Rick Sanchez, an anchor for Russia’s RT-America, reported last week of “Signs that the US attempt to change-out presidents in Venezuela may be falling flat.” He was speaking about the in-plain-sight US coup attempt unfolding on the northern coast of South America against the elected president of Venezuela. Lucas Koerner, a reporter with Venezuela Analysis, told RT there was “an eerie calm” in Caracas. “Life continues as normal,” he said. Juan Guaido, the man out-of-nowhere the Trump administration anointed as “the legitimate president of Venezuela” first appeared on a Wednesday, then was not seen in public until Friday. Koerner emphasized the complexities: President Nicolas Maduro is, indeed, not very popular among the Venezuelan people, but Donald Trump and the United States, given its history in Latin America, is even more unpopular. A recent poll revealed that 70% of Venezuelans disapprove of the opposition-controlled National Assembly that elected a 35-year-old US-educated nobody its president. It has been reported that Guaido was never even a full-fledged member of the legislative body; he was an alternate deputy. The reason for his ascendancy to be Venezuela’s “legitimate president” is simple, according to Diego Sequera, a Venezuelan writer with the investigative publication Mision Verdad: Guaido is a handsome young man with no problematic background, which makes him marketable to a US audience. He’s the classic expendable puppet.
[ Juan Guaido, the “legitimate” president of Venezuela? ]
Guaido was an energetic young activist seen in many anti-Chavez and anti-Maduro demonstrations, such as the violent demonstrations called guarimbas or violent fortresses. “Around 43 were killed during the 2014 guarimbas,” according to Gray Zone writers Dan Cohen and Max Blumenthal. “Three years later, they erupted again, causing mass destruction of public infrastructure, the murder of government supporters, and the deaths of 126 people, many of whom were Chavistas.” There’s even an online image of what appears to be the new “legitimate president of Venezuela” dropping his pants in a demonstration with other men in a common youthful gesture of disrespect. (The hairline in the photo — a rear view — seems to be Guaido’s hairline.) The point is, US mainstream media entities like The New York Times (which I often defend to my leftist friends) never cover, or factor in, this kind of political puppetry. If you only read the Times, you’d think Guaido was a Venezuelan statesman with great gravitas.
As someone I can’t recall put it, the problem in Venezuela is not socialism — it’s sabotage. It’s gone on for years and even included a 2002 failed coup. If these kinds of insurrectionary actions happened in the United States, people would be gassed and gunned down in the streets by police and the 82nd Airborne. All this is covered thoroughly in a Cohen/Blumenthal article in Gray Zone called “The Making of Juan Guaidó: How the US Regime Change Laboratory Created Venezuela’s Coup Leader”.
[ Which very flawed man will be honored in the future by his citizens? ]
This coup attempt is nothing really new, considering classics like the 1954 US coup in Guatemala. The difference is this one is being played out in a 21st century, internet-saturated world of the i-phone, social media swarm. We’re all stressed for time and lost in a world-wide information explosion that overwhelms. The whole ever-shifting process ironically contributes to huge areas of ignorance. The realities of poverty in a place like Venezuela is one of those areas of exploitable ignorance. The story most North Americans get is that Hugo Chavez was a “socialist” (ie. a bad guy) and his successor is also a “socialist” and incompetent, which makes him a really bad guy. Meanwhile, the rich and complex history of the bottom-up Hugo Chavez driven Bolivarian Revolution is lost in the relentless moneyed and sexy drive for power among top-down oligarchic interests in both Venezuela and the United States.
This horror-story carnival is rife with absurdities and ironies. One of the most interesting is that while our US mainstream media are doing a typically rotten job covering the real story in Venezuela, Russia Today or RT is doing some of the best, fairest coverage on the web. I’m not a Russia fan, but the RT coverage of Russia’s friend Venezuela makes CNN and MSNBC look like instruments of US propaganda. RT reports that most Venezuelans understand only too well their nation is in a god-awful mess desperately in need of change, but they make it clear the mess can’t be solved by a US intervention undertaken by Donald Trump and his gang that can’t shoot straight. Just consider what it means when a large, water-buffalo-like Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announces by Twitter video that the US is recognizing Juan “Guido” as the legitimate president of Venezuela. Guido? As in the epithet for greasy Italians? The man’s name is Guaido, which is pronounced in Spanish why-doe. (I can now see Christian Bale fattening up even more from his role as Dick Cheney in Vice to play the plodding Pompeo in a thriller to be called The Guido Insurrection.)
The cast of characters for this insidious cluster-fornication starts with Florida Senator Marco Rubio, Trump’s “little Marco,” a member of the rabidly anti-Castro Cuban community in Miami, Then there’s Pompeo, number one in his West Point class with five years service in the peacetime tank corps, congressman from Kansas and a stint as CIA director; an evangelical Christian, Pompeo is a civilian militarist with the corpulent, blitzkrieg spirit of Ariel Sharon. John Bolton is a far-right zealot, a former UN ambassador and now the sender of military threats via semiotic scribbles of possible troop deployments on his yellow legal pad as he spoke at a White House podium. And last but certainly not least, there’s the odious Elliot Abrams, designated go-to man for the mission, pardoned criminal convicted in the Iran-Contra debacle and eager, perennial brewer of Latin American coups; Abrams is always only an email away, lurking under a rock in a dank State Department basement office. Besides his criminal conviction in the Iran-Contra episode, Abrams was closely aligned with the coup that ousted Chavez for 48 hours in 2002. It collapsed thanks to the purity of its malignancy.
In Latin America, the top-down/bottom-up struggle is an eternal, archetypal conflict. That means it’s complicated, something too many North Americans have been weaned to avoid — especially when history and science are a waste of time and politics is reduced to 140-characters. At its best, this eternal struggle between the rich and the poor is addressed as a structural challenge where the solution is an on-going dialogue leading to a mixed economy that accepts free-enterprise, personal incentive and private property as it also provides education, health-care and safety nets for the poor. Live and let live, where the dignity of all people, rich and poor, is a pursued goal. What we have, instead, in Venezuela is the worst kind of toxic, violent polarization with no way out. Thanks to the Trump regime-change plot, violence seems inevitable. The US media does nothing but help fuel the potential violence; even the “politically incorrect” Bill Maher has tooted like a patriotic moron in support of the coup.
Hugo Chavez’s Legacy and the Perennial Struggle
In any serious discussion of the Trump administration’s regime-change gambit in Venezuela one has to concede that Hugo Chavez’s legacy in Venezuela currently lies in shambles; the nation is in desperate need of rescue, for some kind of constructive synthesis. Meanwhile, the absolute worst possible scenario (the equivalent of hosing gasoline on a fire) is now in play and unfolding, a tiresome, classic imperial coup updated to the i-phone-swarm, Twitter age, pretty much the exact same thing the US has criticized Vladimir Putin for in Crimea and Ukraine. To round this absurd circle, Putin and Russia have warned the US to stay out of Venezuela, just like the US warned Russia to stay out of Ukraine. But this is the Tweeting 21st century — not 1954 Guatemala where mind-messing tactics were used to bamboozle Guatemalans as the coup became a fait accompli. Everything now is either secret or so intentionally confused by willful obfuscation and lies that citizens don’t know whether to spit or go blind. They’ve learned to shrug and go about their business consuming, playing with their i-phones and fantasizing about their inner superhero garnered from the tsunami of special-effects epics drowning the culture. For all we know, Trump and his bromance pal Putin have communicated secretly (no one really knows what they talked about in Helsinki) agreeing to criticize each other and demonize each other’s nations as they give each other a personal green light to strong-arm errant little nations in their respective spheres of interest. We’re all subject to the art of the deal, a Trump arena where bankruptcy means personal opportunity.
The way the right exploits the wreckage in Venezuela is insidious because those same right-wing elements and their allies in Venezuela helped create the problem in the first place. Back in the ‘80s, the Reagan strategy against the Sandinistas in Nicaragua was to cause enough havoc and suffering to create an untenable situation that amounted to a bad example for other “shithole countries” considering social reforms at the expense of US hegemonic capitalism. Besides this, by raising the frustration and fury level inside Venezuela, the coup attempt contributes to the possibility of the demonized Maduro regime doing something stupid like harming a US ambassador or other US citizen — thus, creating a casus belli, an act that justifies sending in the Marines or some under-the-radar 21st century equivalent of that imperialistic mantra.
I spent time in the ‘80s and early ‘90s as a documentary photographer in Nicaragua and El Salvador, during the Contra war in the former and, in the latter, the war to put down the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front, better known as the FMLN, the Salvadoran guerrilla organization founded in 1980. The FMLN was not rooted in Stalinist communism, as the virulent propaganda would have it. It was a reaction to history, to the relentless oppression of Salvadoran peasantry by the wealthy that reached back to the famous Matanza (massacre) of January 22, 1932. Fed-up peasants whose land had been stolen over the decades began to speak out and protest, and thousands were slaughtered in a matter of days. Today, Salvadoran peasants don’t wear native clothing (as they still do in Guatemala) because that’s how they were identified by the killers who gunned them down in large numbers. The unforgettable event was just honored (like the Jewish holocaust) by the FMLN political party in El Salvador, which elected its first national president, Maurico Funes, in 2010. I attended Funes’ inauguration. That’s how the long war against the so-called Fourteen Families and other elements of Salvador’s repressive upper classes ended, with a war-weary stalemate and the election of an FMLN candidate to the highest office in the land. While the war may be over and the FMLN still holds the presidency, the struggle between rich and poor continues like a perennial dance.
If the Trump bully capitalist coup is successful in driving Venezuela to ruin and regime change, I would bet good money that won’t be the end of the story. There will be no triumphant Mission Accomplished high-five event with a fly-in on an aircraft carrier. Given the strong support for Hugo’s Bolivarian Revolution and the deep historic disdain for US imperial intervention, I’m convinced resistance will grow and evolve into an insurgency that, if there’s enough of an escalation of US-supported violence, could evolve into an intense and furious reaction not unlike a Latin American ISIS. Push people too far and they explode.
Based on my experience and study over the years, I can envision the rise of a force called the Hugo Chavez National Liberation Front. The perennial struggle between rich and poor will re-set and come full circle. As in El Salvador, after years, maybe decades, of hate and horrific violence, the war-weariness phase will set in and the two struggling elements will reluctantly come to some kind of shaky peace that will essentially be an agreement to keep the struggle below the status of all-out warfare. But this is imaginative fiction based on the pattern recognition capacity of a jaundiced 71-year-old leftist who still admires the great but flawed Hugo Chavez.
We Gringos Need To Get Venezuela Right
In 2007, I was on Hugo Chavez’s Alo Presidente radio show; a friend and I were traveling in Venezuela and, through connections we made, ended up being invited onto the president’s radio show, which was broadcast every Sunday from the Presidential Palace or from somewhere in the hinterlands. The show we were on lasted eight hours without a break. The whole time, Chavez held forth from a small wooden desk in the front of a studio auditorium in total control of the show like a Johnny Carson. My friend and I were two audience members among many international guests that Chavez, a man with a rich sense of humor and wit, identified and chatted up from his little desk. “John Grant es un periodista,” he said as he introduced me. I said something like I supported the ambitions of the Venezuelan people for freedom and dignity, something I stand by.
The man was charismatic and, most important, fearless, a man who came from, and sided with, the poor as he worked his way up the ranks of the military. Where he went wrong was being so strong in his determination to obtain justice for the poor that he failed to take the long view and make necessary compromises with the entrenched wealth that remained powerful and in control of institutions in the culture. And, no doubt, there was some corruption. Leaders on the right in Venezuela and in the US have no interest in dialogue or pragmatic political synthesis; all they want is a pro-capitalist government friendly to the rich ready to ignore or exploit the poor. Both sides in this eternal top-down / bottom-up struggle are forced to live together in a country like Venezuela; the problem comes when both sides want absolute control of the other side.
Center-right columnist Brett Stephens of The New York Times is a classic example of the standard mainstream media Venezuela coverage in North America. He has given us a column titled “Yes, Venezuela Is a Socialist Catastrophe” in which he pushes all the tired old buttons and employs the word socialism enough times to choke a red-diaper baby with his own diapers. He goes wrong first in the title. Sure, we can all agree Venezuela is a “catastrophe,” but his column could just as legitimately have been titled, “Yes, Venezuela Is a Capitalist Catastrophe.” But not in The New York Times.
Anyone who would take an unknown 35-year-old, US-educated Venezuelan — a man who never got enough votes to become a full member of the Assembly he was suddenly made president of because of his attractive mestizo profile — and palm him off as the “legitimate” president of Venezuela is clearly not concerned about what’s good for the people of Venezuela. What the coup leaders are doing is what’s good for their interests. The stupid audacity of it all reminds one of the lying spy asset Curveball and the foisting of Ahmed Chalabi as the legitimate president of a US-liberated Iraq. Remember all that?
I agree with Stephens when he says the fundamental problem in Venezuela is “human nature,” especially the inclination “for people to find loopholes and workarounds to keep as much of their property as they can.” But, typically, such a statement needs to be parsed. Property rights are, indeed, important and need to be protected. But let’s not conveniently forget power and greed, major aspects of the “human nature” Stephens says is the fundamental problem in Venezuela. First off, greed is clearly a dominant personal trait of the current president of the United States, the guy in whose name this regime change is being undertaken. When you analyze the property claims of many rich and powerful elements in Latin America vis-a-vis the poor (think of the “fourteen families” in El Salvador), a lot of those property “rights” are based on the historic taking of the best land from the poor and the greed to never have enough of it. Raised in poverty, Hugo understood this. It’s where his incredible populist power came from; it’s where his fearless sense of mission came from. It was an impulse toward justice.
What the clown-show of predators and right-wing zealots behind this coup-in-plain-sight may not realize and what may end up biting them in the ass is the spirit of Hugo Chavez that still lives in the barrios spread over the hillsides of Caracas like colorful tufted blankets surrounding the capitalist urban center. Donald Trump doesn’t have the mojo to bamboozle the residents of these barrios; all he can do is make their lives that much worse.