On Saturday, hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans took to the streets in competing protests both opposing and supporting the government. The day before, President Maduro made an offer to President Obama saying: “Let’s initiate a high-level dialogue and let’s put the truth out on the table.” As you will see below, the United States is a primary player in the opposition to the Maduro government. We doubt President Obama wants the U.S. role exposed, so don’t expect talks between Maduro and Obama anytime soon.
Maduro also called for a peace conference on Wednesday, February 26th, describing it as “a national peace conference with all the country’s political sectors … so we Venezuelans can try to neutralize violent groups.”
This article seeks to address many of the common statements heard from the opposition and the US government about Venezuela because there are so many obviously false statements being made by both.
The US media and elected officials, along with the opposition in Venezuela, commonly call the Maduro government a dictatorship. The facts show the opposite is true as Venezuela is one of the most democratic nations on Earth.
Here are some facts about democracy in Venezuela:
“Regarding the supposed ‘democratic deficit of the Venezuelan regime’, the facts speak for themselves. Since 1998 there have been four national plebiscites, four presidential elections, and eleven parliamentary, regional, and municipal elections. Venezuela is the Latin American country with the highest number of elections and it also has an automatic electoral system (much more modern than Chile’s), described by Jimmy Carter, who has observed 92 elections in all continents, as ‘the best system in the world.’”
The real ‘democratic deficit’ has been shown by the United States and the opposition. In particular, Secretary of State John Kerry, has flown his anti-democracy flag repeatedly when it comes to Venezuela. As Mark Weisbrot recently wrote “when Maduro was elected president and opposition presidential candidate Henrique Capriles claimed that the election was stolen, Kerry refused to recognize the election results. Kerry’s aggressive, anti-democratic posture brought such a strong rebuke from South American governments that he was forced to reverse course and tacitly recognize the Maduro government. (For those who did not follow these events, there was no doubt about the election results.)”
In December 2013, the Maduro government showed even greater strength. They won 58% of the country’s municipalities. Maduro and his allies gained more than 49% of the total vote share versus 43% for the opposition. This means that the right-wing opposition coalition had now lost four national elections in the past 14 months ending with the municipal elections.
The opposition now knows it cannot win elections, so it has taken to trying to remove Maduro and his allies through non-electoral means. Why doesn’t the United States criticize its U.S. allies in Venezuela for being anti-democratic? The oligarchs who are organizing the protests are the ones who have a ‘democracy deficit.’
Democracy in Venezuela is deeper than elections. It includes-worker owned cooperatives that give workers democratic control over the places they work and promotes solidarity, equality and dignity for workers. Hugo Chavez made a big push for cooperatives, creating 100,000 in two years. In addition, democracy goes down to the community level as Venezuelan law empowers local citizens to form community councils to solve problems in their community.
The other issue that is often misrepresented is that there is no opposition media in Venezuela and the government controls the media. The facts show the opposite to be true.
Another falsehood: “Maduro and Chavez have destroyed the economy. Markets do not have essentials and inflation is out of control.”
It is important to understand that the oligarchs, in league with the United States, have been at war with the Chavez-Maduro governments since Chavez was first elected in 1999. One of the consistent strategies they have used has been to undermine the economy. This is a common strategy used by the United States in efforts to foment regime change throughout the world as it has been doing since the 1950s.
In fact, documents released by attorney and journalist Eva Golinger in November 2013 show a plan by representatives of the United States, Colombia and the oligarchs in Venezuela to undermine the economy as part of removing Maduro. The document, titled “Strategic Venezuelan Plan,” was prepared by the Democratic Internationalism Foundation, headed by ex -Colombian president Alvaro Uribe, together with the First Colombia Think Tank and the US Consulting firm, FTI Consulting. The plan was developed during a meeting between representatives from these three organizations, 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 U.S. Agency for International Development for Latin America, Mark Feierstein.
The plan includes a variety of steps to undermine the Venezuelan economy. It includes efforts “to maintain and increase the sabotages that affect public services, particularly the electrical system that will enable responsibility to be placed on the government for supposed inefficiencies and negligence.”
Regarding the scarcity of goods, Golinger writes:
“Throughout the year, Venezuela has experienced problems with the supply of basic products, such as toilet paper, sugar, milk, oil, butter, flour and other food staples. Venezuelan authorities have confiscated tons of these products illegally held inside warehouses belonging to opposition businesses. They have also captured large quantities of these items on the border with Colombia, where they are sold as contraband.”
The purpose of the shortages is to create social unrest and lack of confidence in the government. They describe their goal as “Generating emotion with short messages that reach the largest quantity of people and emphasize social problems, provoking social discontent. Increase problems with supply of basic consumer products.”
Inflation has been a long-term problem in Venezuela that preceded Chavez. Inflation peaked at 103% in 1996 in Venezuela, its average during the years of Hugo Chavez’s government, between 1999 and 2012, has been 26%. Inflation is occurring in part because Venezuela is an oil-dominated economy that imports a lot of their goods rather than manufacturing them in Venezuela. The Chavez-Maduro government has been trying to build other sectors of the society so Venezuela does not have to rely on imports, which would be a long-term solution to the problem. In addition, when there is scarcity of products – created in part by the opposition storing products in warehouses or selling them in Colombia – prices go up as the law of supply and demand dictates.
Another major cause of inflation is currency flight and black market U.S. currency. The Central Bank of Venezuela explained increasing inflation at the end of 2012 and in 2013 saying: “In October 2012 some key variables for the Venezuelan economy began to be altered; the most notable of those being the irrational and speculative increase in the unofficial value of the dollar, which unleashed serious consequences for the national economy going into 2013.”
In December President Maduro attacked the illegal business practice of requesting official rate dollars and then selling these dollars on the black market for a profit, or importing goods and then selling them for far higher than the import price. He describes this as part of the “economic war” by business interests and political opponents to destabilize the economy of Venezuela.
Falsehood #3: The Maduro government controls all of the media so the opposition has no freedom of speech.
Another argument that is being constantly repeated is the supposed lack of freedom of expression and press in Venezuela, once again the numbers speak for themselves:
“80% of the media is private. The three national newspapers (El Universal, El Nacional and Ultimos Noticias) are opposed to the government, especially the first two, and they bring together 90% of the readership. Of the four television channels with national coverage, three of them (Venevision, Globovision, and Televen) are opposition, and likewise bring together 90% of the audience, according to information provided by the company AGB.”
On Friday, February 21, Venezuela revoked the accreditation of CNN’s Caracas-based reporter, Osmary Hernandez, and those of two other CNN journalists sent to Venezuela to cover a wave of opposition marches. While this will be used as an effort to paint Maduro as anti-press, what it really is, is an effort to curtail the false reporting in the corporate media in the United States and Venezuela. CNN continues to report from Venezuela.
Falsehood #4: The Maduro government is reacting with violence against nonviolent protesters
As part of the plan described in documents released by Eva Golinger the opposition seeks 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.” What is being seen the streets of Venezuela is consistent with that strategy.
After the last presidential election, won narrowly by Maduro, Eva Golinger reports that his opponent called for violence: “Capriles refused to accept the results and called his supporters to take to the streets in protest, to ‘get all their rage out.’ During the two days after the elections, 11 government supporters were killed by Capriles’ followers.”
Professor Steve Ellner of the Universidad de Oriente in Puerto La Cruz, Venezuela argues that the cause of the violence is the opposition, not the government. He points out the opposition has been caught killing Venezuelans in the past describing the juxtaposing of images during the 2002 coup against Chavez. The opposition tried to make it look like Chavez was killing Venezuelans, and the US media, including CNN, reported these false images. Later the full images showed it was actually the opposition murdering Venezuelans.
Ellner points to violence used by the opposition in the current upheaval including attacking grocery stores, banks, buses and government buildings. Other commentators have also described specific incidents of violence by the opposition including killing people. Maduro ordered the arrest of a retired general who tweeted out how to use wire to decapitate people (in fact people have been killed and injured by such tactics) on motorcycles and how to attack armored vehicles with Molotov cocktails. Others in the opposition have tweeted about how to use blockades and pouring oil to cause vehicles to crash and catch on fire. (Update: As Of February 24, the retired general is fighting arrest armed with a machine gun in his home.)
This is not to say that there has not been violence by government officials as well, but it is not the way it is portrayed in the media as the government committing violence against protesters. This review of the deaths thus far in Venezuela finds a lot of violence from the opposition and in cases where the government was involved in violence the Maduro government investigating and holding people accountable.
Truth: The United States has been supporting the overthrow of the Venezuelan government since 2002
Eva Golinger reports that the United States has been a consistent funder of the opposition in Venezuela. She writes:
“Over the ten year period, from 2000-2010, US agencies, including the US Agency for International Development (USAID) and its Office for Transition Initiatives (OTI), set up in Caracas in 2002, channeled more than $100 million dollars to opposition groups in Venezuela. The overall objective was regime change.”
During this time Chavez-Maduro have gotten stronger in Venezuelan elections and the opposition has failed to make progress. Golinger reports that the United States has more recently focused on building a youth-protest movement in Venezuela, writing:
“Over one third of US funding, nearly $15 million annually by 2007, was directed towards youth and student groups, including training in the use of social networks to mobilize political activism. Student leaders were sent to the US for workshops and conferences on Internet activism and media networking. They were formed in tactics to promote regime change via street riots and strategic use of media to portray the government as repressive”
Leopoldo Lopez has taken on a leadership role in the current protests. He was recently arrested for inciting violence and calling for the removal of Maduro. Lopez has a long history with the United States and comes from one of the wealthiest families in Venezuela. Lopez was involved in the U.S. backed 2002 coup and received start-up money from the U.S. National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and its offshoots, the International Republican Institute (IRI) and the National Democratic Institute (NDI).
But Lopez’s ties to the United States go back to his time as an undergraduate at Kenyon College in Ohio. Kenyon is known as a training ground for CIA assets, it even has a CIA scholarship program. Kenyon has CIA-friendly professors and the Kenyon Review was even funded by the CIA. Lopez spent five years at Kenyon and then went on to get a Master’s Degree at the JFK School for Government at Harvard. With this history, it not surprising to see him involved in the 2002 coup and in the leadership of the current unrest, while the US is funding his political party and opposition organizing.
Wikileaks exposed the connection between the United States and opposition forces in trying to undermine the government. The documents came from the leaks from Stratfor and show how the CEO of Stratfor sees the U.S. government maneuvering to remove Chavez and how the State Department provides information to a clueless U.S. media.
Recently Wikileaks released 77 diplomatic cables that mention Leopoldo Lopez. In an analysis of those cables, Jake Johnston of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, describes how the U.S. in addition to providing money, has provided guidance and kept the opposition from imploding. Lopez seems to be a very divisive figure in the opposition, not liked by many of his compatriots.
In fact, as Eva Golinger reports, there might not even be an opposition group if it were not for US support. She writes:
“Their continued dependence on US funding and support – even this year Obama included $5 million in the 2014 Foreign Operations Budget for opposition groups in Venezuela – is a ongoing sign of their weakness. As a State Department cable from the US Embassy in Caracas, published by Wikileaks, explained in March 2009, ‘Without our continued assistance, it is possible that the organizations we helped create…could be forced to close…Our funding will provide those organizations a much-needed lifeline.’”
But, with U.S. support, our taxpayer dollars, the opposition continues. And, the United States not only funds the opposition, provides them guidance and strategy assistance, but gets directly involved in seeking to remove the government (while Secretary of State Kerry talks about respecting democracy!). In fact in the last 6 months, President Maduro has expelled 6 U.S. diplomats who were caught working with oligarchs to undermine the economy and with students organizing opposition.
The United States knows that Venezuela is the key to regaining control of Latin America which has broken from U.S. domination. Venezuela is also a leader in challenging the economic policies of the United States which empower private corporations and weaken the power of government to provide services to meet the needs of the people. Putting in place a U.S. friendly government is a top priority for the United States in Latin America.