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As U.S. Moves to Oust Maduro, Is Invading Venezuela Next? Allan Nairn on Trump’s Attempted Coup

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The United States is continuing to ratchet up pressure on the Venezuelan government in an attempt to topple President Nicolás Maduro. On Tuesday, the State Department announced it is giving control of Venezuela’s U.S. bank accounts to opposition leader Juan Guaidó, who declared himself to be president last week. Meanwhile, the U.S. has also refused to rule out a military invasion of Venezuela. We spend the hour with prize-winning investigative journalist Allan Nairn.

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: The United States is continuing to ratchet up pressure on the Venezuelan government in an attempt to topple President Nicolás Maduro. On Tuesday, the State Department announced it’s giving control of Venezuela’s U.S. bank accounts to opposition leader Juan Guaidó, who declared himself president of Venezuela last week.

This came a day after the U.S. imposed a de facto embargo on oil from Venezuela’s state-run oil company, PDVSA. The new sanctions include exemptions for several U.S. firms, including Chevron and Halliburton, to allow them to continue working in Venezuela.

Meanwhile, the U.S. has also refused to rule out a military invasion of Venezuela. On Monday, national security adviser John Bolton was photographed holding a notepad on which he had written the words “5,000 troops to Colombia.”

Earlier today, Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro tweeted, quote, “People of the U.S., I ask for your support to reject the interference of Donald Trump’s government in making My Homeland a Vietnam in Latin America. Don’t Allow It!” he tweeted. President Maduro told a Russian news network Wednesday he was open to negotiating with the opposition.

Major opposition protests are planned for today. On Tuesday, the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights criticized the Venezuelan government for cracking down on earlier protests. According to the U.N., at least 40 people have been killed and 850 detained since the recent round of anti-government protests began.

On Tuesday, Vice President Mike Pence met with members of the Venezuelan opposition at the White House. Trump’s new special envoy to Venezuela, Elliott Abrams, also took part in the meetings. Elliott Abrams is a right-wing hawk who was convicted in 1991 for lying to Congress during the Iran-Contra scandal, but he was later pardoned by President George H.W. Bush. Abrams defended Guatemalan dictator General Efraín Ríos Montt as he oversaw a campaign of mass murder and torture of indigenous people in Guatemala in the 1980s. Ríos Montt was later convicted of genocide. Abrams was also linked to the 2002 coup in Venezuela that attempted to topple Hugo Chávez.

Well, today we spend the hour looking at the crisis in Venezuela and the appointment of Elliott Abrams as special envoy. We’re joined by the award-winning investigative journalist Allan Nairn, who has closely tracked Elliott Abrams’ record for over three decades. Allan Nairn is two-time winner of the George Polk Award, a recipient of the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Award for International Reporting. Allan spoke with us earlier this week from Jakarta, Indonesia. He began by talking about the significance of the appointment of Elliott Abrams.

ALLAN NAIRN: What his appointment emphasizes, re-emphasizes—it was already obvious—was that the U.S. is trying to overthrow the government of Venezuela and that it will be willing to use violence, to use military force, if necessary. That’s what Abrams, and indeed U.S. policy, has been all about.

I think their first preference would be to have a successful covert operation. Mike Pompeo, when he was in charge of the CIA, all but stated it publicly. At one point when he was speaking in Aspen at one of those gatherings of the elite, he gave the rough outlines of an operation, in coordination with U.S. allies like Colombia, to topple the Maduro government in Venezuela. And now, just recently, the night before Guaidó declared himself as the new president of Venezuela, he was on the phone with Mike Pence directly. Pence was—The Wall Street Journal broke the story. Pence was directly talking to him, and the next day he comes out and declares himself as the president of Venezuela. And now they’re asking—they’re offering incentives to Venezuelan Army officers to come over to their side and hoping that the U.S. can re-establish control of Venezuela in that manner.

But if that fails, I think there is a chance that the U.S. would consider an invasion of Venezuela. This would not be the first or even the second or third preference of the Pentagon or the CIA or the State Department. But it might be very attractive to Donald Trump, for several reasons.

In 2016, during the campaign, speaking of Iraq, Trump said, “To the victor belong the spoils. You have to go in and take the oil.” You could call this a Trump doctrine. And Venezuela has the world’s largest oil reserves. Now, very often oil is used as the explanation for the motive for U.S. invasions and foreign policy, and I think its role is usually way overblown. People give it too much weight in the analysis. But in this case, it might turn out to be very relevant, given that Trump has that doctrine and is now personally in power.

Secondly, politically, Trump needs a new war. Trump has been stuck with, for him, being in the embarrassing position of just being able to continue the old W. Bush and Obama wars. There’s a consensus among U.S. mainstream historians that no president can be great unless he has a war. They say this all the time. And Trump now, of course, is in some political difficulty.

So, for him, an action where the U.S. went into Venezuela in spectacular fashion, did it quick, in the style of the U.S. invasions of Grenada or Panama, didn’t get bogged down, but just went in, say, for a few weeks, killed without restraint, which is the doctrine Trump is now applying to U.S. forces worldwide—I mean, he’s basically told the CIA and the Pentagon, “Don’t worry about any constraints on civilian casualties that may have existed before. Do what you will.” In fact, in Afghanistan, he celebrated the dropping of what was called the mother of all bombs, this massive explosive which is the closest conventional explosive that you can get to a nuclear weapon. This was dropped in a mountainous region of Afghanistan, and Trump was crowing about it afterwards. So, a quick invasion with massive force that succeeds in toppling the Maduro government, and then where the U.S. gets out quickly, is the kind of thing that could, in theory, be attractive to Trump. And it’s also the kind of thing that, I guarantee you, would be praised to the heavens on CNN and on MSNBC. And this would be a sweet political victory for Trump.

Now, whether it’s actually possible to pull off a quick successful military invasion of Venezuela is entirely a different question, because it would face major resistance even if, you know, some of the Army had already switched sides to the U.S. side. There would be a lot of people who would want to resist it.

But it is the case that the reality in Venezuela today is very different than it has been during earlier years of the Bolivarian movement in Venezuela. The U.S. has always—and this is an important point for understanding U.S. context—the U.S. doesn’t care at all about elections. They don’t care at all about the poor. Completely fake elections are fine with them. The U.S. just, you know, not long ago, finished ratifying a fraudulent election in Honduras, where Hernández imposed himself for re-election, and he did that with the assistance of Mike Pence and others. They don’t care about the poor. They targeted Hugo Chávez and the Bolivarian movement from the beginning. In 2002, even though Chávez had, not long before, been re-elected in a clean vote, a completely clean vote—for years, the Carter Center, and other international monitors who went to Venezuela, was reporting that their electoral system was, in that era—they did a clean count. They were not rigged elections. Despite that, despite the fact that the Chávez administration was making great strides in raising living standards for the poor, starting to lower the levels of malnutrition, starting to raise the levels of general health—or maybe because of that—the U.S., in 2002, backed a coup against Chávez, that briefly removed him but was ultimately unsuccessful, because the population and much of the security forces rallied to Chávez’s side and they thwarted the U.S. effort to oust him.

Today it’s a different situation. The U.S. has been trying to undermine the Venezuelan government ever since the Chávez years, as has the Venezuelan oligarchy. In fact, not long after the brief failed coup, which was backed by the U.S., the rich of Venezuela, the business owners, went on a capital strike. They purposely shut down their businesses, and it had huge impact. They succeeded in shaving something like 27 percent off the gross domestic product of Venezuela, which is just astonishing, catastrophic, in a short time. But even that failed to topple Chávez.

But in the conditions we have today, where Maduro does not have near the popular support that Chávez did, where he’s really been running the country into the ground and has been using the fact that the U.S. is trying to undermine the government as a universal excuse for everything, for his own incompetence and corruption and brutality against protesters in the streets, this government, the Maduro government, is in a rather weak position. And it appears that the population is now becoming rather divided. For years, the opposition in Venezuela was kind of a classical rightist Latin American force, with the rich, the very rich, the oligarchs, the top businesspeople aligned with many sectors of the middle class. But now it seems that opposition has spread, and there are many poor people who are part of it. So, this means this Maduro government is rather weak and is vulnerable to being toppled. It is possible. It’s not impossible, as it was in previous years under Chávez.

But—and this is important to note—even though much of the U.S. news coverage and many of the U.S. analysts note the fact that a lot of poor people are now joining and going into the streets protesting against Maduro, there is absolutely no way that the U.S. will allow a poor people’s movement—let’s say, a new—imagine if such a thing came into being, a poor people’s movement in Venezuela that did want to oust Maduro but replace it with a new policy that was also pro-poor and sought to gain justice. There’s no way the U.S. would tolerate that. The U.S. will insist that a new opposition that comes to power be controlled by the far-right elements who represent the very rich and are willing to take instructions from Washington, as was clearly illustrated in the case of Pence and the newly proclaimed president of—self-proclaimed president of Venezuela. So, it’s a very dangerous situation right now.

And I think what the proper role for the U.S. at this moment is, one, to lift the sanctions, lift the stranglehold that is currently increasing the level of hunger. There’s a level of misery in Venezuela that was already caused by the incompetence of this government, but the U.S. has done everything it can to increase it. Just in the past few days, for example, the U.S. has been moving legally to block the Venezuelan government from using $1.2 billion worth of gold, which it has stored in London. And in doing this, they’re being backed by the opposition, by Guaidó. And this will mean less money available in Venezuela to buy basic provisions, basic supplies, food, medicine, etc. So, first, lift the stranglehold.

And secondly, disavow the invasion option, and then step back. You know, some people in the Democratic Party, for example, in the United States float the idea of the U.S. trying to facilitate, be the mediator, in finding a political solution for Venezuela. But that’s not appropriate. The U.S. has no standing to be a mediator, a disinterested third party. The U.S. is on one side. They’re on the side of the right and the rich in Venezuela who are trying to topple this government, and the U.S. is trying to overthrow the government. They can’t be a mediator. It’s somewhat comparable to Israel-Palestine, where, for years, the U.S. has claimed to be an honest broker between Israel and the Palestinians, when in fact, everyone knows—it’s self-proclaimed—the U.S. is on the side of the Israelis and against the aspirations of the Palestinians to have their legal rights under international law enforced and to regain their political sovereignty. And yet they claim to be a mediator. So the U.S. should not try to insert itself and claim to be a political mediator in Venezuela, either.

For that, you would need an outside party that has some credibility, maybe, you know, a figure like the pope or some outside countries who could play that role. A couple of years ago the pope was involved in such an effort, but he received no backing from the U.S. at the time, because they don’t really want a political solution that leads to a truly open political field where all options are available, where perhaps, you know, maybe a different government, but one that is pro-poor and anti-U.S., could gain power. You know, if you had a genuinely open political process in Venezuela, a political outcome like that is certainly not inconceivable. But the U.S. would never tolerate that.

So they’re now trying to engineer a way for the U.S. to regain control. And to do that, they’ll be willing to use violence as necessary, if necessary. And for that, Abrams is the perfect man for the job.

AMY GOODMAN: Investigative journalist Allan Nairn. We’ll be back with him after break.

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Allan Nairn: Trump’s Venezuela Envoy Elliott Abrams Is a War Criminal Who Has Abetted Genocide

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