U.S. Puppeteering and the Philosophy of Chavismo: Nicolas Maduro as a Symbol of Venezuelan Sovereignty


Canyon Ryan | Geopolitics | Analysis | August 5th, 2019



On January 23, 2019, President of the Venezuelan National Assembly, Juan Guaidó, at an opposition rally in Caracas proclaimed himself President of Venezuela. Quickly, the United States (U.S.) and lobbied allies announced their recognition of Guaidó as the legitimate President and denounced the elected president, Nicolás Maduro, as a usurper and dictator.

Before that day, Guaidó was largely an unknown figure to much of Venezuela. Polling prior to Guaidó's self-proclamation suggested approximately 80% of Venezuelans had never even heard of him (Ciccariello-Maher, 2019). Ignoring the absence of such a mandate, as of July 2019, reportedly 54 countries support Guaidó as the interim-President of Venezuela.

As Guaido asked for China's support while painting a picture of a country grappling with "90% food and medical shortages, a population in which 87% live below the poverty line and an inflation which exceeds 2,000,000%," it appeared to Washington and Venezuelan elites that the "Bolivarian Revolution" was on the brink of collapse. Instead, as the last seven months passed so too has Guaidó's legitimacy within Venezuela, the U.S. and the international community.


"The Bolivarian Revolution"

In 1998, famed Venezuelan revolutionary Hugo Chávez won a sweeping electoral victory six years after leading a failed coup attempt. Chávez, an ardent socialist, believed in the utilization of Venezuela's national resources to benefit the country's poorest citizens. This movement would come to be known as "The Bolivarian Revolution", a reference to revolutionary Simón Bolívar, who liberated numerous Latin American countries from the Spanish Empire, including Venezuela.

The Revolution faced its first substantial obstruction in 2002 after a coup that ultimately found Chávez reinstated within 2 days. The coup was led by business lobbies, reactionary trade unions, and a unified political opposition rallying behind Pedro Carmona; all of whom felt that Chávez was acting in an undemocratic manner which also threatened their commercial interests.

Immediately following the coup and during the subsequent military detention of Chávez, the U.S. recognized the Carmona government and attempted to lobby international support for the legitimization of the government which overthrew a President elected with nearly 60% of the vote just two years earlier. Less than two weeks later it was understood that the U.S. had met with the coup plotters and both knew of and supported their ambitions (Vulliamy, 2002). In the end, the coup failed as tens-of-thousands Chávistas took to the streets, flipping the military high command to support the reinstatement of Chávez.

"Chavismo" is the espoused economic and social philosophy of President Chávez who in 1998 inherited a country in which two thirds of the population subsisted on less than $2 a day (Cooper, 2002). In the years following the 2002 coup attempt, Chávez lowered the Gini Coefficient by 54%, reduced poverty from 70.8% (1996) to 21% (2010) and extreme poverty from ~40% to 7.3% (2010), with 20,000,000 benefitting from the anti-poverty programs (Muntaner & Benach & Paez-Victor, 2002). It is for these reasons that Venezuelan elites so much feared and despised the President.


Acquired Economic Crisis

In 2013, Chávez passed away after a two-year battle with cancer. His Vice President at the time Nicolás Maduro, in accordance with the Venezuelan Constitution, held a presidential election within 30 days of a sitting President's death. Maduro won the election, narrowly edging out opposition candidate Henrique Capriles by a 1.5% margin, much less than the 11% victory attained by Chávez over Capriles seven months earlier. Despite having Chávez's public endorsement, Maduro lacked the charisma and connection attained by Chávez after almost 20 years of public admiration. Among the primary polling concerns at the time were a retracting national economy, increasing crime rates, and land ownership rights.

2013 was also a high point for global oil prices, with a barrel of crude selling on the market for $105.87. With the largest oil reserves in the world, Venezuela benefited dramatically during this period of rising prices, and began promoting numerous socialist programs both domestically and abroad. As early as 2006, the Chávez Administration was financing eye surgeries for the poor in Mexico and subsidizing heat for struggling homeowners in the U.S. Approximately 30 countries benefited from Venezuela's assistance in the form of generous debt and bond purchasing, discounted oil sales through the PetroCaribe program, and numerous development programs throughout the overexploited world. These projects were managed while considerably investing in the poor of Venezuela.

However, critics have noted the spending and centralization throughout the Chávez era to be reckless and attuned to economic mismanagement. Toppled with an imposed currency control which overvalued the Venevuelan bolivar and the complex multi-tiered exchange rate system which encouraged corruption through bolivar sales on the black market, the Venezuelan economy had reached a point of extreme insecurity which the Maduro Administration has had difficulties solving.

Accentuating the economic crisis, by 2015 a barrel of crude oil sold for less than $50 on the global market. With a 50% decrease in value, the Maduro Administration faced serious challenges in restoring an economy that was already in recession. Moreover, Venezuela is a single resource economy with 95-99% of its export earnings coming from oil sales, meaning it relies heavily on imports due to the lack of resource and commodity diversity. It is important to note that this is not solely the blame of the Bolivarian Revolution. That Venezuela is a single resource export economy is a problem that has existed since Spanish colonization, and every government since has been tasked with attempting to diversify the national economy while suffering from boom-and-bust cycles attached to the sale of oil. This renders the state fully reliant on oil sales, a product of colonialism and a symptom of the "resource curse". Additionally, the ongoing economic crisis has been heightened due to sanctions waged by the U.S.

In 2006, the U.S. Department of State began barring the sale of new military equipment and spare parts to Venezuela. In 2011, the U.S. placed sanctions against the Venezuelan state oil company PDVSA. In 2013, further sanctions were placed against the state-owned firearms manufacturer, CVIM. By 2015, President Obama sanctioned Venezuelan officials and declared ludicrously by Executive Order a "national emergency with respect to the unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security… of the United States posed by… Venezuela." Today, the U.S. Treasury Department has sanctions on 115 Venezuelans and hundreds of visas have been revoked by the U.S. State Department (Seelke & Sullivan, 2019). A 2019 report by the Center for Economic and Policy Research conducted by Mark Weisbrot and Jeffery Sachs found that sanctions imposed by the Trump Administration since August 2017 alone have resulted in the preventable deaths of more than 40,000 Venezeulans and have contributed to the suffering of millions due to restrictions on Venezuela's ability to import food and medicine. With continued sanctions placed on PDVSA in 2019, it is clear the U.S. intends to undernourish the nation.

Since 2013, the Venezuelan economy has contracted by more than 47% (according to the Venezuelan Central Bank) with hyperinflation reaching levels previously unseen. The goal of U.S. sanctions is clearly the polarization of Venezuelan society by a heightening of economic struggle afforded by the general populace. This is a multifaceted attack, including not just the governments of the West and their right-wing sycophants throughout Latin America, but also through disinvestment and deceitful marketing by numerous financial institutions. An example of such can be seen regarding Venezuela's risk-rating by J.P. Morgan Bank in 2017 which was listed at 4,820 points. Whereas Chile, despite having the same debt/GDP ratio as Venezuela, was ranked thirty-eight times lower (Ramonet, 2018). Throughout the years, U.S. sanctions against Venezuela have resulted in the government's inability to send and receive payments in the millions and prevented Venezuela from accessing billions from its own reserves overseas.


Maduro's Continuation of Chavismo

On August 4, 2018, President Maduro survived an assassination attempt after several drones carrying explosives flew toward him during a speech in Caracas. A month later it was reported that U.S. officials had met with military officers involved in the coup several times over the year preceding the attempt (Diamond & Labott & Stracqualursi, 2018). In June 2019, the Associated Press in Caracas reported that Maduro's spokesperson, Jorge Rodríguez, announced that the government had foiled an assassination plot designed by former Venezuelan military and police officers. Blame for this conspiracy was directed by Rodríguez at U.S. allies Colombian President Iván Duque and Chilean President Sebastian Piñera.

Since 2013, Maduro has accused the opposition, the U.S. and their regional subordinates of numerous assassination attempts and coup plots. In tradition with the Bolivarian Revolution, Maduro sees himself as a defender of Venezuela against imperialists intent on exploiting the people and natural resources of Venezuela. Instead of bowing to the pressures of the hegemon, Maduro has been unwavering in his commitment to Chavismo and Venezuelan sovereignty.

In 2016, Bolivarian government social spending amounted to 73% of the national budget while the Venezuelan Great Housing Mission constructed an additions 370,000 homes to be distributed to families living in the barrios, achieving the second lowest homelessness rate in the region (Boothroyd-Rojas, 2017 & Fúnez, 2017). Regarding social advancements, in 2016 Venezuela's Public Ministry announced that transgender people may request a new identification card according to their gender identity. Venezuela's government also founded and financed numerous ministries to advance several minority communities, including the Ministry for Women and Gender Equality, the Centre of African Knowledge, and the Ministry of Popular Power for Indigenous Peoples (Fúnez, 2017)

By the end of 2017, the government had expanded its free healthcare system to cover over 60% of the nation, while increasing the salaries of all doctors working in the public sector by 50% (Fúnez, 2017). In the realm of education, Maduro's government continued the policies of Chávez which have resulted in Venezuela ranking sixth in the world regarding primary education enrollment, with 73% of the population enrolling in secondary education and a literacy rate of 95.4% (Fúnez, 2017). In order to circumvent the banking blockade, the country also launched its own cryptocurrency known as the Petro. Meanwhile, the Local Committees of Supply and Production (CLAP) program expanded to reaching more than four million people, supplying them with government subsidized goods that are otherwise difficult to afford for the impoverished due to economic speculation.

The 2018 presidential election was largely boycotted by a fractured opposition who had requested the U.N. not send international observers so not to legitimize an election they otherwise were likely to lose. Despite the intended boycott not all of the opposition abstained from participating, resulting in a Maduro victory with 67% of the vote.

By the end of the year, Venezuela's Great Housing Mission had constructed over 2.5M dignified homes for distribution to those in need. As a result of this achievement, in May 2019 the U.N. Habitat Assembly recognized Venezuela as a world leader with regard to right-to-housing.


"The Making of Juan Guaido"

Investigative journalist Max Blumenthal, in an article titled "The Making of Juan Guaidó," delineates through an extensive review how Guaidó became a prominent figure of the opposition.

After graduating from Andres Bello Catholic University, a leading private university in Caracas, he enrolled at George Washington University in Washington D.C., where he studied under former International Monetary Fund Executive Director Luis Enrique Berrizbeitia. In 2007, Guaidó and allies led an anti-government rally after Chávez refused to renew the broadcasting license for Radio Caracas Televisión (RCTV). The refusal was primarily due to RCTV's role in the 2002 coup, where the station promoted the anti-government rally and then manipulated significant events during the coup (Blumenthal, 2019), quite literally spreading "fake news" to delegitimize the Chávez Administration.

In 2010, Guaidó and others traveled to Mexico for a secret five-day training session directed by "Otpor" (Blumenthal, 2019), an NGO created in Belgrade largely credited with leading removal of President Slobodan Milošević following the 2000 Federal Republic of Yugoslavia elections. Otpor is ostensibly a regime change arm of the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) whose reputation has blurred the lines between being a provocative pro-democracy NGO and being a subversive soft-power entity used by foreign governments hostile to alleged autocracies across the world.

Guaidó also participated in the "guarimbas", which were often violent anti-Maduro roadblocks notorious for killing at least 43 people in 2014. Since deleted, that same year Guaidó tweeted a video of himself wearing a helmet and gas mask, surrounded by masked guarimberos who has shut down a highway, proclaiming to be the "resistance" (Blumenthal, 2019). In February 2014, Guaidó joined opposition figure Leopoldo Lopez on stage where they led a crowd of protestors to Attorney General Luisa Ortega Diaz's office which armed gangs later attempted to burn down (Blumenthal, 2019).

Is this what democracy looks like?


NGOs and Disingenuous "Development"

From 2002-2007, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) granted 360 "scholarships" in what amassed to $11,575,509 for social organizations, political parties, and political projects through Development Alternatives Incorporated (DAI), a company contracted by USAID to work in Venezuela (Golinger, 2011). During the December of 2002, DAI paid for numerous radio and television advertisements on behalf of the opposition, calling for a general strike to halt operations until Chávez stepped down (Golinger, 2004).

The "labor rights" branch of the NED, known as the Solidarity Center, had members in Venezuela in 2002 meet with Otto Reich, then Assistant Secretary of Western Hemisphere Affairs, and an individual who was implicated in cooperating with anti-Chávez groups in destabilization campaigns prior to the coup attempt in 2002 (Cox, 2012). The Center also financed unions such as the Confederation of Venezuelan Workers, which organized with the National Business Confederation of Venezuela, a group complicit in working with the opposition and supporting the 2002 coup (Cox, 2012). These revelations emphasize the coercive nature of the NED as their labor rights arm operates with the U.S. Department of State in destabilizing Venezuela by organizing labor against the state.

Opposition parties and organizations have also been financed by USAID, the National Democratic Institute and the International Republican Institute (each U.S. party's branch of the NED), totaling over $7M between 2002-2011 (Golinger, 2011). Between 2013-2014, the NED and USAID collectively sent $14M to opposition parties organizing protests in 2014, of which Guaidó was a participant. In 2013 alone, of the $2.3M sent to Venezuela by the NED, $1.7M was sent directly to opposition parties (Golinger, 2014).

Given the U.S. recognition of the self-proclaimed President of Venezuela Juan Guaidó, it should be clear that preserving democracy is not the intent of President Trump's Administration. Unlike both Mr. Guaidó and Trump, Maduro was elected by a majority of the Venezuelan population to be President of the country, twice. If the U.S. actually cared about the Venezuelan people, it would relinquish the sanctions and send reparations for the havoc it has created.

Instead, the war drum continues to beat. U.S. Senator Marco Rubio in February 2019 tweeted a photo of the corpse of U.S. adversary Muammar Gaddafi as an apparent threat against Maduro (Rahim, 2019). Moreover, the appointment of Elliott Abrams as U.S. Special Envoy to Venezuela should serve as explicit evidence that "democracy and human rights" are not the U.S. goal for Venezuela. Abrams himself has links to the Venezuela 2002 coup attempt, and in 1991 plead guilty to misleading the U.S. Congress following the Nicaraguan Contras funding scandal that engulfed President Reagan's Administration. Abrams also misled the U.S. Senate concerning the El Mozote massacre during the 12-year El Salvador Civil War, a massacre whose perpetrators were funded and trained by the U.S. (Al Jazeera, 2019). Thus, as Guaidó has pledged and John Bolton proclaimed, the goals in Venezuela for the U.S. are the opening of markets, the privatization of state assets and U.S.-owned multinational corporations' access to oil reserves.

In July 2019, the Los Angeles Times reported that a USAID memo sent to Congress noted that the Trump Administration would be diverting over $40M, initially intended for Guatemala and Honduras, to the Guaidó faction in Venezuela. This more than $40M redirection accounts for more than 10% of the allocated $370M for the region. Moreover, it is important to note that just a month earlier, it was reported that the Guaidó faction had spent over $165,000 on luxury goods and personal expenses which had been sent to them in the form of humanitarian aid (Cohen, 2019).


The Conflict is The Contradiction

Guaidó alone is no standout figure. It is said that the day before the self-proclamation, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence personally called Guaidó and asserted U.S. support for his declaration. Many in attendance at the rally were caught off guard, and even fellow stage members showed bewilderment at the announcement. Still, minutes after the announcement the U.S. and lobbied allies legitimized the proclamation.

The conflict for the U.S. is the outright contradiction of a foreign powers' selection and international lobbying of support for a character who proclaimed themselves President without grasping any control of Venezuela. Without the military abandoning the Bolivarian Revolution, Guaidó has the world's attention and nothing to show for it. This has only been highlighted by the forced occupation of the Venezuelan Embassy in the U.S. (where occupiers were evicted by siege) and Costa Rica (which was denounced by the Costa Rican government) by Guaidó appointees. Another example of Guaidó's foreign inabilities is Germany's refusal to recognize Otto Gebauer as an ambassador of Venezuela, instead regarding him a "personal representative of interim president Juan Guaidó".

Meanwhile, the Maduro government remains committed to Venezuelan sovereignty and Chavismo. With the U.S. constantly reminding that "all options are on the table", it appears the truth is that the coup attempt has ultimately failed and the only flex the U.S. is willing to display are twitter threats accompanied by starvation sanctions. What the future holds remains a mystery, but from what the history of Chavismo has shown us, the people of Venezuela are unwilling to submit their independence to the U.S. in exchange for commercial contracts and austerity measures to resurrect the economy. While the country remains in deep struggle, Venezuela at least remains a sovereign Latin American state.


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