Archive | January 24th, 2019

Multifaceted Attack Against Venezuela on Eve of Maduro Inauguration

International analysts and members of the solidarity movement Frederick Mills, William Camacaro and Roger Harris examine the “multifaceted war” against Venezuela which is being ramped up ahead of President Maduro’s inauguration on January 10.

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President Maduro during a commemoration of the Bolivarian militia on December 18, 2018. (Presidential Press)
President Maduro during a commemoration of the Bolivarian militia on December 18, 2018. (Presidential Press)
By Frederick B. Mills, William Camacaro and Roger D. Harris – Venezuelanalysis.com

Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro’s inauguration for his second term on January 10 is targeted by the US, the allied Lima Group, and the hardline Venezuelan opposition.  They have demanded that Maduro refuse inauguration. A multifaceted attack aimed at regime change is underway using sanctions, military threats, and a campaign of delegitimization to replace the democratically elected president.

Since President Hugo Chávez began his first term as president in 1999, the Bolivarian Republic has promoted regional integration and independence, resisted neoliberalism, opposed “free trade” agreements that would compromise national autonomy, and supported the emergence of a multipolar world. On account of these policies, Chávez (1999-2013) and now Maduro, have faced relentless attacks by the colossus to the north. Today the Maduro administration faces the challenges of defending national sovereignty from imperial domination and overcoming crippling US sanctions that have exacerbated a severe economic crisis.

The US has brazenly announced its consideration of a “military option” against Caracas and has assembled a coalition of the willing in Colombia and Brazil to prepare for an eventual “humanitarian” intervention. Most alarming is that the US seems indifferent to the consequences of such an invasion, which could easily become a regional and global conflagration involving Colombia, Brazil, and even Russia and China.

What the US finds particularly infuriating is that Maduro had the temerity to run for re-election in May 2018 after the US demanded he resign. The US State Department had issued warnings four months prior to the election that the process “will be illegitimate” and the results “will not be recognized.” US ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley insisted that Maduro abdicate and presidential elections be postponed.

The Venezuelan National Electoral Commission rejected this diktat from Washington. On May 20, 2018, the Venezuelan electorate had the audacity to re-elect Maduro by a 67.84% majority with a participation rate of 46.07% (representing 9,389,056 voters). Two opposition candidates ran for office, Henri Falcón and Javier Bertucci, despite a boycott orchestrated by opposition hardliners and the US.

New phase in the campaign against Venezuela

The campaign to bring about regime change enters a new phase with the inauguration of President Maduro for a second term. With no legal standing or representation inside Venezuela, the Lima Group has now become a major protagonist of  a soft coup in Venezuela.

Just five days before the inauguration, at a meeting held in the capital of Peru, 13 out of 14 members of the Lima Group issued a declaration urging Maduro “not to assume the presidency on January 10… and to temporarily transfer the executive power to the National Assembly until a new, democratic presidential poll is held.”

The following day, Andres Pastrana, former president of Colombia, a member nation of the Lima Group, tweeted that the new president of Venezuela’s National Assembly, Juan Guaidó, should “now assume the presidency of the government of transition as established in the constitution beginning the 10th of January and as requested by the Lima Group.”

In a speech delivered before the Venezuelan National Assembly on January 5, Guaidó stopped short of claiming executive power, but declared that starting January 10, Maduro ought to be considered an “usurper” and “dictator.” Guaidó also urged convening a transitional government that would hold new elections and “authorize” intervention from abroad.

Although the US is not a formal member of the Lima Group, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, participated in the meeting by teleconference. Pompeo had returned earlier in the week from a visit to Brazil and Colombia, during which, according to a senior State Department official, Maduro’s inauguration was on the agenda:

“There’s a very important date that is coming up, which is the 10th of January, where Maduro will hand over power to himself based on an election that many governments in the region and globally have condemned, including the United States, . . . as illegitimate. So we will be discussing, I’m sure, our joint efforts with Colombia and with the region to address this new era beginning on the 10th of January in Venezuela.”

The US imperial project

US policy towards Venezuela has three strategic objectives: privileged access to Venezuela’s natural resources (e.g., the world’s largest petroleum reserves and second largest gold deposits), restoration of a neoliberal regime obedient to Washington, and limitation of any movement towards regional independence.

These US objectives are conditioned by a continuing adherence to the Monroe Doctrine for Latin America and the Caribbean, the so-called “backyard” of the US empire. The contemporary mutation of the 1823 imperial doctrine entails a new Cold War against Russia and China and hostility to any regional integration independent of US hegemony.

Back in the 1980s-90s during Venezuela’s Fourth Republic, local elites afforded Washington preferential access to Venezuela’s rich natural resources and dutifully imposed a neoliberal economic model on the country. Currently, US policy appears aimed at  re-establishing such a client state.

However, to bring about such a return, the US imperial project would have to change not only the Venezuelan leadership but dismantle the institutions and even the symbols of the Bolivarian revolution. The devastating US economic sanctions are designed to increase economic hardship in order to ultimately break the will of the chavista base and fracture the Venezuelan military as well as the civic-military alliance. This breakdown would presumably pave the way for installation of a provisional government.

It is time once again to give peace a chance. But Washington has opted for the collision course set by the Lima Group as well as the Secretary General of the Washington-based Organization of American States (OAS) over efforts of the Vatican and former prime minister of Spain, José Luis Zapatero, to broker dialogue between the government and the opposition. The imperial project is abetted by the conservative restoration in Brazil and Argentinaand the electoral victory of uribistas in Colombia.

Multifaceted war against Venezuela and the Bolivarian response

Washington is engaging in a multifaceted war against Venezuela by deploying economic sanctions, backing a campaign to install a transitional government, and preparing proxy military and paramilitary forces for an eventual intervention.

On August 4, 2018, a failed assassination attempt against President Maduro did not draw condemnation from either Washington or the Lima Group. On November 4, according to Venezuelan Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino, three Bolivarian National Guard were killed and ten wounded in an attack by Colombian paramilitary forces in the frontier region of Amazonas. On December 5, the Brazilian vice president-elect Hamilton Mourãodeclared: “there will be a coup in Venezuela . . . And the United Nations will have to intervene through a peace force . . . and there is Brazil’s role: to lead this peace force.”

On December 12, 2018, President Maduro reported that “734 members of a paramilitary  group called G8 was training [in the city of Tona, Colombia] for attacks against military units in the frontier states of Zulia, Tachira, Apure and Amazonas.” This report ought to be taken seriously given the presence of eight US military bases in Colombia,  the recent association of Bogotá with NATO, Colombia’s rejection of direct communication with Venezuelan authorities, and its participation in US-led military exercises over the past two years. Last week, US Secretary of State Pompeo visited Colombia and Brazil to shore up joint efforts to “restore democracy” in Venezuela.

In response, Venezuela has been fortifying the civic-military alliance built up over the past two decades. The National Guard, military, and militias (now over 1,600,000 strong) have been able so far to fend off several terrorist attacks against public institutions and government leaders as well as an assassination attempt against President Maduro in August.

Caracas has also been developing close military cooperation with Russia and consolidating ties with China. With the recent visit of a pair of its TU 160 heavy bombers to Venezuela, Russia has demonstrated its ability to transport armaments more than 10,000 kilometers at supersonic speeds should the Caribbean nation come under attack by a foreign power.  China has entered into agreements for massive economic cooperation with Venezuela, partially offsetting the punishing US sanctions. Also, the visit of a Chinese navy hospital ship in September subtly signaled Chinese military support of Venezuela.

Shifting geopolitical environment

Although the Lima Group now backs a soft coup in Venezuela, with the inauguration of Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) as President of Mexico in December, the group has lost the support of one of its key members. Mexico declined to sign on to the latest Lima Group declaration and warned against “measures that obstruct a dialogue to face the crisis in Venezuela.” Maximiliano Reyes, Mexico’s deputy foreign minister, said: “We call for reflection in the Lima Group about the consequences for Venezuelans of measures that seek to interfere in [their] internal affairs.”

The extreme partisanship of Secretary General of the OAS Luis Almagro against Venezuela has undermined his standing. In September 2018, Uruguayan President Tabaré Vázquez declared that Uruguay would not support Almagro for a second term as Secretary General of the OAS.  Almagro was finally expelled from his own political party in Uruguay, the Frente Amplio, in December 2018, largely for his statements in Colombia about the need to retain a military option against Venezuela.

In December 2018, the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America  (ALBA-TCP) held its 16th meeting in Cuba, declaring its “concern for the aggression and actions against regional peace and security, especially the threats of the use of force against the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela.” ALBA was founded by Venezuela and Cuba and is now comprised of ten nations.

No other choice but resistance

The Venezuelan people have a long history of resistance to foreign domination and are not likely to view a US-backed “humanitarian” intervention as a liberating force. Nor are the popular sectors likely to support an unelected “transitional government” with a self-appointed Supreme Court in exile which is currently based in Bogotá, Colombia. And if the coalition of the willing includes Colombian paramilitary forces who are notorious for their role in the murder of community activists inside Colombia, their deployment in the event of a “humanitarian” mission would be abhorrent inside Venezuela.

The 1973 US-backed coup in Chile, followed by a lethal cleansing of that nation of leftists, is a cautionary lesson. Add to this the historic memory of the political repression during Venezuela’s discredited Fourth Republic and the Caracazo of 1989, in which the most marginalized and poor were the main victims, and it would be no surprise should the popular sectors have only one thing to offer a provisional government bent on inviting imperial intervention: resistance.

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Venezuela: Escalation Could Lead to a Catastrophic Outcome

For Venezuela, the worst-case scenario of a US military intervention remains a potent threat. A long-time advisor to Hugo Chavez offers his thoughts on the country’s crisis.

By Temir Porras & Jared Abott – Jacobin

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Temir Porras speaking to press (AVN)
Temir Porras speaking to press (AVN)

Given how polarized both the mainstream and left media have become with respect to Venezuelan politics, it is virtually impossible for international observers to access fair but critical assessments of Venezuela from the Left. Temir Porras has been a Chavista militant from the beginning of Hugo Chávez’s presidency in 1999 and served in a variety of important roles both in Chávez’s government, and then briefly in the government of Nicolás Maduro. Most notably, from 2004 onward he served stints as chief of staff and deputy to several foreign ministers, including Nicolás Maduro between 2007 and Maduro’s election as president in 2013. Starting in late 2013 he served briefly as the head of FONDEN and BANDES, Venezuela’s national development fund and development bank, respectively.

Porras is a long-time Chavista insider with extensive experience at the highest levels of Venezuela’s Bolivarian government, but also a constructive critic of the Maduro government’s recent economic and political strategies. This situates him ideally to provide readers with a nuanced, panoramic assessment of both the roots of Venezuela’s current economic and political crises, as well as a framework for thinking aboutfeasible, progressive resolutions to these crises.


JA- Let’s start with Venezuela’s economic issues. Venezuela is currently experiencing a major economic crisis: sustained hyperinflation, consecutive years of serious economic contraction, major shortages of basic goods and services. What is less settled, especially within the Left, are the causes of the crisis. Critics of the government offer a range of factors: short-sighted macroeconomic policies, irrational monetary policy, government corruption, insufficient investment in the Venezuelan oil industry. On the other hand, among government supporters the most oft-cited causes of the crisis are the guerra económica (economic war) being waged against Venezuela by the US (especially by cutting off Venezuelan access to US credit), as well as massive black-market speculators in basic goods. How do you assess the relative merits of these divergent accounts of the economic crisis in Venezuela?

TP- Well, the first thing to keep in mind is that, in general, in Latin America today, Venezuela is used by those who claim that any alternative school of thought that doesn’t comply with neoliberal dictates and doesn’t follow the traditional recipes of the free market economic story must fail. Of course we need to be careful when making historical comparisons like this, but the situation is a bit like after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of Communism in Europe, when there was a massive push coming from neoliberal thinkers and organizations to make a point of using the example of a failure as absolute proof that anything coming from the Left is destined to fail.

In the case of Venezuela, there is a kind of Venezuela-bashing industry. Much of this comes from people who were critics of Chavismo from the very beginning, particularly what I call the “sociological” anti-Chavistas (or traditional elite), who have opposed Chavismo by not always very lawful or democratic means. They claim that what we’re seeing today in Venezuela was written already in 1999 [at the beginning of Chávez’s government], and that’s the reason why they criticized Chavismo in the first place. This is a way of rewriting history.

On the other hand, yes of course, there are internal explanations of the current crisis. You can list them; none of them is the single, essential reason but they all play a partial role. I would say one is that, in Venezuela in particular — but this applies to most of the progressive/leftist governments that arose in Latin America during the early and mid-2000s — Chavismo found a way to mobilize the national wealth of the country, primarily derived from the oil industry, and became, among other things, a redistributive project. In that sense it had a revolutionary dimension because never before in such a massive way had any Venezuelan government decided to utilize the redistributive approach as a tool for tackling not only Venezuela’s problems such as inequality, lack of access to education and health, etc., but also as a way to boost consumption and create an internal market that resulted in dynamic economic growth.

The problem is that though these redistributive efforts had a far-reaching impact, which we can see in rapid improvements in social indicators during Chávez’s government, the Venezuelan left and the Latin American left in general never came up with an economic strategy. How do developing nations that are in what some call the “middle-income trap” address the challenge of development, of increasing the material base that enables social progress? And how do developing economies that try to organize a domestically oriented development process deal with the pressures of globalization, that is, the fact that world finance is globalized and that countries like Venezuela require access to international capital, etc.?

All those questions were not really addressed under Chávez, mainly because Venezuela’s economic situation in the early 2000s and up until recently was favorable. Most Latin American countries relied on the commodities super-cycle to sustain growth during this period and were able to access enough capital to sustain their expansive social strategies. Most of these countries, and clearly in the case of Venezuela, didn’t really need to answer those difficult questions because the favorable economic situation gave them considerable autonomy to pursue ambitious social spending programs. Once this situation changed [with the decline of global commodity prices in 2014], of course, Chavismo was not prepared to address this negative economic environment.

And of course, even if it’s sensationalized in the international press, the Venezuelan government also suffers from a lack of transparency, from corruption, and there is a general problem of mismanagement, lack of technical skills, and of qualified people in the right places. There is a belief [among Venezuelan government officials] that personal trust and political closeness are more important than technical competence. That is a common feature in many Latin American countries. Latin American states were ill-equipped to play this prominent role that the Left assigned them in the national development process.

Further, just because left-wing coalitions and leaders achieved political power through elections in the 2000s (something very new in Latin America at the time), that doesn’t mean, for instance in the case of Chavismo — despite claims to be inspired by socialist ideals and claims to have put into motion a process that would lead to a socialist society — that Venezuela today is a socialist society at all. As anybody who knows Latin America knows, these are societies where you have large economic sectors that can be characterized as precapitalist, where you have a very savage form of capitalism in which the forces of money are very strong, and the rights of the people to defend themselves against the forces of the market are weak. The development of regulated societies with strong enough institutions to enforce the rights of the people, the integrity of the civil service, etc. is far from perfect. So even if you have powerful forces at the top, and sometimes at the bottom, that doesn’t mean that day to day the society works in an ideal manner. It’s a very painful and difficult process.

Finally, it is also important to consider that even if Maduro’s government cites the economic war and the forces of the national and international bourgeoisie as the main factors causing the economic crisis in Venezuela, in my opinion that is a bit of an exaggeration, given all the factors I described before. That doesn’t mean there is no active negative influence that is being exercised by these groups. It’s true. But this is nothing new to Maduro’s government.

The national bourgeoisie has done very little historically in Venezuela to contribute to the national project. What is often described as a business community is only a private sector that, differently from the more advanced economies of the North, does not function on the risk-reward basis of risking capital and expecting a return. In the case of Venezuela these are private groups that organize themselves with allies in the state in order to capture oil rents as efficiently as possible. There are various mechanisms through which national and international bourgeoisies can preserve their interests against progressive attempts at reform, but this is a permanent feature that is not unique to the present government. Chávez had to deal with it in the past and was able to deliver successes nonetheless. So, explaining the current crisis primarily by reference to the existence of an international conspiracy is a very partial and unsatisfactory explanation.

JA-  It sounds like you see fundamental structural limitations impeding the capacity of leftist governments to implement more radical economic agendas in Latin America, most importantly state capacity. But it seems that there are more or less two broad economic paths a government in Venezuela’s situation today could take to resolve its economic crisis, bracketing the extremely thorny political issues that make the implementation of these paths more complicated. One comes from the far left, which would argue that the Venezuelan government hasn’t gone far enough in nationalizing key industries, in creating worker/community-owned and run enterprises, in creating a genuinely self-sufficient socialist economy in Venezuela.

Then on the other side there are economic pragmatists who would argue that the only way out of this would be some kind of very difficult adjustment program to stabilize the Venezuelan economy, which would probably include measures that would be catastrophic for ordinary Venezuelans, along the lines of traditional neoliberal adjustment programs. What do you see as the best-case scenario for moving Venezuela in a more positive direction economically?

TP- You spoke about the possibility of an adjustment. One of the curious characteristics of Venezuela today is that this adjustment has already happened. Even though the government has not implemented a traditional neoliberal adjustment program, its lack of strategy to address the current crisis has let a chaotic adjustment happen by itself. What else can it be than adjustment when the minimum monthly wage fell from 300 dollars in 2014 to 1 dollar a few months ago? So, the situation in Venezuela must be analyzed bearing that in mind. There has been an adjustment, and that’s the reason you’re seeing massive negative consequences with respect to migration, lack of public services, etc.

It isn’t a result of a conscious, rational program by the government, the government hasn’t decided to stop funding this or that, but the lack of strategy to address the crisis has left the country in a situation of chaotic or anarchic adjustment. The economy has “self-regulated,” if you will, so I don’t think that there is a need for further adjustment, at least not in the neoliberal way, because people have suffered enough.

But on the other hand, I wouldn’t advocate for a more radical approach either. Advocates of this approach suggest that it could be successful but for the will of the government to implement it. I think this is a simplistic understanding of Venezuela’s political and economic realities. What is needed to get out of the crisis, at least in the short-term, is to tackle one main problem. Today Venezuela is a country that relies essentially on one industry: oil. If you don’t have a functioning oil industry in Venezuela it is impossible to overcome the current economic crisis. That’s putting aside the question of who owns and controls the oil industry, of course. The problem today is that the oil industry is producing half of what it produced only four or five years ago. Even at that point the Venezuelan government hadn’t figured out how to meet the continually rising demands of Venezuelan society, and it was caught between the need diversify its economy and the need to produce more oil to fund consumption. This takes us back to the unresolved problem of the Left’s inability to offer a sustainable alternative economic model that we talked about earlier.

Today, by contrast, the main issue is simply to turn the oil industry around and make it produce again. One of the problems of doing this is that an oil industry like Venezuela’s, which is gigantic compared to the size of the economy, is a very international industry. I would be willing to entertain the idea of an alternative for Venezuela that doesn’t depend so much on international stakeholders, but the problem is that most of Venezuelan production is destined for export. So, the industry is closely linked to the international economy. Additionally, it is an industry that requires a high level of investment. One of the problems today is that Venezuela doesn’t have the capital needed for these investments.

So at least in the short term, trying to navigate between the two poles you described (pragmatic vs radical), Venezuela requires a solution more in the middle, because the oil industry cannot recover without access to capital. And this implies international stakeholders, multilateral institutions, etc., and this is a huge problem. To the extent that Venezuela can remain at a distance from traditional sources of capital that the IMF provides, that would be ideal [given accompanying loan-conditionalities], but for that to happen it has to convince countries like China and capital markets (organized mainly in the US and UK) to invest. These are challenges that require any administration in Venezuela to have very clear strategic objectives, and in the short term this must be gaining access to capital, which, in turn, suggests the need to reach some kind of negotiated settlement or compromise with international stakeholders. I regret it, but I don’t see how Venezuela can self-engineer itself out of the current crisis, at least from the economic point of view.

Nature of the Crisis

JA- The economic crisis in Venezuela has been accompanied by a deep political crisis, with dueling national legislatures both claiming legitimacy, reports of increasing concentration of high-level decision-making around President Maduro’s inner circle, allegations of fraud in the 2018 presidential elections, which have weakened President Maduro’s international legitimacy, and a growing sense of desperation among many Venezuelans. How would you characterize the nature of the current political crisis, and what do you see as its principal causes?

TP- What I would say is that one of Chávez’s main successes was his capacity to manage often contradictory forces within his movement to produce positive results. One example is Chávez’s mobilization of a revolutionary rhetoric, saying we will transform Venezuelan society and build socialism, while at the same time most of the gains were achieved occurred not through a revolutionary state but rather through a more or less traditional liberal democracy.

Venezuela had a functioning constitution that guaranteed the rights and mechanisms that any true liberal democracy provides, there was political pluralism, there was freedom of speech, and all the guarantees were there to allow different groups to compete in the public arena. No theoretical solution to that contradiction — namely, of saying on the one hand that we’re making a revolution, and on the other hand we’re respecting the rule of law of any normally functioning liberal democracy — was ever developed. Rather, the practical answer to it was that Chávez managed to establish political hegemony, and this allowed Chavismo to retain power in the competitive system we had from 1999 to 2015. Preserving that political equilibrium, and trying to build consensus where possible, was also a way of giving the country the political stability required to allow any sort of development strategy to be implemented.

The problem today is that the basis of that fragile consensus built by Chávez is broken. The reality is that, absent any sort of compromise, at least on the institutional functioning of the country, you can’t implement any successful economic strategy because, as you mentioned, if you don’t have one legislative power that is recognized as such by everybody you start having problems like the ones we have today: problems that affect the legality of the budget, the legality of contracts, etc. How do you implement an oil strategy while your counterparts in the rest of the world don’t have assurances that the steps the government is taking to organize its own industry will be legal?

The problem today is that people are focused only on the very short term. The opposition believes that the government is extremely weak, and that the moment has come for it to collapse and the opposition to take over. Meanwhile, the Maduro government is being attacked on all sides by the so-called international community and has been slapped with devastating sanctions, which have put it in a very defensive position. Everyone is focused on the very short term. But the reality is that none of the actions being taken to retain power in the short term will be enough to stabilize our country and guarantee a more normal functioning of the country going forward.

That is why, sometimes against my own natural reflexes, I say that no matter how wrong our political adversaries are, there is a political necessity in the country to find some way to negotiate in order to guarantee political coexistence. That’s why I’m a believer — even though I am perfectly aware of how far the sides are from each other — in the idea that there is no way out of this situation without a political deal that requires a great deal of maturity from the different political actors, and that allows at least for the institutions of 1999 to function again. Even if it looks extremely unlikely right now, this is the way the country functioned just a few years ago. I don’t have a road map to get there but I’m convinced there has to be an internal national political negotiation.

JA- I want to focus a bit on Chavismo itself, and the Venezuelan left. From the outside, there is a strong tendency to oversimplify what is in fact a very wide spectrum of political perspectives within Chavismo. Could you give us a broad strokes overview of the main tendencies within the movement right now, and in particular focus on the place of the Left within Chavismo.

TP- Well the first thing that must be said is that Chavismo is not “the Left.” Chavismo has at least two components, as Chávez himself described it. First, the Bolivarian Revolution rested on a civil-military alliance, so Chavismo is a very peculiar movement because it has a massive civilian component, but it also has a very deeply rooted military component. Progressives all around the world tend to have a problem with that.

My response is that Chavismo presented itself as a national liberation movement, in a way, and national liberation movements have a patriotic component that requires the nation to preserve its sovereignty. Chavismo was not only a socially progressive political movement but also a national liberation movement that enabled a new government to fully exercise sovereignty over its territory, and for that purpose the question of the military was essential. This explains why not everyone relevant in Chavismo has a leftist background. Chávez himself was a very peculiar kind of military man, because the civilian Chávez influenced the military Chávez a lot more than the other way around. By becoming the political leader of the Venezuelan military, he managed to channel the energy of the military in favor of a progressive government.

The problem is that when Chávez disappeared, this leadership disappeared, and the capacity to orient the military disappeared. And yet the military remains. This is one of the reasons why you see very contradictory trends within Chavismo. When Chávez emerged as a political phenomenon in the mid-1990s, his movement quickly absorbed most of Venezuela’s revolutionary left. Chavismo is deeply linked to the revolutionary left in that sense. It also absorbed most of the electoral base of Venezuelan social democracy, though most of the leadership of Venezuelan social democracy remained outside of the movement. In other words, Chavismo managed to develop a revolutionary cadre who could exercise leadership roles in the movement, while also building a mass base of support among voters who formerly supported the social-democratic party (Acción Democrática).

So you had that component of the revolutionary left, you had the electoral constituency of the social-democratic movement, and finally you had a military component, which, unless you allow for a few important exceptions, doesn’t really have a historic connection with the Left. It’s more connected with Venezuelan national history, particularly Bolívar and Venezuela’s national independence movement. That tradition was also significant in the Venezuelan left, but really the connection between the Left and the military was sustained by the personality of Chávez.

Today you still have those same components, but they are much more fragmented than they were before. Chávez managed to do some kind of alchemy that took advantage of each of those elements and made them work together. He somehow managed to bring out the best in the different components of Chavismo. The problem with the lack of leadership after Chávez’s passing is that most of those groups now operate in a fragmented way, claiming fractions of power and behaving in a more traditional manner based on the preservation of their own narrow interests. A great example is the revolutionary left. During Chávez’s presidency it largely put aside what I believe is the traditional mode of politics of the revolutionary left, that is, very divisive, sectarian, not thinking about the big picture or coming up with feasible political strategies. Today, however, all those natural reflexes of the revolutionary left that were more or less dormant under Chávez are now reemerging.

You see the same thing with the military. You start seeing different segments of the military trying to seize control over various industries or sectors of society, and you see rogue individuals who organize themselves like mafias. The actions of some sectors of the military get out of control, and civil institutions don’t really have the power to reign them in. All of Venezuelan society, all of Chavismo today is suffering from this problem of fragmentation. And at the end of the day this produces a general lack of coherence in government action. You can have Maduro at the center of those different factions, but that doesn’t mean he can orient the actions of Chavismo as a whole. He’s more of a caretaker who distributes power in order to preserve his own. But at the same time, he’s losing all sorts of strategic capacities, and losing a great deal of political and economic coherence.

As you can see, in 2018 the Venezuelan government switched from an extremely heterodox economic approach to claiming a policy of zero fiscal deficits. It has adopted this much more orthodox economic approach, at least in its rhetoric, without any kind of broad discussion of economic policy within the party (PSUV), without any of the processes you would imagine being involved in decision-making with a more coherent movement. So today, unfortunately, Chavismo is very much fragmented and lacking the balance and stability that Chávez managed to secure during his presidency.

Paths Forward

JA- here’s a lot of talk within the Left of Chavismo, and within the international left, about the possibilities of building the Estado Comunal, or Communal State. Right before he died in 2013, President Chávez lamented the failure of the Bolivarian process to advance toward the Estado Comunal, which would consist of a total reconfiguration of political power in Venezuela away from the traditional representative system based on municipalities and states and toward a radical participatory-democratic socialist system consisting of local-level citizens’ councils (consejos comunales) which would be aggregated into larger Communes (comunas), and so forth up to the national level. Since 2012 thousands of Communes have been formed around the country, but the extent to which the system is progressing toward an eventual replacement of the current Venezuelan political system is a matter of debate. What do you see as the current state of the Estado Comunal and what role do you see it playing in the future of Venezuelan socialism?

TP- In the case of communal organizations, I don’t see it as a matter of being more or less radical, I see it as a matter of building true democracy. In that sense I, like most Chavistas and Chávez himself, favor the idea of self-management and self-organization. One of the reasons why Venezuelan society has been undemocratic in the past is because of the lack of access to basic rights for the poor. Even from the perspective of more traditional liberal politics, of people who would be in favor of more market solutions for Venezuela, the organization of people for productive purposes and organizing to make people self-sustainable economically is something that is needed in Venezuela.

So I think that the organization of the Communes, which has been demonized by the right wing, is basically just allowing for the people to organize collectively and giving them resources to engage in their own economic projects. The aim of building the communal structure was essentially to create a legal framework that would make it legal for the central state to transfer resources to those very small economic structures. In my opinion it’s something that is perfectly consistent with the Constitution of 1999, and perfectly consistent with the existence of a strong liberal democracy. It is just a tool to allow economic initiatives coming from the bottom of society to have access to the funding, training, technical assistance, needed to succeed.

But the system has confronted a lack of capacity. If I had to explain why I thought the Bolivarian Revolution hasn’t achieved more in the building of a Communal State, or at least promoting communal organization from the bottom, I would say that Chávez and Chavismo in general tended to have great ideas and great initiatives, the problem was the organization and execution. Probably the modes of organization weren’t the most efficient ones possible. But it is definitely a pending matter and I can only advocate for further development.

JA- We’ve talked a lot about some of the potential roadblocks to moving forward, and you’ve gestured toward what a resolution to the political crisis might look like. But could you elaborate a bit by explaining what you see as the worst, the most likely, and the best-case scenarios for political resolution over the next few years?

TP- I think Venezuela is in a very dangerous situation, for reasons we have described, and the situation is only worsening. There is also the international situation, with Latin America moving to the right and many Latin American governments now in the hands of conservatives. These governments are thinking about how to end what they see as a critical problem in Latin America, namely Chavismo in Venezuela. Legitimacy problems faced by the Maduro government have probably made that path easier. And of course, you also have the US administration that has escalated the situation in Venezuela, and even if Trump’s mentioning of US intervention in Venezuela only happened once and was an off-hand remark, it is extremely serious.

The only antidote to further international escalation — which can only lead to additional sanctions that create more stress for Venezuelan society or to the absolutely catastrophic alternative of US military intervention — is an internal solution. All parties involved need to realize that the only solution is offering an internal resolution, of showing the world that Venezuelans can solve their own problems.

The problem is that the international community has sanctioned both the Venezuelan oil sector as well as individuals within the government. To achieve a political resolution, however, the political actors involved need to have an alternative. If the only possibility for a Chavista in government today is to remain in power or be taken before the International Criminal Court, as some Latin American governments (with the support of the US government) have suggested, there’s no incentive for anyone to find common ground or to reach an internal resolution to the conflict. There needs to be a change in attitudes in the international community. And given that this isn’t going to come from the current US administration, some other governments, perhaps in Europe, need to be aware that it is irresponsible to take a posture against Venezuela just because this is in line with public opinion in their own countries. Because the risk is that escalation could lead to a catastrophic outcome.

There are several different potential outcomes of the current crisis. One, which is probably the most positive one, is that some people in the Venezuelan government take the extremely brave and forward-looking step of generating an internal process of dialogue. That is, finding counterparts in the opposition and trying to reach a deal that at least brings a resolution to the duality of the legislative powers, and then starts working on other problems. This is something that can be achieved, but again, it requires a great deal of courage and putting aside the tensions that day-to-day politics create.

Another, less positive scenario would be that domestic pressures on the Maduro government generated from the perception that it is incapable of offering solutions to the crisis could generate increased tensions and weaken Maduro’s leadership within Chavismo. That would generate a situation of political instability, the outcome of which would be very difficult to predict. And, of course, the worst-case scenario would be, absent any sort of negotiation or internal crisis, that someday the US administration might decide, for whatever reason, to initiate a catastrophic military intervention in Venezuela, that, as we have seen in many other contexts, one knows when it starts but never knows how or when it will end.

I have the feeling that the current situation is so bad, that the following months will be so tense, that one of these scenarios has to unfold. I get the sense that it’s a matter of months. But at the same time, one must take into account Maduro’s resilience and the resilience of Chavismo in general. Many times, observers have foreseen a rapid devolution of the government within months, and yet the government has managed to maintain the status quo, taking political initiatives that have preserved its power.

I get the sense that now we’re in different situation, since Maduro committed to his base that his recent reelection [in May 2018] would serve as a reset or restarting point, and that with this renewed political legitimacy he and his team would be able to address the problems of the general population. This hasn’t happened, at least not so far, so I think that we have to watch closely over the following months.

Posted in USA, VenezuelaComments Off on Venezuela: Escalation Could Lead to a Catastrophic Outcome

Washington Moves Towards ‘Regime Change’ in Venezuela

An imperialist coup d’état attempt is underway in Venezuela. Jorge Martin analyzes the situation in the Latin American nation.

Nicolas Maduro
President Nicolas Maduro. (Prensa Presidencial)
President Nicolas Maduro. (Prensa Presidencial)
By Jorge Martin – In Defence of Marxism

An imperialist coup d’état attempt is underway in Venezuela. On 10 January, President Maduro was sworn in for a new term of office. He had won the election on May 20. At that time, one section of the opposition decided to participate and another to boycott the elections. On 11 January, Juan Guaidó, the president of the opposition National Assembly (in contempt since 2015), refused to recognise President Maduro and declared himself willing to assume the presidency “with the support of the armed forces, the people and the international community.”

Apart from being a totally illegal decision, taken by a body that is in contempt and also without following any constitutional precept, this amounts to a call for the armed forces to overthrow the elected president. Such an action has a name: coup d’etat.

The first to respond was the secretary general of the OAS, Almagro, one of the instigators of the coup, who went beyond the words of Guaidó and declared that he was president (something Guaido himself had not stated). He said:

“We welcome the assumption of @jguaido as Acting President of #Venezuela in accordance with article 233 of the Political Constitution. You have our support, that of the international community and the people of #Venezuela.”

Luis Almagro

@Almagro_OEA2015

Saludamos la asunción de @jguaido como Presidente interino de conforme al artículo 233 de la Constitución Política. Tiene nuestro apoyo, el de la comunidad internacional y del Pueblo de

Asamblea Nacional

@AsambleaVE

.@jguaido | Me apego al artículo 233, 333 y 350 de la CRBV para convocar elecciones libres y la unión del pueblo, FAN y comunidad internacional para lograr el cese de la usurpación #ANRutaPorLaLibertad

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Clearly, Guaidó had been a bit more cautious, saying he was willing to assume the presidency. But Almagro, in his unhealthy obsession with and indecent haste in getting rid of Maduro, appointed Guaidó as president, by twitter.

US imperialism supports the coup attempt

On 10 January, the US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, had already made a similar call to the Armed Forces to dismiss Maduro, ergo, to carry out a coup d’état, which he said was a matter of urgency:

Secretary Pompeo

@SecPompeo

The U.S. condemns ’s illegitimate usurpation of power and urges those who support the Venezuelan regime, including security forces sworn to support the constitution, to stop enabling repression and corruption. The time is NOW for a return to democracy in .

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In his coup-plotting message, Pompeo spoke specifically about the capacity of the National Assembly (i.e. the opposition, in contempt) to “recover stolen funds”. These are to be found in the US. So, in other words, he is offering finance to the coup:

Secretary Pompeo

@SecPompeo

The U.S. condemns ’s illegitimate usurpation of power and urges those who support the Venezuelan regime, including security forces sworn to support the constitution, to stop enabling repression and corruption. The time is NOW for a return to democracy in .

7.307 personas están hablando de esto

The idea is clear: create a ‘parallel government’ that imperialism (the US, the OAS, the EU) can recognise and, on that basis, force ‘regime change.’

On 11 January, in a phone call to Guaidó, Pompeo reiterated his support for the National Assembly as the sole legitimate authority, although he avoided describing Guaidó as president (for now).

On 12 January, in another official statement, the US Department of State stepped up its support for the coup underway. The statement includes a clear and precise “regime change” instruction, stating “it’s time to begin the orderly transition to a new government.”

So, the plan is afoot. Pompeo’s visit to Brazil for the swearing in of Bolsonaro, his trip to Colombia and the later statement of the “Lima cartel” (with the honourable exception of Mexico) were all necessary steps that prepared for this scenario.

The coup attempt can only be successful if it manages to win a significant sector of the Armed Forces or through a military intervention (an effective government is not created by declaring it). Ultimately, any government is based on a monopoly of force to make its decisions effective.

To increase the chances of the FANB breaking down, the National Assembly is discussing a “transitional law” in which immunity will be offered to all those who jump ship and join the regime change. According to Reuters “the 17-page draft document entitled ‘Law Governing the Transition to Democracy’… includes provisions “to ensure that defectors from the armed forces would not be persecuted by a future government if they abandon Maduro.”

The US secret services have been working hard to try to buy off or blackmail high-ranking officers to lead a movement against the elected president. In recent years, there has been a whole series of coup conspiracies, without success so far. The military high command has a material interest in maintaining the current constitutional order.

The government has given juicy contracts to the military (through the company CAMIMPEG) and has also placed many military officers at the head of state companies, giving them a substantial source of legal and illegal income. But that does not mean that always and at all times they will remain loyal. If they see that there is a possibility that Maduro will be overthrown, there will undoubtedly be sections of high-ranking military officers who, in the face of the offer of immunity and preservation of their wealth, will be willing to participate in a coup d’état or in some form of “negotiated transition” (a coup by another name).

The Washington Post, citing sources from the US secret services, stated that the head of the armed forces, Vladimir Padrino, had asked Maduro to resign or else he would be the one to resign. Most likely this is another attempt by Washington to spread misinformation and rumours, but such a scenario cannot be ruled out at some point.

The “transition law” drafted by the Assembly National (in contempt) is explicit about the central objectives of the coup in the political and economic field:

“[C]entralized controls, arbitrary measures of expropriation and other similar measures will be abolished… For these purposes, the centralized model of controls of the economy will be replaced by a model of freedom and market based on the right of each Venezuelan to work under the guarantees of property rights and freedom of enterprise.”

In other words, the nationalised companies will be returned to their former private owners (including telecommunications, electrical, SIDOR, cement, etc), as will expropriated landed estates. It is noteworthy that there is a lot of talk of property and business rights, but no mention is made of workers’ rights, which would certainly be abolished. It continues:

“Public companies will be subject to a restructuring process that ensures their efficient and transparent management, including through public-private agreements.”

What this means, in plain language, is massive dismissal of workers from state companies and the entry of private capital into them: a policy of looting which has already proved to be a disaster in all countries where it has been applied.

There are obviously other factors in the equation. One is the fact that the real threat of imperialist intervention tends to unite the forces of chavismo, even the critical and disenchanted sectors, when faced with an external threat. The healthy feeling of opposition to imperialism is very strong in Venezuela and goes beyond the hardcore that still votes for the PSUV.

Added to this are the quite strong statements made by Russia against any intervention in Venezuela, which have also been accompanied by military manoeuvres and the presence in the country of Russian Tu-160 bombers capable of carrying nuclear weapons. From the geostrategic point of view of the conflict between Russia and the US, Venezuela is an important point of support for Russia, one it does not seem ready to abandon, for now. Russia has also acquired important interests in Venezuela in the form of oil and other contracts and does not seem willing to drop the Maduro government, after its successes in Crimea and Syria.

Fight the coup! Defend the Bolivarian Revolution

Given these facts, needless to say, the position of any democrat, and of course any revolutionary, socialist and anti-imperialist, is to reject this scandalous imperialist interference and the brazen coup attempt by the reactionary opposition.

The International Marxist Tendency has declared openly that it does not support the policies of Maduro’s government and did not call to vote for him on 20 May. What we are talking about here is something else, namely, an attempted coup d’état, which if successful would lead to the reactionary bourgeoisie and imperialism taking the reins of power. We can all imagine the effects of this for the working class and poor, in Venezuela and beyond.

We do not suspend our criticism of Maduro’s government. We think that its policy (of class conciliation) is not only incapable of resolving the deep economic crisis, but in many respects, represents an important setback for the achievements of the Bolivarian Revolution, by action or omission. Furthermore, this policy undermines and weakens the effective struggle against imperialism. Firstly, because it demoralises the working and popular masses that are the bulwark and the driving force of the revolution, but also because it is based on shameful concessions to Turkish, Chinese and Russian capitalism, and also American and French multinationals (see the most recent oil contracts signed with US-based EREPLA and French multinational Maurel and Prom).

But all this does not mean in any way having an ambiguous or neutral stance in the face of a coup d’état. On the contrary, clearly and emphatically, we strongly oppose it. At the same time, we also advance the programme that we think is necessary to combat the coup effectively: the expropriation of all the multinational companies of the countries involved in the plot and of all the capitalists who finance and encourage it; the general armament of the people and the strengthening of the militias; workers’ control and the revolutionary accountability at all levels to combat the reformist bureaucratic fifth column; the handing over of the large estates to the organised peasants and the idle or semi-paralysed factories to the workers to raise a national plan of production under workers’ control that begins to satisfy the immediate needs of the masses; the immediate and total repudiation of the payment of the foreign debt; and a call to the working class and the peoples of the world to defend the Bolivarian Revolution against imperialist aggression.

Posted in USA, VenezuelaComments Off on Washington Moves Towards ‘Regime Change’ in Venezuela

US Administrations Have Been Intervening in Venezuela Since at Least the Early 2000s

FAIR’s Janine Jackson interviews Alexander Main about US-backed regime change efforts in Venezuela and the role of the international media.

By Alex Main / Janine Jackson – FAIR
alex-main-featured.jpg
Alex Main (FAIR)
Alex Main (FAIR)

Janine Jackson: When it comes to Venezuela, elite US media don’t hide their feelings. And their feelings are all the same. Headlines on last year’s reelection of Venezuelan president Nicolás Maduro differed only in tone, including the disdainful: “As Venezuelans Go Hungry, Their Government Holds a Farcical Election,” from the Economist; the decisive:  USA Today‘s “Maduro Is Turning Venezuela Into a Dictatorship,” or Foreign Affairs’ more somber version, “Venezuela’s Suicide; Lessons From a Failed State.” There’s Forbes’ vaguely threatening “Why Nicolas Maduro of Venezuela May Wish He Lost the Presidential Election,” and Foreign Policy’s unashamed “It’s Time for a Coup in Venezuela.”

But they’re all pretty much variations on a theme that’s hard to unhear, given that media bang it out so loudly and repeatedly. Here to help us sort fact from froth is Alexander Main. He’s director of international policy at the Center for Economic and Policy Research. He joins us by phone from Washington, DC. Welcome to CounterSpin, Alex Main.

Alex Main: Thank you, Janine.

JJ: Writing for FAIR on Venezuelan elections last year, Alan MacLeod pinpointed US media’s preferred trope, which was to say that Maduro was reelected “amid”—amid outcry, amid widespread disillusionment, amid charges of irregularities, amid low turnout. The message, I think, to readers was that Maduro’s re-election was not legitimate. What should we know about last May’s elections in Venezuela?

AM: So what isn’t generally mentioned by the media is that a critical factor in the outcome of the election was the approach taken by Venezuela’s opposition. Much of the opposition, many of its parties, decided to boycott these elections, for a variety of reasons.

At any rate, the media did not examine that fact. And we’re still not seeing it very much. I think one of the few exceptions is the Washington Post, in the article that appeared today, that did mention the divisions within the opposition, and their decision not to participate that had, obviously, a huge effect on the election result.

JJ: The media coverage would give you the impression that Venezuela’s election almost happened in a vacuum, but there was in fact involvement from, for example, the Organization of American States.

AM: Well, the Organization of American States, or rather the secretary general of the organization, whose name is Luis Almagro. He represents himself. He was elected, but once secretary general, he has sort of executive power there; but he doesn’t represent the countries within the organization. He has been on a campaign against the Maduro government from very early on. It stems from their initial decision not to allow him to send electoral observers to the elections.

And this is based on a decision taken by Venezuela’s electoral authorities many years ago, when they decided that they had enough transparency, enough safety measures around the elections, that they no longer required any sort of outside tutelage.

A number of countries in Latin America have taken the same decision. It’s a decision that has to do with the respect of their sovereignty. Certainly you don’t see in the US any massive presence of international observers, even though I think a lot of people would like to see that at some point.

But anyway, this was a sovereign decision that was taken by Venezuela’s electoral authority. And following that, Almagro really went on a rampage, and has been very much involved in efforts to try to delegitimize the Maduro government and to support the very hard-line opposition.

In doing this, he went sort of out of bounds in terms of his rhetoric, even for a lot of right-wing governments in Latin America, when late last year he voiced support for a military coup, much as some US officials have done, and US members of Congress have done. And as a response, you had all of the governments of Latin America that signed on to a statement that categorically rejected the possibility of any form of military intervention, whether by coup or an outside military intervention in Venezuela.

But certainly his rhetoric, and the campaign that he has led—along with other figures, such as Sen. Marco Rubio—have certainly given the impression that there is a desire for US intervention in what’s going on in Venezuela, and that’s, I think, resulted in sort of a defensive reaction from the Venezuelan government.

JJ: Well, it sounds very disturbing, but also confusing. You know, when I was looking through headlines, I saw one from something called the Pacific Council on International Policy that said, “Maduro Re-Elected. Can Democracy Ever Prevail in Venezuela?” I mean, just at the level of the sentence, it’s confusing. And then when you start talking about a coup to save democracy—which is the upshot of current coverage, and I guess policy—it just doesn’t even seem to make sense. The call is for the US to intervene, but the US is already intervening, isn’t it?

AM: Well, yeah, absolutely, and they’ve really been intervening in Venezuela, various US administrations, since at least the early 2000s, when we know that the US government—through institutions like the National Endowment for Democracy—has been providing funding and training to opposition groups in Venezuela, and often very hard-line groups that have taken a radical line, not recognizing the government and trying to seek its removal through extra-constitutional means, including a short-lived coup that took place in April of 2002.

The US has been very involved in trying to isolate them, Venezuela, diplomatically throughout the region, putting a lot of pressure on Latin American governments to support US measures condemning the situation in Venezuela.

More recently, the US has been applying sanctions against the government of Venezuela. And this is a very underreported thing in the US media and the international media generally.

When you see the coverage, for instance, of the Maduro inauguration, what you don’t see at all are references to the impact of the economic sanctions that have been applied. In fact, there are few media outlets at this point that even acknowledge that there are economic sanctions, even though they’ve been in place since August of 2017, when Trump announced them through an executive decree, having determined Venezuela to be an “extraordinary threat to US national security.” Those were the actual terms that were used in order to justify these sanctions.

And they’ve had a dire effect in Venezuela, which has been experiencing an economic crisis for quite a while now, since 2014 at least. And the government, of course, has failed to resolve this. It has to do with some of the government’s own economic policies. But at this point, the US also bears responsibility through these sanctions, where they have cut off Venezuela’s access to international financial markets, by which they can borrow money and purchase the necessary imports that the country needs. And we know that there aren’t enough imports of food or of medicine that are taking place at the moment.

And it’s also had a dire effect on the country’s oil production. And, of course, oil is the source of most of Venezuela’s national revenue. Along with falling oil prices, there’s been a tremendous fall in oil production in Venezuela, and it accelerated, actually, after these sanctions were put into place, because the Venezuelan government isn’t able to make the necessary investments to maintain the oil fields.

So that’s not mentioned, really, whatsoever in the major media, even though you have economists, including opposition-aligned economists from Venezuela, like Francisco Rodriguez, who have pointed out the very negative impact that these sanctions are having on the country.

JJ: Alan MacLeod also found a piece in Bloomberg that came close to acknowledging it, but in such a strange way. It was an article in which Bloomberg said that victory in the “widely derided election” gives Maduro “sole ownership of the nation’s crushing economic crisis.” And then in the very next sentence, it gloats that US and regional leaders will punish Venezuela by imposing “further isolation and sanctions on the crisis-stricken nation’s all-important oil industry.”

AM: Exactly. There’s this absurd idea that the sanctions somehow only hurt the Venezuelan government and Venezuelan government officials. It’s always the Venezuelan government’s responsibility, when they discuss the economic situation.

From time to time, you do see some media saying, “Oh, but the Venezuelan government says that the US sanctions are contributing to this dire economic situation.” They fail to ask any independent expert. You know, any economists that are taking a good look at what’s going on in Venezuela today will tell you, “Well, yes, these sanctions quite obviously are having a very negative impact.”

JJ: Finally, one of the things that coverage does is present the Venezuelan people as  benighted. A piece from Time from last year includes one of my favorite creations. It first of all says that the crisis, the current crisis, “can be traced to the 1998 election of Hugo Chávez to the presidency,” so Chávez is the reason that things are difficult now. But I love this presentation: “Chávez concocted a political system that used often high oil prices to essentially bribe the masses into supporting him.”

The picture of the Venezuelan people that one gets from US media coverage is really as sort of benighted, not knowing what’s good for themselves and, once again, requiring some sort of intervention to tell them how to do democracy.

AM: Yes. This is quite absurd. Really, what we’re seeing in Venezuela is, one, an extraordinarily well-organized population, and particularly in poor communities that are certainly confronting a very dramatic economic situation, but I think doing so in effective ways that make the situation somewhat sustainable for these communities. So we’re seeing a very, very high level of community organization.

I’d say the vast majority of Venezuelans at this point are probably quite disgruntled with Maduro and his government. However, the Venezuelan opposition really offers no viable alternative to the Maduro government. They have never presented any sort of coherent economic proposal, with the possible exception of the opposition candidate in last year’s election. But, of course, most of the opposition parties boycotted those elections.

And in general, I think a lot of Venezuelans, certainly those that come from lower-income communities, are well aware of the fact that the opposition is linked to the country’s traditional economic elite, and they have a terrible reputation from their involvement in governments before Chávez was in power.

Things may be bad under Maduro, but I think there’s a sense among many Venezuelans that things could actually be quite a bit worse under opposition governments, particularly if they impose the sort of neoliberal policies that hurt the poor people of Venezuela enormously during the decades prior to Hugo Chávez’s election in the late ’90s.

JJ: We’ve been speaking with Alexander Main; he’s director of international policy at the Center for Economic and Policy Research. You can find their work, including Alex’s piece, “The United States’ Hand in Undermining Democracy in Venezuela,” online at CEPR.net. Alexander Main, thank you very much for joining us today on CounterSpin.

AM: Thank you, it was a pleasure.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Venezuelanalysis editorial staff.

Posted in USA, VenezuelaComments Off on US Administrations Have Been Intervening in Venezuela Since at Least the Early 2000s

Over 70 Experts Call for US to Stop Interfering in Venezuela

 

Noam Chomsky, Alfred de Zayas, Sujatha Fernandes, Boots Riley, John Pilger, Vijay Prashad and many others oppose US interventionism in Venezuela. The statement is worth the read.

By Collective – Center for Economic and Policy Research

Rally against US President Donald Trump in Caracas

Rally against Donald Trump in Caracas, Venezuela. (Ueslei Marcelino/Reuters)
Rally against Donald Trump in Caracas, Venezuela. (Ueslei Marcelino/Reuters)

The United States government must cease interfering in Venezuela’s internal politics, especially for the purpose of overthrowing the country’s government. Actions by the Trump administration and its allies in the hemisphere are almost certain to make the situation in Venezuela worse, leading to unnecessary human suffering, violence, and instability.

Venezuela’s political polarization is not new; the country has long been divided along racial and socioeconomic lines. But the polarization has deepened in recent years. This is partly due to US support for an opposition strategy aimed at removing the government of Nicolás Maduro through extra-electoral means. While the opposition has been divided on this strategy, US support has backed hardline opposition sectors in their goal of ousting the Maduro government through often violent protests, a military coup d’etat, or other avenues that sidestep the ballot box.

Under the Trump administration, aggressive rhetoric against the Venezuelan government has ratcheted up to a more extreme and threatening level, with Trump administration officials talking of “military action” and condemning Venezuela, along with Cuba and Nicaragua, as part of a “troika of tyranny.” Problems resulting from Venezuelan government policy have been worsened  by US economic sanctions, illegal under the Organization of American States and the United Nations ― as well as US law and other international treaties and conventions. These sanctions have cut off the means by which the Venezuelan government could escape from its economic recession, while causing a dramatic falloff in oil production and worsening the economic crisis, and causing many people to die because they can’t get access to life-saving medicines. Meanwhile, the US and other governments continue to blame the Venezuelan government ― solely ― for the economic damage, even that caused by the US sanctions.

Now the US and its allies, including OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro and Brazil’s far-right president, Jair Bolsonaro, have pushed Venezuela to the precipice. By recognizing National Assembly President Juan Guaido as the new president of Venezuela ― something illegal under the OAS Charter ― the Trump administration has sharply accelerated Venezuela’s political crisis in the hopes of dividing the Venezuelan military and further polarizing the populace, forcing them to choose sides. The obvious, and sometimes stated goal, is to force Maduro out via a coup d’etat.

The reality is that despite hyperinflation, shortages, and a deep depression, Venezuela remains a politically polarized country. The US and its allies must cease encouraging violence by pushing for violent, extralegal regime change. If the Trump administration and its allies continue to pursue their reckless course in Venezuela, the most likely result will be bloodshed, chaos, and instability. The US should have learned something from its regime change ventures in Iraq, Syria, Libya, and its long, violent history of sponsoring regime change in Latin America.

Neither side in Venezuela can simply vanquish the other. The military, for example, has at least 235,000 frontline members, and there are at least 1.6 million in militias. Many of these people will fight, not only on the basis of a belief in national sovereignty that is widely held in Latin America ― in the face of what increasingly appears to be a US-led intervention ― but also to protect themselves from likely repression if the opposition topples the government by force.

In such situations, the only solution is a negotiated settlement, as has happened in the past in Latin American countries when politically polarized societies were unable to resolve their differences through elections. There have been efforts, such as those led by the Vatican in the fall of 2016, that had potential, but they received no support from Washington and its allies who favored regime change. This strategy must change if there is to be any viable solution to the ongoing crisis in Venezuela.

For the sake of the Venezuelan people, the region, and for the principle of national sovereignty, these international actors should instead support negotiations between the Venezuelan government and its opponents that will allow the country to finally emerge from its political and economic crisis.

Signed:

Noam Chomsky, Professor Emeritus, MIT and Laureate Professor, University of Arizona

Laura Carlsen, Director, Americas Program, Center for International Policy

Greg Grandin, Professor of History, New York University

Miguel Tinker Salas, Professor of Latin American History and Chicano/a Latino/a Studies at Pomona College

Sujatha Fernandes, Professor of Political Economy and Sociology, University of Sydney

Steve Ellner, Associate Managing Editor of Latin American Perspectives

Alfred de Zayas, former UN Independent Expert on the Promotion of a Democratic and Equitable International Order and only UN rapporteur to have visited Venezuela in 21 years

Boots Riley, Writer/Director of Sorry to Bother You, Musician

John Pilger, Journalist & Film-Maker

Mark Weisbrot, Co-Director, Center for Economic and Policy Research

Jared Abbott, PhD Candidate, Department of Government, Harvard University

Dr. Tim Anderson, Director, Centre for Counter Hegemonic Studies

Elisabeth Armstrong, Professor of the Study of Women and Gender, Smith College

Alexander Aviña, PhD, Associate Professor of History, Arizona State University

Marc Becker, Professor of History, Truman State University

Medea Benjamin, Cofounder, CODEPINK

Phyllis Bennis, Program Director, New Internationalism, Institute for Policy Studies

Dr. Robert E. Birt, Professor of Philosophy, Bowie State University

Aviva Chomsky, Professor of History, Salem State University

James Cohen, University of Paris 3 Sorbonne Nouvelle

Guadalupe Correa-Cabrera, Associate Professor, George Mason University

Benjamin Dangl, PhD, Editor of Toward Freedom

Dr. Francisco Dominguez, Faculty of Professional and Social Sciences, Middlesex University, UK

Alex Dupuy, John E. Andrus Professor of Sociology Emeritus, Wesleyan University

Jodie Evans, Cofounder, CODEPINK

Vanessa Freije, Assistant Professor of International Studies, University of Washington

Gavin Fridell, Canada Research Chair and Associate Professor in International Development Studies, St. Mary’s University

Evelyn Gonzalez, Counselor, Montgomery College

Jeffrey L. Gould, Rudy Professor of History, Indiana University

Bret Gustafson, Associate Professor of Anthropology, Washington University in St. Louis

Peter Hallward, Professor of Philosophy, Kingston University

John L. Hammond, Professor of Sociology, CUNY

Mark Healey, Associate Professor of History, University of Connecticut

Gabriel Hetland, Assistant Professor of Latin American, Caribbean and U.S. Latino Studies, University of Albany

Forrest Hylton, Associate Professor of History, Universidad Nacional de Colombia-Medellín

Daniel James, Bernardo Mendel Chair of Latin American History

Chuck Kaufman, National Co-Coordinator, Alliance for Global Justice

Daniel Kovalik, Adjunct Professor of Law, University of Pittsburgh

Winnie Lem, Professor, International Development Studies, Trent University

Dr. Gilberto López y Rivas, Professor-Researcher, National University of Anthropology and History, Morelos, Mexico

Mary Ann Mahony, Professor of History, Central Connecticut State University

Jorge Mancini, Vice President, Foundation for Latin American Integration (FILA)

Luís Martin-Cabrera, Associate Professor of Literature and Latin American Studies, University of California San Diego

Teresa A. Meade, Florence B. Sherwood Professor of History and Culture, Union College

Frederick Mills, Professor of Philosophy, Bowie State University

Stephen Morris, Professor of Political Science and International Relations, Middle Tennessee State University

Liisa L. North, Professor Emeritus, York University

Paul Ortiz, Associate Professor of History, University of Florida

Christian Parenti, Associate Professor, Department of Economics, John Jay College CUNY

Nicole Phillips, Law Professor at the Université de la Foundation Dr. Aristide Faculté des Sciences Juridiques et Politiques and  Adjunct Law Professor at the University of California Hastings College of the Law

Beatrice Pita, Lecturer, Department of Literature, University of California San Diego

Margaret Power, Professor of History, Illinois Institute of Technology

Vijay Prashad, Editor, The TriContinental

Eleanora Quijada Cervoni FHEA, Staff Education Facilitator & EFS Mentor, Centre for Higher Education, Learning & Teaching at The Australian National University

Walter Riley, Attorney and Activist

William I. Robinson, Professor of Sociology, University of California, Santa Barbara

Mary Roldan, Dorothy Epstein Professor of Latin American History, Hunter College/ CUNY Graduate Center

Karin Rosemblatt, Professor of History, University of Maryland

Emir Sader, Professor of Sociology, University of the State of Rio de Janeiro

Rosaura Sanchez, Professor of Latin American Literature and Chicano Literature, University of California, San Diego

T.M. Scruggs Jr., Professor Emeritus, University of Iowa

Victor Silverman, Professor of History, Pomona College

Brad Simpson, Associate Professor of History, University of Connecticut

Jeb Sprague, Lecturer, University of Virginia

Christy Thornton, Assistant Professor of History, Johns Hopkins University

Sinclair S. Thomson, Associate Professor of History, New York University

Steven Topik, Professor of History, University of California, Irvine

Stephen Volk, Professor of History Emeritus, Oberlin College

Kirsten Weld, John. L. Loeb Associate Professor of the Social Sciences, Department of History, Harvard University

Kevin Young, Assistant Professor of History, University of Massachusetts Amherst

Patricio Zamorano, Academic of Latin American Studies; Executive Director, InfoAmericas

Posted in USA, VenezuelaComments Off on Over 70 Experts Call for US to Stop Interfering in Venezuela

Venezuelan army disavows self-proclaimed leader, will defend national sovereignty

NOVANEWS

Image result for Nicolas Maduro. PHOTO

Posted by: Sammi Ibrahem,Sr

The Venezuelan military will not accept a president imposed by “dark interests,” Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino said after Washington and a number of its allies recognized a lawmaker as the new leader in Caracas.

The army will continue to defend the constitution and national sovereignty, Padrino said on Wednesday afternoon, hours after opposition lawmaker C.I.A puppet Juan Guaido was proclaimed interim president by the National Assembly, in a direct challenge to President Nicolas Maduro.

The US quickly recognized Guaido as Venezuela’s legitimate leader, with the Organization of American States (OAS) following Washington’s lead. Canada and France have also recognized puppet Guaido, while Mexico has declined to do so “for now.”

Bolivia declared “solidarity with the people of Venezuela and brother Nicolas Maduro” in resisting the “claws of imperialism” in South America, President Evo Morales tweeted.

Maduro responded to the US announcement by cutting diplomatic ties with Washington and giving American diplomats 72 hours to leave Venezuela.

Guaido, however, countermanded that in a tweet and promised that Venezuela “will continue to maintain diplomatic relations with all the countries of the world.”

The issue of diplomats has raised the stakes in the US-Venezuela confrontation, as Senator Zionist puppet Marco Rubio (R-Florida) – one of the driving forces behind the recognition of C.I.A puppet Guaido – argued that US diplomats should stay put, since leaving would mean recognition of Maduro’s legitimacy.

Posted in VenezuelaComments Off on Venezuelan army disavows self-proclaimed leader, will defend national sovereignty

Salafi mission calls into question Saudi concept of moderation and policy in Yemen

Muhammad bin Salman and moderate islam

By James M. Dorsey

Plans to open a Salafi missionary centre in the Yemeni province of Al Mahrah on the border with Oman and Saudi Arabia raise questions about Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman’s concept of a moderate form of Islam.

The questions are prompted by the fact that Prince Muhammad has so far put little, if any, flesh on his skeletal vow last October to return his ultra-conservative kingdom to “moderate Islam”.

The crown prince has created expectations of more social liberalism with the lifting of a ban on women’s driving, a residual of Bedouin rather than Muslim tradition, as well the granting of female access to male sporting events; the legitimisation of various forms of entertainment, including cinema, theatre and music; and the stripping away of the religious police’s right to carry out arrests.

While removing Saudi Arabia as the only Muslim country that didn’t permit women to drive or allow various recreational activities, Prince Muhammad has yet to conceptualise what a rollback of Sunni Muslim ultra-conservatism would mean in a nation whose public life remains steeped in a puritan interpretation of the faith. (The lifting on the ban of women entering stadiums leaves Iran as the only country that restricts female access to male sporting events.)

Sectarian crutches

The disclosure of the plan for a Salafi mission suggests Prince Muhammad may only want to curb ultra-conservatism’s rough edges. It also calls into question Saudi policy in Yemen that is reminiscent of past failures.

Saudi Arabia’s conflict with Iranian-backed Houthi rebels, a Zaydi Shia Muslim sect with roots in a region bordering the kingdom, dates to Saudi employment of Salafism to counter the group in the 1980s.

The plan harks back to the creation of an anti-Shia Salafi mission near the Houthi stronghold of Saada that sparked a military confrontation in 2011 with the Yemeni government, one of several wars in the region. The centre was closed in 2014 as part of an agreement to end the fighting.

Prince Muhammad’s use of ultra-conservative Sunni Islam in his confrontation with the Houthis was also evident in the appointment as governor of Saada of Hadi Tirshan al-Wa’ili, a member of a tribe hostile to the Shia sect, and a follower of Saudi-backed Islamic scholar Uthman Mujalli. Mr Mujalli reportedly serves as an advisor to Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi, the exiled, Saudi-backed Yemeni president.

“Over the past 40 years, the Saudi government has invested heavily in Salafi-Wahhabi-style madrasas and mosques in the northern areas, only to realise that this programme was jeopardised by the Zaydi revival movement. If the Houthis were to be defeated in their home province, it is likely that the Salafi-Wahhabi programme will be revived, and implemented more fiercely than in previous years,” said Yemen scholar Gabriele vom Bruck.

The disclosure of the Al-Mahrah plan coincided with a damning 79-page United Nations report that condemned Saudi, Iranian and United Arab Emirates interventions in Yemen. The report concluded that Saudi and UAE proxies threatened peace prospects and that a secession of South Yemen that includes Al-Mahrah had become a distinct possibility.

Questionable “moderation”

The questions about Prince Muhammad’s concept of a moderate Islam go beyond Yemen. The arts, including cinema, remain subject to censorship that is informed by the kingdom’s long-standing ultra-conservative values. A football player and a singer are among those who face legal proceedings for un-Islamic forms of expressing themselves.

The government last year introduced physical education in girls’ schools and legalised women’s fitness clubs, but has yet to say whether restrictions on women competing in a variety of Olympic disciplines will be lifted.

The example of Yemen suggests that little has changed in Saudi Arabia’s four-decade-old, $100 billion global public diplomacy campaign that promoted Sunni Muslim ultra-conservatism as an anti-dote to revolutionary Iranian ideology.

Similarly, and perhaps more importantly, it has yet to indicate whether male guardianship, gender segregation, dress codes that force women to fully cover, and the obligatory closure of shops at prayer times will be abolished. Also, the government has still to declare a willingness to lift the ban on the practice of non-Muslim faiths or adherence to strands of Islam considered heretic by the ultra-conservatives.

The example of Yemen suggests that little has changed in Saudi Arabia’s four-decade-old, $100 billion global public diplomacy campaign that promoted Sunni Muslim ultra-conservatism as an anti-dote to revolutionary Iranian ideology.

Yemen is but one extreme of the spectrum. The Saudi-funded and operated grand mosque in Brussels is the other. Saudi Arabia, responding to Belgian criticism of the mosque’s ultra-conservative management, last year appointed as its imam, Tamer Abou el Saod, a 57-year-old polyglot Luxemburg-based, Swedish consultant with a career in the food industry. Senior Saudi officials have moreover responded positively to a Belgian government initiative to prematurely terminate Saudi Arabia’s 99-year lease of the mosque so that it can take control of it.

In contrast to Yemen, where the use of ultra-conservatism is a deliberate choice, Prince Muhammad may feel constrained in his moderation quest in the kingdom by the fact that his ruling Al Saud family derives its legitimacy from its adherence to ultra-conservatism. In addition, the kingdom’s ultra-conservative religious establishment has repeatedly signalled that the views of at least some its members have not changed even if it has endorsed the crown prince’s policies.

Saudi Arabia last September suspended Saad al-Hijri, a prominent scholar in charge of fatwas, or religious edicts, in the province of Asir, for opposing the lifting of the ban on driving because women allegedly had only  half a brain that is reduced to a quarter when they go shopping. Sheikh Saad made his comment after the Council of Senior Scholars, Saudi Arabia’s highest religious body, had approved the move.

Ultra-conservative mood music

By the same token, no public action was taken against Sheikh Salih al-Fawzan, a member of the council, who declared on his website that “If women are allowed to drive they will be able to go and come as they please day and night, and will easily have access to temptation, because as we know, women are weak and easily tempted”. A video clip of Sheikh Salih’s view was posted on YouTube in October. It was not clear when the scholar spoke or whether he had approved the posting.

A main thrust of Prince Muhammad’s drive to return to moderate Islam is the fight against extremism, involving among others the creation of a centre to oversee the interpretations of Prophet Muhammad’s teachings in a bid ensure that they do not justify violence.

There is indeed little doubt that the kingdom is serious about countering extremism. Opposing extremism, however, does not automatically equate to moderation or concepts of tolerance and pluralism. Prince Muhammad has yet to clarify if those concepts are part of his notion of moderation. His track record so far is at best a mixed one.

Posted in Saudi ArabiaComments Off on Salafi mission calls into question Saudi concept of moderation and policy in Yemen

Saudi Arabia and the West’s right wing: A dubious alliance

Saudi-far right links

By James M. Dorsey

Traditionally focussed on ultra-conservative Sunni Islam, Saudi funding in the era of Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman has been streamlined and fine tuned to ensure that it serves his geopolitical ambitions, primarily stymying the expansion of Iranian influence in the Middle East and North Africa and enhancing the kingdom’s global impact.

The effort, however, has so far produced a mixed bag. Spending is down but more targeted. Saudi Arabia has handed over control of the Grand Mosque in Brussels in a move designed to demonstrate its newly found moderation and reduce the reputational damage of a Saudi ultra-conservative management that had become contentious in Belgium.

Yet, monies still flowed to militant, ultra-conservative madrassas or religious seminaries that dot the Pakistani-Iranian border. The kingdom’s focus, moreover, has shifted in selected countries to the promotion of a strand of Salafi ultra-conservatism that preaches absolute obedience to the ruler, a corollary to Prince Muhammad’s crackdown on critics and activists at home.

Saudi non-governmental organisations that once distributed the kingdom’s largesse to advance ultra-conservatism as well as officials have adopted the language of tolerance and respect and principles of interfaith but have little tangible change at home to back it up.

To be sure, Prince Muhammad has lifted the ban on women’s driving, enhanced women’s work and leisure opportunities and kickstarted the creation of a modern entertainment industry, but none of these measures amount to his promise to foster an unidentified but truly moderate form of Islam.

The prince’s moves, moreover, have been accompanied by an embrace of the European right and far-right as well as Western ultra-conservative groups that, by and large, are hardly beacons of tolerance and mutual respect.

“Saudi Arabia with MBS [Muhammad bin Salman] as crown prince has not been advocating Islamic religious reform,” said Middle East scholar H.A. Hellyer, referring to the Saudi leader by his initials. He added:

The existing Saudi religious establishment has not been encouraged to engage in a genuine rethinking of its ideas that draws it closer to the normative Sunni mainstream, nor listen to existing Saudi religious scholars who advocate more normative and mainstream approaches. Rather, the establishment has been muzzled. MBS’s “reforms” in this arena are about centralising power – they are not about restoring the Saudi religious establishment to a normative Sunnism.

Prince Muhammad’s interest in non-Muslim ultra-conservative groups in the West fits a global pattern, highlighted by political scientists Yascha Mounk and Roberto Stefan Foa, in which technological advances and the increased importance of soft power that lie at the root of Russian intervention in elections in the United States and Europe, have informed the information and public relations policies of multiple autocratic states.

Technology and soft power are, according to Mounk and Foa, are likely to spark greater efforts by authoritarians and autocrats in general to influence Western nations and undermine confidence in democracy.

“Indeed, China is already stepping up ideological pressure on its overseas residents and establishing influential Confucius Institutes in major centres of learning. And over the past two years, Saudi Arabia has dramatically upped its payments to registered US lobbyists, increasing the number of registered foreign agents working on its behalf from 25 to 145… The rise of authoritarian soft power is already apparent across a variety of domains, including academia, popular culture, foreign investment and development aid,” Mounk and Foa said.

Saudi Arabia, alongside other Gulf states, including the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Oman and Kuwait, as well as China, have furthermore been major donors to Western universities and think-tanks and developed media outlets of their own such as Qatar’s AlJazeera, Turkey’s TRT World, China’s CCTV and Russia’s RT that reach global audiences. They compete with the likes of the BBC and CNN.

The need for Saudi Arabia to acquire soft power was driven home by mounting Western criticism of its war in Yemen and condemnation of the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi on the premises of the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

The Saudi effort to do so by garnering conservative, right-wing and far-right support was evident in Northern Ireland.

DUP and Brexit

Investigating a remarkable campaign by Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), a key support pillar of British Prime Minister Teresa May’s government, in favour of Britain’s exit from the European Union, Irish Timescolumnist Fintan O’Toole suggested that a senior member of Saudi Arabia’s ruling family and former head of the country’s intelligence service, Prince Nawwaf bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud, as well as its just-replaced ambassador to Britain, had funded the pro-Brexit effort through a commercial tie-up with a relatively obscure Scottish conservative activist of modest means, Richard Cook.

The ambassador, Prince Nawaf’s son, Prince Muhammad bin Nawaf Al Saud, was Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to Britain until last month’s Saudi cabinet reshuffle.

“It may be entirely coincidental that the man who channelled £425,622 to the DUP had such extremely high-level Saudi connections. We simply don’t know. We also don’t know whether the… Saudi ambassador had any knowledge of his father’s connection to Richard Cook,” O’Toole said.

Similarly, Saudi Arabia has invited dozens of British members of parliament on all-expenses paid visits to the kingdom and showered at least 50 members of the government, including Teresa May, with enormous hampers of food weighing up to 18 pounds.

One package destined for a member of the House of Lords included seaweed and garlic mayonnaise; smoked salmon, trout and mussels; and a kilogram of Stilton cheese. Others contained bottles of claret, white wine, champagne, and Talisker whisky despite the kingdom’s ban on alcohol.

Danish People’s Party, Swedish Democrats, European Conservatives and Reformists and Europe of Nations and Freedom

In a move similar to Russian efforts to influence European politics, Saudi Arabia has also forged close ties to conservative and far-right groups in Europe that include the Danish People’s Party and the Sweden Democrats as well as other Islamophobes, according to member of the European parliament Eldar Mamedov.

Writing on LobeLog, Mamedov said the kingdom frequently worked through the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) bloc, the third largest grouping in the European parliament. Saudi Arabia also enjoyed the support of European parliament member Mario Borghezio of Italy’s Lega, who is a member of Europe of Nations and Freedom (ENF), a bloc of far-right parties in the parliament.

The kingdom’s strategy, in a twist of irony, although in pursuit of different goals, resembles to a degree that of one of its nemeses, Indonesia’s Nahdlatul Ulama, the world’s largest Muslim non-governmental organisation that has opposition to Saudi Arabia’s puritan strand of Islam carved into its DNA and has forged close ties to the European right and far-right in its bid to reform the faith.

The Saudi strategy could prove tricky, particularly in the United States, depending on the evolution of US special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into foreign interference in the 2016 election that brought President Donald J. Trump to office.

Mueller reportedly is set in court filings to unveil efforts by Saudi Arabia, its reputation in the US tarnished by the Khashoggi killing, and the United Arab Emirates, the kingdom’s closest ally, to influence American politics.

Commenting, Harry Litman, a former US attorney, said:  “I guess what Mueller has to date has turned out to be pretty rich and detailed and more than we anticipated. This could turn out to be a rich part of the overall story.”

Posted in USA, Europe, ZIO-NAZI, Saudi ArabiaComments Off on Saudi Arabia and the West’s right wing: A dubious alliance

Hate speech without hate: Britain and the United States

UK supression of free speech

By Eve Mykytyn

Gilad Atzmon is fighting a battle for free speech in England. Here’s why it matters in the United States. Atzmon was prohibited by a local council, Islington, made up almost entirely of Labour Party members, from playing the saxophone with his band the Blockheads. The ban followed a complaint from a far right Zionist, who in his own social media posts frequently disparaged and threatened the Labour Party and its leader as anti Semitic.

The complainant submitted a number of quotations from Atzmon taken out of context and cut and pasted for the desired effect. In fact, Atzmon is not an anti Semite, although he is critical of identity politics and particularly of Jewish identity politics (for example, the group Jewish Voices for Peace, why not All Voices for Peace?). The council concluded that Atzmon’s views were “at the lowest provocative and distasteful or at the highest anti-Semitic and racist”.

England has hate speech laws and with that conclusion one might have expected the council to file a complaint. But Atzmon has never been charged or even questioned under such laws. Through a convoluted series of rationales, the council, which does not have policing power, decided it had the right to prohibit a saxophone player from joining his band. The Labour Party seems to support the council’s decision: the Guardian reported that a spokesman for the Labour Party, without proof, labelled Atzmon a “vile anti-Semite“. Would Atzmon, a critic of Israel, been allowed to have the council deny admission to hard core Zionists? Could the council ban Muslims in burkas about whom Zionists complained?

“The right to examine its history simply places the holocaust with other terrible events we must examine and learn from, such as the Armenian Holocaust or the countless and uncounted Africans who died in the middle passage.”

Atzmon was also falsely called a holocaust denier. Atzmon is a critic of European laws that forbid any examination into the holocaust that contradicts the “accepted” narrative. This is odd, because the count of six million is, in itself, a suspiciously round number. Could it have been 6,100,000? Timothy Snyder, a Jewish historian at Yale, has written in the book Bloodlands, Europe between Hitler and Stalin, that far more Jews were simply shot than had originally been thought. Is this a violation? And, of course, no other historical narrative has been granted the legal right to go unexamined. The right to examine its history simply places the holocaust with other terrible events we must examine and learn from, such as the Armenian Holocaust or the countless and uncounted Africans who died in the middle passage.

In the United States we are facing similar issues. At the moment, there is a groundswell of support for prohibiting white supremacists or more accurately, those whom some perceive as white supremacists, from speaking. The University of Virginia, a public college, banned Richard Spencer and nine other white supremacists from campus for four years, although there were no claims that any of the 10 had participated in violence. Effective prohibitions have also come from students in response to Charles Murray’s statistical analyses (as at Middlebury College where thrown bottles injured a professor). There was indeed violence at Charlottesville where white supremacists gathered, but there was violence during the civil rights marches. Should we have prohibited those brave enough to fight Jim Crow?

Twenty five states now have anti-BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) laws for state workers or government contractors prohibiting participation in and/or requiring divestment (another boycott?) of companies that support BDS. This even though the Supreme Court has long held that political boycotts –  are a form of expression protected by the First Amendment. A similar bill is now pending in Congress and seems to enjoy wide support. Why can’t a teacher or a government contractor conclude that Israel’s persistent brutality towards the native Palestinians is worthy of a boycott? Like Atzmon’s saxophone playing, they are being subjected to a political test while simply trying to earn a living, unrelated to Israel or boycotts.

Clearly, this is a slippery slope and it appears Britain is still ahead of the United States in attacking unwanted speech. Let’s not race so hard to catch up.

Posted in USA, UKComments Off on Hate speech without hate: Britain and the United States

UK’s Islington Council banned pro-Palestinian musician at behest of Israel’s far-right Likud-Herut

NOVANEWS
Islington and Likud-Herut

By Richard Hugus

More facts have come to light in the case of Gilad Atzmon and his banning by the London’s Islington Council from performing at a jazz concert on 21 December 2018.

The original scenario was that one email from one person calling Atzmon an anti-Semite somehow persuaded the council to take the drastic step of removing Atzmon from a town-owned venue. Many who heard the story felt this was a rash decision which would surely be reversed when the facts were brought to light. But the council voted to uphold its decision and Atzmon was indeed not allowed to play.

UK Director of Likud-Herut

Now it appears that the single complainant – Martin Rankoff –  was not just an anonymous fan of Israel but the UK Director of Likud-Herut. Herut (Hebrew for “freedom”) was Israel’s founding nationalist party from 1948 until it later merged with Likud. It is a militant and extreme Zionist organisation whose roots go in a straight line from Ze’ev Jabotinsky and Menachem Begin up to Binyamin Netanyahu today. Jabotinsky and Begin helped form the Irgun terrorist group in 1937. Irgun committed notorious massacres in Palestine in the period leading up to and during the Nakba (or “catastrophe”) of 1947-48. These include the bombing of the King David Hotel in Jerusalem in 1946, killing 91 people, and the massacre at Deir Yassin  in 1948 in which 254 unarmed Palestinian villagers were brutally murdered as an incentive for other Palestinians to leave. On its website Likud-Herut UK lists Jabotinsky and Begin as “visionaries”. Likud-Herut is a member of the World Zionist Organisation and the Zionist Federation of the UK which believe in “the inalienable right of all Jews to live and settle in all parts of the Land of Israel”.

In a letter to the New York Times in 1948 Albert Einstein, Hannah Arendt, and others compared Herut to the Nazis and Fascists who had just been defeated in World War II. Referring to this letter, Ramzy Baroud recently wrote;

The “Nazi and Fascist” mentality that defined Herut in 1948 now defines the most powerful ruling class in Israel. Israel’s leaders speak openly of genocide and murder, yet they celebrate and promote Israel as if an icon of civilization, democracy and human rights.

Hiring Likud godfather Sheldon Adelson’s lawyers while cutting public services

The history of Herut and Likud tells us a great deal about who the people are who complained about Atzmon to Islington Council. When Atzmon moved to appeal his being banned, formidable opponents again appeared in the form of the Simkins Law firm, one of the most expensive law practices in Britain, with  not one but two partners at Simkins being put on the case. These are Gideon Benaim and Tom Iverson.

It now appears that Atzmon’s banning was not the result of a casual complaint; it was an intentional attack on a well-respected supporter of Palestinian human rights by the Likud organisation, directly represented by Martin Rankoff.

Benaim recently became well known in Britain for winning an invasion of privacy suit against the BBC on behalf of pop singer Cliff Richard, who said he spent £3.4m ($4.3 million) on the case. Clearly, representation by Simkins doesn’t come cheap. Also listed in Benaim’s resumé as a client is the Las Vegas Sands Corporation which likely has no problem with Simkins’s fees either. The Sands casino is owned by billionaire Sheldon Adelson who, as it happens, is a primary sponsor of the Likud Party in Israel, led by Binyamin Netanyahu. Adelson owns the newspaper Israel Hayom, a mouthpiece for Netanyahu and Likud.

It now appears that Atzmon’s banning was not the result of a casual complaint; it was an intentional attack on a well-respected supporter of Palestinian human rights by the Likud organisation, directly represented by Martin Rankoff. The attack was followed up by the hiring of a lawyer who has worked for Likud godfather Sheldon Adelson. The connection to these powerful forces may explain why Islington Council leader Richard Watts, without any delay or attempt at negotiation, took the step of going straight to a decision to hire an expensive law firm. This is while Islington is facing serious austerity and shortage of funds in its own operating budget. Islington has a population of about 206,000 people. This very month, 43 of those people were counted in one survey as homeless and sleeping on the streets.

A Labour council putting Israel ahead of the people of Islington

Regarding the financial problems of his borough and others around London, Richard Watts, told The Independent in October 2018: “Unprecedented” funding pressures and demand for adult and children’s social care and homelessness services was “pushing councils to the limit”.

“As a result less money is being spent on the other services that keep our communities running such as libraries, local roads, early intervention and local welfare support,” he added.

Yet, to Watts and his fellow councilors in Islington, backing partisans for a foreign country – Israel – took precedence over the pressing needs of the people whom they are supposed to represent. Either Watts was inexcusably careless with scarce town funds or a deal was made and he knew that he could depend on Likud-Herut to back him. Or, like politicians all across Europe and the US facing the power of the Israel lobby, he knew he couldn’t afford to say no.

According to Simkins’s website, Gideon Benaim “has extensive expertise in the areas of defamation, privacy, harassment and copyright”. Perhaps it is not a coincidence that immediately after Islington brought in Simkins, identical statements from an unnamed Labour spokesman describing Atzmon as “a vile anti-Semite” appeared in both the BBC and the Guardian. Perhaps a lawyer experienced in defending people against defamation and harassment would also know how to perpetrate these things. Perhaps this was Benaim’s opening move. Character assassination is a common tactic in cases that have a weak legal foundation, such as this one, as it goes a long way to convicting the accused before their case ever reaches a courtroom. So, it is legitimate to ask these questions.

The involvement of Likud-Herut in the attack on Gilad Atzmon, and Islington’s official backing of that attack, constitutes a monumental scandal. This wasn’t just a stupid mistake; it was a hit. It is an affront to reason that an an arch-racist organisation like Likud, which from the beginning has stood for the removal of the people of Palestine from their own land by means of terror, murder and forced expulsion, could possibly claim it was defamed by someone pointing out these very crimes.

There is a case of defamation here for sure – the defamation of Gilad Atzmon. For Zionists, defamation is nothing more than a tool to destroy opponents who can’t be dealt with by other means. We are long since tired of truth tellers being accused of anti-Semitism. We’re tired of national and local resources being used to prop up the criminal state of Israel. Coercion by advocates for Israel is at the centre of this issue in Islington, as it is in many other towns and many other countries. For the sake of Palestine and our own sovereignty, it has to be called out and stopped.

Posted in Palestine Affairs, ZIO-NAZI, UKComments Off on UK’s Islington Council banned pro-Palestinian musician at behest of Israel’s far-right Likud-Herut


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