Friday, February 22, 2019

Standing by Venezuela and Why!

Hugo Chavez, Nicolas Maduro, and their movement in Venezuela, are characterized as socialist demagogic authoritarians who have brought the country to economic disaster. Complaints about authoritarianism and the quashing of dissent ring hollow when the US just conducted a major sales deal with Saudi Arabia, a repressive monarchy that only months ago had one of its most prominent critics, journalist Jamal Khashoggi, killed in Turkey.

Never mind the “Lost Decade” of the 1980s or the extensive corruption scandals of the 1990s, creating the breakdown that made the rise of Chavez possible. Pre-Chavez Venezuela is presented as stable and prosperous, and while it was before the 1980s, most of its population lived in poverty like most capitalist countries in the underdeveloped world, while only a privileged few enjoyed the benefits of the country’s oil riches. Chavez’s cardinal crime was to direct those riches toward helping the poor, which even his critics admit he did.

The real victims here are the ordinary people of Venezuela. Whether Maduro goes or stays, the classes at war within the country will not be pacified, especially with the US stoking the fires until it gets the outcome it wants: a return to the plunder of Venezuelan resources to fuel US industries while most Venezuelans wallow in misery.

A Reuters news article on 1 February said that the US, Canada and several Latin American governments claim Venezuelan president Nicolás Maduro “stole his second-term election” in May 2018. It’s worth recalling that, in Brazil, the election of fascist Jair Bolsonaro was recognized by the governments that now refuse to recognize Maduro, even though former Brazilian president Lula da Silva (who would have had a superb chance to win) was disqualified and imprisoned based on extremely dubious corruption allegations. Moreover, unlike Capriles and López, da Silva was not involved with several US-backed efforts to violently overthrow the government.

The allegation Maduro stole the election doesn’t make sense. It is remarkable to see the Western media dismiss this election as “fraudulent”, without even attempting to show that it was “stolen” from Falcón. Perhaps that’s because it so clearly wasn’t stolen. Yet Trump and a new Iraq-style Coalition of the Willing have recognized an opposition legislator--Juan Guaidó--as Venezuela’s interim president.

Guaidó didn’t even run in Venezuela’s May 2018 presidential election. In fact, shortly before the election, Guaidó was not even mentioned by the opposition-aligned pollster Datanálisis, the opposition-aligned pollster the international media has cited the most for nearly two decades, when it published approval ratings of various prominent opposition leaders. According to Venezuelan pollster Datanálisis before the election. Henri Falcón, a well known politician and former two-term governor of the Lara state (2008-2017), was tied with López for top stop in popularity among opposition leaders, and actually did run in the election (defying US threats against him). Falcón finished a very distant second in that election, over four million votes (47%) behind Maduro. Nobody has shown or even attempted to show that any votes, never mind millions of votes, were stolen from Falcón.

In Venezuela’s electoral system, any amount of ballot stuffing is detectable in any contested election. That’s why, in 2012, Jimmy Carter said the electoral system was the best in the world. That soundness of the electoral system helps to explain the vitriol Falcón received from other Maduro opponents over his decision to run in the election. US officials threatened Falcón with sanctions if he ran. During the campaign, one of Falcón’s top advisors became exasperated enough to publicly ask the opposition party Voluntad Popular (Guaidó’s party) to “stop spreading lies” that a secret pact existed between Maduro and Falcón. Ballot stuffing aside, an election can be grossly unfair in other ways. Much was made about two prominent opposition candidates who were disqualified from running--Leopoldo López and Henrique Capriles.

Was Falcón denied access to media coverage during the election? No. He and his economic advisor, Francisco Rodríguez, travelled all over the country and appeared on Venezuela’s top private TV networks, where they lashed out at Maduro. In fact, Falcón launched his campaign with a 35-minute speech on Venezuelan state TV, in which he skewered Maduro as the “hunger candidate” who had turned the people into impoverished “slaves”.

After Falcón lost, he then insisted on a new vote, despite having passionately urged people to vote because he had obtained electoral guarantees. The election was moved back by a month as demanded. His allegation was that the government had bribed voters at puntos rojos (tents set up near electoral centers which are used for exit polling). But there are gaping holes in that story:
1. votes are secret in Venezuela, so offers of a chance at a prize or other inducements at these puntos rojos can, at best, increase turnout, but not the government’s share of the vote;
2. there were four different groups of observers who monitored the election, and they concluded it was clean. Their reports are available;
3. economic sanctions and threats by the US government were a massive attempt to sway the electorate--to send the message that voting for Maduro will bring intensified economic sanctions (which, in addition to being illegal, were already killing people). This US interference in Venezuela’s election makes a joke of the alleged Russian collusion with Trump in the 2016 presidential election that has received so much frenzied media attention.

So why wasn’t Falcón "recognized" by Trump? What’s the argument for Trump anointing Guaidó? The US recognizes the 2015 national assembly election won by the opposition, as it would have recognized the 2018 presidential election had Falcón won. And part of article 233 of the Venezuelan constitution says that if the president “abandons” his post, the president of the national assembly takes over until new elections are held. Guaidó was very recently named the national assembly president. The constitutional argument that Trump and his accomplices have used to “recognize” Guaidó rests on the preposterous claim that Maduro has “abandoned” the presidency by soundly beating Falcón in the election. Caracas-based journalist Lucas Koerner took apart that argument in more detail. But, Maduro did not "abandon" the presidency by soundly beating Henri Falcón in a clean election that was marred, if anything, by murderous US interference. It’s also clear that Trump (and his Iraq-style "coalition of the willing" to oust Maduro) is not Venezuela’s Supreme Court.

What about the Miami Herald‘s claim that Maduro “continues to reject international aid”? In November 2018, following a public appeal by Maduro, the UN did authorize emergency aid for Venezuela. It was even reported by Reuters (11/26/18), whose headlines have often broadcast the news agency’s contempt for Maduro’s government. It’s not unusual for Western media to ignore facts they have themselves reported when a major “propaganda blitz” by Washington is underway against a government. For example, it was generally reported accurately in 1998 that UN weapons inspectors were withdrawn from Iraq ahead of air strikes ordered by Bill Clinton, not expelled by Iraq’s government. But by 2002, it became a staple of pro-war propaganda that Iraq had expelled weapons inspectors.

And, incidentally, when a Venezuelan NGO requested aid from the UN-linked Global Fund in 2017, it was turned down. Setting aside how effective foreign aid is at all (the example of Haiti hardly makes a great case for it), it is supposed to be distributed based on relative need, not based on how badly the US government wants somebody overthrown. But the potential for “aid” to alleviate Venezuela’s crisis is negligible compared to the destructive impact of US economic sanctions. Near the end of Wyss’ article, he cited an estimate from the thoroughly demonized Venezuelan government that US sanctions have cost it $30 billion, with no time period specified for that estimate.

The Miami Herald could have cited economists independent of the Maduro government on the impact of US sanctions—like US economist Mark Weisbrot, or the emphatically anti-Maduro Venezuelan economist, Francisco Rodríguez. National Security Advisor John Bolton announced that the US will freeze Venezuelan assets and block oil payments for Venezuelan oil imports to the US. This would not only be illegal, but would also be yet another crippling blow to the country, says co-director of the Center for Economic Policy Research (CEPR)’s Mark Weisbrot

Economist Francisco Rodriguez, who’s the economist who probably knows the Venezuelan economy better than anyone in the world-–he’s chief economist at Torino Capital, a Wall Street investment banking firm, and he had estimated that the economy would shrink 11 percent a year, but upped that to 26 per cent shrinkage of the economy this year, which is Great Depression levels. It would destroy what’s left of the economy, and it would kill a lot of people. The embargo has already killed many Venezuelans, because this is the source of dollars for the Venezuelan economy, and that’s what’s used to import medicines. You know, when when the government had money there were about $2 billion worth of medicines being imported, and the sanctions already took $6 billion out of oil production. And this would knock off about, again, the decision to recognize the parallel government would knock about half of their oil revenue off over the next year. So the numbers we’re talking about are enormous. They’re basically all the remaining imports that the country could have. So for sure that will kill a lot of people if they actually do it.

It’s all illegal, of course. The sanctions that Trump imposed in August of 2017, or you can go back further to the Obama sanctions in March of 2015, the sanctions have always been illegal under the OAS Charter, under the UN Charter, under the treaties that the US has, various international conventions that the US is a party to. And also under US law, because the president has to state in order to impose these sanctions in the executive orders going back to 2015, both Obama and Trump, have had to say that, under our law, that Venezuela poses an unusual and extraordinary threat. To the national security of the United States, which everyone knows is false. And so on that basis it’s really not even legal under US law, because the president is stating something false in order to comply with the law.

What can they do to without some help from other countries?--what can they do to make up for this kind of terrible blow to the economy? That’s the purpose of it. You know, for the past year or two, or more, there has been this narrative in the media that all of this is directed to pressure the Maduro government, the Venezuelan government, to do certain things. Now, the latest has been to hold new elections. Previously it was other demands.

But this was never true. The purpose has always been to increase the suffering in Venezuela to the point where the government’s popularity falls so much that the military intervenes, or somehow, through violence, the government is overthrown. That’s the–that’s the actual strategy. And it’s, of course, become much clearer now.

The international context is very important. It’s important for people to understand, because the media narrative is kind of a clash of civilizations narrative. On the one side you have this so-called authoritarian government in Venezuela, and you have China, and Russia, and Turkey recognizing the government. And then you have the so-called democratic countries. But the Latin American countries that are aligned with the US are almost all right-wing governments that are doing what the US wants.

And in Europe it’s very interesting, too, because you have now Germany, and France, and the UK, and Spain all with this ultimatum, this eight-day ultimatum. And this was the result of one person, the prime minister of Spain, who some of the other countries, especially Germany, tend to follow on Latin America. Pedro Sanchez, who was opposed to the Trump sanctions, decided to go over to the Trump side. Who knows what the pressure was, or what they offered him.

This is really kind of a coalition of the willing, as in the Iraq war. It’s not this clash of civilizations at all that’s presented in the media. And if you go back to 2013, you can really see this. Because in 2013, Maduro won the election, and there was absolutely no doubt about it whatsoever. No doubt about the vote count, no doubt about the election. And everyone in the world recognized it, except the United States. And at that time they had just the right-wing government of Spain and the head of the OAS. And then those two peeled off, and it was only the US by itself saying this election was not valid and the president was not legitimate. And that–and then they had to give in.

So you see, even when the whole world recognized the election, the US tried to side with the opposition, who was in the streets with violent protests, trying to topple the government even though there were no doubts about the election whatsoever. So this is just–this shows you how fake the whole thing really is. It has nothing to do with elections, or democracy, or this clash of civilizations that they’re creating. It’s just about the same regime change that they’ve been trying to do for 17 years.

Illegal US sanctions were first imposed in 2015 under a fraudulent “state of emergency” declared by Obama, and subsequently extended by Trump. The revenue lost to Venezuela’s government due to US economic sanctions since August 2017, when the impact became very easy to quantify, is by now well over $6 billion. That’s enormous in an economy that was only able to import about $11 billion of goods in 2018, and needs about $2 billion per year in medicines. Trump’s “recognition” of Guaidó as “interim president” was the pretext for making the already devastating sanctions much worse. Last month, Francisco Rodríguez revised his projection for the change in Venezuela’s real GDP in 2019, from an 11 percent contraction to 26 percent, after the intensified sanctions were announced.

The $20 million in US “aid” that the Miami Herald is outraged Maduro won’t let in is a rounding error compared to the billions already lost from Trump’s sanctions. Former US Ambassador to Venezuela William Brownfield, who pressed for more sanctions on Venezuela, dispensed with the standard “humanitarian” cover that US officials have offered for them:
“And if we can do something that will bring that end quicker, we probably should do it, but we should do it understanding that it’s going to have an impact on millions and millions of people who are already having great difficulty finding enough to eat, getting themselves cured when they get sick, or finding clothes to put on their children before they go off to school. We don’t get to do this and pretend as though it has no impact there. We have to make the hard decision—the desired outcome justifies this fairly severe punishment." (Intercept, 2/10/19)

How does this gruesome candor get missed by reporters, and go unreported? Speaking of “severe punishment”, if the names John Bolton and Elliott Abrams don’t immediately call to mind the punishment they should be receiving for crimes against humanity, it illustrates how well the Western propaganda system functions. Bolton, a prime facilitator of the Iraq War, recently suggested that Maduro could be sent to a US-run torture camp in Cuba. Abrams played a key role in keeping US support flowing to mass murderers and torturers in Central America during the 1980s. Also significant that Abrams, brought in by Trump to help oust Maduro, used “humanitarian aid” as cover to supply weapons to the US-backed Contra terrorists in Nicaragua.

In the Miami Herald, the use of US “aid” for military purposes is presented as another allegation made by the vilified Venezuelan president:
“Maduro has repeatedly said the aid is cover for a military invasion and has ordered his armed forces not to let it in, even as food and medicine shortages sweep the country.”

Calling for international aid and being democratically elected will do as little to protect Maduro’s government from US aggression as being disarmed of WMD did to prevent Iraq from being invaded—-unless there is much more pushback from the US public against a lethal propaganda system.

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