On eve of local elections, U.S. undermines Venezuela

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Nicolas Maduro won Venezuela's presidential election in April by a slim margin, a result still unrecognized by the U.S. government. Opposition demonstrations quickly spread, killing 13 people. Now his government faces municipal elections on December 8, and engineered social turmoil has returned. Although polls have been favorable, the confidence marking election campaigns under predecessor Hugo Chavez, is gone.

Opposition forces have used destabilization to cast both the Chavez and Maduro governments as dysfunctional. Powerful forces inside and outside Venezuela targeted the Chavez-led Bolivarian movement because of its decisive role in promoting continent-wide unity and social justice. The U.S. government is widely believed to have encouraged the unsuccessful right-wing coup of 2002 and subsequent disruption of Venezuela's oil industry.

Venezuelan-U.S. lawyer Eva Golinger has discovered a script for what's happening now. Golinger, well known for her reporting on U.S. payments to Venezuelan opposition groups, recently arranged for publication of a document outlining opposition preparations in advance of the municipal elections. Entitled "Venezuelan Strategic Plan, it appeared in the Russian Times. The Plan's 15 "action points" cover sabotage, "massive mobilizations," food shortages, "insurrection inside the army," and control of publicity. The authors anticipate "crisis in the streets that facilitate the intervention of North America and the forces of NATO, with support of the government of Colombia." The resulting "violence should cause deaths and injuries."

According to Golinger, the plan emerged from a meeting on June 13, 2013 attended by Mark Feierstein, regional head of the US Agency for International Development and by representatives of three other organizations: Florida - based FTI Consulting; Colombia's "Center for Thought Foundation," linked to former president Alvaro Uribe; and the U.S. Democratic Internationalism Foundation, promoted by Uribe.

U. S. funded opposition groups are currently demonstrating in Venezuelan streets and forcing shortages of consumer goods.  For Jose Vicente Rangel, vice president under Chavez, their attacks on electric power plants, city transportation services, and oil refineries are terrorist in nature. Stores are running short of milk, textiles, sugar, shoes, electronic equipment, and more. The government accuses importers and retail distributors of hoarding. Retail prices have skyrocketed.

The government sells dollars gained from oil sales at a fixed rate to importing companies. Importers sell goods they purchase with dollars to retailers who charge exorbitant prices payable in undervalued bolivars, the national currency. Inflation is up 54 percent in 2013. Movement of dollars out of the country and dollars sales on the black market contribute to inflation.  

Venezuelan, European, and U.S. mass media feature stories of popular frustration, even anger. Worried Maduro partisans recall Chilean distress prior to the U. S. supported coup that removed President Salvador Allende in 1973. The Nixon administration wanted then to "make Chile's economy scream." A statement from 45 high-level retired Venezuelan military officers calling for military intervention testifies to high stakes in play now.

Maduro announced the creation of a National Center of Exterior Commerce that would regulate foreign exchange and control acquisition and distribution of foreign currency. As of November 19, his government had secured passage of a temporary enabling law that would authorize limits placed on profit-taking and speculation.  Because the Daka electric appliance chain was selling goods at a 1200 percent markup over import costs, the government occupied its stores on November 8 to ensure a "fair price." Maduro asks consumers to show "consciousness, patience, and peacefulness in anticipation of prices being stabilized." The government is expanding its popular Mercal grocery system that markets subsidized food products.

Venezuela's Communist Party is not satisfied. Secretary General Oscar Figuera called for "complete nationalization" of overseas commerce so "the state can centralize national purchases of essential items based on national development priorities and on the private sector using bolivars to import goods."

Economist Mark Weisbrot is optimistic. In 2012, oil revenues totaled $93.6 billion while $59.3 billion were spent on imports. Interest payments on foreign debt were relatively low. Currency reserves now approach $37 billion. So, "This government is not going to run out of dollars."  The fact that inflation fell in 2012 coincident with the economy expanding by 5.7 percent is a favorable sign, he suggests. And, "the poverty rate dropped by 20% in Venezuela last year.

NSA documents appearing recently in the New York Times courtesy of Edward Snowden identified Venezuela as one of six "enduring targets" for electronic eavesdropping in 2007. (Others were China, North Korea, Iran, Iraq, and Russia.) The strategic goal then - and probably now - was to prevent Venezuela "from achieving its regional leadership objective and pursuing policies that negatively impact US global interests."

Ángel Guerra Cabrera is betting on President Maduro. The Cuban journalist, a correspondent for La Jornada, claims Maduro has "ruined the dreams of imperialists and the right who were counting on his inability to maintain unity and the revolutionary direction of 'Chavismo.' We have seen a leader fortify himself with his own profile...With the cadres formed by commander [Chavez] , he has consolidated a cohesive and efficient political/military leadership."

Maduro's government recently expelled three U.S. diplomats on charges they conspired with opposition groups with intent to destabilize. Neither country has posted an ambassador to its counterpart nation for three years.

Photo: Nicolas Maduro. Ariana Cubillos/AP

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