Interview with a Political Activist in El Alto
[Note: The following interview with a Bolivian activist in El Alto, whose name is being withheld for obvious security reasons, was conducted by The Organizer editorial board member Alan Benjamin on Sunday, November 17. The interview is reprinted from the November-December 2019 issue of The Organizer.]
Question: What is the situation in Bolivia in the aftermath of the coup? How is the resistance to the coup being organized?
Answer: After the conspiracy of the police, the military, and the right-wing leaders that led to the November 10 resignation of Evo Morales and placed the coup-plotters in the governmental palace, their first measure was to burn the Whipala, the flag that represents the Quechua-Aymara peoples and that is recognized as one of the nation’s two flags in the 2009 Political Constitution of the State.
The burning of the Whipala means the return to the heinous racism and discrimination by the traditional right wing. This action by the coup government, together with the self-proclamation by supposed “president” Jeanine Añez, has triggered the mobilization of scores of popular sectors, neighborhood councils, and youth from the city of El Alto, the main bastion of the struggles of October 2003 and 2005 that succeeded in ousting then-president Gustavo Sanchez de Lozada, known as the “Gringo Goni.” Workers and youth at that time had mobilized against Goni’s Hydrocarbons Law with protests that were met with large-scale repression, resulting in 60 deaths.
Since Monday, November 11, massive marches of people have descended every day from the city of El Alto to the seat of government in La Paz. Hundreds of police, military and armored cars have sealed off the Plaza Murillo (where the government palace is located), repressing the population with tear gas and arresting people who were not even participating in the mobilizations. People have been apprehended just for carrying a Whipala.
Likewise, the peasants and neighbors of the poorest areas around the southern zone of La Paz have been repressed savagely. Two people have been killed, as the local authorities have had to acknowledge.
Relatives of the killed activists have reported in the social media how the military are breaking into people’s homes and beating the activists and their families indiscriminately.
The media are silent, but the social networks are flooded with videos and images that show the savagery that has been unleashed against the population.
The most recent repression occurred on Friday, November 15, when peasants from the Cochabamba region were heading towards the center of that city in a peaceful march, but were intercepted at the Huayllani Bridge, in the Sacaba region, by the military and police forces, which fired lethal weapons at the unarmed population.
The result of this police-military operation was nine deaths and hundreds of wounded and arrested. The media have sought to present this as an “armed confrontation” between the military and the demonstrators — but the fact is that not a single police officer, not a single soldier, was killed.
The media have ignored the statement by Cochabamba public defender Nelson Cox, who declared: “Visiting the hospitals, we have not found a single wounded policeman or soldier. There can be no talk of confrontation when what occurred was an action by the military and police that harmed the lives of the civilians who were mobilizing peacefully.” (statement posted on the website of Chasqui Clandestina)
On the following day, Saturday, November 16, a widely attended Cabildo [a town-hall meeting, or popular assembly – Tr. note] took place in the city of El Alto. Neighbors, workers, and young people gathered behind the Whipala with a black emblem attached to it, to signify the people’s outrage over the repression by the military and police forces which, so far, has taken the lives of 23 people, with hundreds of people seriously wounded and/or arrested.
All 14 districts that make up the city of El Alto were represented at the Cabildo. Peasant representatives from the 20 provinces of the department of La Paz were also present, as were rural teacher delegations from Alto Beni (which is the eastern sector of Bolivia), among other sectors.
The leaders of the Federation of Neighborhood Councils (FEJUVE) of El Alto were disavowed on the grounds that they are corrupt and do not represent the interests of the people of El Alto. As a consequence a new leadership of the FEJUVE has been formed.
Among its main decisions, the Cabildo called for the resignation of self-proclaimed president Jeanine Añez and the immediate release of all detainees nationwide. It also declared an indefinite strike with the blockade of 1,000 street corners.
As the workers and people were gathered in the Cabildo in El Alto, the so-called president issued Supreme Decree 4078, which authorizes the armed forces and police to “restore internal order” without having to be held accountable for their criminal actions. This is nothing but a license to kill.
As we speak [Sunday, November 17] popular sectors, carrying out the decisions of the Cabildo, are currently taking up their positions at the designated blockade points. We don’t yet have information about what is happening with the blockades. We are certainly not going to get reports from the national media, which has been assigned the task of turning a blind eye to the savage repression and making the anger of the population at the measures of the so-called president Jeanine Añez invisible.
Question: What has been the policy of the Bolivian Workers Central — the historic COB confederation — in relation to the recent coup, and, more recently, to the resistance? Have there been discussions within the COB and/or its affiliates regarding the November 10 COB statement, which we in the United States found shocking, calling for Evo’s resignation “for the sake of the health of the nation”?
Answer: On November 10, as you point out, the main leader of the COB, Juan Carlos Guarachi, called for the resignation of Evo Morales in the name of “preserving the peace in the country.” A similar statement was issued by Orlando Gutierrez, leader of the National Mineworkers Federation (FSTMB), the backbone of the COB. This marked a right-wing break by the COB and its main affiliate with the government of Evo Morales.
In the aftermath of the resignation of Morales and in response to the ongoing popular mobilizations, the COB issued a resolution dated November 12 stating that the powers-that-be had 48 hours to come up with a “constitutional solution,” otherwise they would declare an indefinite general strike.
But what kind of “constitutional solution” can be reached when you have a self-appointed president, supported by the armed forces, who has trampled upon the Constitution? She cannot even muster a sufficient quorum in the Congress to have herself declared a rightful president. The COB has remained silent until now, even though the 48-hour deadline has come and gone.
Having said that, there is growing dissension in the union ranks.
Prior to the coup, mineworkers in the State sector — in Huanuni, Vinto, Coro Coro, and Colquir — denounced the fact that behind the “Citizen Mobilizations” lurked the old right-wing parties.
Recently, on November 12, the most combative union of the FSTMB — the mine workers’ union in Huanuni — adopted a resolution denouncing all those who have lent a hand to the right wing, highlighting the leader of Santa Cruz Civic Committee billionaire Luis Fernando Camacho as a racist. The resolution affirms that, “the struggle has begun” and that “a state of emergency has been declared in Huanuni” — but to date the union has not called for mobilization.
Question: Any further comments?
Answer: At this moment, the main demand of the mobilized sectors of the population — a demand with which I concur fully — is the resignation of Jeanine Añez, who symbolizes the return of the gorilla and racist right wing. If the COB and FSTMB were to join the mobilizations, this would mark a real show of strength by the workers’ and people’s organizations against the perpetrators of the coup.
Greens Support Local Anti-War Actions this July 13th weekend demanding:
• No War on Iran!
• No U.S. Coup in Venezuela!
• End Sanctions Now!
• Bring all U.S. Troops home now!
- The Green Party Peace Action Committee has endorsed the call of the United National Antiwar Coalition (UNAC) to take a stand for peace and organize a day of local antiwar actions on the weekend of July 13th, demanding:
• No War on Iran!
• No U.S. Coup in Venezuela!
• End Sanctions Now!
• Bring all U.S. Troops home now!
The weekend of July 13th was selected in part because Sunday, July 14th, is the anniversary of the signing of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action between Iran, the United States and other nations, also known as the “Iran Nuclear Deal.”
It was bad enough that the Trump administration reneged on this agreement. Now Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and others in the administration are engaging in dangerous acts of provocation against Iran, in a misguided effort to destabilize that country, promote so-called “regime change,” and perhaps deliberately incite a war. Even if a full-blown war is not intended, its acts of economic warfare against Iran already violate international law, and its reckless acts of brinksmanship and daily barrage of unsubstantiated accusations against Iran demonstrate that it is pushing toward some type of military aggression against Iran – which could easily escalate into a full-blown war.
While some members of Congress are making noise about trying to rein in the Trump administration’s ability to start yet another disastrous war in the Middle East, most Democratic and Republican members alike have laid the groundwork for such a war. For decades, they have abdicated their constitutional authority to declare war to the executive branch, allowing president after president to commit acts of war with little or no resistance. In addition, most Democratic leaders in Congress go along with their Republican colleagues (and the corporate news media) in proclaiming that Iran is the “world’s leading State sponsor of terrorism,” “the main source of instability in the Middle East,” etc.
These claims are constantly repeated but rarely examined, as if sheer repetition is an acceptable substitute for truth. Whatever one thinks of Iran’s actions towards its neighbors, there is little or no substance to these charges. Cheerleaders for war are using the “terrorism” charge, grainy videos and other dubious “evidence” in an attempt to manipulate the public into believing that future U.S. military attacks on Iran may be justified. Yet there can be no justification for U.S. military aggression against a nation that has not attacked the United States. Any such action would be illegal under well-settled international law, illegal under the U.S. Constitution, and without a shred of moral justification.
Such claims are also monstrously hypocritical, coming as they do from a nation that has literally rained tens of thousands of bombs and missiles against seven different Middle East and African nations in recent years, driving much of Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria into the hell of persistent war, political chaos and economic ruin, with no end in sight. Not only has the United States directly supplied terrorist groups in Syria, its efforts at “regime change” generally have fostered an increase in terrorist activity in the region. Americans must wake up to the fact that the world’s leading “State sponsor of terrorism” is their own government.
As UNAC well points out: “In modern history, Iran has never attacked another country, something the U.S. has done continuously. Iran has not threatened to attack the U.S. or other countries, only maintaining its right to defend itself. On the other hand, the U.S. has threatened to annihilate Iran if it interferes with U.S. ‘interests.’ While the U.S. has around 20 times the number of foreign military bases as all other countries combined, Iran only has foreign bases in Syria, a country that asked for Iran’s support in its war against jihadist forces, most supported by the U.S. and its allies, as well as direct attacks from Israel, the U.S. and its NATO allies.”
U.S. Bases Surrounding Iran
The history of U.S. intervention in the region, the lack of evidence that its presence in the Middle East is actually aimed at fighting terrorism, or promoting “democracy,” “stability,” etc., all point to the fact that the real motives for its presence are economic. The underlying purpose of its current wars, and its threats against Iran, is to enrich the owners of America’s most powerful corporations by controlling the oil and other resources, markets, labor and wealth of those nations. The same is true of its long history of military aggression in Latin America and its current efforts to overthrow the legitimate government of Venezuela. War-making also enriches the military weapons industry and its beneficiaries, also known as the military-industrial-congressional complex.
An attack on Iran would not only be illegal and immoral — it would be catastrophic for the people of both countries (except war profiteers and major energy corporation shareholders). Like neighboring Iraq and Syria, Iran is one of the cradles of civilization. It also is much larger and more populous than those nations, with a much larger military. A war with Iran would be terribly costly in every respect — human, economic and environmental. It would have major domestic consequences, possibly including a resumption of the military draft, on top of the “poverty draft” in operation now.
As it is, the economic warfare (sanctions) against both Iran and Venezuela (another target for so-called “regime change” via blatant U.S. attempts to orchestrate a coup) are already killing people, an estimated 40,000 in Venezuela alone.
It is time for the American people to say: “Enough! No More War!” As it is, Democrats and Republicans in Congress are currently debating, not over whether to increase military spending next year, but over how much to raise it. The parameters of the debate are whether to increase the military budget from $716 billion to $750 billion, or “only” $733 billion. Even those colossal sums don’t include the tens of billions of dollars that go into the “overseas contingency operations budget,” where a lot of current war spending is hidden from public view. They also don’t include funding for Homeland Security, the payment of interest on past wars, or the additional health-care costs caused by physical or mental injuries to the veterans, whom all politicians claim to care so much about. Meanwhile, tens of millions of Americans languish in poverty, debt and little or no health care, our infrastructure continues to crumble, and not nearly enough is being done to address climate catastrophe and the collapse of our ecosystem — a major cause of which is militarism and war.
The Green Party is the Peace Party. With only rare individual exceptions, neither Democrats nor Republicans can legitimately claim to be a “lesser evil” on the issues of militarism and war. Just as “nonviolence” is one of our key values, militarism and war must be one of our foremost issues as Greens. We have a responsibility to strongly raise our voices for peace, as we are the leading political expression of the peace movement in the U.S. today.
Accordingly, we call upon all Greens to please join us, and others in UNAC and the broader peace movement, in local actions around the above four demands, on or about July 13th. Following UNAC’s call:
We urge you to attend or organize an event in your area. The events could be protests, vigils, forums, banner drops, civil resistance or whatever your group feels will be most effective.
If your organization would like to endorse the call, you can do so here.
If you would like to post your event, please do so here.
The United States Government is engaged in a campaign of personal destruction directed at Wikileaks publisher Julian Assange. Under the cover of questionable legal arguments, The US has carried out a relentless, multifaceted, punitive program aimed at making an example of an Internet publisher who has challenged the power of the US national security establishment. Through the actions of the US government, Assange has been stripped of his political asylum, imprisoned by the UK, and is awaiting extradition to the US to face espionage charges with a penalty of life imprisonment. He is being held in Belmarsh prison, a high-security facility, officially for the minor crime of a bail violation but for the ultimate purpose of rendition to the US. Assange was recently moved to the hospital wing at Belmarsh, and reports indicate he is in poor health.
A large segment of the public has been turned against Assange by a smear campaign conducted through mass media outlets with friendly ties to the national security agencies. The UN has issued a report in which Nils Melzer, the UN Special Rapporteur on torture said that Assange has been exposed to psychological torture. According the UN report, “In the course of the past nine years, Mr. Assange has been exposed to persistent, progressively severe abuse ranging from systematic judicial persecution and arbitrary confinement in the Ecuadorian embassy, to his oppressive isolation, harassment and surveillance inside the embassy, and from deliberate collective ridicule, insults and humiliation, to open instigation of violence and even repeated calls for his assassination.”
Assange has been called a rapist, a narcissist, and a spy with “blood on his hands.” The bloodiest hands in American media belong to those who participated in selling the American instigated wars that have ripped apart Iraq, Libya, and Syria. Journalists who eagerly repeated the lies that led to the Iraq war now attack Assange’s consistently truthful reporting of America’s misdeeds. American intelligence officials, who have publicly lied to Congress without consequences, are leading the attack on Assange, a man who, until his isolation and imprisonment, had been reliably reporting inconvenient truths about America’s secret activities. US politicians refuse to hold the CIA and other secret agencies accountable for past and present misdeeds. Senator Schumer of New York openly warned his congressional colleagues against opposing the national security agencies: “Let me tell you: You take on the intelligence community — they have six ways from Sunday at getting back at you.” How far are we from the model of the old USSR in which everyone feared the secret police?
In addition to seeking to punish Assange with life in prison, the US government intends to use his prosecution under the Espionage Act as a weapon against the free press. Because conventional news organizations regularly publish secret information that has been leaked by informants and whistleblowers, the same arguments used to prosecute Assange can be used to convict journalists for the New York Times or the Washington Post. If Assange is convicted under this law, reporting on anything the US government classifies as secret will come to a halt. Powerful intelligence agencies like the CIA, not content with intimidating their timid political watchdogs, are seeking to eliminate the oversight of a free press.
The assault on Julian Assange is nothing less than an attack on the truth and a threat to global security. A world in which the US government secretly pursues hostile actions, unchecked by any independent oversight, is a danger to all mankind. Julian Assange has served the interests of the people of the world by truthfully revealing activities that undermine peace and security. The Peace Action Committee of the Green Party of the United States calls upon the US Justice Department to drop all charges against Julian Assange, and we call upon the UK government to release Assange from prison.
Sign Petition Here: https://www.codepink.org/embassyprotection
CODEPINK is part of the Venezuela Embassy Protection Collective, a group of organizations and individuals residing and working in the Venezuelan Embassy in Washington, DC at the invitation of the elected Venezuelan government. We are there to serve as an interim protectorate keeping the embassy safe from right-wing Guiado supporters, who have been harassing them and preventing the delivery of food and medicines into the building. Many of the activists, including CODEPINK team members, have been assaulted but the police have been refusing to arrest the thugs surrounding the embassy.
May 13, 2019
This is the 34th day of our living in the Venezuelan embassy in Washington, DC. We are prepared to stay another 34 days, or however long is needed to resolve the embassy dispute in a peaceful way consistent with international law.
This memo is being sent to the US and Venezuela as well as members of our Collective and allies. We are encouraging people to publish this memo as a transparent process is needed to prevent the US from making a unilateral decision that could impact the security of embassies around the world and lead to military conflict.
To: US State Department
Venezuelan Foreign Ministry
From: Embassy Protection Collective
Re: Exiting the Venezuelan Embassy
Date: May 13, 2019
There are two ways to resolve the issues around the Venezuelan embassy in DC, which we will explain.
Before doing so, we reiterate that our collective is one of independent people and organizations not affiliated with any government. While we are all US citizens, we are not agents of the United States. While we are here with permission of the Venezuelan government, we are not their agents or representatives.
We are here in the embassy lawfully. We are breaking no laws. We did not unlawfully enter and we are not trespassing.
1. Exiting with a Protecting Power Agreement
The exit from the embassy that best resolves issues to the benefit of the United States and Venezuela is a mutual Protecting Power Agreement. The United States wants a Protecting Power for its embassy in Caracas. Venezuela wants a Protecting Power for its embassy in DC. Such agreements are not uncommon when diplomatic relations are severed.
A Protecting Power Agreement would avoid a military conflict that could lead to war. A war in Venezuela would be catastrophic for Venezuela, the United States, and for the region. It would lead to lives lost and mass migration from the chaos and conflict of war. It would cost the United States trillions of dollars and become a quagmire involving allied countries around the world.
We are serving as interim protectors in the hope that the two nations can negotiate this resolution. If this occurs we will take the banners off the building, pack our materials, and leave voluntarily. The electricity could be turned on and we will drive out.
We suggest a video walk-through with embassy officials to show that the Embassy Protection Collective did not damage the building. The only damage to the building has been inflicted by coup supporters in the course of their unprosecuted break-ins.
2. The United States violates the Vienna Convention, makes an illegal eviction and unlawful arrests
This approach will violate international law and is fraught with risks. The United States would have to cut the chains in the front door put up by embassy staff and violate the embassy. We have put up barriers there and at other entrances to protect us from constant break-ins and threats from the trespassers whom the police are permitting outside the embassy. The police’s failure to protect the embassy and the US citizens inside has forced us to take these actions.
The Embassy Protectors will not barricade ourselves, or hide in the embassy in the event of an unlawful entry by police. We will gather together and peacefully assert our rights to remain in the building and uphold international law.
Any order to vacate based on a request by coup conspirators that lack governing authority will not be a lawful order. The coup has failed multiple times in Venezuela. The elected government is recognized by the Venezuelan courts under Venezuelan law and by the United Nations under international law. An order by the US-appointed coup plotters would not be legal.
Such an entry would put embassies around the world and in the United States at risk. We are concerned about US embassies and personnel around the world if the Vienna Convention is violated at this embassy. It would set a dangerous precedent that would likely be used against US embassies.
If an illegal eviction and unlawful arrests are made, we will hold all decision-makers in the chain of command and all officers who enforce unlawful orders accountable.
If there is a notice that we are trespassing and need to vacate the premises, please provide it to our attorney Mara Verhayden-Hilliard, copied on this memo.
We have taken care of this embassy and request a video tour of the building before any arrests.
We hope a wise and calm solution to this issue can be achieved so escalation of this conflict can avoided.
There is no need for the United States and Venezuela to be enemies. Resolving this embassy dispute diplomatically should lead to negotiations over other issues between the nations.
The Embassy Protection Collective
May 13, 2019
“SOS! SOS! SOS! SOS! OUR INDIGENOUS FAMILIES ARE BEING EXTERMINATED! MASSACRED RIGHT NOW! THE COLOMBIAN GOVERNMENT HAS SENT IN THE ARMY AND IS MURDERING THE MINGA COMMUNITY! SOS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
GOD HELP US!!!! ASKING FOR PRAYERS!!! CONSCIOUSNESS!!!! PLEASE HUMANITY WAKE UP!!!!”
Concentration of the minga for the defense of life, territory, democracy, justice and peace, of the finca Emmanuel in morales cauca is attacked with firearms indiscriminately by troops of the national army
Santiago de Cali, April 03, 2019
We make an URGENT CALL TO THE COLOMBIAN GOVERNMENT IN THE HEAD OF PRESIDENT IVAN DUQUE MÁRQUEZ, and to national and international agencies that defend human rights in order to Sue in first instance the protection of the life and integrity of indigenous, peasant and sectors communities People who participate in minga for the defense of life, territory, democracy, justice and peace.
Being 12:30 p.m. on April 03, 2019, the indigenous and peasants who were concentrated in the Emmanuel Estate of the town of morales – cauca, were violently attacked with firearms by troops of the National Army, Finding yourself trapped in the territory because of the shots. The public force came to the place, burning the tents and belongings of the community, also entered the neighboring houses of the point of concentration to attack the inhabitants, in the midst of the facts, is seriously injured the governor of the indigenous cabildo of cerro Scissors Rubén Cuetia and some minors, at the moment there is no additional information of the number of injuries and the state of health of them.
We make a call to dd defenders. HH. National and international, the high commissioner for DD. HH. From the un, to the inter-American commission of DD. HH., to the un verification mission, to the mission of supporting the peace process in Colombia of the oas, to the National Commission of DD. HH. From The Senate of the Republic, to the office of the ombudsman and to the attorney general of the nation, so that, within the framework of its functions and competences, accompany the communities and families affected by this fact.
By Kevin Zeese and Margaret Flowers, Popular Resistance
Above photo: John Zangas, DC Media Group.
Two things stand out about the US coup in Venezuela. First, it is unusually open. Typically, the US tries to hide its coups. Second, the coup is built on a series of obvious falsehoods, yet the bi-partisans in Washington, with a few exceptions, keep repeating them.
First, we will correct the falsehoods so readers are all working from the same facts. Second, we will describe how this coup is being defeated. It will be another major embarrassment for the Trump administration and US foreign policy.
It is important to understand Venezuela has become a geopolitical conflict as Russia and China are closely allied with Venezuela. China and Russia coming into the backyard of the United States challenges the antiquated Monroe Doctrine.
Venezuela has the largest oil reserves in the world and the second largest gold reserves, as well as diamonds and other minerals such as coltan (needed for electronic devices). And, Venezuela is taking over as president of OPEC and will be in a position to push for oil payments in non-dollar currencies or in cryptocurrencies, a major threat to the US dollar.
Correcting the Record
There are a series of false statements repeated by DC officials and corporate media to justify the coup that are so obvious, it is hard to believe they are not intentional. In his two-paragraph comment on the coup, even Senator Bernie Sanders repeated them.
1. Truth: President Nicolás Maduro is the legitimate president.
President Maduro was re-elected on May 20, 2018, in response to the opposition demanding an early election. The legitimacy of the election of Maduro is so evident that it must be assumed those who say he is illegitimate are either intentionally false or ignorant. The election was scheduled consistent with the Venezuelan Constitution and in consultation with opposition parties. When it became evident that the opposition could not win the election, they decided, under pressure from the United States, to boycott the election in order to undermine its legitimacy. The facts are 9,389,056 people voted, 46% of eligible voters. Sixteen parties participated in the election with six candidates competing for the presidency.
The electoral process was observed by more than 150 election observers. This included 14 electoral commissions from eight countries among them the Council of Electoral Experts of Latin America; two technical electoral missions; and 18 journalists from different parts of the world, among others. According to the international observers, “the elections were very transparent and complied with international parameters and national legislation.”
Venezuela has one of the best electoral systems in the world. Voter fraud is not possible as identification and fingerprints are required for each voter. Voting machines are audited before and immediately after the election. Venezuela does something no other country in the world does — a public, citizen’s audit of a random sample of 53% of voting machines that is televised. All 18 parties signed the audits.
Maduro won by a wide margin, obtaining 6,248,864 votes, 67.84%; followed by Henri Falcón with 1,927,958, 20.93%; Javier Bertucci with 1,015,895, 10.82%; and Reinaldo Quijada, who obtained 36,246 votes, 0.39% of the total.
This same voting system has been used in elections that Maduro’s party has lost in governor’s and legislative elections. Venezuela is a real democracy with transparent elections. The United States could learn a good deal about real democracy from Venezuela.
2. Truth: The economic crisis is caused by outside intervention, internal sabotage and the decline in oil prices.
There is no doubt the economic situation in Venezuela is dire. The cause is the economic war conducted by the United States, the major decline in oil prices and economic sabotage by the opposition. In essence, the United States and opposition created problems in the Venezuelan economy and now say Maduro must be replaced because of problems they created.
Oil was discovered in Venezuela in the early part of the 20th Century and has dominated the economy since then. The Dutch Disease, the negative impact of an economy based on one natural resource, causes a sharp inflow of foreign currency, which raises the value of the country’s currency, making the country’s other products less price competitive. It is cheaper to import products rather than create them. This makes it more difficult for segments of the economy like agriculture and manufacturing to develop.
Chavez/Maduro sought to diversify the economy. They put in place thousands of communes and hundreds of thousands of people working in cooperatives to build agriculture and manufacturing. When the global price of oil was cut by more than half, it collapsed Venezuela’s public finances undermining these efforts. The economic war by the US made it difficult for Venezuela to borrow and trade with some countries.
Economic sanctions against Venezuela began under President Obama, and the Trump administration escalated them with financial sanctions. United States sanctions cost Venezuela some $6 billion since August, according to an October analysis. Measures against the nation’s oil industry have prohibited the Venezuelan majority-owned company, CITGO, from sending profits back to Venezuela, a $1 billion loss to the government yearly. Now, the Bank of England is refusing to return $1.2 billion in gold reserves after US officials, including Secretary of State Michael Pompeo and National Security Adviser John Bolton, lobbied them to cut Venezuela off from its overseas assets.
The US economic war and sabotage of the economy by business interests has been exposed as part of the effort to remove Maduro by creating social unrest and lack of confidence in the government. This has included hoarding of goods, storing essentials in warehouses and selling Venezuelan goods in Colombia.
In September 2018, Venezuela pointed to a false media campaign exaggerating migration from Venezuela. They highlighted statistics from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to affirm that Venezuela has the fewest volunteer migrants in the continent. They pointed out 5.6 million Colombians have fled violence in their country and live in Venezuela. Venezuela has programs that have helped thousands of Venezuelans return home.
Socialism strengthens economies, as demonstrated in Portugal. Indeed, one criticism of Venezuela is that the Bolivarian Process is moving too slowly to put in place a socialist economy. There is a need for more sectors to be nationalized and put under democratic control of the people.
3. Truth: The opposition is violent, not the Maduro government.
Opposition protesters have been extremely violent. One tactic of the opposition was to be violent and then film the government’s response to make the government look violent. When Abby Martin was confronted by opposition protesters, they told her, “Do not film anything that we do. Just film what the government does to us.” She reported on the violence saying, “the vast majority has been caused by either indirect or direct violence by the opposition.”
Martin reports the opposition attacked hospitals, burned down the Housing Ministry, assassinated Chavistas and attacked citizen communes such as an art commune that gave free dance and music lessons to local children. Afro-Venezuelans were burned alive. Protesters pulled drivers out of buses and torched the buses. When photos and videos of opposition violence were put on social media, Martin and her colleague, Mike Prysner, became the target of a false media campaign on social media. The opposition did all they could to prevent them from reporting the truth using hundreds of death threats and threats they would be lynched.
In 2017, Venezuela Analysis reported that violent opposition protests included an attack on a maternity hospital endangering the lives of more than 50 newborn babies. Another report described the opposition using snipers to shoot government officials and civilians. Opposition newspapers urged that blunt objects be used to “neutralize” pro-government protesters, resulting in serious injuries and death.
Steve Ellner also reported that violence was coming from the opposition. He pointed to attacks at grocery stores, banks, buses, and government buildings. Other commentators described specific incidents of violence by the opposition including killing people. Maduro ordered the arrest of a retired general who tweeted how to use wire to decapitate people on motorcycles, which happened, and how to attack armored vehicles with Molotov cocktails.
Documents show that violence was the opposition’s strategy. They sought to “Create situations of crisis in the streets that will facilitate US intervention, as well as NATO forces, with the support of the Colombian government. Whenever possible, the violence should result in deaths or injuries.”
The tales of government violence are rooted in lies. The government’s response was Maduro calling for a peace conference describing it as “a national peace conference with all the country’s political sectors … so we Venezuelans can try to neutralize violent groups.”
4. Truth: The National Assembly acted in violation of the law and is in contempt of court.
The National Assembly is not the only democratic body in Venezuela. Indeed, its actions since the opposition won a majority have violated the law and protected the violence of the opposition with an embarrassing amnesty bill.
On December 6, 2015, the opposition won a parliamentary majority in the Assembly. There were allegations of vote buying in Amazonas state that were investigated by the National Electoral Council, another branch of the government. The Supreme Court barred four legislators from Amazonas taking office, two from the opposition, one allied with the opposition and one from the ruling party. The National Assembly allowed three candidates to take office. The Assembly has been held in contempt of court since July 2016 and their decisions were nullified.
Before the court ruling, the Assembly passed an amazing amnesty law, which granted amnesty for crimes the opposition has committed since 1999 (Chavez’ election). The law is an admission of guilt and provides a well-organized catalog of crimes including felonies, crimes committed at public rallies, terrorist acts involving explosives and firearms and undermining the economy. They essentially admitted exactly what Chavez/Maduro have claimed — crimes to overthrow the government for 17 years. Venezuela’s Supreme Court ruled the amnesty law was unconstitutional. Inaccurately, the Trump administration calls the Assembly Venezuela’s only remaining democratic institution.
This January, a subsidiary of the state oil company asked the Assembly to intervene claiming the president cannot make reforms to mixed public-private oil businesses without the prior approval of the National Assembly. On January 16, the court ruled that the Assembly was still in contempt of court and could not act. This is also when the Assembly elected Juan Guaidó as their president, who would later appoint himself President of Venezuela, as part of the US-led coup. Guaidó’s election to head the legislature was illegal and nullified by the court.
The Assembly still exists but remains in a state of contempt of the judiciary. It can rectify the situation by removing the lawmakers accused of electoral fraud. The Assembly refuses to do so because their goal is to remove Maduro from office and they need a super-majority to do so.
A Timeline of the US Coup in Venezuela
In “Anti-Maduro Coalition Grew from Secret Talks,” the Associated Press explains the coup was “only possible because of strong support from the Trump administration, which led a chorus of mostly conservative Latin American governments that immediately recognized Guaidó.”
Since August 2017, Donald Trump has been saying that military interventionagainst Venezuela was a distinct possibility. AP describes this as a “watershed moment” in the coup planning. They report Trump pressuring aides and Latin American countries to invade Venezuela. In September, the New York Times reported that the Trump administration had been meeting with coup plotters since mid-2017.
The Wall Street Journal reports Trump has long viewed Venezuela as one of his top-three foreign policy priorities, with Iran and North Korea. Trump requested a briefing on Venezuela on his second day in office, talking of the immense potential of Venezuela to become a rich nation through its oil reserves. AP reports that Trump “personally sparked” this as he brought up regime change in Venezuela in every meeting with Latin American leaders.
After Maduro was re-elected, administration plans began taking shape, driven in part by key members in the National Security Council and anti-Maduro advocates in Congress like extreme interventionist Senator Marco Rubio.
On November 1, John Bolton zeroed in on Latin America, calling Cuba, Nicaragua, and Venezuela a “troika of tyranny.” On January 2, Bolton met with his Brazilian and Colombian counterparts to collaborate to “return Venezuela to its democratic heritage.”
On January 10, Maduro was sworn in for his second term, Pompeo spoke with opposition leader Guaidó, pledging support. Canada also played a key role, AP reports that Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland spoke to Guaidó the night before Maduro’s inauguration offering Canada’s support. This was 13 days before Guaidó announced he was president of Venezuela.
On January 12, the State Department backed Guaidó’s move to invoke his authority as president of the assembly, saying, “It is time to begin the orderly transition to a new government.” On January 15, the National Assembly declared Maduro as illegitimate. The Trump administration worked to get allies lined up to support Guaidó’. By January 18, the Venezuela Foreign Minister was describing a US coup in progress.
The night before Guaidó’s announcement on January 23, Vice President Mike Pence put out a video message encouraging Venezuelans to overthrow their government, saying, “We are with you. We stand with you, and we will stay with you.” Guaidó also received a phone call from Pence the night before he appointed himself president where he pledged that the U.S. would back Guaidó.
Guaidó declared that Maduro’s government was illegitimate and he was assuming the presidency. In a well-coordinated charade, almost instantly, Trump recognized Guaidó as the country’s rightful leader. To further demonstrate the preconceived, tightly coordinated and efficiently carried out the coup, US allies, among them Canada, Brazil, Argentina, Colombia, Chile, and Peru, quickly recognized the coup president.
The Trump administration is claiming Guaidó represents the lawful government and is entitled to all Venezuelan revenues. The State Department notified the Federal Reserve that Guaidó is the agent for access to Venezuelan assets in US banks.
Nearly as quickly, Maduro drew statements of support from Russia, China, Turkey, Mexico, Cuba, Bolivia, and others. The Venezuelan Supreme Court called for an investigation into the National Assembly and Guaidó, regarding the illegal usurpation of Executive power. The Venezuelan military announced it supported Maduro and Russia warned the US not to intervene militarily.
On January 25, the Organization of American States, which is traditionally a US tool, rejected a resolution to recognize Guaidó. Medea Benjamin of CODE PINK interrupted Pompeo at the OAS holding a sign that said: “a coup is not a democratic transition!” Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza thanked Benjamin, saying, “With her protest, she revealed the macabre coup plan against Venezuela, we will always prevail, thank you!” Eighteen countries defeated the proposal.
At the UN Security Council meeting on January 26, Russia’s UN Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia accused the United States of attempting “to engineer a coup d’etat.” He demanded to know whether the Trump administration “is ready to use military force” against Venezuela. European countries gave Venezuela eight days to hold an election, a suggestion Venezuela rejected. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called Venezuela an “illegitimate mafia state.” He accused Russia and China of trying “to prop up Maduro.”
Both China and Russia have told the US not to intervene in Venezuela’s internal affairs. In December, Russia sent two nuclear-capable strategic Tu-160 bombers to Venezuela along with an An-124 heavy military transport plane and an II-62 long-haul plane. As of December, Russia has one brigade in Venezuela and was discussing sending a second military brigade to Venezuela even before the coup due to the continued threat of intervention from the United States.
China has lent over $50 billion to Venezuela through oil-for-loan agreements over the past decade and has become a partner in the Venezuelan oil industry. In December, seven months since signing a financial business venture with China, Venezuela’s oil production has doubled to 130,000 barrels per day. The take-over of Venezuela’s oil would also be an attack on China. China and Venezuela signed 28 bilateral strategic cooperation agreements on September 14 in the areas of oil, mining, security, technology, finance, and health.
Demonstrating the nature of the coup president, the first acts that Guaidó took were to seek a loan from the International Monetary Fund, which would put Venezuela in debt to western bankers and under their control, and to privatize the Venezuelan oil industry, which would rob Venezuela of the funds being used to lift up the poor and working class.
The appointment by Mike Pompeo of Elliott Abrams as the person in charge of overseeing operations “to restore democracy in Venezuela” is an ominous sign. It is scandalous and demonstrates the most extreme elements of the US establishment are leading the charge. Abrams was convicted during the Iran-Contra scandal, supported US-backed death squads in Guatemala and El Salvador in the 1980s, played a key role in the Reagan administration support for the murderous Contras in Nicaragua and was the person who gave approval for the US-backed coup in Venezuela in 2002.
Analyst Vijay Prashad writes the coup violated the charters of the United Nations and of the Organisation of American States and describes efforts to call on the military to rise up against the government have failed. The Trump administration is now threatening a total oil embargo on Venezuela and is leaving the “military option” open.
The concerted campaign by the US and Canada to install Juan Guaidó as the new ‘self-declared’ interim President of Venezuela has been met with initial failure. Unfortunately, the illegal and undemocratic attempts to destabilize the country and overthrow the democratically-elected President will continue with harmful consequences. The people of Venezuela are rising once again to defend their country against hostile foreign intervention. It is essential that we support them in this fight. Many groups are holding solidarity rallies and issuing statements of support. Find rallies and protests here and here.
While Sanders got all the facts wrong about Venezuela, he did reach the right conclusion: “The United States has a long history of inappropriately intervening in Latin American countries. We must not go down that road again.” People in the United States have an important role to play in supporting Venezuela and defeating the coup.
The Executive Secretariat of the São Paulo Forum expresses its profound rejection of the decision of the Government of Donald Trump, of Canada and of several Latin American countries to support the illegitimate presidency of the opposition Juan Guaidó in Venezuela, contrary to the popular decision expressed in May 2018, when the people democratically elected compañero Nicolás Maduro for the presidency of the country.
The elections of 2018 were legitimate and recognized by various sectors of Venezuelan society, including the opposition. The Venezuelan political-electoral system assures the population a broad voting right and has transparency and verification mechanisms. He was praised by the former president of the United States, Jimmy Carter, and now by the former president of the Spanish government, José Luís Zapatero, who joined the delegations of international electoral accompaniment.
The group that now wants to assume the command of the country is a minority group and does not accept the popular demonstration. This group uses the support of the Trump Government and its puppet governments in the region. Trump has already demonstrated on several occasions that he does not respect the sovereignty of other countries and international agreements, in addition to having attitudes that are openly opposed to peace and dialogue for the resolution of conflicts.
We call the countries of the continent to respect the sovereign decision of the people and the principle of nonintervention.
Together in the São Paulo Forum, we will fight for the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean to reach their full sovereignty and independence!
São Paulo Forum