During the 1980s, the U.S. Government was heavily involved in Nicaragua. More than $100 million was invested into removing the Sandinistas from power, first through armed struggle and later through electoral intervention. The National Endowment for Democracy, the U.S. Agency for International Development and the Central Intelligence Agency shared terrain in that small Central American nation and these entities applied a series of methodologies that had been successful in prior interventions in Chile, the Philippines and Panama, to name a few.
A glance at some of the tactics applied in Nicaragua, Chile, the Philippines and Panama caught my attention. Reading through the history of these struggles and forced regime changes all too often seemed like reading contemporary Venezuelan affairs. For example, in Nicaragua in the late 1980s, the U.S. applied a strategy known as “Chileanization”, which was successfully utilized in Chile against Allende and involved organizing internal right-wing forces to destabilize an elected government. This concept ensured that as opposition forces incited violent confrontations with the government, international scandals and reactions would form over “Sandinista Crackdowns”, the nation would spiral into civil disorder and instability and the government would be labeled a “human rights violator” or international pariah.
Sound familiar? Those following Venezuela events might remember the date February 27, 2004, when the infamous “Guarimba” was launched. The “Guarimba”, a plan allegedly formed by opposition guru Robert Alonso, intended for right-wing forces to engage in widespread civil disobedience and violence in the streets of Caracas and other metropolitan areas, provoking repressive reactions from State forces that would then justify cries of human rights violations and lack of constitutional order. The “Guarimba” lasted from February 27 to March 1, 2004, and during that period, numerous Venezuelan citizens were injured and arrested for violations of law. The opposition-controlled media in Venezuela quickly broadcast to the world a prepared version of events that cited the government as the “repressor” and continues to date to portray claims of those arrested during that period for breaking the law as “victims of torture and unlawful arrest.”
The “Guarimba” was no new invention of Mr. Alonso, it was an old school spook tactic given a new name. Yet in many instances, the intervention model doesn’t even go so far as to change its name. For example, the U.S. financed and created “democratic opposition” movements in Chile, the Philippines, Panama, Nicaragua and Haiti, that all carried similar names and characteristics. In Panama, the opposition coalition group was known as the “Civil Crusade” and was a loose anti-Noriega coalition of conservative Panamanian and business groups. In Nicaragua, the anti-Sandinista opposition went by the name “Coordinadora Democrática Nicaragüense” and was comprised of four conservative political parties, two trade union groupings affiliated with the AFL-CIO, and a private business organization, COSEP. Haiti’s U.S.-financed opposition to Aristide was given the name “Democratic Convergence” and again was comprised of a right-wing coalition that included business organizations, wealthier citizens and conservative parties.
In the Philippines, a “democratic opposition” dominated by moderate, pro-U.S. elites was formed to oppose Ferdinand Marcos, despite initial U.S. support for the dictator. The U.S. played a key role in polarizing the Philippine elections into two camps: the “democratic opposition”, supported by the U.S. and the “dictator”. Known later as the “Philippine Technique”, this model was again applied in Chile to remove another U.S. imposed dictator from office, Augustus Pinochet, once he no longer served U.S. interests.
In Chile, the U.S. intervention that had begun pre-Pinochet, continued throughout the brutal dictator’s seventeen-year reign. But it wasn’t until the mid-1980s that the U.S. decided it was time to finance and supports efforts to remove Pinochet. Despite a strong leftist opposition movement in Chile, the U.S. focused its energies and finances on supporting a moderate opposition and marginalizing the leftist movement. In fact, U.S. assistance, through the National Endowment for Democracy and U.S. Agency for International Development, was made contingent on the unity of the sixteen principal opposition parties in Chile. As similar in Venezuela, an unlikely grouping of political parties and social organizations was formed to serve U.S. interests and their very existence depended upon U.S. support.
It is evident today, as we witness the fall of the Coordindora Democrática (“CD”) in Venezuela (note the similarity in name), also known in press circles as the “democratic opposition”, that this coalition of unlikely partners was never a Venezuelan creation. Rather, the U.S., which has supplied the members of this coalition with more than $30 million in financing since 2001 utilizing the National Endowment for Democracy and the U.S. Agency for International Development as conduits, forced these groups to come together to create a “solid” opposition movement. Evidence shows that the establishment of the coalition was probably conditional to receiving U.S. financing and political support. From their initial formation post-coup in 2002, the members of the CD have consistently bickered and fought amongst themselves. One of the principal reasons attributed to their failure in each attempt to remove President Chávez from office (the April 2002 coup, the December 2002 crippling strike and the August 2004 referendum) has been their lack of unity and cohesion. The CD could never agree on just one candidate or party to oppose Chávez or to represent the coalition, and they were never able to come to a consensus on a political platform that could offer an alternative to the Venezuelan voting public. Their dissolution after losing the August 15th recall referendum is merely evidence of the failure of this old school U.S. tactic – it may have worked in Chile, Nicaragua, Panama, the Philippines and Haiti, but it has failed in Venezuela.
But the U.S. has many other strategies up its sleeve. Present U.S. intervention in Venezuela has been implemented in three stages, each adapting to the circumstances presented by the failure of the previous attempt to garner any success. The U.S. strategy in Venezuela has followed a textbook outline of previous interventions in Latin America. The tactics used in Venezuela are a metamorphosed version of those previously applied in Chile (1970s), Nicaragua (1980s) and Haiti (1990s), which all resulted in the ouster of democratically elected presidents, either through coup d’etats (Chile and Haiti) or heavily influenced electoral processes (Nicaragua). Within each separate stage, a similar methodology has been utilized that involves the following key strategies intended to justify the final result; removing Chávez from power:
- Isolating Chávez from the International Community
- Exploiting the tensions between government, political parties and civil society
- Exploiting the problems faced by the nation to place blame on the Chávez government
- Nurturing the opposition to Chávez to build a solid anti-Chávez movement
- Financing and politically encouraging and enabling the opposition to Chávez
- Conducting a media campaign to discredit Chávez’s image and empower the opposition
- Imposing a war psychosis on the greater population through mass media overplaying conflict scenarios
- Charging the Chávez government with human rights abuses and denouncing such alleged abuses in the international community without providing real evidence to support claims
- Attempting to associate the Chávez government with supporting terrorist groups and networks
- Discrediting and destroying the image of President Chávez
- Threatening the Chávez Administration with potential “hostile” treatment from the U.S. Government.
In the case of Venezuela, the U.S. has utilized its successful model of “democratic intervention”, which involves the funneling of funds into opposition groups and political parties and the essential political training that enables its counterparts to successfully obtain their objective. However, despite adapting to new realities in Venezuela and an unexpectedly strong populace that supports its government, the U.S. line of attack has been staved off each time it has been launched. Thus far, the three stages of intervention: the Coup, the Strike and the Referendum, have been unsuccessful, but the tactical and methodological undermining of the Chávez Administration, as outlined in the above strategies, has evolved and adapted each time to its new setting. It is without doubt that a fourth intervention will occur before President Chávez completes his term in 2006.
*Eva Golinger is a Venezuelan-American attorney based in New York. She is currently writing a book about the results of her investigation of U.S. intervention in Venezuela. See also: www.venezuelafoia.info.