Nicolas Maduro former bus driver-turned-foreign minister and chosen successor of the late Hugo Chavez was sworn as president on the 19th of April 2013. With Maduro winning the contested election by a narrow margin of 1.49 percentage points, or fewer than 225,000 votes the election has resulted in the opposition to call foul play. Opposition candidate Henrique Capriles, leader of the right wing Justice First Party, with support of the U.S and other Western countries, has accused the Maduro government of electoral fraud and demanded a recount.
Following the elections Venezuela has fallen into a state of political disarray with the elections being smeared with both accusations and political violence. The Capriles camp consistently accused Maduro of widespread elections fraud, while the Maduro camp has accused Capriles of being persuaded by the U.S in an attempt to destabilizing the country. Despite most of Latin America, China and Russia recognizing the elections, along with the electoral commission declaring that the result was “irreversible,” both the European Union and the U.S have outright refused to recognize Maduro’s victory.
The U.S has claimed their refusal to recognise the election results as being purely innocent, calling for an audit of the ballet in which they say would “reassure the Venezuelan people” and the process “would contribute to political dialogue and help advance the country’s democracy.” On the other hand, Maduro and the Venezuelan government have accused the U.S of attempting a Coup d’état and rousing political violence. However, despite the U.S claims of innocence, behind the current official political discourse is an attempt to subvert the Venezuelan elections, reminiscent of U.S regional history.
U.S Policy and the Venezuelan Response
In a recent television interview with Univision News during his recent trip to Mexico, aired on May the 3rd Obama reiterated his stance on the Venezuelan election results and questioned whether “basic principles of human rights and democracy and freedom of press and freedom of assembly” were being observed in Venezuela.
“I think our only interest at this point is making sure that the people of Venezuela are able to determine their own destiny free from the kinds of practices that the entire hemisphere generally has moved away from” he said.
Ironically Obama also pointed out in his TV interview, in an attempt to discourage the linking of current policy, with former Cold War policy of previous administrations “Our approach to the entire hemisphere is not ideological. It’s not rooted back in the Cold War. It’s based on the notion of our basic principles of human rights and democracy and freedom of press and freedom of assembly. Are those being observed?”
Despite Obama’s proclamations of innocence and justified intentions for a peaceful and fair election, events are increasingly looking like Washington’s Cold War anti socialist policy, reminiscent of former U.S administrations. Whether it’s the overthrow of João Goulart in Brazil in the 60s, Salvador Allende in Chile in the 70s, or Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua in the 80s the U.S has a long history of overthrowing democratically elected socialist governments in Latin America. During the 1980s the U.S administration became synonymous with the use of “dirty wars” funding death squads to overthrow democratic socialist governments with pro U.S right wing governments.
The failed 2002 Venezuelan Coup d’état, aimed at overthrowing the then democratically elected Hugo Chavez, also pointed back to the U.S administration not only being aware of the coup, but had sanctioned it and presuming it to be destined for success. In a damning article by the Observer in 2002, quoting officials from the Organisation of American States and other diplomatic sources they implicate Elliot Abrams, Otto Reich and John Negroponte. All three members of the Venezuelan coup triangle had previously served in the under Reagan during the 1980s “dirty wars,” while Elliot Abrams was convicted for misleading congress over the infamous Iran-Contra affair.[i] In a recent article for Foreign Policy magazine, Otto Reich in a nicely crafted piece of propaganda, which under normal circumstances would be awarded the “Pulitzer Prize for best Fiction,” proclaims he “saved Chávez’s life” by informing him of the coup attempt. Despite the articles outlandish and spiteful claims frequently attacking Chavez’s policies and legitimacy, being it was printed just days before the elections the article seemed more of an attempt to expunge the U.S government from any post-election violence, while delegitimizing the Chavez legacy.[ii]
In response to Obama’s interview Venezuelan Foreign Minister Elias Jaua in an official government communique called Obama’s comments as an “attack” on the “legitimate government of Venezuela”.
In the televised statement, Jaua criticised Obama for ignoring Venezuela’s democratic processes calling Obama’s comments an attack on “the legitimate Venezuelan government” and criticised him for showing “double standards” by not condemning what he described as the “violent record of…[Venezuelan] opposition groups”.
Jaua pointed out that Venezuela’s automated electoral system is subject to numerous audits “guaranteeing…the accuracy of the data”.
He further went on to point out the U.S history in Latin America calling Obama to “get informed” pointing out that the “National Electoral Council has overcome those terrible practices that used to violate the people’s will, and that the U.S. supported in order to have governments that were obedient to its bidding.”
President Nicolas Maduro has also publically criticising Obama for “financing” the opposition and “seeking to destroy Venezuela’s democracy.”
Interestingly in another disputed election this month in Malaysia, Prime Minister Najib Razak’s Barisan Nasional (BN; National Front) won the election with 133 of the 222 in parliamentary seats. Despite winning by a majority the election was fraught with accusations of electoral fraud, while a tally by independent online media gave the BN coalition 49% of the vote, making Mr Najib the first leader to win with a minority of the popular vote. Following the results, opposition candidate Mr Anwar accused authorities of widespread abuses commenting that “It is an election that we consider fraudulent and the Electoral Commission has failed.”[iii] Despite the oppositions accusations and electoral irregularities the U.S immediately recognised the results calling them the “most competitive” in the Southeast Asian nation’s history.
Espionage Accusations: The Case of Timothy Tracy
In an interview with Telemundo, Obama gave his support for Timothy Tracy, a 35 year old Californian man who was detained by Venezuelan authorities under charges of espionage.
Tracy whose been described by U.S media as a documentary film maker and was reportedly in Venezuela to make a documentary on the presidential elections was detained by authorities at the end of April.
Obama described the charges as “ridiculous” further adding that “We’ve seen some of this rhetoric occasionally come out of Venezuela.”
Speaking on the arrest of Timothy Tracy Venezuela’s Minister for Internal Affairs Miguel Rodriguez Torres told Venezuelan media that authorities are now convinced that Tracy’s occupation as a film-maker was “a guise”.
According to Torres, Venezuelan authorities have seized more than “500 videotapes” and other evidence including emails that allegedly show Tracy was involved in a conspiracy with “members of the far right…to cause violent actions on the streets and create a climate of chaos”.
Although Obama may view the accusations as “ridiculous” the realities are far from ridiculous. The CIA has had a long history of using the cover of journalists for covert operations. According to CIA official documentation some 400 American journalists over the past twenty‑five years have been used to carry out assignment on behalf of the CIA.[iv] The most famous of these was Joseph Alsop sent to cover the 1953 elections in the Philippines. The 1979 “Canadian Caper” in which the CIA posed as film makers, to rescue six U.S diplomats stranded in Iran following the Iran Revolution was even immortalised in the 2012 Hollywood blockbuster Argo.
Neoconservative Rhetoric and Covert Operations
The most noticeable insight into the current U.S foreign policy on Venezuela is currently coming out of the neoconservative think-tanks. One of the most apparent deceptions emerging from the neocon discourse is Obama’s claims that their policy is not “ideological.” Instead their policy is extremely ideological, rooted in their irrational fear socialism and reminiscent of Washington’s Cold War history. Even more damning there is clear sign of a propaganda campaign to delegitimize Maduro, conducted by many leading figures in Latin American policy. These baseless accusations attempt to discredit Maduro and accuse the government of working in unison with Cuba, to create elaborate system to manipulate Venezuelan electoral results.
In an article by Roger Noriega for the American think-tank, American Enterprise Institute (AEI) he writes “this complex system was created in the last several years under the direction of Cuban advisors, working with Cuban-trained Venezuelan hard-liners associated with the “Francisco de Miranda Front,” and micromanaged by a database operated in Pinar del Rio, Cuba.”[v] Noriega placing the blame on the U.S old Cold War nemesis Cuba, in an elaborate plot that sounds far less credible than Maduro’s claim of a CIA plots against his presidency. Historically Cuba has had no experience in interfering in foreign elections, unlike the U.S “proficient skill” in overthrowing governments. Even the Carter Centre back in a 2012 report called the Venezuelan voting system the “strongest component of the country’s electoral process”[vi].
Noriega goes on to write “Maduro’s illegitimacy and incompetence may make it impossible for him to manage the country’s myriad economic and security problems.” He concludes by commenting that even “Chavistas — many of whom already are offended by Havana’s heavy-handed role in managing the post-Chávez succession — may look to Capriles Radonski as the man Venezuelans chose to save the country.”[vii] Noriega hints at what seems to be the current U.S strategy of a mass propaganda campaign, to discredit and delegitimize Maduro’s victory and the government socialist policies. This tactic is nothing new in Venezuela, but has just been intensified due to the post Chavez power vacuum and close electoral margin. The objective is obvious create a campaign of disinformation to defame Maduro to destabilize the country, in order to create an environment for a Coup d’état, or a popular uprising, either one would be disastrous for Venezuela.
Reminiscent of current events, in November 2007 the Venezuelan government circulated a confidential memo they had intercepted, that was sent from the U.S embassy to the CIA. The memo entitled “Advancing to the Last Phase of Operation Pincer” gives updates of covert operations conducted by a CIA unit engaged in clandestine activities, to disrupt the referendum and destabilize the country, in order to create the environment to overthrow the elected Chavez government.[viii] The U.S government obviously disputes the authenticity of the memo, claiming it to be fake created by the Venezuelan government. Nonetheless, despite the authenticity dispute there are a few things we do know for sure. Firstly Operation Mockingbird was a secret campaign, conducted by the CIA in the 1950s to influence foreign media and political campaigns. Secondly the “Kissinger Files” provide evidence of a 40 year campaign, by Washington to prevent a diplomatic alliance between Venezuela and Cuba.[ix] Thirdly Forward Operating Location’s (FOL) have been used for spy flights over Venezuela instead of their attended use of counter-drug flights.[x] Taking into account these three facts we can say with certainty that covert operations such as “Operation Pincer” have not only been conducted by the CIA, but Venezuela is a CIA target. The rhetoric in Noriega’s article reads like he was writing from the CIA play book, discrediting Maduro, predicting an uprising and attempting to link Venezuela to the Cuban government, perhaps Noriega read the same “fake” CIA memo.
According to a 2007 Guardian article, the AEI has received more than $1.6m from ExxonMobil the U.S oil and gas giant, while more than 20 of its staff have worked as consultants to the neoconservative Bush administration.[xi] On the other hand, Roger Noriega former assistant secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs during the Bush administration has become well known for meddling in the internal affairs of many Latin American and Caribbean nations. Involved in the 2004 Haitian coup d’état to overthrowing Jean-Bertrand Aristide, implicated in the 2002 Venezuelan coup d’état and helped to write the Helms-Burton law, which further tightened the Cuban embargo, Noriega is one of the hard-line far right neoconservatives set on overthrowing any Latin America government that conforms to socialism, over neoliberalism.
Noriega is certainly not closed about his political ideology. You only have to look as far as his Twitter account to see his far right political leanings, with a profile picture of the fascist dictator Benito Mussolini and proclaiming himself a “veteran anti-communist,” Noriega is a prime example of the hard-line anti-communist neoconservatives, Cold War relic, dominating U.S foreign policy.
In another absurd article aimed at discrediting Maduro’s legitimacy Jaime Daremblum, director, of the Center for Latin American Studies at the Hudson Institute, writes that the National Electoral Council is controlled by “Hugo Chávez loyalists — as are the National Assembly, the Supreme Court, the military, and the police.” Daremblum goes on to call the elections “Shamefully” writing that Maduro was recognised before the opposition could “investigate the thousands of irregularities”. [xii]
Despite Daremblum’s claims, the National Electoral Council is actually one of the five independent branches of the Venezuelan government, while the “thousands of irregularities” seems overly-exaggerated, or more accurately an outright lie. According to a 2012 report by the Foundation for Democratic Advancement, an independent organization, gives Venezuela a score of 78.83% for electoral fairness describing the electoral system as “very satisfactory.”[xiii] Interestingly in the same 2012 report the U.S received a score of 54.5% for electoral fairness describing the electoral system as bordering on a “failed state.”[xiv] The current U.S electoral process looks more like a well conducted play worthy of shakespearean theatre, rather than a democratic election, with biased reporting, orchestrated political debates, massive lobbying and no coverage to third parties. However, despite the “political theatre,” massive fraud in both the 2000 and 2004 Bush elections and now accusations of fraud in 2008 and 2012 elections, the U.S electoral system is increasingly looking like a sham, reminiscent of a “Banana Republic” once used by the U.S to describe Latin American states.
The Heritage Foundation and Brookings published far less inflammatory articles, but just as unbalanced, biased and critical of both Chavez and Maduro attacking their economic policies, human rights and crime prevention. James M. Roberts and Sergio Daga writing for the Heritage Foundation advise the Obama administration to ”step into the breach with active and forward-looking policies to bring Venezuela back into the globalized economic system.”[xv] Alternatively Diana Villiers Negroponte writing for Brookings, comments that she anticipates Obama will sooner, or later recognise the elections, but Washington should “use the weight of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and its effective court system to protect Venezuelan citizens and prevent the consolidation of authoritarian rule in the hemisphere.”[xvi] Both comments are hint at the U.S pressuring the Venezuelan government to adopt neoliberal reforms.
This is just a small amount of discourse coming out of both the neoconservative and general foreign policy think-tanks. However, the current discourse highlights a move on the part of the U.S to discredit Maduro by depicting him as a dictator, who won the election through mass corruption and will continue to pursue the same failed policies as Chavez. Nonetheless accusation from the Venezuelan opposition and likeminded right wing American’s are baseless, with the election results being as fair, if not fairer than the United States.
The current tactic seems to be less about achieving a recount, and more about stirring political tensions, possibly to achieve the ground work for a Coup d’état, or to force the Venezuelan government into neoliberal reforms. Maduro viewed by the U.S media as some paranoid eccentric, constantly fearful of a U.S coup attempt. But instead Maduro is very rational, intelligent and fully aware not only of U.S regional history, but also that the same people responsible for previous coups in the region, still have power in Washington, and are currently writing the policy and lobbying the congress. There is no doubt that there are certain political and corporate elements in the U.S who are currently pressuring the administration on Venezuelan policy, in order to overthrow the government, and bring about their desired neoliberal reforms. CIA operations such as “Operation Pincer,” or something similar, is not only plausible, but without a doubt being conducted.
[i]Ed Vulliamy, “Venezuela coup linked to Bush team,” The Observer Found At: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2002/apr/21/usa.venezuela
[ii] Otto J. Reich, “Saving Hugo Chávez,” Foreign Policy. Found at: http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2013/03/25/saving_hugo_chavez_assassination?page=0,1
[iii] Ed Vulliamy, “Venezuela coup linked to Bush team,” The Guardian Found at: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2002/apr/21/usa.venezuela
[iv] Carl Bernstein, “The CIA and the Media,” found at: http://www.carlbernstein.com/magazine_cia_and_media.php
[v] Roger F. Noriega, “Venezuela’s ‘Cubanochavista’ electoral machine,” American Enterprise Institute. Found at: http://www.aei.org/article/foreign-and-defense-policy/regional/latin-america/venezuelas-cubanochavista-electoral-machine/
[vi] The Carter Centre “Study Mission to the October 7, 2012, Presidential Elections in Venezuela,” Carter Center. p.45.
[vii] Noriega, “Venezuela’s ‘Cubanochavista’ electoral machine,”
[viii] James Petras, “CIA Venezuela Destabilization Memo Surfaces,” Counter Punch. Found at: http://www.counterpunch.org/2007/11/28/cia-venezuela-destabilization-memo-surfaces/
[ix] Nikolas Kozloff “Washington’s war on Cuba and Venezuela,” Al Jazeera. Found at: http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2013/04/20134146325866394.html
[x] Cablegate “Netherlands / Venezuela: “Rather Concerned About Chavez”” wikileaks. Found at: http://www.wikileaks.org/plusd/cables/10THEHAGUE42_a.html
[xi] Ian Sample, “Scientists offered cash to dispute climate study,” The Guardian. Found at: http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2007/feb/02/frontpagenews.climatechange
[xii] Jaime Daremblum, “Who Really Controls Venezuela?” Hudson Institute. Found at: http://www.hudson.org/index.cfm?fuseaction=publication_details&id=9590
[xiii] The Foundation for Democratic Advancement, “Revised 2012 FDA Electoral Fairness Report on the United States,” Found at: http://democracychange.org/2013/04/2012-fda-electoral-fairness-report-on-the-united-states/
[xiv] The Foundation for Democratic Advancement, “Revised 2012 FDA Global Electoral Fairness Report on Venezuela” found at: http://democracychange.org/2013/04/2012-fda-global-electoral-fairness-report-on-venezuela/
[xv] James M. Roberts and Sergio Daga, “Venezuela: U.S. Should Push President Maduro Toward Economic Freedom,” The Heritage Foundation, Found at: http://www.heritage.org/research/reports/2013/04/venezuela-us-should-push-president-maduro-toward-economic-freedom
[xvi] Diana Villiers Negroponte, “Maduro as President of Venezuela: What to Expect,” Brookings. Found at: http://www.brookings.edu/blogs/up-front/posts/2013/04/16-venezuela-maduro-negroponte