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“A Dangerous Global Power Struggle”

Helmut Sorge | Posted : April 02, 2019

Donald Trump finally has met a strongman he does not like. After making friends with authoritarian figures around the world, in Beijing, Budapest and Moscow, Ankara, Riyadh, Cairo and Manila or Jerusalem .He even fell in love with Kim Jong un, the dictator in North Korea, who’ s self righteousness borders the pathological narcissism of Donald Trump, who doesn’t mind that his love had his uncle executed and his brother poisoned. Trump is not wavering in the defense of Mohamed bin Salman , the crown prince of Saudi Arabia either, who has been accused that he at least tolerated the murder of the “Washington Post” columnist Jamal Kashoggi. Trump just said about the accusations :” May be he did, may be he didn’t.”. The CIA, his spies, came to a different conclusion? So what ? The President did not answer Congress about his knowledge of the case, as he is obliged by law. End of story.

Just the other day a newspaper revealed that Saudi citizens, accused in the United States for crimes as homicide or rape are usually freed by Saudi diplomats, paying even a 500 000 dollar bail or more, and these accused never appear in court for their trials— secretly flown on private jets back home. A scandal? Not for Trump. He is the President, not a judge. An imperial president, appointing his daughter to advisor status and her husband to a senior position, for some time without security clearance. Why not? The daughter can watch TV with dad in the White House, only “Fox”, and share Hamburgers. Jared, the son in law, keeps contact with the murderous crown prince, encouraging him to ignore the press and their fake news, and those insensitive politicians in Congress, which did not understand the genial strategy of the President- the Saudis promise to buy weapons, a 100 billion dollars plus, you dummies. America First. Some of the export items are used to bomb children in Yemen, but as Donald Trump concluded, ”the world is just an evil place.”


Donald Trump did not shy away the other day, in the White House Rose Garden, to declare his admiration for how China manages to free itself of drug use—the death penalty for dealers. Yes, the death penalty.”If we want to get smart, we can get smart, ”the President declared,” you can end the drug problem, can end it a lot faster than you think.”A great idea.Death for a dose. Trump had asked Xi Jing ping, the leader of China, about his success-- just a few months before Trump decided to strangle China’ s economy with tariffs because the Chinese were cheating, he knows, we know, illegal technology transfers, theft of intellectual properties and so on. Mr. Xi was very proud about his drug-free nation, Trump recalled a few days ago ( after he had announced a national emergency because of an invasion at the Southern border -- drug importers, children, rapists, mothers, professional killers, agricultural workers). Possibly he misunderstood. Or Mr. Xi used alternative truth, better known through Trump as fake news. China counts, officially, more than 2.5 million of its citizens as drug addicts, the majority users of synthetic drugs. At the end it does not matter, 30 million drug users in the US, 2.5 million in China,” it is a “great honor to be working with President Xi”, Mr. Trump declared and asked his advisers to punish China with additional customs duties, because he “just likes these tariffs”. With one of the growing number of authoritarian leaders of the world though, the American “has drawn the red line”, stated the “New York Times”, Nicolas Maduro, the leader of Venezuela. The “former” President, if you are on Trump speak. The failed Marxist, the corrupt dictator, if you believe in “alternative” facts.


Washington has declared the South American, who was schooled decades ago in Cuba, to be a professional revolutionary, a non-person. Out of power while in power. Illegal power because of election fraud. Replaced by an unknown president of the powerless Venezuelan National Assembly, a youthful, inexperienced engineer, Juan Guaido, 35 years old, voted into his function only weeks ago. Encouraged by Washington, supported by most, but not all, 35 members of the Organization of American States, a dozen European nations, and Canada, to replace Mr Maduro as( interim )President, declaring the National Assembly as the legitimate authority. Courageous, fearless, willing to face Maduro, who is holding on to power, supported by military leaders and unwavering members of his socialist movement, which has led the oil rich nation into bankruptcy. .A nation in ruins, its currency useless, basic foods have disappeared. Only a tiny elite eats well, millions border on starvation.T he health system has been devastated. Money is worthless and the cocaine traffic is booming. The small media group under state control follows the official line.The country is facing uncontrolled violence and schools are without hope. About three million Venezuelans escaped to neighboring countries, Columbia, Ecuador, Brazil. In their study “Lessons from a failed State- Venezuela’ s Suicide ”, published in “Foreign Affairs “(November/December 2018) Moses Naim , fellow at the “Carnegie Endowment for International Peace” ,and Francisco Toro, global opinion columnist at the “Washington Post”, are bewildered how the noble nation transformed from the splendid early 1970s to today s misery, “so radical, so complete and so total that it is hard to believe it took place without a war.” How did things go so wrong, asked the authors and reduced the answer to one indicator: Chavismo. Under the leadership of Hugo Chavez(1998 to 2013 ) and his heir Nicolas Maduro (2013- ) the country has experienced “a toxic mix of wantonly destructive policy, escalating authoritarianism and kleptomania ”, all under a level of “Cuban influence that often resembles an occupation” Two parallel governments in place.

One with legitimacy and popular appeal. The other with real power. Since 2017 the National Assembly has been effectively sidelined by a new legislative body created by Maduro, and packed with his supporters. On January 10 Maduro was sworn in for a second six year term after a disputed election in May 2018. Within 13 days Juan Guaido declared himself president, controlling just 14 seats (out of 167)for his “Popular will” party, which has been an opposition movement founded by Guaido s charismatic but diversive mentor, Leopold Lopez. This politician has been under house arrest and barred from political office since early 2014.

The attempt by the Guaido led opposition to force truckloads of food and medicine, delivered by the US, across the Columbian –Venezuelan border failed. No one dared to approach the containers placed by the Maduro forces on the Tienditas Bridge, forcing them off with forklifts, demonstrating to the world that Maduro had lost control over his borders and people. Donald Trump ,who had declared “I would always have a plan B, a plan C, D, E, and F, hesitated to move American troops into Venezuela since all neighbors resisted such a still possible scenario—they would get involved in a regional war, Mr Trump warned the Venezuelan military if they would not accept a proposed amnesty offer,they would not find “ a safe harbor,no easy exit and no way out.”The administrations saberrattling and use of aid as a weapon , criticized the “New York Times” as “dangerous and a potentially counterproductive strategy.”


Nicolas Maduro is not without international allies, China, Russia, Turkey, Bolivia, Cuba and Iran, Syria, Nicaragua, North Korea, not the most liberal nations on earth. Caracas turned to Russia for weapons, cybersecurity and expertise in oil production, to China for financing and infrastructure, to Belarus for homebuilding, and Iran for car production.”A toxic combination of Cuban influence, runaway corruption, the dismantling of democratic check and balances and sheer incompetence has kept Venezuela locked in catastrophic economic policies,” observe Latin America- experts Naim and Toro. Sure thing, the Cuban government of President Miguel Diaz- Canel offered Mr. Maduro its “unwavering solidarity’ and called Venezuela’ s political turmoil an “attempt to impose a coup d ‘etat, a puppet government at the service of the United States.”Hugo Chavez had long looked to Cuba as a blueprint for his revolution, and he turned to Fidel Castro for advice during critical phases for his Marxist government. In return, Venezuela sent oil to Cuba, 115 000 barrels a day sold at deep discount. The relationship between Cuba and the folk hero of Venezuela (in his early years) was for Chavez “more than an alliance—a merger of two revolutions”. Maduro has devoted his life to Cuban communism. He joined a fringe pro Cuban Marxist party in Caracas and in his 20s, instead of attending university, he sought training in Havana’ s school for international cadres.15000 Cubans try to keep the endangered ally in power, not only for political reasons--Havana needs Venezuela’ s generous oil deliveries. Cuban intelligence officers attached to Maduro s regime, keep the armed forces under control, observing military officers for possible dissent, ministry advisors, teachers, and nurses are working for Venezuela’ s socialism, not really a poster boy for Marxism. In December of last year, Maduro announced the arrival of additional 2000 Cuban doctors, available because Brazil and Cuba were in disagreement, and Havana just withdrew its medical staff from the nation now in step with Trump. Some of Maduro’ s closest advisers in his office are Cuban, and some of the rather unfortunate economists have been imported from Havana as well.

The Cubans are certainly not sufficient to stabilize a nation in turmoil. Are colonels or generals in secret contact with American invasion forces to discuss a revolt against Maduro? How would Trump react if Mexican trucks, loaded with food for the hungry children in America s ghettos, would ignore the US borders, just crash through the few miles of fences and walls, cross the desert into El Paso or San Diego? Will Washington deploy some Latino-mercenaries, to whom the Pentagon will promise visas or green cards to enter the US by fighting against Maduro? Will Venezuelan privates, corporals or sergeants risk their lives for their leader, who can hardly feed them, if at all, once US troops move into their country? Will the generals desert, sell themselves to the highest bidder? Will they lay down their arms without the guarantee that they will not be put on trial for crime against humanity, neither in Caracas nor the International Criminal Court, reassured that a negotiated amnesty is general, definite, regardless to the crime of any soldier, Cubans included. Freedom for Maduro? A beach villa near Havana?

The failure of the opposition to agree on a strategy to win power is overshadowed by its major weakness, judged Julian Buxton, Professor of Comparative politics at Central European University in Budapest. “In the center of the opposition this party embodies the most radical, the most aligned with  Washington", writes   Julian Buxton   "more than others lacking a social base and the least ready to compromise. If Mr. Guaido ever had the idea to open a door of reconciliation with the Venezuelan people of whom many are still  aligned to Chavism- he would risk provoking anger and displeasure of his followers, who he has been firing on for years.”

The Pope in Rome was asked to mediate possible peace talks, the end of violent demonstrations and oppression, yet after one futile attempt, the holy father declined, for now. Earlier attempts by the Vatican and international diplomats, explained the Pope, whose colleague Jean Paul II avoided in 1978, a war between Argentina and Chile, yielded a result the size of “a little mouse, nothing, just smoke.” .John Bolton, Trump’ s National Security advisor, was seen after a White House briefing holding a yellow writing pad, on which reporters could read two hands scribbled lines, of which one read “5000 troops to Columbia.”The other said “Afghanistan-welcome to talks.” An intended security laps, or just a careless second, which allowed TV cameras and journalists to capture a secret consideration-----the invasion of Venezuela? Some months ago John Bolton promised action against the “troika of tyranny”, the” triangle of terror”, stretching from Havana to Caracas to Managua. These nations are the “cause of immense human suffering, the impetuous of enormous regional instability, and the genesis of a sordid cradle of Communism in the Western hemisphere,” the National Security advisor declared in his speech at the Miami Dade College’ s “Freedom Tower”.Under President Trump, the United States would take “direct action” against all three regimes to defend the rule of law, liberty and basic human decency in our region.

The anti -- intervention -- President , Donald Trump , who is reducing troops in Afghanistan ,is pulling the remaining 2000 special forces out of combat in Syria, has announced the redeployment and reduction of US troops in Africa, seems ready to deploy troops into the 30 million people strong Latin American nation, which is facing starvation. In 1970 Venezuela was the richest state in Latin America, its per capita GDP higher than Spain, Greece, and Israel, and just 13 percent lower than the UK, its future secured with the largest known crude oil reservoir on earth. The decision to risk combat and destruction, an entanglement, which could lead to violent reactions around the globe against American imperialism, would mean “a sharp departure”(“New York Times”) from Trumps “America First” foreign policy, aimed at extracting the United States from overseas quagmires and staying out of internal affairs. During his first foreign trip as President, Saudi Arabia, Trump declared that he would not dictate how other nations treat their own citizens:” We are not here to tell other people how to live, what to do, who to be, or how to worship.” After he was criticized by allies, Washington politicians and generals for his retreat from Syria, the President asked on twitter,” does the USA want to be the policeman of the Middle East” or had the nation a role to play,” protecting others?”


Now , involvement. The Trumpification of Latin America? A possible path to war. The return of history -- CIA intervention, revolutions, blackmail, repression, manipulation. Cuba comes to mind, the Bay of Pigs invasion. Maduro may take John Bolton ’ s cynical advise to accept amnesty, going into exile as soon as possible, living on a nice beach somewhere far from Venezuela, or risk to be incarcerated in the American Guantamano (Cuba) Military prison, housed next to Islamic terrorist leaders. He may also defy Washington, aided by China or Russia, which neither would like to write off tens of billions in investments and weapons , paid through future oil deliveries. Beijing is expecting a repayment of 75 billion dollars in advanced credits from Caracas. Wouldn’t Donald Trump, the Commander in Chief, who has claimed he knows military conflict better than most of his generals, damage his credibility, if Maduro, only partially, holds on to power ? When John Bolton, who was one of the most delirious advocate’ s of US intervention against Saddam Hussein and his secret trove of weapons of mass destruction, was asked by reporters why Mr. Maduro was worse than other autocrats the President befriended, the advisor was not amused:” Well, your question is full of fallacies. The fact is: Venezuela is in our hemisphere.I think we have a special responsibility here, and I think the President feels very strongly about it.”The Trump administrations reaction shows how deeply rooted the regime change instinct is, stated Stephen Walt, a Harvard University professor of International Relations, “whenever the United States faces a hostile government, the temptation to try to overthrow it is always there . Needless to say, this has been especially true in Latin America.”We are not only witnessing a standoff between a failed leader and a young legislator propelled to the front by popular demonstrations, stated the” New York Times” on its opinion page, the crisis has become “a dangerous global power struggle.”


Today the risk is that as geopolitical concerns sideline Venezuela s daily plight,” a dire situation may become worse”, warns Alejandro Velasco, associate professor of Latin American history at New York University and author of “Barrio rising: Urban Popular Politics and the Making of Modern Venezuela”, ”by pursuing sudden all or nothing regime change…the United States has turned a regional crisis into a global power struggle.”Why now , is the question. ”Some say oil”, Velasco argues, because the country sits atop the largest proven reserves of crude, which is closer to the United States than most other major suppliers. Even at the height of tensions, when Hugo Chavez was Venezuela’ s president, adored by the masses, oil shipments to the United States never stopped. Chavez implemented socialist ideas and ideals, restructuring the society with devastating mismanagement, like failed land reforms, expropriation of foreign owned oil ventures, nationalization of steel companies. Yet high oil prices and revenues, avoided, initially, any confrontation with reality. Washington did not intervene, at least did not try to provoke a change of government. Until the US announced its sanctions on the state owned “Petroleos de Venezuela” on January 28, Caracas received as much as eight of every ten dollars in oil sales from the United States. Now Caracas will feel the economic choke—Venezuela’ s oil exports plummeted 40 percent in the first week of February. Customers suspended contracts, banks suspended Venezuelan accounts, and a dozen tankers filled with Venezuelan crude sat stranded across the Caribbean. Washington blocked Venezuelan government accounts in the US.

The newest sanctions could cut the nation ‘s oil exports by two thirds, to 14 billion this year, leading to a 26 percent reduction in the economies size. The sanctions, announced by the US treasury department, barred American companies and individuals from dealing with Venezuela ‘s State Oil Company, Petroleos de Venezuela, or Pdvsa, which provides 90 percent of the countries hard currency. Before the sanctions, Venezuela imported about 120 000 barrels of oil and refined petroleum products per day from the US. The Venezuelans blended the lighter oil with their own thick crude oil so it could flow through pipelines to ports. Now the American shipments have been halted. Moscow‘s Rosnef oil giant agreed to continue providing Pdvsa with vital oil products in exchange for Venezuelan crude, partly replacing the American supply. The Russians announced as well, that it would increase its output in Venezuela this year, despite the sanctions. Energy experts are convinced that Venezuela would be able to keep some oil revenue coming by lowering the price and finding alternative customers in Asia, North Korea for example.


Some Trump supporters in Congress argue that democracy has driven the Trump administration to intervene, an argument which historian Velasco dismisses- when President Juan Orlando Hernandes of Honduras “stole the election in 2017”, the history professor writes, the US offered him “full support.” Likewise Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who tactically backed Guatemala ‘s president Jimmy Morales, as he quashed a UN mandated anticorruption commission, a “move widely seen as anti-democratic.” As another indication that the Trump administration does not have the safeguard of democracy and human rights in Latin America on its mind, Valesco points to the appointment of Elliot Abrams as special envoy to Venezuela, a conservative involved in covert operations and supporter of death squads active in Central America during the 1980 s. The motivation for a regime change is not the urge to restore democracy in Venezuela neither the lust for oil, but REALPOLITIK. The decades of left wing leaders dominating Latin American nations are coming to an end, and nationalists, right wing politicians, are celebrating a stunning comeback after decades in the political wilderness. Jair Bolsonaro, the president of Brazil, one example, speaks the language of Donald Trump, verbally and political. Racist, homophobic and sexist.Wealthy as many of the colleagues, even billionaires as rich as the businessman in the White House. Washington “did not engineer the shift”, explains Valesco, but “it stands ready to take the reins.”And no other nation is symbolizing the changes Latin America is facing than Venezuela, the weakening of the regime, the eventual downfall of the heir of Hugo Chavez, Nicolas Maduro, the former, loyal, secretary of foreign affairs. As long as Maduro resists, the risk will be, predicted Moises Naim and Francisco Toro, that “hopelessness will push Venezuelans to consider supporting dangerous measures, such as a US led military invasion that could make a bad situation worse.”Moscow has promised continued support to its allies in Caracas, for the time being limiting its acts to statements. Russia ‘s foreign minister Sergey V. Lavrov declared that “the United States took the bit between the teeth and openly took a course towards toppling the regime.” Russia and “other responsible members of the international community will do everything we can to support the lawful government”—Lavrov ignored, deliberately for sure, that Maduro’ s reelection last year was only achieved through extensive electoral fraud.


How will Washington react if, in case of an invasion, Moscow will send long range bombers, able to carry nuclear weapons, in a show of solidarity to Caracas, as the Russians did last December? Just two planes, but Vladimir Zhirinovsky, a hard line populist and nationalist, suggested Russia should send a whole fleet of these planes now to prevent outside interventions—the Cuba nuclear missile crisis of 1962 revisited? A few days ago Moscow did send military planes to Caracas transporting a few hundred armed soldiers and China demonstrated, symbolic, solidarity by sending a plane loaded with medical supplies. In recent years Russia’ s oil giant Rosnef has taken significant stakes in Venezuela ‘s oil industry, and Moscow has delivered arms on credit-an outstanding debt of more than 10 billion dollars, which Putin certainly would like to cash in before Maduro disappears. Any military intervention could prove catastrophic, alarms the “New York Times”, “especially if Russia, the primary arms supplier, steps in.”Some polls suggest that a majority of Venezuelans would welcome an American military intervention to remove Mr. Maduro and end the nightmare” ,writes Jorg Castaneda, Mexico s foreign minister from 2000 to 2003 ,professor at New York University and author of “Utopian Unarmed: Latin America left after the cold war”, “but there have been too many instances of United States meddling in Latin America for the worse reasons, and with the worst outcomes, or there to be any enthusiasm for American interference” ; there is a consensus among Europeans and Latin American nations that “the Trump administration plays as understated a role as possible ,”claims the former politician ,”even if Washington has helped to orchestrate much of what has occurred in recent weeks.”

Still, many in Latin America and Europe believe, that no matter how low key Washington keeps its presence, its motives are questionable.””Foreign Affairs”- authors Moises Naim and Francisco Toro argue that Trump's fantasies of military invasion “are deeply misguided and extremely dangerous.”Although a US led military assault would likely have no problem overthrowing Maduro in short order,” what comes next could be far worse” the writers predict, as the Iraqis and Lybians know only too well—“when outside powers overthrow autocrats sitting atop failed states, openly ended chaos is much more likely to follow than stability—let alone democracy.”Even if opposition forces-or a US led armed attack –somehow managed to replace Maduro with an entirely new government,” the agenda would be daunting”. A successor regime, the authors argue, would need to reduce the enormous role the military plays in all areas of the public sector. It would have to start from scratch in restoring basic services in health care, education and law enforcement. It would have to rebuild the oil industry and stimulate growth in other economic sectors. It would need to get rid of the drug dealers, prison racketeers, predatory miners, wealthy criminal financiers, and extortionists who have latched on to every part of the state. And it would have to make all these changes in the context of a toxic, anarchic political environment and a grave economic crisis. The authors predict that “given the scale of these obstacles, Venezuela is likely to remain unstable for a long time to come.”The almost total blackout of Venezuela a few days ago was a sign of more dramas to come, no more light, darkness in a once sprightly nation, pulsating, vigorous, embracing the zest of life.

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