The crisis in Venezuela, instigated and stage-managed by the mighty interventionist clique within the Trump Administration, presents in a distilled form the neoconservative global repertoire. Its key traits are mendacity, arrogance, contempt for all legal and moral norms, bloodlust, avarice, and disregard for any rationally based understanding of the American interest.
On Tuesday morning Venezuelan opposition leader and self-proclaimed “president” Juan Guaidó called for violent overthrow of the country’s government. In a videotaped address he called on citizens and the military to help him oust President Nicolás Maduro. Surrounded by soldiers at the only military base where he garnered visible support, Guaidó announced that this was the “final phase” of the effort to end Maduro’s “usurpation” once and for all. “The moment is now.”
The immediate response to Guaidó’s Operacion Libertad was underwhelming. In the course of the day dozens of people were injured during protests in Caracas—there were no fatalities—but the number of protesters was not even remotely sufficient to threaten Maduro’s government. Contrary to the impression created by the breathless and biased non-stop media coverage, the violence in Caracas was no worse than that seen in the streets of Paris at numerous Yellow Vests protests over the past six months. Most significantly, the armed forces remained loyal to Maduro.
By Tuesday evening the “coup” was over. In an hour-long address to the nation Maduro said his security forces had foiled an attempt by extremists to usurp power and blamed the U.S. for backing his adversaries. Maduro called Guaidó and his followers America’s “useful idiots.”
While the outcome of the day’s events was still in doubt the Trump Administration went into verbal overdrive, its uberhawk duet Pompeo-Bolton leading the way.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo—a believer in “Russian Meddling,”—said that the U.S. supports Maduro’s overthrow. “Today interim President Juan Guaido announced start of Operación Libertad,” Pompeo wrote in a tweet. “The U.S. Government fully supports the Venezuelan people in their quest for freedom and democracy. Democracy cannot be defeated.” Later in the day Pompeo told CNN that Maduro “had an airplane on the tarmac,” ready to fly to Havana, but the Russians convinced him to stay. This was a fact-free assertion. Remarkably, he also warned Maduro not to arrest Guaidó, which amounted to a tacit admission that the Operación had failed.
“Venezuelans have made clear that the current path toward democracy is irreversible,” National Security Advisor John Bolton wrote in a tweet. “Venezuela’s military has a choice: embrace democracy, protect civilians and members of the democratically-elected National Assembly, or face more man-made suffering and isolation.” Bolton specifically aimed subsequent messages at Venezuela’s defense minister, its chief justice, and the commander of the presidential guard. He urged them to help the transfer of power from Maduro to “interim president Juan Guaido.” “Your time is up,” Bolton tweeted in the resolute tone of a Reichskommissar. “This is your last chance. Accept Interim President Guaido’s amnesty, protect the Constitution, and remove Maduro, and we will take you off our sanctions list. Stay with Maduro, and go down with the ship.”
Somewhat less exuberantly, President Trump used the occasion to threaten Cuba over its support of Maduro and tweeted that the U.S. “stands with the People of Venezuela and their Freedom!” Not to be left behind, Vice President Mike Pence tweeted, “Estamos con ustedes! We are with you! America will stand with you until freedom & democracy are restored. Vayan con dios! #FreeVenezuela.”
Presumably these statements did not fall into the category of “meddling” or “interference,” but merely reflected America’s unique role as the upholder of freedom, democracy, and protection of civilians anywhere in the world. This exceptional call of history explains the curious fact that the same Democrats and Republicans who go into veritable paroxysms of rage over “Russian meddling” and “interference” now demand U.S. “action” to remove Maduro. Marco Rubio thus urged Venezuelan citizens and military officers from his Florida redoubt to “write history in the hours & days ahead”: “Today their can be no bystanders in #Venezuela #FANB, police, judicial & political leaders you must either support restoring constitutional democracy or you are a supporter of Cuba’s efforts to colonize Venezuela. The choice you make will define the rest of your life.”
In the light of another day, the meaning of yesterday’s events seems clear:
Guaidó’s “final phase” pronunciamiento smacked of desperation. More than three months after he proclaimed himself president he was going nowhere. The military did not turn, CIA offers of bribes notwithstanding. The “people” remained notably aloof to Guaidó’s pretensions. A throw of dice was needed to revive the regime change project, and he was instructed to act accordingly.
Thus far Maduro has declined, wisely, to act against Guaidó, but now his hand will be forced. He faces two unpleasant choices: either arrest Guaidó and cross Bolton’s pointedly announced red line, or not arrest him and appear weak and irresolute. My hunch is that Maduro will opt for the former. Tuesday’s events have shown that he can take action without fear of massive disorder in the streets, without which Bolton’s warnings do not have much weight.
Maduro’s government is guilty of gross economic mismanagement, but he was able to assure a critical mass of his countrymen that Venezuela’s problems are mainly due to U.S. sanctions. The notion that masses of angry people will overthrow their government because of sanctions has never worked—not in Cuba over the decades, or in Iraq between Gulf Wars I and II, or in Iran since 1979 (with the expansion in 1987, 1995 and 2018).
Bolpeo et al are disappointed that the violence in Caracas on April 30 fell short of their expectations. They may resort to a false flag operation to justify intended escalation. This may require arranging for shots to be fired into a crowd from rooftops—like they were fired at the Maidan in February 2014—and blaming Maduro’s “butchers,” or else killing Guaidó, thus turning a disappointing asset into a martyr . . . and duly Hitlerizing Maduro.
Whichever scenario unfolds in the days and weeks to come, one thing is certain: the war party in the U.S. will not give up. It has Trump completely boxed in. His campaign pledge that there would be no more regime change operations now seems as quaint as George W. Bush’s 2000 campaign call for a foreign policy that would be strong but “humble.”
Nolite confidere in principibus . . .
Dr. Srdja Trifkovic, foreign affairs editor of Chronicles, is the author of The Sword of the Prophet and Defeating Jihad.