A slow-motion coup by right-wing opposition forces is underway in Venezuela. It has the support of President Donald Trump’s administration, and if successful, President Nicolas Maduro will be undemocratically removed from power though he was re-elected last May.
Juan Guaido of the Popular Will Party in Venezuela was elected to lead the National Assembly, Venezuela’s congress. He said on January 11 that he was ready to replace Maduro.
“The constitution gives me the legitimacy to carry out the charge of the presidency over the country to call actions. But I need backing from the citizens to make it a reality,” Guaido stated.
On January 15, the National Assembly called Maduro’s presidency “illegitimate” and passed a resolution indicating the body no longer believes he has any legal authority.
Trump administration officials immediately voiced their support. Vice President Mike Pence, who called Guaido, indicated the United States supports the effort to “declare the country’s presidency vacant.”
“The Maduro regime is illegitimate,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo declared, echoing the rhetoric of opposition forces in Venezuela. He said America was hopeful it could be a “force for good” and help those who oppose Maduro “restore a real democracy to that country.”
John Bolton, a national security adviser in the administration, suggested the U.S. supports Guaido’s “courageous decision” to declare that “Maduro does not legitimately hold the country’s presidency.”
Maduro took the oath of office on January 10. A presidential election took place on May 20, and Maduro was re-elected. But before votes were tallied, the Trump administration refused to acknowledge the outcome and threatened further sanctions against the Maduro government.
The right-wing opposition used a process in Venezuela to call for an election. When it became clear the opposition was fractured and one clear opposition leader would not emerge, the opposition urged Venezuelans to boycott the election.
The military overwhelmingly supports Maduro, and without the support of the military, it is much more difficult for the opposition to wage a coup attempt. However, opposition leaders in the National Assembly offered amnesty to anyone in the military who will help them overthrow Maduro.
Sanctions were issued by the U.S. and various countries in the run-up to Maduro’s election, and the Trump administration imposed new sanctions follow the election that put restrictions on the purchase of Venezuelan debt.
The Lima Group, which consists of Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Guyana, Honduras, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, and Saint Lucia, contended the vote did not meet “international standards of a democratic, free, just, and transparent process.” The bloc pledged to discourage the financial sector in their countries from doing business with Venezuela and to lobby regional and global entities to deny new lines of credit that would help them deal with a devastating economic crisis.
Together, a coalition led by the U.S. has formed to wage neoliberal economic war against Venezuela and force the country to abandon the popular “Bolivarian Project” that was pursued by President Hugo Chavez and challenged global capitalism.
What this coalition is campaigning against is not the heavy-handedness or ineptitude of the Maduro government. Rather, they are against socialism programs that have been widely supported by lower-class citizens.
In September 2017, Trump went before the United Nations General Assembly. He proclaimed, “The problem in Venezuela is not that socialism has been poorly implemented but that socialism has been faithfully implemented.”
“From the Soviet Union to Cuba, Venezuela, wherever through socialism or communism has been adopted, it has delivered anguish, devastation, and failure,” Trump added. “Those who preach the tenets of these discredited ideologies only contribute to the continued suffering of the people who live under these cruel systems. America stands with every person living under a brutal regime.”
It was reported in September 2018 that the Trump administration held meetings with Venezuela military officers, “who were plotting a coup against Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro.” Officials met with these officers “several times.”
Ultimately, officials were not persuaded to support military coup plans, probably because the armed forces have not wavered in their commitment to the ideas of Chavez.
Chavez was targeted by a coup attempt on April 11, 2002. He was ousted for two days by opposition leaders that were supported by President George W. Bush’s administration, including the CIA and State Department. Loyalists in the military, as well as support from the people, played an crucial role in ensuring he thwarted the coup.
Who is Guaido?
According to the Associated Press, Guaido is an industrial engineer who participated in the student protest movement against Chavez in the 2000s. He was elected to the National Assembly in 2015, and he owes much of his rise to prominence to Leopoldo Lopez, the opposition leader accused of crimes who is living under house arrest.
Guaido supported Lopez’s “strategy of anti-Maduro unrest” during a 2014 news conference, according to the AP.
Additionally, AP noted, “The two talk a half dozen times each day, and not a single speech or move isn’t coordinated with Lopez first, said one ally, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the internal proceedings.”
Lopez has earned the support of Western governments and human rights organizations, who treat him like a political prisoner. Yet, that obscures the reality of his alleged actions.
As journalist Roberto Lovato described in a thorough report, “The Making of Leopoldo Lopez,” published in 2015, “Lopez has been in jail since February 2014 on charges of arson, public incitement, and conspiracy related to the first big anti-government protest that year, on February 12, 2014, which left three protesters dead and kicked off weeks of rallies, street blockades, vandalism, and violence.”
The four-month “guarimba” in 2014 aimed to achieve regime change, and as highlighted by Steve Ellner, Lopez pledged to keep the guarimba going until Maduro was ousted.
This guarimba involved barricades “consisting of boulders, trees, and fires” or the placement of “oily substances on sidewalks” that resulted in a number of motorcyclist deaths. Those behind the guarimba also resulted in the death of six members of the National Guard.
Hermann Escarra, who is a constitutional attorney and former opposition activist who helped develop the 1999 Venezuelan constitution, said, “In the United States, what’s happening now in Venezuela would not have happened and won’t happen. No one would think to burn cars or tires, set fire to a street leading up to the White House, because the punishment would be truly serious.”
“Here, there are barricades called guarimbas where they’ve found armaments for war, where they’ve found Molotov cocktails,” Escarra added.
Lopez was also responsible for arresting and detaining Interior Minister Ramon Rodriguez Chacin on April 12, 2002. He was the mayor of Chacao, and with the help of Henrique Capriles, mayor of Baruta, they reportedly assisted Venezuelan Federation of Chambers of Commerce president Pedro Carmona in his effort to stage a coup against Chavez.
When Chavez survived the coup, the government indicted Lopez and Capriles for illegal detention, according to Lovato’s report. They were “later pardoned as part of a far-reaching and controversial amnesty.”
Lopez is connected to individuals, who plotted a coup amidst protests in 2014. In particular, Venezuelan national Pedro Burelli is “a former JP Morgan executive and pre-Chavez-era member of the board of directors of PDVSA, Venezuela’s national petroleum firm.” He is an influential supporter of Lopez and considers Lopez a “very good friend.”
From Lovato’s report:
“What’s happened? I keep seeing lots of protests, lots of people in the streets. What’s happening inside your colectivo?” Burelli asks in one conversation with an unidentified military officer, using a term often used to refer to a political cell.******* (Burelli, when interviewed in 2014, declined to name the officer but said he was retired. He has since identified the retired officer as Lt. Col. Jose Gustavo Arocha Perez. Burelli also said that he was using the term “colectivo” to refer to the armed forces.) “I think the world is extremely activated,” Burelli tells the officer in a voicemail. “All that’s missing is for this part of the military to make the decisions it needs to make.”
“I think that there’s another Leopoldo López in the armed forces who understands that the time has come to clean the scum of Chavismo, the scum of complicity, the scum of corruption,” Burelli continues. “Any group that stands up and says this now will generate a crisis, I guarantee it. But it must be linked to the struggle of the people, to Leo’s struggle and in solidarity with Leo…. This is the moment. There’s no risk if it’s done right.”
President Donald Trump’s administration has the zeal to return to the days when the U.S. government waged dirty wars in Latin America. Last year, he “questioned the bravery of Venezuela’s military but suggested they could easily overthrow President Nicolas Maduro amid an economic and humanitarian crisis.”
“It’s a regime that frankly could be toppled very quickly by the military if the military decides to do that,” Trump said.
As far as the world knows, the actions against Venezuela have primarily involved diplomatic isolation and economic warfare intended to further weaken the Maduro government. A coalition has decided if they spur greater poverty and despair then the right-wing opposition will receive a boost, especially if citizens can be convinced that Maduro is to blame for their hardship.
A pink tide—a tilt to the left across Latin America—has been stemmed significantly in recent years. Venezuela used to have support from countries like Argentina, Brazil, and Ecuador, which had leaders that were willing to reject neoliberalism.
Now Brazil has a fascist president, Jair Bolsonaro, and Argentina has a center-right president, Mauricio Macri, who oppose Maduro.
Macri said Maduro is a “dictator trying to perpetuate himself in power through fictitious elections.” They represent two major countries in Latin America that will help the Trump administration work through them to force regime change.