Amy Goodman / Democracy Now! – 2019-01-26 22:57:37
How Washington’s Devastating “Economic Blockade”
Of Venezuela Helped Pave the Way for Coup Attempt
Amy Goodman / Democracy Now!
“We’ve got to get on the phones.
Call your congressperson: (202) 224-3121.
And tell them to put out a tweet, a statement, a resolution,
calling for nonintervention. This is absolutely urgent.”
— Medea Benjamin, CodePink
(January 25, 2019) — Venezuela remains in a state of crisis as opposition forces — with the backing of the United States — attempt to unseat the government of Nicolas Maduro. On Thursday, Venezuelan Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino Lopez said the military continues to stand by Maduro.
His remarks came one day after President Trump announced that the US would recognize opposition leader Juan Guaido as Venezuela’s new leader. Guaido, the new head of Venezuela’s National Assembly, declared himself president on Wednesday during a large opposition protest.
Meanwhile, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has ordered the US to remove all of its diplomats from Venezuela, but Washington is ignoring the request, claiming Maduro no longer has authority to take such action. We speak to two long-term observers of Venezuelan politics: Venezuelan-born NYU professor Alejandro Velasco and Steve Ellner, who lives in Venezuela, where he taught for several decades.
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Venezuela remains in a state of crisis as opposition forces — with the backing of the United States — attempt to unseat the government of President Nicolas Maduro. On Thursday, Venezuelan Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino Lopez said the military continues to stand by Maduro.
VLADIMIR PADRINO LOPEZ: [translated] I alert the people of Venezuela that a coup is being carried out against our institutions, against our democracy, against our constitution, against our President Nicolas Maduro — the legitimate president of Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela.
AMY GOODMAN: The Venezuelan Defense Minister’s comment came one day after President Trump announced the US would recognize opposition leader Juan Guaido as Venezuela’s new president. Guaido, the new head of Venezuela’s National Assembly, declared himself president on Wednesday during a large opposition protest.
JUAN GONZALEZ: On Thursday, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo pledged to send $20 million to the Venezuelan opposition in the form of humanitarian aid to address the shortages of food and medicine, caused in part by harsh US sanctions. Pompeo made the announcement while speaking at the OAS, the Organization of American States.
SECRETARY OF STATE MIKE POMPEO: The time for debate is done. The regime of former President Nicolas Maduro is illegitimate. His regime is morally bankrupt. It’s economically incompetent. And it is profoundly corrupt. It is undemocratic to the core. I repeat: The regime of former President Nicolas Maduro is illegitimate. We therefore consider all of its declarations and actions illegitimate and invalid.
AMY GOODMAN: Secretary of State Pompeo’s speech was interrupted by CodePink founder Medea Benjamin, who will join us later in the broadcast.
In other developments, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has ordered the US to remove all of its diplomats from Venezuela, but Washington is ignoring the request, claiming Maduro no longer has authority to take such action.
While the US Embassy in Caracas is staying open, the State Department has ordered non-essential diplomats and embassy staff to leave Venezuela. Meanwhile, Maduro has ordered all of Venezuela’s diplomatic staff in the United States to return home.
JUAN GONZALEZ: The crisis is happening just weeks after Maduro was sworn in to a second 6-year term following his victory in an election last May that was boycotted by several of the opposition groups. The international community remains split on the situation in Venezuela.
On Thursday, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged all actors to, quote, “lower tensions and pursue every effort to prevent violence and avoid any escalation.” Mexico and Uruguay have urged all sides to hold negotiations. On Thursday, Mexico’s new president, AndrÃ©s Manuel Lopez Obrador, spoke out against foreign intervention in Venezuela.
PRESIDENT ANDRES MANUEL LOPEZ OBRADOR: [translated] We should conduct foreign relations with the principles of nonintervention, of the self-determination of peoples, of peaceful solutions to disputes.
JUAN GONZALEZ: But many other countries in the hemisphere have joined with the United States in supporting the attempted coup. This includes Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Argentina and Chile. Here in the United States, the leaders of the Democratic Party have also largely supported Trump’s actions.
Meanwhile, UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet is warning the situation, quote, “may rapidly spiral out of control with catastrophic consequences.” She also called for an independent investigation into recent violence. At least 26 people have died since anti-Maduro protests broke out earlier this week.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re joined now by two guests. Alejandro Velasco is associate professor at New York University, where he’s a historian of modern Latin America. He’s executive editor for NACLA Report on the Americas and the author of the book Barrio Rising: Urban Popular Politics and the Making of Modern Venezuela. Velasco was born and raised in Venezuela. He just returned from Venezuela Tuesday. He’s joining us from Chicopee, Massachusetts.
And in Washington, Steve Ellner is with us, former professor at the Universidad de Oriente in Venezuela, where he taught from 1977 until he retired in 2002, currently associate managing editor of the journal Latin American Perspectives. He is editor of Latin America’s Radical Left and the forthcoming book The Pink Tide Experiences: Breakthroughs and Shortcomings in Twenty-First Century Latin America. Ellner lives in Venezuela but is currently visiting the United States.
We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Alejandro Velasco, let’s begin with you. Your assessment of what’s taken place so far? Are we seeing a coup in the making?
ALEJANDRO VELASCO: Yeah, I mean, absolutely. There’s no question, on the other hand, that the Maduro government lacks significant amount of popular support and, to a significant extent, also legal legitimacy. And as you just mentioned, I returned from a couple of weeks there just on Tuesday, and the level of discontent, especially among popular sectors that had previously strongly supported Maduro and, certainly, before him, Chavez, is palpable.
And it has to do with prices. It has to do with public services. However, that does not translate — and it hasn’t in the past, and it’s unclear whether it does now — to support for the opposition, which, on its own terms, has advanced — certainly with these last few moves, has advanced an agenda that is plunging Venezuela into a tremendous degree of political and social uncertainty.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, I’d like to ask Steve Ellner, this whole issue of the economic situation in Venezuela, to what degree the United States government has played a role.
Most people are not aware of how the sanctions have had an impact on Venezuela, specifically, for instance, Citgo, the huge American-based subsidiary of the Venezuelan oil industry, which has not been allowed to remit back any of the money that it’s making here in the United States back to Venezuela. Could you talk about those sanctions and the impact on the economy there?
STEVE ELLNER:Certainly, Juan. The sanction that prohibits Citgo from remitting profits to Venezuela is a very important measure. It means that the Venezuelan government is being deprived of approximately $1 billion a year. But in addition to that, the sanctions also stipulate that Venezuela practically cannot refinance its foreign debt, which is something logical that any country facing a difficult economic situation would do.
The sanctions prohibit US financial institutions from having any transaction, any interaction with the Venezuelan government and the Venezuelan state oil company, PDVSA.
But, Juan, in addition to that, there is a major impact in terms of discouraging commercial and financial interests throughout the world from any kind of transaction with Venezuela. There is a list of 70 — approximately 70 Venezuelan officials who are being sanctioned. And that translates into a situation in which the US government, and specifically Steven Mnuchin, the secretary of the treasury, has undertaken different investigations, workshops with representatives of Japan, Europe, Latin America, in order to find out where the shell companies are.
In other words, he has created a situation in which commercial interests throughout the world are afraid to have anything to do with Venezuela. That amounts to virtually a block — an economic blockade.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to go to break, then come back to this discussion. Steve Ellner, Venezuela-based scholar and author. Also joining us, from Massachusetts, Alejandro Velasco, Venezuelan associate professor at New York University.
CodePink’s Medea Benjamin Disrupts Pompeo Speech
To Denounce US Regime Change Agenda in Venezuela
Amy Goodman / Democracy Now!
(January 25, 2019) — On Thursday, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo pledged to send $20 million to the Venezuelan opposition in the form of humanitarian aid to address the shortages of food and medicine caused in part by harsh US sanctions. Pompeo made the announcement while speaking at the OAS, the Organization of American States. Pompeo’s speech was interrupted by CodePink co-founder Medea Benjamin, who held a sign reading, “OAS: Don’t Support a Coup in Venezuela.”
JUAN GONZALEZ: On Thursday, CodePink’s Medea Benjamin disrupted Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s speech before the Organization of American States. She held a sign that reads, “OAS: Don’t Support a Coup in Venezuela. CodePink.”
MEDEA BENJAMIN: [inaudible] lead to more violence in Venezuela. Look what the US has supported all over Latin America throughout the years.
AMY GOODMAN: While security was called in to remove Medea Benjamin, many in the room applauded her actions.
We’re joined right now by Medea Benjamin, joining us from Washington, DC
Medea, explain what happened yesterday, what Mike Pompeo, the secretary of state, was saying and why you interrupted.
MEDEA BENJAMIN: I interrupted because I’m really worried about what is about to happen in Venezuela. First let’s recognize how many millions of people in Venezuela are already suffering from the economic crisis, but how much worse it could get. The US is helping to set the stage for a civil war in Venezuela. And so I thought it was important to get in there and say that we have to stop this from happening.
We have to stand up and say that we believe in the principles of nonintervention, and we call for negotiations to end this crisis, not to follow in the footsteps of what the US is doing, which is putting pressure on the Venezuelan military, to divide it, and to really set the stage for tremendous violence in Venezuela.
So it’s important for the left in the United States to stand up, not to say we love Maduro, but to say we’re against US intervention. It’s important to call on our members of Congress. Where are they? Where are the progressive leaders?
We’ve only had a handful, like Congressman Ro Khanna; Tulsi Gabbard; one of the new ones, Ilhan Omar; Bernie Sanders. But the rest of them have been silent. So, I think it’s important that we stand up, and before it is really too late. We call on the US to back off, to not support a parallel government in Venezuela, and to say no to a coup.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Medea, were you surprised by the reaction to your protest? It’s not the type of reaction you normally get when you do a disruption in Washington.
MEDEA BENJAMIN: Well, I don’t know, actually, if the applause was in support or the applause was to drown me out. So, it’s not clear. But the OAS is very divided.
AMY GOODMAN: On Capitol Hill, the Democratic establishment has largely supported President Trump’s efforts to oust Maduro.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi tweeted Thursday, “America stands by the people of #Venezuela as they rise up against authoritarian rule and demand respect for human rights and democracy.”
Senator Dick Durbin tweeted Thursday, “I spoke at length to the new President of Venezuela, Juan Guaido, today. I assured him of my strong support for a more peaceful and democratic future in Venezuela under his transitional leadership. The people of Venezuela deserve it.”
But there are many others who are not in agreement, some voices of dissent in Congress.
Independent Senator Bernie Sanders tweeted, “The Maduro government has waged a violent crackdown on Venezuelan civil society, violated the constitution by dissolving the National Assembly and was re-elected last year in an election many observers said was fraudulent. The economy is a disaster and millions are migrating. The United States should support the rule of law, fair elections and self-determination for the Venezuelan people.
We must condemn the use of violence against unarmed protesters and the suppression of dissent. But we must learn the lessons of the past and not be in the business of regime change or supporting coups — as we have in Chile, Guatemala, Brazil and the DR. The US has a long history of inappropriately intervening in Latin American nations; we must not go down that road again.”
And Democratic Congressmember Ro Khanna of California tweeted, “Let me get this straight. The US is sanctioning Venezuela for their lack of democracy but not Saudi Arabia? Such hypocrisy. Maduro’s policies are bad and not helping his people, but crippling sanctions or pushing for regime change will only make the situation worse.”
Democratic Hawaiian Congressmember Tulsi Gabbard, who’s running for president, tweeted, “The United States needs to stay out of Venezuela. Let the Venezuelan people determine their future. We don’t want other countries to choose our leaders — so we have to stop trying to choose theirs.”
And Minnesota Democratic Congressmember Ilhan Omar tweeted, “A US backed coup in Venezuela is not a solution to the dire issues they face. Trump’s efforts to install a far right opposition will only incite violence and further destabilize the region. We must support Mexico, Uruguay & the Vatican’s efforts to facilitate a peaceful dialogue.”
This split in the US Congress around Venezuela, Medea Benjamin?
MEDEA BENJAMIN: Yes, I think this is because there’s a small group of Venezuelans in Florida that is setting the agenda, and the rest of us are quiet. So, we’ve got to get out on the streets. We’ve got to get on the phones. Call your congressperson: (202) 224-3121. And tell them to put out a tweet, a statement, a resolution, calling for nonintervention. This is absolutely urgent. And anybody in the DC area, join us in front of the White House, Saturday at 1:00.
JUAN GONZALEZ: I want to turn back to Steve Ellner and ask you about — you’ve written some interesting pieces, not just about what’s happening within the opposition, but also within the pro-government forces and the political — that there are differences between the Maduro wing of the Bolivarian movement and other wings, have a different perspective on how to deal with the crisis. I’m wondering if you could talk about that?
STEVE ELLNER: Yes. There is a degree of pluralism within the Chavista movement. These are leaders who support Maduro, but they have different priorities. They take a very firm position on the issue of corruption, which Alejandro referred to.
For instance, Elias Jaua, who was one of the main leaders under Chavez and supports Maduro 100 percent, but he has a different take on economic policy. So there’s a degree of diversity within the Chavista movement.
And as long as the pressure is on the Maduro government, as long as you have this ongoing kind of aggression on the part of the United States, but also what political scientists call a disloyal opposition, an opposition that doesn’t recognize the legitimacy of the government, which has been practically the opposition’s position almost from the very beginning, these differences within the Chavista movement are not going to really come to the fore, because Chavez and Maduro, their slogan is “unity, unity and more unity.”
That is considered — that is perceived as necessary, given the political context. But if the situation were to loosen up, if there were to be greater stability and less threats to the overthrow of the government, it’s quite likely that you’d see more diversity and more debate within the Chavista movement.
AMY GOODMAN: Alejandro Velasco, who is Guaido, the president of the National Assembly, who’s just announced that he is the president of the country, in the streets?
ALEJANDRO VELASCO: [inaudible] four major opposition parties in Venezuela. It’s called Voluntad Popular, Popular Will, which is led visibly by Leopoldo Lopez, who was jailed after leading a series of protests in 2014. And this party has really sort of grown from a position of significant confrontation with the government. It’s been known largely as one of the more radical of the opposition wings, as Steve mentioned or alluded to before.
What’s interesting about Guaido, however, is that he was kind of a backbencher, even within Voluntad Popular, and the opposition more generally.
Because so many of Voluntad Popular’s people have been either jailed or pushed into exile or barred from running for office, he kind of just emerged as the visible leader of the party, after what had been a negotiation among those major political parties of the opposition to rotate the presidency of the National Assembly, one each year through the 5-year period of the Assembly, following their victory in 2015. So, this year was Voluntad Popular’s turn, and Guaido was the person standing, and so that’s why he came out. He was largely —
AMY GOODMAN: So, in the last minute, though, I want to ask each of you, the path forward. I mean, there’s going to be a showdown this weekend, with the US saying they’re not going to leave Venezuela. Guaido says they can stay, and the elected president, Maduro, says they can’t. What do you see as the path forward, Alejandro?
ALEJANDRO VELASCO: It has to be — yeah, it has to be negotiations, right? I mean, so, Uruguay and Mexico, and to some extent — I mean, the real key player here is going to be, I think, the European Union, which has been kind of wavering a little bit. And a couple of weeks ago, they had issued a report about having a group of contact. And so those are the measures that have to be supported, because, otherwise, Venezuela right now is on a knife’s edge, and you have the tremendously high-stakes game of chicken being played right now with Venezuelans’ lives at stake.
AMY GOODMAN: And Steve Ellner?
STEVE ELLNER: Yeah, I agree with Alejandro. The way forward is negotiations and dialogue, for one reason, because the decisions that the government is going to have to make, whether it be the Chavista government or a government of the opposition, whatever government takes necessary measures —
AMY GOODMAN: We have 10 seconds.
STEVE ELLNER: — in order to correct the economic situation, they will need a consensus. They will pay a political price. And if you don’t have a consensus, it will be politically infeasible for the government to carry out these measures, these difficult economic measures, as a way out of the crisis.
AMY GOODMAN: We have to leave it there. Steve Ellner, former professor and associate managing editor of the journal Latin American Perspectives. Thank you to Alejandro Velasco and Medea Benjamin. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan Gonzalez.
Venezuelan Foreign Minister:
The US Interferes in Latin American Politics Every Day, Every Hour
Amy Goodman / Democracy Now!
(January 25, 2019) â€“ The US-led effort targeting the oil-rich nation of Venezuela dates back two decades, since the late Hugo Chavez became president in 1999. In November, John Bolton accused Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua of being part of a “troika of tyranny.”
In September, The New York Times reported the Trump administration conducted secret meetings with rebellious military officers in Venezuela to discuss overthrowing Maduro. We air more of our recent interview with Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza. He came into the Democracy Now! studio last week.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan Gonzalez, as we continue to look at what’s taking place in Venezuela. I want to turn to Jorge Arreaza, Venezuela’s foreign minister, Venezuela’s former vice president, as well, and Chavez’s son-in-law, the former president of Venezuela. I spoke to him last week and want to turn to an unaired excerpt of that interview. I asked him about the increasing pressure on the Maduro government from the US and other countries.
JORGE ARREAZA: No, this has been happening since 1999. Our late president, Comandante Chavez, was also seen as a dictator, as a socialist, a dictator, and the United States government was behind a coup d’Ã©tat in 2002 and all the sabotage to our oil industry.
So, this has been happening, because we have the objective, the goal, of changing the model, of building a new democratic society, which we call the socialism of this new century. And we have the right to do it. And we are an independent and sovereign country.
And the thing is that here in the United States — not in the United States, I must say, not the people of the United States, but the elite that is in power, that is ruling the United States, they want — they believe that Latin America is their backyard. And they want to impose their model. And they want to have these presidents who are also businessmen and who follow the orders of the president of the United States. But we are not.
So, we’re trying to build our own society and in new terms and with equality, with access to health, to education, to housing, to culture. And that is our struggle. And, of course, what happens is that in those terms, the US elite and the other countries, satellite countries of the United States, they are trying to isolate Venezuelan government. They are trying to stop this from happening. And it’s not going to happen.
But this is a difficult struggle, Amy. And we are really looking, and President Maduro has looked, for all the paths, all the way for dialogue. We had a dialogue process last year with the opposition in the Dominican Republic, hosted by the president of the Dominican Republic and the former president of Spain, Rodriguez Zapatero.
And when we reached the agreement and we were there to sign the agreement, the opposition received orders from the State Department here, and they didn’t sign. And then they didn’t — some of the parties didn’t register for the elections. And now they say that the elections were a fraud. And now they say that Maduro is not our president. That is all part of a coup d’Ã©tat in progress, encouraged and funded by the United States government.
AMY GOODMAN: And what does it mean to you that AMLO, the president of Mexico, AndrÃ©s Manuel Lopez Obrador — the stance he has taken in support of Venezuela?
JORGE ARREAZA: AMLO, the president of Mexico, is very important for Latin America at the moment. It’s one of the most important countries. It has borders with the United States. And they are — with this new government, they are, again, a sovereign country.
And they are trying to help not only Venezuela. They’re trying to help Nicaragua. They’re trying to help Cuba. They’re trying to help the other countries. They want to have good relations with all the countries in Latin America. But they want to solve the Latin American issues in Latin America, and no interventionism from the United States in our countries.
AMY GOODMAN: AMLO, President Lopez Obrador, refused to back the Lima Group stance questioning Maduro’s legitimacy. He said, “We’ve said with a lot of clarity that we’re going to respect the constitutional principles of nonintervention â€¦ in foreign policy matters. We don’t interfere in internal matters of other countries, and we don’t want the governments of other countries to meddle in matters that correspond only to Mexicans.”
JORGE ARREAZA: Mm-hmm, yes. That’s what every country has to do. We cannot be interfering. I mean, you say here in the United States that Russia interfered in the campaign of Trump and the elections, and that’s not good.
It shouldn’t have happened, if it happened. I believe it didn’t happen. But the United States interferes every single — not day, every single hour, in the Venezuelan issues, in the Cuban issues, in Nicaraguan and all over Latin America. So, it’s bad for Russia to interfere here, but it’s good for Washington to interfere in Latin America? Of course, that’s not fair.
And I believe that the president of Mexico is right. We have to respect each other. We have to respect the principles of international law. I mean, if you join the United Nations, it’s because you respect the internal affairs of the other states. It’s because you respect the equality of states.
It’s because you don’t have the right to interfere in other nations. That’s not what the United States does. They have done wars in Iraq. President Trump said that he regretted — we regretted that the United States invaded Iraq, because now the situation is worse than it was with Saddam Hussein. And the same in Libya.
Historian: Venezuela Is “Staging Ground”
For US to Reassert Control Over Latin America
Amy Goodman / Democracy Now!
(January 25, 2019) — While Mexico and Uruguay are calling for dialogue to address the crisis in Venezuela, much of Latin America has sided with the Trump administration by recognizing Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido as Venezuela’s new leader. We look at what this mean for the broader region with professors Alejandro Velasco and Steve Ellner.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Still with us is Alejandro Velasco, associate professor at NYU, where he’s a historian of modern Latin America. He has just returned from Venezuela on Tuesday. And in Washington is Steve Ellner, former professor and associate managing editor of the journal Latin American Perspectives.
I wanted to ask Alejandro on this whole issue of the pretty open US involvement in trying to do regime change in Venezuela. A colleague of mine from Puerto Rico, Jesus Davila, has been reporting now for several months, going back to October, that there’s been ongoing meetings.
There was a meeting, supposedly, according to Davila, in October of Venezuelan leaders in Puerto Rico, where they met and developed a manifesto to justify the overthrow of President Maduro. And supposedly, according to that report, that John Bolton, from the White House, specifically approved of it. And then, in early January, Jesus reported — Jesus Davila reported that the coup was already scheduled, supposedly from between the 10th and the 15th of this month.
It happened actually about a week later. But the only delay appeared to be that the opposition itself could not agree who would be the official leader of the coup. And now we know it’s Juan Guaido. Could you talk about the conflicts within the opposition and how open the US has been in trying to institute regime change in Venezuela?
ALEJANDRO VELASCO: Yeah, no, that’s — it was astonishing, actually, on January 23rd. I don’t think anybody really expected the rapid cascade of events. I mean, first, in the morning, the United States announces that it would possibly recognize Guaido as a legitimate president. Then, about 15 minutes later, exactly that is what Guaido said, that he was swearing in as president.
And then, minutes after that, you had the confirmation from the White House, then the Organization of American States with them, with Almagro, who’s been incredibly aggressive throughout these last few years vis-a-vis Venezuela, and then a cascade of other countries coming out. So, the level of coordination suggests powerfully that this could not have just been very spontaneous. This must have had, you know, prior levels of consent and agreement.
But it’s not just that it comes from the last two weeks, or even in January. This is now about a year-and-a-half’s worth of — really, as we look back upon it in hindsight — of laying the foundations and the groundwork precisely for what happened on January 23rd.
So, after the election — after 2017, when there was a massive protest that happened against the government of Maduro, people like Almagro and the United States explicitly took to calling anybody in Venezuela who would try to negotiate or to run in the presidential elections a “traitor.”
This is the word that they used, which powerfully suggests that the center of gravity of the opposition around 2017 and 2018 shifted from the domestic plane to the international plane. And although the conditions on the ground continued to get worse, in part because of the sanctions that Steve mentioned, but also because of tremendous degrees of corruption and mismanagement on the government itself, that lays the groundwork for that international pressure, especially from more radical expatriate communities, to be able to say, “Well, the only solution here,” as, in fact, Pompeo said at the OAS, “was that the time is up. There’s no room for debate. If you do not recognize Guaido as president, we, as the United States, will not recognize you and your dealings with Venezuela.”
JUAN GONZALEZ: And, Steve Ellner, this whole issue of the problems within the opposition, could you talk about that, as well? I mean, there was people like Antonio Ledezma, Maria Corina Machado, Leopoldo Lopez. These have all become known as major opposition figures, but very — but most of them don’t have a deep following among the population in Venezuela.
STEVE ELLNER: Well, Juan, for one thing, the opposition in Venezuela is extremely discredited. That’s something that the media, the mainstream media, really hasn’t reported. It’s true that Maduro’s popularity has decreased. His popularity, acceptance may be between 20, 30 percent.
But the opposition also is very unpopular, and that’s because the opposition lacks a program — at least it hasn’t publicized its program. It has a program. It’s a neoliberal program. But that hasn’t been its message. Its message all along has been to oust Chavez, and now it’s to oust Maduro. So the opposition is very unpopular.
You speak to people on the ground, people who would never vote for Maduro, and they tell you that they very much dislike the opposition leaders because they have vacillated so much. Firstly, they don’t have a program. They don’t stand for anything. And so they’re considered opportunistic. And secondly, because they vacillate so much.
For instance, they promoted the demonstrations that Alejandro referred to, in 2017. And then, overnight, when the National Constituent Assembly, the ANC, called for gubernatorial elections in October of 2017, they ceased calling for demonstrations, they dropped the protests, and they participated in the elections. So, they’ve gone back and forth, and they’ve been very much discredited.
Now, the opposition, as Alejandro also stated, is divided. And there is a hardcore, you know, radical opposition that is led by Maria Carino Machado, and there’s a moderate opposition. Even though the entire opposition supports neoliberalism, the moderates support dialogue with the government.
For instance, two presidential candidates, ex-presidential candidates, and candidates of the major — the two major traditional parties, AD and COPEI — that is, Eduardo Fernandez and Claudio Fermin, who were presidential candidates in 1988 and 1993 — they supported participation in the presidential elections, that most of the opposition boycotted.
And they support recognizing Maduro and promoting dialogue. So the opposition is divided. What the Trump administration has done has been to radicalize the situation in Venezuela and pull the rug out from under the moderates and favor the more radicals in the opposition.
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to turn to President Trump’s remarks before the U.N. General Assembly last September.
DONALD TRUMP: Currently, we are witnessing a human tragedy, as an example, in Venezuela. More than 2 million people have fled the anguish inflicted by the socialist Maduro regime and its Cuban sponsors. Not long ago, Venezuela was one of the richest countries on Earth. Today, socialism has bankrupted the oil-rich nation and driven its people into abject poverty.
Virtually everywhere socialism or communism has been tried, it has produced suffering, corruption and decay. Socialism’s thirst for power leads to expansion, incursion and oppression. All nations of the world should resist socialism and the misery that it brings to everyone. In that spirit, we ask the nations gathered here to join us in calling for the restoration of democracy in Venezuela.
AMY GOODMAN: So, that’s President Trump in September. And then, over the next months, the troika of John Bolton, the national security adviser, Vice President Pence and the Secretary of State Pompeo, as everything is going on in Washington, and most recently with the shutdown, are consistently making statements on Venezuela, threatening statements, in fact, talking about, for example, coining the term, like we knew “axis of evil” from George Bush before he invaded Iraq, “troika of tyranny.” Alejandro Velasco, can you respond to what President Trump has said, and also talk about the role of the United States in this coup that is taking place?
ALEJANDRO VELASCO: Yeah. I mean, as Arreaza said to you last week, this is — US intervention in Venezuela is nothing new. Back certainly in 2002, the United States supported the coup against Chavez. And ever since, under Bush, and then less so to the extent that Obama was less involved in Venezuela because it was at the height of the pink tide and left-wing governments, but nevertheless there was still significant pressure coming from the United States. So, the idea that the US is interfering in Venezuela by backing certain sectors of the opposition is not new.
What is new is, as you mentioned before, just the openness and the brazenness with which it’s been happening, over certainly the last year in particular. And even though Bolton and Pompeo and Mike Pence certainly are the visible faces of it, the real driver behind this policy is actually Marco Rubio, senator of Florida, where there’s a significant amount of very radical expatriates who have come not just over the last year and a half or two, but back from 2001 and 2002, Venezuelans have settled in Miami. And they have now significant kinds of weight, the same kind of weight that Cuban exiles used to have. And so, Marco Rubio has really been the one to whom Trump basically outsourced Venezuela policy.
And I should make one thing clear vis-a-vis Venezuela’s role in — the United States’ role in Venezuela. On the one hand, yes, of course, there is this — you know, there is this intervention that has taken place. But on the other hand, the play, the larger play here, I think, is not actually Venezuela.
What is happening vis-a-vis Venezuela in terms of the United States, in Pompeo and Bolton’s vision, is reasserting control over the agenda in Latin America, basically reasserting hegemony that had been lost, really, under the pink tide.
So, this is — you know, Venezuela is the staging ground, but really this is a much larger sort of continental move, that has drawn players like PiÃ±era in Chile, like Bolsonaro in Brazil, like Macri in Argentina, to say, you know, we are now turning back to the pre-pink tide days, where it was the United States that primarily set the agenda for what happens in Latin America.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, but I’d like to follow that up with Steve Ellner, because even though many of the pink tide countries have now been replaced by a more right-wing government, Latin America is not the Latin America of old. It’s no longer the US backyard.
Clearly, China plays a much bigger role in Latin America now as a financier of projects and an investor. And just yesterday, President Putin warned the United States not to intervene in Latin America. So, even Russia is exercising a much more sort of aggressive position toward what used to be called the US backyard. I’m wondering if you could talk about that.
STEVE ELLNER: Sure. Juan, there are some experts on the right side of the political spectrum who claim that the pink tide is over. There was an article that Jorge CastaÃ±eda, the former foreign minister of Mexico, that was published in The New York Times, that stated — that was headlined “The Latin American Left Is Dead.” But the fact of the matter is, as you stated, that the pink tide, those governments, those progressive governments, some more leftist than others, but governments that ruled — in Brazil with Lula; the Kirchners in Argentina; in Uruguay, which — the Frente Amplio, which is still in power; Bolivia; Ecuador with Correa; etc. — they framed certain issues in terms of state intervention in the economy, in terms of economic nationalism, which had been a banner going way back in time, specifically the case of Venezuela.
The Venezuelan economy of the 1990s, in the age of neoliberalism, at the height of neoliberalism, the Venezuelan economy ceased to be Venezuelan practically. The privatization meant that foreign capital bought out state companies, in the case of steel, in the case of telecommunications, and that was happening with the oil industry, and the private sector, as well, in the case of cement, two of the most important banks in Venezuela, the cement company and also the chocolate company Savoy. So, Chavez came along, and he promoted economic nationalism. He renationalized those companies that had been privatized, that had been bought by foreign capital.
And so, it seems to me that this is a banner. Now, it’s true, as some of the people in the opposition state, that some of these state companies had been mismanaged. But the fact of the matter is that they represent a symbol. The nationalization, the economic nationalism represents a symbol, just like the nationalization of oil in Mexico in 1938 represented a symbol, even though Pemex, the state oil company in Mexico, was poorly managed after that.
But still, it stands out as an important development in 20th century Latin American politics. Same thing with the social programs. The social programs have promoted participation, integration, incorporation of the marginalized sectors of the population, and a sense of empowerment.
So, those goals and those achievements of the pink tide governments will not be just wiped away. And the idea that the pink tide is out of the picture completely, I think, is really overstating things. What’s going to happen in Venezuela, we don’t know. But Morales is in power in Bolivia. The pink tide is in power in Uruguay. Lopez Obrador was just elected in Mexico last year. So that the situation is definitely in flux.
AMY GOODMAN: Steve —
STEVE ELLNER: Let me also say —
AMY GOODMAN: Very quickly, and then we have to break.
STEVE ELLNER: Yeah, sure. Let me also say that the alternative to the pink tide, which are the governments that are now in power, the conservative governments, these are not the traditional political parties that have — that used to have large backing. These are right-wing parties. Bolsonaro in Brazil, PiÃ±era in Chile, these are very wealthy politicians. They’re not the standard politicians of the old days. And so, it really remains to be seen whether they can consolidate power in the short-term future.
AMY GOODMAN: Steve Ellner, Venezuela-based scholar and author, I want to ask you to stay with us, along with Alejandro Velasco, associate professor at NYU. We’re going to break, and we’ll also be joined by Medea Benjamin, who just interrupted Secretary of State Mike Pompeo as he addressed the Organization of American States. Stay with us.
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