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Towards another coup in Venezuela? February 19, 2014

Posted by rogerhollander in Imperialism, Latin America, Venezuela.
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Roger’s note: here is more on the volatile situation in Venezuela that you are not likely to find in the mainstream media.  If you have the time to invest in reading an excellent analysis of recent pre and post Chavez Venezuela, go to the link for this article, which I am not posting here due to its length: http://upsidedownworld.org/main/venezuela-archives-35/4694-sabaneta-to-miraflores-afterlives-of-hugo-chavez-in-venezuela.

 

Protests are initiated by ultra-right factions of the opposition in the hope of an eventual systemic overhaul.

Last updated: 19 Feb 2014 08:50
Belen Fernandez
Belen Fernandez is the author of The Imperial Messenger: Thomas Friedman at Work, published by Verso. She is a contributing editor at Jacobin Magazine.

Five days after violent anti-government incitement in Venezuela led to the deaths of three people, the US State Department issued a press statement declaring: “The allegations [by President Nicolas Maduro] that the United States is helping to organise protestors… is baseless and false. We support human rights and fundamental freedoms – including freedom of expression and of peaceful assembly – in Venezuela as we do in countries around the world.”

Of course, US commitment to such freedoms is called into question by its own operating procedures, which have included police beatings of peaceful protesters and the incarceration and torture of whistleblower Chelsea Manning.

Inside Story – Making choices after Chavez

Maduro might  – meanwhile –  be forgiven for associating the US with efforts to overthrow the Venezuelan government given said country’s intimate involvement in the 2002 coup d’etat against Maduro’s predecessor, the late Hugo Chavez – not to mention its general history of fomenting opposition to less-than-obsequious Latin American regimes.

George Ciccariello-Maher, a professor at Drexel University and the author of “We Created Chavez: A People’s History of the Venezuelan Revolution”, remarked to me yesterday that, although “there’s no reason to think that the US is directly involved in organising or calling these protests… we need to bear in mind that [it] continues to fund the very same opposition groups that have participated in violent, anti-democratic actions before and that continue to do so”.

The great cake famine

The opposition cites insecurity, food shortages, and inflation as factors driving the protests.

However, pinning the blame for all of Venezuela’s ills on chavismo – the left-wing political ideology developed by Chavez and continued by Maduro – is transparently disingenuous. Or rather, it would be transparently disingenuous if the dominant international media were not intent on parroting opposition propaganda.

In 2010, for example, the New York Times horrified the world with the news that Venezuela under Chavez was deadlier than Iraq. As noted in Richard Gott’s Hugo Chavez and the Bolivarian Revolution, “much of the violence stemmed from the police itself (the highest crime rates were registered in the states of Miranda, Tachira and Zulia, where opposition governors ruled and controlled the local police forces)”.

Since such details complicate the vilification of Chavez and company, they’re often deemed unworthy of reporting. So is the fact that Honduras – neoliberal lap dog of the US – happens to be far deadlier than Venezuela, Iraq, and every other nation on earth.

As for the issue of food shortages, it’s instructive to take a look at a recent episode of Al Jazeera’s The Stream featuring an appearance by elite right-wing Caracas blogger Emiliana Duarte. Asked to elaborate on the circumstances of daily existence in Venezuela, Duarte launches into a sob story about having to visit 10 different supermarkets the previous year during a quest to bake a cake.

In addition to highlighting the sort of absurd hysterics that typify the Venezuelan opposition, the cake-baking anecdote constitutes less than persuasive evidence of the supposedly brutal tyranny under which Duarte and her socioeconomic cohorts are forced to reside.

Perpetual opposition ruckus about the government’s alleged control of the media – which is said to be thwarting proper transmission of the protests  – meanwhile – fails to account for the fact that the vast majority of Venezuelan media is privately owned. In 2012, the BBC noted that a mere 4.58 percent of television and radio channels belonged to the state.

Regarding Maduro’s decision to indefinitely block the far-right Colombian news channel NTN24 from transmitting in Venezuela, Ciccariello-Maher commented that, “while we should be very concerned any time a media outlet is blocked, however briefly, we should also remember that the private media is far from neutral” and that “this is a government that has seen a coup d’etat led by the private media”.

The doom-and-gloom squawking of the elite in response to the effective anti-polarisation campaign of the chavistas has merely been a natural reaction to a perceived threat against formerly entrenched positions of arbitrary privilege.

Indeed, the narrative spun by anti-Chavez outlets during the 2002 coup wasinstrumental to its initial success.

Polarisation by whom?

On the occasion of Chavez’s last landslide victory in 2012, Keane Bhatt listed some aspects of the man’s legacy thus far in a blog post for the North American Congress on Latin America: “[In the pre-Chavez years of] 1980 to 1998, Venezuela’s per capita GDP declined by 14 percent, whereas since 2004, after the Chavez administration gained control over the nation’s oil revenues, the country’s GDP growth per person has averaged 2.5 percent each year.

At the same time, income inequality was reduced to the lowest in Latin America, and a combination of widely shared growth and government programmes cut poverty in half and reduced absolute poverty by 70 percent – and that’s before accounting for vastly expanded access to health, education, and housing.”

Such improvements might be of more interest to the majority of Venezuelans than, say, Duarte’s cake saga. Although Chavez is relentlessly cast in the mainstream media as a “polarising” figure, the fact is that the late president laboured to reduce the already existing polarisation of Venezuelan society by reducing the income gap and offering the poor masses some acknowledgement as human beings.

The doom-and-gloom squawking of the elite in response to the effective anti-polarisation campaign of thechavistas has merely been a natural reaction to a perceived threat against formerly entrenched positions of arbitrary privilege.

As for the current opposition efforts against Maduro, it’s not difficult to see that US support for regime change in Venezuela is itself quite polarising – both domestically and continentally.

While the Mercosur member states – Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay, and Venezuela – havecondemned the violent “attempts to destabilise [Venezuela's] democratic order”, US Secretary of State John Kerry has condemned “this senseless violence” and exhorted the Maduro government “to provide the political space necessary for meaningful dialogue with the Venezuelan people”.

To be sure, it’s more convenient to blame Maduro for the phenomenon of “senseless violence” than to ponder, say, the practice of assassinating civilians with US drones. That the anti-chavista crowd is cast in the role of “the Venezuelan people” also raises the question of what the millions of people who support the government qualify as.

Initiated by ultra-right factions of the opposition, this bout of violence was far from “senseless”; it did, after all, have a point. And that point, as usual, was to agitate on behalf of an eventual systemic overhaul and the deliverance of Venezuela into the imperial embrace.

Belen Fernandez is the author of The Imperial Messenger: Thomas Friedman at Work, published by Verso. She is a contributing editor at Jacobin Magazine. 

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.

Obama in El Salvador March 29, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, El Salvador, Honduras, Latin America.
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(Roger’s note:  The role that Obama and his hawkish Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, have played to legitimize the coup inspired regime of Porfirio Lobo in Honduras, renders his visit to the tomb of Archbishop Romero an act of sublime hypocrisy.  Be it a Democrat or Republican in the White House, the Pentagon and the military-industrial complex dictate policy in Latin America; a new and improved Monroe Doctrine whereby the only consideration for support or non-support of a government is the degree of its friendliness toward corporate and militarized imperial America).

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Written by Belén Fernández   
Wednesday, 23 March 2011 12:18
Demonstrator in San Salvador (Photo: Efe) 

Source: PULSE

As part of his visit to El Salvador yesterday, the last stop on a Latin American excursion occurring despite events in Japan and Libya, Barack Obama visited the tomb of Salvadoran Archbishop Óscar Arnulfo Romero, assassinated on March 24, 1980. 

Observers have noted that the current bombing of Libya began on the same date as the start of the Iraq war eight years ago. Coincidentally, Obama’s appearance in El Salvador occurs exactly nine years after George W. Bush’s. As the BBC’s Tom Gibb wrote at the time:

“There is a tremendous irony that President George W Bush has chosen to visit El Salvador on the anniversary of the murder of the country’s Archbishop, Oscar Arnulfo Romero, 22 years ago.

A campaigner against the Salvadorean army’s death squad war, Monsignor Romero was shot through the heart while saying Mass, shortly after appealing to the US not to send military aid to El Salvador.

The appeal fell on deaf ears and for the next 12 years, the US became involved in its largest counter-insurgency war against left-wing guerrillas since Vietnam.…

To defeat the rebels, the US equipped and trained an army which kidnapped and disappeared more than 30,000 people, and carried out large-scale massacres of thousands of old people women and children.”

Regarding yesterday’s visit by Obama, SOA Watch writes:

“Oscar Romero’s assassins were members of Salvadoran death squads, including two graduates of the School of the Americas. The 1993 United Nations Truth Commission report on El Salvador identified SOA graduate Major Roberto D’Aubuisson as the man who ordered the assassination. While we welcome President Obama’s interest in visiting Archbishop Romero’s tomb, a more fitting tribute to Romero’s legacy would be the closure of the school that trained his murderers. President Obama’s gesture rings hollow in the face of the continued U.S. support for repressive regimes such as Honduras that further U.S. interests and in the face of the continued funding for the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation [current incarnation of the School of the Americas], the U.S. military training facility that has left a trail of blood and suffering throughout the Americas.”

Honduras, which also boasts a concentration of SOA alumni—including General Romeo Vásquez Velásquez, perpetrator of the 2009 coup against President Mel Zelaya—just last week witnessed the killing of 59-year-old assistant principal Ilse Velásquez, who was run over after being hit by a tear gas canister fired by the police at a peaceful protest in Tegucigalpa.

Her brother Manfredo Velásquez was disappeared in the 1980s during Honduras’ service as preferred U.S. military base. As Stephen Kinzer writes in The New York Review of Books:

“American military engineers built bases, airstrips, and supply depots at key spots around the country. American troops poured in for saber-rattling maneuvers whose main purpose was to intimidate the Sandinista government in Nicaragua. American intelligence agents trained Hondurans in techniques of surveillance and interrogation. Between 1980 and 1984, United States military aid to Honduras increased from $4 million to $77 million.”

Kinzer goes on to note the thoughts of Honduran SOA trainee General Gustavo Álvarez Martínez on how to properly deal with Marxist subversives, “their sympathizers, and outspoken leaders of labor, peasant, and student organizations”:

“American documents show that General Álvarez, who was chief of the Honduran security police and then the country’s top military commander, favored the simple expedient of murder. Among the special units he created to carry out this policy was Battalion 3-16 (or 316), which has become the most infamous military unit in Honduran history. According to a heavily edited version of a CIA report that was released in 1998, Brigade 3-16 emerged as an independent entity ‘based on recommendations from the “Strategic Military Seminar” between the Honduran and the US military.’* Some of its members were flown to the United States for training by CIA specialists.”

Especially given the resurgence of right-wing death squads and paramilitaries in Honduras in the aftermath of the 2009 coup, Central American citizens may be forgiven for being less than enthused by Obama’s promise yesterday to provide more training for security forces in the region.

*“The 316th MI Battalion,” secret CIA cable dated February 18, 1995, declassified October 22, 1998, as Document H4-4, approved for release September 1998.

Honduran Coup Regime Erects Superficial Reality Around Elections December 11, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Democracy, Honduras, Latin America.
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Written by Belén Fernández   
Thursday, 10 December 2009www.upsidedownworld.org

 

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Porfirio Lobo

A few days prior to the November 29 elections in Honduras, Francisco Varela—the homeless man regularly stationed outside the drive-through of one of the ubiquitous Espresso Americano establishments in the Honduran capital of Tegucigalpa—acquired a campaign T-shirt for National Party presidential candidate and soon-to-be victor Porfirio (Pepe) Lobo. The shirt boasted a slogan associating Lobo with immediate change; prospects for such things in Honduras were however called into doubt by the fact that the recent attempt by Honduran President Manuel (Mel) Zelaya to hold a nonbinding public opinion survey in order to gauge popular desire to rewrite the Constitution had been met with a coup d’état.

 

 Presumably in order to avoid having to discuss why popular consultations could not be reconciled with the interests of the Honduran elite, the golpista regime transformed the survey issue into a bid by Zelaya to install himself as eternal president of Honduras in violation of Constitutional articles prohibiting leaders from serving more than one 4-year term. These articles had appeared less important in 1985 when current coup president Roberto Micheletti, then a member of Congress, attempted to prolong the presidency of Roberto Suazo Córdova; other neglected articles included Article 102 prohibiting the expatriation of any Honduran—which did not prevent the armed forces from depositing the elected Honduran president in Costa Rica on the morning of June 28—and Article 2 establishing the Honduran people as the true rulers of Honduras, an honor which still did not enable public opinion surveys.

Additional holes in golpista rhetoric consisted of Zelaya’s ineligibility to run in the November 29 elections whether or not the public opinion survey had been carried out and my failure over the past 4 months to encounter a single member of the Honduran anti-coup Resistance who has been more concerned with the fate of Zelaya than with the fate of the constituyente (National Constituent Assembly to rewrite the Constitution).

Outside the Espresso Americano drive-through, Varela insisted that Lobo would bring about change by eliminating gang culture in Honduras—either via the death penalty or by imprisoning gang members for a sufficient number of decades so that they were unable to reproduce, he said—but did not explain how such agendas were more beneficial to his person than, for example, the acquisition of shoes. Subsequent evidence of efforts by political elites to graft their own concerns onto the citizenry surfaced at the December 2 session of Congress, convened to reject the restitution of Zelaya, during which a prohibition of the terms “the Honduran people,” “the poor,” “democracy,” “god,” and “Hugo Chávez” would have reduced golpista discourse to a bare minimum.

Professed Congressional concern for a “reconciliation of the Honduran family” did not meanwhile appear to take into account potential obstacles to familial reconciliation processes based on elections in which the majority of the family had abstained from voting. As for repeated proclamations by pro-coup Congress members that “this country does not belong to Chávez,” this was seconded by anti-coup Congressman César Ham of the Democratic Unification party, who wagered that 10 percent of the Honduran population controlled 90 percent of the wealth.

The alleged expansionism of Venezuelan socialism was invoked by Lobo supporter Oscar Izaguirre on election morning in Colonia Estados Unidos, a district by the name of The United States on the outskirts of Tegucigalpa, which was characterized by mangled dirt roads and limited infrastructure. Izaguirre went beyond typical golpista warnings of the dangers posed by the Chávez-backed Bolivarian Alternative for Latin America (ALBA)—an initiative guaranteeing more affordable fuel and medicines, among other items, for Honduran citizens—and reminded me of the necessity of intervention in Vietnam by his colonia’s namesake. The decreased necessity of the US in present times was, however, implied by Honduran Army Commander Miguel Angel García’s announcement in August that the Honduran armed forces had prevented the arrival of socialism to “the heart of the United States,” and Izaguirre’s announcement that he wished to rename his colonia as punishment for current “US intervention in Honduran affairs”—the golpista codename for the post-coup US policy of nominally admonishing the Honduran coup regime while nonetheless permitting its consolidation of power.

Izaguirre’s abrupt transition from his analysis of Vietnam to an analysis of the “war between the Tutsis and the other negros” was not accompanied by an analysis of the transition itself, and it was not clear whether he was proposing that Chávez intended to ignite a civil war in Honduras or that the name of the colonia be changed to “Rwanda” in order to discourage US interference. Also not clear was why prominent golpistas had not classified US use of Honduras as a launch pad for the contra war against Nicaragua in the 1980s as “intervention”; Izaguirre meanwhile progressed to an analysis of internal Honduran meddling, and declared that the Liberal Party—traditional rival of the National Party—”has screwed us and wants to continue screwing us,” despite the fact that the two parties were largely indistinguishable in substance.

According to a handful of Nacionalistas that gathered outside the school where voting was taking place, the Liberales employed at the polling station were deliberately altering the voting table numbers assigned to opposing party members. An election observer belonging to the Liberal Party assured me that “this sort of thing happens in all countries of the world” and asked if I worked for The Miami Herald, although he failed to specify whether this was an example of other places in the world where manipulation of data regularly occurred.

As for complications in the transmission of electoral results that evening, the Honduran Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) announced a technical failure somewhere in the midst of the 20,000 cellular phones that had been purchased for nearly half a million dollars such that electoral tables across Honduras could phone their results in to the TSE’s main computing center. How the TSE had determined that oral reporting of election results was pragmatic in a country in which the phrase “cell phone reception” bordered on oxymoronic was never established, nor was how the TSE had calculated a voter participation rate of over 60 percent despite the technical failure and despite calculations of 30-35 percent participation by organizations that had not reported such failure.

US Ambassador to Honduras Hugo Llorens had appeared in a November 29 La Tribuna article suggesting that Hondurans who did not want to vote should be respected anyway and that, although the present elections were characterized by “a lot of legitimacy,” the US would wait to issue a final judgment on whether or not they would be recognized. The wait did not prevent US Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Arturo Valenzuela from congratulating Lobo on his victory; Llorens was meanwhile categorized on Honduran Radio America as the “sometimes controversial” figure who had nonetheless been the recipient of applause at the Tegucigalpa voting center where he had accompanied a member of his security team to vote.

Other examples of inverse security relationships consisted of the fact that the Honduran military and police had been tasked with keeping the peace on election day, which they did by repressing a peaceful Resistance march in the northern city of San Pedro Sula. Violence was however averted in the city of El Progreso, home of coup president Roberto Micheletti, despite a November 25 article in La Prensa containing a subsection entitled “They want to kill him,” in which Micheletti claimed that the police had revealed a plot to assassinate him when he went to vote. Proof of the plot consisted of the reported discovery in El Progreso of an arsenal of items such as assault rifle bullets; according to La Prensa, “Micheletti also spoke of night-vision equipment,” the utility of which was questionable based on the fact that voting only took place in daylight hours.

The coup president’s worries thus appeared to have multiplied since August—when he had assured La Prensa that no coup-related regrets were keeping him up at night—and now in addition to being the potential target of night-vision goggles he had also recently been to the mall to view the film 2012, which he admitted to the golpista television program Frente a Frente had scared him. Micheletti expressed his hopes that reality did not follow the movie script, failing to recognize that an apocalyptic scenario would resolve once and for all the problem of presidents allegedly wishing to remain in power indefinitely; he meanwhile demonstrated his own lack of such aspirations by taking a vacation from the presidency for a week around election time—which did not alter the fact that he had decreed in September that only an invasion by the US might succeed in removing him from power.

Micheletti had thus far refrained from proposing a name change for Colonia Estados Unidos or Colonia Kennedy, a main district of the capital which I visited on the afternoon of election day. Seated on a bench across the way from the voting center at the John F. Kennedy School was a small group of middle-aged Resistance members, who had begun to chant “Dignity, dignity” after being challenged by onlookers disapproving of their comments to an Univisión television camera regarding the illegitimacy of elections. The exchange resulted in two pickup trucks full of police being called in to monitor the Resistance members, who resumed sitting on the bench.

The Honduran coup regime, which has focused on presenting elections as a panacea for political, social, and economic injustice in the country, has been aided in its construction of a superficial reality by a number of factors. These range from the onset of the Christmas season to US willingness to support a “Honduran solution to the Honduran problem”—which happens to coincide with US interests in the region—to Honduran media obsequiousness, not least observable in tunes lauding the Honduran electoral process played on national radio and accompanied by such thoughtful commentary by radio personalities as: “What a nice song.”

The untenable nature of such a reality was recently summed up by Resistance member Jeremías López, a primary school teacher in the Honduran department of Olancho, who credited the coup with having provided the impetus for an unprecedented level of spontaneous and large-scale social organization in the country. The fact that slogans like “NO TO ELECTIONS” still abounded on the façades of voting centers on election day suggests that a regime that is not capable of erasing graffiti will be even less adept at erasing a collective experience of resistance.

Belen Fernandez has been reporting from Honduras since July. Her book Coffee with Hezbollah, a political travelogue based on a hitchhiking trip through Lebanon conducted in the aftermath of the 2006 war, is due for publication shortly. She can be reached at belengarciabernal@gmail.com.

Image
Porfirio Lobo

A few days prior to the November 29 elections in Honduras, Francisco Varela—the homeless man regularly stationed outside the drive-through of one of the ubiquitous Espresso Americano establishments in the Honduran capital of Tegucigalpa—acquired a campaign T-shirt for National Party presidential candidate and soon-to-be victor Porfirio (Pepe) Lobo. The shirt boasted a slogan associating Lobo with immediate change; prospects for such things in Honduras were however called into doubt by the fact that the recent attempt by Honduran President Manuel (Mel) Zelaya to hold a nonbinding public opinion survey in order to gauge popular desire to rewrite the Constitution had been met with a coup d’état.

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