Global battle lines in Venezuela
IN one of his most decisive foreign-policy moments, President Trump recognized Juan Guaidó, the president of Venezuela’s National Assembly, as the country’s interim leader. Free countries from the Western Hemisphere, Europe and beyond, including some adamant Trump critics, joined the US in support of Guaidó and against Nicolás Maduro’s crumbling socialist dictatorship.
Since Wednesday, more than 800 anti-Maduro demonstrators have been thrown into Cuba-modeled dungeons.
So the lines are drawn. As Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told the UN Security Council Saturday, every country must now pick sides: “Either you stand with the forces of freedom, or you’re in league with Maduro and his mayhem.”
But how does America help the forces of freedom win? It’s about money. And, true, the global antidemocratic club has been bolstering Maduro for a long time, while we’re fairly new to the game. Even so, Washington has the advantage.
China, for one, has offered Venezuela some $65 billion in loans. But Caracas hasn’t made much progress toward repayment, and so Beijing isn’t likely to invest further for now. Sure, China’s communist rulers express public support for Maduro, but cautious Beijing will await the outcome of the current uncertainty. PS: China isn’t looking for additional anti-US fronts.
Russia might go further. According to Reuters, Moscow is already sending paramilitary troops and contractors to Caracas. The Kremlin uses such mercenaries where it wants to be involved militarily while keeping plausible deniability, as it has in Syria and Ukraine. But while Venezuela may be yet another site to confront America, the Kremlin doesn’t see it as Russia’s hill to die on.
Cuba is most deeply involved. Throughout the Cold War, the Soviet Union financed the Castro regime in exchange for sugar cane. Needing a new sugar daddy after the Soviet collapse, Castro found Chavez. Venezuela supplied all of Cuba’s energy needs, while Havana guaranteed the regime’s survival.
It is the Cubans who train and reinforce Maduro’s notorious intelligence apparatus. Like in Cuba, the top Venezuelan army brass is getting rich through high positions in the country’s oil and other enterprises. Venezuelan generals, like their counterparts in Havana, get to profit from illicit drug and arms deals.
Such clandestine deals are aided by the Iranian regime and its Lebanese-Shiite proxy, Hezbollah. Relations between Caracas and the Mideast’s Iranian-led Shiite axis go back to the early days of Chavez’s rule.
Today the No. 3 official in the Maduro regime’s hierarchy, the Lebanese-born Tareck El Aissami, is “a bagman for Hezbollah,” says Vanessa Neumann, president of the consultancy group Asymmetrica and a leading researcher of Mideast terrorist activities in Latin America.
Hezbollah, along with the Maduro regime, funds much of its operations with the narcotics and arms trades. And that, says the Venezuela-born Neumann, could help the opposition she strongly supports. “With friends like these,” she says, “it makes it easier for us.” The opposition is making the case for the West to place Caracas on the list of terrorist-sponsoring states, leading to automatically imposed sanctions.
The American response has now gone beyond sanctions. On Thursday, soon after Guaidó was sworn in, Pompeo pledged $20 million to help him and the Assembly. That’s small change, but it’s a start.
On Monday, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin announced $7 billion in sanctions, including on government-owned oil giant PdVSA. While Venezuelan assets in the US, including oil giant Citgo, will continue to operate, profits will no longer go to Maduro’s cronies. They will be deposited instead in “blocked accounts” designed to benefit the people through the US-recognized Guaidó leadership.
Combined with similar measures by America’s global allies, the latest US move can help turn the tide in Caracas.
Democracy “never needs to be imposed. It is tyranny that needs to be imposed,” Elliott Abrams, Trump’s new point man on Venezuela, said at the UN Saturday. But while Maduro’s allies impose, America can unite the free world in isolating him economically — and win one for democracy.
by BENNY AVNI
The George W. Bush administration had its “Axis of Evil.” Now the Trump administration has coined the term “Troika of Tyranny” to describe the group of oppressive Latin American dictators it is pledging to confront. The administration is right to call out the crimes of the leaders of Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua. But it remains to be seen whether the White House can deliver a comprehensive strategy to go along with the rhetoric.
National security adviser John Bolton gave a speech Thursday afternoon at the Freedom Tower in Miami to a crowd filled with people who fled Cuba and Venezuela to escape the cruelty and oppression of the Castro and Maduro regimes. Linking those situations with the escalating repression of the Daniel Ortega government in Nicaragua, Bolton promised a new, comprehensive U.S. approach that will ramp up U.S. involvement in pushing back against what the administration sees as a leftist, anti-democratic resurgence in the region.
“This Troika of Tyranny, this triangle of terror stretching from Havana to Caracas to Managua, is the cause of immense human suffering, the impetus of enormous regional instability, and the genesis of a sordid cradle of communism in the Western Hemisphere,” Bolton said. “The United States looks forward to watching each corner of the triangle fall. . . . The Troika will crumble.”
It’s no coincidence that Bolton is in South Florida just days before the 2018 midterm elections. Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-Fla.), the son of Cuban immigrants, is defending his seat in a district that favored Hillary Clinton in 2016 by 16 points. Former journalist Maria Elvira Salazar, also born to Cuban immigrant parents, is running as a Republican against Bill Clinton administration official Donna Shalala to replace Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), who is retiring.
There’s also a neck-and-neck gubernatorial race between Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum and Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.), and while Hispanics overall favor Gillum, Cuban Americans strongly favor DeSantis.
But administration sources insist this new Latin America policy is not just to get out the vote. Once the election is over, the White House is vowing to use all the tools of national power to raise the pressure on the leaders of these three governments, especially targeting their ability to corruptly enrich themselves.
Last year, President Trump signed a presidential memorandum (NSPM-5), titled, “Strengthening the Policy of the United States Toward Cuba,” which set the broad outlines of what the larger campaign will prioritize. The policy aims not only to roll back the Obama administration’s efforts to normalize the U.S.-Cuba relationship but also to ramp up efforts to contain the regime and support those inside the country struggling for greater political, economic and religious freedom.
Experts said the test will be whether the Trump administration can maintain focus and follow through with real results after the U.S. midterm elections are over.
“It is true what they say that these are three regimes that are horrible and deserve to be treated as pariahs, but nothing has worked so far,” said former Venezuelan minister of industry and trade Moisés Naím, now a distinguished fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “Cuba has been a challenging issue for every administration since the Bay of Pigs invasion and no American president has been able to solve that puzzle. So let’s see if they have come up with a new remedy, a new strategy, a new regional approach. Right now, we don’t know.”
So far, the Trump administration’s approach to Latin America has been ad hoc. Most recently, Trump has threatened to cut off U.S. aid to Honduras, a country that cooperates extensively with the United States, unless that government stopped a “caravan” of migrants heading toward the U.S. southern border. The Trump administration’s relationship with Mexico has been contentious because of Mexico’s refusal to pay for Trump’s border wall. Trump has floated the idea of using the U.S. military to invade Venezuela, which evoked fears of past U.S. intervention in the region.
But there are positive signs that there is opportunity for a reset. The United States and Mexico have come to a new trade agreement that the incoming Mexican president — not a natural Trump ally — seems to accept. Brazil’s new president-elect has a terrible record of past statements but is someone with whom Trump might be able to do business. If the United States led a true regional approach aimed at addressing the continent’s growing humanitarian crises, most Latin American countries might be persuaded to come on board.
Absent such an approach, the deteriorating situations in Venezuela and Nicaragua are likely to create more refugees, more mass migration, more regional economic strife and, as a result, more repression, suffering and instability. Bolton’s “Troika of Tyranny” label won’t solve anything by itself. But if it’s followed up with a real strategy, it could be the beginning of what’s needed to prevent Latin America’s failing states from dragging the rest of the hemisphere down with them.
By Josh Rogin
The media and “Cuba Experts” portray Cuba as friendly neighbor who just wants to get along with the U.S. In reality, the island’s terror-sponsoring dictatorship has been and continues to be a serious threat to U.S. national security.
Southern Command alerts Congress to threats by Russia, China, Iran, Cuba and North Korea. American diplomats suffered brain injuries in Havana
- Southern Command alerts Congress to threats by Russia, China, Iran, Cuba and North Korea.
- American diplomats suffered brain injuries in Havana.
Earlier this week, Admiral Kurt W. Tidd, Commander, United States Southern Command testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee. The Admiral’s posture statement covered U.S. intelligence and security concerns for the hemisphere. In his appraisal he mentioned Russia’s increased role throughout the region, mentioning Moscow’s intelligence and cyber capabilities. The Admiral called attention to “Moscow attempts to falsely shape Latin America’s information environment through its two dedicated Spanish-language news and multi-media services, and through its influence campaigns to sway public sentiment. Expanded port and logistics access in Cuba, Nicaragua, and Venezuela provide Russia with persistent, pernicious presence, including more frequent maritime intelligence collection and visible force projection in the Western Hemisphere.”
He alerted the Committee to the dangerous alliance between Caracas and Havana. “This relationship is symbiotic, as Cuba receives oil and financial support in exchange for keeping the Maduro regime afloat,” he said.
For the full report visit the following link. Complete testimony available here.
Some experts are calling attention to recent developments in the Castro Colony of Venenozuela (a.k.a. Caracastan).
It seems that Venenozuela is preparing for war, possibly on two fronts: against Colombia and Guyana.
Such a move would — of course — follow all the guidelines of The Castro Playbook.
Castronoid General Abelardo Colome Ibarra, and other senior Cuban military officials pose with their Venezuelan pupils
Abridged from INQUISITR:
During the last few months, the Venezuelan government has been positioning troops along the border with the small South American nation of Guyana. This has raised the concern that Caracas may be intending to take the Essequibo territory through military force…
… It is hypothesized that Nicolas Maduro may use military action as a way to unite the Venezuelan people against a foreign foe. Additionally, the occupation of Guyanese soil could become a bargaining chip against the ICJ and the United States.
The fact that Guyana lacks any credible military force makes the country an optimal target for the relatively well-equipped, but logistically barren, Venezuelan military…
… It should be noted that another front has recently opened in this crisis.
Last Friday, the Venezuelan Minister of the Interior, Néstor Reverol, advanced the possibility of military action against Colombia, the Globoreports. He accused Bogotá of providing Venezuelan citizens Colombian identities and military training, which would be a reason for a military intervention. Reverol also added that the recruitment is characterized by the presence of “paramilitary personnel, partisans, and criminal bands.”
The website Poder Aéreo reported the deployment of Venezuelan F-16 fighter jets on the border with Colombia…
… As all the factors are put together, the question remains: Will Venezuela invade its neighbors?
The answer is hard to determine.
by Carlos Eire
While North Korean aggression is a serious geopolitical issue, most of the national media and federal legislators have not taken an analytical look at Venezuela.
Venezuela is a serious threat directly and indirectly to the U.S.
WEAPONS BUILDUP – Venezuela has massive amounts of technical weapons which they acquired from the Russians.
Why would they need to build up their military capacities? Because they have always planned an attack on the U.S.
Hamas, Hezbollah and other international Terrorist Groups are in Venezuela and are controlling it.
COLOMBIA AND VENEZUELA – The only true military ally we have in South America is Colombia. The country is also the most stable economy in the region.
The country has had a weak and ineffective leader in Santos and over the past two years has been dramatically affected – economically and security wise – by the Venezuela backed FARC terrorist group.
Along with the influx of refugees from the decaying Venezuela and Colombia is being destabilized.
THE WORLD VS. VENEZULA – World leaders are turning on the regime. Only aggressive states such as Iran, Palestinian Authority and Russia and still aligned and only because of military or business interests.
The current Venezuelan government is a terrorist / criminal enterprise which is destabilizing South and Central America.
It’s alliances and weaponry are clearly designed for aggression against surrounding countries and its biggest enemy the United States.
Action must be taken before we have a full-scale war in the Western Hemisphere.
Dale Yeager SERAPH
Please watch this incredible video
If you think Latin American communism and idyllic subsistence farming is the way to go, boy does South America have a nation for you.
You might think it’s the 1950s or the middle of the Cold War when American-style capitalist democracy was waging a war against Soviet-style communism. It seems that everywhere you look, the market has spoken, for better or for worse. Russia has gleaming steel towers and a stock exchange. China is like the biggest thing since sliced bread apparently, with Davos going so far as to herald it as the poster child of globalization at this year’s World Economic Forum. Even Cuba is inching its way out of Castro-style communism by opening up to the United States. Meanwhile, across the sea in Venezuela, the Socialists United Party (PSUV) of the late Hugo Chavez is sticking to their narrative of savior Simon Bolivar and how the powers of a repressive, foreign capitalist system is bad, very bad, for the lumpen proletariat of South America. Communism is clearly better.
Too bad for Venezuela that PSUV has squandered much of the country’s wealth, sending some of it into south Florida housing. Their central bank has $10 billion left to its name. They can keep raising the minimum wage, but where is all of this money coming from? Venezuela is nowhere near becoming a socialist-democratic society like Europe, with state run health care and free colleges and high taxes to pay for the best of it all. Venezuela is running out of middle income people to tax. The rich are either in Miami, Spain, Italy, or working for PSUV. (Or spending all their money on private security.)
Yet, despite the fact that the evidence is clear — socialism is not working in Venezuela — its leader Nicolas Maduro is hellbent on making it happen. It’s 2017, and communism is back, baby!
This week moved Venezuela closer to a communist autocracy. Maduro called for a constituent assembly of allies, which appears to be yet another step towards staying in power forever. Speaking at a May Day rally on Monday, Maduro told state employees and PSUV fans that a new constitution was needed to protect the state from a “coup d’etat”.
There are no details on why Maduro needs to re-write the constitution other than to turn Venezuelan democracy into something more closely related to communism. He says the opposition is waging an economic war against him, as if the millions of people who have marched against PSUV since September are shooting themselves in the foot by hoarding food, medicines, and forcing oil prices so low that oil firm PDVSA is hanging by a thread. This narrative of economic warfare is the narrative of foreign colonial powers versus the indigenous population. It is a narrative of old world banana republics, popularized by the late Hugo Chavez who had $150 oil to save him. PDVSA had a lot of money then. The government took that money and redistributed to the poor. It was a good game. You win the hearts and minds of a large portion of the population, and you even gain support among the middle class who own stores and dental shops that now catered to a lower class that had money to spend.
Those days are gone.
“We assume this represents at best a distraction technique to avoid the election cycles or a worst an attempt to further consolidate power,” says Siobhan Morden, managing director for Nomura Securities in New York about Maduro’s latest power grab.
The constituent assembly is really a move towards one-party rule. It is formed via “communes or workers” as opposed to the democratically elected political parties. It escalates the political crisis to a new phase of intensity with the risk of backlash from the diplomatic community, led by the Organization of American States, or OAS. Venezuela isn’t worried about the backlash from foreign political entities, especially ones with strong ties to Washington.
Long time Chavez supporter, Mark Weisbrot of the Center for Economic Policy Research in Washington pointed out recently in a Huffington Post editorial that Venezuela has no friends in the OAS and is right to leave it.
“Venezuela needs a negotiated solution because it is still a polarized society,” he says, pointing out that some 25% of the population still support Maduro, which is more than can be said for Brazil, Mexico and Colombia’s presidents. The problem there is that 75% do not support him, at the very least, which is not a polarization of society at all. It is quite an obvious and massive disdain for the ruling PSUV.
Moreover, corruption is so deeply embedded in the government, and touches so many actors within the ruling system, including ranking members of the military, that there is too much at stake for these individuals to let PSUV throw in the towel.
“It appears unlikely that we will see any substantive change of government in the short term, and even if Maduro steps aside, a change in leadership will not necessarily equate to a change in government, in which case the same story is likely to prevail,” write Center for Strategic and International Studies analysts led by Adam Sieminski in a note on May 1.
Everything in Venezuela politics today uses the language of communism, from “collectives” to actual “communes” that are part of the executive branch. Sources in Caracas tell me that armed collectives keep the urban poor at bay, making it harder for them to join protesters in the streets. This has made it easier for PSUV to say that the opposition represents a bourgeoisie that does not have the poor’s interest in mind.
It’s not clear why Maduro chose to announce a revamp of the constitution in favor of one-party rule. He could’ve just waited for protest fatigue.
The local headlines reflect skepticism on the constituent assembly process with the member participation based upon direct selection from within the “Communal Power” registered by the Minister of the Popular Power of the Communes.
Venezuela is rebranding itself into a communist state. Maduro’s constituent assembly is just another step in that direction.
Kenneth Rapoza Forbes
In mid-April, President Trump had a brief, cordial exchange with two former presidents of Colombia — Alvaro Uribe and Andres Pastrana — at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida. After the Miami Herald reported the encounter, critics suggested it might “undermine” the Colombian “peace deal” struck by the current president, Juan Manuel Santos, and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).
In fact, it’s less a peace agreement than a pathway to dictatorship for a key US ally and to an expansion of drug trafficking here — developments that would pose grave challenges to Trump’s national security agenda and fight against opioid addiction.
Remarkably, this disastrous course will likely be partially financed with nearly half a billion US taxpayer dollars — promised by then-President Barack Obama — unless Trump and House Speaker Paul Ryan deny the appropriation to implement the deal.
For 52 years, the Marxist narco-terrorists of FARC have financed their mayhem with the production and export of cocaine and heroin to the United States. FARC has committed an estimated 200,000 to 300,000 murders and ravaged the country. It remains a US-designated foreign terrorist organization.
Uribe and Pastrana each attempted to negotiate a just and stable peace, but FARC’s demands proved too onerous and no agreement was reached.
Santos got a farcical one-sided agreement so damaging to Colombia’s democratic system and FARC’s victims that the people demanded a national referendum. Last October, the deal was voted down.
Circumventing the will of his own people, Santos pushed a revised agreement through the Colombian Congress three weeks later as a way to avoid having to hold a second referendum and risking another defeat.
The terms of the “very bad deal”(for which Santos won a Nobel Peace Prize):
- Drug-trafficking will no longer be a major crime.
- Money-laundering will no longer be a crime.
- Extradition of major narco-terrorists to the United States won’t be permitted.
- All criminal records of FARC members will be erased.
- There will be no punishment for any member of FARC, including its leadership, even if they’ve committed crimes against humanity. But members of the military and national police who’ve received long sentences for events related to the conflict will remain in prison.
- FARC will have the right to establish a third political party, nominate candidates for president and enjoy the protection of a paramilitary “security organization” armed and paid by taxpayers — but under FARC control.
- A special court — half of which will be made up of FARC-appointed judges — will be created outside the constitutional judiciary to investigate and adjudicate all matters related to the conflict.
And what did the FARC concede for the deal? Little beyond pledging to surrender an easily replenished fraction of its weapons and voluntarily reduce the drug acreage it controls but only by a small amount — promises it’s already slow-walking.
As with Obama’s Iran deal, every concession is given to FARC upfront for a promise of future compliance. But taking a page from the Palestinian playbook, FARC split itself into two entities: a) the political FARC, to negotiate and abide by the agreement and participate in politics, and b) the business FARC, which, unbound by the terms and not forced to disarm, would likely continue its illicit drug production and exports.
Santos now effectively controls the three branches of government, the independence and integrity of which have been grossly compromised. Colombia’s democratic system is in danger of steaming toward either a dictatorship controlled by narco-terrorism and radical socialism a la Venezuela or a military takeover likely resulting in bloody chaos.
The situation offers Trump a major opportunity to make good on two key campaign promises: stemming the flow of drugs here and protecting American taxpayers.
Santos desperately wants Obama’s promised $450 million annually to implement the deal — which will include direct distributions to FARC members and government grants of millions of acres of prime agricultural land while providing no compensation to the victims of FARC crimes. Such a gift, whether whole or in part, would be interpreted as US support for the agreement.
When Santos arrives in Washington this month, Trump should make clear that neither the appropriation nor approval for the deal will be forthcoming.
The FARC agreement needs significant changes in order to preserve democracy in Colombia. The Colombian people desire peace, but its price should not be the handover of the government to the narco-terrorists or military — with a substantial assist in blood money from US taxpayers.
Monica Crowley is a senior fellow at the London Center for Policy Research.
Venezuela has become a global symbol of socialist failure, but one thing its government knows how to do is hang on to power. This week the ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela began maneuvering to survive a recall election this year by appointing a new vice president.
President Nicolás Maduro is likely to lose a recall that the opposition has been demanding amid runaway inflation, shortages of basic goods, widespread hunger and rampant crime. But under the constitution, new vice president Tareck El Aissami, whom Mr. Maduro appointed Wednesday, would serve out the presidential term through 2019. This means the political opposition will now have to decide which tyrant they’d prefer to live under.
The 42-year-old El Aissami is what Donald Trump would call a “bad hombre.” During his university days he belonged to the left-wing student movement Utopia 78 and in 2002 he was elected to congress as a follower of the late demagogue Hugo Chávez. From 2008 to 2012 he was minister of the interior, where he controlled immigration. A June 2014 paper from the Washington-based Center for a Secure Free Society cites allegations by “regional intelligence officials” that Mr. El Aissami’s office provided passports and national ID cards to suspected Islamic terrorists. The Venezuelan government dismissed the reports as U.S. propaganda.
Most recently Mr. El Aissami has been governor of the state of Aragua. Our Mary Anastasia O’Grady reported in 2014 that Parchin Chemical Industries and Qods Aviation, companies owned by the Iranian military, had joint ventures in Aragua state with the Venezuelan military. Both companies were sanctioned by the United Nations under Security Council Resolution 1747. In May 2015 The Wall Street Journal reported that the U.S. Justice Department was investigating Mr. El Aissami.
The tragedy is that a recall defeat last year for Mr. Maduro would have triggered a new election. The government refused to hold a recall, and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry didn’t press for it as he lobbied for a Maduro “dialogue” with the opposition. Add the ascendancy of Mr. El Aissami, and the perpetuation of Venezuelan suffering, to Mr. Kerry’s legacy.
WJS Jan. 6, 2017 7:12 p.m. ET