Frederick B. Mills
February 25, 2015
In “Are they going to Invade?” the widely respected Venezuelan lawyer, journalist and former Vice President (2002-2007), José Vicente Rangel, raises the ominous specter of a U.S. invasion of Venezuela (Ultimas Noticias, 02-16-15). A U.S. invasion, direct or by proxy, would be aimed at the ouster of the democratically elected government of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela and would certainly meet with strong and sustained resistance by the Bolivarian civic–military unity that has mobilized in defense of Venezuelan democracy.
José Vicente Rangel raises the issue of invasion in today’s highly charged Venezuelan political context of a foiled coup, an ongoing economic war, an anti-government media campaign, and a second round of U.S. sanctions against Caracas with new ones in the works aimed at “steering” Venezuela in a direction acceptable to the White House. Rangel develops his argument that a U.S. invasion of Venezuela is a real possibility based on the historic hostility of Washington to the Bolivarian revolution; an interpretation of hostile statements that are presently emanating from Obama Administration; and on the inability of a divided and unpopular right wing opposition to bring about either democratic or extra constitutional regime change from inside the country.
While the State Department has been ratcheting up its anti-Maduro rhetoric and contemplating yet a new round of sanctions against Caracas, Rangel is especially curious about a recent statement by Lt. General Vincent R. Stewart, Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, in testimony before the armed services committee on February 3, 2015. During that testimony Stewart said:
“We anticipate student organizations and the political opposition will stage protests in the months leading up to 2015 legislative elections. Military leaders have remained loyal and will continue to quell anti-government protests. We anticipate security forces occasionally will use heavy-handed tactics to restore order.”
Rangel asks, in his essay, how Vincent could know about what is likely to happen in the streets of Caracas prior to the legislative elections later this year. Was such information given to Vincent by elements of the Venezuelan opposition or channels that are privy to such intelligence? Of course, Vincent’s testimony could just as well have been a prognosis based on the recent experience of the guarimbas (violent anti-government demonstrations) during the first quarter of 2014. Rangel does have a rational basis for his suspicions, however, given the long-time close collaboration between the Venezuelan right wing opposition and their allies in Washington. In any case, Rangel argues that this testimony by Vincent, among other official statements related to Venezuela, are part of a pattern that indicates a militarization of the U.S. relationship towards Venezuela, a relationship that would be more appropriately handled in the diplomatic domain. Rangel writes:
“The explanation for me is that each day it is becoming more evident that Venezuela is considered by the North American government to be an issue that falls more within the scope of military rather than diplomatic affairs. In other words, we are in the presence of the militarization of the case. Or of its “pentagonization.”
Why would the U.S. consider a military option in dealing with its differences with the Maduro administration? Rangel argues that the Obama administration probably surmises the Venezuelan right wing opposition is unable to oust Maduro either by electoral or extra-constitutional means. Rangel writes:
“Above all, for the U.S. political-military establishment the Venezuelan opposition does not guarantee regime change in the country. In Washington they are aware of the opposition’s weakness, their divisions, and their very limited ability to mobilize. At the same time they consider that Chavismo has managed to conserve its strength, cohesion, and capacity to confront difficulties and deal with them successfully as they have demonstrated on different occasions. It is not easy to topple Maduro, and it is even more difficult if those who propose to do this do not constitute an option for the majority of the Venezuelan people. At the same time, in the region, the Chavista government can count on widespread solidarity; any attempt to destroy the democratic institutionality of a government that is the product of free elections would provoke an overwhelming rejection.”
The idea here seems to be that with the ultra right elements of the Venezuelan opposition unable to bring about regime change, and the Bolivarian civic-military unity standing firm in defense of the homeland, Washington is likely to compensate for the opposition’s deficiencies. But to what extent? After all, there are political, if not military constraints on the imposition of North American power in the South given the Latin American unity against such an intervention, and Rangel himself acknowledges this in his essay.
Rangel is well aware that his musing about a possible U.S. invasion of Venezuela may seem overly alarmist. He counters that since both Democrats and Republicans have been “obsessed” with the demise of Chavismo from the start, and given Washington has invested significant resources in a right wing Venezuelan opposition that, divided among themselves, do not present a viable option for the Venezuelan people, there is really no other alternative left to if a near U.S. term objective is regime change in Venezuela. For these reasons Rangel advises his compatriots to prepare for the possible rather than be caught off guard should that day ever come.
But how would the U.S. justify an invasion, given Secretary of State John Kerry’s declaration before the OAS on November 18, 2013 that “the era of the Monroe Doctrine is over”? How could such a move be carried out in light of Latin American and Caribbean unity against any foreign intervention in Venezuela? Rangel suggests that it would be done under cover of a humanitarian mission.
“The invasion option—or intervention—is covered over in the false defense of human rights, the vindication of the Democratic Charter, the respect for democracy and liberty, when in reality what they want is to bring an end to national sovereignty, the social transformations, restore power to the elites that controlled it and install another dictator. Whom do they deceive? They deceive themselves, but not the majority of the people. Therefore, what matters to Venezuelans is to close ranks and remain alert. In the situation that the country is living through the unpredictable has no place.”
Rangel’s article was published one year after the guarimbas began (violent anti-government demonstrations), just four days after the government reportedly thwarted a planned coup, and five days after ultra right opposition figures María Corina Machado, Leopoldo López and Antonio Ledezma issued a call for a “National Accord for the Transition”[Acuerdo Nacional para la Transición]. Another communique was issued by the same trio February 14, 2015 that declared “the hour of change has arrived” and that “the immense suffering of our people does not allow more delays.” Rangel as well as Venezuelan government officials, have suggested that there is a connection between the call for a transitional accord and further attempts at regime change:
“The leaders of the guarimbas of last year have now taken off their masks and call for “a national accord for the transition.” This is the proclamation that could also serve as a platform for violence to come, according to the prognosis of [Lt.] General Vincent Stewart, director of Intelligence of the Department of Defense of the U.S….”
What are we to think of Rangel’s preoccupation with a possible U.S. invasion of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela? While it is not clear that there is an imminent U.S. military operation being prepared against Caracas, the Obama administration is certainly ratcheting up the pressue on the Maduro administration.
On February 20, 2015, White House spokesman Josh Earnest denied that the administration is trying to undermine Venezuela’s economy or its government, but then said it was considering expanding unilateral sanctions against Caracas: “The Treasury Department and the State Department are closely monitoring this situation and are considering tools that may be available that can better steer the Venezuelan government in the direction that they believe they should be headed.” Given this mixed but obviously interventionist message, it is within reason to raise the question: How far is the Obama administration willing to go to “steer” Venezuela’s government in the direction that the White House believes they should be headed?
Any type of extra constitutional restoration of the neoliberal regime instigated by a foreign power in Venezuela would constitute an enormous blow to the popular sectors and social movements not only in Venezuela but throughout the Americas. It would also be seen as an assault on Latin American independence and integration and inconsistent with recent U.S. overtures towards normalization of ties with Cuba.
Despite the prima facie imprudence of a U.S. strike at the heart of the continent-wide Bolivarian cause, Rangel is correct to urge his compatriots to prepare for even the most barbaric of eventualities. There was, after all, a short lived coup in April of 2002 that was close to setting up a dictatorship in Venezuela; the Supreme Court, the National Assembly, and the Constitution were suspended in the grand celebration of the swearing in of Pedro Carmona Estanga “Pedro the Brief” (called this because his regime lasted all of two days). The attempts at an “exit now” strategy of regime change of the first quarter of 2014 were led by some of the same persons who were behind the 2002 coup. Moreover, the government has reported that authorities have thwarted a coup plot and three of the leading figures of the ultra right have already published their outline for a transition, parts of which look very much like a call for a return to the neoliberal regime. But the only transition Chavistas have in mind, despite the current hardships, is one that accords with the Country Plan (2013-2019) that provides the strategic objectives for a the next phase of the transition to socialism.