America’s Oil Coup In Venezuela
The recent utterance by so-called president Donald Trump of the United States about using a “military option” in dealing with the South American nation of Venezuela has shifted a slow-motion coup d’état into crisis mode, with the very real possibility now existing that the socialist government of Venezuelan president Nicolás Maduro could fall in the near future.
That coup has been years in the making, of course, and the U.S. role in it has not been a passive one — far from it. Just as it did with another South American country, Chile, in the early 1970s, the United States government has been hitting at Venezuela on multiple fronts, both seen and unseen, until the desired goal is achieved: the overturning of a democratic system of government and the wresting of an economy away from its people.
Venezuela is no mere banana republic for the USA. Situated in Washington’s “backyard” in northern South America, Venezuela happens to hold the highest levels of known reserves of oil on the planet. It is also the third-largest importer of oil to the USA at more than 700,000 barrels per day, a vital source of revenue for Venezuela and of much-needed oil shipments for the crude-hungry consumers of the United States.
In Chile in the 1970s, it was mostly about the U.S. retaking control of Chile’s vast copper wealth that led to a military coup and overturning of the Chilean government; in Venezuela, it is oil the USA has its sights on. That both Latin American countries chose to follow a socialist model of government hostile to Yankee capitalism can be no mere coincidence either, when considering U.S. actions against these countries.
Just what has been happening in Venezuela and which way are things likely to go? Here are some things to keep in mind as we watch America’s oil coup unfold in Venezuela in the coming weeks and months, news of which the U.S. corporate-dominated press is failing to report with any kind of consistency or context.
Oil Money, Oil Politics
Venezuela is among the countries of the world whose economy depends mostly on petroleum to keep the system functioning: Oil accounts for 96 percent of Venezuela’s exports and more than 40 percent of government revenues, leaving the country’s fortunes tied directly to the price of oil on the world market.
As with other Latin American nations that have long been in the good graces of Washington DC, Venezuela’s wealth had been mostly controlled by an influential, elite class of its society, resulting in a wide gap between the rich and poor. Things changed drastically on that score in 1999, when Hugo Chávez, a career military officer of working-class background, was elected president of Venezuela. He pushed through new socialist-based policies that put a priority on human rights, social welfare, social justice, education and reducing poverty. Chávez vowed to use Venezuela’s vast oil resources to benefit the majority of its working citizens, instead of enriching a small minority of its privileged class.
This did not endear Chávez to Venezuela’s ousted oligarchy or their American masters on Wall Street and in Washington. In 2002, Chávez was removed from office during a military coup — a coup that the U.S. government knew in advance was coming and to which the administration of then-U.S. president George W. Bush gave its blessing. Popular support of Chávez, however, helped break the coup and put Chávez back in office.
In 2007 the Chávez government nationalized several major oil projects worth an estimated $30 billion. Two American oil giants, Exxon Mobil and ConocoPhillips, refused to play by Venezuela’s rules and pulled out of the country instead, filing claims for the potential money lost. The head of Exxon Mobil at the time, Rex Tillerson, reportedly “took it very personal with Chávez”. Today, Exxon Mobil is represented in the American White House by none other than Tillerson himself, who currently serves as U.S. secretary of state in the Trump administration.
As part of Chávez’s attempts to break free from the politico-economic grip of the United States and other western powers, the Venezuelan president also took the unprecedented step in 2011 of moving billions of dollars of Venezuela’s gold stocks out of banks in the United States and Europe, and bringing the gold back to Venezuelan banks. He intended to transfer those gold stocks to other countries such as China, Russia and Brazil that were considered by Venezuela to have a more “solid” economic future.
Chávez was diagnosed with cancer that same year; he died in 2013, ending his controversial 14-year-old presidency. One of his loyal lieutenants, Nicolás Maduro, assumed leadership of the country, vowing to carry on Chávez’s socialist revolution.
The following year, 2014, saw the United States and Saudi Arabia set up what was viewed in some quarters as an act of “economic warfare” against the major oil-producing nations of the world, including Venezuela: a steep drop in the price of oil on the international market.
It was really from that point onward, according to some analysts, that Venezuela’s oil-dependent economy started its downward slide. Mismanagement of the Venezuelan economy over the years can surely be placed to some degree on presidents Chávez and Maduro, but that alone does not tell the whole story. An undeniable factor in Venezuela’s devastated economy over the past few years has been oil — and the U.S. and Saudi management of that oil supply on the global market.
Today in 2017, the Venezuelan economy stands on the verge of collapse. President Maduro lays the blame for Venezuela’s highly unstable economic situation in part on Exxon Mobil and other petroleum powers of the west. There is some truth to support this accusation, but you won’t find it on the front pages of the U.S. establishment press.
For the moment, anyway, the oil industry in the United States (along with the White House) is divided on how to deal with Venezuela’s economic crisis. One powerful oil tycoon close to Trump, Harold Hamm, advocates a total ban on oil-related activity between the USA and Venezuela — which, if it came to be, would essentially destroy the Venezuelan economy as we know it, and open the door for Wall Street to move in and take over.
Never heard of Harold Hamm? You should: He was Trump’s energy advisor during the 2016 presidential campaign and still holds a lot of sway in the White House. (more on Hamm here)
The Road from Chile, 1973
In the South American nation of Chile in the early 1970s, the economic weapon of choice for the USA in toppling the government took a different, though no less deadly, tack. Back then, Washington’s obsession was with removing Salvador Allende, the democratically elected socialist president of Chile, by any means necessary. Then-U.S. president Richard Nixon ordered the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to “make the economy scream” in Chile, and this plan was soon undertaken covertly through U.S. influence at the national and international levels.
In his definitive book on the subject, The Pinochet File (2004), author Peter Kornbluh, head of the National Security Archive in Washington DC, documents in fine detail how the U.S. government wielded an “invisible blockade”, behind the scenes and well out of the public eye, to weaken Chile’s economy and isolate the socialist country on the international stage to the point where a domestic coup could happen. It worked, and by 1973 the economic and political centers of Chile were indeed ripe for being overthrown. (more details here)
The CIA sponsored and supported the Chilean military in its toppling of Allende’s government on September 11, 1973 — the “first 9-11”, as many Chileans today know it — in which Allende died and the reins of government were taken over by a military general, Augusto Pinochet, who went on to rule for decades to devastating effect. Chile’s economy has been safely contained within the U.S. politico-economic sphere of influence ever since then. As a society, though, Chile up to today has never really recovered from the blunt-force trauma of that 1973 coup and the ensuing years of brutal military rule under Pinochet, a U.S.-supported dictator.
Meanwhile, in the past few years, the government of Venezuela under president Maduro has been fighting off its own domestic coup attempts — among them, a helicopter attack on the country’s supreme court building just a couple months ago — and has been lucky enough so far to put those attempted coups down. But with the Venezuelan economy now in critical condition, violent street protests on the rise and the country’s U.S.-supported political opposition calling for regime change, it would seem that time is running out. “You can hear the ice cracking” in Venezuela, as one Obama administration official put it. “You know there’s a crisis coming.”
And the United States, through both Republican and Democratic party administrations, has certainly had a hand in making that ice crack and creating such crises in Venezuela, just as it has done in Chile and other Latin American countries for decades now.
We would all do well to understand that the recent rant by so-called president Trump about the possible use of a “military option” by the USA against Venezuela is only the tip of a much bigger, deeper iceberg. That said, the stakes would seem to be far higher for Venezuela today than they were back then for Chile. The real prize — the subjection of Venezuela’s vast oil reserves on the international market — now seems within the USA’s reach, though obviously anything could happen.
Will the oil-dependent nation of Venezuela, in the end, succumb to yet another U.S.-sponsored military coup as part of a long history of such interventions in South America? Or will Venezuela eventually rebound and recover, living to fight on another day? The answer to that may well lie in the hands of the common Venezuelan people, and how united and strongly they can stand up to the very real dangers facing democracy in their country by the greedy, oil-grabbing empire to the north.
The Most Curious Creature of All
But among all the individuals that we can find whenever we explore the wondrous world of politics, none is more exotic, alien, peculiar and vexing than the most curious political creature of them all. I’m talking, of course, about the White American Liberal (WAL).
What makes this creature so curious in the political animal kingdom? No. 1 is the double standard. Every person in politics has a double standard of some sort or another, naturally. But the White American Liberal has perfected the double standard and raised it to an art form.
For a recent example of such a curious creature, we need look no further than to Dennis Kucinich, the former member of the U.S. House of Representatives from the midwestern state of Ohio. Kucinich, an American of European descent, has long stood as a champion of liberal causes in everything from abortion to war — sometimes in contradiction to that towering castle of American neo-liberal capitalism to which he belongs, the Democratic Party. Kucinich even won a “Gandhi Peace Award” in 2003 from a U.S. non-profit organization run by other White American Liberals.
Kucinich ran for president of the United States twice (2004 and 2008) on liberal campaign platforms, but lost. After retiring from the U.S. Congress in 2013, Mr. Kucinich decided to become a “political analyst”. For which media company, you ask? Why, for none other than the bastion of right-wing extremism, Fox News. Yes, you read that right: Dennis Kucinich has been using his credentials as a WAL pundit these past few years on such popular Fox News programs as “The O’Reilly Factor” (goodbye and good riddance, Bill).
It was on one of these recent Fox News programs that Kucinich and Fox program host Sean Hannity, an unapologetic and mostly uninformed right-winger, wholeheartedly agreed about the existence of a “deep state”, an invisible government of sorts operating behind the public façade of the U.S. government today and working beyond anyone’s control. “You have politicization of the agencies that is resulting in leaks…and the intention is to take down a president,” Kucinich said, referring to current U.S. president Donald Trump and his many problems with U.S. intelligence agencies. “Now, this is very dangerous to America. It’s a threat to our republic. It constitutes a clear and present danger to our way of life.”
Mighty scary words there: “a clear and present danger” to the American Way of Life, or AWOL. We should all be concerned about something so dangerous to the public. But wait a minute — hasn’t Dennis Kucinich himself, as a vaunted member of the White American Liberal class, served the aims of the deep state in the past? The answer is yes, in fact, he has.
On September 14, 2001 — just three days after the 9-11 attacks — Kucinich joined 419 other members of both houses of the U.S. Congress, Republicans and Democrats alike, in passing House Joint Resolution 64, which would allow then-U.S. president George W. Bush sweeping powers in the newly declared “war on terrorism”. Only one member of the U.S. Congress bothered to vote against that resolution, and that was African American representative Barbara Lee of California. For Lee’s brave vote of conscience and her well-placed concern about giving the U.S. president such broad powers, she was condemned by conservatives and liberals alike.
President Bush signed the resolution into law as Public Law 107-40, “Authorization for Use of Military Force”, on 18 September 2001, a week after the 9-11 attacks. The law was used from then on by the Bush administration to justify, among many other bad things, the suspension of fundamental habeas corpus rights of hundreds of illegally held prisoners at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba and the wiretapping of innocent U.S. citizens on a mass scale at home.
Fifteen years and several overseas wars later, Barack Obama, on his way out the door as U.S. president, issued a report that essentially gave his legal blessing to that same law as “provid[ing] the domestic legal authority for the United States to use military force against the terrorist threats” of organizations like al Qaida and the Taliban, justifying Obama’s decision to bomb Syria. That was just about the best possible Christmas present that president-elect Donald Trump could have asked for, and in the short time he has been in office, Trump has continued those war policies of the Bush-Obama years to devastating effect.
And to think: All of this was made possible in part by White American Liberals in the U.S. Congress like Dennis Kucinich, who helped get the law passed in the first place. Now, in 2017, Kucinich crows wildly on Fox News about the dangers of a deep state that seems intent on taking Trump down (not that some of us wouldn’t enjoy watching Trump being disgraced and led out of office in an orange jumpsuit). Yet, the blame for the current state of political affairs, and the continued rise of the deep state, must also be laid at the feet of Kucinich and other WALs like him who played footsie with the U.S. deep state at key moments since 2001.
Kucinich has also advocated over the years the creation of a new “Department of Peace” that would replace the current U.S. Department of Defense (aptly named the Department of War up until 1947, two years after the end of World War II). This new “DoP” as proposed by Kucinich would be a cabinet-level department in the executive branch of government.
While the idea of such a Peace Department overseen by a U.S. president sounds nice in theory, all kinds of questions and liberal double standards arise: Wouldn’t this new Department of Peace then become part of, or at least serve the aims of, the deep state that Kucinich is so alarmed about? Could this new department even begin to make a dent in the worldwide military-industrial complex that has come to make war the ultimate profit-making venture in the 21st century? Would world peace then be something controlled and manipulated by the U.S. government, instead of fostered by the people themselves? So many questions abound.
Another factor that distinguishes the curious White American Liberal in the political animal kingdom is the deathly fear of being branded unpatriotic. Such liberals will say anything, do anything, to avoid being branded with a scarlet U (for Unpatriot) on their chests and being called a coward to their faces. It strikes fear into the very hearts of white liberals, activating a primitive flight-or-fight instinct deep within them like nothing else can.
I happened to be in the United States at the time of 9-11, and I saw firsthand how members of major U.S. news media organizations — many of them liberal and white individuals — literally trampled over each other in the rush to follow the self-appointed patriotism police at Fox News in shamefully cheerleading for war. One TV episode from around that time still stands out clearly in my mind: a live Fox News program in which the host was berating another White American Liberal icon, Medea Benjamin of the women’s activist group Code Pink, who was rightly criticizing Bush. “Why do you hate America?” the Fox News host demanded to know. Benjamin was aghast. “I don’t hate America!” she shot back, “I love America!” The conversation went downhill from there.
The White American Liberal, like a fish in water, will always bite on the bait of being called “unpatriotic” or “un-American” out of fear. To be fair, though, Japanese liberals here in Japan do the same thing with right-wing accusations of being a hi-kokumin — literally, a “non-citizen” or traitor. I guess it’s just something in the liberal DNA worldwide that you can’t change.
If you ask me, we should just stop dealing with such curious political creatures as White American Liberals altogether, step around them and the political obstacles they seem to be constantly erecting, and then muster the truly progressive, grassroots people out there who are ready to get down and fight for the changes that we all seek. No more liberal double standards or patriotic fears or wishy-washy apologies or weak-kneed compromises: We all come together across our societal differences and join hands to fight the good fight (of course, using the Gandhi/King principle of nonviolent action to guide us), and really make things happen.
Then, what to do with that most curious creature of all? One idea might be to just gather together all the best and brightest of the White American Liberals in one nice, air-conditioned museum someplace in the continental United States and make those WALs the subject of a major public exhibit. There, paying visitors could point and gawk and be awed at how those liberal marvels of nature sitting there behind the thick glass wall have driven themselves to near-extinction in the U.S. political scene today.
That solution could work well in two ways: It would give the curious White American Liberals on display at the museum a permanent, captive, non-questioning liberal audience — a new base. And, more importantly, it would free up the rest of us to move progressively ahead and get down to the serious work of real social change, now and for the future. Advance tickets for the museum show, anyone?