U.S.-backed coup in Venezuela moves into “final phase”
Rebel troops fire their weapons from an overpass outside La Carlota military airbase where loyal troops are located in Caracas, Venezuela, April 30. Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó took to the streets a small contingent of heavily armed troops early Tuesday, calling for the military to rise up and oust socialist leader Nicolas Maduro. | Fernando Llano / AP

In an all-or-nothing gamble, the Trump administration’s man in Caracas, opposition leader Juan Guaidó, has opened what he’s calling the “final phase” of the effort to overthrow the elected government of Venezuela.

Appearing in a video flanked by a few dozen heavily armed troops outside La Carlota air base in the capital city before sunrise this morning, Guaidó said “the moment is now.” Beside him stood another opposition figure, Leopoldo López, who played a role in the 2002 coup attempt against former President Hugo Chávez. Until today, López was under house arrest; now he is somehow on the loose.

With the opposition resorting to open military rebellion on the streets of Caracas, the slow-motion coup against Venezuelan democracy that has been underway for some time appears to be reaching its crescendo. Trump recognized Guaidó as “acting president” in January and began shifting control of Venezuelan state assets in the U.S. to him.

In the months since, provocations meant to push the government of President Nicolás Maduro into heavy-handed repression have been steadily escalating. At least a thousand soldiers, national guardsmen, and other security officials who had abandoned their posts and fled to Colombia have been slowly slipping back into the country, possibly in preparation for today.

The majority of the Venezuelan people and the bulk of the armed forces remain loyal to the constitutional government of Nicolas Maduro, but the Washington-backed opposition is putting everything on the line in a make-or-break moment. If Guaidó prevails, Latin America gets its newest U.S.-installed extreme right-wing government and the Bolivarian Revolution will be extinguished.

Venezuela’s unforgivable sin has been its insistence, since the election of Chávez in 1998, to chart its own path of development independent of U.S. control and neoliberal economics. Over the past 20 years, the socialist government has pursued programs to tackle inequality and mass poverty, devoting larger shares of the country’s wealth to education, health, and social welfare. It nationalized more of the country’s massive oil industry and devoted the resources to social programs—a blow to U.S. energy giants like ExxonMobil and ConocoPhillips.

Venezuela’s success helped set off a “pink wave” of left-led coalition victories in elections across the region. Tangible alternatives to the old status quo in Latin America were being built everywhere. A combination of efforts by local right-wing forces and U.S. economic pressure, however, has succeeded in rolling back most of these gains. Venezuela, the biggest prize of all, is one of the last left-led governments still standing.

 People’s World coverage of the coup in Venezuela:

 Trump advances Venezuela coup by recognizing opposition leader as “acting president”

Save democracy at home and abroad: Oppose Trump’s Venezuela coup

U.S. uses humanitarian assistance to hide regime change efforts in Venezuela

Stage set long ago for encounter at Colombia-Venezuela border

The Venezuelan economy is in a state of severe crisis. U.S. sanctions and product and food shortages (often purposely engineered by Venezuelan businesses), combined with hyperinflation and government mismanagement, have weakened support for Maduro. For too long, the state remained dependent on oil revenue to fund its “social missions,” but world oil prices have fallen sharply since the early 2000s. The financial boom that sustained the Bolivarian Revolution’s programs is long past.

Over three million Venezuelans have left the country and even among its supporters, like the Communist Party of Venezuela, the Maduro government is facing criticism for its “lack of response” to the hardships being imposed on the population.

Screengrab from the video posted before sunrise this morning by opposition leader Juan Guaidó. To his left is Leopoldo Lopez, a leading figure of the 2002 coup attempt against President Hugo Chavez. | via Twitter

Venezuelan oligarchs, the extreme right, and the U.S. foreign policy establishment and its corporate backers have calculated that now is the time to strike. The Venezuelan government is weakened. Guaidó has united the usually factious opposition forces. And an administration more determined to dominate and control Latin America rules in Washington. All the pieces have lined up to re-assert imperial power over wayward Venezuela.

As if on cue, the leading lights of the pro-regime change crowd are publicly cheering on the overthrow of democracy in Venezuela this morning. National Security Advisor John Bolton, one of the architects of the Iraq War and advocate of attacking Iran, was quick to declare U.S. backing for Guaidó. Trump’s Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, said the opposition forces “cannot be defeated.” And Florida’s Sen. Marco Rubio, knowing what was at stake, tweeted to the opposition: “Do not allow this moment to slip away. It may not come again.”

The Organization for American States, long a channel for the dissemination of U.S. policy in the region, is backing the coup. The right-wing governments which surround Venezuela are also joining the chorus, with Colombian President Iván Duque and Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro both declaring for Guaidó. Cuba and Bolivia, meanwhile, remain steadfast behind Maduro.

There is no going back from this point for Guaidó and the opposition. If their efforts fail today, as they have in the past, it is hard to imagine how Washington’s “acting president” could possibly continue as the open and public leader of the anti-Maduro forces. With the backing of the Trump administration, he has repeatedly incited military officers to treason and instigated economic sabotage.

At least as of this writing, there is no guarantee of victory for the coup leaders. After conferring with army chiefs, Maduro says the military is behind the government and that “nerves of steel” will carry the day against the opposition. Polling also suggests that, despite their unhappiness with the Maduro government, the vast majority of Venezuelans are strongly opposed to any foreign intervention into their country’s affairs. It is entirely possible that today’s events are the opening salvo in just such an effort on the part of the U.S. Late this afternoon, Bolton reiterated that “all options” remain on the table when it comes to Venezuela.

Guaidó’s supporters are in the streets, but so are Maduro’s. The military and rebellious troops are clashing at La Carlota. Dueling marches have already been announced for tomorrow, May Day. As events unfold today and in the days ahead, the specifics of this article will undoubtedly be rendered out of date or obsolete. But this message will remain relevant no matter the course of developments:

No to the coup.

No to U.S. intervention.


CONTRIBUTOR

C.J. Atkins
C.J. Atkins

C.J. Atkins is the managing editor at People's World. He holds a Ph.D. in political science from York University in Toronto and has a research and teaching background in political economy and the politics and ideas of the American left. In addition to his work at People's World, C.J. currently serves as the Deputy Executive Director of ProudPolitics.

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