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America’s Unceasing Contempt for Venezuela

By Jason Hirthler | CounterPunch | March 11, 2014

Some things never change. The petulant and undemocratic Venezuelan opposition is at it again, with the full backing and check-writing support of the U.S. government. Recent protests have inflamed the streets of Caracas, as opposition groups, as they have in the Ukraine, called for the ouster of the sitting president. I suppose it’s needless to note that Nicolás Maduro is Venezuela’s democratically elected president, and that he won by a higher victory margin in a cleaner election than did Barack Obama in 2012. Nor is it worth asking, one supposes, that if the entire country is engulfed by dissent, as The New York Times insidiously suggested by claiming the “The protests are expressing the widespread discontent with the government of President Nicolás Maduro, a socialist…”, then why did Maduro’s party, Partido Socialista Unido de Venezuela (PSUV), claim wide majorities in municipal elections in December? Or why are these “widespread” protests largely confined to middle-class or student areas of Caracas and not rife within much larger poor neighborhoods? Or if a government has the right to arrest opposition leaders (in this case Leopoldo Lopez, the latest rabid ideologue) for inciting violence?

Public Virtue, Private Vice

Secretary of State John Kerry has ratcheted up the drivel stateside, claiming to be “alarmed” by reports that Maduro has “detained scores of anti-government protesters” and that the crackdown would have a “chilling effect” on free expression. A bit rich coming from a man whose own government has been icing free speech since the Snowden revelations. Kerry failed to mention whether the millions of American taxpayer dollars being funneled to the opposition were behind the violence. The Los Angeles Times described Maduro’s administration as an “autocratic government.” Opposition leader Henrique Caprilles, demolished by Maduro in last year’s landslide election, rejected Maduro’s invitation to talks and claimed one of the Latin America’s most popular political parties was a “dying government.”

For its part, Mercosur, the alliance of South America’s southern cone countries, denounced the violence as an attempt to “destabilize” a democratic government. Of course, the behavior of Maduro’s government in response to these street provocations ought to closely watched, as this is the new president’s first real test coping on an international stage with the intrigues of a small but virulent neoliberal opposition.

There’s plenty to suggest that this is, like Ukraine, another external attempt to uproot a democratically elected government through a volatile cocktail of in-country agitation and violence paired with global media defamation of the existing administration. It wouldn’t come as a surprise. Like a frustrated and petulant infant, the United States has repeatedly attempted to derail the Bolivarian Revolution launched by former President Hugo Chavez in the late nineties, as CEPR’s Mark Weisbrot has noted. It backed an anti-democratic coup by business elites in 2002 that actually succeeded for a couple of days and happily dissolved parliament before Chavez regained power. It supported an oil strike in an attempt to destabilize the economy and perhaps bring down the government. It encouraged opposition members of parliament to push for recalls (failed) and boycott National Assembly elections (useless) and clamor incessantly that last year’s national presidential election was rigged (false). Of course, despite being widely held to be a superior electoral process than that of the United States, Kerry was only shamed into recognizing the legitimacy of the election long after the rest of the world had.

The U.S. has poured millions into opposition activities on an annual basis since the failed coup in 2002. (NGOs are convenient destinations for this money since foreign contributions to political parties are illegal in both countries.) Just look at 2013 alone. Washington would hardly stand for interference of this kind from, say, China. Or, better, from Venezuela itself. Imagine if it was discovered that Chavez had been seeding major American metropolises with anti-capitalist pamphleteers. Obama wouldn’t be able to hit the “signature strike” button fast enough. Nevertheless, Kerry, in his role as Secretary of State, has turned out to be a masterful mimic capable of registering a fusty outrage on short notice, especially over claimed violations of civil liberties. Curious, since the ceaseless trampling of civil liberties by his own Democratic party have elicited nothing from this flag-bearer for democratic values.

Dollars & Bolivars

This is not to say that Venezuela does not have protest-worthy problems. Inflation has been chronic since the pre-Chavez days. Now food shortages are trying the patience of the population. And in one sense, these shortages are self-inflicted. According to Gregory Wilpert of VenezuelAnalysis, the government’s currency controls have been undermined by an all-too-predictable black market. While the government has placed strict criteria on the ability of citizens to purchase dollars with bolivars, the black market allows citizens to buy dollars without any criteria whatsoever. The government’s exchange rate is likewise controlled, and has over time begun to distort the real value of the bolivar. The black market exchange rate, by contrast, reflects the external value of the currency. The gap between these exchange rates has grown rapidly, such that there now exist huge incentives for citizens to play currency arbitrage. If they satisfy the federal criteria—such as needing dollars to travel or import goods—Venezuelans can buy dollars cheaply using the government exchange rate. They can then pay those dollars to import goods, then export those goods in exchange for the dollars they just spent on the imports. From there it is a simple step to the black market, where they can sell those dollars for many times what they paid at the government’s official rate, making a tidy profit for themselves. If they happen to be rabid anti-socialists, they can enjoy the companion thrill of generating food shortages that can be blamed on the government. Ah, the timeless magic of import/export.

These are legitimate grievances, however, as are crime figures, which top the regional table. Yet the question is, do they merit the overthrow of a legitimate government backed by a wide majority of the population at the behest of a small but fierce oppositional faction openly funded by an imperial power committed to its overthrow? To do so would risk the absurdity of gratifying the strident demands of a few at the expense of the many. … The fact is, despite the inflation and shortages, the population continues to support the Bolivarian Revolution because of its accomplishments—massive reductions in poverty, extreme poverty, and illiteracy. Significant growth in per capita GDP and other important metrics.

A Doctrine in Decline

We’re seeing in clear images the viciousness with which neoliberal factions resent the loss of power and seek to restore it by any means necessary. Democracy is the least of their concerns. But this has been the Latin American back-story for a couple of centuries. Much of the U.S. activity in Latin America feels like a frantic and desperate last-ditch effort to preserve the Monroe Doctrine, by which we essentially declared Latin America to be our own backyard, off-limits to European empires. What was ostensibly a call to respect independent development in the Southern hemisphere rather predictably evolved into an excuse for self-interested intervention. But now, for the first time in centuries, Latin America has struck out on its own, slipping from beneath the clutch of the eagle’s claw to form organizations like Mercosur and CELEAC, PetroCaribe and Petrosur, the Bank of the South as well as the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas (ALBA). Aside from Columbia, an implacable outpost of American influence, the region has shunned greater U.S. involvement, and begun to view its proffered trade agreements with far more suspicion, particularly in the long wake of NAFTA, the poster child for lopsided and economically destructive trade treaties.

Whether the U.S. will eventually succeed in a cynical ploy to unseat Maduro remains to be seen. If recent events in the Ukraine are any indication, that may have been a test run for Venezuela, as Peter Lee suggests. It hasn’t helped that, as in practically every country that comes to mind, an elite class of neoliberal ideologues own the mainstream media. The tools of propaganda have rarely been more fiercely deployed than since Chavez launched his socialist revolution. And yet, since then, practically the entire continent has experimented with left-leaning leadership: Rafael Correa in Ecuador, Evo Morales in Bolivia, Nicanor Duarte in Paraguay, Tabare Vazquez in Uruguay, to some degree Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva in Brazil, and Maduro in Venezuela. Nor should exiled Honduran president Manuel Zalaya be forgotten. These figures have collectively stepped back from the brink of dubious integration with North America and sought stronger regional ties and continental autonomy.

The U.S. has replied with a predictable confection of threats, lies, and sacks of cash for ferociously anti-democratic elements. Perhaps it most fears the bad karma it generated for itself with Operation Condor, which on September 11, 1973 overthrew and murdered Chile’s socialist leader Salvador Allende and replaced him with a gutless sadist, Augusto Pinochet. Pinochet—a repressive militarist—happily instituted the untested prescriptions of the Chicago School of Economics’ sermonizing armchair guru Milton Freidman, with predictable results. Now, Maduro, carrying the mantle of Chavez and his Bolivarian manifesto, is arguably the spiritual vanguard of the socialist left in South America. Venezuela’s efforts to continue to forge its own independence in the coming decade will surely influence the mood and courage of other leftists in the region. The stakes are obviously high. Hence the relentless American effort to destabilize and publicly discredit the PSUV. The fate of the global left is in a very real sense being tested in the crucible of Caracas.

Jason Hirthler can be reached at jasonhirthler@gmail.com.

March 11, 2014 Posted by | Deception, Economics | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Death Toll Rises in Venezuela; Opposition Demonstrators Say They’re Fighting a War of “Attrition”

By Ryan Mallett-Outtrim | Venezuelanalysis | February 19, 2014

Merida – Anti-government demonstrations turned deadly again today, following yesterday’s arrest of far right leader Leopoldo Lopez.

Lopez heads the right-wing Voluntad Popular (VP) party, and was arrested yesterday on charges including inciting crime and homicide. Earlier today the attorney general Luisa Ortega stated that whether or not Lopez will remain in custody is yet to be determined. However Ortega stated that the government “guarantees and respects the human rights” of Lopez.

Around one hundred supporters rallied today outside a court in Caracas, where his hearing was expected to take place. However, the hearing was moved to a military jail at the last moment due to government concerns for Lopez’s safety. Lopez’s lawyer has claimed the move is illegal.

Violence continued today in the wake of the arrest, with at least two more reports of deaths.

One person was reportedly killed by gunfire and four others injured in Ciudad Guayana, Bolivar state during street clashes. Two of the injured also sustained gunshot wounds, according to local media. Thousands of industrial workers had marched in support of the government through the city earlier today. According to a report from Ultimas Noticias, the deadly clashes occurred after “motorbike riders” tried to break an opposition barricade.

Student and model Genesis Carmona  has also died in a medical centre after being shot during clashes in the Carabobo state capital, Valencia.

An armed group also attacked Carabobo’s headquarters of the government owned energy company Corpoelec earlier today. A captain of the National Guard (GNB) was hit by a bullet during the incident.

Another person was injured by gunfire yesterday when opposition groups attacked the Carabobo offices of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), according to Governor Francisco Ameliach.

“I call upon our membership to not fall into confrontation,” Ameliach stated yesterday.

Three others were injured yesterday when groups armed with Molotov cocktails attacked a government building in Tachira state. Security forces reportedly battled with opposition groups for around two hours.  The state’s socialist governor Vielma Mora described opposition attacks in the state as a “low intensity war”. Mora stated that security forces in the state capital San Cristobal have been targeted by hit and run attacks from assailants firing from vehicles. Journalists are also being targeted by armed groups, according to Mora.

The governor also said there have been reports of armed groups charging toll fees at roadblocks around the state.

In Caracas one person was injured when opposition groups threw rocks at public transport last night. Transport minister Haiman El Troudi announced via Twitter that the incident prompted the cancellation of another bus route. Previously, on Monday seven bus routes were cancelled due to vandalism and opposition attacks.

In a meeting with transport workers today, the minister stated that sixty buses in Caracas have been attacked, and five in other parts of the country. El Troudi condemned the attacks, stating that the perpetrators are “looking to generate an … escalation of unrest”.

Today the Caracas mayor Jorge Rodriguez announced that the government is developing a plan to rehabilitate public spaces damaged by recent opposition demonstrations.

State media have also reported that a sick elderly woman died in the early hours of the morning after her ambulance was impeded from accessing a nearby medical centre by an opposition roadblock. Luzmila Petit de Colina was 70 years old, and suffered from a chronic illness, according to Correo del Orinoco. Her daughter hosts a program on the state-owned channel VTV. Today communication minister Delcy Rodriguez expressed “solidarity” with Colina’s family.

Five trucks were also torched last night in Lara state, according to government sources.

In Merida, opposition groups continued to erect barricades around the city. Eight demonstrators were arrested in the Andean city last night, according to El Universal. The right-wing newspaper reported that the demonstrators had been involved in “non violent protests” yesterday. Photographs circulating in local media show opposition groups manning roadblocks of burning garbage yesterday afternoon.

Speaking on the condition of anonymity, hard-line opposition demonstrators at one barricade told Venezuelanalysis’s Ewan Robertson today that they are fighting a war of “attrition” against the government.

“We’re sunk in misery, corruption, so we want Maduro’s resignation now, that’s why we’re here,” one demonstrator stated.

“Either we get tired first, or they get tired first,” said another. According to the demonstrator, the group’s strategy is to block as many roads as possible “day and night”.

“There are two points of view. As the constitution orders, the government logically has to guarantee the free flow of transit. But the constitution also establishes that we have the right to protest,” he continued.

The demonstrators denied they have firearms, and blamed security forces and pro-government groups such as the Tupamaros of causing violence. Venezuelanalysis has previously observed opposition groups using small arms in Merida. The group spoken to by Venezuelanalysis today were visibly armed with  rocks and what appeared to be Molotov coacktails.

One of the demonstrators also explained that they have adopted a strategy of retreating when security forces arrive, only to return once the police or GNB leave the area.

“We retreat, if they pass firing, we throw stones. When they’ve gone we come out and block everything again. That’s how we’re going,” he stated.

An opposition group in the same area clashed with riot police later in the afternoon. When two personnel carriers arrived on the scene, demonstrators threw rocks at officers, before retreating up the road. They continued to hurl rocks as police cleared the road.

While the clashes took place, Chavistas gathered in Merida’s central square, Plaza Bolivar with music, comedy and speeches from student groups condemning the violence.

An opposition roadblock in central Merida today. (Ryan Mallett-Outtrim/Venezuelanalysis)

Demonstrators armed with rocks and blocking traffic. (Ryan Mallett-Outtrim/Venezuelanalysis)

February 20, 2014 Posted by | Aletho News | , , , , | Leave a comment

Elections in Venezuela and Chile Advance Left Agenda and Latin American Economic Integration

By Roger Burbach | alai | January 7, 2014 

The elections in Venezuela and Chile in December provided new momentum for the left-leaning governments in Latin America and the ascent of post-neoliberal policies. Over the past decade and a half, the rise of the left has been inextricably tied to the electoral process. In Venezuela, Bolivia, and Ecuador, under the governments of Hugo Chavez, Evo Morales, and Rafael Correa, the electorate has gone to the polls on an average of once a year, voting on referendums, constituent assemblies as well as elections for national offices.

In late November, it appeared the right might be taking the initiative, as the oligarchy and the conservative political parties in Honduras backed by the United States used repression and the manipulation of balloting to keep control of the presidency. And in Venezuela, it was feared the right would come out on top in the December 8 municipal elections. After Maduro’s narrow victory margin of 1.5% in the presidential elections in April, the opposition went on the offensive, declaring fraud and waging economic war. If the opposition coalition had won in the municipal elections, or even come close in the popular vote, it was poised to mount militant demonstrations to destabilize and topple the Maduro government. But the decisive victory of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) in the municipal elections gave a boost to the presidency of Nicolas Maduro, enabling him to advance the twenty-first century socialism of his predecessor, Hugo Chavez. The PSUV and allied parties won control of 72% of the municipalities and bested the opposition in the popular vote by 54% to 44%.

A class war is going on that is focused on the economy, particularly over who will control the revenue coming from its large petroleum resources that account for over 95% of the country’s exports. With no new electoral challenge until the parliamentary elections in late 2015, Maduro now has the political space to take the initiative in dealing with the country’s economic problems and to pursue a socialist agenda. As Maduro said on the night of the elections, “we are going to deepen the economic offensive to help the working class and protect the middle class….We’re going in with guns blazing, keep an eye out.”

At the other end of the continent, Michele Bachelet one week later won a resounding victory in the Chilean presidential race with 62% of the vote. She has put forth an ambitious package of proposals that would increase corporate taxes from 20% to 25%, dramatically expand access to higher education, improve public health care and overhaul the 1980 Constitution imposed by the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet. Chile has the highest level of income inequality among the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s 34 member countries. Within her first hundred days, Bachelet has promised to draft legislation to increase tax revenues by about 3 percent of gross domestic product. On election night Bachelet proclaimed: “Chile has looked at itself, has looked at its path, its recent history, its wounds, its feats, its unfinished business and thus Chile has decided it is the time to start deep transformations,” Bachelet proclaimed on election night.” There is no question about it: profits can’t be the motor behind education because education isn’t merchandise and because dreams aren’t a consumer good.”

If these policies are implemented, they would shake the neoliberal paradigm that has been followed by every government since the Pinochet dictatorship, including Bachelet’s during her first presidential term from 2006 to 2010. Like most presidential candidates before they take office, the actual changes may fall far short of what she is promising. But the student uprising and the resurgence of the social movements over the past four years has led to a popular movement in the streets that is unprecedented since the days of Pinochet. Militants on the left have already made it clear they will challenge her from the first day she takes office. According to Reuters, right after the election, hackers posted a message on the education ministry’s website saying: “Ms. President we will take it upon ourselves to make things difficult for you. Next year will be a time of protests.”

The elections in Venezuela and Chile also set the stage for a challenge to the latest U.S.-backed trade initiative, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which includes a dozen Pacific rim nations. Ever since Chavez became president, Venezuela has led the way in opposing U.S. efforts to dominate hemispheric trade starting with the Free Trade Area of the Americas that George W. Bush launched in April, 2001. The FTAA was dealt a fatal blow at the 4th Summit of the Americas in Argentina in 2005 under the leadership of Chavez, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva of Brazil, and Nestor Kirchner of Argentina, who advocated Latin American integration without the United States.

With the victory in the municipal elections behind him, Maduro was in a position to play a central roll ten days later in the second summit of ALBA, the Bolivarian Alliance for Our America (ALBA) and PetroCaribe, a bloc of 18 nations receiving oil at concessionary prices. (Five of the members are overlapping.) ALBA, founded in 2004 by Venezuela and Cuba, is based on the principal of “Fair Trade, not Free Trade.” Now including Bolivia, Ecuador, and Nicaragua as well as five more Caribbean nations, they met with the nations of PetroCaribe, a concessionary oil trading arrangement, to put forth a program to create a “special complementary economic zone” between the member countries of both groups to eradicate poverty in the region. Maduro proclaimed the economic zone “is a special plan…in order to continue advancing the food security and sovereignty of our peoples, and to share investments, experiences, and actions that promote [agricultural] development.” The action plan to implement the proposal includes cooperation with the UN Food and Agriculture Organization. An executive committee to coordinate the regional plan is being set up in Ecuador.

Maduro will take the document for the creation of a complementary economic zone to the January 31 meeting of Mercosur in Caracas “to advance in the great zone Mercosur-PetroCaribe-ALBA.” In all these economic and trade endeavors Venezuela plays a strategic geo-economic role. It is Latin America’s largest oil producer, and it is located on the southern flank of the Caribbean Basin and on the northern end of South American continent. Venezuela is already a member of MercoSur along with Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, and Paraguay, while Chile, Bolivia, Colombia, Guyana, Ecuador, Peru, and Suriname are associate members. As Bolivian president Evo Morales said at the conclusion of the ALBA-PetroCaribe summit, “We should never stop strengthening our integration, the integration of anti-imperialist countries.”

A key question is around the role that Chile, led by Bachelet, will play in the growing movement for Latin American integration. Under Bachelet’s billionaire predecessor, Sebastian Pinera, Chile has been involved in setting up the U.S.-led Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), and is a founding member of the Pacific Alliance, a trade and investment group that includes Columbia, Peru, and Mexico. The United States has observer status.

Bachelet has given signs that a pursuit of these trade groupings alone is not in Chile’s interest, and that she intends to breach the Pacific versus the Atlantic/Caribbean divide. Her campaign manifesto stated: “Chile has lost presence in the region, its relations with its neighbors are problematic, a commercial vision has been imposed on our Latin American links.” She is particularly interested in closer relations with Brazil, where she identities with Dilma Rousseff, who also fo­rged her political identity as a young clandestine activist jailed and tortured under a repressive dictatorship. It is notable that in 2008 during her last presidential term, Bachelet convened an emergency session of UNASUR (the Union of South American Nations), to support Evo Morales against a right wing “civic coup” attempt that received direct material support from the U.S. embassy.

It is of course impossible to predict where Bachelet will wind up in the growing continental divide. Her commitment to the Pacific Alliance and to TPP may undermine domestic and international challenges to neoliberalism. The militancy of internal mobilizations to pressure her at every turn is critical. In Venezuela, Maduro faces daunting economic problems as he tries to bring inflation and the black market under control, while dealing with serious corruption problems in and outside of the government. However, the December municipal elections have opened up a space for Maduro to deal with these issues in the coming year, while playing a leadership role in advancing Latin American integration in opposition to U.S. initiatives.


Roger Burbach is the director of the Center for the Study of the Americas, and co-author with Michael Fox and Federico Fuentes of Latin America’s Turbulent Tran

January 17, 2014 Posted by | Economics | , , , | Leave a comment

CNN: The Latest Outlet for Roger Noriega’s Paranoid Speculations

By Keane Bhatt | NACLA | May 14, 2012

On May 2, CNN executive producer Arthur Brice published what was purported to be a news article on Venezuela. Instead, Brice’s 4,300-word screed, titled “Chavez Health Problems Plunge Venezuela’s Future Into Doubt,” is little more than a platform for the bizarre theories of Roger Noriega, an ultra-rightwing lobbyist and one-time diplomat under George W. Bush, who Brice references over two dozen times throughout his article.

As a political commentator, Noriega pontificates with total brazenness. He appeared as the chief pundit in Brice’s CNN piece six months after announcing—based on what he said was the belief of Chávez’s own medical team—that the Venezuelan president was “not likely to survive more than six months.” Noriega is not fazed by facts. He promotes his fantastical claims in many major news outlets, often based on anonymous sources. Take, for example, his 2010 Foreign Policy article, “Chávez’s Secret Nuclear Program,” whose subtitle reads: “It’s not clear what Venezuela’s hiding, but it’s definitely hiding something—and the fact that Iran is involved suggests that it’s up to no good.” (State Department officials dismissed this suspicion with “scorn.”)

CNN’s interviews with Noriega and the other mostly rightwing analysts likely led to this demonstrably false claim at the beginning of Brice’s May 2 article: “Diosdado Cabello, a longtime Chavez cohort . . . amassed tremendous power in January when Chavez named him president of the National Assembly.” In fact, even El Universal, a daily Venezuelan newspaper long-aligned with the opposition, conceded in a January 5 report that Cabello was elected as the new president of the National Assembly, even if “only with the votes” of the majority United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV). Ewan Robertson of Venezuelanalysis.com found that 98 deputies of the pro-government bloc supported Cabello, while the 67-member opposition bloc opposed him. Such mundane electoral processes have guided much of Venezuela’s political dynamics over the past decade.

The rest of CNN’s long-winded compilation of hearsay proceeds in the same way. To give two examples, Brice turns to Venezuelan doctor Jose Rafael Marquina to shed light on Chávez’s current state of health. By Brice’s own admission however, Marquina “practices in Florida and has no direct connection with the case but says he has colleagues who know what is happening.” On the separate issue of Venezuelan politics, “the Cubans,” Brice writes, “may only have the power to suggest and manipulate as best they can,” but he also cites “some observers” who fear the Cubans could leverage their “perceived point men” in the country to unleash “militias in an attempt to take over.” Brice then quotes Noriega as saying, “I have no doubts that some Cubans would use violent means to deal with Venezuelans.”

These examples are indicative of CNN’s desire to spin a yarn of intrigue. Venezuela’s October presidential vote should be no different from the past. Closely monitored, free and fair elections have been the final word in political outcomes in Venezuela. But by relying on telephone interviews with self-proclaimed “analysts” almost exclusively based in the United States, CNN portrays Venezuelan politics as a grand chess game of “powerful men trying to bend the arc of history because they believe their president’s life may be slipping out of the hands of doctors and into the hands of God.” For CNN, Venezuelan voters play a marginal role, if any at all—it’s a sensationalized struggle between drug-dealing generals, Cuban spooks, well-connected cronies, armed militias, and a dying, charismatic strongman in thrall to Fidel Castro.

Had Brice decided to report on the ground from Caracas, he may have produced a video segment similar to the one that appears alongside his own article on CNN’s website. Journalist Paula Newton describes the free, government-provided medical attention in poor areas—a “concrete” reason why broad support for Chavez “isn’t exactly blind,” she says. Newton also shows Chávez voters displaying (reasonable) skepticism toward conjectures that the president is about to die or is already dead—a potentially valuable lesson for CNN, considering Brice’s general credulousness.

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Noriega’s buffoonish commentary in outlets like CNN would be more amusing if not for his hands-on experience in crafting devastating U.S. policies toward Latin America. Noriega’s career in government, one may recall, includes administering “non-lethal” aid to the Nicaraguan Contra insurgency as a U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) official in the 1980s. He followed this up as a senior staffer to Senator Jesse Helms in the 1990s, co-authoring the Helms-Burton Act, which intensified the U.S. embargo on Cuba. Bush II appointed him as ambassador to the Organization of American States in 2001, and in 2003, he replaced Iran-Contra veteran and Venezuelan coup-backer Otto Reich as Bush’s Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs. For this post—his last in government before switching over to the private sector—Noriega had big shoes to fill, and he undoubtedly rose to the occasion.

Whereas Reich failed to roll back the leftward tide of Venezuela in 2002 during his tenure (the military coup which overthrew Hugo Chávez lasted only two days), Noriega triumphed in damming the populist flood of Lavalas in Haiti. As the only mass-based political movement in the most unequal country in the hemisphere, Lavalas, headed by the democratically elected president Jean-Bertrand Aristide, was an obvious threat to the Bush administration. The denouement of the administration’s destabilization campaign occurred in February 2004 when Aristide and his family were spirited away by a U.S. plane in the middle of the night. Noriega initially denied that the United States played a role in Aristide’s removal, feebly claiming that Aristide had embarked on the plane by his own volition. But according to Dr. Paul Farmer—Harvard health specialist and UN Deputy Special Envoy for Haiti—Noriega admitted “during a House hearing that Aristide did not know of his destination until less than an hour before landing in the Central African Republic.” Robert White, a former U.S. ambassador to El Salvador and Paraguay, told Newsday right before the coup that “Roger Noriega has been dedicated to ousting Aristide for many, many years, and now he’s in a singularly powerful position to accomplish it.”

Today, Noriega divides his time between his post as a Latin America “scholar” at the pro-corporate American Enterprise Institute (AEI) think tank, and as a registered lobbyist for various interests in countries that are the subjects of his widely published commentaries. Noriega’s influence-peddling has been extremely effective in recent years. For example, in addition to writing opinion pieces defending the 2009 Honduran coup d’etat, Noriega—who was hired to represent a Honduran textile manufacturers group—organized a meeting between the coup regime’s supporters and U.S. Senators less than 10 days after the overthrow of the democratically elected president, Manuel Zelaya. Daniel W. Fisk, who helped set U.S. policies in Central America as a high-ranking government official in the 1980s and ‘90s, attended the meeting. According to The New York Times, Fisk was “stunned by the turnout.” “I had never seen eight senators in one room to talk about Latin America in my entire career,” he was quoted as saying.

The Times framed Noriega’s actions toward Honduras as a vestige of Cold War planning. Noriega, Reich, and Fisk, wrote The Times, viewed Honduras as “the principal battleground in a proxy fight with Cuba and Venezuela,” two countries that the three men characterized “as threats to stability in the region in language similar to that once used to describe the designs of the Soviet Union.” Noriega certainly warned against a new red menace when he supported Zelaya’s overthrow; Honduras was ground zero in what Noriega called “the continued spread of Chavista authoritarianism under the guise of democracy.”

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Given Noriega’s disturbing record, it is astonishing that CNN produced a news piece on Venezuela through the lens of a lobbyist with obvious conflicts of interest in Latin America.  Brice’s article, which never mentions Noriega’s lobbying, is dominated by comments like these:

Noriega and other observers have said [Chávez’s] appointments of Cabello and Rangel Silva have turned Venezuela into a narcostate. . . . ‘If Cabello and Rangel Silva resort to dirty work to hold things together, Maduro is a guy they can bring in to give a veneer of respectability to the international community,’ Noriega said, calling [the hypothetical scenario he just created] a ‘junta kind of arrangement.’ . . . The military also would face deep divisions if called upon to fire on Venezuelan citizens. . . . “The elections are, from [Cabello and Rangel Silva’s] standpoint, expendable,” [Noriega] said. “On the other hand, if they believe they can add a patina of legitimacy, they will hold them. They’re going to be hard-pressed to make a legitimacy argument with a narco kingpin in power.”

Through CNN, Noriega is able to publicly fret over the prospects of a Venezuelan military coup (like the one the Bush administration and the IMF supported in 2002) and criticize Venezuela’s purported drug trafficking (like the kind carried out by CIA asset Manuel Noriega and the U.S.-backed Contras). Noriega preemptively disapproves of a hypothetical Venezuelan election whose purpose, he says, would be to “add a patina of legitimacy” (despite Noriega’s own endorsement of the U.S.-backed sham elections in Honduras in 2009, which were conducted under a dictatorship).

There is also some historical context behind Brice’s unquestioning use of terms like “narcogenerals,” “narcostate,” “narcoterrorism,” and “narco kingpin” with relation to Venezuela. Many of these instances originate from Noriega’s direct quotes to CNN. This is just the latest example of media manipulation that Noriega’s colleagues mastered long ago. From 1983-86 Reich headed a taxpayer-funded propaganda outlet, the Office of Public Diplomacy, which, among other activities, placed false reports in major outlets that the Sandinista government in Nicaragua was involved in narcotrafficking. Haiti is another case: In 1992, the CIA created a fraudulent psychological profile on Aristide, which Senator Jesse Helms then used to denounce the president as a “psychopath,” a claim that was uncritically parroted by the press at the time. Aristide, the diminutive liberation theologian, was also the subject of a U.S. grand jury investigation due to his alleged involvement in narcotrafficking. Although the media repeated the claim that Aristide’s was running drugs, human-rights attorney Brian Concannon pointed out in 2006 that ultimately, “not a single charge [was] issued from the courthouse.” (U.S. efforts to assassinate Aristide’s character through the courts continue up to the present day.)

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Roger Noreiga’s nuttier theories, thankfully, were not incorporated into the piece. Here are just a few short excerpts of Noriega’s baseless output as of late:

  • In a March 2011 article for AEI titled, “U.S. Diplomats Clueless on Alleged Chávez Plot to Kill the President of Panama,” Noriega asked, “If Panamanian authorities dismissed this as a hoax, why have senior officials of that government expressed their gratitude to me for revealing the plot months since the incident? And why on earth would Chávez risk an attack on Martinelli? I cannot answer these questions.”
  • In another AEI entry from October 2011, titled “The Mounting Hezbollah Threat in Latin America,” Noriega contends that “Hezbollah’s presence in Latin America dates to the mid-1980s, when it began sending operatives into the notoriously lawless region known as the tri-border area . . . Their activity also includes pirating software and music.”
  • In the March 2011 Washington Post op-ed “Is There a Chavez Terror Network on America’s Doorstep?” Noriega is able to find both al-Qaeda and Iranian operations in Venezuela: “The threat posed by globe-trotting terrorists is ever-present,” he writes. “A U.S. security official told me in mid-January that two known al-Qaeda operatives were in Caracas planning a ‘chemical’ attack on the U.S. embassy . . . A Venezuelan government source has told me that two Iranian terrorist trainers are on Venezuela’s Margarita Island instructing operatives who have assembled from around the region. In addition, radical Muslims from Venezuela and Colombia are brought to a cultural center in Caracas named for the Ayatollah Khomeini and Simon Bolivar for spiritual training.”
  • In Noriega’s April 2010 ultimatum in The Wall Street Journal, “Time to Confront the Tehran-Caracas Axis,” he uncovers yet another sinister plot: “[T]he Canadian uranium exploration company U308 Corp has recorded a substantial source of uranium in the Roraima Basin, which straddles the border between Guyana and the Venezuelan province of Bolívar. Iranian or other Middle Eastern individuals operate a tractor factory, cement plant and gold mine in this region.”

Noriega concludes this WSJ op-ed by appealing to international law. He writes that Venezuela’s nefarious plans “should be challenged as a threat to peace and an act of aggression under Chapter 7 of the United Nations Charter.” This is a perfectly appropriate way to deal with any rogue state that, in Noriega’s words, is prone to “meddle in the internal politics” of other countries, and provides “support for terrorist groups in the Americas.” Unfortunately, Noriega has it upside down. It is not Venezuela, but the United States that is unequivocally responsible for doing both kinds of activities. But don’t hold your breath waiting for Noriega to equally apply such standards.

May 16, 2012 Posted by | Deception, Mainstream Media, Warmongering, Militarism, Timeless or most popular, Wars for Israel | , , , , , , | 1 Comment