The Coming War on Venezuela

A book review of Bush vs Chavez by Eva Golinger. Golinger continues the diabolical narrative of her previous book, this time relying
less on FOIA requests than on a series of other key documents
and bits of testimony gleaned from anonymous sources.

By George Cicariello-Maher - CounterPunch
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More than a year ago, I attended the
official book release for the Venezuelan edition of Eva Golinger's
Bush Versus Chávez, published by Monte Avila, and
the book had previously been printed in Cuba by Editorial José
Martí. I recount this to make the following point: long
before the publication of Bush Versus Chávez in
the current English-language edition, the book was already a
crucial contribution to international debates regarding United
States' efforts to destroy Venezuela's Bolivarian Revolution.

In choosing to publish the
English edition of the book, Monthly Review Press has opened
that debate to an entirely new audience, and for this we should
be grateful. Furthermore, in an effort to streamline production,
Monthly Review has further made the appendices to Bush Versus
Chávez
, largely composed of declassified or leaked
documents, available publicly on its website, at the address:
http://monthlyreview.org/bushvchavez.htm.

A New Toolbox

Golinger, a U.S.-born lawyer
who has recently taken up full-time residence in Venezuela (and
Venezuelan citizenship), first shot to prominence with her 2005
book The Chávez Code: Cracking U.S. Intervention in
Venezuela
. There, Golinger drew on a multitude of documents
requested via the Freedom Of Information Act (FOIA) to thoroughly
and convincingly document the role of the U.S. government in
funding and sponsoring those Venezuelan opposition groups that
participated in the undemocratic and illegal overthrow of Chávez
in April 2002, most of which also signed the interim government's
Carmona Decree which dissolved all constitutionally-sanctioned
branches of Venezuelan power. All this against Condoleezza Rice's
recent claim, patently preposterous, that "we've always
had a good relationship with Venezuela."

In Bush Versus Chávez,
Golinger continues this diabolical narrative, this time relying
less on FOIA requests than on a series of other key documents
and bits of testimony gleaned from anonymous sources. After the
failed 2002 coup, Golinger documents how the United States changed
its tack slightly, drawing upon the variety of experiences gained
in the military overthrow of Salvador Allende in Chile and the
electoral overthrow of the Nicaraguan Sandinistas. While it would
be easy to say that this represented a "Nicaraguanization"
of U.S. policy in the aftermath of the botched coup, in reality
this new policy draws equally heavily on the many other elements
that constituted the multifaceted war against Allende, and hence
the thesis of the "Chileanization" of Venezuela remains
all-too-relevant.

The key institutional devices
deployed by the U.S. in its covert support for the coup remained
the same in its aftermath: the neoconservative National Endowment
for Democracy (NED) and the U.S. Agency for International Development
(USAID), both convenient mechanisms for bypassing Congressional
oversight. What was new on this front, as Golinger demonstrates,
was the establishment by USAID in the months following the coup
of a sinister-sounding Office of Transition Affairs (OTI). Both
the NED and USAID (via the OTI) immediately began to shift strategies,
providing covert support for the opposition-led bosses lockout
of the oil industry which crippled the Venezuelan economy for
two months in late 2002 and early 2003, and when this failed,
by providing direct support for efforts to unseat Chávez
electorally (a là Nicaragua) in a 2004 recall referendum
spearheaded by opposition "civil society" organization
Súmate. Needless to say, doing so entailed continuing
to support those very same organizations who had proven their
anti-democratic credentials in 2002, but such things are hardly
scandalous these days.

Through the popular and military
support enjoyed by the Chávez government, all these efforts
failed, which is unprecedented in and of itself. In response
to the emptying of its traditional toolbox, the U.S. government
has been forced to diversify its tactics even more drastically
than ever before, and this is where Bush Versus Chávez
comes in.

Domestic
Continuity

In her analysis of contemporary
U.S. strategies to unseat Chávez, Golinger speaks of three
broad fronts: the financial, the diplomatic, and the military
(43-48). But we should be extremely wary of distinguishing too
cleanly between such tightly-interwoven categories: the "financial
front" remains largely in the hands of the NED and USAID,
agencies directly controlled by the U.S. government and the embassy
in Caracas, funding the domestic side of the equation through
support for destabilizing opposition organizations and even psychological
operations (psyops) targeting the Venezuelan press and military.

Since 2004, the NED and USAID
have seen massive budgets earmarked for activities in Venezuela:
currently, some $3 million for the former and $7.2 million for
the latter's OTI operation (77). Of the NED funds, most went
to the very same groups that participated in the 2002 coup, the
2003-4 oil lockout, and the 2004 recall referendum. Súmate,
which headed up the recall effort, and whose spokesperson and
Bush confidant Maria Corina Machado had signed the Carmona Decree,
was granted more than $107,000 in 2005 alone. Súmate,
to which Golinger devotes a chapter, had also received $84,000
in 2003 from USAID and $53,000 in 2003 and $107,000 in 2004 from
the NED, as well as an inexplicable $300,000 from the U.S. Department
of Health and Human Services (90). All of which demonstrates,
for Golinger, that "Súmate is and continues to be
Washington's main player in Venezuela" (91).

While USAID's funding structure
has become more secretive, a turn that Golinger deems illegal,
one project in particular has been publicly discussed: the establishment
of "American Corners" throughout Venezuela, institutions
which even the U.S. Embassy deem "satellite consulates"
(145). Aside from the patent illegality of such underground U.S.
institutions, Golinger points out that their primary function
is the distribution of pro-U.S. propaganda to the Venezuelan
population.

Perhaps most frightening on
the domestic front is the strategic transformation that such
U.S. funding has undergone. Specifically, such funding has increasingly
begun to target what had previously been considered core Chavista
constituencies, such as the nation's Afro and Indigenous populations
(77-78). What Golinger doesn't emphasize is the fact that this
has occurred alongside a concerted effort by opposition political
parties, notably the NED-funded Primero Justicia, to penetrate
the poorest and most dangerous Venezuelan barrios, like
Petare in eastern Caracas.

While this domestic element
has remained shockingly continuous, with the U.S. continuing
to directly fund the groups involved in Chávez's 2002
overthrow, the military and diplomatic fronts are where Golinger
reveals some veritably frightening new developments.

Asymmetrical
Aggression

Perhaps the most intriguing
and frightening revelation in Bush Versus Chávez
surrounds a 2001 NATO exercise carried out in Spain under the
title "Plan Balboa." Here we should bear in mind the
open support provided by then Popular Party Prime Minister José
Maria Aznar for the brief coup against Chávez. And while
we might be struck by the irony of naming a NATO operation after
the Spanish conquistador who invaded Panama, the name is far
more accurate than we might initially believe.

Plan Balboa was, in fact, a
mock invasion plan for taking over the oil-rich Zulia State in
western Venezuela. In thinly veiled code-names (whose coded nature
is undermined by the satellite imagery showing the nations involved),
it entailed a "Blue" country (the U.S.) launching an
invasion of the "Black" zone (Zulia) of a "Brown"
country (Venezuela), from a large base in a "Cyan"
country (Howard Air Force Base, in Panama) with the support of
an allied "White" country (Colombia) (95-98). The fact
that a trial-run invasion was carried out less than 11 months
before the 2002 coup against Chávez
should further
convince us that this was mere contingency planning.

But Plan Balboa would be only
the beginning, and Golinger deftly documents a series of increasingly
overt military maneuvers carried out in recent years by the U.S.
government in an effort to intimidate the Chávez government
while preparing for any necessary action. Here, Golinger rightly
trains her sights on the small Dutch Antillean island of Curaçao,
which she deems the U.S.'s "third frontier." Curaçao
hosts what is nominally a small U.S. Forward Operating Location
(FOL) as well as, not coincidentally, a refinery owned by Venezuelan
national oil company PDVSA. Furthermore, it sits fewer than 40
miles off Venezuela's coast, and more specifically, off the coast
of the oil-rich "Black Zone" of Plan Balboa that is
Zulia State.

Until February 2005, Curaçao
probably seemed to be of little concern to Venezuelan security,
given that its FOL housed only 200 U.S. troops. But this all
changed when the U.S.S. Saipan made its unannounced arrival.
The United States' premier landing craft for invasion forces,
the Saipan arrived in Curaçao with more than 1,400
marines and 35 helicopters on board (104). When the Venezuelan
government responded to the hostile gesture, U.S. Ambassador
William Brownfield claimed there had been a "lack of communication,"
while simultaneously declaring that "it is our desire to
have more visits by ships to Curaçao and Aruba [only 15
miles off the Venezuelan coast] in the coming weeks, months,
and years" (105).

This veiled threat would come
to fruition with Operation Partnership of the Americas in April
2006. In that instance, which dwarfed the Saipan's visit,
the aircraft carrier U.S.S. George Washington arrived
in Curaçao with three warships. The total strength of
the force was of 85 fighter planes and more than 6,500 marines
(106). Were this not worrying enough, then-intelligence chief
and Latin American Cold Warrior par excellence John Negroponte
admitted around the same time that the U.S. had deployed a nuclear
sub to intercept communications off the Venezuelan coast (100).
When we factor in the Curaçao-based Operation Joint Caribbean
Lion, carried out in June 2006 with the goal of capturing the
mock-terrorist rebel leader "Hugo Le Grand," there
can remain little doubt that at the very least, the United States
is keen to prepare for the possibility of a direct invasion of
Venezuelan territory.

Of Terror
and Dictators

But, one might ask, what are
the chances that the U.S. would actually invade Venezuela,
given the predictably harsh international rebuke that such an
invasion would earn? It is here that another aspect, what Golinger
loosely characterizes the "diplomatic front," comes
into play, and it is here that U.S. policies and strategies have
seen the most striking innovations.

Here Golinger cites a document
by retired U.S. Army Colonel Max G. Manwaring published by the
Army's Institute for Strategic Studies in 2005 (112). This document
represents above all an inversion of strategies applied
to Venezuela, and one which drastically complicates the military
picture: Manwaring advocates appropriating the concept of "asymmetrical
warfare" that many guerrillas and rebel movements have historically
used with success against the United States, and converting it
into an explicit U.S. strategy. Somewhat bizarrely, Manwaring
compares this employment of asymmetric warfare to the "Wizard's
Chess" of Harry Potter, deeming Chávez a "true
and wise enemy" who must be dealt with by a panoply of maneuvers
on all levels (112-113. Central to this strategy is the deployment
of psychological operations (psyops), which had been previously
focused on the Venezuelan press (toward the objective of justifying
a coup or electoral removal of Chávez) to the international
and diplomatic arena (toward what one could presume to be an
objective of direct or indirect military action).

While domestic psyops have
continued, notably in the 2005 deployment of "Gypsy"
(JPOSE, Joint Psychological Operations Support Element) teams
to Venezuela with the objective of spreading propaganda among
the Venezuelan military and keeping tabs on radical Chavista
organizations (117), much of their focus has been the spreading
of news stories in the international arena. These stories, as
Golinger astutely documents, tend to follow "three major
lines of attack":

1.) Chávez is an anti-democratic
dictator
2.) Chávez is a destabilizing force in the region
3.) Chávez harbors and supports terrorism (125).

Even the briefest of glances
at any mainstream newspaper in the United States, or many other
countries for that matter, will show to what degree this mediatically-constructed
image has been a success.

New Strategies
Unfold

This international effort to
discredit the Chávez regime, thereby clearing the way
for future intervention, brings us to a series of recent events
that have transpired since Golinger first published Bush Versus
Chávez
.

The first was the sudden rebirth
of the Venezuelan "student movement" in early 2007,
nominally in response to the non-renewal of the broadcasting
license for opposition television station RCTV. I have documented
elsewhere the fact that this "student movement" was
by and large supported if not directed by the traditional opposition
parties, but what is more relevant here is that the strategies
and even imagery of the movement were adapted directly from those
used in countries such as Serbia and the Ukraine. These strategies,
consisting largely of "non-violent" direct action,
have been formulated and disseminated through institutions such
as the Albert Einstein Institution which, in an irony of ironies,
Golinger shows to be directly supported by the State Department
(135), and linked to prior attempts to train Colombian paramilitaries
to assassinate President Chávez (136-137).

Here again we have an inversion,
in which the U.S. government has adopted the very strategies
that had previously been deployed against it, and in this case
the audience was international: the foreign press was so eager
to show a violent repression of the students that it exaggerated
the response of the largely unarmed police and, in an infamous
incident, transformed an armed attack by opposition students
against Chavistas at the Central University into just the opposite.
The objective? To discredit and isolate the Chávez regime
internationally, clearing the way for more directly offensive
action.

Secondly, we have seen a concrete
example of such offensive action in Colombia's recent illegal
cross-border raid into Ecuador. The particular players involved
should not distract our attention: this was a test-run, both
militarily and diplomatically, for future U.S. interventions
in the region. With Colombia standing in as proxy for the U.S.
and the more recently-established Correa government standing
in as proxy for the Chávez government, this was above
all a test of the international response.

While that response was overwhelming
in Latin America, with the OAS and even right-leaning governments
condemning the Colombian raid as a violation of sovereignty,
the U.S.'s international psyops campaign seems to have been overwhelmingly
effective within its own borders. Rather than being presented
as an instance of Colombian aggression, the initial raid was
immediately erased from the picture in much of the international
press, with the focus being diverted to what was perceived as
Venezuela's bellicose response. But such a response was a strategic
necessity aimed at discouraging any possible future intervention.

Furthermore, the revelations
gleaned from the FARC's magic laptop, which allegedly implicate
Chávez himself in funding the FARC (a charge which Colombia,
not coincidentally, eventually decided not to pursue),
are also drawn straight from the playbook of Plan Balboa, which
was premised upon the threat posed by an alliance between the
radical sectors of the "Brown" and "White"
countries. The U.S. seems to be preparing to put that plan into
motion with its recent legal gestures toward declaring Venezuela
a supporter of terrorism, and given recent evidence of a massive
influx of Colombian paramilitaries into the "Black Zone"
of western Venezuela, the danger that Plan Balboa might become
a reality should not be underestimated.

What would be the international
response to such an incursion? Here there is little ground for
optimism. After all, during the 2002 coup against Chávez,
that bastion of the American left celebrated the maneuver, declaring
that "Venezuelan democracy is no longer threatened by a
would-be dictator." And all this before the concerted psyops
campaign deployed against the Venezuelan government in recent
years. Now, one democratic candidate spurns facts to declare
Chávez a "dictator" while the other, eager to
demonstrate his leftist credentials, deems the massively-popular
Venezuelan leader a "despotic oil tyrant," and is promptly
pilloried for his soft line.

George Ciccariello-Maher
is a Ph.D candidate
in political theory at U.C. Berkeley, who is currently writing
a people's history of the Bolivarian Revolution. He can be reached
at gjcm(at)berkeley.edu.