Regime change in Venezuela should be carefully considered

By Aziz Pahad
7 February 2019


Daily Maverick recently published two articles, one by the South African director of the German Konrad Adenauer Foundation, Henning Suhr titled, “South Africa vs people of Venezuela” in which he argued that when Chavez took power in the 1998 elections he perfected the “left-wing populist system which is based primarily on the distribution of state funds in exchange for loyalty”, adding that his model of the so-called “Socialism of the 21st century” was completely “unsustainable”.


The article, which goes on to discuss the administration of President Nicolas Maduro is full of generalised pious and unsubstantiated assertions.
Suhr criticises the South African media, including the Mail & Guardian, for an editorial which argues that the policies of the US administrations are “putting the international order at risk” and claims that “the Organisation of the American States and the US is trying to restore democracy in Venezuela”.


He criticises the Minister of the Department of International Relations and Co-operation for meeting with the Venezuelan Foreign Minister in July 2018 and for saying that “South Africa would oppose any kind of regime change in Caracas at the UN Security Council”.


The second article, by Martin Van Staden, a research assistant at the Free Market Foundation and a master of law degree student at the University of Pretoria alleges that “the South African government has thrown its support behind the tyrant … Maduro in the midst of a constitutional crisis”. He criticises Minister Sisulu’s statement that “South Africa recognises the democratically elected President of Venezuela until such time he steps down, or until such time that there is an election”.


They assert that the crisis is “self-made” and that socialism is the cause of Venezuela’s failed policies and crisis.


Both articles contain many unsubstantiated assertions, including the allegation that the administration does not produce information on mortality rates because figures were so high, refer to the lack of basic necessities, poverty and the numbers of people leaving Venezuela.
They also assert that South Africa’s foreign policy violates its constitution.
These articles are some of the worst examples of perception management to mobilise for regime change and are based on information from biased mainstream sources, with no serious attempt to analyse developments in Venezuela historically, verify, substantiate arguments or refer to alternative information.


What is the truth?The assertion that the Venezuelan crisis is “self-made” and a consequence of “failed socialist policies” must be treated with the contempt it deserves.


So must the argument that the Organisation of the American States and the US is trying to restore democracy.


In a conference organised by the Washington-based Council on Foreign Relations attended by oil executives, bankers and officials in January 2019, speakers predicted that the increased sanctions would lead to more refugees, and Shannon O’Neil of the council said that if “sanctions do not work in dislodging the regime, then there is not a lot in the toolkit left besides things like military intervention”.


The US military, in a March 2018 document titled “The Strategic Relevance of Latin America in the US National Strategy”, stated that in the aftermath of the fall of dictatorships in the 1970s and 1980s “most democratic societies in the western hemisphere” are “feckless and unconsolidated, thereby representing a threat to the national security interests by external actors such as China and Russia opposing US interests in the region”.


It was also suggested that “Latin American megacities are also a laboratory for the US army in cooperation with its strategic partners in addressing how to fight a conventional war in an unconventional environment. Megacities are the new arena for conflicts in the 21st century.”


On 3 February 2019, President Trump in an interview with CBS’s “Face the Nation” programme iterated that military intervention is an option in Venezuela.Vice President Mike Pence told a gathering of right-wing Venezuelan exiles in Miami that, “this is no time for dialogue, it is a moment for action, and the time has come to end the Maduro dictatorship once and for all …. all options are on the table.”


President Trump’s National Security Adviser, John Bolton, said that the US would “kill, jail and torture President Maduro if he refused to resign … the sooner he takes advantage of his resignation, the sooner he is likely to a have a nice quiet retirement, rather than being in Guantanamo”.


Given past experiences, the question must be asked whether conditions are being created for destabilisation and “humanitarian intervention”.
These sentiments come amidst reports in The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times that there was a coup attempt in Venezuela on the 23 January 2019, the date when an obscure opposition leader, Juan Guiado, was declared President by the US Deputy President Spence. The coup was promoted, organised and financed by the US and, surprisingly, supported by many European governments.


President Guiado, newly imposed by the US, announced that it will deliver aid at three locations along the Venezuela-Colombia border. This correlates with developments in the region where the far-right President of Colombia recently announced that he gave a “few hours to the Venezuelan dictatorship”, while a few days earlier at a press conference Bolton revealed his notes saying “5,000 troops to Colombia”, the Venezuela-Brazil border and a Caribbean Island.


Such military intervention is likely to be the largest since the 2003 invasion of Iraq. This could escalate into a confrontation with other nuclear powers because of their geo-strategic interests and investments in Venezuelan oil.
The Mail & Guardian therefore correctly concluded such military intervention is a great threat to regional and global peace and security. This was criticised by Mr Suhr.


Suhr’s argument that the “Organisation of American states and the US is trying to restore democracy in Venezuela” is therefore fallacious. Is this possible when Elliot Abrahams is the US point man for Venezuela? On his appointment, he was described as a “man appointed for his rights and liberties of all people”. This is the same man who, amongst others, advocated for US support for the genocidal Guatemalan regime and Salvadoran death squads. When a UN report catalogued 22,000 atrocities in El Salvador, Abrahams praised the US administrations “fabulous achievement” in El Salvador.


He was convicted of lying to Congress about US support for the fascist and murderous Nicaragua Contras. He was known as Reagan’s “Secretary of Dirty wars”.


His task in Venezuela will be to continue with the “dirty wars”.


All governments without exception have made “mistakes” while governing. While Venezuela is no exception, the argument that the crisis is “self-made” and created by “failed socialist policies” is unsubstantiated.


The reality is that 70% of the Venezuelan economy is in private hands, the country is completely integrated into the global market and the world capitalist system and is dependent on oil, the fluctuating prices of which are determined by the capitalist market.


Any mistakes by the Venezuelan government have been made in its efforts to develop a system that would create a better life for all its people.
Contrary to what some “experts” write, Venezuela has since 1998, and despite its challenges, achieved much for its people including reducing poverty and improving standards of living. Many of the “middle-class demonstrators” today are the products of this reality. Any mistakes real or imagined cannot be justified by sophistry supporting regime change.
The activities of the US government, some countries in the region and Europe could lead to regime change and civil war which will threaten regional and international peace and security.


Supporters of regime change pretend to be ignorant of the many books and revelations by investigative organisations such the WikiLeaks.


The CIA has a long history of regime change operations in Latin America, including Guatemala (1954), the failed regime change activities in Cuba since 1961, the coup in Chile (1973), the intervention in Nicaragua (1980s) the invasion of Panama (1990) and regime change in Honduras (2009).
The tactics of regime change include:


1. UN Rapporteur Alfred Zayas Covert operations including “public diplomacy”, promoting democracy, human rights, good governance and “humanitarian intervention”.
2. Using think tanks to influence support for intervention in the internal affairs of other countries.
3. Deploying violence
4. Subverting local military and intelligence services.


There is a wealth of substantiated information showing that the US State Department, the CIA and US NGOs, support opposition parties, student organisations, religious organisations and cultural organisations to achieve regime change.


This has been well documented in a 2005 book The WikiLeaks Files: The World According to the US Empire. Reviewing the book Dan Beaton and Alexander Main said: “Books like this one should be required reading for students of US diplomacy and those interested in understanding how the US democracy promotion system really works. Through USAID, the National Endowment for Democracy, the NDI, IRI and other para-governmental entities, the US government provides extensive assistance to political movement and NGOs that support US economic and political objectives.”
Philip Agee, a CIA whistle-blower, commented that “nowadays, instead of having the CIA going around behind the scenes and trying to manipulate the process by inserting money or giving secret instructions so forth, they now have The National Endowment for Democracy”.

A former “leftist” Alan Weinstein, a founding member of the NED, told The Washington Post as early as 1991 that “a lot of what we do today was done covertly 25 years ago by the CIA”. The NED is one of the many government-funded NGOs in the US, Latin America, Europe, Africa and Asia that uses its substantial funds to bring about regime change under the smokescreen of democracy, good governance, the protection of human rights (narrowly interpreted) and humanitarian intervention to achieve regime change by military or non-military means.


The NED was created by President Reagan’s administration in 1983 and its founding members were extreme right cold war ideologues and some former “leftists”. For decades the NED and similar NGOs used tactics including unprecedented perception management, training of “human rights activists”, economic sabotage and sanctions as key tactical methods to fund, organise and train unsuspecting NGOs and individuals to achieve regime change. A NED-funded publication – the Global Americans –openly boasted that the organisation played a key role in “laying the groundwork for change in Nicaragua” and “it is becoming more and more clear that US support has… played a role in nurturing the current uprisings”. Such information is also on the WikiLeaks website and many books.

A former UN Rapporteur Alfred Zayas, a American lawyer and a former secretary of the Human Rights Council, in his recently recently published UN report said that the US is engaging in “economic warfare against Venezuela which was the real reason for the economic and humanitarian crisis facing the country”, and that sanctions against Venezuela are illegal and could amount to “crimes against humanity”, under international law. He recommended, amongst other actions, that the International Criminal Court investigate economic sanctions against Venezuela as possible crimes against humanity under article 7 of the Rome Statute.


He concluded that the solution to the Venezuelan crisis lay “in good faith negotiations between the government and the opposition, an end to the economic war and the lifting of sanctions”.


Speaking to The Independent (UK) on the 28 January he said, “When I say immigration is partly attributable to the economic war waged against Venezuela and is partly attributable to the sanctions, people do not like to hear that. They just want the simple narrative (that) socialism (failed) the people.”


He also said that those sanctions are part of a US effort to overthrow the Venezuela government and install a friendlier regime saying those calling the situation a “humanitarian crisis” are being “weaponised” to discredit the government and make violent overthrow more “palatable”.


He continued, “There is nothing more undemocratic than a coup d’état and nothing more corrosive to the rule of law and to international stability (than) when foreign governments meddle in the internal affairs of other states…. What is urgent is to help the Venezuelan people through international solidarity – genuine humanitarian aid and the lifting of the financial blockade so that Venezuela can buy and sell like any other country.”


De Zayas is one of 70 signatories of an open letter, along with Noam Chomsky and other academics and experts who have condemned a US-backed coup attempt against the Venezuelan government.


The US and its allies’ strategy for regime change is economic warfare. The objective is to destroy the Venezuelan economy, by imposing illegal unilateral sanctions, interfering with Venezuelan oil, and making it difficult for Venezuela to access foreign sources of capital. All this creates extreme hardship and conditions for a civil conflict under the pretexts of “humanitarian intervention”, seen most recently in Libya and Syria. In addition, the US and its various NGOs have funded and trained opposition forces in their strategy of continued violent demonstrations to make the country ungovernable.


Venezuela has the largest oil reserves in the world and is presently the 10th largest oil producer. While it also has many other natural gas and mineral resources over 80% of its export earnings are from oil sales.


A WikiLeaks-exposed cable from the US embassy dated 1988, “US Goals, Objectives and Resource Management”, states that “our fundamental interests in Venezuela are that Venezuela continues to supply our petroleum imports and continue to follow a moderate and responsible oil price position in OPEC.” Bolton stated in a recent press conference, “We are in conversation with major American companies … it would make a difference if we could have American companies produce oil in Venezuela. We both have a lot at stake here.” This regime change effort has no basis in the US Constitution or indeed the Charter of the UN.

The respect for sovereignty and self-determination of people, non-interference in the internal affairs of states and respect for countries’ democratic institutions would be violated should a policy of regime change be implemented. The Trump administration, some countries in the region and Europe recognised an unelected relatively unknown as President, discussed a military coup with some Venezuelan military elements, sanctioned Venezuela’s oil exports and are considering “all other options including military”.


There is a commitment to impose neo-liberal capitalist economic policies on Venezuela. The IMF and World Bank recently concluded that contemporary challenges facing humanity are due to globalisation and neo-liberalism which has benefited a few and inequality is one of the biggest challenges the world faces today. The January 2019 World Economic Forum meeting in Davos confirmed this assessment.


In many other countries in Europe, there is the rise of fascism, neo-fascism, narrow populism, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, racism and xenophobia.
Good governance, respect for international law and democracy are being trampled with impunity.


We are all living in a volatile and dangerous world where the rules-based system, and respect for international law and multilateralism is being challenged as never before.Regime change in Venezuela is not about the people’s welfare, democracy or good governance but its vast oil reserves, its attempted model of anti-neoliberal policies and its geo-strategic position in Latin America. A Democratic Party Presidential candidate, Thulsi Gabbard, noted “it’s about oil… again”.


According to a study conducted by Hinterlace early in January 2019, 86% of all Venezuelans opposed military intervention in Venezuela and 81% opposed US sanctions.

All countries in the world have to think out of the box to meet the many challenges and opportunities of the 21st century.


Frank open and critical dialogue must be encouraged. Pope Francis in his 2019 new year’s message to diplomats warned: “It is troubling to see the re-emergence of tendencies to impose and pursue individual national interests, without having recourse to instruments provided by international law for solving controversies and ensure that justice is respected……there is a relationship between good politics and the peaceful coexistence of peoples and nations…the essential element of good politics is the pursuit of the common good….International relations cannot be held captive to military force…peaceful coexistence…must be inspired by ethics of solidarity.”


The doomsday clock is ticking and the very future of humanity is at stake. How we choose to respond to the situation in Venezuela could bring us lessons for many years to come.


**Aziz Pahad is former South African Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs. This article first appeared in the Daily Maverick newspaper: https://www.dailymaverick.co.za/article/2019-02-07-regime-change-in-venezuela-should-be-carefully-considered/

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