On February 23, the Venezuelan opposition tried to deliver humanitarian aid to the country despite the official government’s resistance. Fierce clashes between opposition activists and law-enforcement officers took place in several border regions. Several deaths were reported and hundreds of people were injured.
Earlier Guaido who declared himself interim president of Venezuela stated that the opposition would press for incumbent Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s resignations through democratic and not violent methods. Inforos spoke about the unfolding crises with Tim Anderson, an Australian academic and activist.
US troops invade Venezuela?
No, I do not think it’s going to happen immediately. I think what we are seeing is a series of threats and raising the pressure within Venezuela because there is a quite significant opposition which has a long history of violence and the US will be very happy if there were internal conflicts, which they could then support. But I don’t believe that even though there are seven US bases in Colombia, and even though Trump is making these threats, I believe at this stage it’s mainly just that – threats.
The method of warfare of the United States in this century, in the last two decades has morphed into this version, which people call hybrid warfare of fourth maybe fifth generation. It envisages this very clearly and the Defense Department of the US spelt this out, in the year 2000 and over a few iterations, that they depend on propaganda warfare, economic warfare, the use of irregular groups and so on. They are not going to, as a rule, launch an invasion, like they did in Afghanistan and Iraq. They are looking for the other options they can use to bring pressure. If other players can serve that role as they have in the US, of cause, notoriously, the very large paramilitaries that have been organized under the banner of Al Qaeda and ISIS and so on. They haven’t got that same resource in Latin America, but they do have mercenaries, they do have other forces that are going to serve their purposes. I think that an actual direct invasion is not going to be the first tactic.
Humanitarian aid as psychological pressure
The US are doing it in a bid to create psychological pressure. It is a tactic that I don’t think is going to go very far for them, because already we are seeing reports from Colombia – there is a higher level of poverty in Colombia than there is in Venezuela and there are a large number of Colombian immigrants in Venezuela. All the news we hear are about Venezuelans that have moved into Colombia and some other countries like Ecuador, but there are a large number of immigrants in Venezuela because the social programs are very strong there and there have been decades of war and repression in Colombia. I think a relatively small number of containers of materials on the border are not going to do much, they are part of a psychological game. Their intent is to provide a sort of moral hammer for those against the government, to increase the pressure.
Driving people to desperation, “making the economy scream”
Venezuela has been quite polarized for a long time and the greatest risk of violence is an internal one. The illusions of the so-called “shadow government” there are going to be so high that the opposition is going to do some reckless things. The problem is that after almost two decades of Chavista government, where they have won 23 of 25 elections and the government constituency is still fairly strong, despite the economic crisis that has been going on for some years. There is a very loyal core there and the institutions are fairly strongly controlled by the government. That includes for example the regional governments where the elections were held last, some months ago. There is a constituency there, and it is an ongoing process, where people do have a say in what goes on in the country. It is not so easy to topple that government, it is not a new government. On the other hand, there is a big and well-resourced opposition, which has a tendency to violence and involvement in coups in the past. They do not have the same influence in the army as they used to have. They have a relatively small number of supporters and influence in the army. And there is the Bolivarian Militia, a very large militia of over a million people. So the Bolivarian revolution is quite well institutionally entrenched in the country unlike the case in Chile for example, 45 years ago. There is a great risk of internal violence from the big mobilization. Fortunately, in recent times, for example, in the last month or so, there haven’t been a lot of violence, even though there have been very big pro-government and anti-government rallies and that’s a promising thing in a way. In fact, it says something about the nature of democracy in Venezuela, that civil participation has moved on in the last couple of decades. But there is still a big risk of violence. I think the attempts by Trump to exert pressure there and try to aggravate the economic situation is far more serious threat compared to this small amount of aid that they want to park on the border with some containers as a symbolic effort. The fact that the US is stealing billions of dollars of Venezuelan assets is intended to raise the pressure and as the US government said in relation to Chile (in 1973) and Cuba (in the 1960s), the aim is to drive people to desperation, to “make the economy scream”, trying to create and take advantage of a desperate situation.
Political split and violence, but not a civil war yet
I do not think it’s so simple. There already is a type of a low level skirmishing violence, a type of low-level civil war, but on the other hand, the opposition, despite having lost most of the elections, won the National Assembly some years ago. There is talk of bringing elections for the National Assembly forward. Many of the opposition groups participated in regional government elections in October 2017. The reason why President Maduro won the presidential election so easily last year (in 2018) was because the opposition was significantly divided and some of them participated and put about 3 million votes into their candidates as against Maduro’s 6.2 million. There was a low turnout, but also a significant split in the opposition. I think in terms of civil war it’s overdramatic to say ‘is there going to be’, ‘isn’t there going to be’ – there has been and there is indeed a culture of political violence in Venezuela. It hasn’t ceased in recent decades and the danger is that it could get worse. But is there going to be a big fracture in the army? I don’t think so. Are there going to be acts of terrorism? Yes, there have already been some low-level attempts by some military officers to put up a flag and say that they are representing some sort of coup, and of course Trump is openly promoting that. Bear in mind, this is an illegal act in any country on Earth. But the perpetrators of this are only selectively being prosecuted by the state. I think it’s a bit overdramatic to say that there is going to be a civil war.
Oil, gas and privatization bonanza for US companies
The objective of empires historically has always been to dominate and control entire regions and they can’t do that when there are strong states or strong coalitions of states, or regional organizations. So they want to break that down with the aim of controlling the entire region. In the case of Venezuela, yes, oil and gold, and natural resources are a huge prize and the US has been trying to get rid of the Chavista government there for the last 20 years. There are also other prizes there, for example there is large number of state institutions, utilities, education and health services, which can be privatized. So there is a big ‘privatization bonanza’ for US companies that can get in there. One of the problems for this plan is that, in recent times, the Chinese have invested a great deal, over $50 billion in Venezuela, particularly in the Orinoco Belt – an area of new exploration for oil or new developments of oil. The Chinese are into that in a big way, they are investing across Latin America, but much more in Venezuela than any other Latin country. That is why the Chinese - and also Russia which also has some important investments and alliances in Venezuela - are already showing their strong support for the government of Venezuela. More broadly, Venezuela is not alone. There was a group of ambassadors of the United Nations the other day, a very large number of ambassadors who stood behind the Venezuelan Foreign Minister Mr Jorge Arreaza and showed their support for Venezuela. So Venezuela has allies, it has some internal strength, but the aim of the US is to control the region and in particular the oil-rich part of the region. But they need to control the whole region. This is why they have their seven military bases in Colombia, as staging posts for their ongoing ambition to control the Americas.