The aim of the US-backed coup attempt on April 31 was to overthrow the legitimately elected government of Venezuela. Despite its failure, the US administration is continuing its offensive with draconian economic sanctions, military threats and subversive attacks.
By Fiona Edwards
Published on Eyes on Latin America, May 9, 2019
Last week the Venezuelan people resoundingly defeated the latest US-backed coup attempt against their government. Washington’s puppet and fake ‘interim President of Venezuela’, Juan Guaido, led the ineffective and small attempt to overthrow the legitimate and democratic Venezuelan government. In the face of this tactical defeat, the US administration continues to intensify its offensive against the Venezuelan government and people through harsh economic sanctions, military threats and subversive attacks.
The failed coup attempt
On 30 April a small number of military personnel joined Guaido in an attempt to organise a military coup against the Venezuelan government which was quickly neutralised – revealing the right wing opposition’s lack of support both within the military and the civilian population.
An article in Bloomberg reviewing the failure of this latest US-backed move against Venezuela was crushing in its assessment, stating:
“The whole episode was so bizarre – with Guaido seemingly lacking the military might to have any chance at all – that it was hard to understand the day’s events.”
The events also confirmed once again the strength of political support for President Maduro and the Venezuelan government amongst the civilian population and the military. Thousands of pro-government supporters filled the streets of Caracas. This follows several months of resistance which has seen millions of Venezuelans mobilise to defend their sovereignty in the face of escalating attacks from the US. The scale of support for the Venezuelan government and the depth of organisation that the Chavista left are continuing to demonstrate within Venezuela is something that Trump’s administration and the Western media have completely underestimated.
The failed coup attempt also gave further exposure to the how closely the Venezuelan right wing opposition and the US are working together to overthrow the country’s legitimate government and the undemocratic and violent means this alliance is prepared to use to achieve their goal of regime change.
Bolivian President Evo Morales was scathing of the US’s intervention in Venezuela, tweeting: “The US with its interference and promoting coups seeks to provoke violence and death in Venezuela, he does not care about human losses, only his interests.”
Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel condemned the right wing opposition’s willingness to violently crush democracy and suppress the will of the majority of the people by force. He said: “We reject this coup movement that attempts to fill the country with violence. The traitors have deployed troops and police with military weapons on one of the city’s public highways to create anguish and terror.”
Venezuela continues to have the important, powerful support of Russia and China. During the latest summit of the Belt and Road Initiative in Beijing in April 2019, both Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping in discussing the situation in Venezuela “highlighted that it is totally unacceptable when anyone tries to topple authorities in a third country, attempting to use force and illegal international pressure against a sovereign state, in order to change the leadership there,” according to Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov.
The US is waging an economic war to overthrow Venezuela’s government
Despite the failure of their coup attempt, the US is not giving up on regime change in Venezuela. On the contrary this continues to be at the top of the US foreign policy agenda in Latin America.
The US has identified a “troika of tyranny” in Latin America which is it determined to remove – namely the governments of Venezuela, Nicaragua and Cuba. The US plan is to overthrow Venezuela’s socialist government first and to use this as a springboard to attack other left governments in the region which also includes Bolivia and Mexico.
The central plank of the US’s current strategy for regime change in Venezuela is weakening the government’s political support by using economic sanctions as a means to impoverish and demoralise the Venezuelan people. This approach is reminiscent of the US strategy to overthrow the Allende government in Chile, where the goal was to “make the economy scream.”
A recent report by the Center for Economic and Policy Research published by economists Mark Weisbrot and Professor Jeffery Sachs argues that the US sanctions on Venezuela “fit the definition of collective punishment of the civilian population.” The report finds that the US sanctions against Venezuela were responsible for an estimated 40,000 deaths from 2017-2018, have increased disease and reduced access to food and medicine.
The Trump administration is attempting to destroy Venezuela’s vital oil industry. Venezuela’s economy is heavily reliant upon its oil sector – which is the country’s main source of revenue to buy essential imports such as food and medicine. This structural weakness in Venezuela’s economy, a legacy of centuries of underdevelopment under colonialism and imperialism, has been ruthlessly exploited by the US.
Since the start of 2019 the US has intensified its economic war on Venezuela with sanctions that effectively amount to a US embargo on the crucial oil sector. These sanctions represent a huge blow to the Venezuelan economy because the US has historically been the biggest buyer of Venezuela’s oil, including last year. In 2018 the US bought 35.6% of Venezuela’s oil exports – 586,000 barrels of oil per day.
In light of Venezuela’s reliance on exporting its oil to the US, the US National Security Adviser John Bolton has estimated that the US oil embargo against Venezuela will cost Venezuela’s economy $11bn in lost exports in 2019 alone.
The US oil embargo has had an immediate and dramatic impact. In February Venezuela’s overall oil exports fell by 40%. Weisbrot and Sachs note that “in the week of March 15, US imports of Venezuelan oil fell to zero for the first time, and they remained at zero for another two weeks before rebounding to a fraction of their 2018 average.”
Venezuela has sought to sell its oil elsewhere – principally India and China. Washington is trying to prevent Venezuela from doing this by threatening sanctions on any companies dealing with Venezuela’s oil company.
Venezuela has stabilised its oil production – with 1 million barrels of oil produced on average in April 2019. 32% was exported to China, 27% to India and 10% to Europe.
This, however, is a much diminished level of oil production compared to the situation prior to the US’s economically damaging sanctions. In 2016 for example, 2.3 million barrels of oil per day were produced and in 2017 Venezuela produced 2 million barrels of oil per day. Venezuelan oil production has halved in two years.
The US administration is attacking the living standards of the Venezuelan people in order to force them to submit and stop resisting US attempts to overthrow their government. The US sanctions are effectively an ultimatum to the Venezuelan people – submit or starve.
US military threats and unconventional military intervention
Alongside harsh economic sanctions, the US is also issuing severe threats of military intervention.
On Wednesday 1 May 2019 US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo reiterated that US military action against Venezuela remained a possibility, stating: “The President has been crystal clear and incredibly consistent. Military action is possible. If that’s what’s required, that’s what the United States will do.” Washington’s puppet, Juan Guaido, dutifully told to world’s media that he is considering asking the US to launch a military intervention.
A full US invasion of Venezuela would be a disaster for the people of Venezuela and the whole region of Latin America, as the experience of US wars against Libya, Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq graphically show. Such a war would be extremely costly to the US and difficult to conduct without the active participation of Venezuela’s neighbouring large countries – Brazil and Columbia. However, both of the governments of Jair Bolsonaro and Ivan Duque Marguez, notwithstanding their desire to see the Maduro government overthrown, have so far ruled out participating in a military attack on Venezuela despite the US’s on-going pressure for them to do so.
Any participation of Brazil and Columbia in a war against Venezuela would have huge domestic implications and undermine the political support of the right wing governments in these countries. Both Brazil and Columbia have strong left wing movements that are opposed to war with significant support amongst the populations.
The prospect of the US coordinating and deploying unconventional military attacks using proxy forces against Venezuela, rather than a full scale US invasion, is certainly on the agenda and under discussion. The goal of such attacks would be to terrorise the population and promote instability and disturbances within the country.
Argentine intellectual, Stella Calloni has uncovered a secret document called ‘Plan to overthrow the Venezuelan dictatorship: Masterstroke’, dated 23 February 2018 that bears the signature of Admiral Kurt Walter Tidd who was at the time the commander-in-chief of the US Southern Command. Among the methods cited to overthrow the Venezuelan government is a proposal to recruit “paramilitaries, mainly in the campsites of refugees in Cúcuta, la Guajira, and the north of Santander, areas largely populated by Colombian citizens who emigrated to Venezuela and have returned.”
On Wednesday 30 April 2019, Reuters reported that Erik Prince, the founder of private security firm Blackwater and a prominent supporter of US President Trump has proposed that mercenaries are hired and deployed in Venezuela to overthrow President Maduro. Reuters state that “in private meetings in the United States and Europe, Prince sketched out a plan to field up to 5,000 soldiers-for-hire on behalf of Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido, according to two sources with direct knowledge of Prince’s pitch.”
The US’s aggressive attempts to achieve regime change in Venezuela and install a puppet right wing government have been repeatedly thwarted by the resistance of the Venezuelan people who oppose US intervention in their country and are mobilising in their millions to defend their sovereignty and right to self-determination.
International solidarity with the brave Venezuelan people who are mounting massive resistance to the US attacks is vital. No US war on Venezuela, lift the sanctions!