Archive | February 2nd, 2019

Dishonesty, Omissions and Lies in Reporting on the Venezuelan Economic Crisis

Since 2015 Venezuela has endured gruesome economic hardships. Inflation rates have spiraled out of control, and the public is facing a recession that is tearing the country apart. Now, Venezuelans not only face economic turmoil, but also direct military aggression. A sane response of anyone who wishes to help Venezuelans through these troubles is to try to understand why this is happening.

Unfortunately, not all opinion pieces and news articles are honest in their approach. In fact, most media outlets seem to regurgitate the same poor and factually erroneous narratives, leaving the public ill-informed. It is necessary to address some common falsehoods that have been circulating concerning the economic situation in Venezuela and to highlight important facts that have largely been omitted from the common narrative.

Venezuela’s economic problems did not start with the Bolivarian revolution

One example of dishonest narratives in the pages of the Western media is that Venezuela’s economic problems are caused by the policies Hugo Chavez and Nicolas Maduro. These men are depicted as despots who have ruined a formerly healthy economy and as the culprits of Venezuela’s current crises. Latent in such narratives is the sometimes-unuttered, sometimes yelled, assumption that the Venezuelan economy was in good shape prior to the public election of Chavez in 1998. This is certainly not true.

Venezuela economic crisis started more than 35 years ago.  From 1983 to 1998 real income fell by 14 percent, in a society that was already extremely corrupt and unequal (Corrales, 1999).According to data from the Inter-American Development Bank, 68 percent of Venezuelans lived below the poverty line in 1998. That same year the unemployment rate was 11.2 percent, and the inflation rate was 35.8 percent. This was a year before Chavez took office as president and before any economic sanctions and pressures from the West started.

After Chavez was elected president the economy strengthened considerably for three years, despite country being hit by massive flooding and landslides in December 1999. The inflation rate fell to 12.5% in 2001 and the poverty rate was successfully lowered to 39% (Weisbrot, 2008). The Bolivarian economic policies followed by the Chavez government were lifting Venezuelans out of poverty when Venezuela fortunately not being targeted for regime change.

What did cause the first downturn of Venezuela’s economy was not its progressive policies, nor Chavez’s alleged despotism, but a major attempt at a CIA assisted military coup d’état in 2002 and a subsequent violent shutdown of the country’s oil industry.  That coup left the country in turmoil despite being unsuccessful.Prior to 2003, the government did not exert control over the oil industry. The oil industry shut-down in 2002-2003 was orchestrated by the “Coordina Democrática”, an umbrella group of political parties, business federations and right-wing unions that pursued to overthrow the government by non-electoral means.We shall examine that coup attempt in more detail later, but we must note that this overt policy of the Venezuelan right-wing and its supporters in the US was conducted in a climate of increasingly positive standards of living, especially for the poor.

Unfortunately, the failure of that coup attempt was not the end, but only the beginning of attempts to force Venezuela to steer from its policies. From that point to the present, Venezuela’s progressive policies were targeted by ever more sinister means and attempts at un-democratic takeover.

A recession followed the coup in 2002 that lasted for two years. But the country bounced back and in 2005, the Venezuelan economy grew by 9,4%, the highest in Latin America. Inflation rates lowered to 15.3% (Wilpert, 2005). In 2012, Venezuela was the most equal society in Latin America in terms of wealth distribution (BBC, 2012). According the CNN, “In 2011, the Gini coefficient — which measures income inequality –was .39, down from nearly .50 in 1998, according to the CIA Factbook. That is, equality in Venezuela was better than in the US and only behind Canada in the Western Hemisphere”. (Voigt, 2013). Thus, despite real and aggressive attempts at sabotage, the Chavéz government managed to put into place policies that aided the poor and, at the same time, strengthened the economy.

Simplistic explanations with glaring omissions

A common theme in current news stories regarding Venezuela’s crisis is that its cause can be found solely in the “economic mismanagement, corruption and political oppression” of Chavéz and Maduro (Laya, 2019). Such claims are supported with examples of the “Dutch syndrome”, where a country becomes to reliant on one commodity (Venezuela is very reliant on oil), on overspending on social programs, heavy lending and corruption. These claims might be open for reasonable debate if Venezuela had in any real sense been allowed to operate in peace. But nothing could be further from the truth.

Oil manipulation

A factor too seldom included in the common narrative on Venezuela’s economic crash is the apparently intentional meddling of oil prices by Saudi Arabia and its allies that apparently aimed at hurting Iran (Cooper, 2014) as well as other oil dependent countries such as Venezuela and Russia. Starting in 2014, Saudi Arabia started to flood the market with cheap oil. Despite this hurting even Saudi Arabia itself, this overproduction of oil had drastic effects. The price of oil went down from $110 per barrel to $28 in two years (Puko, 2016). This plummeting of oil prices had immediate negative effects on the Venezuelan state budget, as well as on other oil dependent countries, leaving Venezuela cash-starved. It is true that the country was indeed over dependent on one resource, and it has a serious corruption problem. But it is hard to see how the government of Venezuela could have managed to deal with such a huge blow to its economy amidst serious sanctions and economic sabotage that already plagued the country. A right-wing government would not have fared better in these circumstances. Instead of showing understanding to its problems, this crisis was used to denounce the Maduro government and to promote propaganda that increased the possibility of violent foreign and internal aggression.

The effects of economic sanctions

Economic sanctions directed by the most powerful military- and economic powers can cripple any economy. Even relatively mild sanctions can have serious consequences for the target economy. It has been found that the imposition of economic sanctions decreases the target state’s real per capita GDP growth rate by 25 to 30 percentage points on average with effects lasting for at least 10 years. More serious sanctions produce more serious effects (Neuenkirch, 2015).Furthermore, economic sanctions have been found to seriously worsen economic inequality and widen the poverty gap in target countries, in effect hitting the poorest people in the target countries hardest (Afersorgbor & Mahadevan, 2016; Mulder, 2018).

For example, in 1993, Serbia was singled out for economic sanctions that lasted until 2001. The sanctions had devastating effects on the public, making more than half the population of the country poor, unemployed, or displaced as refugees (Garfield, R. 2003). In Iraq, the economic sanctions imposed on the country in August 1990 and extended following the 1991 Persian Gulf War, lead to a decrease in GDP from $38 billion in 1989 to $10.8 billion in 1996. Per capita GDP declined over 75%, leading to devastating effects for the public. According to a report by Bossuyt (2000), the transportation, power and communication infrastructure were not rebuilt during the period, the industrial sector was in shambles, and agricultural production suffered greatly due to the sanctions. The “purchasing power of an Iraqi salary by the mid-1990s was about 5 per cent of its value prior to 1990 …” and, as the United Nations Development Program field office recognized, “the country has experienced a shift from relative affluence to massive poverty …The previous advances in education and literacy have been completely reversed over the past 10 years” (ibid).

As should be obvious, economic sanctions have horrible effects on the economy of the targeted nations and their inhabitants. How strange it is that opinion pieces, editorials and news segments tend to completely ignore that the overbearing barrage of economic sanctions directed against Venezuela might be a factor in the current crisis in its economy. Journalists that fail to address this cannot and should not be taken seriously.

The crash in Venezuela is directly linked to economic sanctions

In 2006, the first economic sanctions against Venezuela were put in place by Venezuela’s most important trading partner and,apparently, its worst enemy, the U.S. At first, these were directed against single individuals, but gradually these have evolved into hard and serious sanctions on all Venezuela.

The US House of Representatives passed the Venezuelan Human Rights and Democracy Protection Act (H.R. 4587; 113th Congress) on May 28, 2014. It applied economic sanctions against Venezuelan officials who were alleged to be involved in the mistreatment of protestors during the 2014 Venezuelan protests.

In December that year, the U.S. Congress passed S. 2142 (Venezuela Defense of Human Rights and Civil Society Act of 2014). The bill directed the President to impose sanctions against “any person, including any current or former official for the government of Venezuela or person acting on behalf of that government” who the US Congress would deem as responsible for human rights abuses or “knowingly materially assisted, sponsored or provided significant financial, material or technological support for, or goods or services in support of, the commission of such acts” (Poling et al., 2014). When the US Congress passed the bill, U.S. businesses raised concerns that the legislation could provide an incremental step towards broader sanctions against the Venezuelan economy, including the country’s oil industry despite being introduced as targeting individuals (ibid).

On March 9, 2015, the Obama Administration signed and issued a Presidential order. In it, Venezuela was declared a threat to US national security and sanctions were ordered against Venezuelan officials. How Venezuela was a threat to the United States was not explained. The order was strongly denounced by the Community of Latin American and Caribbean Sates for its “unilateral coercive measures against International Law” (Tejas, 2015). Ernesto Samper, the Secretary-General of the Union of South American Nations, deemed the order as an attempt to disrupt the democratic process in Venezuela.

The Trump Administration greatly escalated the economic pressures started by the Obama Administration. These included financial sanctions against the Venezuelan government and aggressive measures against the oil industry. The additional sanctions on Venezuela that were imposed with Executive Order 13808 on August 24, 2017 were nothing less than an act of aggression against the Venezuelan economy and its people. It specifically bars revenues from Venezuela’s state oil company to paid from the US, bars the Venezuelan government from selling bonds, and even bars the state from receiving loans. These sanctions were designed to prevent Venezuela’s own money from entering Venezuela.Note that all the Venezuelan governments’ outstanding foreign currency bonds are governed under New York State law,and one of Venezuela’s major government assets, the state oil company, is based in Texas. So barring all profit flow from that company is crippling for Venezuela (Ellner, 2019).

The US economic sanctions have indeed had devastating effects on the Venezuelan economy. Francisco Rodriguez, Venezuelan economist and a long-time critic of the Venezuelan government, presented clear evidence that since 2015, and especially after the sanctions imposed by the Trump administration in 2017, Venezuela’s oil production dropped much faster than had been predicted. According to Rodriguez, after the sanctions made it illegal for the Venezuelan government to obtain financing from the US, Venezuelan production fell by 37%, much more than the 6-13% decline that had been predicted. Rodriguez calculated that the difference in total revenue between the “sanctions” and “no sanctions” case over one year was about $6 billion. That sum is 133 times larger than what the UNHCR has appealed for in aid for Venezuelan migrants. Rodríguez summed up the main cause of Venezuela’s economic implosion as follows: “The fall in oil production began when oil prices plummeted in early 2016 but intensified when the industry lost access to credit markets in 2017” (Rodríguez, 2018).

As Rodriguez explained

“To understand the magnitude of this effect, consider how much Venezuela would be earning in oil export revenue today if production had not declined. Were the country selling as many barrels to the rest of the world today as in 2015, it would have exported $51bn in oil this year. By contrast, Venezuela will sell only $23bn of oil internationally in 2018. And, if the slide in production continues, only $16bn in 2019.  We can safely say that if the country was receiving $28bn more in yearly export revenue than it does today, it would have experienced a much smaller decline in living standards than it saw.”

The US issued yet another economic sanction on Venezuela on January 28 this year. This time specifically focusing on “persons operating in Venezuela’s oil sector”, especially on Petroleos de Venezuela (PDVSA). The press release announcing these new economic sanctions even specify that the US will “continue to take concrete and forceful actions against those who oppose the peaceful restoration of democracy in Venezuela” adding that the US “stands with interim President Juan Guaido”, an un-elected man (US dep. of State, 2019). This means that not only is the US arbitrarily sanctioning another country’s state assets and intentionally hurting its economy, it is directly involving itself in the internal affairs on another country, which is illegal under international law.

The severe attacks on Venezuela´s economy have been followed by US allies. Recently, the Bank of England refused to return $1.2 billion in gold reserves after lobbying from National Security Adviser John Bolton and Secretary of State Michael Pompeo (Laya, Bronner and Ross, 2019).

Indeed, these sanctions have been described “illegal and could amount to ‘crimes against humanity’ under international law” by Alfred de Zayas, former special rapporteur to the UN. According to de Zayas, the US is engaging in “economic warfare” against Venezuela that results in hurting the economy and killing Venezuelans (Selby-Green, 2019). As the sanctions seem to be means to starve the population of Venezuela and deliberately cripple the economy in order to achieve political aims, these acts can rightly be described as terrorism.

It is very doubtful that any economy would survive such violent sanctions. Unfortunately, the sanctions are only one part of the extensive sabotage that have been done towards the Venezuelan economy and society. An even bigger threat to Venezuela’s economy than US lead sanctions has been the conspicuous acts of the internal enemies of Venezuela’s government and its progressive Bolivarian policies.

Internal subversion

Ever since 1999, the Venezuelan government has been under constant attacks from the very rich and powerful elite of business oligarchs who hate Bolivarian politics with a passion. These oligarchs have been supported by the US, as well as far right groups in the hemisphere, not least in Colombia.

The first serious coup attempt took place in April 2002. It started with a general strike called by unions for the state oil company, PDVSA, which was followed by protest marches through Caracas. As protests neared the Miraflores palace, a massacre took place where 16 people were killed, 7 policemen and 9 civilians. Within hours, the military high command had arrested Chavéz and put in his place Pedro Carmona, the head of Venezuela’s largest business association. This presidency lasted 48 hours. In that short period Carmona, dissolved Congress and cancelled the newly approved constitution of Venezuela. Scores of people were imprisoned, and a military state was put in place. However, thousands of demonstrators and military personnel opposed to Carmona’s rule managed to reverse the coup. According to Bellos (2002),the Bush administration “was left with some eggs on its face. Unlike Latin American countries, which voiced concern that the coup had forsaken democratic principles, the US showed no remorse at Mr. Chavez’s removal”.

The narrative of exactly what happened is still very partisan, but the coup attempt had been organized for at least 9 months by a group of businessmen, military officers and various opposition figures in Venezuela. Keeping in mind how long this coup attempt was planned, it is hard to take seriously claims that the demonstrations and the massacre that occurred in the early hours of April 11, followed by the arrest of Chavez and other political figures by elements of the Venezuelan military were unrelated to these plans. Private media outlets reported with dishonesty about what happened that day (see Wilpert, G. 2009) and were therefore complicit in the coup attempt.

Although the extent to which institutions in the US were involved in the coup attempt, US officials knew it was going to take place. In 2004, declassified intelligence documents showed that the Central Intelligence Agency was aware that dissident military officers and opposition figures in Venezuela were planning a coup against President Hugo Chávez in 2002, well in advance. Parts of the document reads as followed: “disgruntled senior officers and a group of radical junior officers are stepping up efforts to organize a coup against President Chávez, possibly as early as this month…” It stated that Chávez and 10 senior officers were targeted for arrest and the plotters would try to “exploit unrest stemming from opposition demonstrations slated for later this month” (Forero, 2004).

In November 2013, a document titled “Plan Estratégico Venezolano” or “Stratetic Venezuelan Plan” that was written in June that same year, surfaced after suits from attorney Eva Golinger (2013). The document highlighted a plan by representatives of the United States, Colombia and the oligarchs in Venezuela to undermine the economy of Venezuela as part of removing Maduro. The document was prepared by the “Democratic Internationalism Foundations” which is headed by ex-Colombian president Alvaro Uribe, and also the “First Colombia Think Tank” and the US Consulting firm, FTI Consulting.

The document is a very sinister read. It outlines a strategic plan to destabilize Venezuela by various means. For example, it details a strategy to sabotage the electrical system in Venezuela, “maintain and increase the sabotages that affect public services” and “increase problems with supply of basic consumer products”. For propaganda, the authors propose “perfecting the confrontational discourse of [opposition candidate] Henrique Capriles” and generate “emotion with short messages that reach the largest quantity of people and emphasize social problems, provoking social discontent”. More seriously, the authors propose to create “situations of crisis in the streets that will facilitate US intervention, as well as NATO forces, with the help of the Colombian government” adding “whenever possible, the violence should result in deaths or injury”. The document recommends “a military insurrection” against Venezuela with “contacting active military groups and those in retirement to amplify the campaign to discredit the government inside the Armed forces… It’s vital to prepare military forces so that during a scenario of crisis and social conflict, they lead an insurrection against the government, or at least support a foreign intervention or civil uprising” (Golinger, 2013).

The plan was developed during a meeting between the three organizations as well as leaders of the Venezuelan opposition, including Maria Corina Machado, Julio Borges and Ramon Guillermo Avelado, expert in psychological operations J.J. Rendon and the Director of the US Agency for International Development (USAID) for Latin America, Mark Feierstein.

One must ask, how many such plans have been put in place since, but not exposed? The actions and dialogue of these oligarch show just how low they are ready to sink in order to oust a democratically elected government.

The opposition in Venezuela has been very violent and showed complete disregard for democratic principles. For example, in 2014 Venezuela was hit by a big wave of demonstrations following the outcome of the 2013 presidential elections, where Nicolas Maduro won by a small margin, 50.6%. During this time of unrest opposition political figures such as Leopoldo Lopéz, who had also been involved in the 2002 coup attempt, and María Corina Machado, launched a campaign to remove Maduro from office. The plan was named “La Salida” (the exit) and had the intent of having Maduro resign through protests. Machado stated publicly that “we must create chaos in the streets” (Carasik, 2014). At least 36 people died in the unrest following this statement. The opposition predictably blamed the government for these deaths. But considering that the deaths included several security forces and pro-government civilians and others were apparently non-affiliated, that statement must be contested (see Hart, 2014).

Recently, an organization called “Democratic Unity Roundtable” seems to have been coordinating acts of violence against those who are identified as pro-Chavista (Joubert-Ceci, 2017).This group was formed in 2008 to unify opposition Chavéz and can be viewed as the successor of the CoordinadoraDemocrática. The violent protests centered around a call by Maduro to a vote on a Constituent Assembly to rewrite the constitution. Despite having called for the Assembly themselves, the opposition refused to enter dialogue, demanding the presence of the Vatican. But even Pope Francis announced that the dialogue had failed because the opposition would not participate (Nelson, 2017). Instead, the opposition rallied anti-Maduro demonstrators to start a spree of violence that left at least 100 dead (ibid). According to the Canadian Peace Congress of 2017, “if an attempt at internal counter-revolution fails, plans are being put in place for direct military intervention by the United States, possibly under the cover of the Organization of American States (OAS)” (ibid). It is at least clear that the opposition is thoroughly un-democratic in their planning’s and actions but are still supported by Western powers.

To report that the economy of Venezuela is in turmoil solely because of Maduros “socialistic” policies, while ignoring the very serious consequences of economic sanctions, oil price manipulations, and internal sabotage is deliberate denial of facts, is propagandistic journalism, is absurd. Informed discussions about the effects and costs of progressive social programsmay be interesting and useful theoretical exercises.But as distortions and denials of historic facts, emotional attacks on Venezuela’s government should be seen as the propaganda, designed to manipulate American, Canadian and European populations into supporting another violent regime change in another oil-producing nation.

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Jón Karl Stefánsson is an administrator for services directed to mentally disabled individuals from Reykjavík, Iceland. He studied computer science and psychology in the University of Iceland and received his MA in psychology in the University of Tromso, Norway with focus on biased language in news discourse. Since 2003 he has written several articles independently in mostly Icelandic newspapers and independent news outlets and has focused his writing on biased language, propaganda and its effects on society.

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Carasik, L. Obama continues Bush’s policies in Venezuela. Al Jazeera. Available at http://america.aljazeera.com/opinions/2014/4/nicolas-maduro-onobamaandbushspoliciesinvenezuela.html

Cooper, A. S. (Dec. 18., 2014). Why would the Saudis deliberately crash the oil markets? Foreign Policy. Available at https://foreignpolicy.com/2014/12/18/why-would-the-saudis-crash-oil-markets-iran/

Corrales, J. (Fall 1999). Venezuela in the 1980s, the 1990s and beyond. Revista: Harvard Review of Latin America. Available at https://revista.drclas.harvard.edu/book/venezuela-1980s-1990s-and-beyond

Ellner, S. (January 25, 2019). The radicalization of US policy on Venezuela. Consortium News. See also  https://www.treasury.gov/resource-center/sanctions/Programs/Documents/13808.pdf

Forero, J. (Dec. 3, 2004). Documents show C.I.A. knew of a coup plot in Venezuela. The New York Times.

Garfield, R. (2003, June). Sanctions and the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia: assessing impacts and drawing lessons. Humanitarian Practice Network (HPN). Available at https://odihpn.org/magazine/sanctions-and-the-federal-republic-of-yugoslavia-assessing-impacts-and-drawing-lessons/

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Laya, P. Bronner, E. & Ross, T. (January 25, 2019). Maduro Stymied in bid to pull $1.2 billion of gold from U.K. Bloomberg.

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Tejas, A. (13 March 2015). Venezuela president Nicolas Maduro granted special powers designed to counter ‘Imperialism’. International Business Times.

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All images in this article are from Countercurrents unless otherwise stated.

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Maduro to Americans: You Are Bigger than Trump, Don’t Let Him Start A ‘Vietnam’ War Against Venezuela

NOVANEWS
  

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro called on the people in the US to deter the Trump administration from putting boots on the ground in Venezuela, warning that any intervention would backfire leading to new Vietnam-like disaster.

In his first direct message to the American people, the Venezuelan leader urged them to stop the US government from entangling the nation in a pointless and inherently doomed military adventure.

“If the government of the United States intends to intervene us, they will have a much worse Vietnam than you could imagine.” 

The 4-minute video, in Spanish with English subtitles, was posted on Maduro’s official Facebook page on Wednesday, shortly after he accused US President Donald Trump of ordering the Colombian government and mafia to assassinate him, and rejected a European ultimatum to call snap presidential elections within 8 days.

Maduro accused the US media of waging a “brutal campaign of false images” to support the Trump administration’s interference in Venezuela.

“This campaign has been prepared to justify a coup d’état in Venezuela that has been set, financed and actively supported by Donald Trump administration.” 

Effectively sidestepping his US counterpart, Maduro urged Americans to second-guess the distorted narrative peddled by the mainstream media. The embattled Venezuelan leader stated that Washington cannot use the same pretext to invade Venezuela as it did to justify the 2003 invasion of Iraq, so it is spreading new falsehoods about his government in hopes that something will tip the balance.

“They cannot invent that Venezuela and Maduro have [weapons of mass destruction] so they could intervene, they now invent lies every day, false news to justify an aggression against our country.”

Maduro reiterated that US interests in Venezuela are limited exclusively to its vast natural riches. Venezuela boasts the world’s largest confirmed oil reserves and the fourth-largest reserves of natural gas. The president said that by fomenting unrest in Venezuela, the US elites want “to put their hands”on that national treasure “as they did in Iraq and Libya.”

“We are a country of great resources, both natural and energetic. That is the truth and this explains the constant attacks against Venezuela. That’s why I appeal to your conscience and solidarity.” 

He admitted that Venezuela faces a plethora of problems, “as any other country” and said Venezuelans can “solve them by ourselves,” without any outside meddling.

Describing himself as an admirer of US history, Maduro said that he hopes that reasonable US citizens will prevail, adding that America “is a great country, and it is much more than Donald Trump.”

“The United States is a great country and it is much bigger than Donald Trump,” he said. “I only ask for respect for Venezuela and I need your support to avoid a war like Vietnam.”

More than 58,000 American soldiers were killed and some four million Vietnamese died in what is now the second longest war in American history after Afghanistan. The US sent first 3,500 combat troops to South Vietnam in March 1965, to fight against the communist government of North Vietnam that sought to unify the country under its terms. While the intervention was first met enthusiastically by the American public, the protracted nature of the conflict and US inability to turn the tide of the war led to a massive anti-war movement in the US. The last US troops withdrew in 1973 following the Paris Peace Accords. In 1975, troops from the Democratic Republic of Vietnam entered Saigon, the capital of US-backed South Vietnam, sealing the US military defeat.

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The US Government’s Love of Foreign Dictatorships

Lest anyone be tempted to believe that President Trump and other U.S. interventionists are intervening in Venezuela because of some purported concern for the Venezuelan people, let’s start examining just a few examples that will bring a dose of reality to the situation. This latest intervention is nothing more than another interventionist power play, one intended to replace one dictatorial regime with another.

Egypt comes to mind. It is ruled by one of the most brutal and tyrannical military dictatorships in the world. The U.S. government loves it, supports it, and partners with it. There is no concern for the Egyptian citizenry, who have to suffer under this brutal tyranny and oppression.

Saudi Arabia also comes to mind. It too is a brutal and tyrannical dictatorship, also a murderous one. The U.S. government loves it too, supports it, and partners with it. There is no concern for Saudi citizens who have to suffer under this brutal tyranny and oppression.

Historically, this has been the case as well. Some examples:

1. Iran under the Shah. In 1953, the U.S. national-security establishment destroyed Iran’s experiment with democracy by ousting the democratically elected prime minister, Mohamad Mossadegh, from power and installed in his stead the Shah of Iran, one of the world’s most brutal tyrants. Even worse, they helped train his national-security establishment in the arts of torture, tyranny, and oppression. There was no concern for the well-being or liberty of the Iranian people. Even today, the U.S. aim is to oust the current tyrannical regime and replace it with a pro-U.S. tyrannical regime.

2. Guatemala. In 1954, the U.S. national-security establishment ousted the democratically elected president from office and installed in his stead a succession of brutal military tyrants. The U.S.-engineered coup threw the country into a 3-decade long civil war, which killed more than a million people. U.S. officials couldn’t care less.

3. Cuba. In the 1950s, the U.S. national-security establishment supported and partnered with a brutal, corrupt dictator named Fulgencio Batista, who himself partnered with the Mafia, the premier criminal organization in the world. There was never any concern for the Cuban populace, including the young girls who Batista’s goons were kidnapping and bringing to the Mafia’s casinos to serve as sexual perqs for high rollers. Ever since the Cuban people ousted Batista from power through a violent revolution and replaced him with Fidel Castro, the U.S. national-security establishment has never ceased trying to get a subservient and compliant dictator back into power in Cuba.

4. Chile. In 1973, the U.S. national-security establishment engineered the violent ouster of the democratically elected president of the country, Salvador Allende, and his replacement by one of the most tyrannical and corrupt military dictators in the world, Gen. Augusto Pinochet. Pinochet’s goons proceeded to round up, torture, rape, or murder tens of thousands of innocent people, including two Americans, with the full support of the U.S. national-security establishment. There was never any concern for any of the victims, including the two Americans (Charles Horman and Frank Teruggi), on the part of U.S. officials.

5. Iraq. In the 1980s, the U.S. national-security establishment supported and partnered with Saddam Hussein, one of the world’s most brutal dictators, one who some U.S. officials would refer to in the 1990s as a “new Adolf Hitler.” They were helping Saddam kill Iranians. Later, after U.S. officials turned on their partner Saddam in the 1990s, they targeted Iraqi citizens with death and suffering through one of the most brutal sanctions systems in history as a way of hopefully getting rid of Saddam and replacing him with another U.S. dictatorial partner. U.S. Ambassador to the UN Madeleine Albright expressed the official mindset of U.S. officials toward the Iraqi people by declaring that the deaths of half-a-million Iraqi children from the sanctions were “worth it.”

Make no mistake about it: the U.S. interventionist mindset today toward Venezuela is no different. That mindset is reflected by two things: one, the infliction of U.S. sanctions on Venezuela and, two, the official recognition of an alternative president, in the hope that these two actions will produce a violent revolution. The death toll from such a revolution, no matter how high, doesn’t matter to U.S. officials. After all, the people who will be dying will be Venezuelans. Like with Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq, Cuba, Chile, and so many others, the liberty and well-being of the citizenry is of no concern. All that matters is the ouster of an independent regime and its replacement with a new dictatorial regime that is eager and willing to be a partner and ally of the U.S. government.

Posted in USAComments Off on The US Government’s Love of Foreign Dictatorships

People Who Care About Democracy Don’t Plot Coups Abroad

NOVANEWS

Do we think people who armed death squads and started wars really want to “bring democracy” to Venezuela?

For some months now, Venezuela’s socialist government has lurched through a series of escalating crises — hyperinflation, mass protests, political violence — while both the government and its opposition have flirted with authoritarianism.

It isn’t pretty — and to hear the right wing tell it, it’s the future the U.S. left wants for our own country. As if to prevent that, the Trump administration is now fomenting a coup in Venezuela.

They’ve publicly recognized an unelected opposition leader as president, discussed coup plans with Venezuela’s military, and sanctioned oil revenues the country needs to resolve its economic crisis. They’re even threatening to send U.S. troops.

They’ll tell you this about restoring “democracy” and “human rights” in the South American country. But one look at the administration officials driving the putsch perishes the thought.

Take Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who recently spoke at the United Nations calling on countries to stand “with the forces of freedom” against “the mayhem” of Venezuela’s government.

This fall, the same Pompeo shared a photo of himself beaming and shaking hands with Saudi Arabia’s crown prince — just as the prince’s order to kill and dismember a U.S. resident journalist was coming to light. The same prince is carrying on a U.S.-backed war in Yemen, where millions are starving.

Does this sound like a man who gives one fig for democracy, or against mayhem?

Or take Pompeo’s point man on Venezuela, the dreaded Elliott Abrams. Pompeo said Abrams was appointed for his “passion for the rights and liberties of all peoples.” More likely, it was Abrams’ history as Reagan’s “Secretary of Dirty Wars” (yes, that’s a real thing people called him).

singularly villainous figure, Abrams vouched for U.S. backing of a genocidal Guatemalan regime and Salvadoran death squads in the 1980s. And when a UN report cataloged 22,000 atrocities in El Salvador, Abrams praised his administration’s “fabulous achievement” in the country.

Abrams was convicted of lying to Congress about U.S. support for Nicaragua’s brutal Contras, but that didn’t prevent him from serving in George W. Bush’s State Department — which backed not only the Iraq war but an earlier coup attempt in, you guessed it, Venezuela.

“It’s very nice to be back,” Abrams told reporters. I bet!

Finally there’s National Security Adviser John Bolton, who recently took a cute photo with the words “5,000 troops” written on a notepad. Bolton still thinks the Iraq war was a good idea, and he’d like one with Iran too. Do we think it’s bread and roses he wants for Venezuela?

For all its faults, Venezuela achieved tremendous things before the current crisis — including drastic reductions in poverty and improvements in living standards. Mismanagement and repression may have imperiled those gains, but that’s no justification at all for the U.S. getting involved. In fact, U.S. sanctions have worsened the economic crisis, and U.S. coordination with coup plotters has poisoned the country’s political environment even further.

The future of Venezuela’s revolution is for Venezuelans to decide, not us. All that can come of more intervention now is more crisis, and maybe even war.

Instead of regime change, the U.S. — and especially progressive politicians (looking at you, Nancy Pelosi) — should back regional dialogue and diplomacy. While Democratic Party leaders appear to back Trump, a few representatives — like Ro Khanna (D-CA) and Ilhan Omar (D-MN) — are bravely backing a diplomatic course.

For all the right’s warnings that the left wants to “turn the U.S. into Venezuela,” we should pay careful attention to what the people who gave guns to death squads and destroyed the Middle East want to do with it. Because unlike the left, they’re already running our own country.

Posted in USA, VenezuelaComments Off on People Who Care About Democracy Don’t Plot Coups Abroad

Web Activists Keep Hope for Net Neutrality Alive as Open Internet Defenders Take the FCC to Court

NOVANEWS

Ajit Pai’s repeal of basic Internet protections on shaky legal ground as Internet activists continue to fight in Congress and at the state level

Tomorrow, net neutrality will get it’s day in court. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit will hear oral arguments in the legal challenge to Ajit Pai’s reckless and resoundingly unpopular repeal of open Internet protections, brought by a coalition of startups, states, and public interest groups.

Digital rights group Fight for the Future, which has been behind the largest online protests in history and mobilized tens of millions of people to defend net neutrality, issued the following statement, which can be attributed to Deputy Director Evan Greer (pronouns: she/her):

“Comcast, Verizon, and AT&T are going to wish they never picked this fight with the Internet. More than a year after the repeal of net neutrality people are still outraged and paying close attention. Ajit Pai’s FCC blatantly ignored public opinion and acted with reckless disregard for the law in order to give a massive government handout to some of the most power-hungry corporations in the US.

Telecom lobbyists were hoping that we would have given up by now. They thought they could outspend and outlast us. They were wrong. Internet activists are continuing to fight in the courts, in Congress, and in the states. Net neutrality is coming back with a vengeance. It’s only a matter of time.”

Fight for the Future has been calling on Congress to conduct a thorough investigation of Ajit Pai’s corrupt actions at the FCC, and is pushing for lawmakers to act to restore net neutrality while opposing weak legislation pushed by telecom lobbyists that would undermine the open Internet while claiming to save it.

Posted in MediaComments Off on Web Activists Keep Hope for Net Neutrality Alive as Open Internet Defenders Take the FCC to Court

Pakistan and the Cultural Appropriation of Pashtun Rights Movement

NOVANEWS
 

Historically, from the massacres in Bangladesh in 1971 to the training and arming of Afghan jihadists during the Soviet-Afghan war throughout the 1980s and ‘90s, and then mounting ill-conceived military operations in Pakistan’s tribal areas under American pressure, leading to the displacement of millions of Pashtun tribesmen, the single biggest issue in Pakistan’s turbulent politics has been the interference of army in politics. Unless Pakistanis are able to establish civilian supremacy in Pakistan, it would become a rogue state which will pose a threat to regional peace and its own citizenry.

For the half of its seventy-year history, Pakistan was directly ruled by the army, and for the remaining half, the military establishment kept dictating Pakistan’s defense and security policy from behind the scenes. The outcome of Ayub Khan’s first decade-long martial law from 1958 to 1969 was that Bengalis were marginalized and alienated to an extent that it led to the separation of East Pakistan (Bangladesh) in 1971.

During General Zia’s second decade-long martial law from 1977 to 1988, Pakistan’s military trained and armed its own worst nemesis, the Afghan and Kashmiri jihadists. And during General Musharraf’s third martial law from 1999 to 2008, Pakistan’s security establishment made a volte-face under American pressure and declared a war against its erstwhile jihadist proxies that kindled the fire of insurgency in the tribal areas of Pakistan.

Image result for General Zia-ul-Haq

Although most political commentators in Pakistan nowadays hold an Islamist General Zia-ul-Haq (image on the right) responsible for the jihadist militancy in tribal areas, it would be erroneous to assume that nurturing militancy in Pakistan was the doing of an individual scapegoat named Zia. All the army chiefs after Zia’s assassination in 1988, including Generals Aslam Beg, Asif Nawaz, Waheed Kakar, Jahangir Karamat and right up to General Musharraf, upheld the same military doctrine of using jihadist proxies to destabilize the hostile neighboring countries, Afghanistan, India and Iran, throughout the 1980s and ‘90s.

A strategic rethink in the Pakistan Army’s top-brass took place only after the 9/11 terror attack, when Richard Armitage, the US Deputy Secretary of State during the Bush administration, threatened General Musharraf in so many words:

“We will send Pakistan back to the Stone Age unless you stop supporting the Taliban.”

Thus, deliberate promotion of Islamic radicalism and militancy in the region was not the doing of an individual general; rather, it was a well-thought-out military doctrine of a rogue institution.

The military mindset, training and institutional logic dictates a militarist and aggressive approach to foreign affairs and security-related matters. Therefore, as a matter of principle, military must be kept miles away from the top decision-making organs of the state.

Notwithstanding, is it not ironic that two very similar insurgencies have simultaneously been going on in Pakistan for the last several years: the Baloch insurgency in the Balochistan province and the insurgency of the Pashtun tribesmen in the tribal areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province bordering the American-occupied Afghanistan.

While the Pakistani neoliberal elites fully sympathize with the oppressed Baloch nationalists, when it comes to the Pashtun tribesmen, they are willing to give Pakistan’s security agencies a license to kill, why? It’s simply because the tribal Pashtun insurgents use the veneer of religion to justify their tribal instinct of retribution.

The name Islam, however, is such an anathema to the core neoliberal sensibilities that the elites don’t even bother to delve deeper into the causes of insurgency and summarily decide that since the Pashtun tribesmen are using the odious label of the Taliban, therefore they are not worthy of their sympathies. And as a result, the security establishment gets a carte blanche to indiscriminately bomb the towns and villages of Pashtun tribesmen.

As well-informed readers must be aware that military operations have been going on in the tribal areas of Pakistan since 2009, but a military operation – unlike a law enforcement operation, as in the southern port city of Karachi – is a different kind of operation; it’s an all-out war.

The army surrounds the insurgency-wracked area from all sides and orders the villagers to vacate their homes. Then, the army calls in air force and heavy artillery to carpet bomb the whole area; after which ground troops move in to look for the dead and injured in the rubble of towns and villages.

Air force bombardment and heavy artillery shelling has been going on in the tribal areas of Pakistan for several years; Pashtun tribesmen have been taking fire; their homes, property and livelihoods have been destroyed; they have lost their families and children in this brutal war, which displaced millions of tribesmen who had to live for several years in the refugee camps in Peshawar, Mardan and Bannu districts after the Swat and South Waziristan military operations in 2009 and then the North Waziristan operation in 2014.

The Pashtuns are the most unfortunate nation on the planet nowadays, because nobody understands and represents them; not even their own leadership, whether religious or ethnic. In Afghanistan, the Pashtuns are represented by Washington’s stooges, like Hamid Karzai and Ashraf Ghani, and in Pakistan, the Pashtun nationalist Awami National Party (ANP) loves to play the victim card and finds solace in learned helplessness.

In Pakistan, however, the Pashtuns are no longer represented by a single political entity, a fact which has become obvious after the last two parliamentary elections, in which the Pashtun nationalist ANP was wiped out of its former strongholds.

Now, there are at least three distinct categories of Pashtuns: firstly, the Pashtun nationalists who follow Abdul Ghaffar Khan’s legacy and have their strongholds in Charsadda and Mardan districts; secondly, the religiously inclined Islamist Pashtuns who vote for Islamist political parties, such as Jamaat-e-Islami and Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam, in the southern districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province; and thirdly, the emerging new phenomena, the Pakistan nationalist Pashtuns, most of whom have joined Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) in recent years, though some have also joined Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League.

It is worth noting here that the 2013 and 2018 general elections were contested on a single issue: Pakistan’s partnership in the American-led war on terror, which has displaced millions of Pashtun tribesmen. The Pashtun nationalist Awami National Party (ANP) was routed, because in keeping with its so-called “liberal interventionist” ideology, it stood for military operations against Islamist Pashtun militants in tribal areas.

And the people of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province gave a sweeping mandate to the newcomer in the Pakistani political landscape: Imran Khan and his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), because the latter promised to deal with tribal militants through negotiations and political settlements.

Although both Imran Khan (image on the left) andNawaz Sharif have failed to keep their election pledge of using peaceful means for dealing with the menace of religious extremism and militancy, the public sentiment has been firmly against military operations in tribal areas.

The last two parliamentary elections were, in a way, a referendum against Pakistan’s partnership in the American-led war on terror in the Af-Pak region, and the Pashtun electorate gave an overwhelming mandate to pro-peace political parties against the pro-war Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and Awami National Party (ANP).

After the Pashtun nationalist Awami National Party (ANP) was completely routed at the hands of Imran Khan’s PTI during the 2013 general elections, it came up with a new electoral gimmick in the form of Pashtun Tahafuz Movement – The Movement for Protection of Pashtun Rights – for the July 2018 parliamentary elections. Excluding Manzoor Pashteen and some of his close associates, the rest of Pashtun Protection Movement’s leadership is comprised of ANP’s political activists.

But is it not ironic that the very same political forces that cheerled military operations in Pakistan’s tribal areas, leading to the displacement of millions of Pashtun tribesmen, are now championing Pashtun rights? When Pakistan’s military was indiscriminately bombing the towns and villages of Pashtun tribesmen, Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and Awami National Party (ANP) lent their unequivocal support to Pakistan’s so-called war on terror under American pressure, but now they are demanding that Pashtun tribesmen held by security agencies be released, the tribal areas be cleared of mines and security check posts be removed in order to placate Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province’s Pashtun majority electorate.

Finally, in Pakistan’s socio-political milieu, there are three important political forces: the dominant Islamic nationalists; the ethno-linguistic nationalists; and the neoliberal elites. The Islamic nationalists are culturally much closer to the traditional ethno-linguistic nationalists, but politically, due to frequent imposition of martial laws and military dictators’ suspicion toward the centrifugal ethno-linguistic nationalists, the latter were politically marginalized.

As we know that politics is mostly about forming alliances, therefore the shrewd neoliberal elites lured the leadership of gullible ethno-linguistic nationalists and struck a political alliance with them. But this alliance is only a marriage of convenience, because culturally, both these camps don’t have anything in common with each other. The Islamic nationalists and the ethno-linguistic nationalists belong to the same social stratum and go through thick and thin together; while the comprador bourgeois are beholden to foreign powers.

Leadership is a two-way street, a judicious leader is supposed to guide the masses, but at the same time, he is also supposed to represent the interests and aspirations of dispossessed masses. The detached and insular leadership that lives in a fantasy world of outlandish theories and fails to understand the mindsets and inclinations of the masses tends to lose its mass appeal sooner or later.

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Venezuela, a Golpe by the US Deep State ‘Video’

NOVANEWS
 

The announcement by President Trump, which recognises Juan Guaidó as the “legitimate President” of Venezuela, was prepared in an underground control room within the Congress and the White House.

This was described in detail by the New York Times. The principal operator, Republican Senator for Florida Marco Rubio, “virtual Secretary of State for Latin America, will lead and articulate the strategy of the Administration in the region”, in liaison with Vice-President Mike Pence and National Security Advisor John Bolton.

On 22 January, at the White House, the three men presented their plan to the President, who accepted it. Immediately afterwards – reports the New York Times –

“Mr. Pence called Mr. Guaidó and told him that the United States would back him up if he claimed the presidency”.

Vice-President Pence then broadcast a video message to Venezuela in which he called on the demonstrators to “let your voices be heard tomorrow” and assured “in the name of President Trump and the American People – estamos con ustedes (we are with you) as long as democracy has not been restored”, and defined Maduro as a “dictator who never won the presidency in free elections”.

The following day, Trump officially crowned Guaidó “President of Venezuela”, although he had not participated in the presidential elections of May 2018. The elections were boycotted by the opposition, which knew it would lose, and consequently handed the victory to Maduro under the surveillance of numerous international observers.

This back-stage gossip reveals that political decisions in the USA, before anything else, are taken by the “deep state”, the underground centre of real power, which is in the possession of the  economic, financial and military oligarchies. These are the people who have decided to overthrow the Venezuelan state. Apart from its huge reserves of precious minerals, Venezuela owns the most expansive oil reserves in the world, estimated at more than 300 billion barrels, six times more than the United States.

In order to struggle free from the strait-jacket of sanctions, which go as far as preventing Venezuela from receiving the dollars they have earned by selling petrol to the USA, Caracas has decided to quote the sale price of petrol no longer in US dollars, but in Chinese yuans. This is a manœuvre which threatens the exorbitant power of the petrodollars, and it is for  this reason that the US oligarchies have decided to speed up the overthrow of the Venezuelan state and get their hands on its oil wealth. They need it immediately, not as a source of energy for the USA, but as a strategic instrument for  controlling the world energy market, mainly countering Russia and China.

To this effect, sanctions and sabotage have been used to artificially deteriorate the penury of basic necessities in Venezuela in order to stoke popular miscontent. Simultaneously, the penetration of US “non-governmental organisations” has been intensified – for example, in the space of one year, the National Endowment for Democracy has financed more than 40 projects in Venezuela on the “defence of Human Rights and Democracy”, each of them costing tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Since the government continues to enjoy the support of the majority, some large-scale provocation is almost certainly in preparation, aimed at triggering a civil war on the interior and opening the way for intervention from the exterior. With the complicity of the European Union, which, after having blocked Venezuelan public funds in Belgium – a value of 1.2 billion dollars – sent Caracas an  ultimatum (with the agreement of the Italian government) to hold new elections. They would be under the control ofFederica Mogherini, the same person who last year refused Maduro’s invitation to go to Venezuela and moniter the presidential elections.

 

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Canada vs. Venezuela: The Background Gets Even Murkier

NOVANEWS

On January 26, Canadians learned the extent to which Canada’s “quiet diplomacy” had helped Venezuela’s Juan Guaido emerge to declare himself interim president on Jan. 23, in defiance of the elected president Nicolas Maduro. In a lengthy piece for The Canadian Press, reporter Mike Blanchfield noted that “emboldening Venezuela’s opposition has been a labour of months” for Canadian diplomats, given that the opposition parties had been in complete disarray. [1] But by January 9, Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland was able to phone Guaido and “congratulate him … on uniting the opposition.” [2]

Freeland, working with the ad hoc Lima Group, had long been calling for unity among the Venezuelan opposition parties. After foreign affairs ministers from the Lima Group met in Toronto on October 26, 2017, Freeland appeared at a Munk School of Global Affairs panel and said the message of the Lima Group to the Venezuelan opposition is “Get your act together, guys!” [3]

Then came Maduro’s May 20, 2018 presidential victory, in which the Venezuelan people re-elected him despite months of suffering under U.S. economic warfare. [4] Blanchfield noted that the election results “galvanized” the Lima Group.

It took months to unify Venezuela’s opposition parties among themselves and also with the Lima Group, which Nino Pagliccia reminds us is “not an international organization. It’s just an ad hoc group of governments with no other purpose” than to promote “the overthrow of the legitimate Maduro government.” [5]

So getting foreign ministers to agree with Venezuelan opposition parties on a uniting figure and platform must have been difficult. The Lima Group members who eventually signed the declaration supporting Juan Guaido include Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, Paraguay and Peru. Similarly challenging would be “building bridges with a fractured opposition that was as much at odds with itself as it was with Maduro.” [6]

And here’s where one sentence from Blanchfield’s article stands out, especially for alert Canadian readers. He noted:

“In a November [2018] report, the International Crisis Group documented the divisions and urged the groups to set aside their ‘personal and political rivalries’.” [7]

In Canada, we’ve read and heard that name quite a lot in the past few weeks. The International Crisis Group is the current employer of Michael Kovrig, a former Canadian diplomat and one of two Canadian men arrested in China in December in what appears to be retaliation for Canada’s arrest (at the request of the U.S.) on December 1, 2018 of Huawei’s chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou, daughter of Huawei’s CEO and founder.

So the question arises: is there some connection between these two international political situations – Canada’s role in Venezuela and Canada’s role in the China embroglio? As it turns out, the answer is yes, and the International Crisis Group (ICG) is an important player in that connection.

What Is the ICG?

The Brussels-based International Crisis Group touts itself as a think tank and NGO dedicated to its slogan: “Preventing War, Shaping Peace.” Its analysts study political crises and make recommendations for so-called conflict-resolution through a series of reports, articles, seminars, and private meetings with its governmental, foundation, and corporate donors.

Given that ICG had advised on unifying Venezuelan opposition parties, I asked Raul Burbano, Program Director for the Canadian NGO Common Frontiers for comment. During the 2018 Venezuelan presidential election, members of the Common Frontiers delegations had observer status. With regard to the International Crisis Group, Burbano answered by email,

“They are a conservative right-wing think tank that masks itself as progressive. Any organization that proports to support peace and has Juan Manuel Santos as one of their trustees is out to lunch and can’t be trusted.”

Santos is the “former hawkish right president of Colombia,” Burbano explained.

Former Colombian President Santos is not the only controversial trustee of the International Crisis Group. The ICG website lists several other trustees, including Wesley Clark (former NATO Supreme Allied Commander); Lawrence H. Summers (former U.S. Secretary of Treasury); George Soros(founder of Open Societies Foundation); and Frank Giustra (President and CEO of Fiore Financial Corporation).

As F. William Engdahl recently wrote

“The International Crisis Group is an NGO with a knack for being involved in key conflict zones such as Myanmar. The magazine Third World Quarterly in a peer-reviewed article in 2014 accused the ICG of ‘manufacturing’ crises. It was founded by Trump nemesis and Hillary Clinton supporter, George Soros.” [8]

ICG says of its role:

“Crisis Group enjoys strong relationships with government and foundation donors, whose long-term funding is critical to our organisation’s effectiveness. For governments, Crisis Group fills a vital niche as diplomats’ access to key conflict actors is increasingly hindered by security concerns and political obstacles. Senior officials tell Crisis Group that our reports are indispensable, with a unique emphasis on the political foundations of international peace and security. We engage substantively with our institutional donors through private policy briefings, roundtables, and rapid response from field experts and senior staff. Crisis Group in turn benefits from this sustained engagement and knowledge sharing with its donors. Our partners have come to rely on our information and analysis on developing emergencies.” [9]

The ICG website lists as one of its 19 governmental donors “Canada (Global Affairs Canada),” currently headed by Chrystia Freeland.

Advancing Peace?

Just days after Engdahl’s article referring to the ICG appeared, Vancouver billionaire and ICG trustee Frank Giustra wrote an op-ed for The Globe & Mail in which named Michael Kovrig as ICG’s “senior advisor for North East Asia” and stated:

“Mr. Kovrig works for the International Crisis Group, a conflict-prevention organization that I have proudly supported for years. I am baffled by the allegations Chinese officials make against him – that he is somehow ‘endangering China’s national security’. Mr. Kovrig’s work – as anyone bothering to check it out would know – involves analysis of Chinese engagement with conflict-affected countries where Crisis Group advocates policies that advance peace, an approach congruent with China’s foreign policy. To conduct his research, he meets openly with China’s officials, analysts and academics to understand China’s perspectives on global affairs. His writings are published on Crisis Group’s website for all to see.” [10]

Interestingly, one of Mr. Kovrig’s recent analyses was entitled “Why China Should Help Solve Venezuela’s Deepening Crisis,” originally published as an op-ed in Asia Times (April 11, 2018). The piece, written with ICG colleague Phil Gunson, highlighted China’s political support for Venezuelan president Maduro and delineated China’s extensive financial investments in Venezuela, including $60 billion in loans, while noting China’s “overriding concern to ensure long-term access to Venezuelan oil and other raw materials.” [11]

The piece also stated that China’s support for Maduro is “increasingly at odds with another strategic priority for China: strengthening commercial ties with burgeoning economies elsewhere in Latin America. Beijing has stated its intention to pump $250 billion in direct investment into the region and ramp up trade to $500 billion in the coming years. … But China and these promising economic partners are on opposing sides of a divide over the political impasse in Venezuela.” [12]

So, in advance of the 2018 Venezuelan election, what was it that ICG’s Michael Kovrig and Phil Gunson thought China should do? “As one of the [Venezuelan] government’s few remaining supporters, Beijing can either prolong Venezuela’s plight or join the Lima Group in persuading Maduro to bargain with the opposition. …In the long term, the goodwill [towards China] that would be generated among Venezuela’s people and Lima Group members would far outweigh any short-term cost to relations with Maduro.” [13]

While the language seems mild, reasonable, and diplomatic, the message to China is more formidable: Dump your support of Maduro or risk losing those “promising economic partners” in the rest of the region.

The piece further noted: “The Lima Group is backed by a broad international consensus that includes the US and the European Union.” [14]

Kovrig and Gunson’s piece ended with this: “Beijing has signaled that it is unwilling to invest forever in Venezuela’s present dysfunction. The time is ripe for Lima Group states to engage with China to align objectives and policies as far as possible.” [15]

Engaging with China?

At this point, there is no way of knowing how the Lima Group member countries subsequently “engaged” with China throughout the remainder of 2018, but by late November the decision had been made to arrest Huawei’s Meng Wanzhou in transit at the Vancouver International Airport on December 1, while U.S. president Donald Trump discussed trade issues with China’s leadership.

The timing of the arrest was strange, given that the U.S. has for many years been concerned about Huawei and its rising technological supremacy, especially in the pending rollout of 5G. As Amy Karam, author of The China Factor, noted in a recent op-ed, “Having tracked the Huawei concern for 14 years, I wonder why the West is just now mobilizing on this? The Huawei challenge is not new.” [16]

Arguably, one explanation for the timing of the arrest has to do with 5G (fifth generation wireless technology) itself. Throughout 2018, there has been increasing criticism across North America and Europe of 5G’s potential to massively irradiate people and the planet. [17] The arrest of Huawei’s executive is an attempt to change the narrative from one of whether 5G should be allowed at all, to which companies should do the rollout.

But major moves like this arrest usually have several motivations behind their timing.

Of course, the Chinese were infuriated by Canada’s arrest of Meng Wanzhou, and days later detained ICG’s Michael Kovrig and Canadian businessman Michael Spavor. [18]

By late January, with Juan Guaido having declared himself interim president of Venezuela, and with ICG’s Michael Kovrig still in Chinese custody, International Crisis Group trustee George Soros used his annual dinner at the World Economic Forum in Davos to attack China as a cybersecurity threat and urged the U.S. and others to “crack down” on Huawei. [19]

A day later, Juan Guaido made “rapid moves to privatize Venezuela’s oil and open the door for multinational corporations.” [20] The Trump administration backed up those moves with new sanctions on the country’s oil giant PDVSA. National Security Advisor John Bolton said that $7 billion of PDVSA assets would be immediately blocked, while the company would also lose about $11 billion in export payments over the coming year. [21] That was the same press conference in which Bolton was seen carrying a notepad which read: “5,000 troops to Colombia.”

On January 31, Reuters reported that PetroChina Company “plans to drop Petroleos de Venezuela SA (PDVSA) as a partner in a planned $10 billion oil refinery and petrochemical project in southern China,” and noted that under the revised plan, “the refinery will not be restricted to Venezuelan oil” but could process other heavy crude oil that could come from other countries. [22]

No doubt, the International Crisis Group’s Big Oil donors – Chevron, Shell, BP – are pleased with the way things are unfolding. Chevron and Shell are part of ICG’s International Advisory Council, whose members “play a key role in Crisis Group’s efforts to prevent deadly conflict.” [23] Meanwhile, the Lima Group will meet in Ottawa on Monday, February 4 “to see what can be done to ease the crisis in Venezuela.” [24]

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Muslim Ban: Two Years on, Trump’s Order Still Destroying Lives

NOVANEWS

Advocates urge politicians to find a fix to undo controversial executive order upheld by US Supreme Court

Families split; travellers stranded; students unable to attend their universities; people being forced to be away from their loved ones.

Two years after President Donald Trump signed an executive order severely restricting travel from several Muslim-majority countries, the effects of the executive order that came to be known as the Muslim ban, are still happening.

“We’ve seen families torn apart, individuals not being able to visit loved ones, weddings that were missed, healthcare they haven’t been able to receive, students not being able to come to school – there is a real life daily impact that it has, and that’s ongoing,” Abed Ayoub, the legal director of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC), said.

After Trump signed his ban on 27 January 2017, demonstrators flooded airports, 1,000 State Department officials lodged a rare dissent cable, and lawyers filed a rush of lawsuits all in protest against the executive order, which put a 90-day block on citizens from Iran, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Sudan, Libya and Somalia.

The protests and early court decisions suspending the ban restored hope of a united front against the executive order and underlying bigotry behind it.

Last year, however, the Supreme Court upheld the ban after a lengthy legal battle, ruling in favour of executive power to control immigration, although Trump had professed to his discriminatory intent as a candidate in late 2015, calling for a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims” coming to the US.

Now advocates say they are turning to politicians and presidential candidates to undo the ban.

Total chaos

The order left the lives of people like Syrian doctor Khaled Almilaji, who was waiting to get a visa to continue his masters programme at Brown University and return to his wife who was pregnant with their first child, in limbo.

“You can go to the website – you see your number and there is ‘pending’. This pending can take years,” he told MEE at the time, stuck in Turkey and continuing his studies remotely while his wife’s due date grew closer.

It also threw the country’s airports into an instant tailspin, as protesters and lawyers, like Sharifa Abbasi who works for the Virginia-based HMA law firm, gathered to help new arrivals, and untangle a knot of bureaucracy, so freshly spun, no one knew exactly what was going on.

“There were lawyers on the phone with the local elected official’s offices, people trying to reach Customs and Border Protection and airlines, people writing different memos, teams doing legal research, conference calls going on every day,” said Abbasi, who was volunteering at Dulles Airport.

“It was beautiful because everybody just wanted to come together and offer their support.”

As the pack of at least 50 lawyers, fed by other volunteers and surrounded by chanting demonstrators and journalists, continued to advise people, Abbasi said she felt certain that the order would be “blown out by the courts”.

“I didn’t think it was going to go on for this long, that it even stood a chance,” she said. “But unfortunately, given the political climate we are in now, anything can fly.”

Ban 3.0

In fact, the ban had gone through several incarnations before making its way to the Supreme Court last June.

It originally applied to permanent residents, before the Department of Homeland Security issued a directive exempting Green Card holders from the executive order, following some 24 hours of mass confusion at airports.

In March 2017, Trump signed what would become known as the “second Muslim ban”. The new decree excluded Iraq from the list. Baghdad had agreed to start accepting deportees from the US in exchange for the move.

The deal allowed the administration to round up dozens of Iraqi Christians who had outstanding deportation orders, even as they argued that sending them back to Iraq could amount to a “death sentence“.

In yet another amendment to the ban in September 2017, the White House removed Sudan from the list and added travel restrictions on the citizens of Chad, North Korea and Venezuela.

Robert McCaw, director of the government affairs department at Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), said each version of the ban aimed to “cover up the discrimination, bigotry and unlawfulness” of the previous one.

“It’s CAIR’s position that the Muslim ban continues, not only to be discriminatory but is unconstitutional,” McCaw said.

The way forward

The Supreme Court’s ruling to uphold the ban was a “travesty of justice”, McCaw said, citing other historical missteps by the high court, including the Korematsu case that allowed the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II.

However, he noted that the Supreme Court’s decision is not subject for appeal.

“So now it is up to Congress to use its lawful authority to de-fund or repeal this Muslim ban executive order,” McCaw continued.

Late in 2017, Congresswoman Judy Chu and Senator Chris Murphy introduced a bill that would “prohibit the use of any funds or fees to implement” the order.

Another “legislative fix”, according to McCaw, would be to reform the Immigration and Nationality Act, on which Trump based his executive order.

McCaw acknowledged that such efforts have minimal chances of passing through Congress, as Trump’s Republican Party is still in control of the US Senate. A legislative push, however, is still important, he said.

“It is to communicate to the American public that this order can be overturned by Congress, if there is enough votes,” he said.

If Trump loses his re-election bid in 2020, his successor could overturn the ban by executive order.

A handful of Democratic politicians and activists have announced their candidacy for the upcoming presidential elections; McCaw said he is still waiting to see who will be the first candidate who will pledge to repeal the ban.

Beyond the ban

The ban has had a chilling effect on the number of people from the targeted countries coming into the US.

US State Department data shows that in the fiscal year 2018 only 819 Yemenis were granted “immediate relative visas” to join their families in the US, a stark drop from the 8,447 in 2016, President Barack Obama’s last year in office.

The fiscal year ends on 30 September, meaning the ban was fully in effect for three months in the last reporting cycle.

Beyond the direct impact of the ban on potential travellers and family members who may await them here, advocates say the executive order has created an atmosphere of fear that has contributed to the rise of Islamophobia.

“The Muslim ban itself – being discriminatory – marginalises American Muslims and paints them as being a threat to their fellow citizens and neighbours,” McCaw said.

“Since President Trump was elected and he issued the Muslim ban executive order, there has been a stark increase in hate crimes and acts of discrimination targeting American Muslims, and vandalism targeting their houses of worship and community centres.”

Ayoub echoed McCaw’s statement, adding that the ban had a “psychological impact” on Arab, Muslim and immigrant communities in the US.

“Mistrust in the government, worrying about their immigration status, worrying about loved ones, the stress – that really took a toll,” he said.

According to Ayoub, that anxiety was not limited to people from countries listed in the executive order, as people from all communities, including US citizens, started questioning if they would be targeted next.

And their concerns are warranted: Abbasi said she has noticed that the processing time for visas for people from countries with large Muslim populations not on the list – like Tunisia, Afghanistan and Pakistan – have slowed down.

“If you are already outside the country, there are a lot of people that are hopeless,” she said. “Imagine all of the talent in these past two years that really could have done something for the country.”

‘Put each other together’

One of those people was Khaled Almilaji, the Syrian doctor who was stranded in Turkey when the ban came down, hoping to return to his masters programme and to his pregnant wife, Jihan, who is also a doctor.

Almilaji, 37, was working for a pharmaceutical company and finishing up a medical residency when the war started. In September 2011, he was imprisoned for six months in Damascus. He was tortured for two weeks, including by electrocution, and one of his fingers and a rib was broken.

Yet prison authorities relied on him to treat other prisoners which he did blindfolded so he couldn’t identify anyone later on.

After he was released from prison, he spent the next five years making a major impact on healthcare services for Syrians, including his role on a task force that vaccinated 1.4 million Syrian children against polio and stopped the virus from spreading as it had in Iraq.

Two years after the ban altered their lives, Almilaji’s now 17-month-old daughter, Daria, Jihan and he are now settled in Toronto, where Khaled and Jihan were reunited in June 2017.

He is nearly done with a masters in health informatics at the University of Toronto and said he has already used what he has been learning to improve health services in northern Syria.

“I’m finishing my masters in April. It’s amazing, right?” he said on Saturday. “I was lucky that I didn’t waste more time in this.”

Jihan, who is preparing for exams to continue her medical studies, has been able to travel to visit her family in Germany. Meanwhile, Khaled has returned frequently to Turkey to work on initiatives including an underground hospital for women and children, and projects providing care for Syrians in Idlib, Aleppo and Hama.

“We were lucky that we were still able to get degrees, look for medical training jobs and, at the same time, continue doing this work. Not a lot of people had the same chance,” he said.

One day, he said, he hopes history books will detangle the chaotic political moment, and provide lessons for the world.

“It’s a mess, but it’s needed because it’s not a matter of the results of one election or another, it’s a matter of our collective behaviour. Our communities are divided, but these things showed that division,” he said.

“This is good because as a doctor you cannot fix something unless you diagnose it. It was there and now it is on the surface. We have to put each other together.”

*

Posted in USAComments Off on Muslim Ban: Two Years on, Trump’s Order Still Destroying Lives

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