By C.J. ATKINS:
n In an all-or- nothing gamble, the Trump administration’s man in Caracas, Opposition leader Juan Guaidó, has opened what he’s calling the “final phase” of the effort to overthrow the elected Government of Venezuela. VENEZUELAN Opposition leader Juan Guaidó took to the streets a small contingent of heavily armed troops early on Tuesday, calling for the military to rise up and oust Socialist leader Nicolas Maduro. In an all-or-nothing gamble, the Trump administration’s man in Caracas, Opposition leader Juan Guaidó, has opened what he’s calling the “final phase” of the effort to overthrow the elected Government of Venezuela. Appearing in a video flanked by a few dozen heavily armed troops outside La Carlota air base in the capital city before sunrise on Tuesday morning, Guaidó said, “the moment is now.”
Beside him stood another Opposition figure, Leopoldo López, who played a role in the 2002 coup attempt against former President Hugo Chávez. Until today, López was under house arrest; now he is somehow on the loose. With the Opposition resorting to open military rebellion on the streets of Caracas, the slow-motion coup against Venezuelan democracy that has been underway for some time appears to be reaching its crescendo. Trump recognized Guaidó as “acting President” in January and began shifting control of Venezuelan State assets in the U.S. to him.
In the months since, provocations meant to push the Government of President Nicolás Maduro into heavy-handed repression have been steadily escalating. At least a thousand soldiers, national guardsmen, and other security officials who had abandoned their posts and fled to Colombia have been slowly slipping back into the country, possibly in preparation for today.
The majority of the Venezuelan people and the bulk of the armed forces remain loyal to the constitutional Government of Nicolas Maduro, but the Washington-backed Opposition is putting everything on the line in a make-or-break moment. If Guaidó prevails, Latin America gets its newest U.S.-installed extreme Right-wing Government and the Bolivarian Revolution will be extinguished. Venezuela’s unforgivable sin has been its insistence, since the election of Chávez in 1998, to chart its own path of development independent of U.S. control and neoliberal economics. Over the past 20 years, the Socialist Government has pursued programmes to tackle inequality and mass poverty, devoting larger shares of the country’s wealth to education, health, and social welfare.
It nationalised more of the country’s massive oil industry and devoted the resources to social programmes—a blow to U.S. energy giants like ExxonMobil and ConocoPhillips. Venezuela’s success helped set off a “pink wave” of Left-led coalition victories in elections across the region. Tangible alternatives to the old status quo in Latin America were being built everywhere. A combination of efforts by local right-wing forces and U.S. economic pressure, however, has succeeded in rolling back most of these gains. Venezuela, the biggest prize of all, is one of the last Left-led Governments still standing. The Venezuelan economy is in a state of severe crisis. U.S. sanctions and product and food shortages (often purposely engineered by Venezuelan businesses), combined with hyperinflation and Government mismanagement, have weakened support for Maduro.
For too long, the State remained dependent on oil revenue to fund its “social missions,” but world oil prices have fallen sharply since the early 2000s. The financial boom that sustained the Bolivarian Revolution’s programmes is long passed. Over three million Venezuelans have left the country and even among its supporters, like the Communist Party of Venezuela, the Maduro Government is facing criticism for its “lack of response” to the hardships being imposed on the population. Venezuelan oligarchs, the extreme Right, and the U.S. foreign policy establishment and its corporate backers have calculated that now is the time to strike. The Venezuelan Government is weakened. Guaidó has united the usually factious Opposition forces.
And an administration more determined to dominate and control Latin America rules in Washington. All the pieces have lined up to re-assert imperial power over wayward Venezuela. As if on cue, the leading lights of the pro-regime change crowd are publicly cheering on the overthrow of democracy in Venezuela this morning. National Security Advisor John Bolton, one of the architects of the Iraq War and advocate of attacking Iran, was quick to declare U.S. backing for Guaidó. Trump’s Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, said the Opposition forces “cannot be defeated.” And Florida’s Sen. Marco Rubio, knowing what was at stake, tweeted to the Opposition:
“Do not allow this moment to slip away. It may not come again.” The Organisation for American States, long a channel for the dissemination of U.S. policy in the region, is backing the coup. The Right-wing Governments which surround Venezuela are also joining the chorus, with Colombian President Iván Duque and Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro both declaring for Guaidó. Cuba and Bolivia, meanwhile, remain steadfast behind Maduro.
There is no going back from this point for Guaidó and the opposition. If their efforts fail today, as they have in the past, it is hard to imagine how Washington’s “acting President” could possibly continue as the open and public leader of the anti-Maduro forces. With the backing of the Trump administration, he has repeatedly incited military officers to treason and instigated economic sabotage. After conferring with Army chiefs, Maduro says the military is behind the Government and that “nerves of steel” will carry the day against the Opposition. Polling also suggests that, despite their unhappiness with the Maduro Government, the vast majority of Venezuelans are strongly opposed to any foreign intervention into their country’s affairs.