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Opponents of intervention gather in D.C. to demand U.S. back off Venezuela

By Barrington M. Salmon -Contributing Writer- | Last updated: Mar 19, 2019 - 11:05:42 PM

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(l-r) Venezuelan President Nicholas Maduro, Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó Márquez, Former Venezuelan president, the late Hugo Chavez, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton

WASHINGTON—Since the late Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez launched the Fifth Republic and the Bolivarian Revolution in 1998, the country has been under siege by the United States. This country’s ruling, business class and political elite has been consistent in ensuring, through force, intimidation and coercion, that nation-states in the Caribbean and Latin and Central America pose no threat to capitalism, the U.S.’ ability to siphon off resources and other forms of capital.

Venezuela is now in America’s sights.

Successive presidents since George W. Bush have imposed sanctions against the oil-rich country and between then and now, the U.S. orchestrated a failed coup against President Chavez in 2002 that was reversed 48 hours later because of the support of the military and his considerable popular support.

Since assuming office, President Donald Trump and other members of his administration have spoken openly of “regime change,” imposed billions of dollars in new sanctions against the country, revealed the well-known reason that their efforts center on getting their hands on Venezuela’s oil and installing a government that will allow U.S. corporations to move freely to plunder the resources.

Activists against U.S. intervention have been unrelenting in their opposition,especially since February 23, when U.S.-backed politician Juan Guaidó Márquez declared himself acting president. Mr. Guaido’s justification is his belief that President Nicolás Maduro’s May 2018 reelection was illegitimate. He is using Article 233 of Venezuela’s constitution which places temporary presidential power on the head of the National Assembly when the presidency is otherwise vacant. Mr. Guaidó also cites Article 350, which proclaims that Venezuelans “shall disown any regime, legislation or authority that violates democratic values, principles and guarantees or encroaches upon human rights.”

Since then, Venezuelan President Maduro has been locked in a tense standoff with Mr. Guaidó.

Young people at rally joined others in calling for the U.S. government to cease interference and meddling in the affairs of Venezuela.

Opponents, proponents square off

On Saturday, March 16, participants from an umbrella of organizations took part in a large protest across the street from the White House where speakers criticized America’s efforts to destabilize and overthrow the constitutionally elected socialist government.

Protestors carried bright yellow placards declaring their position, such as “Not Your Land, Not Your Oil, Hands off Venezuelan soil.” Buses of protestors came from New York, Georgia, Chicago, Albuquerque and all points in between. The crowd was an eclectic mix of young and old, hippies, Millennials, Venezuelans— supporters and opponents of U.S. intervention—indigenous people, Haitians, Palestinians and others.

“It’s obviously critically important to be here,” said moderator Eugene Puryear of Justice First. “They want to create dirty war, foment unrest and pit Venezuelans against each other. We’ve seen this story before in Iraq, Libya, and other countries which have been a complete humanitarian disaster. People are trying to eat, trying to survive because of the intervention,” he added.

“No to regime change agenda. Not in our name!”

Shortly after the rally started, a small contingent of Maduro opponents gathered. Several shouted out anti-Maduro comments, others stood toe-to-toe with those against intervention jawing at each other. All around Lafayette Park, pairs of people or others in tight circles debated and discussed their truths, some gesturing to emphasize their points, their faces tightening as they spoke.

Maduro opponents edged closer to the larger crowd and soon those on each side of the issue stood inches from each other, trying to overpower the words from the other side, shouting and pointing as their agitation spiked. Mounted police and SWAT team members stepped in quickly to restore order, encouraging the anti-Maduro crowd to move back.

Katherine Savatierre stood watching the rally in between engaging with those who held a differing view.

“I’m here because there’s no food, no medicine, no power,” she said, trying to hold back tears. “My mom, father and grandmother are in Venezuela. I’m here with my sister. It is because of Maduro. He administers water and power.

There has been no maintenance of the system. So many babies are dying in hospitals. I send money and packages when I can. My mom came recently, and she bought everything, as much as she could. I don’t want a war or people to die but if invasion is the only option …”

Gabriela Febres alternated between arguing with a young Black man from Baltimore and talking into the mic held by a journalist.

“I would love to tell my story,” she told a reporter from The Final Call. “When I go to Venezuela, I’m afraid. My grandmother suffers from pain in her knees but there’s no medicine. I have to travel to another country to get her medication. Is that fair? I want to talk to people over there. My father is a college professor who studied at Cornell. His salary is $20 a month.”

“All of us have families who’re struggling. My family hasn’t had water for a month. It’s not about the government or Trump. It’s been 20 years. Chavez was the problem and Maduro is now.”

Fellow Venezuelan Eleazar Basero stood holding up two Venezuelan flags alongside his friend Yhamir Chabur. Mr. Basero said he was last in his country in 2016 but has family there and follows news from Venezuela closely.

“You have a population, a group of people with purchasing power. There’s a scarcity of goods but they have capital,” he said. “Food is being hoarded by people like Luis Mendoza, who is the largest distributor of food and alcohol in the country. The government tried to implement price controls on food but there have been 87 different sanctions since 1998.”

“I think the U.S. will invade. Absolutely. If you look at recent history, there are a lot of parallels. They are using false pretenses because Trump needs his wars. The U.S. is a death economy. It needs wars to keep the economy rolling.”

Mr. Basero said it needs to be made clear that the real beneficiaries of a U.S. invasion would be the Koch Brothers, who have a substantial stake in the oil industry in Venezuela.

“(Secretary of State Mike) Pompeo, (Vice President Mike) Pence and others owe their careers to the Koch Brothers. They have to give something back … being a part of this is very important because we’re standing on the right side of history. People here want peace and a new type of government,” he added.

A war already in progress?

Speakers during the almost twohour program included Cindy Sheehan, legendary Gold Star mother and peace activist; Max Blumenthal, journalist, author and senior editor of the Grayzone Project; Brian Becker, executive director of the A.N.S.W.E.R. Coalition; Medea Benjamin, co-founder of CODE PINK; Rev. Graylan Hagler, senior minister of Plymouth Congregational Church; Gloria La Riva, national coordinator of the Cuba and Venezuela Solidarity Committee and Anya Parampil, a journalist with The Grayzone Project.

“With that gang that has taken over in the White House, anything is possible,” Ms. Parampil told the crowd. “They have filled the administration with John Bolton and Elliot Abrams. They are creating terror in Venezuela. People are terrified, afraid of a U.S. intervention. A woman I talked to down there said we watched the U.S. destroy Iraq and Syria. And now they want to do the same to us. It’s psychological warfare. The U.S. is creating a pretext for a military invasion, but it didn’t happen. Venezuelans aren’t afraid to fight,” she said.

“We need to recognize that war on Venezuela is already being waged. I don’t believe that we’ll see an Iraq-style war. We have entered a new phase of using the media and weaponizing international capital and finances. It is financial terrorism. All of this is a direct result of U.S. policy.”

Speakers representing various organizations address crowd.
To illustrate Ms. Parampil’s point, earlier this year, the U.S. government seized $7 billion of Venezuelan oil assets from Venezuelan oil company, Petróleos de Venezuela, S.A. (PDVSA), leaving it “at the disposal of the legitimate interim president,” Mr. Guaidó. Meanwhile, after pressure from Mr. Pompeo and Mr. Bolton, the Bank of England is refusing to release 14 tons valued at $1.2 billion to the Venezuelan government and according to Jorge Martin of, Mr. Guaidó has lobbied the British government to put these assets at his disposal as well.

Mr. Bolton has sent threatening tweets such as this one: “My advice to bankers, brokers, traders, facilitators, and other businesses: don’t deal in gold, oil, or other Venezuelan commodities being stolen from the Venezuelan people by the Maduro mafia. We stand ready to continue to take action.”

Max Blumenthal, journalist, author, senior editor of the Grayzone Project, has written extensively about the situation and developments in Venezuela. Juan Guaidó, Mr. Blumenthal wrote in a story co-authored with Dan Cohen, is the product of a decade-long project overseen by Washington’s elite regime- change trainers. “While posing as a champion of democracy, he has spent years at the forefront of a violent campaign of destabilization,” they contend.

“Before the fateful day of January 22, fewer than one in five Venezuelans had heard of Juan Guaidó. Only a few months ago, the 35-year-old was an obscure character in a politically marginal far-right group closely associated with gruesome acts of street violence,” the journalists said. “Even in his own party, Guaidó had been a mid-level figure in the opposition-dominated National Assembly, which is now held under contempt according to Venezuela’s constitution.”

“But after a single phone call from Vice President Mike Pence, Guaidó proclaimed himself president of Venezuela. Anointed as the leader of his country by Washington, a previously unknown political bottom-dweller was vaulted onto the international stage as the US-selected leader of the nation with the world’s largest oil reserves.”

And echoing the Washington consensus, they said, the New York Times editorial board hailed Mr. Guaidó as a “credible rival” to Mr. Maduro with a “refreshing style and vision of taking the country forward.” The Bloomberg News editorial board applauded him for seeking “restoration of democracy” and the Wall Street Journal declared him “a new democratic leader.” Meanwhile, Canada, numerous European nations, Israel, and the bloc of right-wing Latin American governments known as the Lima Group recognized Guaidó as the legitimate leader of Venezuela.

Mr. Blumenthal and Mr. Cohen say Mr. Guaidó and a group of right-wing opposition students were hand-selected and groomed at the Center for Applied Non-Violent Action and Strategies, or CANVAS, an elite U.S.-funded regime change training academy to topple Venezuela’s government and restore the neoliberal order. This group is funded largely through the National Endowment for Democracy, a CIA cut-out that functions as the U.S. government’s main arm of promoting regime change; and offshoots like the International Republican Institute and the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs. According to leaked internal emails from Stratfor, an intelligence firm known as the “shadow CIA,” CANVAS “may have also received CIA funding and training during the 1999/2000 anti-Milosevic struggle.”

A U.S. attempt to force the distribution of tons of food and medicine to desperate Venezuelans in February was a humanitarian mission with a starkly political objective: to foment regime change. President Maduro blockaded the Columbia border crossing, refusing to allow entry of the aid. Some members of the opposition burned some trucks, but the effort failed to tilt the masses away from support of the government. President Maduro described the aid as a Trojan horse for an eventual U.S. invasion.

“Humanitarian aid has been turned into a spectacle to justify a military intervention of our country,” President Maduro said in a news conference in Caracas in early February. For their part, administration officials acknowledged that the plan was designed to provoke a negative reaction from President Maduro. The hope was to coax Venezuelan military officers to defy the president’s orders and allow the aid to flow into the battered country.

As the impasse drags on, ordinary Venezuelans continue to suffer. Total oil output is about 1.1 million barrels a day and oil revenue accounts for about 95 percent of the country’s export revenue. In 2008, the price of a barrel of oil was $160.72 per barrel. It slipped to $51.99 per barrel in January 2019.

Hyperinflation dogs the nation with the one million percent inflation. Empty shelves illustrate the severe shortage of basic foodstuffs, toilet paper, flour and milk, which has led to hunger and malnutrition. Antibiotics and other medicines are scarce, the costs of basic items continue to rise, all indicators pointing to the gradual collapse of the economy of the world’s fifth largest oil producer in the world.

To date, more than three million Venezuelans have fled the country. People are desperate and getting more so.