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Opinion and Analysis: International

U.S. Aggression towards Venezuela: The Rise of Black Propaganda and Dirty War Tactics (Again)

Washington’s efforts to discredit the Venezuelan Government have increased over the past few weeks. Tactics and strategies applied in prior years attempting to overthrow the Chávez administration through a coup d’etat, an illegal oil industry strike that crippled the Venezuelan economy and a constitutional recall referendum on Chávez’s mandate infused with illegal campaign contributions by the U.S. government to the Venezuelan opposition, all failed miserably. After a brief period of reevaluation, the Bush Administration has recently launched a new strategy intended to isolate and eventually topple the Venezuelan Government. The new aggression towards Venezuela is direct, open, public and hostile. The Bush Administration, through its Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, and her spokesmen, its Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and his spokesmen, and the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), Porter Goss, has made clear that Venezuela is a target for Washington this year.

This time around, the strategy is clear: turn President Chávez into an international pariah in the world media and justify an intervention to save democracy. Even more transparent are the mechanisms utilized to implement the strategy. Since early January 2005, major U.S. publications and television stations, including the Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, Miami Herald, Fox News Network and CSNBC, to name a few, have published or broadcast well over 60 articles and programs regurgitating State Department accusations that President Chávez presents a “negative force in the region,”[1] is a “threat to democracy,” a “semi-dictator,” or that the Venezuela Government provides refuge and collaborates with “terrorist” groups, such as the Colombian FARC and ELN. Such accusations are dangerous in today’s world, where the Bush Administration is omnipotent to act preemptively to “spread liberty” and implement “regime change” where and when it sees fit.

The new strategy applied towards Venezuela represents a major policy shift for the Bush Administration. While prior actions were more subtle, clandestine and low profile, the revised plan is confrontational. Washington is now trying to openly intervene in Venezuela to remove Chávez from power, but attempts to excuse such actions by branding Chávez as a dictator and a major threat to U.S. national security. Several recent articles in U.S. media have demonstrated such objectives.

The April 11, 2005 edition of The National Review, an ultraconservative magazine representing right-wing views similar to those of Washington’s ultraconservative right-wing government, presents a cover image of President Chávez, in military fatigues, a red beret and a face ten years younger, alongside President Fidel Castro of Cuba, with the byline, “The Axis of Evil…Western Hemisphere Version”. The feature article, by rabidly anti-Castro Cuban-American Otto Reich, former Special Advisor to George W. Bush on Latin American Affairs and former Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, along with a list of other top positions in the Reagan, Bush I and II administrations, presents an attempt to terrorize readers into believing Venezuela has become the primary threat to U.S. national security in the region. Reich also claims that the U.S.’s most “pressing specific challenge is neutralizing or defeating the Cuba-Venezuela axis.”[2]

The terms “neutralizing” and “defeating” are not friendly. They imply hostility, violence and dominance. These are not terms used within the sphere of diplomacy, they are expressions used in the context of armed conflict. Such statements by Reich, who now works in the private sector as a U.S. Government Consultant, may seem laughable to many, but in the context of an administration that shares Reich’s extremist views on Latin America and in light of the recent augment in public aggression towards the Venezuelan Government by high-level Bush officials, these remarks may not be far off. In fact, Reich’s recent article falls perfectly in line with the onslaught of Chávez-bashing commentaries and “news stories” published in U.S. papers since January.

Over the past two weeks, the Spanish-language version of the Miami Herald, El Nuevo Herald, has run a three-part series on the growing threat of organizations and individuals that support the Venezuelan Government from within the United States.[3]  The articles, written by right-wing Cuban-American journalist Casto Ocando, who has written dozens of fervently anti-Chávez articles for that same paper, pretend to expose a network of Chávez supporters in universities and progressive groups that, at the appeal of the journalist, should be considered “foreign agents” or almost “terrorist” by the U.S. Government and public. One of the articles even includes a map of where such pro-Chávez groups are located in the U.S., with a large image of President Chávez in military fatigues imposed on top, as though the author were exposing some clandestine terrorist network secretly operating within the United States.

The groups and institutions mentioned by the Herald that form part of the “sinister” pro-Chávez network in the U.S. include Harvard University, New York University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Global Exchange, Global Women’s Strike, San Romero de las Americas Church in New York and its Pastor, Luis Barrios, the catholic missionary Maryknoll group, the author of this article (yes, me), and several Bolivarian Circles, small community-based organizations that support Chávez modeled from the Venezuelan grassroots organizations that carry the same name. Sounds like a scary group!

I am sure that thoughts of Maryknoll missioners, prestigious university professors, Harlem-based Pastors and the environmentally-friendly Global Exchange all lauding a foreign government that is investing its oil wealth in improving health care, education, housing and raising salaries, has driven fear into the hearts and minds of ordinary Americans.[4]

Media-CIA Relationship Exposed

But maybe the author’s intent and not the content of the article should cause alarm. During the publishing of the three-part series on the growing threat of pro-Chávez supporters in the U.S., journalist Casto Ocando appeared on a local Miami television show on Channel 22, discussing such “threats” in detail alongside fellow Cuban-American Félix Rodríguez, ex-CIA Officer responsible for the assassination of Ernesto “Che” Guevara and who was also an Iran-Contra operative.[5] Just days earlier, this expert in CIA assassination techniques used against foreign leaders, Félix Rodríguez, was interviewed on that same program, “Maria Elvira Confronta” (Maria Elvira Confronts), providing details about an assassination plot in motion against President Hugo Chávez.[6] Ocando and Rodríguez’s association merely points to a collaborative effort between CIA and news media, a relationship established decades ago by the United States Government.

On that same Miami program in October 2004, the anti-Chávez Venezuelan actor, and coup participant, Orlando Urdaneta, appeared ordering the assassination of President Chávez and other “top figures” in the Venezuelan Government.[7] Just weeks later, on November 18, 2004, lead government Prosecutor Danilo Anderson was assassinated by a powerful car bomb. At that time, Anderson was in charge of several high profile cases, including the prosecution of coup leaders and participants. His death marked the first political assassination in recent Venezuelan history.

The Venezuelan Government has repeatedly requested the State Department investigate these threats of violence against President Chávez coming from within the United States, yet no formal response has been issued and no actions have been taken.

Despite initial denials from State Department spokesmen regarding accusations from the Venezuelan Government that Washington was engaging in a coordinated effort with the media to discredit President Chávez, facilitate expressions of violence against the Venezuelan head of state and spread unsubstantiated rumors about terrorist connections and human rights violations, in early March 2005, Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, Roger Noriega, confirmed to the press that the United States had launched a “campaign” to raise consciousness in the region about “the growing threat of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez.”[8] And what better way to publicize a campaign than through the mass media?

The Office of Public Diplomacy Revived

In 1983, the United States Government, by direct order of President Ronald Reagan’s White House, established the Office of Public Diplomacy for Latin America and the Caribbean (LPD) under the authority of the Department of State. The LPD was staffed by personnel from the United States military, the U.S. Information Agency (USIA), the government’s primary propaganda office, and the Agency for International Development (USAID). Its primary advisor was the National Security Council, the most elite intelligence advisory committee in the U.S., reporting directly to the President. The notorious Otto Reich was chosen to direct the Office of Public Diplomacy, in order to spearhead the campaign to oust the Sandinista Government of Nicaragua.

Declassified documents from the U.S. Government, obtained by the National Security Archives, evidence the covert and illegal use of news media to promote U.S. foreign policy.[9] Reich employed the personnel from U.S. military “Psyops” (Psychological Operations Group) to produce different kinds of propaganda and information for the LPD Office. “Psyop” job duties included preparing “daily summaries of exploitable information”, “analyzing media trends and highlighting areas of concern” and “suggesting themes and media for use” by the Office of Public Diplomacy.[10]  The media used by the Office of Public Diplomacy to promulgate U.S. foreign policy on Nicaragua included The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, The New York Times, USA Today, CBS News, NBC News and Newsweek Magazine, amongst others.

The types of messages disseminated through Reich’s office, as developed by the National Security Council and the Psyops, were intended to encourage the perception that U.S. aid to the contras, labeled “freedom fighters” by the U.S., was a vital national interest of the United States. To achieve that goal, Reich’s office was to convince the U.S. public that the contras were fighters for freedom in the American tradition of democracy and the Sandinistas were “evil”. The themes invoked in the psychological propaganda attempted to convince the public that the Sandinistas were engaging in a “military build-up”, had a “communist connection” and were “human rights violators” repressing “freedom of the press”, “right of assembly”, “freedom of speech”, responsible for the “destruction of the economy” and were “linked to worldwide terrorism.”

In 1987, the United States General Accounting Office (GAO) determined that the Office of Public Diplomacy for Latin America and the Caribbean had engaged in illegal and unethical practices and had violated government regulations.[11] GAO and the Congress subsequently shut down the Office permanently. But Otto Reich, instead of receiving punishment for his illegal actions throughout the years he headed the LPD was promoted to the position of U.S. Ambassador to Venezuela and stationed in Caracas. During that period, he helped liberate Cuban terrorist Orlando Bosch, responsible for blowing up a Cubana de Aviación airplane flying from Barbados, killing all of the more than 65 people aboard the flight. Reich later helped facilitate the entry of Bosch into the United States, where he roams free today.[12]

Otto Reich’s Misinformation Campaign

Otto Reich was the Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, the position Roger Noriega holds today, during the April 2002 coup d’état against President Chávez. This author has disclosed numerous documents from the Department of State and the CIA that evidence U.S. involvement in that coup.[13] Amongst these documents is a heavily censured cable marked “confidential”, drafted by Otto Reich, laying out the State Department’s position on the coup. Despite the fact that the U.S. Government was well aware of the detailed coup plans, as revealed in a CIA Senior Executive Intelligence Brief dated April 6, 2002[14], Reich, the master of mis-information, told all diplomatic representatives of the U.S. that they were to promote this false version of events:

“On April 11, hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans gathered to seek redress of their grievances. Chávez supporters fired on anti-government protestors resulting in more than 100 wounded or killed….The government prevented five independent television stations from reporting on events. After meeting with senior military officers, Chávez allegedly resigned the presidency. A provisional civilian government, led by Pedro Carmona, assumed power and promised early elections.”[15]

The intent of the U.S. Government was to misinform the world of the events giving rise to the illegal coup d’état that briefly overthrew President Chávez, therefore justifying its own participation in such actions and reinforcing its strategy to “legitimately” remove Chávez from power. The fact that the U.S. Government had clear knowledge of the coup plans and actors in the weeks before the coup provides undisputed evidence of this fact. The CIA intelligence brief of April 6, 2002 unmistakably informed top level U.S. Government officials that, “Dissident military factions…are stepping up efforts to organize a coup against President Chávez…the level of detail in the reported plans…targets Chávez and 10 other senior officials for arrest…To provoke military action, the plotters may try to exploit unrest stemming from opposition demonstrations…”

The CIA briefs from the weeks before also claimed knowledge of the coup’s organizers: “…the private sector, the media, the Catholic Church and opposition political parties…. [along with] disgruntled military officers…still planning a coup, possibly early this month…”[16]

Reich’s efforts at the time of the coup against President Chávez in Venezuela were merely to continue what he was best at, disseminating false information – propaganda – intended to promote U.S. foreign policy, just as he had done fifteen years early in Nicaragua.

Today’s campaign against Venezuela starkly parallels those tactics used back in the eighties by the Office of Public Diplomacy. Though Reich no longer maintains an official position within the Bush Administration, his capacity as a private sector U.S. Government Consultant on International Affairs clearly shows his ties and influence remain. And others in powerful positions within the U.S. Government are his colleagues from the low intensity conflict years in Central America during the Reagan-Bush administrations. John Negroponte, former U.S. Ambassador in Honduras during the eighties is soon-to-be the new Director of National Intelligence, the highest capacity in the intelligence community, Charles Shapiro, ex-Ambassador to Venezuela during the coup who previously was a State Department diplomat in Central America during the eighties is now Under-Secretary of State for the Andean Region (covering Venezuela), Reich’s old buddy Roger Noriega took his place as Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs and Porter Goss, ex-CIA Official and member of the Operation 40 assassination squad in the 1960s, alongside Cuban terrorist Orlando Bosch, is now Director of the CIA.

Such relationships and backgrounds make it no surprise to see that today’s campaign against Venezuela employs the same themes used, successfully, against the Sandinistas in the eighties. In addition to the similar use of the National Endowment for Democracy and USAID to funnel millions into Venezuelan opposition parties and NGOs, the U.S. Government attempts to portray Chávez in the same exact light as the Sandinistas. Repeated declarations from the State and Defense Departments, recycled in major U.S. media, claim the Chávez Government is engaging in a “military build-up” or “arms race” with its recent purchase of new weaponry from Russia (note that the U.S. Government is the ONLY government to express such concerns. None of Venezuela’s neighbors have even raised an eyebrow. And Brazil has publicly stated they have no concerns whatsoever with Venezuela’s recent arms purchase); that Chávez is a “communist” in the likes of Fidel Castro; that his government “violates human rights” including “freedom of the press”, the “right to assembly”, “freedom of speech”, “persecution of opposition groups and actors” and that his administration is responsible for the “poverty” and “economic devastation” that has affected the country in recent years.

If you read a few paragraphs above in this commentary, you will find the same identical themes were used to discredit the Nicaraguan government by Reich’s Office of Public Diplomacy. Note that all of these claims against President Chávez and the Venezuelan Government are false. There is more freedom of the press and freedom of speech in Venezuela than under any prior government. The Chávez administration has never suspended any constitutional rights and in fact has expanded human rights under the 1999 Bolivarian Constitution that was promoted by President Chávez himself and ratified by an unprecedented national referendum.

In The Us, Telling the President He “Sucks” Can Land You in Jail

Recently, The Washington Post, published yet another article attempting to reinforce the false accusations repeated over and over again by State Department officials. The Post has been the media most frequently utilized to reiterate U.S. foreign policy towards Venezuela and its editorial board is unquestionably anti-Chávez. Remember, The Post figured prominently on the list of media utilized by Reich’s Office of Public Diplomacy to disseminate “black propaganda” attempting to smear the Nicaraguan Government’s reputation in the 1980s. It appears as though such efforts have been revived in the case of Venezuela.

An article by Jackson Diehl, “Chávez’s Censorship: Where Disrespect Can Land You in Jail” (Washington Post, Monday, March 28, 2005, p.A17), attempts to convince readers that a reformed Penal Code in Venezuela is somehow a repressive tool of an authoritarian regime. Diehl references Article 147: "Anyone who offends with his words or in writing or in any other way disrespects the President of the Republic or whomever is fulfilling his duties will be punished with prison of 6 to 30 months if the offense is serious and half of that if it is light." Yet this journalist fails to mention U.S. laws on the same subject matter, which are actually much stricter and truly repressive. Title 18 of the U.S. Code, Section 871, “Threats Against the President or his Successors” provides for up to five years of prison for any kind of “threat” against a U.S. President, Vice-President, his spouse or any one in the succession line who could become President, which includes a grand portion of Congress. Section 871 has been used to jail individuals for telling a U.S. President he “sucks[17], informing a President that, "God will hold you to account, Mr. President”[18] or for wearing “anti-war” or “anti-Bush” t-shirts.[19] And lest we forget the more than 1800 protestors jailed during the August 2004 Republican National Convention in New York City for the crime of…protesting the president.

Moreover, by an Executive Order of the President of the United States and under the Patriot Act, a highly repressive law passed after September 11, 2001 by the U.S. Congress, any non-U.S. citizen “ who has been deemed by the president to have been or have harbored a member of the al Qaeda organization, or anyone who has engaged in, aided, abetted, or conspired to commit acts of international terrorism, or acts that “threaten to cause, or have as their aim to cause injury to or adverse effects on the United States,” is subject to trial in a military tribunal in accordance with rules and procedures to be established by the secretary of defense.”[20] This means that the more than 18 million immigrants living in the United States, many of them legally, can be deemed by the President of the United States to have “aided and abetted” or somehow collaborated with “terrorists”, which is under the sole discretion of the President, and detained indefinitely with no rights and subject to a military tribunal. Military tribunals do not respect rights to due process or even minimal civil or human rights.

So, basically, telling a U.S. President he “sucks” could end you in Guantánamo, dressed in orange, with no rights.

But remember, the U.S. holds a double standard when it comes to threatening the President. The laws only apply to the U.S. President, and close allies of course. Discussing in detail plans to assassinate the Venezuelan President on U.S. television carry no consequence. Even maintaining armed militia training camps in Miami led by ex-Venezuelan military officers who claim to be preparing to overthrow Chávez is encouraged by the U.S. Government.[21] Such terrorists operate and live freely within U.S. territory, and some even receive financing from the U.S. Government.[22]

Attacks against Venezuela Continue

The attacks against the Venezuelan Government have only increased since January, and there is no expectation that they will cease at this point. Just days ago, the State Department released a report entitled “Supporting Human Rights and Democracy: The U.S. Record 2004 - 2005", lauding its own efforts to promote democracy around the world, including efforts to invoke regime changes in some cases. The report condemns Venezuela as a human rights abuser, detrimental to democracy in the region. Its presenter, Michael Kozak, gave an ultimatum to the Venezuelan Government in his press conference, stating “If you wish to have a decent relationship with us, you will have to reorient aspects of your governance towards the right direction.”[23]

Sounds like a threat, one that surely will not be heeded by the Venezuelan Government. But what is clear is that the bully tactics continue and finally, after the calls of many anti-Chávez groups in the U.S. and Venezuela combined with the powerful lobby of the anti-Castro Cuban-American community in Miami, the Bush Administration has finally decided to look south. Venezuela, one of the top exporters of oil to the United States, may become the next target of a unilateral, preemptive strike. Hopefully, the country will be able to fend off U.S. aggression, as it has successfully done in the past. Venezuela has regional support from Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Chile, Bolivia, Cuba and even neighboring Colombia, despite the heavy U.S. influence and military presence in that nation. Any type of conflict provoked by the Bush Administration against Venezuela would not be looked at favorably in the region, and surely would force a multilateral defense.

South America is more united today than ever before in history, and that is the true threat to the United States. As the Venezuelan Vice President, José Vicente Rangel, confirmed recently, “Latin America is no longer the backyard of the United States.”

Eva Golinger, a Venezuelan-American attorney, is the author of “The Chávez Code: Cracking U.S. Intervention in Venezuela”, soon to be available through Amazon.com or directly through the author.



[1] See Declarations made by incoming Secretary of State Rice before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on January 18, 2005; See also Dow Jones Newswire, January 18, 2005, “Rice: Venezuela’s Chávez ‘Negative Force’ in the Region”, "I think that we have to view at this point the government of Venezuela as a negative force in the region," Rice told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday during her confirmation hearing. "We can, I think, work with others to expose that, and say to President Chavez that this kind of behavior is really not acceptable in this Hemisphere that is trying to make its way toward a stable democratic future," Rice said.

[2] National Review, April 11, 2005 Edition

[4] This is a satirical comment.

[5] http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB5/ See CIA Debriefing of Félix Rodríguez,  June 3, 1975.   When Che Guevara was executed in La Higuera, one CIA official was present--a Cuban-American operative named Félix Rodríguez. Rodríguez, who used the codename "Félix Ramos" in Bolivia and posed as a Bolivian military officer, was secretly debriefed on his role by the CIA's office of the Inspector General in June, 1975.  (At the time the CIA was the focus of a major Congressional investigation into its assassination operations against foreign leaders.) In this debriefing--discovered in a declassified file marked 'Félix Rodríguez' by journalist David Corn--Rodríguez recounts the details of his mission to Bolivia where the CIA sent him, and another Cuban-American agent, Gustavo Villoldo, to assist the capture  of Guevara and destruction of his guerrilla band.

[6] See “Former CIA Agent Affirms Possibility of Chávez’s Assassination in Venezuela”, by Gregory Wilpert, http://venezuelanalysis.com/news.php?newsno=1549; and The Washington Post, “Venezuela’s Anti-Bush Fears Assassination”, by Jefferson Morely, March 16, 2005, found at http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A41572-2005Mar16.html

[7] On the program, Orlando Urdaneta stated, “Of the 150,000 men in uniform in Venezuela, there must be a high percentage of honest people who, in the right moment, will rise up…But this will only happen with the physical disappearance of the “top dog” and a significant part of his pack. There is no room for doubt: there is no other way out. Physical disappearance, definitely.” When prompted by the program host as to how this would happen, Urdaneta replied, “This happens with a few men with long guns that have telescopic views, that won’t fail…It’s an order that I am giving right at this moment, let’s go, hurry up…” See: “Orlando Urdaneta llama al magnicidio desde Miami”, 02 Noviembre 2004, Temas http://www.temas.com.ve/modules.php?name=News&new_topic=9

[8] “Noriega anuncia campaña para alertar sobre Chávez en la región”, El Universal, 2 de marzo, 2005, ver http://www.eluniversal.com/2005/03/02/imp_pol_ava_02A537599.shtml

[9] See “Public Diplomacy and Covert Propaganda: the Declassified Record of Ambassador Otto Juan Reich File”, A National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book, March 2, 2001 at http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB40/

[10] Ibid, United States Department of State Memorandum from Otto Reich to Department of Defense Officer Ray Warren, March 5, 1985.

[11] See Ibid, United States General Accounting Office Report Otober 1987, State’s Administration of Certain Public Diplomacy Contracts.

[12] See “El Código Chávez: Descifrando la Intervención de los EEUU en Venezuela”, por Eva Golinger, p.193, Editorial Ciencias Sociales, Cuba 2005.

[13] See my website, www.venezuelafoia.info for declassified US Government documents revealing intervention in Venezuela.

[14] Top Secret CIA SIEB brief available on www.venezuelafoia.info, revealing US government knowledge of and involvement in the coup against President Chávez.

[15] Confidential document from the Secretary of State’s office in Washington to Western Hemisphere Affairs Diplomatic Posts, the National Security Council, the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the Pentagon, the Secretary of Defense, Southern Command Unit, and the U.S. Embassies in the Vatican, Madrid, London, Geneva and its Mission before the United Nations, dated April 14, 2002 and classified through April 14, 2012. Obtained by the author under the Freedom of Information Act.

[16] CIA Top Secret Senior Intelligence Brief, April 1, 2002, available on www.venezuelafoia.info

[17] (Excerpt from an AP wire story dated October 30, 1996) "CHICAGO (AP) --  ... (two people) were arrested July 2 at the Taste of Chicago fair after President Clinton approached them and ... responded with a rude remark. She said the remark was, ' "You suck and those boys died,'' ' in reference to the June 25 attack of a U.S. installation in Saudi Arabia that left 19 American airmen dead. Secret Service agents initially said they heard something else that could have been taken as a threat against the president. Police said the (couple) were arrested for persisting to shout profanities while being questioned.

[18] (From the Washington Times, 12/27/96, page A5.)"God will hold you to account, Mr. President." "--Rev. Rob Shenck, to President Clinton during a Christmas Eve church service at the Washington National Cathedral, referring to the president's veto of a ban on partial-birth abortion. After the service, Rev. Shenck was detained by Secret Service agents who accused him of threatening the President's life.

[19] “…the antiwar-T-shirt-clad mother of a slain soldier was pulled out of a Laura Bush speech in New Jersey and threatened with arrest. A West Virginia couple was detained by the Secret Service for wearing anti-Bush T-shirts at a July 4 rally…” “Thou Dost Protest Too Much: An old law turns protesters into threats against the president.” By Jonathan M. Katz. http://slate.msn.com/id/2107012

[20] “Military Tribunals for Suspected Terrorists Raise Question of Justice Versus Rights” by Anna Gawel, http://www.washdiplomat.com/02-01/a4_01_02.html

[21] See The Wall Street Journal, January 29, 2003, “Miami’s Little Havana Finds New Foe in Venezuelan Leader”, by José de Córdoba.

[22] The Cuban American National Foundation, known for its history of terrorist attacks and assassination attempts against the Cuban Government is heavily financed by the National Endowment for Democracy and USAID.