Wednesday, 27 February 2019

Threat inflation: U.S. Spacecadets are still GO!

WASHINGTON — Congress’ strongest supporters of a new Space Corps have not given up the fight, slamming the U.S. Air Force for wasted time as Russia and China pose a growing threat to America’s vital satellites.

“We could be deaf, dumb and blind within seconds,” House Armed Services Strategic Forces ranking member Jim Cooper, D-Military Industrial Complex-Tenn., said Wednesday at a Center for Strategic and International Studies forum on space. “Seldom has a great nation been so vulnerable.

Rep. Mike Rogers, chairman of the Strategic Forces Subcommittee, and the Corps’ biggest champion on Capitol Hill, said a space-focused service could be built in three to five years. By year’s end, Rogers, R-Ala., expects an independent report, required by the 2018 defense policy law, about how that process might look.

Rogers and Cooper argue it’s necessary for the military to have a dedicated space force because the Air Force let space capability atrophy in favor of more traditional air needs.

Rogers on Wednesday accused the Air Force of not taking space seriously enough to send a speaker to the CSIS event.

Hard Brexshit Hardship?

Brexit plan REVEALED: Hardship fund to shield Britons from no-deal fallout - leaked report

MINISTERS are planning a “hardship fund” in bid to shield hard-up Britons from the potentially damaging impact of a no-deal Brexit, a leaked report has revealed.

The document, published by the cabinet committee responsible for mitigating the worst effects of leaving the EU, offers a glimpse of the behind-the-scenes preparations for Brexit in Whitehall. Other ideas being floated include using “tax and benefits policy” to offset cost-of-living increases, protection for parts of the country deemed to be “geographically vulnerable” to food shortages, and identifying alternative sources of food for schools, prisons and hospitals. The proposals were drawn up at the monthly meeting of the EU exit and trade (preparedness) committee, chaired by Prime Minister Theresa May and attended by the majority of cabinet minister.

One of the “actions arising” circulated after the meeting committed “officials and ministers” in separate departments including the Department for Work (DWP), Pensions and the Treasury to “work on the detail of a possible hardship fund”, according to The Times.

The Bank of England’s modelling of a no-deal Brexit published in November projected unemployment to rise to 7.5 per cent.

Another separate document leaked to newspaper last year claimed the unemployment benefit bill could rise by £12billion over three years, with even a “smooth” no-deal scenario resulting in “adjustment costs”.

The hardship find is likely to consist of a pot of money earmarked for workers who lose their jobs as a result of the UK leaving the EU, who will be able to apply for cash via the government’s network of jobcentres.


Thursday, 21 February 2019

OMG: tell me Trump isn't ACTUALLY going to do this?!?

Donald Trump rushing to sell Saudi Arabia nuclear technology 

Experts worry tech transfer will allow Saudi Arabia to produce nuclear weapons, contributing to Middle East arms race.

Washington, DC - The administration of President Donald Trump is bypassing the United States Congress to advance the sale of US nuclear power plants to Saudi Arabia, despite concerns it would violate US law guarding against technology transfers, according to a new report by a congressional committee.

Security analysts worry the technology would allow Saudi Arabia to produce nuclear weapons in the future, potentially contributing to an arms race in the Middle East.

Multiple unnamed "whistleblowers" have come forward to warn about White House attempts to speed the transfer of highly sensitive US nuclear technology to build new nuclear power plants in Saudi Arabia, according to the staff report by the House Oversight and Reform Committee.

"The whistleblowers who came forward have warned of conflicts of interest among top White House advisers that could implicate federal criminal statutes," Representative Elijah Cummings, the Democrat chairman of the committee, said in a letter to the White House on Tuesday.

Jeera (links inside).

Saturday, 16 February 2019

Sorry, Democrats: Your NRA Is Spelled AIPAC

Chucky Shumer: pricipal AIPAC puppet

Congressional Democrats really hate the National Rifle Association and its success in shutting down debate on gun policy through intimidation — from cutting off campaign contributions, to funding opponents, to launching primaries, to simply making legislators’ lives miserable through harassment.

Leading gun control Democrats, like Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), rightly understand that, in his words, “we must break the grip of the NRA” if we are ever going to see Congressional action on guns.

Meanwhile Blumenthal, and most of his Democratic colleagues in both Houses, are in the grip of a foreign policy lobby as powerful as the NRA, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee or AIPAC. (Republicans, who come to their militant support for Israeli policies instinctively, don’t warrant AIPAC arm-twisting but Democrats, invariably dovish on all foreign policy issues except Israel, certainly do.)

AIPAC uses the same tactics as the NRA to ensure that the United States never deviates from support for whatever policy the Israeli government is pushing at the moment. These days those policies are: undermining President Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran, suppressing efforts by Americans to use selective boycotts to end the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and the blockade of Gaza, and, as always, to prevent any pressure on Israel to advance peace with the Palestinians despite the fact that the United States provides more aid to Israel than to any other country.

Having worked in the House and Senate for 20 years, I saw all of AIPAC’s tactics first hand. I also worked at AIPAC itself where, in the very office in which I sat, I watched my colleagues working hard and effectively to end the careers of politicians who deviated from the AIPAC line. (In the interests of honesty I should admit that I had no problems with AIPAC when I worked there. It was only years later, while working on Capitol Hill, that I came to understand that the policy of undeviating support for the Israeli government was not in American interests and that AIPAC sustained that support through rather scary intimidation).

But that is a whole story on its own. I want to focus on how some of the same Democrats who, rightly, are outraged that their Republican colleagues appear to be owned by the NRA act precisely the same way when it comes to the lobby that keeps them on a leash, AIPAC.

As I wrote here in HuffPost in July:

The latest evidence of that slavishness {to AIPAC] comes in the form of growing support among Democrats in both Houses for legislation sponsored by Sen. Benjamin Cardin (D-MD) and co-sponsored by Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer that would make it a felony for Americans to support the international boycott against Israel, commonly known as BDS. Anyone guilty of violating the prohibitions will face a minimum civil penalty of $250,000 and a maximum criminal penalty of $1 million and 20 years in prison.
According to the ACLU, the Cardin legislation would “bar U.S. persons from supporting boycotts against Israel, including its settlements in the Palestinian Occupied Territories (emphasis mine) conducted by international governmental organizations, such as the United Nations and the European Union. It would also... include penalties for simply requesting information about such boycotts. Violations would be subject to a minimum civil penalty of $250,000 and a maximum criminal penalty of $1 million and 20 years in prison....This bill would impose civil and criminal punishment on individuals solely because of their political beliefs about Israel and its policies.”
That is pretty amazing. The Cardin bill would essentially blow a giant hole in the First Amendment. Americans would continue to be allowed to hold any belief they want, about pretty much anything, with the exception of Israel. Although I, myself, do not support the boycott Israel movement (BDS), I also know that it was the Montgomery Bus Boycott that launched the civil rights movement. It was international boycotts of South Africa that brought down apartheid. Americans even used boycotts to kill North Carolina’s hateful “bathroom” law designed to punish transgender people. (Apparently, Cardin would permit Americans to boycott a U.S, state, just not the State of Israel.)

The Cardin bill is frightening and, if applied in any other context but the Israeli one, would be inconceivable. But all rules are suspended when it comes to the country about which former Vice President Joe Biden said “there must be no daylight, no daylight” between its policies and those of the United States. Yes, he actually said “no daylight” twice and, no, it is inconceivable that any American leader would say that about any other country, including Canada!

AIPAC Policy Conference 2014 - A Parody (or is it?)

So, naturally, some Democrats — including Senators Schumer (NY), Cantwell (WA), Bennett (CO), Hassan (NH), and Wyden (OR)—and House members including Hoyer (MD), Kennedy (MA), Lieu (CA), Lowey (NY), Schiff (CA), Sinema (AZ)) — are supporting this unconstitutional legislation because AIPAC tells them to. (The full list of House and Senate co-sponsors appear here and here). Worst of all, in both houses, it is Democratic support that will enable the legislation to pass and become law.

But it’s not all bad news. First, the number of Democratic co-sponsors for this AIPAC initiative is much lower than for past efforts when it has usually approached 100 percent. That is because the ever growing progressive base of the Democratic party (Sanders and Clinton supporters both) is finally challenging legislators who are progressive on everything but the Middle East.

In the case of the Cardin bill, one Democratic senator, Kristin Gillibrand (NY), took the unusual step of formally removing her name as co-sponsor after meeting with constituents including ACLU lawyers. And Sen. Cardin’s fellow Maryland senator, Chris Van Hollen, in his first year in the Senate, took the unusual step of breaking with his senior colleague over the bill despite heavy AIPAC lobbying and because his progressive constituents did not allow AIPAC to monopolize the debate as it usually does. Maryland opponents of the Cardin bill have been showing up wherever Maryland legislators appear for months now, including at Cardin events.

In short, while the NRA’s chokehold on Republicans seems tighter than ever, AIPAC’s grip on Democrats is loosening as younger and more progressive activists flex their political muscles. This is all good. And bodes well for the future.

The job. however, is to make all Democrats understand that while we support their positions on other issues, Middle East policy is the real litmus test.

After all, most Democrats are not subject to unrelenting pressure from lobbies and donors who oppose their positions on equal rights, guns, climate change, choice, etc. And even if they did, they almost always come from states or districts where the progressive position dominates.

That is why, for them, the test case is the Middle East: supporting peace, sovereignty, and security for Israelis and Palestinians both, as well as supporting the Iranian nuclear deal which is opposed by Israel and its lobby but viewed as indispensable by every other nation on the planet.

Otherwise, they can just shut up about Republicans being owned by the NRA. Bought is bought.


Thursday, 14 February 2019

Fake News: the Douma Nerve Gas Attack

On 14 April, France, the United Kingdom and the United States launched airstrikes against four Syrian government targets in response to the alleged Douma nerve gas (suspected Sarin) attack. But now a BBC journalist claims to have incontrovertible evidence that no such attack took place and that the 'shocking scenes in Douma hospital' were entirely staged.

LONDON (Sputnik) - Riam Dalati, a BBC Syria producer, has said that the footage of people being treated after an alleged chemical weapons attack in the Syrian city of Douma was staged.

Dalati wrote on Twitter on Wednesday that the issue had been investigated for six months.

The journalist pointed out that no fatalities had occurred at the hospital, adding that the attack in Douma had happened but sarin had not been used there. However, Dalati noted that the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) would look into whether chlorine was used at the scene.

As reported by RT:

Story broke @ Sputnik

Tuesday, 12 February 2019

The 'blockade' that wasn't...

There's much ado in the US and WW MSM about Maduro's alleged blocking of aid on the Tienditas Bridge (Puente Binacional Tienditas).

On Wednesday, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo posted on Twitter:

The Venezuelan people desperately need humanitarian aid. The U.S. & other countries are trying to help, but #Venezuela’s military under Maduro’s orders is blocking aid with trucks and shipping tankers. The Maduro regime must LET THE AID REACH THE STARVING PEOPLE.

(Hard to metally picture Pompeo actually caring about starving people but anyway)

However, here's a photo uploaded to Google Maps:

The photo was uploaded in June 2017. Tienditas Bridge, reported throughout the media as blocked by Venezuela this week, has in fact been blocked for at least 18 months!

There is also a Wikipedia article on Tienditas Bridge (in Spanish). It says of the bridge (translated to English with Google Translate):

It was concluded in early 2016, but due to the crisis between Venezuela and Colombia in 2015 and the border closure of Venezuela the bridge has not been officially opened.

This is backed up by a reference to an article from La Opinion, a local news site of Cúcuta in Colombia (also in Spanish), which states:

Sheltered by an old rusty gate and a guard, this binational work is still useless because of the border situation, despite the fact that the Invias has already completed 100 percent of the route.

The Google translation may not be perfect, but it seems that Tienditas Bridge has never opened even though it was finished three years ago, due to a dispute between Colombia and Venezuela. And the now familiar “rusty gate” has been there all this time. It’s a complete falsehood to say that Maduro “blocked” the bridge this week, that it must “reopen”, or that Venezuela erected “makeshift fencing” this week.

Justin Emery in Medium.

Does all this mean that Maduro isn't blocking aid? No. But it does prove how eager the MSM are to run with unsubstantiated claims (which they then don't submit to any fact checking scrutiny), as long as these claims put Maduro in the worst possible light.

Monday, 11 February 2019

Dishonesty, Omissions and Lies in Reporting on the Venezuelan Economic Crisis

Since 2015 Venezuela has endured gruesome economic hardships. Inflation rates have spiraled out of control, and the public is facing a recession that is tearing the country apart. Now, Venezuelans not only face economic turmoil, but also direct military aggression. A sane response of anyone who wishes to help Venezuelans through these troubles is to try to understand why this is happening.

Unfortunately, not all opinion pieces and news articles are honest in their approach. In fact, most media outlets seem to regurgitate the same poor and factually erroneous narratives, leaving the public ill-informed. It is necessary to address some common falsehoods that have been circulating concerning the economic situation in Venezuela and to highlight important facts that have largely been omitted from the common narrative.

Venezuela’s economic problems did not start with the Bolivarian revolution

One example of dishonest narratives in the pages of the Western media is that Venezuela’s economic problems are caused by the policies Hugo Chavez and Nicolas Maduro. These men are depicted as despots who have ruined a formerly healthy economy and as the culprits of Venezuela’s current crises. Latent in such narratives is the sometimes-unuttered, sometimes yelled, assumption that the Venezuelan economy was in good shape prior to the public election of Chavez in 1998. This is certainly not true.

Venezuela economic crisis started more than 35 years ago. From 1983 to 1998 real income fell by 14 percent, in a society that was already extremely corrupt and unequal (Corrales, 1999).According to data from the Inter-American Development Bank, 68 percent of Venezuelans lived below the poverty line in 1998. That same year the unemployment rate was 11.2 percent, and the inflation rate was 35.8 percent. This was a year before Chavez took office as president and before any economic sanctions and pressures from the West started.

After Chavez was elected president the economy strengthened considerably for three years, despite country being hit by massive flooding and landslides in December 1999. The inflation rate fell to 12.5% in 2001 and the poverty rate was successfully lowered to 39% (Weisbrot, 2008). The Bolivarian economic policies followed by the Chavez government were lifting Venezuelans out of poverty when Venezuela fortunately not being targeted for regime change.

What did cause the first downturn of Venezuela’s economy was not its progressive policies, nor Chavez’s alleged despotism, but a major attempt at a CIA assisted military coup d’état in 2002 and a subsequent violent shutdown of the country’s oil industry. That coup left the country in turmoil despite being unsuccessful.Prior to 2003, the government did not exert control over the oil industry. The oil industry shut-down in 2002-2003 was orchestrated by the “Coordina Democrática”, an umbrella group of political parties, business federations and right-wing unions that pursued to overthrow the government by non-electoral means.We shall examine that coup attempt in more detail later, but we must note that this overt policy of the Venezuelan right-wing and its supporters in the US was conducted in a climate of increasingly positive standards of living, especially for the poor.

Unfortunately, the failure of that coup attempt was not the end, but only the beginning of attempts to force Venezuela to steer from its policies. From that point to the present, Venezuela’s progressive policies were targeted by ever more sinister means and attempts at un-democratic takeover.

A recession followed the coup in 2002 that lasted for two years. But the country bounced back and in 2005, the Venezuelan economy grew by 9,4%, the highest in Latin America. Inflation rates lowered to 15.3% (Wilpert, 2005). In 2012, Venezuela was the most equal society in Latin America in terms of wealth distribution (BBC, 2012). According the CNN, “In 2011, the Gini coefficient — which measures income inequality –was .39, down from nearly .50 in 1998, according to the CIA Factbook. That is, equality in Venezuela was better than in the US and only behind Canada in the Western Hemisphere”. (Voigt, 2013). Thus, despite real and aggressive attempts at sabotage, the Chavéz government managed to put into place policies that aided the poor and, at the same time, strengthened the economy.

Simplistic explanations with glaring omissions

A common theme in current news stories regarding Venezuela’s crisis is that its cause can be found solely in the “economic mismanagement, corruption and political oppression” of Chavéz and Maduro (Laya, 2019). Such claims are supported with examples of the “Dutch syndrome”, where a country becomes to reliant on one commodity (Venezuela is very reliant on oil), on overspending on social programs, heavy lending and corruption. These claims might be open for reasonable debate if Venezuela had in any real sense been allowed to operate in peace. But nothing could be further from the truth.

Oil manipulation

A factor too seldom included in the common narrative on Venezuela’s economic crash is the apparently intentional meddling of oil prices by Saudi Arabia and its allies that apparently aimed at hurting Iran (Cooper, 2014) as well as other oil dependent countries such as Venezuela and Russia. Starting in 2014, Saudi Arabia started to flood the market with cheap oil. Despite this hurting even Saudi Arabia itself, this overproduction of oil had drastic effects. The price of oil went down from $110 per barrel to $28 in two years (Puko, 2016). This plummeting of oil prices had immediate negative effects on the Venezuelan state budget, as well as on other oil dependent countries, leaving Venezuela cash-starved. It is true that the country was indeed over dependent on one resource, and it has a serious corruption problem. But it is hard to see how the government of Venezuela could have managed to deal with such a huge blow to its economy amidst serious sanctions and economic sabotage that already plagued the country. A right-wing government would not have fared better in these circumstances. Instead of showing understanding to its problems, this crisis was used to denounce the Maduro government and to promote propaganda that increased the possibility of violent foreign and internal aggression.

The effects of economic sanctions

Economic sanctions directed by the most powerful military- and economic powers can cripple any economy. Even relatively mild sanctions can have serious consequences for the target economy. It has been found that the imposition of economic sanctions decreases the target state’s real per capita GDP growth rate by 25 to 30 percentage points on average with effects lasting for at least 10 years. More serious sanctions produce more serious effects (Neuenkirch, 2015).Furthermore, economic sanctions have been found to seriously worsen economic inequality and widen the poverty gap in target countries, in effect hitting the poorest people in the target countries hardest (Afersorgbor & Mahadevan, 2016; Mulder, 2018).

For example, in 1993, Serbia was singled out for economic sanctions that lasted until 2001. The sanctions had devastating effects on the public, making more than half the population of the country poor, unemployed, or displaced as refugees (Garfield, R. 2003). In Iraq, the economic sanctions imposed on the country in August 1990 and extended following the 1991 Persian Gulf War, lead to a decrease in GDP from $38 billion in 1989 to $10.8 billion in 1996. Per capita GDP declined over 75%, leading to devastating effects for the public. According to a report by Bossuyt (2000), the transportation, power and communication infrastructure were not rebuilt during the period, the industrial sector was in shambles, and agricultural production suffered greatly due to the sanctions. The “purchasing power of an Iraqi salary by the mid-1990s was about 5 per cent of its value prior to 1990 …” and, as the United Nations Development Program field office recognized, “the country has experienced a shift from relative affluence to massive poverty …The previous advances in education and literacy have been completely reversed over the past 10 years” (ibid).

As should be obvious, economic sanctions have horrible effects on the economy of the targeted nations and their inhabitants. How strange it is that opinion pieces, editorials and news segments tend to completely ignore that the overbearing barrage of economic sanctions directed against Venezuela might be a factor in the current crisis in its economy. Journalists that fail to address this cannot and should not be taken seriously.

The crash in Venezuela is directly linked to economic sanctions

In 2006, the first economic sanctions against Venezuela were put in place by Venezuela’s most important trading partner and,apparently, its worst enemy, the U.S. At first, these were directed against single individuals, but gradually these have evolved into hard and serious sanctions on all Venezuela.

The US House of Representatives passed the Venezuelan Human Rights and Democracy Protection Act (H.R. 4587; 113th Congress) on May 28, 2014. It applied economic sanctions against Venezuelan officials who were alleged to be involved in the mistreatment of protestors during the 2014 Venezuelan protests.

In December that year, the U.S. Congress passed S. 2142 (Venezuela Defense of Human Rights and Civil Society Act of 2014). The bill directed the President to impose sanctions against “any person, including any current or former official for the government of Venezuela or person acting on behalf of that government” who the US Congress would deem as responsible for human rights abuses or “knowingly materially assisted, sponsored or provided significant financial, material or technological support for, or goods or services in support of, the commission of such acts” (Poling et al., 2014). When the US Congress passed the bill, U.S. businesses raised concerns that the legislation could provide an incremental step towards broader sanctions against the Venezuelan economy, including the country’s oil industry despite being introduced as targeting individuals (ibid).

On March 9, 2015, the Obama Administration signed and issued a Presidential order. In it, Venezuela was declared a threat to US national security and sanctions were ordered against Venezuelan officials. How Venezuela was a threat to the United States was not explained. The order was strongly denounced by the Community of Latin American and Caribbean Sates for its “unilateral coercive measures against International Law” (Tejas, 2015). Ernesto Samper, the Secretary-General of the Union of South American Nations, deemed the order as an attempt to disrupt the democratic process in Venezuela.

The Trump Administration greatly escalated the economic pressures started by the Obama Administration. These included financial sanctions against the Venezuelan government and aggressive measures against the oil industry. The additional sanctions on Venezuela that were imposed with Executive Order 13808 on August 24, 2017 were nothing less than an act of aggression against the Venezuelan economy and its people. It specifically bars revenues from Venezuela’s state oil company to paid from the US, bars the Venezuelan government from selling bonds, and even bars the state from receiving loans. These sanctions were designed to prevent Venezuela’s own money from entering Venezuela.Note that all the Venezuelan governments’ outstanding foreign currency bonds are governed under New York State law,and one of Venezuela’s major government assets, the state oil company, is based in Texas. So barring all profit flow from that company is crippling for Venezuela (Ellner, 2019).

READ MORE: What’s the Deal with Sanctions in Venezuela, and Why’s It So Hard for Media to Understand?

The US economic sanctions have indeed had devastating effects on the Venezuelan economy. Francisco Rodriguez, Venezuelan economist and a long-time critic of the Venezuelan government, presented clear evidence that since 2015, and especially after the sanctions imposed by the Trump administration in 2017, Venezuela’s oil production dropped much faster than had been predicted. According to Rodriguez, after the sanctions made it illegal for the Venezuelan government to obtain financing from the US, Venezuelan production fell by 37%, much more than the 6-13% decline that had been predicted. Rodriguez calculated that the difference in total revenue between the “sanctions” and “no sanctions” case over one year was about $6 billion. That sum is 133 times larger than what the UNHCR has appealed for in aid for Venezuelan migrants. Rodríguez summed up the main cause of Venezuela’s economic implosion as follows: “The fall in oil production began when oil prices plummeted in early 2016 but intensified when the industry lost access to credit markets in 2017” (Rodríguez, 2018).

As Rodriguez explained

“To understand the magnitude of this effect, consider how much Venezuela would be earning in oil export revenue today if production had not declined. Were the country selling as many barrels to the rest of the world today as in 2015, it would have exported $51bn in oil this year. By contrast, Venezuela will sell only $23bn of oil internationally in 2018. And, if the slide in production continues, only $16bn in 2019. We can safely say that if the country was receiving $28bn more in yearly export revenue than it does today, it would have experienced a much smaller decline in living standards than it saw.”

The US issued yet another economic sanction on Venezuela on January 28 this year. This time specifically focusing on “persons operating in Venezuela’s oil sector”, especially on Petroleos de Venezuela (PDVSA). The press release announcing these new economic sanctions even specify that the US will “continue to take concrete and forceful actions against those who oppose the peaceful restoration of democracy in Venezuela” adding that the US “stands with interim President Juan Guaido”, an un-elected man (US dep. of State, 2019). This means that not only is the US arbitrarily sanctioning another country’s state assets and intentionally hurting its economy, it is directly involving itself in the internal affairs on another country, which is illegal under international law.

The severe attacks on Venezuela´s economy have been followed by US allies. Recently, the Bank of England refused to return $1.2 billion in gold reserves after lobbying from National Security Adviser John Bolton and Secretary of State Michael Pompeo (Laya, Bronner and Ross, 2019).

Indeed, these sanctions have been described “illegal and could amount to ‘crimes against humanity’ under international law” by Alfred de Zayas, former special rapporteur to the UN. According to de Zayas, the US is engaging in “economic warfare” against Venezuela that results in hurting the economy and killing Venezuelans (Selby-Green, 2019). As the sanctions seem to be means to starve the population of Venezuela and deliberately cripple the economy in order to achieve political aims, these acts can rightly be described as terrorism.

It is very doubtful that any economy would survive such violent sanctions. Unfortunately, the sanctions are only one part of the extensive sabotage that have been done towards the Venezuelan economy and society. An even bigger threat to Venezuela’s economy than US lead sanctions has been the conspicuous acts of the internal enemies of Venezuela’s government and its progressive Bolivarian policies.

Internal subversion

Ever since 1999, the Venezuelan government has been under constant attacks from the very rich and powerful elite of business oligarchs who hate Bolivarian politics with a passion. These oligarchs have been supported by the US, as well as far right groups in the hemisphere, not least in Colombia.

The first serious coup attempt took place in April 2002. It started with a general strike called by unions for the state oil company, PDVSA, which was followed by protest marches through Caracas. As protests neared the Miraflores palace, a massacre took place where 16 people were killed, 7 policemen and 9 civilians. Within hours, the military high command had arrested Chavéz and put in his place Pedro Carmona, the head of Venezuela’s largest business association. This presidency lasted 48 hours. In that short period Carmona, dissolved Congress and cancelled the newly approved constitution of Venezuela. Scores of people were imprisoned, and a military state was put in place. However, thousands of demonstrators and military personnel opposed to Carmona’s rule managed to reverse the coup. According to Bellos (2002),the Bush administration “was left with some eggs on its face. Unlike Latin American countries, which voiced concern that the coup had forsaken democratic principles, the US showed no remorse at Mr. Chavez’s removal”.

The narrative of exactly what happened is still very partisan, but the coup attempt had been organized for at least 9 months by a group of businessmen, military officers and various opposition figures in Venezuela. Keeping in mind how long this coup attempt was planned, it is hard to take seriously claims that the demonstrations and the massacre that occurred in the early hours of April 11, followed by the arrest of Chavez and other political figures by elements of the Venezuelan military were unrelated to these plans. Private media outlets reported with dishonesty about what happened that day (see Wilpert, G. 2009) and were therefore complicit in the coup attempt.

Although the extent to which institutions in the US were involved in the coup attempt, US officials knew it was going to take place. In 2004, declassified intelligence documents showed that the Central Intelligence Agency was aware that dissident military officers and opposition figures in Venezuela were planning a coup against President Hugo Chávez in 2002, well in advance. Parts of the document reads as followed: “disgruntled senior officers and a group of radical junior officers are stepping up efforts to organize a coup against President Chávez, possibly as early as this month…” It stated that Chávez and 10 senior officers were targeted for arrest and the plotters would try to “exploit unrest stemming from opposition demonstrations slated for later this month” (Forero, 2004).

In November 2013, a document titled “Plan Estratégico Venezolano” or “Stratetic Venezuelan Plan” that was written in June that same year, surfaced after suits from attorney Eva Golinger (2013). The document highlighted a plan by representatives of the United States, Colombia and the oligarchs in Venezuela to undermine the economy of Venezuela as part of removing Maduro. The document was prepared by the “Democratic Internationalism Foundations” which is headed by ex-Colombian president Alvaro Uribe, and also the “First Colombia Think Tank” and the US Consulting firm, FTI Consulting.

The document is a very sinister read. It outlines a strategic plan to destabilize Venezuela by various means. For example, it details a strategy to sabotage the electrical system in Venezuela, “maintain and increase the sabotages that affect public services” and “increase problems with supply of basic consumer products”. For propaganda, the authors propose “perfecting the confrontational discourse of [opposition candidate] Henrique Capriles” and generate “emotion with short messages that reach the largest quantity of people and emphasize social problems, provoking social discontent”. More seriously, the authors propose to create “situations of crisis in the streets that will facilitate US intervention, as well as NATO forces, with the help of the Colombian government” adding “whenever possible, the violence should result in deaths or injury”. The document recommends “a military insurrection” against Venezuela with “contacting active military groups and those in retirement to amplify the campaign to discredit the government inside the Armed forces… It’s vital to prepare military forces so that during a scenario of crisis and social conflict, they lead an insurrection against the government, or at least support a foreign intervention or civil uprising” (Golinger, 2013).

The plan was developed during a meeting between the three organizations as well as leaders of the Venezuelan opposition, including Maria Corina Machado, Julio Borges and Ramon Guillermo Avelado, expert in psychological operations J.J. Rendon and the Director of the US Agency for International Development (USAID) for Latin America, Mark Feierstein.

One must ask, how many such plans have been put in place since, but not exposed? The actions and dialogue of these oligarch show just how low they are ready to sink in order to oust a democratically elected government.

The opposition in Venezuela has been very violent and showed complete disregard for democratic principles. For example, in 2014 Venezuela was hit by a big wave of demonstrations following the outcome of the 2013 presidential elections, where Nicolas Maduro won by a small margin, 50.6%. During this time of unrest opposition political figures such as Leopoldo Lopéz, who had also been involved in the 2002 coup attempt, and María Corina Machado, launched a campaign to remove Maduro from office. The plan was named “La Salida” (the exit) and had the intent of having Maduro resign through protests. Machado stated publicly that “we must create chaos in the streets” (Carasik, 2014). At least 36 people died in the unrest following this statement. The opposition predictably blamed the government for these deaths. But considering that the deaths included several security forces and pro-government civilians and others were apparently non-affiliated, that statement must be contested (see Hart, 2014).

Recently, an organization called “Democratic Unity Roundtable” seems to have been coordinating acts of violence against those who are identified as pro-Chavista (Joubert-Ceci, 2017).This group was formed in 2008 to unify opposition Chavéz and can be viewed as the successor of the CoordinadoraDemocrática. The violent protests centered around a call by Maduro to a vote on a Constituent Assembly to rewrite the constitution. Despite having called for the Assembly themselves, the opposition refused to enter dialogue, demanding the presence of the Vatican. But even Pope Francis announced that the dialogue had failed because the opposition would not participate (Nelson, 2017). Instead, the opposition rallied anti-Maduro demonstrators to start a spree of violence that left at least 100 dead (ibid). According to the Canadian Peace Congress of 2017, “if an attempt at internal counter-revolution fails, plans are being put in place for direct military intervention by the United States, possibly under the cover of the Organization of American States (OAS)” (ibid). It is at least clear that the opposition is thoroughly un-democratic in their planning’s and actions but are still supported by Western powers.

To report that the economy of Venezuela is in turmoil solely because of Maduros “socialistic” policies, while ignoring the very serious consequences of economic sanctions, oil price manipulations, and internal sabotage is deliberate denial of facts, is propagandistic journalism, is absurd. Informed discussions about the effects and costs of progressive social programsmay be interesting and useful theoretical exercises.But as distortions and denials of historic facts, emotional attacks on Venezuela’s government should be seen as the propaganda, designed to manipulate American, Canadian and European populations into supporting another violent regime change in another oil-producing nation.

Jón Karl Stefánsson for GlobalResearch

Sunday, 10 February 2019

Econowarfare: the US, the World Bank and the IMF

WASHINGTON – In a leaked military manual on “unconventional warfare” recently highlighted by WikiLeaks, the U.S. Army states that major global financial institutions — such as the World Bank, International Monetary Fund (IMF), and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) — are used as unconventional, financial “weapons in times of conflict up to and including large-scale general war,” as well as in leveraging “the policies and cooperation of state governments.”

The document (*.pdf), officially titled “Field Manual (FM) 3-05.130, Army Special Operations Forces Unconventional Warfare” and originally written in September 2008, was recently highlighted by WikiLeaks on Twitter in light of recent events in Venezuela as well as the years-long, U.S.-led economic siege of that country through sanctions and other means of economic warfare. Though the document has generated new interest in recent days, it had originally been released by WikiLeaks in December 2008 and has been described as the military’s “regime change handbook.”

WikiLeaks’ recent tweets on the subject drew attention to a single section of the 248-page-long document, titled “Financial Instrument of U.S. National Power and Unconventional Warfare.” This section in particular notes that the U.S. government applies “unilateral and indirect financial power through persuasive influence to international and domestic financial institutions regarding availability and terms of loans, grants, or other financial assistance to foreign state and nonstate actors,” and specifically names the World Bank, IMF and The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), as well as the Bank for International Settlements (BIS), as “U.S. diplomatic-financial venues to accomplish” such goals.

The manual also touts the “state manipulation of tax and interest rates” along with other “legal and bureaucratic measures” to “open, modify or close financial flows” and further states that the U.S. Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) – which oversees U.S. sanctions on other nations, like Venezuela — “has a long history of conducting economic warfare valuable to any ARSOF [Army Special Operations Forces] UW [Unconventional Warfare] campaign.”

This section of the manual goes on to note that these financial weapons can be used by the U.S. military to create “financial incentives or disincentives to persuade adversaries, allies and surrogates to modify their behavior at the theater strategic, operational, and tactical levels” and that such unconventional warfare campaigns are highly coordinated with the State Department and the Intelligence Community in determining “which elements of the human terrain in UWOA [Unconventional Warfare Operations Area] are most susceptible to financial engagement.”

The role of these “independent” international financial institutions as extensions of U.S. imperial power is elaborated elsewhere in the manual and several of these institutions are described in detail in an appendix to the manual titled “The Financial Instrument of National Power.” Notably, the World Bank and the IMF are listed as both Financial Instruments and Diplomatic Instruments of U.S. National Power as well as integral parts of what the manual calls the “current global governance system.”

Furthermore, the manual states that the U.S. military “understand[s] that properly integrated manipulation of economic power can and should be a component of UW,” meaning that these weapons are a regular feature of unconventional warfare campaigns waged by the United States.

Another point of interest is that these financial weapons are largely governed by the National Security Council (NSC), which is currently headed by John Bolton. The document notes that the NSC “has primary responsibility for the integration of the economic and military instruments of national power abroad.”

[Big snip]

Guaidó hits up IMF

Given the close relationship between the U.S. government and these international financial institutions, it should come as little surprise that – in Venezuela – the U.S.-backed “interim president” Juan Guaidó – has already requested IMF funds, and thus IMF-controlled debt, to fund his parallel government.

This is highly significant because it shows that top among Guaidó’s objectives, in addition to privatizing Venezuela’s massive oil reserves, is to again shackle the country to the U.S.-controlled debt machine.

As the Grayzone Project recently noted:
Venezuela’s previous elected socialist president, Hugo Chávez, broke ties with the IMF and World Bank, which he noted were “dominated by US imperialism.” Instead Venezuela and other left-wing governments in Latin America worked together to co-found the Bank of the South, as a counterbalance to the IMF and World Bank.”

Guaidó has moved to re-integrate Venezuela into these very same Washington-dominated financial institutions. In addition to seeking financing from the IMF, Guaidó is likewise trying to send a new representative to the Inter-American Development Bank.

Venezuela’s right-wing opposition has made it clear that it plans to pursue aggressive neoliberal capitalist reforms. The opposition-controlled National Assembly has also declared in its “transition” plans that the “centralized model of controls of the economy will be replaced by a model of freedom and market based on the right of each Venezuelan to work under the guarantees of property rights and freedom of enterprise.”

This plan might be a dream for foreign corporations, but even many Venezuelans marching against their government might soon decide that stripping state assets is not worth fighting for.


Venezuela: Guaido will not rule out authorising US intervention

Venezuela’s self-proclaimed acting president Juan Guaido refused to rule out on Friday the possibility of authorizing United States intervention to help force President Nicolas Maduro from power and alleviate a humanitarian crisis.
National Assembly leader Guaido told AFP he would do “everything that is necessary... to save human lives,” acknowledging that US intervention is “a very controversial subject.”

Let's hope he realises the US doesn't need Guaido's authorisation!

Although it could be a useful figleaf...


Wednesday, 6 February 2019

Donald Tusk gets wrist slapped for truth telling

European Council President Donald Tusk has spoken of a "special place in hell" for "those who promoted Brexit without even a sketch of a plan of how to carry it out safely".

He was speaking after talks with Irish leader Leo Varadkar in Brussels.

Brexit-backing MPs reacted with anger to the comments, accusing Mr Tusk of "arrogance".

Downing Street said it was a question for Mr Tusk "whether he considers the use of that kind of language helpful".


Saturday, 2 February 2019

Countdown to military action?

Bolton—who has repeatedly threatened U.S. military action to force out Maduro—made the threat in a "crazy" radio interview (mp3) with right-wing commentator Hugh Hewitt about President Donald Trump's broader policy toward Venezuela, including the administration's endorsement of self-declared "Interim President" Juan Guaidó, and sanctions imposed via executive order against the state-owned oil company, Petroleos de Venezuela, S.A. (PdVSA):

JB: Well, I tweeted yesterday, you know, I wish him a long, quiet retirement on a pretty beach far from Venezuela. And the sooner he takes advantage of that, the sooner he’s likely to have a nice, quiet retirement on a pretty beach rather than being in some other beach area like Guantanamo.

Some claim military action is off the table but just how Maduro's ass is to be hauled off to Guantanamo Bay remains unclear...