February 15, 2019

VENEZUELA: Bernie Sanders And Socialist In America Are Dead Wrong About What’s Happening In Venezuela. 4 Myths Democrats Are Spreading About Venezuela To Support A Dictator.

Washington Examiner
written by Annika Hernroth-Rothstein
Friday February 1, 2019

CARACAS — There is nothing that can really prepare you for the human suffering on display here in Venezuela or the degree to which this country is in a free-fall. As a diplomatic power struggle between Nicolas Maduro and Juan Guaido played out on the world stage at the end of January, I spent hours in Caracas walking around Petare, one of the worst slums in the city. The streets are filled with families picking food from the trash, eating it right there, desperately seeking sustenance. My eye is drawn to one young man with boils all over his legs, the skin overtaken by infection. He gnaws at an almost bare chicken bone while he looks around frantically, as if he is afraid someone would steal it from his hands.

My bodyguard, Salazar, is next to me at all times, eyeing the surroundings, and a few minutes into our walk, I see his arm extend to the right of me as he grabs a young man running straight at me. I start running and end up at a square, standing next to a big statue of the national hero, Simon Bolivar. Behind it, there are colorful houses in rows up the steep mountain, structures that are hanging on by thread, and on many of them, there are paintings of Maduro and Hugo Chavez — scattered shards of a shattered dream.

Salazar catches up to me and explains that the man is a neighborhood watchman, a member of one of the criminal gangs Chavez put on the government payroll to police citizens as the country started to fall into chaos. Chavez provided money and weapons, and now, as Venezuela comes apart at the seams, these gangs have created a society within a society, combining a criminal enterprise of drugs, prostitution, and theft with their allegiance to the state. Police rarely come to the areas controlled by the neighborhood guerrillas and the last line of public transport stops several miles away. Though the gangs have remained on the government’s payroll, they are now less employees than freelance enforcers with no particular loyalty.

Although the guerrillas may be an extreme example, the concept of each man for himself has replaced the socialist agenda of solidarity all over Venezuela, as each citizen tries desperately to survive despite lawlessness, starvation, and unbridled corruption. The hospitals lack even the most basic supplies, and last month, Salazar tells me, five newborn infants died in the maternity ward from infections caused by the unsanitary conditions. In any other country, he says, there would be outrage and accountability, but here in Venezuela, there is silence. No media to cover it, no expectation of repercussions for the people who brought this on.

That culture of silence has created a strange and eerie mood here in Caracas, as the city is waiting for the next big clash following this month’s protests and Juan Guaido seeking to supplant Maduro as the legitimate president. One would expect that this crisis would have the city in an uproar, but it is a silent anger that fills the air, only to erupt in violence every other day before being squashed by government forces.

As I walk around the city, I see people going to and from work, waiting for the bus or chatting on a corner, but there are telltale signs of trouble if you know where to look. There are "colectivos" — a faction of violent and armed Maduro-loyalists — standing guard on every block, ready to pounce on protesters and journalists alike. Most shops and restaurants are boarded shut, the proprietors too frightened of riots to keep them open.

And they are right to be cautious; Maduro loyalists and opposition supporters plan to march through the city, both certain to bring protesters and pushback from the other side. The protests I have seen so far have all started peacefully and then, suddenly shifted, as "colectivos," government forces, and desperate citizens clash with an outcome as predictable as it is horrific. So far, there are 165 confirmed dead and almost 5,000 jailed as a result of the unrest, and the damage is, as most things in this socialist state, unevenly divided. Despite the odds, the people’s opposition continues, and with every new protest, there are more flags, more people, and a little more hope that this will be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.

As the temperature rises here in Caracas, a final showdown seems inevitable, and, given that Maduro has rejected Guaido’s offer of amnesty, this socialist state will not likely go quietly into that good night. Meanwhile, the people still suffer in silence and go about their day, trying to survive while the fate of their nation is fought out in streets and halls of Parliament. This is a city holding its breath, with its totalitarian oppressors at the brink.

Annika Hernroth-Rothstein is a Swedish freelance journalist and author, currently in Caracas for the Swedish daily Ledarsidorna. Twitter: @truthandfiction
The Washington Post
written by Jackson Diehl
Thursday January 31, 2019

Poorly informed leftists are peddling the notion that the political crisis in Venezuela is the product of yet another heavy-handed U.S. “intervention” in Latin America. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) compares it to the U.S. support for coups in Chile, Guatemala, Brazil and the Dominican Republic.

For the record, those regime changes happened in 1973, 1954, 1964 and 1965 — and what’s happening in Venezuela half a century later bears no resemblance to them. On the contrary, the movement to oust the disastrous populist regime founded by Hugo Chávez is being driven by Venezuela’s own neighbors, who until very recently had more help from Ottawa than from Washington. What we’re seeing, in an era of U.S. retreat and dysfunction, is a 21st-century model for diplomacy in the Western Hemisphere.

The story of Venezuela since 1998 is partly about the fading of U.S. will to topple toxic regimes. The last time that American troops overthrew a ruler of a Latin American country was 1989, in Panama. Four consecutive U.S. presidents — including, until this month, President Trump — avoided full-scale confrontation with Venezuela, even as the Chavistas destroyed its economy and democratic political system.

Latin American nations, unaccustomed to managing crises without U.S. leadership and influenced by their tradition of noninterventionism, also declined to challenge Chávez and his successor, Nicolás Maduro. Some, eager for the petrodollars Chávez freely handed out to allies, joined or supported what he grandly called “bolivarianismo.”

Then came a humanitarian catastrophe without precedent in the region’s modern history: shortages of food, medicine, power and even water that have driven 10 percent of Venezuelans — more than 3 million people — to flee the country. Suddenly, chavismo did not look so benign in Bogota and Brasilia. Swamped by refugees, Colombia and Brazil, along with Peru, Ecuador, Chile and Panama, concluded that something had to be done to stem the implosion.

Fortunately, they had a vehicle. In August 2017, 11 Latin American nations and Canada formed the Lima Group to press for the return of democracy in Venezuela. Reflecting the long-standing U.S. approach, the Trump administration encouraged the alliance but did not join it. After Maduro staged a blatantly fraudulent election last May, the group met at the United Nations last September to consider its options. Panama, backed by Canada, pushed the idea that Maduro’s scheduled inauguration to a new term on Jan. 10 should become a rallying point.

The regional response was not driven only by the refu­gee crisis. Following the excesses of their own left-wing governments, Colombia, Argentina, Chile and Peru, among others, elected right-of-center presidents with no sympathy for chavismo. Brazil’s long time support for Venezuela reversed: Right-wing nationalist Jair Bolsonaro, who was sworn in on Jan. 1, has hinted he would support a military intervention.

The turning point for the Venezuela crisis came on Jan. 4, when a Lima Group meeting issued a blistering statement saying members would not recognize Maduro’s new term as legitimate. Sources told me the State Department was taken aback, believing Canada and its partners had gone too far. The Latin America team at the National Security Council, preoccupied with plans to challenge Cuba, dismissed Venezuela as a sideshow.

But the long-fractured Venezuelan opposition was galvanized. Realizing they had the chance to win decisive international support, members of the National Assembly rallied the next day behind a new leader, Juan Guaidó, and a new strategy: to declare the post of president vacant once Maduro’s previous term expired. Under the constitution promulgated by Chávez himself, that would make Guaidó interim president.

It wasn’t until Jan. 23, more than two weeks later, that the Trump administration jumped onto the regional bandwagon by recognizing Guaidó. It did so clumsily, getting ahead of the announcements by the Lima Group, which gave Maduro and anti-imperialists everywhere cause to claim this was just another yanqui coup. “The White House jumped the gun, which made it look like this was organized by the U.S.,” a Venezuelan involved in the process told me. “In reality, the U.S. was behind the curve.”

Over the past 10 days, to be sure, the administration has acted aggressively, freezing Venezuelan assets and effectively blocking the regime’s critical U.S. oil revenues. It refused to withdraw U.S. diplomats when Maduro tried to expel them, and national security adviser John Bolton mysteriously appeared publicly with a notepad referring to “5,000 troops to Colombia.” But for now it remains unlikely that the United States would send in Marines, as it once might have.

There’s a decent chance Maduro will be forced out by sanctions and diplomacy. If there is an intervention, it will be multilateral and come at the impetus of Guaidó and his Latin American allies. That won’t fulfill the Sanders-style stereotypes of U.S. interventionism. But it’s a good way for the hemisphere to operate in the 21st century.
The Federalist
written by Helen Raleigh
Tuesday January 29, 2019

Venezuela has been on a downward spiral for years: a total collapse of currency, outrageous hyperinflation, rising infant mortality rate, the second-highest murder rate in the world, a shortage of almost everything (including basics such as food and oil), and widespread starvation.

More than three millions Venezuelans––or 10 percent of the country’s population––have left since 2014. But migration isn’t for everyone, so many stay behind and continue their unimaginable daily suffering. Some bravely rose to protest and were brutally suppressed. Finally there is some hope.

On January 23, the 61st anniversary of the fall of Venezuela’s last military dictator, Gen. Marcos Pérez Jiménez, massive protests erupted on the streets of Caracas, demanding an end to the authoritarian Nicolas Maduro government. Venezuela’s various fractured opposition groups united behind one young and energetic leader, democratically elected National Assembly Leader Juan Guaido.

The 35-year-old Guaido took the oath of office before the crowd and declared himself the country’s interim president. Only a few minutes later, President Trump recognized Guaido as the only legitimate leader of Venezuela. Soon, other countries, including the United Kingdom, Canada, and a majority of South American countries, joined in recognizing President Guaido. The list is still growing.

The countries who continue to embrace the failing Maduro government are the permanent members of the authoritarian and anti-democracy club: China, Cuba, Russia, Iran, Turkey, and a few others. No surprise there. What is surprising is that some on the American left, including members of Congress, choose to join authoritarian regimes around the world to stand by dictator Maduro. They have been using social media to repeat the same propaganda and lies Maduro and his minions have been telling for years.

Lie 1: President Guaido Is Part Of A U.S.-Led Coup

Maduro called Guaido’s declaration as the acting president a U.S.-backed coup. Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar, a Democrat, seems to agree. Sen. Bernie Sanders also used the “coup” charge.

Let’s examine the classical definition of coup: “a sudden, violent, and illegal seizure of power from a government.” Maduro is the one who seized power illegally, aided by violence. His so-called successful reelection in 2018 was a sham and widely denounced by the world, due to extraordinary measures the regime took to ensure Maduro’s win, per The New York Times’ report (not a right-wing media organization, mind you).

This included moving up the election from December to May so opposition parties had little time to campaign and organize, barring the largest opposition parties and their leaders from running, arresting activists and oppositions leaders prior to the election, and even eliminating the requirement that “that voters dip a finger in indelible ink, which is used to keep people from voting more than once.” The regime also used food handouts as both a threat (and an incentive) to get hungry Venezuelans to vote for Maduro.

Even with all these vote-manipulating measures, many eligible voters boycotted the election, so the voter turnout was only 46 percent. The day after Maduro declared victory, Venezuela’s opposition-controlled National Assembly refused to recognize Maduro’s legitimacy.

The Lima Group, an alliance of 14 Latin American countries and Canada, also called Maduro’s reelection illegitimate, stating: “We do not recognize the legitimacy of the electoral process that was carried out in Venezuela on May 20th, because it does not adhere to the international standards of a democratic, free, fair and transparent process.” The same group reiterated its stand against the Maduro presidency on January 4, 2019, stating it would not recognize Maduro as the legitimate leader of Venezuela and would impose economic sanctions.

The definition of coup is also closely associated with using violence to seize power. The demonstration last week in Caracas has been largely peaceful. Speaking of violence, Maduro is the one who uses violence to suppress opposition, imprisoning opposition leaders and is well on his way to turning a democracy into a dictatorship. After he lost control of the national assembly to opposition parties in 2015, his government suppressed the National Assembly’s attempt for a recall referendum in 2016, which prompted protests on the street of Caracas. A professor in Venezuela tweeted: “The government’s striptease is complete. Before us is the horrible figure of dictatorship.”

On the same day as President Guaido’s swearing in, Canada’s outspoken minister of foreign affairs issued a strong statement, saying “Canada rejects the Maduro regime’s illegitimate claim to power and has called upon Nicolás Maduro to cede power to the democratically elected National Assembly, ” and ” Canadians stand with the people of Venezuela and their desire to restore constitutional democracy and human rights in Venezuela.” How could anyone call this a U.S.-backed coup?

Lie 2: President Guaido’s Actions Are Unconstitutional

Omar tweeted a Venezuela Supreme Court’s decision as evidence that interim President Guaido’s action was unconstitutional. I hope one of her staffers will give her a quick history lesson on Venezuela, and soon.
Venezuela’s Supreme Court is not a reliable source for information because Maduro stacked the courts with his loyal cronies. In return, the Supreme Court used its judicial power to provide Maduro legal cover in order to usurp power from the National Assembly.

The court removed the assembly’s authority to have a say over the economy in October 2017. Then the judiciary dissolved the National Assembly completely in March 2017 and was forced to reverse its decision after an international outcry. Only a few month later, Maduro’s government held an “election” to elect a new legislative body to replace the National Assembly. No one was surprised that Maduro’s allies “won” all 545 seats of this new legislative body so Maduro can do whatever he wants with no opposition.

Consequently, the true National Assembly deemed Maduro a “usurper” and the presidency vacant. According to Venezuela’s constitution, the head of the National Assembly––in this case Guaido––should take over as acting president until a free and fair election takes place at a later date. So what Guaido did on January 23 was legally sound and constitutionally bound.

He also has the support of the people of Venezuela. Many Venezuelans called out Omar’s tweet as untrue, see here and here, including this tweet from a self-identified liberal:
Even Sanders, who used to sing the praises of Venezuela, tweeted that “The Maduro government has waged a violent crackdown on Venezuelan civil society, violated the constitution by dissolving the National Assembly and was re-elected last year in an election many observers said was fraudulent.”

Lie 3: Guaido Was Handpicked By The U.S. Right

According to a BBC profile on Juan Guaido, he was one of seven children in a poor family in the port city of La Guaira in the state of Vargas. His studied industrial engineering in college and later earned graduate degrees at George Washington University (GWU) in the U.S. and Venezuelan private business school Instituto de Estudios Superiores de Administración.

Apparently the fact he went to GWU is sufficient for some on the American left to name him a far-right colonialist. See here:
Although he is young, Guaido has been fighting back Venezuela’s authoritarian government for years. When he was in college, he protested against Hugo Chavz’s efforts to control the media. He joined another prominent opposition leader, Leopoldo López, to found a centrist political party Popular Will in 2009.

Guaido was elected to the National Assembly in 2011. In early January 2019, the National Assembly elected him as the speaker. Shortly after, Maduro’s security force dragged Guaido out of his car and arrested him for no other reasons than simply being an opposition leader. He was only released a few days later after international outcry at his arrest.

Despite Guaido’s credentials and the fact he was elected by his fellow countrymen who oppose Maduro’s ruthless rule in Venezuela, Omar still refers to Guaido as a far-right opposition installed by President Trump in her tweet. Thankfully, other Venezuelans pushed back on that one too.
I added this picture of Ilhan Omar's tweet to point out she is a member of the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee.
(emphasis mine)
Lie 4: U.S. Sanctions Caused Venezuela’s Collapse

This is one of those lies Maduro repeats in order to avoid taking responsibility. Yet it has been well-documented, even by liberal media, that the socialist policies Chavez installed since 1999 and reinforced by his handpicked successor since 2013 are somehow responsible for Venezuela’s economic and political collapse.

Policies such as central planning and nationalization of private businesses destroyed a once-vibrant private sector. Years of price controls drove producers out of business. Public-sector investment was neglected. Social welfare programs such as “free” health care and college increased wasteful spending and made these services totally unaffordable.

The high oil prices in the early 2000s masked the seriousness of these problems for a while since Venezuela is a major oil producer and exporter. But after oil prices peaked at $100 per barrel in 2014, it plunged to $50 and below, and hasn’t recovered since. Unable to pay for subsidies and welfare programs, Maduro kept printing more money. Consequently, Venezuela suffers the world’s worst inflation rate, at more than 13,000 percent.

Of course Maduro blames the U.S. economic sanctions for all Venezuela’s problems. But some American leftists continue to perpetuate his lie. Here is Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez applauding Chris Cuomo, an anchor on CNN, blaming the United States for “starving the people and stand back watch them burn.” Also check out this tweet blaming the U.S. sanctions for Venezuelans’ suffering from Ben Norton, a journalist with a blue check on his Twitter account.

Of course Omar agrees, and calls for lifting U.S. sanctions. Never mind that U.S. sanctions are neither the cause (nor the cure!) of Venezuela’s economic and political collapse. And we don’t care about their oil because the United States is the number one oil producer in the world, thanks to fracking.

Many Democrats like to claim they are for human rights and democracy, but when an oppressed people rises up to fight for their inalienable rights, some on the left choose to stand by a dictator and his authoritarian regime. Either they are so blind by their hatred to Trump that they can’t think straight or they never really believed in human rights and democracy to begin with.

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