrary undemocratic state, and calling upon it “to liberate all political prisoners, both military and civilian.” The occasion for the op-ed was the release from parole of Venezuelan judge María Lourdes Afiuni. Chomsky had weighed in on her case in 2011, in an interview with the British newspaper, The Observer.  The newspaper ran the interview under the headline “Noam Chomsky criticises old friend Hugo Chavez for ‘assault’ on democracy”. The linguist denied he had done this, calling the headline “a complete deception.” It turned out the only deception was Chomsky’s denial.

Chomsky took issue with Chavez jailing people who threatened the Bolivarian Revolution, arguing that such harsh measures were only warranted “for specific circumstances, let’s say fighting world war two.” The implication was that US efforts to block the reform program set in train by Hugo Chavez—the 2002 coup, the attempted 2019 coup, economic warfare, destabilization, military intimidation, the attempted assassination of Maduro, US-organized diplomatic pressure on the government to step down—were not of the same magnitude as WWII and therefore emergency measures were unwarranted.

During both the first and second world wars, the United States suspended civil liberties, jailed dissidents and potential fifth columnists, and concentrated authority in the presidency, including the authority to direct the economy. Yet the threat posed to the United States by its enemies was vanishingly small. The United States, or at least the North American part of it, was protected on either side by two vast oceans and two friendly countries. There was no chance the WWI Central Powers would cross the Atlantic to invade the United States, and no chance either of fascist Italy, Nazi Germany, or militarist Japan crossing thousands of miles of ocean to launch a general assault on continental US soil. Nor were any of these enemies in a position to engage in anti-US economic warfare of any consequence, or to engineer a coup d’état in Washington.

The same, however, cannot be said about the power of the United States, its allies, and myrmidons, to topple the Venezuelan government. Venezuela has unquestionably faced a severe emergency from the moment Hugo Chavez came to power, with a vision of overcoming a semi-colonial past and resisting an imperialist present. At that point, Washington began organizing the overthrow of his revolution. To suggest, as Chomsky does, that the Venezuelan government has the latitude to assert a program of national independence in the face of US hostility while according full freedom to the US-backed opposition to organize its downfall, is either naïve, or artful.  Whatever the case, it’s an invitation to the Maduro government to commit suicide.

Chomsky frequently complained that The New York Times wouldn’t run his op-eds because his points of view were outside the acceptable limits of ruling class opinion. Well, it seems that not all of them are.

No sooner had Chomsky performed his valuable service to Washington of traducing the Venezuelan government as undemocratic and arbitrary, than Gilbert Achcar, a Chomsky co-author, was revealed to be doing his own service to the United States’ global dictatorship by working with the British Ministry of Defense.  Anyone who has followed Achcar’s work won’t be surprised. The University of London professor hasn’t met a US intervention he didn’t like. His speciality is to formulate arguments to prove that interventions against forces of national assertiveness and local sovereignty are, despite appearances, actually anti-imperialist and pro-socialist.

Achcar has been training the” British military “on ‘Islamic fundamentalism’ and other topics,” for the past two years, according to The Morning Star. Why the British military would pay the slightest attention to him is mind-boggling. Achcar is a charlatan, much given to double-talk and sophistry, whose analyses of the topics on which he holds forth with studied authority are stunningly wrong.

I wrote an essay on Achcar in December of 2015 and January 2016, titled “The ‘Anti-Imperialist’ Who Got Libya Wrong Serves Up The Same Failed Analysis on Syria.” The essay examined Achcar’s arguments for Western intervention in Libya and Syria, showing that his grasp of the facts was not even shaky but dead wrong. As for his predictions, they turned out to be stunningly off the mark.

This raised the question of why an analyst with such a horrible track record would be sought after for articles, co-authorship, interviews, and training, by the likes of Jacobin, Chomsky, Democracy Now, and the British military? That, I guess, says something about Jacobin, Chomsky, Democracy Now, and the British military.

There has long been a cankered part of the political Left that has used sophistry to justify support for imperialism. Jacobin, Chomsky, Democracy Now, and Achcar, stand in a long tradition, stretching back to the socialists who supported their own governments in WWI, and presented what they said were perfectly sound socialist and anti-imperialist reasons for doing so. Then as now, their arguments and actions were a betrayal of the socialism and anti-imperialism to which they affected fidelity.

 

 

Jacobin stabs Venezuela in the front

May 2, 2019

By Stephen Gowans

On the heels of another Washington-backed attempt to engineer a coup d’état in Venezuela, Jacobin, a periodical that bills itself as “a leading voice of the American Left,” has published an assault on the Bolivarian Revolution. Following Oscar Wilde’s quip about enemies stabbing you in the back but friends stabbing you in the front,  Jacobin contributor Gabriel Hetland has aimed his dagger squarely from the front, though not before voicing a profusion of friendly bon mots about Leftist solidarity.  The University of Albany academic, another agent of imperialism masquerading as a beautiful soul, has done what a long line of Left imperialists has done before him: counselled against supporting those who have organized to overcome their oppression by Western states.

In “Venezuela and the Left,” Hetland draws on a 2016 article he wrote for The Nation, titled “Why Is Venezuela in Crisis?” In that article, the Jacobin contributor points to the near “impossibility of disentangling the ‘internal’ and ‘external’ aspects of the crisis” in Venezuela, noting that “the government has not acted in a vacuum, but in a hostile domestic and international environment.” A reasonable person might agree. The hostile domestic and international environment has structured the viable range of responses available to the Venezuelan government, and we can’t understand or evaluate the government’s actions without taking account of the environment in which it has had to act. One might conclude, then, that Hetland is a reasonable person.

However, no sooner does he acknowledge the near impossibility of disentangling the internal and external aspects of the crisis, than he declares the Gordian knot cut. “To an agonizingly large degree,” he tells us, “Venezuela’s crisis is of the government’s own making.” And thereupon the hostile domestic and international environment vanishes, never again to trouble our thoughts.

According to the political sociologist, “Chávez committed several major errors that have come back to haunt Venezuela today. In particular, he failed to effectively tackle corruption, dismantle currency controls after they had served their purpose, and wean Venezuela from its extreme dependence on oil.”

http://www.barakabooks.com

Doubtlessly, Chavez made errors. But what Hetland calls Chavez’s errors are not errors at all, but failures to work miracles. Hetland presents weaning Venezuela from its extreme dependency on oil as a policy lever that Chavez could have pulled or not. In Hetland’s thinking, Chavez faced a binary choice: end oil dependency or continue it, and the Venezuelan leader chose to continue it rather than end it, and thereby blundered.

Does Hetland really believe that it was possible for Venezuela, over a little more than the decade Chavez was in office, in a hostile domestic and international environment, to wean itself from its extreme oil dependency? If so, he’s living on a planet of utopias. How many major oil-producing countries have successfully weaned themselves from oil dependency in half a century, let alone the 11 years Chavez was president?

The same can be said about corruption. Hetland seems to think that corruption in Third World countries is easily eradicated, as if a lever simply needs to be pulled, and shazam, corruption comes to an end. If we think like Hetland, then Chavez could have chosen to accept corruption or reject it. In Hetland’s agonizingly confused thinking, because corruption carried on, Chavez must have accepted it.

This isn’t serious analysis. To an agonizingly large degree it is superficial; a large dollop of virtue-signalling upon a veneer of utopianism. Hetland may just as well have said that to an agonizingly large degree, Venezuela’s crisis is of the government’s own making because Chavez failed to surround himself with angels capable of carrying out miracles.

http://www.barakabooks.com/

Hetland mimics the agonizingly didactic style of Patrick Bond, Stephen Zunes, and Gilbert Ashcar, other members of the academy, who also deliver pronouncements with great certitude on both empirical and moral questions, backed up by an agonizingly large degree of superficial thinking. Presumably, they can’t get away with this in peer-reviewed journals, but feel free to stretch their legs on Z-Net, Jacobin, and Counterpunch, where the demands for defensible analysis are less exacting.

Hetland appoints himself as a man with all the answers, able to sort through what he assures us are difficult questions, and to do so in only 1,000 words. He begins his Jacobin article by asking: “How should we respond?” to the crisis in Venezuela (which, let’s remember, was brought about by Washington seeking to topple the Maduro government) after which he proceeds to enumerate a series of “we shoulds,” as if he’s a pontiff declaring how the faithful ought to conduct itself. Amusingly, he tells us there are no easy answers, and then quickly furnishes us with some. Easy answer 1. Chavez should have ended Venezuela’s oil dependency. Easy answer 2. Chavez should have ended corruption. Easy answer 3. Chavez should have….And so on. If only Chavez had consulted Hetland, arbiter of difficult questions, the whole crisis could have been averted. Easy answer 4. We should support the angels.

I was also struck by this: “The first duty of leftists is to provide solidarity to the oppressed.” I would have thought that the first duty of leftists is to overcome oppression. Without reference to a concrete project of overcoming oppression the statement “We ought to provide solidarity to the oppressed” is meaningless. Counterpunch’s Eric Draitser also argued that the left should confine itself to showing solidarity with the oppressed of Syria, but it was unclear who he meant by the ‘oppressed.” He seemed to mean Syrians who neither support the US government’s attempt to dictate the political and economic policies of Syria or the government that zealously resists this.

Hetland and Draitser are simply calling for a withdrawal from the real world of politics and the abjuring of side-taking in clashes between an organized project of oppression and an organized project to overcome it. When they say we ought to provide solidarity with the oppressed they really mean we ought to avoid providing solidarity to organized projects which seek to overcome the international dictatorship of the United States.  Who comes out ahead in this is clear.

http://www.barakabooks.com

For all their attempts to present themselves as champions of the oppressed, Hetland and Draitser come down on the side of the US oppressor. Hetland makes a show of acknowledging the hostile domestic and international environment, but ends up attributing the hardships Venezuelans endure to Chavez’s “blunders” rather than the hostile domestic and international environment, or even to decisions Chavez made that were constrained by the hostile domestic and international environment. The regime-change efforts of the US government to bring the Bolivarian Revolution to an end—hardly secret—are dismissed by Hetland as a matter of little moment

Accordingly, the solution to the crisis appears, in Hetland’s view, to lie in the removal of the Venezuelan government; after all, isn’t it the Venezuelan government that, to an agonizingly large degree, has created the crisis in the first place? It would seem to follow, then, that its abolition would relieve Venezuelans of their crisis. Accordingly, Hetland endorses “a peaceful transition,” but to what he doesn’t say. Just as long as Maduro goes, the faux-neutral Hetland will be happy. So too will Mike Pompeo, John Bolton, and Elliot Abrams.

 

‘Rule of law’ states defend Israel’s cold blooded murder of peaceful demonstrators while trying to rob Venezuela of its oil

By Stephen Gowans

March 18, 2019

A recent independent investigation sponsored by the United Nations Human Rights Council into the killing and injury of unarmed Palestinian refugees who were participating in peaceful demonstrations demanding that they be allowed to return to territories they, or their forbears, had been driven from, concluded that Israeli security forces unlawfully killed almost 200 and injured over 9,000 over a nine-month period last year.

http://www.barakabooks.com

The February 28 report of the Human Rights Council’s independent international commission of inquiry into the protests in Gaza, concluded that Israeli snipers “killed and maimed Palestinian demonstrators who did not pose an imminent threat of death or serious injury to others when they were shot, nor where they directly participating in hostilities.”

Israeli snipers killed 183 Palestinians and injured 6,106 by live ammunition; 1,576 by bullet fragmentation or shrapnel; 1,084 by direct tear gas canister hits; and 438 by rubber-coated metal bullets, the investigation found.

The overwhelming majority of victims, including clearly marked journalists and medical personnel, as well as children, women and persons with disabilities, “were hundreds of metres away from the Israeli forces and visibly engaged in civilian activities” when they were shot. Of the thousands of cases of injury or fatality, the commission found only two in which an individual was engaged in hostilities or posed an imminent threat to life or serious injury.

The commission concluded that “the use of live ammunition by Israeli security forces was unlawful” and observed that “intentionally killing a civilian not directly participating in hostilities is a war crime.” It also raised the possibility that Israeli actions constituted a crime against humanity.

In less diplomatic language, Israel behaved as a gangster state, murdering nearly 200 Palestinians in cold blood, who posed no direct threat to Israel and injured over 9,000 others. Some of the injuries, the investigation found, were “long-term” and “life-changing” and in some cases led to “paralysis” or “amputations.”

These thuggish, criminal acts are hardly Israel’s worst atrocities. Tel Aviv’s contempt for international law is unmatched, except by its patron, the United States. It has undertaken a series of wars of aggression and territorial annexations, both de jure and de facto. The state is based on a racist doctrine that demands the differential assignment of rights to Jews and non-Jews. It constructs Jewish-only colonies on land it hasn’t already plundered from the original Arab occupants. The enterprise is redolent with the stench of settler colonialism, an institution long recognized as an abomination against humanity, which, all the same, carries on in Palestine under the aegis of the United States, Canada, and European Union.

If we are to enumerate the crimes of Israel and conclude that it is a gangster state, we will almost certainly be accused of practicing the ‘new’ anti-Semitism, an accusation no more meaningful than denouncing critics of Al Capone’s crimes as practicing a new anti-Italian bigotry.

The United States, Canada, and the EU—advocates of this new approach to silencing critics of the West’s beachhead in the Middle East—sanction dozens of countries, including Venezuela, Syria, and North Korea, and do so in many cases illegally, without the authorization of the UN Security Council, knowing that there are no legal grounds on which the sanctions can be based, and so bypass the Council altogether. These self-designated ‘rule of law’ states do not, however, sanction Israel.

Read that again. Western states, which never tire of presenting themselves as champions of an international order based on the rule of law, are unlawfully sanctioning Venezuela, while overlooking Israel’s cold-blooded murder of almost 200 Palestinians—people who were peacefully demanding their rights and asking for nothing more than to be granted the charter of humanity.

The sanctions on Venezuela have created untold economic hardship, according to Alfred de Zayas, an independent expert who wrote a report for the Human Rights Council in the autumn of last year. De Zayas wrote:

Modern-day economic sanctions and blockades are comparable with medieval sieges of towns with the intention of forcing them to surrender. Twenty-first century sanctions attempt to bring not just a town, but sovereign countries to their knees. A difference, perhaps, is that twenty-first century sanctions are accompanied by the manipulation of public opinion through “fake news”, aggressive public relations and a pseudo-human rights rhetoric so as to give the impression that a human rights “end” justifies the criminal means. There is not only a horizontal juridical world order governed by the Charter of the United Nations and principles of sovereign equality, but also a vertical world order reflecting the hierarchy of a geopolitical system that links dominant States with the rest of the world according to military and economic power. It is the latter, geopolitical system that generates geopolitical crimes, hitherto in total impunity.

The ostensible reason for imposing a medieval siege on Venezuela is to drive the resource nationalist Maduro government from power for its alleged departure from democratic norms.

Set aside for the moment that Maduro’s favored replacement, the foreign-investment-friendly Juan Gauidó, intends to sell off Venezuela’s publicly-owned oil to private interests, and that this is a flagrant oil-grab, as US National Security Adviser, John Bolton, has frankly acknowledged.

Even were it true that Maduro’s election was fraudulent—and there isn’t a scintilla of evidence that it was—this would hardly compare to the massacre of longsuffering residents of Gaza, who, it should be added, are living under an Israeli-imposed medieval siege which the “United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross have both found” to constitute “collective punishment”—that is, to violate international law.

So, Israeli murderers gun down Palestinians who peacefully demand what is due to them as human beings, and this passes without comment by the self-proclaimed defenders of the rule of law. In Western capitals, the only discussion about Israel is one pivoting on the contrived concept of the ‘new’ anti-Semitism, an all too transparent ploy to suppress criticism of Al Capone’s crimes, while John Dillinger gets on with robbing Venezuela of its treasure trove of oil and gold.

 

Maduro’s claim that Washington has used cyberwarfare to bring down Venezuela’s power grid cannot be so easily dismissed

By Stephen Gowans

March 11, 2019

In the last few days Venezuela has been afflicted by power failures, escalating the misery of a population already menaced by an ongoing economic crisis.

Two explanations are offered to account for the outages.

Western news media point to the alleged economic mismanagement of the Maduro government, which has, in their view, crippled Venezuela’s power gird via under-investment.

The Maduro government counters that the United States has brought down the power grid through a cyberwarfare attack, part of its project of bringing Juan Guaidó, the US-backed Venezuelan legislator to power, by plunging the country into chaos and blaming the crisis on Maduro.

The US news media say that Caracas has offered no evidence to back up its accusation that Washington has unleashed a cyberattack on Venezuela, but equally offer no evidence to substantiate their own accusation that the Maduro government’s economic policies are to blame for the crisis.

We are thus presented with a fact (the outage) and two competing narratives, neither based on hard evidence. Which of these narratives is more credible?

Washington very likely has the cyberwarfare capability to cripple Venezuela’s power grid. On November 12, 2018, David Sanger reported in the New York Times that,

The United States had a secret program, code-named “Nitro Zeus,” which called for turning off the power grid in much of Iran if the two countries had found themselves in a conflict over Iran’s nuclear program. Such a use of cyberweapons is now a key element in war planning by all of the major world powers.

If the United States can turn off the power grid in Iran, using a cyberweapon that is now a key element in war planning of all the major world powers, it’s highly likely that it can do the same in Venezuela.

What’s more, the United States has on at least two occasions carried out cyberattacks against foreign states. Significantly, the attacks were unleashed against governments which, like Venezuela’s, have refused to submit to US hegemony. US cyberattacks were used to cripple Iran’s uranium enrichment program (now widely acknowledged) and to sabotage North Korea’s rocket program, the latter revealed by various sources, including, again, by the New York Time’s Sanger:  “[F]or years….the United States has targeted the North’s missile program with cyberattacks,” the reporter wrote in August, 2017.

The aforesaid, of course, is only evidence of capability, not of commission, but when placed within the context of Washington making clear its intention to topple the resource nationalist Maduro government, US capability, motivation, and practice, does very strongly cast suspicion on the US government.

Last week, US National Security Adviser John Bolton conceded (even boasted) that US policy in Venezuela is guided by the Monroe Doctrine, a doctrine which effectively claims US hegemony over the Western Hemisphere. In November, he used florid language to rail against Venezuela and other Latin American states which have rejected the Monroe Doctrine as belonging to a “Troika of Tyranny,” and forming part of a “triangle of terror” while acting as “a sordid cradle of communism in the Western Hemisphere.”

In 2002, as undersecretary of state, Bolton added Syria, Libya, and Cuba to George W. Bush’s infamous “Axis of Evil,” a regime change hit list which initially included Iraq, Iran and North Korea. All of the designated states were regime-changed or subjected to attempted regime change by Washington.  Iraq, Iran, Libya, and Syria were or are resource nationalist states, like Venezuela.

Revealingly, Bolton used the occasion of denouncing what he called Venezuela’s “poisonous” ideology of socialism (more accurately termed resource nationalism) to sing hosannas to Brazil’s new president, Jair Bolsonaro, an unequivocal reactionary, who Bolton lauded as a positive “sign for the future of the region” in light of Bolsanaro’s “commitment to free-market principles.”

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Commitment to free-market principles is code for welcoming the takeover of a country’s land, labour, markets and resources by US free enterprise. Bolton infamously told Fox Business that “It’ll make a big difference to the United States economically, if we could have American oil companies really invest in and produce the oil capabilities in Venezuela.” Indeed it will. Venezuela has the world’s largest reserves of oil, and is teeming with other natural resources, including gold, coveted by wealthy investors, including those with stakes in Canada’s giant mining companies (explaining why Ottawa has played a lead role in the Lima Group’s efforts to drive Maduro from power in favor of the foreign investment-friendly Guaidó.)

Guaidó showed why he has been decried as a US puppet when he said his economic “plan called for … opening up Venezuela’s vast oil sector to private investment,” along the lines envisaged by Bolton. The self-proclaimed president’s plan “includes privatizing assets held by state enterprises,” according to the Wall Street Journal. Under the Maduro government, investment in Venezuela’s oil industry must take the form of joint ventures with the country’s state-owned oil company, PDVSA, which is required to hold a majority share. Under a Guaidó government, that would change. Foreign private-owned companies would be allowed to own a majority stake in any joint-venture, and reap higher profits.

To return to the US narrative: If we accept the US-directed view that the power outages are caused by the Maduro government’s putative mismanagement of the electrical system, it appears all too convenient that the blackouts should happen precisely at the moment Washington is engaged in an effort to drive Maduro, and his “poisonous” ideology of resource nationalism, from power.

It seems more likely, given Washington’s long history of sabotaging the economies of countries that are insufficiently accommodating of US free enterprise, that US cyberwarfare capabilities were pressed into service to force Venezuelans to endure even more misery than has already been engendered by US-orchestrated sanctions. The aim is to increase pressure on Maduro to step down. As the Economist revealed, “Mr Guaidó and Mr Trump are betting that hardship will topple the regime.”

This parallels US efforts to overthrow Fidel Castro in Cuba. As historian Louis A Perez Jr. explained in a 2002 article in the Journal of Latin American Studies,

[C]entral to US objectives was the need to maintain the appearance that the collapse of Fidel Castro was the result of conditions from within, by Cubans themselves, the product of government economic mismanagement, and thereby avoiding appearances of US involvement. The United States sought to produce disarray in the Cuban economy but in such a fashion as to lay responsibility directly on Fidel Castro.

US officials affirmed that the goal was to make “Castro’s downfall seem to be the result of his own mistakes’.”

[US Ambassador Philip Bonsal] in Havana early stressed the importance of appearance: ‘ It is important that the inevitable downfall of the present Government not be attributed to any important extent to economic sanctions from the United States as major factor.’ The United States, Bonsal wrote … sought ‘ to make it clear that when Castro fell, his overthrow would be due to inside and not outside causes’. This was the purport of a lengthy memorandum by George Denney, Director of State Department Bureau of Intelligence and Research. The idea was to eliminate Castro ‘without resort to invasion or attributable acts of violence and violations of international law’, specifically by ‘creating the necessary preconditions for nationalist upheaval inside Cuba … as a result of internal stresses and in response to forces largely, if not wholly, unattributable to the US’.

If the “Castro Communist experiment” was to “appear to have failed not on its own merits but as a result of obvious or inadequately disguised US intervention,… the validity of Castro’s revolutionary course might remain unquestioned.” Denney warned that if Cuba’s socialism was interrupted by the force of the world’s foremost ‘imperialist’ and ‘capitalist’ power in the absence of a major provocation, such action [would] discredit the US and tend to validate the uncompleted experiment.”

In Cuba, the United States sabotaged the economy through sanctions and tried to pin the blame on Castro and socialism. In Venezuela, the United States appears to have sabotaged the electrical grid and pinned the blame on Maduro

To be sure, there is, at this point, no concrete evidence that Washington has sabotaged Venezuela’s electrical grid, but it has the capability to do so, a record of using cyberattacks against countries slated for regime change, a motivation to throw Venezuela into crisis, and a game plan it has used repeatedly in other countries.

The US hand may be absent from this week’s power failures in Venezuela, but chances are it wasn’t.

 

In Venezuela, Washington, with Canada’s help, plays the same old regime change game

February 5, 2019

By Stephen Gowans

Venezuela President Nicolas Maduro has called Juan Guaidó, the self-declared interim president of Venezuela, a treasonous figurehead of a plot orchestrated by the United States to capture Venezuela’s vast oil reserves on behalf of wealthy US investors.

As a summary of what’s happening in the oil-rich South American country, Maduro couldn’t have done better.

As the Canadian Press reported, Canada and other members of the so-called Lima Group, an ad hoc body formed to oust Maduro, encouraged the opposition to find a new face without political baggage around whom it could unite. This is a standard US regime change tactic, previously used to attempt to bring about a change in government in Yugoslavia and Zimbabwe.

Venezuela’s opposition, comprised mainly of representatives of the middle and upper classes, selected Guaidó, a young unknown. One poll indicated that most Venezuelans had never heard of him.

Soon after being anointed as leader, Guaidó slipped into Washington to secretly meet with the Trump administration, presumably to secure its blessing.

Guaidó then hastened back to Venezuela where the opposition followed through on the Lima Group’s pre-arranged plan to elect the young unknown as head of the National Assembly. According to a recent poll, the assembly has a 70 percent disapproval rating.

Next, Guaidó declared himself president—also, one gathers, part of the pre-conceived Lima Group plan– arguing that Maduro’s election was fraudulent and that the presidency was therefore vacant.

If that isn’t enough to paint Guaidó as a treasonous figurehead of a plot orchestrated by Washington and Ottawa, consider this: According the Wall Street Journal, Guaidó’s plan for reviving the sanctions-crippled economy is to open Venezuela’s vast oil sector to foreign investment, privatize assets held by state enterprises, and indulge wealthy investors.

In other words, the US-Canadian agent plans to substantially scale back the public sector, surrender Venezuela’s economic sovereignty, and turn over the country’s vast treasure trove of natural resources to foreign investors.

Is it any surprise that the United States and Canada, home to big oil and big mining, have taken a leadership role in sponsoring him?

Carried through, Guaidó’s plan would re-Americanize the Venezuelan economy and reverse the Bolivarian Revolution initiated by Hugo Chavez and backed by Venezuela’s teeming poor.

US oil companies would benefit, a matter US national security adviser John Bolton alluded to in a recent television interview. Canadian mining companies would make off like bandits. And Venezuela’s economic elite would return to the good old days. Meanwhile, the Venezuelan people would find, once again, that they exist to make the wealthy wealthier.

The Lima Group is nothing more than an ad hoc assemblage of countries brought together for the sole purpose of overthrowing the Maduro government in order to open Venezuela’s oil and gold industries to ownership by wealthy US and Canadian investors.

It excludes the United States to disguise the obvious imperialist character of the project, and it deliberately excludes members of the Organization of American States who oppose the blatant interference in a member’s internal affairs.

And here’s a warning.

Venezuela is only the first of three Latin American countries the United States is targeting for regime change, according to US administration officials. The other two are Cuba and Nicaragua, which, together with Venezuela, make up what the administration calls a Troika of Tyranny, but in reality represent states engaged in the project of putting the interests of their own populations ahead of those of North American businesses. The administration says that “the attempt to force out the president of Venezuela” marks “the opening of a new strategy to exert greater US influence over Latin America.”

The United States is no stranger to overthrowing governments. In the twentieth century, Washington undertook 41 successful regime change interventions in the hemisphere, an average of one every two and a half years. And that doesn’t count the unsuccessful ones, like the Bay of Pigs invasion.

In this century, the United States, working with Canada, overthrew left-wing governments in Haiti in 2004 and Honduras in 2009, and tried but failed to overthrow Hugo Chavez in 2002. The narrative of the failed overthrow of Chavez anticipated the one Washington and its Lima Group co-conspirators are using today—the president’s policies no longer work for Venezuelans and the people are rising to defend democracy.

We’ve heard it all before.

Chomsky Venezuela Statement: A Stronger Alternative

January 26, 2019

By Stephen Gowans

A lot of good people signed the statement opposing US interference in Venezuela’s internal affairs, posted at Venezuelanalysis.com on January 24, but one wonders whether they gave the particulars of the statement sufficient thought.

The Chomsky et al statement called on Washington to cease interfering in Venezuela’s internal politics, “especially for the purpose of overthrowing the country’s government.” Excellent. But it should have added a call to support the Maduro government’s project of overcoming Venezuela’s racial and socioeconomic oppression. And stopped there.

Instead, it proposed US intervention in the form of support for what it defined as “the only solution”: negotiations to resolve the country’s longstanding racial and socioeconomic divisions. Thus, the statement defined division (that is, conflict), and not racial and socioeconomic oppression, as Venezuela’s core problem.

The proposal that the United States sponsor negotiations is problematic.

First, the question of negotiations is one for Venezuelans to decide. If sovereignty means anything, then a people has the right to choose the methods by which it resolves its problems, free from outsiders telling it how it ought to be done.

What’s more, the proposal calls to mind Western-sponsored negotiations to resolve the so-called Palestinian-Israeli conflict. How well has that worked out? And what is the end state sought: justice for the oppressed, or only their quiescence?

Second, negotiation implies conceding ground to a racial and socioeconomic elite that wants to continue its exploitation of the majority. If that’s how Venezuelans, together, wish to proceed, fine. But the idea that all conflicts can or ought to be resolved through negotiation is naïve. The statement’s drafters appear to be more interested in averting violence than achieving justice.

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Imagine a slave rebellion, in which the slave owners are supported by a foreign state, and the citizens of that state call on their government to end its intervention on the side of the slave owners, but at the same time call on their government to sponsor negotiations between the slaves and slave owners to find a solution to the ongoing crisis and the country’s racial and socioeconomic divisions. Would these foreign citizens be calling for an end to the injustice of slavery or an end to the violence of rebellion?

While it begins strongly, the statement ends by standing for nothing; certainly not for the Maduro government and its aims. Nor does it stand against anything, except (though importantly) against a US supported coup d’état, but not against all intervention. Intervention of the kind that leads to a negotiated stalemate in a struggle against racial and socioeconomic oppression and the continuation of injustice is deemed desirable.

The following statement would have been stronger.

o The US government should cease its efforts to overthrow the Maduro government.
o The US government should provide what reasonable assistance it can to the Maduro government’s requests for aid in carrying out its program of overcoming the racial and socioeconomic oppression that has afflicted Venezuela for far too long.

Stronger still would have been a statement that made these points:

o The Maduro government has worked to put the interests of ordinary Venezuelans ahead of those of foreign investors;
o The opposition, backed by Western governments, has sought to frustrate those aims;
o Now the United States and a number of other countries are encouraging a coup d’etat;
o If successful, a coup d’état will lead to a rightwing government that will implement policies that indulge foreign investors and treat ordinary Venezuelans harshly; Venezuela’s longstanding racial and socioeconomic oppression will continue;
o We stand with the Maduro government’s efforts to build a society and economy that puts the needs of the majority of Venezuela’s citizens first;
o At the same time, we oppose the efforts of the United States and its allies to impede, undermine and eliminate the Maduro government’s program to end the racial and socioeconomic oppression that has afflicted Venezuela for far too long.