The attempted coup occurs in the context of an economic and psychological war conducted by the Trump administration against Venezuela, with the strategic support of the Southern Command of the U.S. military and the major media of communication. The strategy has been the provoking a shortage of food and medicine through an economic war and the freezing of assets, blaming the Venezuelan government for the subsequent shortages, inflation, and economic stagnation. The mass media campaign within Venezuela is directed toward the middle class, seeking to stimulate irrational behavior as a result of the disruption of established patterns of consumption, provoked by the economic war. Internationally, the media campaign portrays the Chavist government as an authoritarian violator of human rights, whose economic policy of interference in “free trade” and rampant corruption have created a humanitarian crisis. The campaign against Venezuela is part of a larger objective of restoring U.S. dominance of Latin America and the Caribbean, recovering the terrain that had been lost as a result of the rise of governments of the Left. Leftist and self-proclaimed socialist governments of the region have sought to defend the sovereignty of their nations and the social and economic rights of their peoples through decisive state action in the economy as well as through regional cooperation and alliances with China and Russia (see “The legitimacy of Maduro and Venezuela” 1/15/2019 in the category Venezuela).
The coup began on January 23, when Juan Guaidó, a figure not well known in Venezuela but with a history of ties to the extreme Right in the United States, declared himself President of Venezuela (see “Juan Guaidó: The savior of Venezuela” 2/4/2019 in the category Venezuela). This declaration, as has been widely noted, was made the day after a telephone conversation with U.S. Vice-President Mike Pence. Guaidó recently had been elected President of the opposition-controlled National Assembly, which had been suspended by the Supreme Court for being in contempt of court. Guaidó invoked weak and highly questionable constitutional arguments in support of his self-declaration as president. His “government” was immediately recognized by the Trump administration, which persuaded some governments (mostly European governments or weak states lacking the conditions for an independent foreign policy) also to recognize Guaidó. The hope of U.S. planners was that key sectors of the Venezuelan armed forces as well as the people would back Guaidó, thus giving credibility to U.S. economic and military aid to the newly declared “government.”
However, things did not develop as the planners had hoped. Popular support was thin, inasmuch as the “government” had a “made in the USA” image; and in addition, some of the opposition parties were not in support of the strategy. At the same time, the military showed little sign of fracture.
Thus, the coup attempt entered a second stage. February 23 was named “D-Day,” when “humanitarian aid” would be accompanied by masses of people from Columbia to Venezuela. It was anticipated that either (1) the Venezuelan police and military would have to permit the great mass of people to enter the country, thus establishing a “humanitarian corridor” that would function as a foothold for U.S. military presence in Venezuelan territory; or (2) the Venezuelan forces would overreact with violence, thus providing a pretext for a direct U.S. military intervention.
Internationally, the “humanitarian aid” plan lacked credibility. The value of food goods was a tiny fraction of what sanctions against the country were costing the Venezuelan economy, so that pretensions of concern for the wellbeing of the Venezuelan people could not be seen as genuine. The “humanitarian aid” was widely seen as politically motivated and as a prelude to U.S. military presence. The International Red Cross denounced the U.S. scheme and refused to participate.
Within Venezuela, this second stage of the coup had even less credibility than the first. It was increasingly recognized that the Guaidó government was a U.S. creation. There was a growing sentiment among the people that, whatever disagreements and conflicts existed among Venezuelans, the president of their country should not be named by a foreign power. Moreover, the people overwhelmingly were opposed to a U.S. military intervention, because of the ill fame of U.S. military interventions in Latin America, and because of awareness of the death and destruction that would be among the consequences. As the Venezuelan Minister of Foreign Relations stated, it is really said that someone who claims to be president, in one of his first acts, would call upon a foreign power to invade the country. Fueled by sentiments of patriotism, above and beyond commitment to its Bolivarian Revolution, the people of Venezuela took to the streets in support of their constitutional president Nicolás Maduro. Supporters of the opposition and of Guaidó did not take to the streets in the numbers that the coup planners had hoped, in Venezuela or on the Colombian side of the Venezuelan border. Guaidó had ordered the Venezuelan armed forces to ensure the transport of the humanitarian aid into Venezuela, but this “presidential” executive order had zero effect.
Inasmuch as the convoked popular army that was to carry the humanitarian aid into Venezuela did not materialize, the Venezuelan security forces were able to block the advance of the limited number of protestors with a minimal amount of non-lethal force. Opposition demonstrators burned two trucks with humanitarian aid, but Venezuelan authorities were able to disseminate photos and videos, showing that the trucks were burned on the Colombian side by the opposition. Some opposition protestors attacked a police station near the border, but the police were able defend it. Neither the mass popular advance with the humanitarian aid into Venezuela nor the violent overreaction by Venezuelan security forces occurred. D-Day was a failure for the opposition.
Seeing the loyalty of the military forces to the government of Maduro and the limited popular response to the exhortations of Guaidó, a rupture occurred in the “Group of Lima,” the Latin American nations led by the USA that were supporting the coup d’état. The Latin American members of the group backed off a U.S. military intervention. The Vice-Chancellor of Peru, for example, observed that the Group of Lima seeks a peaceful solution. The Chancellor of Colombia observed that the goal of the Group of Lima is to reestablish the constitutional order, apparently recognizing the failure to impose Guaidó on the people. Similarly, the Vice-Chancellor of Brazil stated that Brazil does not support a military intervention.
At the same time, the international community was increasingly against U.S. military intervention. The European Union, initially supporting “humanitarian aid,” pronounced against the use of force. Russia, Cuba, China, the Community of Caribbean States, and ALBA denounced the U.S. plans for intervention. The Security Council of the United Nations denied to support a U.S. declaration on Venezuela, as U.S. policy was condemned by Russia, China, South Africa, and Bolivia in the Security Council debate.
Following the failure of D-Day, Pence observed that all options remain on the table. It seems likely that the USA will continue to apply sanctions against Venezuela and will call upon more nations to join in the financial blockade against Venezuela, hoping to promote destabilization and an incident that would provide a pretext for military intervention. As Marina Menéndez writes, “the main direction of the aggressive tactic appears to be, for now, to continue to seek a social implosion by means of the financial drowning of the State,” in order to resolve the affair through military means (Menéndez 2019). As José Bell Lara, a researcher at the Latin American Faculty of the Social Sciences (FLACSO) of the University of Havana, said to me, “Trump needs a war to rescue himself from a problematic domestic situation.”
Venezuela prefers a peaceful resolution, but it is prepared to defend itself. Its armed forces are loyal to the government, and it is relatively well-equipped. Venezuela has organized a popular militia of 2 million persons in 335 municipalities, which form the rear guard in a “civic-military union.” The atmosphere, nevertheless, is calm. At the same time, responding to the economic and financial sanctions of the Trump administration, Venezuela has signed contracts with various nations for the sale of petroleum, replacing sales to the USA; and it is progressively increasing production in order to generate more petroleum income.
Seeking to protect its sovereignty and independence in the long term, Venezuela seeks to develop science and technology in order to diversify its production, and it especially is oriented to sovereignty with respect to food and medicine. In its foreign policy, it is committed to the principals of the self-determination of nations, the non-interference in the internal affairs of nations, and the peaceful resolution of differences, expecting that these internationally proclaimed norms will function as constraints on the aggressiveness of the USA. It seeks to strengthen its solidarity with the peoples, governments, and organisms of the world that seek an alternative road different from that designed by neocolonial global structures; governments such as China, Russia, Iran, Turkey, India, Vietnam, Cuba, and Bolivia, and organizations such as ALBA, PETROCARIBE, the Community of Latin and Caribbean States, OPEC, and the Non-Aligned Movement. It sees itself as cooperating with the governments and peoples of the world in the development of a world-system that is more just and sustainable, in which the true sovereignty of all nations is respected.
As we will discuss in the next post, Venezuela is in accord with, and indeed is a symbol of, important world-system tendencies.
Callone, Stella. 2019. “La guerra de Estados Unidos: Venezuela, Nicaragua, y Cuba ¿y después?” Granma (February 27).
Capote, Raúl Antonio. 2019. “Colgados y quemado: el lenguaje de la derecha,” Granma: Suplemento Especial (February 23).
Goodman, Amy & Juan González. 2019. “The Coup Has Failed and Now the US Is Looking to Wage War in Venezuela,” (an interview with Jorge Arreaza, Foreign Minister of Venezuela), Democracy Now! (February 25).
Menéndez Quintero, Marina. 2019. “Esta pulseado la ganó Venezuela,” Juventud Rebelde (February 26).
Pérez, Elson Concepción. 2019. “‘Agentes’ para acá y para allá,” Granma: Suplemento Especial (February 23).
Ramírez, Edgardo Antonio. 2019. “La razia imperialista contra Venezuela,” Granma (February 27).
Sánchez Serra, Oscar. 2019. “Las guerras mienten, pero la verdad nunca muere,” Granma: Suplemento Especial (February 23).
Sheehan, Cindy. 2019. “There is no Humanitarian Crisis in Venezuela,” Cindy Sheehan’s Soapbox (February 14).