| By Tom Whitney |
The 1.6 percent margin by which Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro and his United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) took the presidential elections of April 14, 2013 was much narrower than victories gained in national and local elections under former President Hugo Chavez. The narrow victory buoyed up opposition forces backing defeated candidate Henrique Capriles. A lift came also from the death on March 5 of President Chavez. His charisma and aura of social change agent and champion of regional integration had stymied them for 15 years.
Washington appears to be taking advantage of such realities. The Obama administration, alone in the world, is delaying recognition of Maduro’s victory. The widely discredited notion of election irregularities serves as pretext. Paradoxically, the U.S. government jumped to recognize a short-lived anti-Chavez government taking power through a coup in April, 2002. Speaking to reporters, Assistant Secretary of State Roberta Jacobson did not rule out eventual U.S. economic sanctions against Venezuela.
The U.S. government posture has emboldened perpetrators of violence: eight Venezuelans are dead and hundreds wounded. Partisans of Capriles ransacked medical centers staffed by Cuban doctors, PSUV offices, subsidized food markets, and the offices of both the TeleSur and the Venezuela State Television. They besieged the homes of the president of the National Election Council and two former high profile aides to President Chavez.
Riots, student protests, and armed attacks were part of other, less acute destabilization campaigns directed at Chavez-era electoral campaigns. The U. S.- mediated coup attempt against Chavez had been ushered in by street disturbances and destabilization.
There’s a strong alliance between a powerful, well heeled domestic opposition and the U.S. government. For the U.S. government, President Chavez’ departure and Maduro’s narrow victory may look like a Cuba moment. U.S. officials in 1992 reasoned that disappearance of the Soviet Bloc called for delivering a coup de grace to Cuba through the Cuba Democracy Act, the Torricelli legislation. Similarly, President Maduro’s U. S. enemies may judge that now is an apt occasion for finishing off Venezuela’s Bolivarian and socialist revolution.
The Washington branch of the anti-Maduro opposition is adept at mounting low – intensity, so-called “dirty,” wars. As with Cubans earlier, Venezuelans now may be facing the prospect of looming grief. Destabilization tools are at hand. Food shortages and inflationary pressures may ensue. And wealthy, propertied Venezuelans are ready to pitch in.
As the Venezuelan government undertook to build-up social programs following the failed 2002 coup, the National Endowment for Democracy increased funding for Venezuela. The next year the United States Agency for International Development and the newly formed Office of Transition Initiatives distributed $1 million and $5 million, respectively, to dissident groups. The amount increased, and in 2008 – 2011 opposition groups received at least $40 million in direct U.S. assistance. Analyst Eva Golinger maintains the funds went primarily “to electoral campaigns against President Chavez and propaganda slated to influence Venezuelan public opinion.
The total amount of foreign funding for anti- Chavez forces was considerable. Golinger indicates that, “A large majority of the $40-50 million, donated [annually] by US and European agencies and foundations, is given to the right wing opposition political parties, Primero Justicia (First Justice), Un Nuevo Tiempo (A New Time) and COPEI (Christian Democrat ultra-conservative party), as well as to a dozen or so NGOs, student groups and media organizations.” U.S. money was funneled through the European Commission for the sake of “‘triangularization’ of US funding to groups in Venezuela, in order to avoid the stain of Washington on the Venezuelan organizations receiving foreign aid for political activities.
U.S. support for espionage projects and separatist movements is also documented. Students were recruited from universities serving wealthy Venezuelans to manufacture student protests. U.S. funded local organizations provided scripts for the students making public presentations.
Presidential candidate Henrique Capriles, governor of Miranda state and scion of two wealthy families, belongs to the rightist Justice First Party. He and party founders Leopoldo Lopez and Julio Borges studied at U.S. universities. All are longtime recipients of NED funding. Capriles’ own experience at destabilization includes leading a band of thugs during the 2002 coup in forcibly occupying the Cuban Embassy. The week prior to Chavez’s death, Capriles was in Miami and New York, reportedly to cement relations with U.S. backers.
All signs suggest the U.S. government has little thought for peace in Venezuela. Secretary of State John Kerry set the tone on April 17 with a painful goof. Identification of Latin America as a U.S. “backyard” has long had symbolic value for imperialists and anti-imperialist’s alike. Testifying before a congressional committee, Kerry opined that, “The Western Hemisphere is our backyard; it is of vital importance to us.”
Meanwhile, the domestic opposition serving business and property owning elites may well take comfort from the fact that their sponsors own 93 percent of all Venezuelan economic units which account for 71 percent of the GDP. State spending on social services, basis for the government’s political backing, derives almost entirely from the state oil company’s oil exports.