Sunday, March 31, 2019

Venezuela Post 8

I am not an anti-imperialist.  I am an anti-hegemonist.  Regardless of their political or economic system, large countries assume they know better than smaller neighbors what is in their self-interest.  Russia with its near-abroad:  Ukraine, Crimea, Georgia.  China in the South China Sea:  Viet Nam, Philippines.  England with its forcefully United Kingdom: Ireland, Ulster, Scotland.  The US with Cuba, Central America, Venezuela.

That is how I make sense of the hopelessly one-sided coverage by cable TV, wire services, NPR, the New York Times and the Washington Post.

The Wall Street Journal remains the only publication that laid out two months ago what was going on before it happened: 
"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             Full article here
John Bolton took off the disguise of democratic principle when pressed by Jake Tapper to explain the difference between US policy on Saudi Arabia and Venezuela, citing the Monroe Doctrine.

Remarkably today Fareed Zakaria goaded President Trump to defend his red line on Venezuela,  wondering whether, "this will be the moment when Trump ends his appeasement of Russia".  He explicitly justified that by the Monroe Doctrine.   He also welcomed Elliot Abrams making no reference to his role in the contra wars and hia conviction for lieing to Congress.

Zakaria seems to have forgotten that Secretary of State John Kerry officially retired the Doctrine during the Obama Administration.

My comments to his twitter account:

Replying to 
Disappointing you side with Bolton and Abrams over Kerry at OAS: "The era of the Monroe Doctrine is over."  Or do you share your Russian guest's sphere of influence idea: Venezuela for us, Ukraine for them.   Do you honestly believe sanctions and war help Venezuelan people?
"We did not think that this would happen quickly," US representative to Venezuela Elliott Abrams says, of the campaign to oust President Nicolas Maduro
Another lie from Abrams.  The Pompeo-Bolton strategy assumed the army would abandon Maduro because of diplomatic isolation then aid border confrontation then Pence meeting threat of invasion.  UN negotiations not US hegemonism through Guaido only path to peaceful solution.

For the record this is what Kerry said on November 18, 2013 at the Organization of American States:
In the early days of our republic, the United States made a choice about its relationship with Latin America. President James Monroe, who was also a former Secretary of State, declared that the United States would unilaterally, and as a matter of fact, act as the protector of the region. The doctrine that bears his name asserted our authority to step in and oppose the influence of European powers in Latin America. And throughout our nation’s history, successive presidents have reinforced that doctrine and made a similar choice.
Today, however, we have made a different choice. The era of the Monroe Doctrine is over. (Applause.) The relationship – that’s worth applauding. That’s not a bad thing. (Applause.) The relationship that we seek and that we have worked hard to foster is not about a United States declaration about how and when it will intervene in the affairs of other American states. It’s about all of our countries viewing one another as equals, sharing responsibilities, cooperating on security issues, and adhering not to doctrine, but to the decisions that we make as partners to advance the values and the interests that we share.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Venezuela Post 7: Secretary Pompeo Withdraws All Diplomats

Road to War?

Two documents issued on March 11 raise greater concern about prospects for war in Venezuela.  Secretary Pompeo's view that having diplomatic staff in Caracas is a constraint suggests getting them out of the way of military attack by the US or its allies.   Were the game limited to political, economic and diplomatic pressure, we would want them there. 
Secretary Pompeo@SecPompeo
The U.S. will withdraw all remaining personnel from @usembassyve this week. This decision reflects the deteriorating situation in #Venezuela as well as the conclusion that the presence of U.S. diplomatic staff at the embassy has become a constraint on U.S. policy.
8:50 PM - 11 Mar 2019
I noted this reply to  the Secretary's tweet:

George Dienemann  @gdienemann

 @SecPompeo @usembassyve

I remember being at the Panama Airport doing a stopover in Mexico on December 15th of ' 89 and witnessed the evacuation of the staff of the U.S. Embassy in Panama. 4 days later, Panama was invaded and rescued from the Noriega dictatorship.
My tweets to the Secretary
Replying to @SecPompeo @usembassyve You will regret for the rest of your life if Bolton, Claver Carone and Abrams lead you down the rabbit hole of war in Venezuela. A political solution is possible if it is comprehensive, i.e. includes end of Cuba embargo.
Replying to @SecPompeo @usembassyve  A less comprehensive political solution is also possible working with the International Contact Group, Mexico and Cuba to bring about UN supervised elections organized by existing Administration of Maduro and Guaido as President of National Assembly.
Replying to @SecPompeo @usembassyve   Humanitarian crisis can be addressed by admission of depoliticized humanitarian aid through ICRC, UNICEF, etc. and restoration of international economic resources to existing administration.

Cuban Government Statement on Cyber Attacks on Venezuelan Power System, Role of Cubans in Venezuela, and Danger of Military Intervention
Cuba issued a strong statement condemning "the terrorist sabotage against the power supply system"confirming its large medical and educational presence in Venezuela and denying any military role.  The government also warned:
This is an escalation of a non-conventional war led by the US government against that sister nation, which is taking place after the failed provocation  orchestrated on February 23 with the intention of carrying by force an alleged humanitarian aid into Venezuela, thus challenging the legitimate authorities of that country and violating International Law and the principles and norms of the United Nations Charter, with the purpose of causing widespread death and violence as a pretext for a "humanitarian intervention."

The experience of Cuba's own history and the history of other countries in the region show that these actions are a prelude of violent acts of a larger scope, as was the case of the armed invasion through Bay of Pigs in 1961.  The international community has accumulated sufficient evidence to be on the alert.
The usurper and self-proclaimed "president" made in the US has publicly said that, when the time comes, he would invoke Article 187 of the Constitution to authorize the use of foreign military missions in the country; and has repeated exactly the same phrase used by his American mentors: "All options are on the table."
He just needs to receive an order from Washington, since it is known that, during his tour around South America, he already asked certain governments to support a military intervention in his country.

A More Cautious Interpretation

Sam Vinograd who worked in the Obama Administration is currently a CNN national security analyst and a senior adviser to Biden and Obama.  She posted on twitter a less dramatic reading of the withdrawal of US embassy personnel:

1. The safety and security of US personnel at diplomatic posts overseas relies, in part, on host country guarantees for their safety. 
2. Maduro has escalated potential threats to our personnel by blaming us for launching a coup against him and for the blackout - he uses any excuse to round up people he doesn't like and this could have extended to US diplomats / his lies could have incited violence against us
3. The US intel community regularly monitors threats to US personnel and in a tense security situation like the one in VZ today, the IC would likely have been sharing daily threat assessments with @SecPompeo and @AmbJohnBolton and possibly @POTUS
 4. Maintaining a diplomatic presence in Caracas was prob based on a cost/ benefit analysis including are our diplomats able to do their jobs; will we lose out on too much info/ access if we draw down; are the threats manageable and more. 
At least part of the explanation may be that the Venezuelan government terminated discussions over interest sections and ordered all US diplomats to leave.

The position of the US had been that the Maduro government  could not order our diplomats to leave because it was not the government, and the symbolic Guaido regime that we recognize wanted us to stay.  Thus it was a little awkward to acknowledge that we were withdrawing because we had been told to do so by a non-existing government.

Nevertheless, we are still left with Secretary Pompeo's statement that "the presence of U.S. diplomatic staff at the embassy has become a constraint on U.S. policy". 

Was that a warning intended to signal US citizens living in Venezuela who would be at risk during military conflict and have no consular services?  Or was it more psychological warfare (like the derecognition and border aid confrontation) based on the questionable ideological premise that the Venezuelan military could be frightened into abandoning its government?  Are the Cubans reading the signals correctly or overreacting based on their ideological assumptions about US intentions?

Senator Murphy gave a very good interview on the Rachel Maddow Show on MSNBC Monday night.  He and Ben Rhodes seem to be the most visible challengers of the slide to war.  The only down side was that Rachel's lead-in greatly understated the role of the US in creating and pushing the Guaido option.

Monday, March 11, 2019

My Sixth Post on the Venezuela Crisis

Unpublished Letter to the New York Times

To the Editor,

The goal of the Hunger Games editorial are correct, a negotiated solution that leads to free and fair UN supervised elections in Venezuela.

However, elections can not be premised on a change of regime.   Well intentioned Americans can not wish away the reality that Juan Guaido owes his political existence to a strategy designed by hard liners in Washington to overturn the governments of Venezuela, Nicaragua and Cuba, part of explicit restoration of the Monroe Doctrine.   He will never be accepted as an interim ruler without US military intervention, an unacceptable option as the editorial argues.

Only with the help of the Contact Group, Mexico and Cuba, can the Maduro government and Venezuela's military be persuaded how new elections will avoid a national catastrophe while respecting sovereignty.   They need to accept voluntarily that the head of a relegitimized National Assembly must be an equal partner with the President of the functioning government in their structure and conduct.

In such a context depoliticized humanitarian aid can enter the country through established international agencies.  More significant for improving conditions of life, US economic sanctions must end and control of national resources be restored to the operating administration.

Such elections will enable parties of Chavistas and the opposition to compete openly and likely lead to new coalitions and leadership chosen by Venezuelans without foreign interference.

If the Times respects self determination, it must expect that the "sizable portion" of the people that "still harbor an attachment to the Bolivarian Socialist claptrap of ...Hugo Chavez" will play an important role.

John McAuliff
March 5, 2019


Facts please:

1)  What was the comparative size of the pro Maduro and pro Guaido rallies today [Saturday] ?

2)  Can you provide a list of the purported 50 countries that have recognized Guaido as Interim President?


My Comment to FAIR

Bernie Sanders handled well the questions from Wolf Blitzer.

There are serious problems with the history and conduct of the Maduro government, but a replacement forced into power by foreign countries mobilized by the US is not the solution.

Serious negotiations need to be undertaken by the International Contact Group, supplemented by Mexico and Cuba so both the government and the opposition have trust in the process.

The one-sided news coverage by the NY Times has been complemented by two pro-intervention editorials (excluding military force).    This paragraph from the more recent is most revealing of ideological assumptions and goals:

"And a dictator who has already destroyed his country — and has the support of Russia and China — is not one who gives a fig for the suffering of his people, a sizable portion of whom still harbor an attachment to the 'Bolivarian socialist' claptrap of his predecessor and mentor, Hugo Chávez."

New elections are required to determine how large that "sizable portion" is, but they cannot be conducted by a foreign imposed regime.  

The Times denies reality when it advises:  "It must be clear that Mr. Guaidó should be installed as interim leader only to allow for new, fair elections. Any suggestion that Mr. Guaidó was acting on behalf of Washington would undermine that message."

Guaido's deep ties to the Trump Administration are already well established.  They do not disqualify the National Assembly from playing an equal role in the conduct of elections but do foreclose its pre-eminence.


Pro and Con on Position of WOLA

The Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) is one of the most highly regarded progressive voices among the think tanks and advocacy groups that specialize in the region.  They have been strong allies on the effort to bring rationality to US relations with Cuba.  WOLA has been critical of the Maduro government and somewhat sympathetic to the opposition that wants to oust it.  WOLA is strongly against direct US intervention and supports negotiation by the International Contact Group.

A criticism of WOLA's position by a group of 124 scholars has been published by Consortium News. "An Open Letter to the Washington Office on Latin America about Its Stance on US Effort to Overthrow Venezuelan Government"

WOLA has respondedA Peaceful, Democratic Solution to Venezuela’s Crisis Requires Fact-based Analysis and Advocacy"

My personal comment to a WOLA colleague about their response:

This language troubles me most:
But what is undeniable is that Venezuela’s legislative branch now holds more democratic legitimacy than does Maduro. We think that the head of the National Assembly assuming the interim presidency, with the clear goal of achieving fresh elections for a new president, seems like the most logical interpretation. But to actually determine what the Constitution says would require a legal opinion that we are not in position to provide.
That is waffling.  Forcing by diplomatic and economic pressure the transfer of power from an existing government to its political opposition is regime change.  The evaluation of "democratic legitimacy" is not up to other countries to decide.  (I might wish such a judgement were directed to the US when many in the world have concluded that a minority president gained power with the help of foreign intervention.)

It is one thing to insist on restoration of normal power to the National Assembly and to argue that its president should be part of the conduct of elections.  It is quite another to say that the Assembly's current rotating president should replace the national executive.

It is significantly better than military intervention but the goal is the same.



The Americas Society/Council of the Americas in New York has also been an important contributor to the process of US normalization with Cuba.   

Accordingly I was surprised by the full embrace of US intervention and its ambitious goals  by Eric Farnsworth, Vice President in Washington of the Council of the Americas in testimony to a Congressional subcommittee chaired by Marco Rubio

Eric strongly favored a substantial and long term US political and economic role in Venezuela and gave no consideration to the likelihood that there could be a Chile style bloodbath or prolonged resistance to a US imposed leadership.  At the end he seems to anticipate a military coup (which I suspect would be as much against the US and Guaido as against Maduro).

It would be helpful to know what he bases this on:

"Its intelligence and security services and other state functions are strongly influenced if not directed by thousands of Cuban personnel embedded in state organs. Outside intervention has already occurred and continues to occur in support of the Maduro regime."
This is a State Department and opposition talking point but is part of an ideological self delusion about Chavista support.  That mistake has led to three failed strategies to bring about a military rebellion:  diplomatic pressure, aid penetration of the border and threats of direct military intervention. 

Scoring political points against Havana might appeal to Sen. Rubio, John Bolton, et. al. but the only way to avoid a tragic civil war and prolonged resistance to a US client regime is a political solution that involves the International Contact Group, Mexico and Cuba creating an inclusive path to UN supervised elections for President, governors and the National Assembly. 

One has to begin with the assumption that for all of its problems, there is still a significant popular base for Chavismo with authentic nationalist resistance to a solution made in Washington. Their sense of legitimacy, as well as the opposition's, has to be incorporated if there is to be peace rather than war and/or violent repression.  


Who burned the trucks?

The New York Times exposes as false the constantly repeated accusation that during the confrontation on the border aid trucks were set on fire by pro-Maduro forces.   Video shows the fault lies with Guaido's militants who were throwing Molotov cocktails.

My comment on line:

This story is refreshingly balanced. Most Times coverage of Venezuela has been extremely one sided, reminiscent of its reports that helped to create the atmosphere for the invasion of Iraq. The Maduro Administration has been a disaster both because of its own actions and because of US economic pressures. Venezuela's last election was flawed, as were elections in Honduras, Brazil, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and China. John Bolton told Jake Tapper that the Monroe Doctrine is the justification for inconsistency, despite its official burial by the Obama Administration. The Wall Street Journal has done a far better job than the Times at reporting the Trump Administration's strategy for regime change in Venezuela, Nicaragua and Cuba. Disproving a propaganda theme is helpful, but you need to go deeper in policy terms and to give your readers sympathetic insight about Venezuelans who support Chavismo as well as those who oppose it. Recognizing reality is essential for a political solution negotiated by the International Contact Group, Mexico and Cuba that is acceptable to both both sides of the conflict. Presumably that will involve UN supervised elections for President, governors and the National Assembly. At the same time, depoliticized humanitarian aid should be allowed and international economic resources should be restored to the functioning administration. Otherwise the ideological blinders of Administration neo-cons will produce armed conflict and national tragedy.

John McAuliff


A German Professor with a Surprising Perspective

Sputnik is a Russian news service very close to the government.  It ran this interview with Heinz Dieterich, a German professor teaching in Mexico.  Dieterich was a close adviser to Chavez but broke with him.  His perspective obviously comes from the left but he is very critical of both Maduro and Guaido.  The question is why Sputnik gave his ideas so much attention.

When the people rebelled then he [Maduro] became more repressive and in the end it became a normal bourgeois dictatorship with a democratic facade, nothing more. So he is a usurper of a historical project which was democratic and progressive and he really underdeveloped it to the point where now there is no way to save him. And the people who try to maintain him in power really are trying to move a dead horse. There's no way to save him.

Sputnik: It's very interesting what you're saying in terms of this extreme loyalty that his lieutenants are showing him. Just referring back to Hugo Chavez he himself was a very popular leader and he enjoyed somewhat massive support from the military. What can be said about the army's support for Maduro? I've just eluded to it and you have as well, it's absolutely essential for his continuance, how long is it going to remain, how crucial is the army's support in this situation?

Heinz Dieterich: Very good question. I've discussed many times with Hugo Chavez very early in his presidency that it was absolutely necessary to form a Latin American integrated military command to defend against the Monroe Doctrine and US imperialism and he understood that, and he after a couple of years managed to convince Lula (Brazil) and Kirchner in Argentina that this should be done. And internally he modernised the armed forces with the help of a very capable general. So the Army and the Air Force, in fact, became a very strong modern force which had to be reckoned with.

In part that was due to advanced Russian military technology like the Sukhoi Su-30 fighter planes, Kalashnikovs and anti-aircraft missiles and so on. So again, Maduro inherited a very capable, a very powerful in the hardware and the software camp, powerful army. Now he really destroyed it, the same way he destroyed the economy and that's very easy to see.
He had, for example, about 1,500 generals in the army which was 4 to 5 times more than the functional need you have for generals, and the army has a very low plateau now of troops, it maybe less than 80,000, and combat morale is low because when they were with Chavez they had a mission and they were willing to die for Chavez and fight for the country, but how are they going to die for Maduro? That will not work.

So what's the situation today? The situation is that according to my analysis the verticality, the hierarchy which is decisive in an army body is crumbling and it's just a matter of time until the generals which support the government of Maduro until they will be alone. So I think there is increasing isolation of Maduro politically, internationally and nationally and the army, of course, is not isolated from that process. I think it's a matter of weeks until they will have to kick out Maduro because the only way to save the process in the country from US domination is without Maduro.

Sputnik: You've said that the opposition leader Mr Guaido was an employee of the empire, how likely is it that Venezuela's military will allow him to call the shots? From what you've said in your last answer it's only a matter of time then?

Heinz Dieterich: Latin America, since it formed its political independence in 1825 has always been seen by the US as a backyard, a neocolonial backyard that was expressed in the Monroe Doctrine in 1823, which interestingly enough John Bolton has now revived. When asked on TV why they were attacking Venezuela so ferociously and not Saudi Arabia which has no democracy at all he said, "Well this is our backyard, this is our hemisphere and the Monroe Doctrine and Kennedy and Reagan used and we will use it to put order in our the backyard".

So there is now only one option for Guaido, everybody knows that he is what the Romans called proconsuls or what we call neocolonial administrators of imperialist backyards, and he lost the battle of February 23 this year when he said he would open the border by force for US aid which was a plan by the USA, of course, because it was a repetition of what they did with the Berlin wall in Germany. So the plan by Guaido was to open the borders by force and that would be the end of Maduro and he was defeated, it didn't work.

Please read prior and subsequent posts.