AT the start of this week, the self-proclaimed interim president of Venezuela, Juan Guaido, declared he was willing to “evaluate all options”, including that of inviting US military intervention to facilitate regime change.
If not quite acknowledging defeat, he was at least admitting another setback. At the crack of dawn on April 30, Guaido stood outside a military base and transmitted a video announcing a final push to oust Nicolas Maduro was under way. A bunch of men in uniform symbolically stood behind him, intended to convey the impression that Maduro had lost military support.
The transmitted images were framed in such a way as to disguise the paucity of the personnel. Even more embarrassingly, the crowds that responded to Guaido’s appeal to throng the streets were conspicuously underwhelming.
US intervention in Latin America will worsen matters.
Guaido was also accompanied by his mentor Leopoldo Lopez, the right-wing opposition leader sprung from home arrest, possibly with the connivance of Maduro’s spy chief, Manuel Figuera, who fled the country not long afterwards. Lopez, who has reportedly been concerned about Guaido hogging the limelight in recent months, sought refuge within hours in first the Chilean and then the Spanish embassy.
It seems Guaido and his Washington-based sponsors had been expecting Maduro’s defence minister, military intelligence chief and head of the supreme court to announce their defection. Apparently, they had been promised they would retain their posts in a post-Maduro administration, provided they rescinded their loyalty to the president. It didn’t happen, and even the American press cannot decide whether they backed out under pressure, or had merely been playing along in order to expose the coup plot.
The Trump administration officials most invested in regime change in Caracas, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and national security adviser John Bolton, not only publicly named the three amigos they had been trying to lure — in what was clearly an attempt to rattle the Maduro regime — but also claimed that an aircraft was on standby, waiting to whisk Maduro away to Havana, until the Russians persuaded him to hang on in there. At the same time, Pompeo has asserted that up to 25,000 Cuban troops are the only force keeping Maduro in power.
There is, of course, no evidence for these claims, which have officially been ridiculed by Moscow and Havana. Cuba says the vast majority of its nationals deployed in Venezuela are medical personnel, and even the CIA has reportedly pushed back against the Trump administration’s inventions and exaggerations.
Meanwhile, a week or so before the latest abortive coup attempt, Reuters reported that Erik Prince, the infamous founder of Blackwater, who has since been involved in supplying Colombian mercenaries to the UAE and serving as a ‘security consultant’ for the Chinese, had proposed a private army of 5,000 to topple Maduro.
Even more alarmingly, back in January, shortly after the Trump regime had declared its allegiance to Guaido, the Wall Street Journal quoted unnamed administration officials as saying that Bolton’s ambitions went beyond Caracas: he is determined to destabilise what he designated late last year as “the troika of tyranny” in an effort to bring not just Venezuela (with its repository of the world’s largest crude oil reserves) but also Cuba and Nicaragua back into the US sphere of influence.
He is not alone. Besides Pompeo, he can count on the likes of the vice president, Mike Pence, and legislators such as Marco Rubio. As for the president, Donald Trump campaigned on the basis of reducing American military entanglements abroad, but he is profoundly ignorant, relatively easy to manipulate (particularly if he is led to believe there is money to be made), and an international distraction or two would serve him well in the light of his domestic dilemmas.
Bolton’s hatreds are not restricted to the western hemisphere, though, and recent manoeuvres in the Gulf suggest he is also keen to provoke a clash with Iran — a prospect that would be relished by leading US allies in the Middle East, from Israel to Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
There are innumerable grounds on which the governments in Iran and Venezuela deserve to be criticised, and it’s perfectly legitimate to hope something better will replace them. But one has to be completely ignorant of recent history to assume that direct or indirect US intervention could possibly help to achieve this goal in Latin America, the Middle East or, for that matter, in any other part of the world.
If anything, it can be more or less guaranteed to make matters a great deal worse. Therefore, although it may be a temporary reprieve, the thwarting of imperialist ambitions at the first hurdle, in Caracas, comes as a relief. n
Published in Dawn, May 8th, 2019