Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Comments and Articles Post Aid Debacle on Venezuela Border

Unpublished Letter to Washington Post

To the Editor,

The regime change strategy in Venezuela of Senator Rubio and National Security Advisor Bolton has scored public relations victories,  but failed in its strategic goal of turning the Venezuelan military against its government.  The diplomatic campaign to recognize an alternative regime led by Juan Guaido was not sufficient.  The effort to penetrate national borders with politicized aid resulted only in deaths and injuries.

The Venezuelan Army is too nationalist, and Chavismo still too powerful among the population, to peacefully accept a suddenly ascendent figure so obviously tied to the US.  Although Guaido and the Trump Administration have been edging toward foreign military intervention from the beginning, they reached a dead end on Monday in Bogota because their anti-Maduro allies in Latin America and Western Europe largely disagreed.

About three quarters of countries and the United Nations still recognize Maduro as legitimate President.  Washington's attempt to forcefully renew Monroe Doctrine hegemony in the hemisphere is no more popular than Moscow's effort to dominate again its Near Abroad or Beijing's to assert control over the South China Sea.

The Contact Group, Mexico, Uruguay and Cuba offer the only path to avoid more suffering for the Venezuelan people.   They must negotiate in good faith with both the existing Venezuelan government of Maduro and the legitimate National Assembly led by Guaido to find a political solution.  Arranging new elections for the executive and legislative branches under UN supervision is an obvious step.  Humanitarian aid must be welcomed if handled by respected agencies like the International Committee for Red Cross, Caritas and the World Food Program.  At the same time Venezuela should be able to sell oil and do business in a normal way under the authority of the operational government.

John McAuliff

Comment posted on Washington Post article

Could someone document exactly which "dozens of countries" recognize Guaido as Venezuela’s legitimate interim president?

Given US pressure, it may be as notable that nearly 3/4 of the world, and the UN, still recognize the Maduro government.  Does even a majority of the OAS recognize Guaido?  Most of the major Latin American countries do, but neither they nor the Europeans favor military intervention.  

Has the Post investigated the Cuban charges on February 12th that the US was prepositioning forces? http://www.minrex.gob.cu/en/statement-revolutionary-government-it-imperative-halt-imperialist-military-adventure-against Even if true, this could be more psychological warfare, trying to induce the Venezuelan military to transfer its loyalties of at least to significantly divide, like the original diplomatic recognition onslaught and the attempted aid insertion.  

The Spanish paper El Pais has carried video of Maduro addressing a very large crowd on Saturday. How does this compare with the pro-Guaido rallies on the same day and earlier?   https://elpais.com/internacional/2019/02/23/america/1550954052_044349.html

I hold no brief for Maduro, but am disturbed that US press coverage is so one sided, contributing to Iraq style illusions in the public, in the talking head media and in Congress.  

Instead of war, we need Mexico, the Contact Group and Cuba to work out with Maduro and Guaido a reasonable process toward credible UN supervised elections. That begins with junking the Trump/Guaido fantasy of a pretender regime and Maduro's denial of the legitimate authority of the National Assembly. Humanitarian aid should be allowed in through normal non-politicized international channels and the control of national economic resources should be restored to the functioning government.

So far only one pro Guaido source, a former State Department official, has acknowledged what the real costs could be for the Venezuelan people of military intervention. 

“The worst-case scenario is that you have a Syria or Libya situation in Venezuela where not enough military personnel defect over to the Democratic side and they end up taking arms,” [Lindsay] Singleton told Hill.TV. “There could be some sort of civil conflict.” 

Message to Richard Branson (organizer of pro-Guaido concert to raise funds)

If you truly want to help the Venezuelan people, you will direct all funds raised to legitimate international aid agencies like ICRC, Caritas and the UN that can arrange non-partisan delivery.

It was obvious from their own words that the goal of Assembly President Guaido and the US was to use aid as a device to provoke an incident and divide the Venezuelan military. Down that road lies foreign military intervention, civil war and tragedy for the whole country.

It is abundantly clear from the Wall Street Journal article that the goal of Rubio, Bolton and Claver-Carone beyond overthrow of Maduro is to punish Cuba, including roll back of Obama travel. You should forget about US passengers on your cruise to Havana if they succeed.

Instead of war, we need Mexico, the Contact Group and Cuba to work out with Maduro and Guaido a reasonable process toward credible UN supervised elections. That begins with junking the Trump/Guaido fantasy of a pretender regime as well as Maduro's anti-democratic denial of the legitimate authority of the National Assembly. 

Humanitarian aid should be allowed in through normal non-politicized international channels and the control of national economic resources should be restored to the functioning government.


Tweet to Kasie Hunt, MSNBC

@KasieDC El Pais in Spain reports Guaido agenda for Monday meeting with Pence and Lima Group is ask for military intervention (Required by failure of diplomatic and aid strategies to divide military. Opposed by Spain, Chile, Peru.).  https://elpais.com/internacional/2019/02/24/america/1550977983_927598.html


Our current newsletter  https://conta.cc/2E4siU1

Trump pressed aides on Venezuela invasion, US official says
As a meeting last August [2017] in the Oval Office to discuss sanctions on Venezuela was concluding, President Donald Trump turned to his top aides and asked an unsettling question: With a fast unraveling Venezuela threatening regional security, why can’t the U.S. just simply invade the troubled country?

Red Cross warns U.S. about risks of sending aid to Venezuela   https://www.pbs.org/newshour/world/red-cross-warns-u-s-about-risks-of-sending-aid-to-venezuela

Venezuelan opposition looks to foreign allies for further steps to unseat Maduro
“After discussions tonight with several regional leaders it is now clear that the grave crimes committed today by the Maduro regime have opened the door to various potential multilateral actions not on the table just 24 hours ago,” [Sen. Marco] Rubio tweeted late Saturday.
In a provocative move Sunday, Rubio tweeted out two photos — one of former Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi sitting in a gold chair while in power and the other of his bloodied face and body as he was surrounded by a crowd of rebel fighters shortly before his death in 2011....

Yet as Guaidó and other opposition leaders prepared for Monday’s meeting in Bogota, they appeared to be running out of options. 
Last month, the United States imposed sweeping sanctions that effectively cut off Maduro’s biggest source of hard currency — oil sales to the United States. Having done that, the United States has pulled the most powerful economic lever it had. 
The sanctions risk worsening Venezuela’s humanitarian crisis, since the nearly bankrupt government — now even more cash-strapped — is the chief importer of food and medicines. The U.S. calculation is that the sanctions will make Maduro’s rule un¬tenable. But there are still no guarantees they will do anything more than make a bad situation worse on the ground. 
After an aid operation that failed to achieve its goals, the opposition is also in danger of losing its greatest ally: momentum....

“There is no question that a military intervention to resolve the Venezuela crisis is more plausible than ever,” said Michael Shifter, president of the Inter-American Dialogue, a Washington-based think tank. “Guaidó’s insistence that ‘all options are on the table’ echoes President Trump’s words, first uttered in August 2017 and widely interpreted as serious consideration of military action.” 
No military option would be clean or easy, and critics say its threat potentially helps Maduro — an autocratic leader who has used repression against his own people — portray himself globally as a leftist martyr persecuted by the Trump administration. 
U.S. forces, experts say, could take out Venezuela’s air defenses within hours, but an outright U.S. invasion would be unprecedented in South America. It also risks deep divisions in the region and could potentially spark a guerrilla war by leftists while leaving Washington with the burden of rebuilding a failed state. 

After Venezuelan troops block aid, Maduro faces 'diplomatic siege'
Trucks laden with U.S. food and medicine on the Colombian border repeatedly attempted to push past lines of troops on Saturday, but were met with tear gas and rubber bullets. Two of the aid trucks went up in flames, which the opposition blamed on security forces and the government on “drugged-up protesters.”
The opposition had hoped troops would balk at turning back supplies so desperately needed by a population increasingly suffering malnutrition and diseases.
Winning over the military is key to their plans to topple Maduro, who they argue won re-election in a fraudulent vote, and hold new presidential elections.
Though some 60 members of security forces defected into Colombia on Saturday, according to that country’s authorities, the National Guard at the frontier crossings held firm. ...
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres appealed on Sunday for “violence to be avoided at any cost” and said everyone should lower tensions and pursue efforts to avoid further escalation, according to his spokesman.

Region condemns Venezuela’s Maduro but steers clear of new sanctions
Monday’s meeting comes as some believed the Lima Group might accept the need for military force to unseat Maduro. But early in the day, Peru’s Assistant Foreign Minister Hugo de Zela Martínez poured cold water on the notion. “The use of force, in any of its forms, is unacceptable,” he said. “The use of force is not a solution for what’s happening in Venezuela.”

This Is Not Humanitarian Aid: A Maduro Critic in Venezuela Slams U.S. Plan to Push Regime Change  Interview by Democracy Now of Edgardo Lander, a sociologist who’s part of the Citizen’s Platform in Defense of the Constitution, a retired professor at the Central University of Venezuela  https://www.democracynow.org/2019/2/22/this_is_not_humanitarian_aid_a

The Coup Has Failed & Now the U.S. Is Looking to Wage War: Venezuelan Foreign Minister Speaks Out  Interview with Jorge Arreaza on Democracy Now   https://www.democracynow.org/2019/2/25/the_coup_has_failed_now_the

Mexico's President Lopez Obrador Calls for Peaceful Solution in Venezuela

Venezuela’s Guaido plans to go home despite safety concerns
It remains to be seen whether U.S. sanctions on the country with the world’s largest oil reserves will further weaken Maduro, or divert blame for increasing deprivation to the U.S.-backed opposition. While Guaido says all options for Maduro’s removal are on the table — a comment interpreted as an openness to U.S. military intervention — Colombia, Brazil and other countries that back the opposition appear more cautious, insisting on a peaceful solution to Venezuela’s crisis.

DebunkingFour Mistruths About Venezuela’s Humanitarian Aid Showdown
Pro-Maduro web site shows trucks were burned on Colombian side of bridge by opposition.   https://venezuelanalysis.com/analysis/14355

Monday, February 18, 2019

Will US Intervene in Venezuela?

The Risk of War in Venezuela Begins on February 23d

An explicit part of the strategy for regime change in Venezuela has been the creation of a confrontation on February 23d when the opposition to the Maduro government will try to bring humanitarian aid across the border from Colombia.  It could not be clearer than in this article in New York Times

Gaby Arellano, an opposition lawmaker in charge of the shipment in Colombia, said one of the goals was to force the military, which has remained loyal to the government, to choose between Mr. Maduro and feeding the Venezuelan people. "Popular pressure to break the military -- this is what we're working toward," she said....

Omar Lares, a former opposition mayor in exile in Cucuta, said organizers want people to surround an aid truck on the Colombian side and accompany it to the bridge. A crowd of thousands would be gathered on the other side to push through a security cordon, move the containers blocking the bridge, and accompany the aid into Venezuela.

CNN on Sunday morning was uncritically playing the theme of humanitarian aid being brought to the border and denied to Venezuelans in desperate need for political reasons.  We should expect a lot more stories along these lines in the lead up to the 23d.  The Maduro government is said to justify blocking assistance because "we are not beggars".  From a humanitarian, political and public relations perspective this is a losing argument when combined with credible articles about shortages in the country.  (When Venezuela sent aid to tornado victims in Cuba, did that make the Cubans beggars?)  I hope Maduro's advisers figure out a way to be more creative and flexible. 

Perhaps they could offer to give permission to a credible intermediary agency (PAHO, ICRC, Caritas, UNICEF) to collect the aid in Colombia and securely transport and distribute aid in a non-political fashion.  If the Guaido forces refuse, their real goal of undermining state authority and provoking a confrontation becomes obvious.  Some of these same international humanitarian agencies have rejected collaboration with the Guiado project just because it is obviously intended for political purposes as noted in the same Times story.

using a food shipment to challenge Mr. Maduro has concerned the same nongovernmental groups that would normally assist in such an effort. Caritas, the charitable arm of the Catholic Church, and the International Committee of the Red Cross have declined to participate, saying they must remain politically neutral.

Regardless of how Venezuela decides to handle the aid problem, we need to be clear to the public and to Congress that there should be no military intervention in Venezuela by the US unilaterally or in combination with Colombia, Brazil or other countries.  Absent authorization from the United Nations, such an action would be regime change hiding behind high minded slogans of "humanitarian intervention" and "responsibility to protect". 

From my viewpoint, opposing totally military intervention does not require uncritical support for the Maduro government.  The sidelining of the National Assembly, the effective exclusion of the opposition from the last Presidential elections, and the collapse of the economy resulting in massive refugee flows into neighboring countries have created legitimate international concern that the neocons in the Trump Administration have manipulated for their own extreme purposes.  Even some European and Latin American countries that have accepted the dubious legal argument that Guaido is the legitimate President do not believe that he should be brought to power through external force.

My assumption is that the army will not go over to Guaido no matter what they think of Maduro because of the obvious foreign role of the US and of the Colombians.  Bolton, et. al. had presumably fantasized that the overwhelming diplomatic and political onslaught they adroitly engineered would lead the military to change sides.  Currently they may really have convinced themselves that the aid gambit will divide the military.  But if that looks like it is also failing, to avoid a loss to face they may need to create an incident that can be used to justify outside forces to bring peace.   Their presumption would have become that the Venezuelan army and militias will collapse when facing US troops.  Given the size of the country and the impact Chavismo still has on sectors of the population, that could be as bad a misjudgement as the invasion of Iraq.

Cuba's Foreign Ministry has charged that the US is positioning troops to take action in Venezuela, including creation of a humanitarian corridor.   Assuming the accuracy of this report, troop movements could be intended for actual use, or they could be intended for psychological effect as is suspected when John Bolton was seen at a press conference carrying under his arm a yellow note pad with words about sending 5,000 US troops to Colombia.  Bolton may anticipate Venezuela and Cuba will over-react and do something that can be spun to justify US military action.

Three factors should be considered as we think about how to most effectively mount opposition to US military action against Venezuela.

1)  I believe explicit support for or solidarity with Maduro is likely to be counterproductive and discredit the rest of our message.  We should emphasize that this is a Venezuelan problem for Venezuelans to resolve without foreign interference.  Direct or indirect US military intervention to impose a government that it deems more legitimate will be widely seen as renewal of the Monroe doctrine, damage America's reputation long term, especially in Latin America and Africa, and discredit the nationalist credentials of the opposition.  Most importantly it will result in the loss of an unpredictable number of lives of Venezuelan defenders and civilians and American interveners as well as wide scale economic destruction.

2)  We should emphasize the need for a peaceful resolution of the conflict, including negotiations led by Mexico and Uruguay (The Montevideo  Mechanism)  and by the Contact Group.  We should accept and support that a likely path forward is likely to include new elections of the President, National Assembly and Governors.  In such elections more than one party could embody Chavismo and the long divided opposition.  Conceivably a new governing condition will emerge that does not include Maduro or Guaido and that seeks a balanced relationship with Cuba, the US, Russia, China and other countries.

3)  A critical question is who will conduct elections with UN assistance.   Conceivably the military will  take direct control, rejecting both Maduro and Guaido. Alternatively the executive under Maduro and a National Assembly under Guaido will negotiate resumption of their normal functions and international standing as coequal arms of the Venezuelan government, sharing oversight of the elections.  As that happens, oil and other national resources must be restored to the functioning government and other economic sanctions must be suspended.

Finally, there is good reason to believe that Cuba is the ultimate target for Rubio, Bolton, Claver-Carone and Abrams as reported originally in the Wall Street Journal.

The goal, the administration's thinking goes, is to sever ties that bind Venezuela to Cuba and sink regimes in both countries.

The emerging U.S. assertiveness stems from the desire of the White House to reverse a partial rapprochement with Havana by the Obama administration through the easing of sanctions and the island's opening to U.S. investment.

Although several leading Democrats have appeared to support President Trump's strategy for regime change, our colleagues in Washington report important resistance to military intervention.  When Senator Rubio and Rep. Diaz Balart sought bipartisan sponsorship of a resolution supporting Trump's policy,  Democrats responded, 'only if there is a sentence against use of US military forces.'  Significantly, the request for a joint resolution was withdrawn.

What can we do?  All the normal things: letters to Congress and the media, vigils and demonstrations.  We have only a few days to become visible!

I have begun a petition on Move-on that you are welcome to sign and circulate.    https://tinyurl.com/venpeace

My earlier comments and links to resources are here (2/14) and here (2/2).

--John McAuliff

Unpublished letter to the New York Times

To the Editor,

International humanitarian aid to the poor in Venezuela or any country is a good thing.

However, making aid a political weapon to provoke military disloyalty and achieve regime change is the publicly announced goal of President Trump, Senator Rubio and National Security Advisor Bolton. 

They cynically exploit the people who are their proclaimed beneficiary while seeking an excuse for military intervention.

Caritas of the Catholic Church, the International Committee for the Red Cross, and the United Nations will not be part of the US sponsored attempt to violate Venezuela's borders on Saturday.

Richard Branson and other prospective donors who sincerely want to help those in need should seek the assistance of Mexico and the International Contact Group to negotiate with the functioning government of Venezuela a peaceful legal means to transfer aid. 

The US and a minority of countries may recognize the self-proclaimed authority of Juan Guaido to be a symbolic acting President, but the majority of nations and the UN itself does not.

John McAuliff

Unpublished comment on FAIR site

A story and pharmacy pictures from 2016 does not directly address the issue of shortages today.   The number of people fleeing the country suggests there are serious problems, presumably from both internal and external causes.

The bottom line, however, is that the US media has been extremely one sided, neither offering a balanced account of the situation in Venezuela, nor the reasons a sector of the population and the military are still Chavistas.

The aid invasion today seems to have failed, but the opposition won the optics and pressure will continue.   Shooting and gassing civilians, albeit including rock throwers, to block humanitarian aid, regardless of its motives, is not persuasive, note statements by Kamala Harris and Bernie Sanders.

The Maduro government needs to move beyond pride and aggressively express willingness to receive aid from anyone as long as the means of delivery is not a political weapon, e.g. through the UN, ICRC and Caritas.  Control of national economic resources should be pushed as a way to help the population, but not as a precondition.

New UN supervised elections for both the executive and the legislative branches nationwide are a reasonable political solution given the discredited process of the past couple of years.    Maduro's position as president of the functioning government and the role of the original National Assembly led currently by Guaido should be accepted domestically and internationally during that process.

That will not satisfy the hard liners on either side (including in Washington), but it is the only way to avoid long violent civil conflict.



Analysis: Cubazuela and the failed-state strategy; Phil Peters, Cuba Resarch Center, in Cuba Standard  https://www.cubastandard.com/?p=20761

Meeting the Needs of Suffering Venezuelans Will Require Expertise and Commitment to Humanitarian Principles; a Statement by Venezuelan and international NGOs   https://www.wola.org/2019/02/humanitarian-aid-venezuela-civil-society-statement/

MSNBC’s ‘Resistance’ to Trump’s Venezuela Coup Ranges from Silence to SupportAction Alert from Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR)   https://fair.org/home/action-alert-msnbcs-resistance-to-trumps-venezuela-coup-ranges-from-silence-to-support/comment-page-1/#comment-3163186

Regime Change “Made in the U.S.A.”  Steve Ellner, NACLA, retired professor from Venezuela’s University of the East https://nacla.org/news/2019/02/10/regime-change-%E2%80%9Cmade-usa%E2%80%9D

Venezuela Coverage Takes Us Back to Golden Age of Lying About Latin America  Mark Cook FAIR, a pro-Maduro perspective on life inside Venezuela  https://fair.org/home/venezuela-coverage-takes-us-back-to-golden-age-of-lying-about-latin-america/?awt_l=5Ooi4&awt_m=gaBEB9clmWOI_TQ

Posts prior to this one

February 2  https://cubapeopletopeople.blogspot.com/2019/02/venezuela-crisis-and-cuba.html
February 3  Wall Street Journal article  https://cubapeopletopeople.blogspot.com/2019/02/cuba-goal-in-us-conflict-with-venezuela.html
February 14  https://cubapeopletopeople.blogspot.com/2019/02/failure-of-media-on-venezuela-danger-of.html

Post subsequent to this one

February 26  https://cubapeopletopeople.blogspot.com/2019/02/comments-post-aid-debacle-on-venezuela.html

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Failure of the Media on Venezuela, Danger of Armed Conflict February 23d

Failure of the Media

An article in the New Republic is a reminder that everything that has been gained with Cuba during the Obama Administration is now at risk:

Marco Rubio, Trump’s Shadow Secretary of State
In recent months, he (Marco Rubio) has pressured the White House to put Cuba back on an international terrorism list, impose sanctions on Cuban officials, and end U.S. travel and academic exchanges to the island. Last year, at Rubio’s urging, the United States withdrew most of its diplomats from Cuba. The real feather in his cap will be if the Maduro government falls in Venezuela, which could have devastating effects on Cuba, since it relies on subsidized oil from Venezuela.

There is a distressing similarity to the run up to the Iraq war in the uncritical coverage about the Venezuela crisis by the New York Times, the Washington Post, CNN and MSNBC .  The Wall Street Journal has done a better job on the US political context, documenting the US role and goal against both Venezuela and Cuba.  Al Jazeera has been more balanced than the US cable networks.  The journalism watchdog FAIR makes an example of MSNBC  https://fair.org/home/action-alert-msnbcs-resistance-to-trumps-venezuela-coup-ranges-from-silence-to-support/

No US media that I have seen has reported on Venezuelans who are still advocates of Chavismo, on the nationalist character of the Venezuelan military and on likely resistance to a US linked regime that is brought to power by foreign military intervention, a real and immediate danger (see below) .  Without more balanced coverage, Washington is living in an illusion that Venezuela will be another Grenada or Panama -- just as it tragically misread Iraq.

I hold no brief for Maduro.  Chavez had problems but at least they were coupled with authentic popular support.  Maduro has retained power outside of Venezuelan democratic norms.  There need to be new internationally supervised elections for both the Presidency and the National Assembly but that must happen peacefully under the auspices of both the established executive and legislative branches.   The process must include the acceptance of international aid through respected politically neutral agencies, the end of US economic sanctions and restoration of national oil resources to the functioning government.

The Contact Group and the Montivideo Mechanism (Mexico and Uruguay) deserve more attention than the media and politicians in Washington have given them as a way to resolve the situation.  Cuba and the Venezuelan government should work with them to avoid a Rubio-Bolton-Claver Carone-Abrams trap.  If Maduro is legitimately voted out of office, that is preferable to a bloody catastrophe for Venezuela and the region.

Under free and open elections, several Chavista and opposition parties are likely to contest and a new independent nationalist coalition could emerge, balancing its ties to the US, Cuba and other countries.  Cuba should be helped to obtain other resources to replace those provided by Venezuela, including legislation to end travel and agricultural restrictions and ideally the embargo.

The initial Rubio/Bolton bluff failed when the military did not abandon Maduro a couple of weeks ago despite facing an apparently overwhelming diplomatic and political assault.  Very public threats about February 23 and whatever triggered the Cuban alarm could be but another bluff, although at some risk to Guaido's credibility.   Provoking a confrontation around aid delivery has been part of the very public scenario since the beginning.

There needs to be some visible push back by the media and Democratic Party leaders or the Trump Administration will be more inclined to take military action under the illusion that it will be easy in Venezuela and without serious objection here.

--John McAuliff


Danger of military  conflict on February 23d

News accounts of potential confrontation and allegations of US troop movements.
Reuters is carrying a story by Marc Frank on Cuban charges that the US is positioning troops. 
HAVANA (Reuters) - Cuba charged on Thursday that the United States was secretly moving special forces closer to Venezuela as part of a plan to intervene in the South American country using the pretext of a humanitarian crisis....

“Between February 6 and 10 military transport aircraft have flown to the Rafael Miranda Airport of Puerto Rico, the San Isidro Air Base, in the Dominican Republic and to other strategically located Caribbean islands, probably without knowledge of the governments of those nations,” the declaration said.

“These flights originated in American military installations from which units of Special Operations and Marine Corps operate, which are used for covert actions,” it said....

Guaido said on Tuesday the aid would roll across the border on February 23 despite the Maduro government’s objections, setting up a possible confrontation.

Cuba said on Thursday it was clear the United States wanted to “forcibly establish a humanitarian corridor under international protection, invoking the obligation to protect civilians and applying all necessary measures.”

[Cuba's full statement is here http://www.minrex.gob.cu/en/statement-revolutionary-government-it-imperative-halt-imperialist-military-adventure-against]

The NY Times confirms February 23 as the date of confrontation on external aid.  

Mr. Guaidó heightened the stakes, telling supporters that he would open a “humanitarian corridor” to allow aid to flow into the country by Feb. 23. ...

Gaby Arellano, an opposition lawmaker in charge of the shipment in Colombia, said one of the goals was to force the military, which has remained loyal to the government, to choose between Mr. Maduro and feeding the Venezuelan people. “Popular pressure to break the military ­ this is what we’re working toward,” she said....

Omar Lares, a former opposition mayor in exile in Cúcuta, said organizers want people to surround an aid truck on the Colombian side and accompany it to the bridge. A crowd of thousands would be gathered on the other side to push through a security cordon, move the containers blocking the bridge, and accompany the aid into Venezuela.

“One group over there, one over here, and we’ll make one large human chain,” he said....

“The opposition has created immense expectations, and it’s not at all clear they have a plan for actually fulfilling them,” said David Smilde, a Venezuela analyst at the Washington Office on Latin America. “Furthermore, the opposition and the U.S. have not been clear that this aid, even if allowed in, will make a significant dent in Venezuela’s humanitarian crisis.” ...

Still, using a food shipment to challenge Mr. Maduro has concerned the same nongovernmental groups that would normally assist in such an effort. Caritas, the charitable arm of the Catholic Church, and the International Committee of the Red Cross have declined to participate, saying they must remain politically neutral.


Meanwhile, to illustrate the total hypocrisy of the situationl, by coincidence:

Egypt’s Parliament Clears Way for El-Sisi to Rule Until 2034

By Declan Walsh
Feb. 14, 2019

CAIRO ­ The Egyptian Parliament approved sweeping measures on Thursday that would allow President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi to extend his rule until 2034, further entrenching his authoritarian rule and enshrining in law the military’s dominance over the country.

The vote by Parliament, whose workings are quietly managed by Mr. el-Sisi’s intelligence agencies, sets in motion a fast-moving process of constitutional change that could 
culminate in a referendum within three months. The referendum’s approval is seen as a foregone conclusion.

The changes formally confirm what has become evident to many Egyptians for years: that the sweeping euphoria of 2011, when protests led to the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak, has given way to an even harsher brand of strongman rule under a leader who also intends to rule for decades, and perhaps for life.

Washington’s unquestioning embrace of Mr. el-Sisi, whom President Trump has called a “great guy,” emboldened the Egyptian leader to act with little fear of American pushback.



Earlier material here    https://tinyurl.com/Venez2019

Sunday, February 3, 2019

Cuba Is Target in US Conflict with Venezuela

'Trump Sees Maduro Move As First Shot in Wider Battle.'

Jessica Donati
Vivian Salama and 
Ian Talley
Jan. 30, 2019 5:44 p.m. ET

WASHINGTON—The Trump administration’s attempt to force out the president of Venezuela marked the opening of a new strategy to exert greater U.S. influence over Latin America, according to administration officials.
In sight isn’t just Venezuela’s Nicolás Maduro, but also Cuba, an antagonist that has dominated American attention in the region for more than 50 years, as well as recent inroads made by Russia, China and Iran.
While Mr. Maduro and his predecessor, Hugo Chávez, have long drawn Washington’s condemnation, the Trump administration is stocked with officials who have long believed Cuba to be the more serious national-security threat. They cite Cuba’s intelligence operations in the U.S., and its efforts to spread anti-American views in other Latin American countries.
The goal, the administration’s thinking goes, is to sever ties that bind Venezuela to Cuba and sink regimes in both countries.
The emerging U.S. assertiveness stems from the desire of the White House to reverse a partial rapprochement with Havana by the Obama administration through the easing of sanctions and the island’s opening to U.S. investment.
The Trump administration’s policy, developed over the past two years, has been driven in part by the ascent of Cuba critics including Mauricio Claver-Carone, a National Security Council official who had devoted much of his life to deposing Fidel Castro. The policy was shaped by the lobbying of elected officials such as Republican Sen. Marco Rubio and U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, who have a large number of constituents with connections to Venezuela.
Cuban intelligence is deeply integrated in the Venezuelan military and the security apparatus of the Maduro government. Venezuela, in turn, provides Havana with crude oil at virtually no cost, a volume that had once reached 100,000 barrels of oil a day. As each country has become more isolated, they have strengthened ties with Moscow, Tehran and Beijing.
Continuity or Change
After Venezuela and Cuba, U.S. officials are eyeing Nicaragua. The State Department repeatedly warned of the country’s shift toward autocratic rule, government repression and violence. Nicaraguans are joining the flow of migrants toward the U.S. border with Mexico.
“The United States looks forward to watching each corner of the triangle fall: in Havana, in Caracas, in Managua,” the capital of Nicaragua, said John Bolton, national security adviser, in a November speech that unveiled the emerging strategy. He described the three countries as the “Troika of tyranny,” a phrase he coined, adding that the “Troika will crumble.”
On the same day, the administration unveiled new sanctions against Cuba and Venezuela, including on more than two dozen entities owned or controlled by the Cuban military and intelligence services and Venezuela’s gold sector.
The U.S. strategy carries major risks. If the administration’s support for opposition leader Juan Guaido in Venezuela fails to unseat Mr. Maduro, or if it fails to weaken ties between Caracas and Havana, the desperate conditions in Venezuela could worsen and tether the U.S. more closely with the crisis. An estimated three million Venezuelans have fled their country.
Failure also would hand both countries a David-and-Goliath diplomatic victory and potentially strengthen the hand of China, Moscow and Iran in the region. The chief reason President Obama pursued an entente with Cuba was his administration’s conclusion that decades of tough measures had failed to topple the Castro regime to make way for a democratic alternative.
It seems unlikely the U.S. will be able to bring along other countries in any anti-Cuba measures. Venezuela has been a pariah for many American allies, but some including Canada and France now have extensive business interests in Cuba.
First target
One of the Trump administration’s first actions after the election was to dust off an unused plan from the Obama administration to sanction Tareck El Aissami, Mr. Maduro’s vice president.
U.S. law-enforcement officials say they have evidence Mr. Maduro directed state resources to create what they allege has become one of the most powerful international narco-trafficking operations in the world, and with links to Hezbollah, the Lebanese group designated by the U.S. as a terror organization.
Part of why U.S. officials express concern about Iran’s influence in the region is that Iran is a major backer of Hezbollah, and its South American operations are a significant source of cash.
Mr. El Aissami, who ran Venezuela’s passport operations during the Chavez regime, issued thousands of new names and passports to Lebanese and Iranians, including operatives, the U.S. officials said. He allegedly made a deal with a top Hezbollah agent that its operatives would run money-laundering operations for the narco-trafficking empire, two former senior U.S. law-enforcement officials said.
On the day Steven Mnuchin was sworn in as Treasury Secretary in February 2017, he imposed sanctions on Mr. El Aissami, citing the allegations involving narco-trafficking.
Among the first officials to lay out options for the Trump administration was Fernando Cutz, a career USAID foreign-service officer, who had previously worked on the rapprochement with Cuba for the Obama administration.
Mr. Cutz, now at the Cohen Group, said in an interview that President Trump asked for a Venezuela briefing on his second day in office to explore how to reverse Obama-era policies toward Cuba. Mr. Cutz laid out options to escalate pressure on the Maduro regime, including a financial strike at Venezuela’s oil exports. At first, the administration held back, fearing such an action would allow Mr. Maduro to blame the country’s woes on Washington.
Mr. Bolton, named national security adviser last year, has long taken a tough line on Cuba and Venezuela. He was later joined by Mr. Claver-Carone, who took over western hemispheric affairs at the National Security Council and shared Mr. Bolton’s view.
Mr. Claver-Carone, an adviser to the Trump campaign, rose to prominence in foreign-policy circles for running a blog called the Capitol Hill Cubans.
An archived edition of Capitol Hill Cubans described Mr. Claver-Carone as the co-founder and director of U.S.-Cuba Democracy PAC, a donation vehicle for House and Senate members. It was founded in 2003 “to promote an unconditional transition in Cuba to democracy, the rule of law and the free market.”
The PAC has raised and spent about $4.7 million since its inception. It contributed $20,000 to Mr. Rubio’s Senate campaign since June 2016 and gave Diaz-Balart’s campaign $5,000 in February 2018, records show.
Mr. Claver-Carone also led the nonprofit group Cuba Democracy Advocates from 2004 to 2017. And he ran a small lobbying firm called the Cuba Democracy Public Advocacy Corp for about 10 years, ending in 2016.
Months after Mr. Claver-Carone joined the Trump administration last summer, Mr. Bolton delivered his “troika of tyranny” speech.
Stage set
The decision by two of Venezuela’s major opposition parties and past rivals—First Justice and Popular Will—to join forces a year ago provided for the first time a potential alternative to the Maduro regime. Mr. Guaido is a member of Popular Will. U.S. officials kept in close contact.
“This gave them credibility with the international community,” said Francisco Monaldi, a Venezuela expert and oil industry analyst at Rice University. “There was a great disdain for the opposition, but it lessened at least to the degree that the White House believed this bet is possible.”
The stage for action was set in an election last spring that more than 60 countries, including the U.S., dismissed as a sham, Mr. Maduro claimed victory. He extended his rule for six years in a swearing in a Jan. 10 ceremony.
The election last year of Colombian President Iván Duqueand Jair Bolsonaro, Brazil’s new leader, also shifted the political landscape: Both are on Venezuela’s doorstep and struggling to cope with the country’s mass exodus.
In a trip over the New Year’s holidays, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met with his Brazilian and Colombian counterparts, and he discussed a plan of action with Mr. Duque.
Mr. Maduro’s inauguration on January 10 set the wheels in motion in the Venezuelan National Assembly and at the White House, as officials seized on the momentum of street protests.
On Jan. 22, top administration officials, including Mr. Pompeo, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, Mr. Bolton and Mr. Mnuchin discussed options. Mr. Trump decided he was ready to support a regime change.
That night, Vice President Mike Pence called Mr. Guaido to express Washington’s willingness to back him. The next day, Mr. Guaido declared himself president and the U.S., along with Canada and most South American countries, officially recognized Mr. Guaido as the new leader of Venezuela.
“We’ve seen a real unity of purpose in the region in the last couple of weeks,” a senior Treasury official said. “It’s difficult to talk about Venezuela without also talking about Cuba.
The imposition of sanctions on Venezuela’s oil company, PdVSA, announced by the U.S. on Jan. 28, could be worth as much $11 billion in U.S. crude oil sales.
Among the next steps, U.S. officials said, are proposed new measures against Havana, such as restoring Cuba’s designation as a state sponsor of terrorism. That could hit financing and investments from countries outside the U.S. that now do business there, as well as the funds the country gets from international tourists.
Also on the list: new sanctions on Cuban officials and their networks and ending a waiver, known as Title III of the Helms-Burton Act, signed by every U.S. administration since its inception in 1996.
Ending the waiver would allow U.S. citizens to sue individuals and companies in U.S. courts for property seized by the Cuban government. Its impact would likely be to freeze billions of dollars worth of foreign investment in Cuba including hotels, golf courts and other projects.
The Trump administration is expected to announce new measures against Cuba in coming weeks, with the goal of crippling Havana’s ability to bolster the Maduro regime.
—José de Córdoba and Julie Bykowicz contributed to this article.
Write to Jessica Donati at jessica.donati@wsj.com, Vivian Salama at vivian.salama@wsj.com and Ian Talley at ian.talley@wsj.com
Appeared in the January 31, 2019, print edition as 'Trump Sees Maduro Move As First Shot in Wider Battle.'

Saturday, February 2, 2019

My Perspective: Venezuela Crisis and Cuba

My Perspective on the Venezuela Crisis

"The goal, the administration’s thinking goes, is to sever ties that bind Venezuela to Cuba and sink regimes in both countries.

The emerging U.S. assertiveness stems from the desire of the White House to reverse a partial rapprochement with Havana by the Obama administration through the easing of sanctions and the island’s opening to U.S. investment."

    Wall Street Journal, 'Trump Sees Maduro Move As First Shot in Wider Battle.', 1/30/19

One of the more disturbing aspects of what is going on with Venezuela is how easily some Democrats let themselves be steam rolled by the Pompeo-Bolton-Claver Carone-Abrams neocon assault that has Cuba as its ultimate target. Maduro and his government have serious problems that are both internally and externally caused but that does not legitimate foreign sponsored regime change. 

Adam Schiff may have ended any prospect to be the Democratic candidate for President based on his support of the Trump Administration on Venezuela.  Other prominent liberal Democrats such as Senator Dick Durbin will be held responsible for years if they do not challenge Pompeo, et. al. before the US launches or assists military action in Venezuela, just as were supporters of the Bush-Cheney invasion of Iraq.

Regardless of the undeniable failings of the Maduro government, including its maneuvers to sideline the elected National Assembly, the world, and certainly Latin Americans, cannot but notice that the US has played a behind the scenes role in creating a fictional new regime. The logic that the powerless assembly had the authority to void national elections and therefore to declare Mr. Guaidó as acting President is opportunistic and specious.  It may work politically with governments that do not like Maduro ideologically, but will not stand the test of legal scrutiny over time.

It also does not change the reality that Guaidó only recently received his symbolic status as leader of the Assembly and has minimal qualifications to be a national leader.   As Fulton Armstrong of American University has written,

[Guaidó’s] party’s splits with opposition moderates remain deep, however. Henrique Capriles (Primero Justicia) issued a scathing critique of Guaidó’s strategy.  He accused VP [Voluntad Popular] of sponsoring violence that will use ‘the people of Venezuela as cannon fodder’”.

External instigation of an alternative partisan government to conduct elections is objectively an attempted coup.   President Trump is returning the US to a Monroe Doctrine role in the Hemisphere that will haunt us for decades.

If corruption, repression, and compromised elections are a legitimate basis for intervention in domestic affairs, some close US allies and other countries are as bad or worse than Venezuela.  Will we apply the same standard to Egypt, Saudi Arabia, North Korea, China and Honduras? 

Perhaps most cynically, the delivery of humanitarian aid has been proposed as a way of escalating the conflict, as described by long time opponent of Cuba Jorge G. Castañeda in the New York Times

Military officers and members of the army troops who are in exile would move these supplies to Venezuela, where, if all goes well, the army personnel who are still loyal to Maduro will not stop their journey or shoot them. If they do, the governments of Brazil and Colombia may be willing to back the anti-Maduro soldiers. The threat of a confrontation with its neighbors could be the incentive that the Venezuelan military needs to abandon Maduro, which would make the combat unnecessary.

The US is wishfully thinking that the Venezuelan military will change sides or break apart and if it does that there will not be armed resistance to a regime we engineered to power.   Economic sanctions and violent civil conflict leading to foreign military intervention will increase the suffering of the Venezuelan people.  It will produce decades of damage to US interests in Latin America from which only China and Russia will benefit.

An alternative to deadly internal confrontation and foreign intervention may be offered by President Maduro's suggestion to move elections for the National Assembly forward to 2019.  They should include the President and governors and be guaranteed with UN supervision  to include free participation of all parties and candidates.

Part of the deal must include not only suspension of US efforts to transfer control of Venezuelan national resources to Guaido's putative regime but also the Maduro government's acceptance of international humanitarian assistance.

A more drastic way out of disaster is for the mainstream of the Venezuelan military to reject the legitimacy of both Maduro and Guaidó.  It could create a non-partisan transitional administration to conduct UN assisted elections and to receive international humanitarian aid and investment.  It will need to provide political space for both the Chavistas and the opposition while preserving reasonable relations with Cuba, Russia, China and the US.

Cuba's support is important for any compromise and might be attainable if accompanied by renewed engagement with Havana, a total anathema to the neocons dominating the National Security Council.

A well connected but independent friend in Cuba wrote me:

"The future can be very tragic for that country and a blood bath will most likely take place. If the victims are mostly the revolutionaries, news will be brief and very soon ignored.  If it is general, then we can even have a foreign military intervention and the fighting spilling to other countries. At the same time, be ready for new and more severe steps against Cuba. The goal is to look for an excuse to end traveling and remittances from Miami."

John McAuliff

Fund for Reconciliation and Development

Unpublished letter on February 5 to the New York Times

To the Editor,

The New York Times played a vital role in encouraging and enabling President Obama to take the historic step of normalizing relations with Cuba.

It is puzzling why its news stories uncritically support a narrative about Venezuela created by key figures in the Trump Administration who were and are strongly opposed to the opening with Cuba (John Bolton, Mauricio Claver-Carone, Elliot Abrams).

In fact their diplomatic and potential military assault on Venezuela was credibly reported by the Wall Street Journal as part of a strategy against Cuba.

"The goal, the administration’s thinking goes, is to sever ties that bind Venezuela to Cuba and sink regimes in both countries.  The emerging U.S. assertiveness stems from the desire of the White House to reverse a partial rapprochement with Havana by the Obama administration through the easing of sanctions and the island’s opening to U.S. investment."   (1/30/19)

The Maduro government deserves substantial criticism of its competence, repression of opponents and electoral legitimacy, but US orchestrated regime change is not legal or wise.

The Times should consider whether its heavily tilted coverage against Maduro is creating an atmosphere for war, similar to its role during the run up to the US invasion of Iraq.

John McAuliff

Unpublished letter on February 6 to the New York Times in response to editorial 

To the Editor,

The failures of Nicolas Maduro are manifest, due both to internal and external factors, not least years of hostile pressure from the US. 

The  2017 election was internationally discredited in large part because serious opposition parties were barred.  It attracted a record low of 47% of voters.  Nevertheless Maduro was supported by 68%, i.e. 6,245,862  people.  It is a mistake to minimize and dismiss them as "die-hard leftists".

Juan Guaidó does not offer a reasonable alternative based on his experience, political history or legal argument.  Foreign countries and US publications have no authority to decide Venezuela's constitutional law. 

Does a legally marginalized National Assembly have the power to void an election and then substitute its leader as President? No international authority, including the Organization of American States and the United Nations, has made that judgement.

Nationalism in the Venezuelan military makes it unlikely to accept as legitimate a government fostered and imposed by hard-liners in the Trump Administration. 

The only peaceful scenario is either a direct military takeover or a negotiated compromise between the competing claimants to power.  Internationally supported and supervised elections could be conducted by the existing government and a National Assembly that regains its powers. 

All levels of office should be freely contested, including the President, Governors and the National Assembly.  Economic resources such as the oil company must be restored to the existing state and international humanitarian aid should be distributed through non-partisan channels.

The only way a Guaidó government can conduct elections is through armed conflict, external military intervention and bloody Chilean style repression of Chauvistas.  That would be tragic for the Venezuelan people and destructive of US standing in the Hemisphere to the benefit of Russia and China.

John McAuliff

Additional resources:

Interview with Guillaume Long, former foreign minister and United Nations representative of Ecuador https://jacobinmag.com/2019/01/venezuela-crisis-maduro-guiado-united-states-intervention

Fulton Armstrong https://aulablog.net/2019/01/29/venezuela-when-will-the-military-flip/     https://aulablog.net/2019/01/17/venezuela-is-guaido-the-knight-in-shining-armor/

Eric Hershberg  https://aulablog.net/2019/01/31/venezuela-a-test-of-u-s-hegemony-in-latin-america/

William Boardman https://readersupportednews.org/opinion2/277-75/54818-rsn-career-war-criminal-elliott-abrams-to-lead-us-on-venezuela

Peter Kornbluh " For Trump’s Regime Changers, Venezuela Is Just the First Step" https://www.thenation.com/article/venezuela-cuba-trump-regime-change/

Alejandro Velasco  "A Geopolitical Showdown in Venezuela Will Only Make Things Worse"

Chris Murphy and Ben Rhodes  "Democrats should stand for democracy in Venezuela — and democratic values in America"   https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2019/01/30/democrats-should-stand-democracy-venezuela-democratic-values-america/?utm_term=.985a5ddd6a81

Alternatives to war from Uruguay and Mexico
Pepe Mujica former President of Uruguay, friend of Cuba, calls for elections
The Montevideo Mechanism  suggests a process for negotiations
Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador supports dialogue, non-intervention
Discussed on Al Jazeera  by Guillaume Long, Phil Gunson, Charles Shapiro 

Adam Johnson FAIR analysis of phony bridge picture, misleading media https://fair.org/home/western-media-fall-in-lockstep-for-cheap-trump-rubio-venezuela-aid-pr-stunt/

Fareed Zakaria urges left support for regime change https://fareedzakaria.com/columns/2019/2/7/the-american-left-needs-to-find-its-voice-on-venezuela

Steve Ellner warns of damage to the opposition from regime change made in the USA

Klobuchar-Enzi-Leahy bill to end the embargo.  Would this balance  loss or downgrading of Cuba's special relationship with Venezuela?  Would Trump support it to peacefully solve the Maduro problem?  https://www.leahy.senate.gov/press/020819freedomtoexporttocubaact

David Smilde and Geoff Ramsey "International Contact Group Represents Best Opportunity for all Sides in the Venezuela Crisis" https://www.wola.org/analysis/international-contact-group-represents-best-opportunity-sides-venezuela-crisis/

Greg Grandin on sovereignty and Latin America What’s at Stake in Venezuela?   https://www.lrb.co.uk/2019/02/08/greg-grandin/whats-at-stake-in-venezuela