In Official Washington, the land of scary make-believe, there is much snorting disbelief about Venezuela’s claim that the U.S. is encouraging a coup and much grave concern that Venezuela represents an “extraordinary threat” to U.S. national security, as President Obama says and Ted Snider analyzes.
By Ted Snider
On March 9, President Barack Obama signed an executive order “declaring a national emergency with respect to the unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States posed by the situation in Venezuela.”
As laughable as that may sound , Venezuela threatening the United States , such a declaration is needed to start a sanctions program against Venezuela, a process that the United States also undertook against Iran and Syria. But at least in those cases the U.S. claimed, however disingenuously, that Iran and Syria were states with programs that were developing weapons of mass destruction.
Claiming Venezuela is a security threat to America is more like President Ronald Reagan warning that Nicaragua in the 1980s was a threat to U.S. national security because it was “just two days’ driving time from Harlingen, Texas.”
But Obama is only being absurd if you just consider the first half of his conjunction: that Venezuela is an “extraordinary threat to the national security” of the United States. Of course it’s not. But Obama is quite correct if you include the second half of the conjunction that Venezuela is an “extraordinary threat to the . . . foreign policy of the United States.” Because Venezuela is such a threat if you understand U.S. foreign policy to be the maintenance of U.S. hegemony, especially over Latin America.
For generations, America simply has not tolerated threats to its hegemony, especially in its hemisphere. And as Venezuela’s Cuban ally can attest, the United States rejects the existence of alternative political and economic systems that present competition to the preferred U.S. model for Latin America, in which American corporations are granted almost free reign over the region’s resources.
Noam Chomsky has written about Cuba’s threat to America being the threat of the “contagious example.” Thus, U.S. plans for regime change in Cuba emerged quickly in the late 1950s, not because of communism or a Russian connection neither of those threats had emerged yet but because Castro’s Cuba, like the Venezuela of Chavez and Maduro, provided an alternative model for development.
According to Chomsky, Fidel Castro represented a “successful defiance” of the United States that “challenged U.S. hegemony in Latin America.” The fear was that the Cuban example could inspire other Latin American countries to assert independence from U.S. dominance.
Political writer Diana Johnstone has noted that, in order to protect its hegemony, America needs to sweep aside any “viable alternative” and that “the basic, intolerable alternative” is “a government of a sovereign state determined to control its own resources and markets.”
That definition applies to Castro’s Cuba and to Venezuela’s experiment in participatory democracy in which some of the country’s oil wealth has been spent to address social ills experienced by millions of Venezuelans such as poverty, hunger, illiteracy and disease.
The U.S. government views this sort of democratic nationalism as a dangerous challenge to Washington’s preferred “free market” model. After all, truly democratic leaders are obliged to do what the majority of their people want. And, given the power to choose, the people will choose to keep the wealth from their nation’s resources in the hands of their nation.
The Danger of Nationalism
If the democratic leader is also a nationalist, then he or she is likely to nationalize those resources, putting them out of the direct control of U.S. corporations. So, democratic nationalists have to go.
Under Hugo Chavez, Venezuela nationalized the electricity, telecommunications, steel and most importantly oil and natural gas industries that were largely in the hands of U.S. corporations. Much of the money then went toward food, health, education and other essential services for Venezuela’s people.
What Chavez called the Bolivarian Revolution also involved providing discounted fuel to like-minded Latin American neighbors, contributing to the rise of other populist governments across the region. So the contagious Venezuelan example indeed did represent “an extraordinary threat” to U.S. foreign policy in Latin America, by offering a viable alternative for regional development.
Of course, the Obama administration didn’t justify its sanctions by citing how Venezuela had diminished U.S. hegemony over the region. White House spokesman Josh Earnest stressed the “human rights” angle: “We are deeply concerned by the Venezuelan government’s efforts to escalate intimidation of its political opponents.”
While those claims about political intimidation have often been exaggerated as they reverberate through the U.S. propaganda megaphone, it’s true that Venezuela does obstruct its political opponents — when it appears they are organizing coups against the democratically elected government.
But even that resistance to unconstitutional “regime change” can be viewed as a threat to American foreign policy because Washington’s goal for the past 13 years has been to remove the governments of Hugo Chavez and NicolÃ¡s Maduro, one way or another.
Naturally, the U.S. government and mainstream U.S. media reject the suggestion that a coup was in the offing. “We’ve seen many times that the Venezuelan government tries to distract from its own actions by blaming the United States or other members of the international community for events inside Venezuela,” the White House’s Earnest said.
Or, as State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki declared on Feb. 13, in rejecting Maduro’s claims about having disrupted a coup: “These latest accusations, like all previous such accusations, are ludicrous. As a matter of longstanding policy, the United States does not support political transitions by non-constitutional means.”
That statement prompted a rare gasp of disbelief from at least one member of the Washington press corps, Associated Press correspondent Matthew Lee, who said: “Sorry. The U.S. has whoa, whoa, whoa the U.S. has a longstanding practice of not promoting What did you say? How longstanding is that? I would in particular in South and Latin America, that is not a longstanding practice.”
The denials by Earnest and Psaki are particularly stunning because it’s been well established that the U.S. government funded leaders and organizations that briefly pulled off a coup against President Chavez in 2002. An investigation by the UK Observer cited officials of the Organization of American States and other diplomatic sources saying the U.S. government was not only aware of the coup, but sanctioned it.
Some of the coup leaders visited Washington for several months prior to the coup, including Pedro Carmona, who became the coup President, and Vice Admiral Carlos Molina, who said, “We felt we were acting with U.S. support.”
Who’s Threatening Whom?
So, it is Venezuela, not America, that should be calling the other an extraordinary threat to its national security. And that threat has not stopped. The U.S. government has gone on funding opposition groups in Venezuela. According to economist and writer Marc Weisbrot, U.S. funding of those groups in Venezuela since 2000 has reached $90 million.
That interference also didn’t stop after the election of President Obama though he promised to break with George W. Bush’s interventionist policies. Instead, there has been more continuity than change in the imperious way the U.S. government deals with Latin America.
In 2009, Honduras’ democratically elected President Manuel Zelaya was removed in a coup that was dressed up as a constitutional procedure, a maneuver that was supported by Obama’s Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
After Zelaya’s ouster, the Obama administration recognized the coup regime over the objections of Latin American governments and international organizations. The administration never fully suspended aid to the coup regime, never recalled the U.S. ambassador, and never even officially called it a coup.
But U.S. diplomats privately recognized that the removal of Zelaya was a coup, according to diplomatic cables from the embassy in Honduras that were among the U.S. government documents leaked by Pvt. Bradley (now Chelsea) Manning and published by WikiLeaks.
“There is no doubt that the military, Supreme Court and National Congress conspired on June 28  in what constituted an illegal and unconstitutional coup,” one Embassy cable said. “There is … no doubt from our perspective that [interim president] Roberto Micheletti’s assumption of power was illegitimate.”
Similarly, in Paraguay, when President Fernando Lugo was forced from power in 2012, the Obama administration again cooperated with the coup makers by refusing to call the coup a coup though U.S. diplomats knew that it was.
Another U.S. Embassy cable, published by WikiLeaks, reported that Lugo’s right-wing political opponents had set as their goal to “Capitalize on any Lugo missteps” and to “impeach Lugo and assure their own political supremacy.” The cable noted that to achieve their goal, they were ready to “legally” impeach Lugo “even if on spurious grounds.”
Again, the Obama administration acquiesced in this illegal coup disguised as a constitutional procedure.
Now, the Obama administration is mocking claims by Maduro that he confronted a coup attempt last month which he claimed had U.S. backing. Venezuelan National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello has also claimed that officials at the Canadian and British embassies had links to the failed coup. In response, Maduro demanded that the United States shrink its embassy staff by 80 percent.
To back their case, Venezuelan officials have produced significant evidence, including a recording of a communique to be issued after the Maduro government was removed from power, confessions by military officials, and a recorded phone conversation between opposition leaders discussing the coup.
According to Venezuelan officials, the day before the planned coup, Caracas Mayor Antonio Ledezma and opposition leaders Leopoldo Lopez and Maria Corina Machado signed a National Transition Agreement, and weapons were found in the office of the opposition party.
Lucas Koerner of Venezuelanalysis.com adds that the aircraft to be used as part of the failed coup had links to the notorious American security firm Academi (formerly Blackwater). And it has been reported that a number of the coup leaders obtained U.S. visas from the American embassy to facilitate escape should the coup fail.
The planned coup apparently had many steps. One was to create unrest in the streets, with the turmoil made worse by coup plotters attacking marchers to cause panic. The plans were an echo of a June 2013 document entitled “Strategic Venezuelan Plan” that laid out a strategy for destabilizing Venezuela and paving the way for Maduro’s removal in 2013.
The plan was authored by former Colombian President Alvaro Uribe’s Democratic Internationalism Foundation, the First Columbian Think Tank, the U.S. consulting firm FTI Consulting, the Director of USAID for Latin America, and leaders of the Venezuelan opposition, including Maria Corina Machado.
Writer Eva Golinger quoted the document as calling for “the accelerated deterioration of the government, facilitating an opposition victory” in December 2013 elections, “but if it could be done beforehand, that would be even better.” Golinger cited as the plan’s goal to “create situations of crisis in the streets that will facilitate U.S. intervention, as well as NATO forces, with the support of the Colombian government.”
Given America’s history of intervention in Venezuela and the rest of Latin America, Obama’s assertion that Venezuela is an “extraordinary threat” to America’s security is indeed a brazen one. Unless the threat to which Obama is referring is the extraordinary occurrence of a Latin American country stopping a threat from the United States.
Ted Snider has a graduate degree in philosophy and writes on analyzing patterns in U.S. foreign policy and history.