The Continuing US Strategy for Regime Change in Venezuela: A Tragedy is Unfolding

By Haider A. Khan
DENVER, May 22 2019 (IPS-Partners)

The Venezuelan crisis is festering. For the moment the elected President Maduro has hung onto power against the machinations of Bolton and his crew. However the pressure from the imperialists continues with the propaganda machines of the “liberal” North in full operation.The situation for the Venezuelan people is bleak but a right wing coup will not settle this problem.

Haider A. Khan

We may recall that as of 24 January,2019 President Trump ordered the US diplomats in Venezuela to stay put against the January 23 orders of the Venezuelan president for the same diplomats to leave within 72 hours. Thus the stage was set for a confrontation and the outcome became far from certain. Some in the US diplomatic community feared a Benghazi-like development.

According to the Guardian at that time:

The head of Venezuela’s armed forces has thrown his weight behind the embattled president, warning that the country could be thrust into a devastating civil war by what he called a US-backed “criminal plan” to unseat Nicolás Maduro.

The most recent crisis was precipitated when on Wednesday, January 23, President Trump announced that the United States will recognize the Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido who had just declared himself as the legitimate president of Venezuela unconstitutionally. President Maduro was quick to respond. He announced immediately that Venezuela was cutting off diplomatic ties with the US. Venezuela gave the embassy’s diplomatic staff 72 hours to leave the country.

Juan Guaido claims that Nicolas Maduro, the current president of Venezuela, is illegitimate.According to him since the president and the vice president both are illegitimate, he is the next in line for the presidency. His unprecedented declaration based on his own claims were set in motion in no small measure, one suspects, by the US Vice President Mike Pence’s announcement directed at Venezuelans, urging them to rise up against President Maduro.

The quick recognition of what appears to be a calculated move to up the ante and the orders for the US diplomats to stay put seemed consistent with a US plan for regime change. However, that did not succeed and diplomats eventually left. Nest, the US asked Venezuelan diplomats to leave so that Guido’s diplomats could occupy the Venezuelan embassy in Washington DC. However, the local US anti-imperialist activists occupied the embassy against US opposition. Indeed this part has turned out to be a tragi-comic farce.

Domestically, Venezuelans are divided. Clearly the government has mismanaged the economy, creating hyperinflation. Furrthermore, it did not take firm timely countervailing steps to circumvent the sanctions. But it still has support among 30 percent at least of the poor and working people. While Maduro’s rating has dived to 20 percent, the Bolivarian revolution of Chavez and the Chavezistas are supported by a significant segment who have seen a rapid improvement of their position in the past. Also, for the first time, they have been part of the political process.

The opposition is not united behind the oligarchy and big business which the US wants to see in power. The National Assembly which has just one house—a reform carried out by the Chaezistas— is not controlled by them although their agents are in key positions.

As a result fewer than 30 percent of the masses support the assembly. Thus Juan Guaido’s claim that he represents the will of the people is less than impressive and lacks credibility.

What about the international situation?

Although Canada and Colombia quickly echoed the US position, by now Russia, Cuba, China, India many others have either declared themselves for the status quo or are noncommittal. Thus short of US military intervention, the external support for Juan Guaido’s claims at present seems tenuous. Short of US military intervention, or a domestic coup, there will either be a negotiated solution or civil war.

Most analysts with expertise on Venezuelan politics tell us that Maduro’s survival depends on the backing of the military. In the past Maduro has rewarded the top brass with senior positions in government and the state oil company PDVSA. Some of these appointments are also part of the mismanagement problem. For the moment though, the top echelon in the army seems to be with Maduro. As Padrino declared:

“We are here to avoid, at all costs … a conflict between Venezuelans. It is not civil war, a war between brothers that will solve the problems of Venezuela. It is dialogue….We members of the armed forces know well the consequences [of war], just from looking at the history of humanity, of the last century, when millions and millions of human beings lost their lives….I have to alert the people of Venezuela to the severe danger that this represents to our integrity and our national sovereignty.”

The so-called special envoy, Eliott Abrams so far has not delivered a Nicaraguan style counterforce to revolution. It is certainly not for lack of trying or generous expenditure of US resources. A combination of a lack of grassroots support in the region, internal strength of Venezuelan revolution and the weakness of Guido’s illegitimate coup all combine to produce the current frustrations for Abrams. However, he is hoping to foster a counterrevolution nevertheless.

The role of corporate media is all too clear and pro-imperialist.”It’s obvious that the corporate media has been following U.S. policy,” says Venezuelan sociologist Edgardo Lander. “It happened during the Iraq War. It’s happened in Libya. It’s happened in all over the place.” Without exonerating the incompetence of Maduro, analysts like Lander point to other factors from sanctions to fostering counterrevolution. Deepening the crisis hoping for a regime change to US liking is not the solution that the Venezuelans and the world need.

One thing is clear. Venezuela is dangerously close to a civil war with the real possibility of direct US intervention upping the ante. The US policy has already worsened the situation. Apart from a Benghazi-like tragedy for the US, the greater tragedy for Venezuela and the region looms large. We can only hope that the domestic forces in Venezuela will find a just solution to this crisis through peaceful negotiations.

The writer is a Professor of Economics, University of Denver. Josef Korbel School of International Studies and former Senior Economic Adviser to UNCTAD. He could be reached by email hkhan@du.edu

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