Washington’s New Imperial Strategy In Venezuela

First used in Serbia in 2000, Washington has now perfected a new imperial strategy to maintain its supremacy around the globe. Whereas military invasions and installing dictatorships have traditionally been the way to control foreign populations and keep them out of the way of business, the U.S. government has now developed a new strategy that is not so messy or brutal, and much sleeker; so sleek, in fact, that it’s almost invisible.

First used in Serbia in 2000, Washington has now perfected a new imperial strategy to maintain its supremacy around the globe. Whereas military invasions and installing dictatorships have traditionally been the way to control foreign populations and keep them out of the way of business, the U.S. government has now developed a new strategy that is not so messy or brutal, and much sleeker; so sleek, in fact, that it’s almost invisible.

It was so invisible in Serbia that no one seemed to notice in 2000 when a regime was toppled, the country was opened to massive privatization, and huge public-sector industries, businesses, and natural resources fell into the hands of U.S. and multinational corporations. Likewise, few have noticed as countries in the former Soviet-bloc have recently been victims of the same strategy, with the exact same results.

Nations that do not give in to the demands of the empire and the expansion of global capitalism are targeted by an undercover, well-designed plan to change the political situation in the country, and open it up to corporate investors. U.S.-supported groups inside the country overthrow the president, making it seem like there is no outside intervention. And now, Washington has turned toward its new biggest threat: Latin America, and more specifically, Venezuela.

The Rise of the New World Order

During the second half of the twentieth century, capitalists in the first world began to saturate domestic opportunities for investment and growth. Big business reached a point where possibilities for expansion within national borders were mostly exhausted, and the only option for growth was to look for new opportunities abroad. Growing corporate conglomerates looked to expand their operations throughout the world, investing, privatizing, and buying up everything they could get their hands on. National capital was looking to go international, and by the end of the century, capitalism had become truly global.

"Get big, or get eaten," was their new philosophy, and they decided to get big by eating whole nations. With the help of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, economies everywhere were opened up to privatization. The phone systems, electrical grids, water systems, and natural resources were bought up by wealthy capitalists in countries around the world. Free-market capitalism now ruled the day; a paradise for international capital as the world’s wealth became more and more concentrated in their hands.[1]

Some nations, however, were determined to not be eaten. Privatization was an unpopular idea among populations that had developed the crazy idea that their natural resources belonged to them, and not foreign corporations. Resistance developed in several areas of the world, and some nations would not consent to the logic of global capitalism. Washington, however, was determined to open the world up to corporate expansion. They would oblige those countries that didn’t comply, either by force or by cunning.

The Case of Yugoslavia: A Model for Regime Change

It was in Yugoslavia, and more specifically, in Serbia, where Washington’s new strategy would really take shape for the first time. From here they would carry it on to other countries in an attempt to repeat the tremendous success of the Serbian experience. And it’s not hard to see why. After the toppling of the Milosevic regime allowed for mass privatization, all that remained of the formerly socialist country, including some of Europe’s largest reserves of natural resources, soon fell into the hands of U.S. and international investors.

The strategy is a sophisticated one. With the intention of ousting an undesirable regime, the U.S. government dedicates itself to strengthening and uniting opposition to the government. This includes funding opposition political parties, and creating non-governmental organizations dedicated to toppling the regime in power. On top of this, the U.S. might contract political consultants and polling agencies to help their favored candidate win at the ballot box. But in the event they cannot win the election, fake polls cast doubt on the official electoral results, and the opposition claims fraud. Massive protests and media attention put pressure on the regime to step down, or to give in to opposition demands.[2]

As implausible as it might sound, it was exactly this strategy that toppled Slobodan Milosevic in Serbia in 2000. After the war in Kosovo and NATO bombing had failed to produce regime change, the United States worked to strengthen Milosevic’s internal opponents by uniting them behind one candidate, Vojislav Kostunica, and pumping about $40 million into his election campaign.[3] U.S.-funded NGO’s and electoral consultants helped create a propaganda campaign surrounding the elections, and worked behind the scenes to help organize mass resistance to the Milosevic regime.[4] U.S.-trained “election helpers” were deployed around the country on election day to monitor results. The U.S. even provided young activists with thousands of cans of spray paint and campaign stickers to cover the country with anti-Milosevic slogans.[5]

According to official results of the first round elections, neither candidate had won a majority of the vote, and so it would require a second round run-off.  But U.S. consultants published their own “exit polls,” giving Kostunica a huge victory and Milosevic refused to recognize them.[6] The opposition claimed fraud and U.S.-backed groups staged acts of non-violent resistance to put pressure on the government. Armed groups stormed the Federal Assembly and the state television headquarters.[7] Massive protests and rebellion forced Milosevic to step down. There would be no second round election, and Washington’s candidate Vojislav Kostunica took power. The strategy had worked.

But why had the U.S. targeted Serbia, and, even more specifically, the small province of Kosovo? The answer goes back to the Reagan administration and a 1984 secret document on “US Policy towards Yugoslavia.” A censored version was revealed in 1990, advocating “expanded efforts to promote a ‘quiet revolution’ to overthrow Communist government and parties.”[8]

The US government had worked on dismantling and dividing socialist Yugoslavia for years, supporting any and all independence movements within the individual provinces, including the 1999 military intervention to help the province of Kosovo break away. What was once a relative economic success under the famous Josip Tito, the socialist economy, based on socially-owned, worker-controlled companies, did not allow for foreign investment or US capital. This was a mortal sin in modern global capitalism. As Michael Parenti put it:

“Yugoslavia was the only country in Eastern Europe that would not dismantle its welfare state and public sector economy.  It was the only one that did not beg for entry into NATO.  It was – and what's left of it, still is – charting an independent course not in keeping with the New World Order.”[9]

Breaking up the country into smaller, dependent states and destroying their public-sector economy was the ultimate goal, and Milosevic, an admirer of socialist Tito, was the only thing standing in their way.

The rewards for their work were substantial. Once Milosevic was gone, one of the first actions taken by the new government was to repeal the 1997 privatization law and allow 70% of a company to be sold to foreign investors.[10] In 2004 the UN Mission in Kosovo announced the privatization of 500 enterprises, and U.S. corporations were the big winners. Phillip Morris bought up a $580 million tobacco factory, U.S. Steel got a $250 million deal on a steel producer, Coca-Cola grabbed a bottled water producer for $21 million, and the list goes on.[11]

In addition, western investors now had access to what the New York Times called the “war’s glittering prize,” the second largest coal reserves in Europe and large reserves of lead, zinc, gold, silver, and, even petroleum.[12] And the real gem was located in the province of Kosovo; the huge Trepca mine complex, valued at over $5 billion, now open to the highest bidder.[13]

The success of the strategy in Serbia was an important lesson for the Washington policy makers. They would repeat it several more times throughout Eastern Europe in places like Georgia (2003), the Ukraine (2004), Kyrgyzstan (2005), and Belarus (unsuccessfully in 2001). In what became known as the “Color Revolutions,” each U.S.-aided movement would remove a regime in exchange for one more favorable to the “free-market” policies promoted by Washington.[14] The preferred strategy for regime change became this new sort of non-violent resistance, and now the empire turned its gaze on South America, where a new threat to global capitalism had suddenly emerged.

The Problem of Venezuela

If the Trepca mine in Kosovo was the jackpot of the Serbian intervention, in Venezuela it is the state-owned oil company, PDVSA. Venezuela has some of the largest oil reserves in the world, possibly passing Saudi Arabia in total reserves if all extra-heavy crude deposits are included. And it is PDVSA that dominates in Venezuela with a total monopoly over the nation’s oil resources. With a production capacity of 3.3 billion barrels per day, and a $65 billion yearly revenue, the company also possesses a network of more than 13,000 gas stations in the United States, including several refineries in both the U.S. and Europe, making it the second largest company in all of Latin America.[15]

You can be sure that corporate investors would love to get their hands on PDVSA, along with other public sector companies in Venezuela. In fact, they were doing just that throughout the 1990’s.  By 1998, multinational corporations had already bought up the national phone company, the largest electricity company, and PDVSA was going through what they called an “opening” to international capital; a prettier way of saying privatization.[16]

But that same year, Hugo Chavez was elected president on an anti-imperialist platform, and the auctioning-off of Venezuela came to an abrupt halt. In fact, Hugo Chavez has become a real problem for the corporate imperialists and their servants in Washington. Not only has he stopped privatization, but he is reversing it by re-nationalizing all that was once privatized. The privatization of the state oil company is now prohibited by law, and his government has taken complete control of it, using it to finance the country’s development.

But what is even more worrying for Washington and their corporate sponsors is how this trend is spreading through Latin America. The Chavez government has built close ties to many of his neighbors, and many are following in his footsteps. Countries like Bolivia and Ecuador are taking greater control of their gas and oil reserves, leaving less room for the huge corporations that hoped to one day own them.

And so, just as they did in Serbia, Georgia, Ukraine and others, Washington has deployed its forces in Venezuela with the intention of getting rid of the Chavez menace. After trying many things over the years, including a short-lived coup, electoral manipulation, and mass protests, Washington has not been able to topple the popular leader. But they haven’t given up.  To the contrary, they’ve actually just continued to increase their level of involvement.

Repeating the East European experience in Venezuela

The new imperial strategy includes something called “American Corners.” These “corners” are small offices set up by Washington throughout the target country that basically serve as mini-embassies. It is not completely clear what exactly these “corners” do, but inside you will find an array of information about the United States, including study abroad opportunities, English classes, and pro-U.S. propaganda. On top of this, the mini-embassies also organize events, trainings, and lectures for young students.

Interestingly, they seem to be very abundant in countries that Washington seeks to destabilize. The former Yugoslav countries have a total of 22 American Corners, including 7 in Serbia. The Ukraine has 24, Belarus 11, Russia 30, even Iraq, with 11. By far the highest concentration of the “corners” is in Eastern Europe, where Washington has focused its destabilization efforts in recent years.[17]

There are at least 4 “American Corners” in Venezuela, the most for any Latin American country, and the U.S. also finances literally hundreds of organizations throughout the country, to the tune of more than $5 million a year.[18] Together, these U.S.-funded organizations are working to implant the Eastern European experience in Venezuela. As reported by Reuters, the Venezuelan opposition is already learning the Serbian tactics to overthrow a regime from a retired U.S. army colonel named Robert Helvey.

“Helvey, who has taught young activists in Myanmar and Serbian students who helped topple the former Yugoslav leader Slobodan Milosevic in 2000, is giving courses on non-violent opposition tactics this week at an east Caracas university,” said the article. “Neither Helvey nor the organizers of the Caracas seminar would give details of exactly what opposition tactics were being taught. But in his work in Serbia before Milosevic’s fall, Helvey briefed students on ways to organize a strike and on how to undermine the authority of a dictatorial regime,” reported Reuters.[19]

And more recently, in the university city of Mérida, history professor from Texas, Neil Foley, hosted an event sponsored by the U.S. embassy and the Venezuelan-American Center (Cevam), not an official “American Corner” but serving the same purpose. Foley, who has also spoken in various “American Corners” in Serbia, gave speeches in both Bolivia and Venezuela on “American values.”[20]

I attended one of Foley’s speeches and, as expected, it was a complete pro-U.S. propaganda campaign imposed upon the university students. The professor gave exactly the message that the U.S. Embassy had paid him to give, speaking wonders about American society and “American democracy.” According to Foley, the United States solves all of its problems by tolerance for others and an all-inclusive “dialogue,” between opposing parties. And sending a clear hint to the Venezuelan students, Foley implied that any government that does not live up to these standards “must be overthrown.”[21]

All of these efforts come together into a nationwide campaign to unite, strengthen, and mobilize opposition to the democratically elected Chavez government. The ultimate goal, of course, is to destabilize the government by organizing and directing opposition groups to commit acts of peaceful resistance and mass protests. Just like they did in 2002, when the Venezuelan opposition groups staged massive protests that turned violent, and eventually led to the temporary overthrow of the Chavez government, the U.S.-financed campaign seeks to destabilize the government in any way they can, perhaps provoking violence for which they will later blame the government.[22]

Now nearly every element of the strategy used in Serbia and other Eastern European countries has been implemented in Venezuela as Washington directs and controls the campaign of the Venezuelan opposition. The same “electoral consultants” that were used in Serbia, the Washington-based Penn, Schoen and Berland, have also been used in Venezuela to publish fake exit polls in an effort to cast doubt on Venezuelan elections. This strategy of electoral manipulation was used during the 2004 recall referendum when the U.S.-funded NGO Sumate and the Penn, Schoen and Berland firm released false exit polls claiming that Chavez had lost the referendum. They did the same thing before the 2006 elections, claiming that Chavez’ opponent “clearly has the momentum.”[23] Both in 2004 and 2006 the fake polls would give credence to the opposition’s claims of fraud with the hope of producing massive protests against the government. The strategy mostly failed, but it did cast doubt on the legitimacy of the Chavez government and weakened its image internationally.

The destabilization attempts are taking form in a concrete way in the coming weeks in the form of huge anti-government protests in Caracas to reject the government’s actions against the private TV channel RCTV. Opposition groups have organized around the government decision, claiming that it steps on their “freedom of expression,” and have organized a series of large protests in the capital leading up to a massive march on May 27th, the day RCTV’s broadcast license expires.

All the private media have played a role in advertising and calling on viewers to attend the march to protest the government.  All expectations are that there will be a huge turnout by both pro-government and anti-government groups, and the government has already warned of the possibility that violence could be used during the march in an attempt to blame the government and destabilize the regime. In the last few days, government intelligence found five sniper rifles in the hands of opposition groups as well as 144 Molotov cocktails in what appears to be evidence that there are plans for some sort of violence.[24]

It was exactly this kind of protest in 2002 that led to dozens of deaths, hundreds wounded, and the temporary overthrow of the Chavez government. Private media channels like RCTV manipulated video footage to blame deaths on Chavez supporters, and condemned the government for human rights abuses. So this time government officials have called on pro-government activists to monitor the opposition protests with photos and video on May 27th and May 28th in order to avoid a situation similar to the 2002 coup.

If it had not been for huge pro-government protests after Chavez had been overthrown in 2002, Washington’s strategy might have already gotten rid of the popular president. But the strategy failed, and so the empire keeps trying. Just as they did in the Ukraine, Serbia, Georgia and others, the strategy requires getting a large number of people into the streets to protest against the government. Regardless of whether the government is popularly-supported or not, or democratically-elected or not, opposition groups attempt to impose their will on the government by putting on the pressure.

What most protesters probably do not know is that they are simply pawns in a larger strategy to open up the world to “free-market” global capitalism and corporate-dominated privatizations.  While huge multinational corporations carve up the world among themselves, small nations like Serbia and Venezuela are simply unfortunate obstacles to their objectives. In the worldwide scramble to see who will get bigger and who will get eaten, the fact that some countries would prefer not to be eaten simply doesn’t matter to the bureaucrats in Washington.

[1] To read more about how the World Bank and IMF force privatization on poor countries, Third World Traveler has a large section devoted to the topic. http://www.thirdworldtraveler.com/IMF_WB/IMF_WB.html

[2] Michael Barker has a 4 part series of articles on Znet that explain this strategy in further detail. http://www.zmag.org/content/showarticle.cfm?ItemID=10987

[3] Michael A. Cohen and Maria Figueroa Küpçü, Privatizing Foreign Policy, World Policy Journal, Volume xXII, No 3, Fall 2005 http://worldpolicy.org/journal/articles/wpj05-3/cohen.html

[4] Chulia, Sreeram. Democratisation, Colour Revolutions and the Role of the NGO’s: Catalysts or Saboteurs?, Global Research, December 25, 2005, http://www.globalresearch.ca/index.php?context=viewArticle&code=20051225&articleId=1638

[5] Michael Dobbs, ‘US advice guided Milosevic opposition: political consultants helped Yugoslav opposition topple authoritarian leader’, The Washington Post, 11 December 2000, http://www.washingtonpost.com/ac2/wp-dyn?pagename=article&contentId=A18395-2000Dec3&notFound=true

[6] Ian Traynor explains how opposition “exit polls” have been strategically used to weaken or overthrow regimes in Eastern Europe in his November 2004 article in The Guardian. “US campaign behind the turmoil in Kiev,” http://www.guardian.co.uk/ukraine/story/0,15569,1360236,00.html

[7] Chris Marsden, “How the West organised Milosevic's downfall,” World Socialist Web Site, 13 October 2000,http://www.wsws.org/articles/2000/oct2000/yugo-o13_prn.shtml

[8] Finley, Brooke.  “Remembering Yugoslavia: Managed News and Weapons of Mass Destruction,” from the book Censored 2005, Project Censored, Seven Stories Press, 2004.

[9] Michael Parenti, The Media and Their Atrocities, You Are Being Lied To, pg. 53 , The Disinformation Company Ltd., 2001

[10] Neil Clark, “The Spoils of Another War – NATO’s Kosovo Privatizations,” Znet, September 21, 2004, http://www.zmag.org/content/showarticle.cfm?ItemID=6275

[11] Elise Hugus, “Eight Years After NATO’s “Humanitarian War” – Serbia’s new “third way”, Z Magazine, April 2007, Volume 20 Number 4, http://zmagsite.zmag.org/Apr2007/hugus0407.html

[12] Hedges, C., "Kosovo War's Glittering Prize Rests Underground," New York Times, 08/08/98

[13] Michel Chossudovsky, “Dismantling Former Yugoslavia, Recolonizing Bosnia-Herzegovina,” Global Research February 19, 2002, Covert Action Quarterly, Spring 1996-06-18, http://www.globalresearch.ca/index.php?context=viewArticle&code=MIC20020219&articleId=370

[14] Jonathan Mowat, “Coup d’État in Disguise: Washingtons’s New World Order “Democratization” Template,” Global Research, February 9, 2005, http://www.globalresearch.ca/articles/MOW502A.html

[16] Steve Ellner, The Politics of Privatization, NACLA Report on the Americas, 30 April 1998, http://www.hartford-hwp.com/archives/42/170.html

[17] http://veszprem.americancorner.hu/htmls/american_corners_worldwide1.html

[18] Jim McIlroy & Coral Wynter, “Eva Golinger: Washington's 'three fronts of attack' on Venezuela,” Green Left Weekly, 17 November 2006, http://www.greenleft.org.au/2006/691/35882

[19] Pascal Fletcher, ”US democracy expert teaches Venezuelan opposition,” Reuters, April 30, 2003, http://www.burmalibrary.org/TinKyi/archives/2003-05/msg00000.html

[20] On the web page of the U.S. Embassy in Bolivia it shows that Neil Foley gave a speech in La Paz, Bolivia for “U.S. Culture Week” the week before he was in Venezuela. http://www.megalink.com/USEMBLAPAZ/english/Pressrel2007En/0404-USweek-eng.pdf

[21] From my personal notes of Mr. Foley’s speech at the University of the Andes in Merida, Venezuela on April 16, 2007

[22] For the best, most detailed, account in English of the 2002 coup, read Gregory Wilpert’s recent article, “The 47-Hour Coup That Changed Everything,” www.venezuelanalysis.com/articles.php?artno=2018

[23] See my previous article “Coup d’État in Venezuela: Made in the U.S.A. – The U.S.-designed Plan to Overthrow Hugo Chavez in the Days Following the Election,” Venezuelanalysis.com, November 22, 2006 www.venezuelanalysis.com/articles.php?artno=1884

[24] President Chavez announced that his intelligence had infiltrated opposition groups and found a man belonging to an opposition group with 5 sniper rifles with silencers and scopes. “Chávez anuncia incautación armas vinculadas a complot en su contra,” Milenio.com, May 6th, 2007,  http://www.milenio.com/index.php/2007/05/05/65937/ Also, police in Los Teques, near Caracas, found 144 Molotov cocktails all ready to be used to “take them out to the street next week with the intention of disturbing the public order and for direct confrontation with authorities,” Prensa Latina, May 9, 2007, http://www.prensalatina.com.mx/article.asp?ID=%7BEEAA37C7-DE27-48EB-A23B-CDC19EAD2ADA%7D)