Thursday, February 27, 2014

The Urgency Of Venezuela

"Creo que la mano, la mano invisible de los Estados Unidos, está involucrado en la crisis venezolana. El presidente Obama debe indicar en palabras claras de que Estados Unidos se opone a cualquier intento de un golpe de Estado y los Estados Unidos no va a apoyar directa oindirectamente. Las fuerzas anti-Maduro están actuando para desestabilizar y finalmente derrocar al gobierno de Maduro, que nunca ha sido vencer en las urnas. Los Estados Unidos no debe fomentar este proceso por medio de palabras o acciones, a la intemperie o en secreto." - Tom Hayden, on Telesur, February 25, 2014.

By Tom Hayden

Beaver County Peace Links

It's difficult to grasp the facts behind the murky fog of Venezuelan crisis. Based more or less on intuitions, but also credible documents, some blame most of the crisis on the CIA. Some national security types, abhorring populism, claim that the Venezuela state is consolidating dictatorial power precisely by winning so many elections! Others, while friendly to Venezuela, blame the Caracas government for failing to address the problems of violent crime and economic malaise.

President Barack Obama may or may not know what various US operatives are doing. We have seen evidence of a "state within the state" before, going back as far as the CIA's operations against Cuba. In Obama's time, the president correctly named the 2009 coup in Honduras a "coup", and then seemed powerless to prevent it. At his first Summit of the Americas, a friendly Obama shook the hand of Hugo Chavez before Obama's top adviser tried to sabotage the warming of relations. 

Call me naive, but I do not believe President Obama wants to see President Maduro overthrown. Chaos would follow. The US would be blamed. Relations with Latin America would freeze below zero. The president probably thinks Maduro should thrash in his own domestic contradictions. 

But there's another US "government", a secret network that works tirelessly to undermine any Latin American threat to the dominance of American capital and military power. They understand that the president must be provided with "plausible deniability", and so they keep Obama out of the loop. Sometimes they operate through the CIA, sometimes under Republican-Democratic "democracy promotion" programs, sometimes through third parties such as the Florida-based FTI Consulting. Democratic Party political consultants and pollsters have worked for Venezuela's opposition. It's difficult even for a president to keep a grip on it all. And that being the case, transparency disappears for the US Congress and public.

Obama's public statements this week certainly gave moral support to the street demonstrations. While also including a vague call for "dialogue", Obama is playing with fire. Obama immediately needs to rein in the entire entourage of US-supported agents of destabilization and issue them a clear cease-and-desist order, or he and the US government will be blamed for what may happen in the weeks ahead. He needs request and support whatever consensus emerges this week from the region's elected governments and the United Nations.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Don’t Push Ukraine to 'Go East or Go West'

Fire is seen at the Independence Square, the main site where protesters had camped, in Kiev, Ukraine, Feb. 19, 2014. [Photo/Xinhua]

 Fire is seen at the Independence Square, the main site where protesters had camped, in Kiev, Ukraine, Feb. 19, 2014. [Photo/Xinhua]

By Ding Xiaoxing / China
Feb 22, 2014 - Bloody clashes flared again in the Ukrainian capital Kiev on Feb. 18 between armed radicals and police. Ukraine’s Health Ministry said 75 people died and hundreds were wounded. This is the most serious bout of violence since Ukraine’s independence. The whole world was shocked. How did the political crisis in Ukraine occur?

Looking back, there are three important time nodes: On Nov. 21, 2013, the Ukrainian government officially announced that it would suspend a landmark trade deal with the EU and opted instead for stronger ties with Russia. Pro-EU Ukrainians began protesting on the streets of the capital. Then Ukraine’s parliament passed a sweeping anti-protest law on Jan. 16, 2014, which has further inflamed the protest movement and the protests have gone violence since then. On Feb. 18, the crisis continued to upgrade, resulting in a large-scale bloodshed. Ukraine was plunged into “national catastrophe.”
Both the Ukrainian leadership and the opposition are to blame for the crisis. The current regime needs to be more cautious about its policy shift. Since Viktor Yanukovych was elected Ukrainian president in 2010, strengthening cooperation with Europe has been a priority of his foreign policy. However, on the eve of signing the landmark political-economic partnership agreement with the EU, the Ukrainian government abruptly suspended preparations for the accord, citing the interests of "national security." And the decision the Ukrainian government made was too subjective. After a month’s protests, the Ukrainian authorities misjudged the situation and thought the Ukrainian opposition would perish soon. However, the anti-protest law has intensified the contradictions. The protests that might be otherwise quieted down escalated abruptly. In addition to its policy incoherence and subjectivity, the Ukrainian government also showed its flabbiness. After the conflicts turned to violence, the Ukrainian authority changed its hard-line stance and has given too much ground to the opposition. The appeasement has finally resulted in the situation going out of control.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

What Happened To Being a ‘Good Neighbor’?

US Support for ‘Regime Change’ in Venezuela is a Mistake

The US push to topple the Venezuelan government of Nicolas Maduro once again pits Washington against South America

By Mark Weisbrot

Beaver County Peace Links via The Guardian/UK

Feb. 18, 2014 - When is it considered legitimate to try and overthrow a democratically-elected government? In Washington, the answer has always been simple: when the US government says it is. Not surprisingly, that's not the way Latin American governments generally see it.

On Sunday, the Mercosur governments (Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, and Venezuela) released a statement on the past week's demonstrations in Venezuela. They described "the recent violent acts" in Venezuela as "attempts to destabilize the democratic order". They made it abundantly clear where they stood.

The governments stated:

their firm commitment to the full observance of democratic institutions and, in this context, [they] reject the criminal actions of violent groups that want to spread intolerance and hatred in the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela as a political tool.

We may recall that when much larger demonstrations rocked Brazil last year, there were no statements from Mercosur or neighboring governments. That's not because they didn't love President Dilma Rousseff; it's because these demonstrations did not seek to topple Brazil's democratically-elected government.

The Obama administration was a bit more subtle, but also made it clear where it stood. When Secretary of State John Kerry states that "We are particularly alarmed by reports that the Venezuelan government has arrested or detained scores of anti-government protestors," he is taking a political position. Because there were many protestors who committed crimes: they attacked and injured police with chunks of concrete and Molotov cocktails; they burned cars, trashed and sometimes set fire to government buildings; and committed other acts of violence and vandalism.

An anonymous State Department spokesman was even clearer last week, when he responded to the protests by expressing concern about the government's "weakening of democratic institutions in Venezuela", and said that there was an obligation for "government institutions [to] respond effectively to the legitimate economic and social needs of its citizens". He was joining the opposition's efforts to de-legitimize the government, a vital part of any "regime change" strategy.

Of course we all know who the US government supports in Venezuela. They don't really try to hide it: there's $5m in the 2014 US federal budget for funding opposition activities inside Venezuela, and this is almost certainly the tip of the iceberg – adding to the hundreds of millions of dollars of overt support over the past 15 years.
But what makes these current US statements important, and angers governments in the region, is that they are telling the Venezuelan opposition that Washington is once again backing regime change. Kerry did the same thing in April of last year 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.)

Kerry's recognition of the election results put an end to the opposition's attempt to de-legitimize the elected government. After Maduro's party won municipal elections by a wide margin in December, the opposition was pretty well defeated. Inflation was running at 56% and there were widespread shortages of consumer goods, yet a solid majority had still voted for the government. Their choice could not be attributed to the personal charisma of Hugo Chávez, who died nearly a year ago; nor was it irrational. Although the past year or so has been rough, the past 11 years – since the government got control over the oil industry – have brought large gains in living standards to the majority of Venezuelans who were previously marginalized and excluded.

There were plenty of complaints about the government and the economy, but the rich, right-wing politicians who led the opposition did not reflect their values nor inspire their trust.

Opposition leader Leopoldo López – competing with Capriles for leadership –has portrayed the current demonstrations as something that could force Maduro from office. It was obvious that there was, and remains, no peaceful way that this could happen. As University of Georgia professor David Smilde has argued, the government has everything to lose from violence in the demonstrations, and the opposition has something to gain.

By the past weekend Capriles, who was initially wary of a potentially violent "regime change" strategy – was apparently down with program. According to Bloomberg News, he accused the government of "infiltrating the peaceful protests "to convert them into centers of violence and suppression".
Meanwhile, López is taunting Maduro on Twitter after the government made the mistake of threatening to arrest him: "Don't you have the guts to arrest me?" he tweeted on 14 February:

Hopefully the government will not take the bait. US support for regime change undoubtedly inflames the situation, since Washington has so much influence within the opposition and, of course, in the hemispheric media.

It took a long time for the opposition to accept the results of democratic elections in Venezuela. They tried a military coup, backed by the US in 2002; when that failed they tried to topple the government with an oil strike. They lost an attempt to recall the president in 2004 and cried foul; then they boycotted National Assembly elections for no reason the following year. The failed attempt to de-legitimize last April's presidential election was a return to this dark but not-so-distant past. It remains to be seen how far they will go this time to win by other means what they have not been able to win at the ballot box, and how long they will have Washington's support for regime change in Venezuela.