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Latin America Venezuela: Under US attack

We should be ready for even more US hostility to Venezuela, writes FRANCISCO DOMINGUEZ

DESPITE winning 22 of 24 elections and referendums since, presidents Hugo Chavez and Nicolas Maduro of Venezuela have faced relentless US hostility and efforts towards “regime” change since 1998.

In this time, the US has substantially broadened the scope of the aggression against Venezuela by employing economic sanctions and systematic efforts to isolate it with false charges of every kind of wrongdoing. Within the US, the emphasis has been on depicting Venezuela as a threat to the security of the region and that of the United States itself.

After the death of President Chavez, the US increased its hostility considerably. Hostile statements against Venezuela made through various channels, agencies and spokespersons steadily increased, from 103 in 2014 to 441 in 2017, with no let-up to be seen yet in 2018.

Against Venezuela’s right-wing opposition’s hopes, the untimely death of President Chavez in 2013 failed to lead to a resumption of their political control when his chosen successor, Nicolas Maduro, was democratically elected president in 2014.

The response by some right-wing opposition forces was a campaign of violence and intimidation whose explicit objective was to oust President Maduro. It lasted five months and left 43 people dead, with private and public property worth millions destroyed.

The US response to this failure to overthrow the elected government was to ratchet up its hostile policy by imposing sanctions. As part of this, President Barack Obama issued an executive order in 2015 “declaring a national emergency with respect to the unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States posed by the situation in Venezuela.”

Right-wing violence against the Venezuelan government erupted again in 2017, accompanied by US-inspired efforts to demonise and isolate the Venezuelan government through the actions and statements of Luis Almagro, secretary-general of the Organisation of American States (OAS). Almagro’s explicit intention was to suspend Venezuela from the OAS by the application of OAS Democratic Charter against the country, as a prelude to external intervention. Like the resurgent right-wing campaign of violence, this also failed.

Faced with this repeated failure when it comes to US-financed efforts by Venezuela’s right-wing opposition to overthrow the government, the US seems to have decided to take a more central role in the strategy of “regime change.” As part of this, the US has increased the use of unilateral sanctions against Venezuela, violating international law.

Following President Donald Trump’s renewal of the 2015 executive order declaring Venezuela a threat to US national security, further rounds of sanctions have been imposed against Venezuela in February 2017, May 2017, July 2017, August 2017, November 2017 and March 2018.

The sanctions include those aimed at restricting Venezuelan access to the US financial system, prohibiting a range of transactions related to new debt or equity of Venezuela, Venezuelan bonds, dividend payments and such like. The sanctions target the government, the state oil company PDVSA, and other entities owned or controlled by the government as well as persons in the US or US citizens. The intention is to strangle Venezuela financially.

A step-change in the US’s 19-year-long policy of aggression came in August 2017 with Trump’s statement he would not “rule out the military option,” thus signifying the possibility of “regime change” through US military action.

Other US politicians have joined in. In February, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson suggested that President Maduro might be removed by a military coup. In the same month, US Senator Marco Rubio openly called for the military to overthrow President Maduro, saying: “The world would support the armed forces in Venezuela if they decide to protect the people and restore democracy by removing a dictator.”

Underpinning these aggressive words is an unusually large number of military exercises that the US has undertaken jointly with a number of Latin American countries. The overall intention, it would appear, is to intimidate the administration in Venezuela, while also preparing the ground for possible future military intervention against the Venezuelan government.

In case there is any doubt as to the US administration’s policy direction, Trump has appointed Mike Pompeo, ex-director of the CIA, as his new secretary of state, who promptly visited all 10 US military bases in Colombia. He also met the Colombian High Command and Colombia’s President, Juan Manuel Santos, whose hostility against Venezuela has substantially increased in the recent period.

Additionally, Trump has appointed John Bolton as his National Security Adviser. A recent opinion article in the New York Times describes him thus: “Over a 30-year career in which he served three Republican presidents, including as United Nations ambassador and the State Department’s top arms control official, Mr Bolton has largely disdained diplomacy and arms control in favour of military solutions.”

Recent testimony by Admiral Kurt Tidd, head of the US Southern Command, to the US Senate armed forces committee in February 2018 confirms the moves towards a war footing: “As the political, economic, and humanitarian crisis in Venezuela worsens by the day … The next few months will likely prove critical, with a presidential election, continued economic deterioration, and widespread shortages of medicine, food, electricity, and consumer goods … Across the regional security network, we continue to build capability, capacity, and interoperability, expand information sharing, and deepen linkages with the many committed and capable partners we have in the region.”

Thus, in the coming period, especially after the presidential elections scheduled for Sunday, May 20, Venezuela faces the prospect of grave assaults against its sovereignty, including the possibility of a US military attack. Your solidarity will be needed more than ever.

You can hear eyewitness accounts from international observers to the Venezuelan elections at the Venezuela Solidarity Day School — “The Empire Strikes Back in Latin America” on June 9 — with other speakers including Chris Williamson MP, Kate Hudson of CND and author Richard Gott. Tickets and info at http://bit.ly/USempirestrikesback

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