U.S. escalates tensions with Venezuela

President Obama activated sanctions against Venezuela last Monday, which had been approved by Congress and signed by himself.

The president said that Venezuela, under its current leadership, represents an “unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States,” and, as a result, he was imposing sanctions against seven officials of Venezuelan President Madurto’s government.

These sanctions prevent the seven leaders from traveling to the U.S. Their assets in the U.S. can be seized and American citizens are forbidden from having dealings with them. All the individuals sanctioned are accused of suppressing riots in Venezuela in the first months of 2014, or of prosecuting people that Mr. Maduro’s government has accused of fomenting the rioting or planning a coup that was nipped in the bud on Feb. 12.

In particular, the U.S. is angry that the Venezuelan authorities have taken action against the mayor of metropolitan Caracas, Antonio Ledezma and activist and wealthy businessman Leopoldo Lopez, both of whom have been arrested and await trial, as well as Maria Corina Machado, a former member of the Venezuelan congress. 

Venezuela is also holding for trial Lorent Saleh, who is accused of plotting armed violence against Maduro supporters in conjunction with Colombian right wing paramilitary groups.  One of the people on a list he had created of potential people to be assassinated, pro-government legislator Robert Serra, was in fact assassinated.  

Saleh was extradited to Venezuela by the conservative government of Colombia last year.

Major U.S. media, including the New York Times and the Washington Post, have intimated that the whole idea of a coup was invented by Maduro and his government to provide a pretext for cracking down on dissent.

But people in Latin America are always on the alert for coup plots involving complicity by the CIA or other U.S. agencies.

In Venezuela there was an aborted coup, supported by the U.S., in 2002. President Hugo Chavez was arrested but rescued after a mass uprising. Several people accused in the recent plot, including Lopez and Ledezma, were involved. There was a coup in Honduras, also abetted from the U.S., in 2009. In Haiti, there was a coup in 2004, supported by the U.S.  U.S. intervention in Central America was a bloody constant in the 1980s and into the 1990s. In the 1970s, the United States connived with extremely repressive, antidemocratic governments in “Operation Condor,” in the course of which ex President Juan Jose Torres of Bolivia was murdered, along with thousands of others.  In 1973, the Nixon administration abetted the bloody overthrow of socialist President Salvador Allende of Chile. In 1965, President Lyndon Johnson invaded the Dominican Republic to thwart the will of that country’s people and install a dictator. In 1954, the C.I.A. engineered the overthrow of reform-minded President Jacobo Arbenz of Guatemala.  

In each case, the deciding factor behind intervention was a threat to U.S. corporate interests by the Latin American government’s reforming policies. In each case, the United States allied itself with right-wing members of the traditional economic elites and the military brass. 

In the case of Venezuela, the two socialist-led governments of Hugo Chavez (1999-2013) and Nicolas Maduro (2013 to present) have done much to improve the living standards of their people, greatly increasing the school achievement levels and drastically reducing poverty levels. Chavez built alliances with other Latin American and Caribbean states which have killed off the United States’ former pet project, the Free Trade Area of the Americas. Instead, through mechanisms such as UNASUR, MERCOSUR, ALBA AND CELAC, Venezuela and its allies have managed to sharply increase mutual cooperation and horizontal integration of their economies, as well as increasing trade with China and other countries outside the region. 

This is a potential problem for the imposition of the Transpacific Trade Partnership (TPP) which the U.S. administration and ruling class are pushing in Congress.

The accusations being made against the Venezuelan government by the opposition, by the U.S. media and by the Obama administration are demonstrably false. In last year’s riots, 43 people were killed but the majority of them were government supporters, security personnel or bystanders. Security agents who employed excessive violence are being prosecuted by the Maduro government itself.

Venezuela has severe economic problems, including inflation and scarcity of some items, as well as a loss of revenues due to falling world oil prices, but the advances in fighting poverty achieved over the last 14 years are far from being erased. The government is tackling these problems with the help of its regional and worldwide allies. It is cracking down on smuggling, hoarding and the black market, but also changing its currency exchange regime to fight inflation. 

President Maduro denounced Obama’s announcement as the first step in an intensified campaign of destabilization and regime change. He announced that the number of diplomats accredited to the U.S. embassy in Caracas would be reduced from 100 to 17. Henceforth U.S. citizens will need visas to travel to Venezuela. And in response to the sanctions against Venezuelan officials, Maduro responded by promoting one of them, chief of national intelligence Gustavo Gonzalez Lopez, as Interior Minister. Venezuela has also created its own list of U.S. officials sanctioned for violating human rights, including ex President George W. Bush, ex Vice President Dick Cheney, and Senator Robert Menendez, D-N.J., one of the biggest Venezuela and Cuba bashers in Congress.

Photo: Venezuela says the U.S. supported a recent coup attempt there. For many decades the U.S. has indeed interfered in the internal affairs of Latin American countries. The above military assault on the Presidential Palace in Santiago de Chile in 1973, resulting in the overthrow of democratically- aeected President Salvador Allende and the installation of a military dictatorship,was backed by the U.S.  |  AP


Emile Schepers
Emile Schepers

Emile Schepers is a veteran civil and immigrant rights activist. Born in South Africa, he has a doctorate in cultural anthropology from Northwestern University. He is active in the struggle for immigrant rights, in solidarity with the Cuban Revolution and a number of other issues. He writes from Northern Virginia.