Editor’s Note: Deceleration is pleased to offer this guest column by Jovanni Reyes, a longtime anti-war voice in San Antonio, which chronicles Gloria La Riva’s local stop on her national tour intended to raise consciousness about U.S. intervention in Venezuela. As an outlet that seeks to understand issues of militarism, imperialism, and human rights, we feel this is an important contribution to a discussion largely unheard in U.S. media. As an outlet also concerned with climate justice and the rights of nature, we also welcome anti-imperialist analyses that question the Maduro government (and Chavismo more broadly) from climate justice, Indigenous, and anti-authoritarian standpoints.
Jovanni Reyes, About Face: Veterans Against the War
About 2,500 miles from San Antonio, the Trump administration is making a desperate attempt to topple the elected government in Caracas, Venezuela. They are making no attempt to hide the US hand in this latest effort at overthrowing a sovereign state. It is important to see that this shamelessly overt effort at regime change marks a turning point in U.S. foreign policy. Past efforts at regime change have been mostly covert, behind the scenes, leaving room for plausible deniability. With Venezuela, however, the Trump Administration is visible in the conductor’s seat.
All attempts at accomplishing this feat have resulted in failure. In fact, attacks against the Bolivarian government go back to 2002, when the Bush Administration supported a short term coup against then-President Hugo Chavez. Attempts to undermine and overthrow the Venezuelan government continued throughout the Obama Administration, although more subtly, giving millions of dollars to the Venezuelan opposition through various American NGOs, all the while designating Venezuela an “unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States.” These measures paved the way for sanctions, an emboldened, violent, and subversive opposition, and ultimately for Trump’s relentless assault on the Venezuelan people.
The tactics used in Venezuela are reminiscent of a medieval siege – starving a population into submission – but applied to an entire country using 21st-century strategies. In what is known as hybrid warfare, these strategies range from economic and political warfare, lawfare (weaponizing the legal system), disinformation campaigns, military tactics, and psychological pressures. These strategies have been used either in phases, in combination, or all at once.
Economically, the implementation of extreme, unilateral, and coercive sanctions intends to cut off the Caribbean state from the world economy while enforcing or threatening secondary sanctions on third countries who wish to do business with Venezuela. Economic pressures also include blocking the country from the global financial system, an oil embargo, sabotage to the local economy, hoarding goods and preventing essentials from reaching local stores, and blocking access to international loans. Moreover, the theft of the country’s overseas assets – a confiscation of profits earned from its overseas subsidiary CITGO – has caused the country billions of dollars in lost revenues; while the blocking of vital imports such as basic foodstuffs, equipment, machinery parts, and medicine has deprived the population of access to medical treatment, leading to tens of thousands of deaths in one year alone.
Beyond the economic realm, U.S. intervention tactics have attempted to isolate the country politically by blocking diplomatic ties to the rest of the world. Additionally, U.S. support for and financing of insurrectional opposition groups that can turn out both peaceful and violent protesters to the streets has created a climate of chaos meant to overwhelm the sitting government and security forces, pushing them to overreact in the hope of creating global outrage and a pretext for intervention.
The media is likewise weaponized, used as an extension of foreign policy by the U.S. and its allies, and as a vehicle for a coup d’etat by Venezuelan elites. An international campaign of (mis)information that amplifies the narratives of the Venezuelan opposition and State Department is then disseminated through hostile media and pro-regime change NGOs.
These psychological operations are intended to sow confusion and division by facilitating recognition of a parallel government from within the ranks of the opposition. The one favored by the Trump Administration, Volundad Popular (Popular Will), is one that has fascistic tendencies, seeking to undermine the elected and internationally-recognized sitting government in Caracas.
Members of Trump’s cabinet such as John Bolton and Elliot Abrahams routinely make threats by stating that “all options are on the table.” This can mean anything from arming local insurgent groups, sending the U.S. Marines, or dropping a nuclear bomb.
The logic of these hybrid warfare tactics is to cause harm, fear, panic, distress, anger, desperation, and frustration among the population in order to push people into revolting against their government. For the moment, all of these tactics have resulted in failure and frustration for anti-Chavista actors in the U.S. such as Mike Pompeo, Mike Pence, Elliot Abraham, John Bolton, Marco Rubio, as well as for the local oligarch-led anti-government factions in Venezuela.
Why should San Antonians care?
San Antonians – particularly grassroots activists and organizers working for human rights, ecological rights, anti-racism, anti-militarism, and justice for migrants and asylum seekers – should take note of the situation in Venezuela, as the root of these interlinked injustices often lies in U.S. policies of undermining and destabilizing governments overseas, if not whole societies, in order to exploit their natural resources and position the U.S. geopolitically. More often than not, this spirals out of control and into open warfare. For instance, U.S. paternalism and outright intervention in Central America and the Caribbean is the root cause of many ills unfolding today in these countries, which in turn creates pressure for mass migration to the U.S.
On June 7, the Esperanza Peace and Justice Center hosted Gloria La Riva – journalist, author, grassroots organizer, and 2016 presidential candidate for the Party for Socialism and Liberation – in her multi-city tour across the country, dubbed “Eyewitness Venezuela.” La Riva spent a month in Venezuela studying the situation on the ground and has recently returned to the United States to embark on a campaign dedicated to educating and combating disinformation on Venezuela. The tour stop was organized by the San Antonio chapter of the Party for Socialism and Liberation and co-sponsored by the South Texas chapter of About Face: Veterans Against the War.
As La Riva stated at the opening of her presentation, “Once again, the people of the United States are forced to learn geography by learning about the country their country is attacking.” Afterward, I had a chance to interview La Riva in greater depth, reprinted here:
Jovanni Reyes: So, Gloria, you were in Venezuela for how long?
Gloria La Riva: I was in Venezuela for one month, from February 12 to March 12 of this year. It was my twelfth visit. I’ve been there many times since 2001. This time was in the middle of a huge aggression that began most earnestly by the U.S. starting in January of this year against the inauguration of the second term of President Nicolás Maduro, in which the U.S. named a fake president, recogniz[ing] Juan Guaidó as president, who’s gotten so much media coverage, but never ran for president. And the reason for that is because the U.S. wants to overthrow Maduro and the socialist revolutionary process taking place in that country.
JR: So, right now you are doing multi-city stops across the country to educate people, activists, progressives here in the United States on what’s going on in Venezuela, because pretty much corporate media, and some independent media, some of it leftist or progressive, has taken the line of the State Department and the Venezuelan Right on what’s happening in Venezuela. How many cities have you so far stopped in, and what has been the reception, the reaction of the people you’ve encountered there?
GLR: Well, since I returned on March 12, … it has been three months of traveling to over 40 cities. I’ve had the privilege of meeting many, many people, from New York to Boston, all the way to Seattle, down to L.A. and San Diego, into the South and now Texas, because we really feel it is an urgent matter to counter the U.S. media, which is 100 percent monolithic against Maduro, pro-coup. In fact, an organization called Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (F.A.I.R.) did a study from January to April 15, and showed that 100 percent of the elite media – The New York Times, the Washington Post, CNN – 100 percent of their editorial [boards], not one of them were against the coup. And most of them were for the coup. The media has been portraying Venezuela as a basket case, the worst country in the world. … The New York Times said the worst country in the world, short of war. …
But they don’t tell you why there’s shortages. Or that the U.S. is blocking all the medical shipments into the country. Now, people go, “how are they blocking the medicine?” Well, a country has to have bank transactions to purchase things from abroad. And every time Venezuela has ordered medicine and bought it from a company, the U.S. follows those purchases and blocks the banks, threatening [any third government selling the product] with billions of dollars in fines upon accepting the transactions. That’s why Venezuela has had to rely on China and Russia to bring the medicine in. When the U.S. blocks medicine – insulin for diabetics, vaccines for children, supplies for people for dialysis with kidney disease – you are killing people. That is what the U.S. is doing. Killing people, to justify saying that they have to rescue a country through military means.
JR: How do you see things going from here?
GLR: I see the people of Venezuela, who support the revolution, continuing to mobilize. Right now people are mobilizing neighborhood to neighborhood with militias, in case of violence from right-wing elements or a U.S. invasion. [Author note: These are what are known as “collectivos.” These are neighborhoods organizing within their communities to advance political objectives and who are armed, training alongside the Venezuelan military, part of Chavez’s “Civico-Military” partnership to forward his socio-political movement.] I see them working very hard working to feed the populations.
But I also see the U.S. government increasing the economic war, the sanctions, which is a euphemism for blockade. And the U.S. officials of Trump, from Mike Pompeo, Mike Pence, John Bolton, they are all saying, “Oh, no, this isn’t over. We are going to get rid of this government.” But that means an overthrow. It means violence. It’s a very serious situation, and that is why we are on this tour to have people read alternative progressive media that we’re making them viable. If anyone wants to see alternative media on Venezuela they can go to answercoalition.org and scroll down a little bit, and you’ll see a great list of a lot of media where you can find out what’s really going on, in Venezuela.
JR: Outstanding. One last question, while you were traveling in Venezuela, and here in the United States, have you had the opportunity to speak with the opposition? And what do they say?
GLR: Here in the U.S., when Venezuelans find out I am speaking, almost always they would attack the meeting. It’s why we had to say they couldn’t come in – because they would shout and scream and not let me speak, or make threats at me. That’s why at UCLA, University of California – Los Angeles, the university shut it down because they were being disruptive. And so, where they have shown up, if you are from the opposition, you can’t come in, because they are absolutely intolerant! Intolerant! They don’t want to hear the truth. They don’t want even one voice, like mine, to counter the U.S. media, which is on their side. But anyways, I think that the people who have benefited so much [from the gains of the revolution, i.e., social and political inclusiveness, distribution of the country’s wealth to increase literacy, access to higher education, job training, universal healthcare, reduction in poverty, better housing, etc.] – the people who were so poor, who lived in shanties, in shacks, and now have new housing, who have free healthcare, some who have never visited a doctor before – they will defend it. They’ll defend it. With everything they got!
JR: Muchas gracias.
GLR: Thank you, Jovanni.
In recent days, the U.S. media focus has turned from Venezuela to Iran, the US/Mexican border – although without giving much context – and the upcoming Democratic primary for the 2020 presidential race. And though the focus on Venezuela is not as intense as when the Trump Administration thought the Maduro government was in its last throes, the relentless sanctions on Venezuela continue in the hopes that, as the noose tightens around its neck, something will happen. However, despite these pressures, the popularly-elected government in Caracas continues to resist and is still standing, with its people who have shown great resilience and defiance, albeit at the price of incredible hardship.
Jovanni Reyes is a 14 years U.S. Army veteran who holds Masters degrees in International Relations and Instructional Technology. He currently lives in San Antonio and has been following developments in Venezuela since the coup against Chávez in April 2002. His writings have appeared in Common Dreams, Claridad de Puerto Rico, NY Times Examiner, San Antonio Express News, and La Voz de Esperanza.