What Can We Believe about Venezuela?

Updated: Dec 18, 2019

It all seems embarrassingly too simple.  The US government, in association with local elites, is staging yet another coup d'etat in a resource-rich country. Our president* and his national security chief are on public record crowing about "oil". The current administration has even hired Elliot Abrams (a long term operative with criminally bloody associations with rape, torture, and murder in Latin America) to take on a steering role in toppling the Maduro government.  It's just too obvious! The New York Time publishes a broadside by the presumptive "interim president" whom the US and its allies have rushed to recognize. And they include an illuminating illustrative photograph! The presumptive president stands (the caption says while attending Mass) tall like a Norman Rockwell avatar of rock ribbed New England democracy.

Maybe this time is different!?

They wouldn't try to propagandize us!  Would they?  Can our consent be manufactured just like that?

Maybe THIS time the US government is simply trying to do the right thing?

There is a galvanizing part of the human mind that craves simplicity: good v. evil, right v. wrong, the New England Patriots v. everybody else . . . (There's also an urgent part of our psyche that craves escapism, fantasy, and whimsy. Sometimes it's just "all too much" to try to sort fact from fiction. This is especially difficult when we're trying to figure out who to "root for" from our captain's chairs as we munch nachos and slurp down beers. And remember that nerdy history teacher? Remember the pranks we played and the names we called? Those were the good old days what with PJ, Bernie Bart, and Squi - and those keggers almost every weekend . . . Oh what barfing!)

The mass media including the hipper segments of the entertainment complex from The New York Times to John Oliver all agree. Maduro is a dictator who has driven his country to the brink of starvation through corruption, mismanagement, and repression. They are the ones "in the know".

Only a few voices like Noam Chomsky (is he STILL alive?) Alan Nairn, and Eva Gollinger remind us in their tireless tiresome way that nothing is truly simple.  Eva Gollinger is a Venezuelan journalist who practices immigration law in New York. She was a confidante of Hugo Chavez and knows Nicolas Maduro. She is also familiar with the culture and history of Venezuela and has a clear-eyed, unsparing view of the situation. No doubt she should not be considered the final authority, but does the final authority come from the US mainstream corporate media?  Does it come from the US government with its checkered history and which now allows itself to be guided and represented by Elliot Abrams?

What should we believe?

Well, let's have Eva Gollinger remind us about Elliot Abrams.

He’s notoriously known for his work facilitating the arming of the Contras in Nicaragua during the “dirty wars” in the 1980’s as well as arming other death squads and right-wing paramilitary forces throughout really the region of Central America in Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador that caused the deaths of tens of thousands of people. Mass slaughter, mass grave sites, torture – this is something that Elliot Abrams has justified as part of a Cold War battle. He’s adamantly anticommunist and is still caught up in that mindset and was actually convicted of, I believe it was two counts of lying, perjury, to Congress specifically about his role and the U.S. government’s role in the illegal arming of these paramilitary forces that directly assassinated thousands of innocent people in Central America in the 1980s.

This is history that we all should know. If we did, so many things here in the US and in the rest of the world might be different.

Here's more:

He actually played a key role overseeing the 2002 coup d’etat against Hugo Chavez who was president of Venezuela. It was a coup backed by the United States, not as overtly as what we are experiencing now with this current regime change operation. But the naming of Elliot Abrams has conjured up a really dark history of the United States intervening in Latin America through violence, through death, through political assassinations that resulted in the instability and chaos and insecurity and levels of violence in Central America that have carried through to today precisely to this immigration crisis that’s affecting the United States today. We can trace that directly back to Elliott Abrams and the role that he played in destabilizing the region.

By the way, Elliot Abrams doesn't always deny these allegations. Instead, he implies that the alternative to his atrocities was something worse. Socialism!

In case there are any doubts, I am not a neutral observer here. Whatever the faults of Nicholas Maduro and his Bolivarian government, I am against Elliot Abrams and what he stands for. And if Elliot Abrams is against socialism, then I'm inclined to give Socialists the benefit of quite a few doubts.

Venezuela has a long and complicated history with the US - and with democracy at home. It has had bloody dictators who, with the support of US security services, tortured and killed thousands of "socialists" and "communists" in the 1950s. It has had reformist presidents who went as far as to nationalize the oil industry in their country which by most measures has the world's largest proven oil reserves.

But let's let Attorney Eva Gollinger offer some additional explanation.

However, by the 1990s, the oil company owned by Venezuela, the state-owned company Pedevesa, was functioning practically like a private corporation benefiting the elite in power as well as the high-level oil industry executives.
But at the same time, the foreign companies that were heavily invested in Venezuela’s oil industry, primarily U.S. based ones like Exxon, Chevron, and others, were not subject to the rules and laws that were in place in Venezuela throughout those years. For example, they weren’t paying royalties, they weren’t paying taxes. There were lots of commissions that were given to state officials. There was corruption and also in general, Venezuela wasn’t profiting as much as it should have been from those relationships. So when Chavez was elected in 1998, Pedevesa was on the verge of being privatized. That’s what was going on, and poverty had grown to nearly 80 percent in the country. So one of his main goals was to sort of take control again over the oil industry. It wasn’t to nationalize it because it was already nationalized, just to ensure it wouldn’t be privatized.

Seems like when Hugo Chavez took power he worked to make sure more of the benefits of Venezuela's oil riches flowed to the people.  Oil wealth financed access to healthcare and education which the capitalist system had never gotten around to providing.  For his efforts, the US overthrew him in a 2002 coup. But the people of Venezuela demanded and supported Chavez's return to power. (Am I oversimplifying? Almost certainly. Google is your friend! Don't you believe THAT? Hint: Chavez was also involved in some other military coups . . . )

Hugo Chavez cavorted with Fidel Castro and sent oil to help poor people in New England

And Hugo Chavez was a socialist!

Hugo Chavez was certainly no saint. Neither was Nelson Mandela. And of course neither were the majority of associates and key supporters who helped run their regimes . . . er, governments. Luckily in the US we always have the best and the brightest serving in our high offices and in every president's cabinet! (Just to keep it fair we should try NOT to think about our current president* and his comrades . . . er, associates.)

Then Hugo Chavez died without establishing good institutional roles at the top or designating and grooming a successor.

Here is Eva Gollinger again:

[Maduro] is someone who has risen through the ranks of Chavismo, who began, even though he came from a humble background as a bus driver, very much connected with those deep workers rights and the union rights roots, grassroots movements. He was very connected in that sense to communities, which is the fundamental support system of the Bolivarian revolution in Venezuela. And then he became a deputy and a legislator in the National Assembly, president of the National Assembly – the roll currently of Juan Guaido – and subsequently foreign minister for six years. So he was one of the more experienced and likable members and he was the one that Chavez eventually selected to be his successor. He wasn’t as charismatic or likable and certainly wasn’t as prepared. He always saw himself as more of one of Chavez’s soldiers rather than a leader himself of the country. He didn’t aspire to be president and wasn’t prepared.
[Maduro] is heavily influenced by circle of advisors around him, amongst them his wife, who is a very powerful figure in the government party and who also has links to a lot of corruption and illicit activity networks throughout the country, including white-collar crime but also extortion and things that are highly problematic, especially for the first lady of the country. At the same time, there are also a lot of other advisors around him that influences his decision-making. Initially, there were some that were more experienced but that’s been weeded out as his paranoia has grown because of the increasing threats around him. And the key sort of ring around him has been tightened and been reduced in terms of people who have direct access an influence over his decision-making.

So Maduro is not the Venezuelan Abraham Lincoln. This is true even if we remember that when Washington DC was hemmed in on three sides by Confederate forces, Honest Abe instituted martial law in Maryland, suspended Habeas Corpus, and arrested private citizens. But that was history, - and this is now when Venezuela is hemmed in by Brazil to the south and Columbia to the west. Columbia is stocked with US special forces, and the US has military bases on Caribbean islands to the north.

Things are bad in Venezuela now. The collapse of oil prices forced the Maduro government to cut back on healthcare and education spending. This has weakened Maduro's support among the poor. 

US sanctions are also major contributors to the hardships of the Venezuelan people who are used to rioting in the streets but who are now fleeing across the Columbian border. Though (apparently) nobody is starving, there are food shortages. The economy is in tumult and there are hoarding and black marketeering by both private citizens and large distributors. The country is rife with conspiracy theories.

According to Eva Gollinger:

The healthcare system has deteriorated dramatically in the country, and that’s why we’re seeing millions of Venezuelans leaving the country and migrating, mainly out of the economic crisis and a need for opportunity.

What can we believe?

Before the [1973] coup in Chile that brought [the bloody dictator Augusto] Pinochet to power, Henry Kissinger famously said the US was going to “make the economy scream.” -- Bryan Bowman

Whether it's the United States, Great Britain, France, Nicaragua or Venezuela, Democracy is not a straight and narrow road. It's a steep, stony path filled with treachery, misdirection, and sometimes with bloody work. Democracy has, in some places, restrained itself with the self-controls of modern liberalism (limited government, rule of law, and countervailing powers). So far liberalism has been what has guaranteed liberal rights (free expression etc), but Democracy is really about people power. And people power demands additional rights including the rights to food, shelter, rewarding work, dignified leisure, healthcare, and education. Democracy has a long way to go. Some people call it "Socialism".

Whatever happens in Venezuela during the next weeks and months, north of the Mexican border it's all soon bound to swirl down the memory hole the way beer's flushed away during station breaks in the Stuperbowl.

But some of us might try to remember. Might try to understand.

Oh and, Elliot Abrams. I was torn between voting for Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primary. But now thinking about you and if Bernie runs, I'm bound to vote for him. Because he calls himself a socialist!



Joe Panzica (Author of Democracy STRUGGLES! and Saint Gredible and Her Fat Dad's Mass for which he is seeking an agent . . .)

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