Given the US failure to overthrow the Venezuelan leadership through rolling protests and people power, President Donald Trump has openly said that his administration doesn’t discard the military option to enact regime change. This is what Venezuela’s foreign minister Jorge Arreaza reminded South Africans on his five-day visit here this week.
According to Arreaza, the day before Trump announced the military option was on the table on August 8 last year, he had held a meeting with his then-secretary of state Rex Tillerson and national security adviser HR McMaster, asking them why the US doesn’t finish off Venezuelan president Nicolas Madura through a military operation. According to Arreaza, Tillerson and McMaster managed to convince Trump not to do so. Despite the realpolitik, Tillerson had embarked on a Latin American tour defending the Monroe Doctrine, calling for an oil embargo of Venezuela and hinting at a military coup.
Both policymakers have now been replaced by ultra right wing neo-conservatives - Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and National Security Adviser John Bolton - who are arguably far more extreme than their predecessors and may not stand in Trump’s way as far as orchestrating a military intervention in Venezuela. The spokesperson of the US administration has stated that the US will use all its available resources to achieve its political objective of “overthrowing” the government of Venezuela.
The strategy leading to what may become an eventual military intervention is economic warfare. The US intends to stifle the Venezuelan economy, push the society towards internal civil conflict and create the conditions for a so-called “humanitarian intervention”, which is the cover for a military coup. In order to exacerbate an economic crisis, the US has been preventing Venezuela from accessing funding sources and interfered with the country’s international trade, thereby sabotaging the purchase of food, medicines and essential goods.
The US has hampered international payment transactions and frozen the legitimate financial resources of Venezuela in banks and other financial entities. In an attempt to leverage alternative sources of funding, Venezuela has managed to secure a $5 billion (R68bn) loan from the Development Bank of China to increase its oil development. The US has also unilaterally imposed sanctions on Venezuela, targeting government officials and military staff, as well as individuals and companies identified as politically or economically related to the government.
At the same time as implementing its strategy of economic warfare, the US has financially supported its opposition allies on the ground in their violent strategy of “calle sin retorno”, or continued demonstrations in the streets. The idea was to foment chaos and violence and make the country ungovernable. The US also tried to provoke a “colour revolution” last year, but its allies were unable to produce the desired regime change.
The ultimate objective behind the regime change agenda is to destroy the Venezuelan democratic model, annihilate the peoples’ movement and regain control of the country’s immense natural wealth. Not only is Venezuela the 10th largest oil producer in the world, but it has significant deposits of gas, diamonds, gold, and copper. For successive US governments, the notion that Venezuela is no longer under US control in what it considers its “sphere of influence” has been intolerable.
Eighteen years ago the US defined its regime change strategy against Venezuela and its leader Hugo Chavez, who had taken power in 1998. The strategy led to George W Bush’s administration financing and supporting the failed coup d’etat in April 2002 against Chavez. The regime change attempts have continued since.
In 2015 they accelerated when president Barack Obama signed an executive order depicting Venezuela as “an unusual and extraordinary threat to the US national security and foreign policy”. The executive order was extended by Obama and then Trump, legalising what was an unofficial policy, executed through financial, political, media, paramilitary and diplomatic covert operations, as Wikileaks and hundreds of declassified documents of the US government has shown.
But for all the political and economic sabotage, the Venezuelan leadership has remained committed to social programmes to deliver to the poor, with ongoing plans to build more than 2 million houses, provide direct subsidies to those in need and strengthen the free education and health systems in the country.
This is not to say that the Venezuelan government has not made serious mistakes in the implementation of its agenda and the ruling party has acknowledged that it is not satisfied with the government’s efficiency and the latest election results. The ruling party congress is due to take place later this month whereby its members will be encouraged to engage in open criticism of the government’s actions and service delivery. This is all part of Chavez’s belief in self-criticism which necessitates revision, rectification, and reinvigoration of the party.