'Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.' -- Eugene V. Debs

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

The Chavistas Prepare to Defend the Revolution 

From the secure confines of the US, the possibility that the US, along with the upper class Venezuelan opposition, will seek to annul the result of the Venezuelan presidential election on December 3rd seems improbable. After all, opinion polls have consistently shown Chavez far ahead of rival, Manuel Rosales, so any attempt to persuade the rest of the world that Rosales was deprived of victory through fraud would be comical.

The opposition, in the aftermath of the 2004 referendum to recall Chavez, alienated its liberal allies in the US, requiring even sympathetic friends like the Carter Center to repudiate their paranoid claims. But, for people in Venezuela, where memories of the 2002 coup are still fresh, there is no margin for error. There is also the troubling fact that US efforts to destabilize the Chavez regime have intensified.

Eva Golinger Describes the Threat

As Golinger recently explained to Green Left Weekly, the US is attempting to do so financially, diplomatically and militarily:

“One of them is the financial front, which the US has been pursuing over the last five years or so, by financing the opposition. This has increased over the past year, doubled in some instances. In fact, funding by USAID [the US Agency for International Development], through its Office of Transition Initiatives (set up here after the coup), is now up to US$7.5 million a year. But, more interestingly, the recipients of the funding have increased dramatically.

“Two years ago, there were about 63 organisations receiving funding and, today, according to the latest documents I’ve gotten under the US Freedom of Information Act, there are 132 groups. When we talk about financial power, it’s not just the money; it’s about the penetration of Venezuelan society by using money to get into the various sectors. They find groups that are allegedly human rights groups, groups that work in the education system and so on, but are really working for the opposition.

“Basically, the US is funding these organisations in civil society ... to obtain control in all different parts of the country. There are large concentrations of programs in Merida, for example, also in Tachira, Zulia, and then in the interior of the country - places like Barquisimeto, and the states of Lara, Monagas, and Anzoategui. . . .

“So, USAID money has increased, and the same with [money from] the National Endowment for Democracy. And it’s not just the money. They’re bringing down their best experts. For example, in the case of the [presidential] election campaign right now, they’re bringing in political strategists, communications experts, to help them craft the entire [opposition] campaign. It’s not just money, because in the case of Venezuela, which is different from Haiti, or Nicaragua, or even Bolivia, the opposition doesn’t need the money. The dollars don’t really compare, if you contrast it to the new Plan for Transition in Cuba, for example. The total there is about $80 million. In Venezuela, the total is about $9 million a year.

Golinger's description of US military efforts reveals a coordinated, sophisticated effort:

I’ve done a lot of investigating this year on the island of Curacao [in the Caribbean], close to Venezuela, where the US has a military base. I have a chapter devoted to it in my new book, because it is really alarming.”

“[The US build-up] is with the support of the Dutch government, less so with the Antilles government”, Golinger explained. She said there is a government-owned refinery in Curacao that has been rented to Venezuela since 1984. The contract is set to expire in 2019. Golinger said the refinery “produces most of the oil for Central America and the Caribbean. It’s incredibly important and strategic.”

Washington is trying to convince the Curacao government to break the contract and sell the refinery to a US company. “All the major infrastructure companies, water, gas, electricity, telephone, [in Curacao] are US-owned. And now they want the refinery. You can see Venezuela from Curacao ... You could launch a missile attack from Curacao, easily.”

“So, there’s Curacao, and then there’s Colombia”, Golinger told GLW. “There’s a major build-up of military bases there. While we are not certain of the exact number of US troops in Colombia, we do know from official documents that the sum total of US forces in the Latin American region is 40,000 troops ... That’s a huge number. It’s enough to invade any Latin American country.

“The US conducts military exercises regularly. I went to Curacao to check out some of the warships involved. It’s pretty freaky ... that’s all intended to intimidate. They haven’t done that since the end of the Cold War.

“Another part of the military front are the psychological operations. It’s a media war, but it goes beyond use of the regular media and gets into all kinds of propaganda ... There’s a doctrine of psychological warfare prepared by the Pentagon ...

“The use of Colombian paramilitaries by the US is also included in the military front. And the intervention of US Special Forces is part of that as well.”

Golinger explained: “I actually interviewed a paramilitary here in Caracas. What he told me is that all the paramilitaries work jointly with the US and the Special Forces in Colombia. They’re trained by them, in command-and-control operations.

The paramilitaries are the “actors”. “For example, they’re the ones sent over to try to assassinate Chavez. But the command-and-control is directed and controlled by the US Special Forces. The US forces come in, and are on the ground in Colombia, but they send the paramilitaries to do the dirty work, together with the Colombian army.

“The US has been building up a secret base near the border with Venezuela, next to Apure state. It’s a small base, but the US is building airplane hangars for spy planes. It’s basically a launching point for espionage operations and monitoring of Venezuela. They also have large amounts of high-ranking US Special Forces there. At every one of these bases ... there are always the high-ranking US Special Forces, the high-ranking Colombian forces, then the low-ranking Colombian forces, and finally the paramilitaries. It’s like a chain of command, but at the head of that command are the US Special Forces.”

Golinger said that there were attempts to push the FARC into Venezuela to provide an excuse for Colombian troops to enter the country. “They want to increasingly make that border area a combat zone - to declare it an uncontrollable international zone, so they need to bring in international forces to control it. This would include all of that area, from Apure to Zulia.”

In her new book there is a chapter on Plan Balboa, a 2001 military exercise underwritten by the US that is “basically the invasion plan for Venezuela”. “What they do is come in from Colombia, Panama and from bases in Curacao. What they do on their map is take over Zulia and the border area and declare it an international zone ....

“In the case of Venezuela, Plan Balboa is the virtual, trial stage of invading the country, and then over the past five years they have been trying it out. The April 2002 coup was the first stage. The US had military forces here, and brought in submarines and other equipment, and their Black Hawk helicopters. How did it play out? It didn’t work, and since then they have been preparing for the next stage. For example, the movement for Zulia to secede, or to become an autonomous state, is related to all that.”

Right now, most of Venezuela’s developed oil industry is located in Zulia and Falcon. “So, the idea is to expand Plan Colombia into that region, and the border area that requires international forces, and, at the same time, move for secession of Zulia. Eventually, they would just divide the country and take the oil wealth. And from there they would deal with the rest of the country.”

GLW asked Golinger about Washington’s ability to stage a military intervention while it was bogged down in Iraq. She explained that, on top of the 40,000 US troops stationed in Latin America, “the recent military exercises in the Caribbean showed their strength ... right in the area near Venezuela, they had about eight major warships, one of which was the aircraft carrier USS George Washington, with 85 combat planes and 6500 troops on board. In all, they had about 10,000 troops. That’s a total of 50,000 [soldiers] in the region.

George Ciccariello-Maher Describes the Response

In a highly informative Counterpunch article, Ciccariello-Maher explains how the US and opposition may activate these resources by seek to manufacture an electoral crisis after the election results are announced, an endeavor that he identifies as Plan B:

. . . unfortunately, this doesn't mean that the opposition will be passively accepting their electoral defeat on December 3rd. Instead, rather than complaining of electoral conditions beforehand and talking the abstentionist talk, the opposition is rallying around the slogan of "defend the vote." This vague slogan has some clear consequences, as became clear when opposition ideologue Rafael Poleo appeared recently on Globovisión. Poleo, who has links to the Bush clan and the CIA, who was thoroughly implicated in the April 2002 coup, and whose daughter has been directly implicated in the assassination of Danilo Anderson, the judge whose job it was to collect evidence against the coup-plotters, laid out the strategy of the radical opposition in the clearest of terms on November 6th: "On the 3rd, it is up to the citizens to align themselves with the opposition, they need to go and vote. On the 4th, it's up to Manuel Rosales to lead the protests against the fraud that has been set up. And on the 5th, it's up to the Armed Forces to decide if it will continue forcing those in the Venezuelan opposition to put up with a shameful regime."

According to Poleo, Rosales could be the most important Venezuelan of the 21st century "if he does what he needs to do." The Electoral Committee (CNE) "will announce the victory of Hugo Chávez, regardless of what the numbers say," and "at 6am on the 4th, the streets will fill with people decrying fraud, and then we will see the true size of Rosales." Revealingly, Poleo declares that "that day after, the 4th, will be even more important than December 3rdOn the 4th, it's up to the people to do what the Ukranians did, to carry out an 'Orange Revolution,' to hurl themselves onto the streets, because the fraud has already been arranged, they already have the numbers ready." The Chavistas will not abandon power for the simple reason that "they are Nazis." A coup attempt is in the works, and it has been publicly announced beforehand (all claims of a lack of press freedom in Venezuela thereby proven false).

While Poleo seems uncertain about which path Rosales will choose, the ground is already being laid for his participation in this coup attempt. Hence, Rosales has been clearly evasive when faced with questions about his recognition of the election results: when Chávez publicly agreed to respect the results of the election and challenged his opponent to do the same, the response from Rosales echoing the "democratic" doublespeak of the Northern superpower. Rosales made the very question sound silly: Venezuela is, according to Rosales, the "only country on earth" in which there would even exist a doubt regarding the recognition of elections, but despite this the opposition candidate would not agree to accept these results without the significant caveat that said results must be fair. In terms of the second step of the plan-appeals to the military-Rosales even beat Poleo to the punch, openly calling on November 5th for a meeting with the military high command, a request which was flatly denied by Minster of Defense General Raúl Baduel on the basis that such a meeting would constitute an unconstitutional intervention of the military into the electoral process.

Predicably, the Chavistas have their own contingency plan:

. . . So we shouldn't be surprised to find that the most radical sectors of Chavismo are also making plans. Specifically, several armed self-defense organizations rooted in the Tupamaro movement and largely-defunct Bolivarian Circles, which claim a particularly powerful following in the barrios of western Caracas, are preparing plans for the defense of Chavista neighborhoods.

Such plans are centered in the historically revolutionary neighborhood of 23 de Enero (January 23rd), in the climbing foothills in western Caracas. 23 de Enero has long represented the organizational "brain" of radical Caracas, as opposed to the "heart" of revolt represented by the slums of Petare, that powderkeg standing far to the east of the city which gave rise to the epic 1989 Caracazo riots. The spirit of revolt has often been sparked in the utter destitution of Petare, the largest and most dangerous of Caracas' slums, but the organizational structure which fans the flames can generally be found in 23. In the short lived April 2002 coup against Chávez, several ministers were spirited away for safe keeping in the "bunker" of 23 de Enero, only to reemerge and participate in the efforts to recover the president.

Given this role as radical safe haven, the many radical armed groups populating the neighborhood-from the Carapaica, who made their plans public in local newspapers, to Cepa Cartolini, to the Colectivo Alexis Vive (most of these groups descended from the earlier Coordinador Simón Bolívar and later Tupamaros)-think first of protecting the "bunker": a source close to sectors of the Tupamaros tells me that "the general line is that, in the event of trouble, if it's a confrontation with lead, they'll guard 23 de Enero, keep in contact with other organizations, and mobilize resistance." Specifically, I am told, most organizations have adopted a bifurcated approach to resisting the "Plan B" of the opposition: half of their forces will be devoted to rearguard defense of the bunkers, while half will form "mobilization groups" traveling throughout the city.

It should be pointed out that, while the Metropolitan Mayor's office has "fulfilled a necessary support role" by providing logistical support to radical neighborhoods (cellphones, motorcycles), this role is precisely that: support. That is to say, these neighborhood organizations are best considered as "base movements" engaged in a revolutionary process of local administration. In the words of one participant, the resistance to threats from the opposition has led these groups to "create new forms for organizing the local self-defense of sovereignty." These new forms are not limited to urban areas, either: from the Ezequiel Zamora National Campesino Front-several thousand of whom marched through the city in military formation on November 20th-to the much more shadowy rural resistance army deemed the "Bolivarian Liberation Front," grassroots resistance to any efforts to put the brakes on the revolutionary process is ubiquitous.

Predictably, the Neoconservative Media is Frightened

The London Telegraph, known for its notorious role in libeling George Galloway and advocating the launching of the war in Iraq, is concerned about the creation of groups capable of resisting an attempt to topple Chavez:

With Mr Chavez hoping to win another six years in power, the opposition fears that even if it wins at the ballot box it will never be able to take power.

After purging the armed forces of elements opposed to his populist Left-wing rule, Mr Chavez has ensured that a new reserve force is outside the normal military command chain, answering only to him.

The former paratrooper colonel, who led a failed coup in 1992, has military men in most ministries, in politics, and even on the Supreme Court.

"What we have now is a form of Praetorian government," said Domingo Irwin, a defence analyst at the Pedagogical University in Caracas, the Venezuelan capital.

Not surprisingly, the article neglects to mention two things, beyond the failure to acknowledge Chavez's string of electoral victories from 1998 to date: (1) that the Venezuelan civil service has historically been both corrupt and aligned with the opposition, necessitating his recourse to people that he has encountered in the military that he considers more competent and trustworthy; and (2) that polls have consistently shown Chavez with substantial leads over Rosales, most recently by nearly 2 to 1 by Zogby.

Neither omission is a coincidence, as the first serves the purpose of casting doubt on a electorally victorious politician's entitlement to appoint his own people to leadership positions, while the second one is consistent with the attempt to persuade people outside Venezuela that opposition claims of fraud, should they lose as indicated by the polls, are credible. Psychologically, however, the problem is much simpler:

For Alberto Garrido, a leading political analyst in Caracas, the president is building up and arming his support base, should he lose elections or be removed from power by other means.

"He believes in the revolutionary principle of a people in arms, and he believes that he can never be beaten should his people be armed," said Mr Garrido.

Let's examine this outwardly short, simple comment with care. Contrary to the implication of Garrido's remark, as already observed by Ciccariello-Maher, Chavez has already expressed his willingness to accept the result, while Rosales has equivocated. So, once this has been clarified, we can see how Garrido gives the game away: the president is building up and arming his support base should he . . be removed from power by other means. And, just what might those be? The implementation of Plan Balboa, as described by Golinger? US military support for an armed rebellion launched by the opposition after the election? Or, more simply, the assassination of Chavez?

And, then, Garrido's direct quote: . . . he believes that he can never be beaten should his people by armed. Sadly, according to the standards of the Telegraph and Garrido, Chavez isn't playing by the rules. After 2002, he's not going to diminish the significance of the threat because he is naive enough to think that the US cannot blatantly remove a popularly elected president of another country from power. He's not even going to wait for the attack, in whatever form it comes, and then, unlike the Republican government in Madrid in 1936, respond to the call of the people for arms. No, he believes that an attack is coming, as do many in Venezuela, and they are going to be armed and ready before it happens.

Let's hope that the US remains preoccupied with Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan and the rest of the Middle East. Let's hope that my distanced American perspective about the plausibility of a US inspired opposition uprising is correct, because if Marines are ever sent into the slums of Petare, 23 de Enero and elsewhere, they will find themselves in the Sadr City of South America, and the boundaries of that allegorical Sadr City could rapidly extend from Santiago to Mexico City, anywhere with a combustible mix of an American presence, a wealthy elite and a large populace impoverished as a consequence of neoliberalism.

If that happens, there will be no nonsense about Support the Troops, rather, it will be unconditional support for the right of the Venezuelans to prevail by any means necessary. Many rightly fear that a war with Iran could quickly become uncontrollable, but we ignore the prospect that an attempt to remove Chavez could initiate an equally calamitous conflict.

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