Venezuela 2004: Nicaragua’s Contra War Revisited

The United States government is encouraging an unprecedented campaign of incitement to violence and insurrection by the opposition controlled media against the elected government. With the incursion of paramilitary forces from Colombia, the situation is beginning to resemble Washington's Contra War in Nicaragua more and more.

Another article in the continuing media campaign in Britain against Venezuela’s President Chavez again posits civil war as a possible sequel to the current recall referendum process in Venezuela. In a self-contradictory account published by the Guardian on May 25th, Miami Herald writer Sybilla Brodzinsky writes that the recall referendum “may also be the last chance to avoid a civil war, experts say.” She offers no source for the assertion, although she might easily have cited President Chavez himself who has openly referred to the possibility of civil war — as a result of foreign intervention.[1]

The insistence with which the spectre of a spontaneous civil war has been invoked lately in the less reactionary British media by writers like Rupert Cornwell in the Independent and now by Sybilla Brodzinsky in the Guardian is noteworthy. It is as though all mainstream media reporting on Venezuela have been briefed to spread anxiety about a civil war. Thus, such fears become the very prophecy the White House war-crime machine is already primed to make come true.

The way the “free press” works can be seen from a report by Martha Sanchez in the Washington Post on May 20th. She writes “State Department officials say they are talking with U.S. editorial writers, hoping to send a clear message to Chavez through the press: let the recall referendum happen or face the consequences.” Pass-the-parcel threats, accompanying misrepresentation and downright falsehood, are routine in mainstream reporting on Venezuela just as they were on Nicaragua through the 1980s. Other similarities abound.

Sybilla Brodzinsky Meets the Red Queen

That Guardian piece by Sybilla Brodzinsky is very reminiscent of the endless hatchet jobs on the Sandinista government in the 1980s. She states in the first few paragraphs “In its last chance to remove the president constitutionally, the opposition this week hopes to be able to validate more than a million signatures on a petition to trigger a recall vote against Mr Chávez.”

Ten paragraphs later she quotes an opposition leader saying that if they lose the chance for a referendum when the validation result is made public this week the opposition will focus on the elections in 2006. The Red Queen might say, “a poor kind of a last chance….” Such lapses are a constant peril for anyone writing on current affairs, but Brodzinsky also fails to mention the local elections scheduled for August this year.

One lapse is understandable. Two or three look like bespoke tailoring. The Guardian should be ashamed for allowing Brodzinsky to refer to the months-long lockout by the private business dominated Venezuelan opposition in 2002 as a “general strike.” But that misrepresentation is all of a piece with the article’s pro-opposition slant.

Imperial Sauce – Bad News for Colonial Ganders

That kind of “free press” has been one of the main tools used by all US governments in their war crimes, from the extermination of native Indians and the Spanish-American War to the present day. Cooking up fake-respectable democracy is a White House specialty. George W. Bush is stretching the process even further than his predecessors — rigged elections, Camp X-Ray, Patriot Act and all.

In Venezuela, the United States government and its representatives have encouraged an unprecedented campaign of incitement to violence and insurrection by the opposition controlled media against the elected government. Venezuela’s representative to the Organization of American States (OAS) recently denounced US Assistant Secretary of State Roger Noriega for inciting trouble. Noriega has declared that the US government will not accept a result in the recall referendum that does not lead to a recall vote.[2]

This kind of hubris seems incredible to anyone uncontaminated by US official and media narcissism. It becomes laughable when Assistant Secretary of State Lorne Cramer tries to explain the clamp-down on independent media outlet Al Jazeera in Iraq. He said, “We are extremely tolerant, but inciting violence is something else.” [3]

Venezuela has been a more democratic country than the United States since the majority rejected the bogus US-style democracy imposed for decades by the local oligarchy and elected Hugo Chavez to be their President. That attempt by the Venezuelan people at some real self-determination represents the same yearning of the poor majority for a genuine say and a better life that the US stifled in Nicaragua. US efforts to destroy that process in Venezuela continue apace.

Iran-Contra in Venezuela

The experience of the long drawn out war against Nicaragua is being brought to bear on Venezuela by the same people who led the United States to its conviction for terrorism against Nicaragua by the International Court of Justice in 1986. Powell, Cheney, Armitage, Abrams, Noriega, Rice, Maisto, all these people familiar from Ronald Reagan’s outlaw terrorist government have leading jobs in the current Bush regime. Colin Powell’s big-mailed-stick and little-withered-carrot approach was perfected in Nicaragua. What should we expect from such people as regards Venezuela?

Consummate behind the scenes perception management of mainstream international media comes high on the list along with persistent, aggressive bullying and downright lies in public statements. Intervening openly in Venezuela’s politics, the US government has provided hundreds of thousands of dollars to political opponents of the Chavez government just as they did in Nicaragua. It is hard to see how the opposition could mobilize so consistently without that direct US intervention and regular support from the US embassy in Caracas. The constant message they put out is “Chavez is a dictator endangering democracy”.

The US ignored Nicaragua’s 1984 election which the Sandinistas won with over 60% of the vote in the first free and fair election in Nicaraguan history. Now they are ignoring President Chavez’s consistently proven electoral support and his government’s introduction of the most democratic constitution in the Americas. Who would fancy the chances of George W. Bush in a recall referendum right now? It was the Chavez government who made the recall process possible in Venezuela in the first place.

Flipping Through the Contra “How to….”

Bush regime concern at alleged human rights abuses deliberately provoked by opposition violence contrasts sharply with its complacency about terrorism and violence against supporters of the Chavez regime and its toleration of anti-Chavez terrorists in the US. Not that those Florida-based terrorists are necessary. Like Nicaragua, Venezuela has a long virtually indefensible land border through terrain perfect for infiltrating Contra-style task forces. Colombia is playing the same role Honduras and Costa Rica played against Nicaragua.

They provided secure bases for Contra terrorist attacks against schools, clinics and farm cooperatives at the same time as they double-talked their way through the motions of a peace process. Now Venezuela is faced with aggression from Colombian paramilitaries indirectly or directly funded and trained by the US military and by US, British and other mercenaries working with the Colombian army.

As in the terror war against Nicaragua, allies have been been lined up through NATO and the Organization of American States. Holland has provided the US military with Forward Operating Locations in its Caribbean colonies Aruba and Curaçao. Little can be expected from the craven European Union (EU) in defense of democracy in Venezuela. The absence of meaningful measures against Israel following its serial massacres from Jenin to Rafah shows the kind of political support the EU offers victims of ruthless aggression.

For its terrorist attacks on Nicaragua the US was able to use the Ilopango air base in El Salvador, Palmerola in Honduras and Howard in Panama. Along with the bases in the Dutch Antilles, Ecuador has made available an air base near Manta, a small port within easy flying time of Colombia and Venezuela. Like Nicaragua, Venezuela is now ringed by US air bases.

Leading Man Gaviria and the OAS Traveling Troupe

The current OAS president is the Colombian Cesar Gaviria. Gaviria masterminded the CONVIVIR rural paramilitaries providing a nascent structure and training ground for the forerunners of the AUC death squads. During his presidency over 1000 representatives, officials and members of the left wing Union Patriótica were murdered by paramilitaries, convincing opposition guerrillas to abandon any ideas of adopting constitutional politics. The OAS is now helping Colombian President Uribe to legalize the paramilitaries in Colombia under cover of a “peace negotiation”, something they seem curiously unable to arrange with the left-wing opposition fighters.

Closely allied to multinational corporations, the World Bank and the IMF, Gaviria shamelessly offers himself as an honest broker in Venezuela just as Oscar Arias did in Nicaragua. The US stage management of their exercises in destabilization has become so consummate they hardly need to lift up the phone to appeal for performers. Starry-eyed hopefuls longing for General Secretaryship at the UN or a Nobel Peace Prize line up for casting.

Unwashed Extras Standing By For Their Cue

Chainsaws at the ready, the paramilitary killers too relish their chance to move into lucrative new killing fields. The “or else” of the White House is very clearly the kind of terror rampant for decades in Colombia and recently unleashed by US protégés in Haiti. That is the most likely explanation of the arrest and detention of over 80 Colombian paramilitaries and army reservists early in May near Caracas. They had been training for terrorist operations on a farm belonging to Roberto Alonso one of the more extremist of the Venezuelan opposition leaders.

Figures for pro-Chavez trades union and rural workers organizers murdered in Venezuela vary. Most estimates put the number at over 120 since 1999.[4] Much of the violence occurs in frontier areas where the Colombian army and paramilitaries are active. As well as combating Colombian guerrillas and running drugs, these paramilitaries are also involved in very profitable fuel smuggling. A typical attack on Venezuelan civilians by the Colombian army was reported on May 24th this year when a Colombian army helicopter of the 1st Mobile Brigade attacked a settlement in Ovejas in the Sucre department killing and wounding villagers.[5]

“When did you last see your father?” — AUC Chainsaw Style

Meanwhile in Colombia’s updated version of the National Security State so popular among repressive regimes supported by the US through the 1970s and 1980s, President Uribe repeats all the characteristic excesses of that model. Contempt for basic human rights is the norm. Uribe and his officials are notorious for their attacks on human rights defenders and their complacency at the murderous repression of labor unions and rural workers activists.

Right now they are negotiating with paramilitary leaders who have worked in close support of the Colombian army for many years murdering and terrorizng people and communities perceived to be opposed to the government or the interests of big landowners and foreign multinationals like BP, Repsol, Drummond, Occidental Petroleum and others. Paramilitary activity in the resource rich Arauca department intensified in May this year. In April, an attack in Bahia de Portete offered one more horrific example of paramilitary collusion with the Colombian Army whose 2nd Brigade has harassed the indigenous Wayuu people in the area for many years.

On April 18th a large group of heavily armed paramilitaries took over the town. Two children who couldn’t tell their parents’ whereabouts were burned alive. Other villagers were dismembered alive by chainsaw. Three hundred of the Wayuu escaped on foot to seek refuge in Venezuela vowing to return and fight for their land and homes.[6] It was a text book operation lifted straight from the practice of the Nicaraguan Contras.

All the conditions are well advanced for the kind of skillful destructive destabilization campaign developed in every underhand way possible at which the Bush team are so good. They will mix the usual ingredients of covert terror, overt threats, economic and diplomatic arm-twisting and every imaginable hypocrisy backed up by their country’s incomparable military might. Nicaragua lived the horror of US government “low intensity” terrorism for nearly a decade through the 1980s. Now the same individuals in this Bush regime are ready to do the same to Venezuela.

Toni Solo is an activist based in Central America. Contact: [email protected].


1) Humberto Márquez, “Chávez denuncia invasión desde Miami y Colombia,” InterPress Service, 12 May 2004.

2) “Venezuela denuncia ante la OEA la injerencia estadounidense,” 28 de mayo del 2004, www.rebelión.org.

3) Emad Mekay, “Libertad de prensa, pero no para Al Jazeera,” InterPress Service, 1 de junio de 2004, in www.rebelión.org.

4) Untitled Article by ADITAL, dated 15/08/2003, Published 19/08/2003, www.aporrea.org.

5) Report by Jhony Valetta, May 30, 2004, ANNCOL www.aporrea.org.

6) Jorge Chávez Insurgiendo, “Paramilitares exterminaron a un pueblo wayúu,” 28 de mayo del 2004, www.rebelión.org.

Source: DissidentVoice.org