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‘I’ Obituary for Stage Magician and Sceptic James Randi

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 26/10/2020 - 10:43pm in

Last Tuesday, 20th October 2020, the stage magician and sceptic James Randi passed away at the age of 92. Randy was a controversial. After starting out as a stage magician, Randi turned to exposing fake psychics. He was a prominent member of the Sceptics’ organisation CSICOP, the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims Of the Paranormal, along with scientist and broadcaster Carl Sagan and the mathematician Martin Gardner. CSICOP’s founders were alarmed at the growth of interest in the occult. Sagan, a Humanist, published his attack on the supernatural in the Demon Haunted World. He seemed to be frightened that we were entering a new Dark Age of superstition, where science and rationality would be forgotten, and in which people would begin their day by poring over their horoscopes.

The I published this obituary of Randi in their weekend edition for 24th-25th October 2020, reprinted from the Washington Post. It runs

James Randi, who has died aged 92, was an internationally acclaimed magician and escape artist who spent much of his career debunking all things paranormal – from spoon bending and water dowsing to spirit channelling and faith healing.

Randall James Ham Hamilton Zwinge was born in Toronto in 1928. A child prodigy, he was shy and often lonely. Bored by rote classroom learning, he sought refuge in the library. At a young age, he developed an interest in magic, and at 17 he dropped out of high school, turned down several college scholarships and joined a travelling carnival as junior magician.

He overcame a stammer and fear of speaking in public, affected a turban and goatee, and honed his illusionist skills under a series of stage names, including Zo-Ran, Prince Iblis, Telepath and the Great Randall.

After a stint at faking clairvoyance, in which many took his prophecies seriously – he correctly predicted the winner of baseball’s World Series in 1949, for example – he said he was unable to persuade believerss that his powers were strictly terrestrial. He said he “couldn’t live that kind of lie” and returned to conventional magic as The Amazing Randi.

He also became an escape artist and held Guinness world records for surviving the longest time inside a block of ice (55 minutes) and for being sealed the longest in an underwater coffin (one hour and 44 minutes), breaking a record set by Harry Houdini.

In the late 1950s and early 1960s Randi’s many appearances on television made him a fixture of prime time entertainment. In 1973 he toured with heavy metal rock star Alice Cooper as an executioner simulating the beheading of the singer at each performance.

Randi cheerfully described himself as a “liar” and “cheat” in mock recognition of his magician’s skills at duping people into thinking they had seen something inexplicable when it was, in fact, the result of simple physical deception. He was equally dismissive of psychics, seers and soothsayers. “The difference between them and me,” Randi told The New York Times in 1981, “is that I admit that I’m a charlatan. They don’t. I don’t have time for things that go bump in the night.”

Randi and the research organisation he helped found in 1976, the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal, offered payouts ranging up to $1m (£77,000) to anyone who could demonstrate a supernatural or paranormal phenomenon under controlled conditions. While he had many takers, he said, none of them earned a cent.

In 2010, at the age of 81, Randi publicly announced he was gay. He married a Venezuelan artist, Deyvi Pena in 2013. The following year, film-maker Tyler Measom and Justin Weinstein released An Honest Liar, a documentary of Randi’s life.

I first became aware of Randi in the early 1980s, when he appeared in the pages of the Absurder attacking Doris Stokes. Stokes was a medium, who was then in news, much like Derek Acorah and other celebrity psychics a few years ago. Randi showed that much of her comments and remarks when she was supposedly getting in touch with the dead were ‘bunkum statements’. They sounded true and unique to the reader or listener, but they were actually vague and described the way most people felt. Her descriptions of the deceased and the questions she asked her audience were also so vague that they would apply to someone there, who would then become convinced that Stokes was genuinely in contact with a dead friend or relative.

Several times Randi’s own outspoken comment about those he judged to be frauds landed him in legal. In one case, he was sued for libel by a man he claimed was called by the police ‘the shopping mall molester’. Er, not quite. The target of Randi’s wrath had been arrested for sexually assaulting a 12 or 13 year old girl in a shopping centre. But he hadn’t been charged with the offence, as it was dropped due to plea bargaining. And because he hadn’t been charged with it, Randi’s comments were technically libel.

He also got into similar trouble with Uri Geller. He called him a fraud, at which Geller sued him in every country in the world. This resulted in Randi settling out of court with the notorious spoon-bender.

Actually, I think Randi is probably right here. Geller’s most famous trick of bending spoons has been around since at least in the 18th century. It’s mentioned in a book of such amusements from that time, Rational Recreations. Geller was also successfully sued in the 1970s or so by an Israeli engineering student for misleading advertising. Geller’s publicity claimed his act presented overwhelming proof of the paranormal. The student went to see it and wasn’t impressed. He sued, claiming that all he’d seen was standard stage magic. The beak concurred, and judged in his favour.

There was also a scandal a few years ago when it turned out that Randi’s partner was actually an illegal immigrant, who was living in the US under an identity he’d stolen.

Randi was a colourful figure, but I was never a fan of his. While I agree that fake psychics and mediums certainly exist, and should be exposed because of the way they exploit the grieving and vulnerable, I don’t share his dismissal of the supernatural. I think it’s genuine, but that its very nature makes scientific verification extremely difficult, if not impossible. CSICOP also came off as arrogant, smug and vindictive in their attacks on the paranormal and its believers and practitioners. So much so that they were seen as a kind of scientific witch hunt by their victims. A few years ago the organisation changed its name to CSI, which stands for the Committee for Scientific Investigation. And not Crime Scene Investigation. The name change was not occasioned because there was a cop drama with that acronym as its title playing at the time.

So RIP James Randi. He was a colourful character, who entertained millions, particularly in his bust-up with Geller. Gray Barker, the former Ufologist who began the Men In Black myth with his book They Knew Too Much About Flying Saucers, took great pleasure in Randi’s antics, calling him ‘the Amusing Randi’. But I leave to the reader to decide for themselves whether the paranormal exists. And not everybody who believes in it deserves sneers and ridicule.

UK Court Decision on Venezuela Gold Deals Blow to Regime Change Efforts

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 06/10/2020 - 3:27am in

A United Kingdom court has handed the Venezuelan government of Nicolas Maduro a major win today, overturning a previous ruling from a lower court that legitimized the British government’s decision to freeze Venezuelan government gold reserves held in the Bank of England. The English Court of Appeal ruled that the Conservative administration of Boris Johnson’s position that Juan Guaidó is the country’s legitimate ruler was far from equivocal, potentially paving the way for some $1.95 billion of the Central Bank of Venezuela’s gold to be accessed.

Following President Trump’s lead, in July, the U.K. government took the extraordinary step of derecognizing President Maduro in favor of the self-declared Guaidó, despite the fact that for nearly six months, he had not even been a member of his Popular Will party, let alone its leader. The move was labeled “highway robbery” by supporters of the Venezuelan government.

A nearly unheard of politician before his ascension to the role of head of the Venezuelan National Assembly (a post given out on a yearly rotational basis among all parties in the institution) in January 2019, Guaidó shocked the country by using his appointment to unilaterally declare himself president of the country. He then led a series of coup attempts throughout 2019 and 2020, the last of which involved paying Trump-linked American mercenaries to shoot their way into the presidential palace. However, the plan ended in complete disaster, with the Americans subsequently sentenced to 20 years of prison time.

Guaidó based his claim to power on Article 233 of the Venezuelan Constitution, which allows a president to be removed if he “abandons his position” or becomes “permanently unavailable to serve” for whatever reason. Maduro, however, had clearly not left his post. Regardless, if he had, Article 233 states that the vice-president would take charge until a new election by universal suffrage was held. Guaidó’s party was not even registered to stand in elections, having boycotted them the year previously under U.S. orders. The Trump administration had attempted to organize a total boycott from opposition parties, thereby undermining the process’ legitimacy, even threatening to sanction opposition presidential candidate Henri Falcón. Despite the partial boycott, turnout was relatively high. A larger percentage of the total electorate still cast their ballot for Maduro than Americans did for Trump in 2016 or Obama in 2012. The U.S. government is currently trying the same tactic in the upcoming December elections to the National Assembly, the State Department releasing a memo in September declaring that all opposition parties taking place were considered “puppet parties” participating in an “electoral charade,” and would therefore be sanctioned.

The United Kingdom and the United States have been leaders in a years-long economic and political campaign to oust Maduro from power, hitting the country with sanctions and attacking it politically. When Maduro attempted to use the impounded gold to buy humanitarian aid from the United Nations to deal with the coronavirus pandemic, the Johnson administration blocked it. Meanwhile, American sanctions, declared illegal by the U.N., have been responsible for over 100,000 Venezuelans’ death. The U.S. government is also continually provoking Venezuela militarily. Last week, it sent a warship — the U.S.S. William P. Lawrence — into the Caribbean, just 16 nautical miles from Venezuela’s coast. Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino described the action as “erratic and childish,” implying Trump was attempting to foment an “October Surprise” conflict to boost his reelection chances.

The U.S. has also funded and supported Guaidó throughout his coup attempts, grooming him since he was a student leader. Recently, they have been channeling money confiscated from the Venezuelan government to Guaidó so that he can personally pay every healthcare worker a huge stipend.

While the Maduro administration is very unpopular, the opposition has had little success shaking their image as elitists interested only in returning Venezuela to its former status as a U.S. client state. Guaidó is presented in Western media as a breath of fresh air and a break with that tradition. However, as the privately-educated son of an international airline pilot, and somebody who attended George Washington University (an impossible task for those who do not come from the elite), he has had little success persuading his countryfolk to get behind his vision for the country. A recent poll found that 3 percent of Venezuelans recognize him as president. Despite this, he has received virtually unanimous support in Washington and London. However, there is no doubt that today’s court ruling is a loss for him and a win for Maduro.

Feature photo | Self-declared Venezuelan President Juan Guiado meets with UK PM Boris Jonson in London in January, 2020. Photo | Public Release

Alan MacLeod is a Staff Writer for MintPress News. After completing his PhD in 2017 he published two books: Bad News From Venezuela: Twenty Years of Fake News and Misreporting and Propaganda in the Information Age: Still Manufacturing Consent. He has also contributed to Fairness and Accuracy in ReportingThe GuardianSalonThe GrayzoneJacobin MagazineCommon Dreams the American Herald Tribune and The Canary.

The post UK Court Decision on Venezuela Gold Deals Blow to Regime Change Efforts appeared first on MintPress News.

UN Venezuela Report Omits US Human Rights Violations

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 02/10/2020 - 11:05pm in

On September 23, María Eugenia Russián, president of Fundalatin, Venezuela’s oldest human rights organization, testified to the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) and decried an attempt by a UNHRC fact-finding mission to erase people who were “lynched, burned alive, decapitated and murdered by extremist sectors of the Venezuelan opposition.” This fact-finding mission had published a report a week earlier that generated sensationalist headlines of “crimes against humanity” and painted a bleak picture of the situation in Venezuela.

However, the 400+ page report has been found to contain serious flaws and omissions, leading to charges that it politicizes human rights – a position backed by the Venezuelan government. But it’s not just Venezuela that has taken issue with the report: Argentina’s ambassador to the Organization of American States denounced it as “biased” and noted that “human rights are not an instrument for taking political positions.”

 

A parallel mission and attack on multilateralism

Moreover, even the formation of the fact-finding mission is suspect. Since 2017, Venezuela has been working with a different UN institution, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), to strengthen its capacity to guarantee human rights. This cooperation has led to technical agreements and to visits by the OHCHR to Venezuela.

Yet despite – or perhaps because – of this cooperation, the Lima Group, an ad hoc group of nations dedicated to regime change in Venezuela, maneuvered in the UN Human Rights Council to establish a parallel mission outside of the purview of the OHCHR. In the September 2019 debate prior to the founding of this mission, Russián said that it “seeks to thwart the advances between the Office of the High Commissioner and the Venezuelan state, hindering and duplicating its efforts.” She also made a prescient comment: “[the mission] will generate major headlines but will not contribute to resolving the situation.”

Several Venezuelan human rights organizations, including the Venezuelan Association of Jurists (AVJ), denounced the formation of the mission and the subsequent report as an attack on multilateralism. The AVJ notes that according to UN General Assembly Resolution 60/251, “the promotion and protection of human rights should be based on the principles of cooperation and genuine dialogue and aimed at strengthening the capacity of Member States.”

Neither of these principles were adhered to in the report, which means that the fact-finding mission violated the United Nation’s own guidelines. This contrasts severely with the latest update on Venezuela from the OHCHR, which notes that technical cooperation between Venezuela and the UN has led to progress in investigating 93 alleged cases of extrajudicial killings or excessive use of force, as well as the pardoning of 110 prisoners.

 

Flawed methodology, biased sources and egregious omissions

The first thing to note about the report is that the authors are all from countries that support Guaidó. One of them, Francisco Cox, has close ties to the Chilean Foreign Minister (Chile is one of the Latin American countries leading the charge against Venezuela). In an interview with journalist Anya Parampil, Chilean analyst Esteban Silva noted that Cox “is part of an operation against the government of Venezuela.”

Venezuelan human rights organization Sures considers that the report “lacks academic rigor” as the mission did not step foot in Venezuela “and as such never had direct access to the sources it consulted, including the victims, government officials and official records.” Lending credence to the claim of a lack of rigor is the fact that more than 50% of the report’s sources were links to social and digital media, while just 5% were NGOs.

Misión Verdad, an independent group of Venezuelan investigative journalists and analysts, wrote an exposé of the sources used in the report and found that one of these NGOs, COFAVIC (Committee of Relatives of Victims of the Caracazo), receives USAID funds and has ties to Human Rights Watch, which supports regime change and the brutal US sanctions. None of the NGOs the fact-finding mission contacted even mentioned the case of Orlando Figuera, a young Black man burned alive by anti-government protestors, which has arguably been the most infamous violation of human rights in Venezuela in recent years.

If the report were interested in balance, it would have cited or contacted Venezuelan human rights groups that document right-wing violence at protests and the devastating effects of U.S. sanctions. Five such organizations were contacted for this article: Fundalatin, AJV, Sures, Género con Clase (Gender with Class), and the Committee of Victims of the Guarimba and Ongoing Coup (guarimba is the term used for violent opposition protests in 2013, 2014 and 2017). None of them ever heard from the “independent” mission.

While victims like Figuera are ignored, another detailed critique by Misión Verdad documents the repeated “whitewashing” of political actors linked to violence by presenting them as victims. As analyst Joe Emersberger notes, the report’s treatment of opposition figure Leopoldo López ignores the leading role he has played in destabilizing Venezuela since 2002. López’s regime change strategy in 2014, ‘La Salida’, sparked opposition violence that resulted in the decapitation of Elvis Durán; he was riding a motorcycle down a street booby trapped by protestors with barbed wire. López’s name appears 61 times in the report; Durán’s does not appear at all.

As tragic as it is that a UN mission would engage in the erasure of victims of human rights violations perpetrated by government opponents, these are not even the most glaring omissions in the report. There are two ongoing mass violations of the human rights of all Venezuelans: the violent destabilization of the country by foreign and domestic actors, and the brutal U.S. sanctions. For Gisela Jiménez of Género con Clase, an organization that focuses on the rights of women and sexual diversity, currently the biggest challenge to the rights of Venezuelans is “the threat to the right to live in peace.” Russián of Fundalatin dates the biggest violation of human rights to March 2015, when then-President Obama characterized Venezuela as an “unusual and extraordinary threat” to the United States. Since then, she notes, ”the Venezuelan people have been subjected to violations of their right to health and even the right to life, due to the embargo and the obstruction of imports of medicine, food and supplies.”

 

The report in the context of a hybrid war

Beyond the bias and politicization of the report, what perhaps damns it most is how it is being used. The omissions on the impact of coups and sanctions enable regime change operatives such as Elliott Abrams, U.S. special representative for Iran and Venezuela, to cite the report as evidence of crimes against humanity while, in the same breath, threatening to cut off Venezuela’s diesel supplies, which has drawn widespread condemnation from NGOs across the political spectrum for the devastating effect it would have on the Venezuelan people.

The report was similarly used by Senators Marco Rubio and Ben Cardin, who referenced it in a letter to the European Union in which they expressed “deep concern” over EU talks with the Maduro government and urged the EU to not monitor Venezuela’s parliamentary elections. This blatant attempt at interfering in and attempting to delegitimize Venezuela’s elections went uncovered by mainstream media, which focused all of their attention on the UNHCR report.

Furthermore, the timing of the report was also suspect, coming just a week before the 2020 UN General Assembly. Its purpose in this regard is clear: to add fuel to the fire in Venezuela and to shift the spotlight from U.S. allies with their own human rights issues. The timely release allowed Colombian president Duque and Chilean president Piñera to cite it and Venezuela in their general assembly speeches. In Colombia, 64 massacres have taken place this year alone, while the Piñera government in Chile was almost brought down by his government’s excessive use of force against peaceful protestors. Yet it was Venezuelan opposition figure Juan Guaidó who made the headlines, invoking the report while calling on the international community to exercise its “responsibility to protect” in a YouTube webinar on the sidelines of the General Assembly. The responsibility to protect is a doctrine used as the justification for military aggressions against Libya and Syria, among others.

The fact-finding mission has produced a document that is currently being employed in the furtherance of sanctions, electoral interference and threats of war. To put it another way, the UNHCR report on the human rights of Venezuelans will likely lead to even more suffering for Venezuelans. In the words of Fundalatin President Russián, the threat to the human rights of Venezuelans “becomes graver because of the behavior by powerful states, who in the name of human rights, seek a foreign military intervention in Venezuela.”

Feature photo | Elliot Abrams, special representative for Iran and Venezuela at the State Department, attends a Senate Committee on Foreign Relations hearing, Sept. 24, 2020 on Capitol Hill in Washington. Erin Schaff | The New York Times via AP

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Hoping to Force an Outcome, US Sanctions Opposition Parties in Venezuela Ahead of Elections

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 24/09/2020 - 4:43am in

Elections for Venezuela’s National Assembly are fast approaching. But the United States does not want them to go ahead at all. Sanctions on Venezuela are nothing new. But yesterday Secretary of State Mike Pompeo took the unusual step of sanctioning leaders of local opposition parties in an attempt to pressure them to pull out of the contest in December.

Remarkably, considering the well-documented flaws with the same problems in the U.S., Pompeo’s statement dubiously claimed that Venezuelan voting machines are unreliable, that millions of voters remain unregistered, and that the country’s supreme electoral council is politicized and hand-picked by the executive branch.

That many parties are contesting the upcoming December elections to the National Assembly (that the opposition already controls) seems to undermine Pompeo’s claim that Nicolas Maduro is a “desperate and illegitimate dictator.” The 56-year-old former CIA Director, however, explained that they are merely “puppet parties” participating in an “electoral charade.” The National Assembly is roughly akin to the French Assemblée Nationale or the U.S. House of Representatives.

Last week Pompeo toured Venezuela’s neighbors to discuss regime change. “Maduro has to go,” Pompeo said while in Guyana. “We know that the Maduro regime has decimated the people of Venezuela and that Maduro himself is an indicted narcotics trafficker. That means he has to leave.” The United States and Guyana announced that they would subsequently be carrying out joint military border patrols along the country’s sparsely populated bur disputed frontier with Venezuela.

The Venezuela-Guyana border dispute is an extremely old one, going back to unresolved disagreements between the Spanish and British empires, long before either’s establishment as a state. The large, heavily forested region claimed by both countries is largely untouched and thought to be home to uncontacted tribes. Because of this, the dispute has never spilled over into a serious conflict. Pompeo claimed that the operation is purely an anti-drugs operation, but in the same speech described as a “narco-trafficker,” muddying the waters further.

Earlier this month an American ex-C.I.A. agent was arrested outside the country’s largest oil refinery complex in possession of C4 explosives, a grenade launcher, and other weapons.

The United States already tried the tactic of sanctioning Maduro’s opponents during the 2018 presidential elections, when it demanded opposition leader Henri Falcon drop out, threatening him with sanctions. Falcon remained in to contest the election, but with many of his coalition heeding American advice and boycotting it, he was resoundingly beaten. In the end, Maduro won with 68 percent of the vote. The process was watched over by 150 international observers and foreign dignitaries, who attested to its veracity. Maduro has asked teams from the United Nations and European Union to oversee the December vote, something the U.S. does not want to happen.

Since coming to power in 2013, Maduro has presided over an increasingly dysfunctional economy and falling standards of living. Inflation has racked the country, there have been acute shortages of certain goods, oil production has collapsed, and many have left the country as a result. Much of the mayhem, however, is due to the impact of American sanctions, formally condemned by the U.N., and estimated to have killed at least 100,000 people. Earlier this week, the State Department announced sweeping new “humanitarian support” for Venezuelans, although, given its history in the country, it is highly likely to be politicized. Much of it is actually earmarked for the neighboring countries Pompeo visited.

Maduro’s public approval rating is very low. Yet his party still stands a decent chance in the National Assembly elections. This is partly due to the equally unpopular opposition coalition, which is fractured and unsure what to do. Some favor a boycott of the vote like in 2018, others to compete and win.

Historically, when eschewing violence and pursuing purely electoral means, the opposition has fared relatively well at the ballot box, winning the National Assembly in 2015. Two years earlier, their candidate Henrique Capriles received 49 percent of the vote for the presidency. However, they are beset with infighting, with the United States propping up self-declared president Juan Guaidó as the legitimate ruler of the country, even though he wields no power. Earlier this month Capriles called on him to stop “playing at government on the internet.”

Guaidó rose to prominence in January 2019 when, as it was his party’s turn to lead the institution, he was appointed head of the National Assembly for one year. He immediately declared himself president, however, shocking the world, and would go on to launch five unsuccessful coup attempts since, all with U.S. backing.

While Guaidó enjoys virtually unanimous support among Democrats and Republicans (he was a guest of honor at Trump’s State of the Union, where he was given a standing ovation by both parties), a number of embarrassing financial and alcohol-related scandals have made him a deeply unpopular figure inside the country. Recent polls put his public support at three percent. In January he “resigned” from his party, meaning he has no formal political office at all.

Despite this, the U.S. continues to bankroll his stunts, even supplying him with money it stole from the Venezuelan government so he could give a large stipend to the country’s 62,000 health workers throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

Trying to explain Latin America to an international audience, the great Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano described his region as an “upside down world,” where everything is turned on its head. Thus, Venezuela is an autocracy with upcoming elections, presided over by a dictator who was elected twice, with a larger share of the electorate than Trump in 2016 or Obama in 2012, holding sham votes watched over by impressed international observers. The land of the free, however, attacks anyone who participates in elections or the 97 percent who do not support their own self-declared president, a man who has never even run for the office he claims he holds. The U.S. helps forces for democracy launch coup d’etats, assassination attempts, or terror plots in order to bring about relief from the suffering it is causing through its own actions. No wonder so many people are confused.

Feature photo | A man passes a mural of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro in Caracas, Venezuela, July 22, 2020. Ariana Cubillos | AP

Alan MacLeod is a Staff Writer for MintPress News. After completing his PhD in 2017 he published two books: Bad News From Venezuela: Twenty Years of Fake News and Misreporting and Propaganda in the Information Age: Still Manufacturing Consent. He has also contributed to Fairness and Accuracy in ReportingThe GuardianSalonThe GrayzoneJacobin MagazineCommon Dreams the American Herald Tribune and The Canary.

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Pompeo Announces Funding for Welfare, Healthcare and Indigenous Support. In Venezuela

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 22/09/2020 - 3:12am in

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has returned from his official visits to Suriname, Guyana, Colombia and Brazil, where he discussed the possibilities of regime change in Venezuela, a nation which has drawn Washington’s ire for over 20 years.

On Saturday the 56-year-old former CIA Director announced a $348 million package he said was a “response to the ongoing humanitarian crisis caused by the corrupt and illegitimate Maduro regime,” and signaled the U.S.’ “commitment to the Venezuelan people.”

“U.S. humanitarian assistance provides access to emergency food, safe drinking water, direct cash assistance, sanitation, and hygiene support, health care, medical supplies, psychosocial support, livelihoods, and protection for vulnerable groups including women, youth, and indigenous people,” the State Department’s press release on the issue read, programs that the U.S. government is failing to provide for its own citizens during the pandemic. It also noted that much of the cash would actually be going to neighboring countries that have taken in migrants, rather than individuals themselves.

Yet neither Pompeo nor the State Department noted that Venezuela is in such parlous economic straits in no small part due to the actions of the U.S. government. Washington has placed the country under ever-tightening sanctions for years, going after any individual, business or government who trades with the country. This has effectively led to an international blockade of the country, where Venezuela can neither import vital products like food or medicines nor sell oil, its primary export.

The long economic malaise also brought on by government incompetence, local elites’ intransigence, and a continued regional downturn has led to extreme hardship for millions, with the U.S. sanctions alone directly responsible for over 100,000 deaths, according to Swiss-American U.N. Special Rapporteur Alfred de Zayas, who visited the country and declared the U.S. guilty of “crimes against humanity.” Thus, it could be said that the State Department’s actions are merely attempting to put a bandaid over a deep cut they themselves stuck a knife into.

While in Colombia, Pompeo discussed regime change in Venezuela with Colombian President Ivan Duque, who described the Kansan as a “dear friend of Colombia” and accused President Maduro of Venezuela of crimes against humanity. In Brazil, Pompeo managed to get the Bolsonaro administration to sign off on his “Democratic Transition Framework” (DTS) for Venezuela as the way forward.

The DTS requires Maduro to resign and for the country’s Constituent Assembly to be completely dissolved, with all power going to the National Assembly, the only branch of government the opposition currently controls. From there, the National Assembly would appoint new members to the Supreme Court and the National Electoral Council. And while the DTS does not specifically state Maduro could not run for office again, Pompeo made it clear, stating, “Nicolas Maduro will never again govern Venezuela.” Therefore, it seems unlikely that Maduro, who was elected by a larger share of the electorate than Trump in 2016 or Obama in 2012, would sign off on such sweeping changes to the country that the Trump administration demands.

The United States also continues to support self-declared president Juan Guaidó, who has launched a series of unsuccessful coup attempts since January 2019. Washington has recently been transferring seized Venezuelan government assets to him so he can personally give every health worker $20 per month during the coronavirus pandemic. With the Venezuelan bolivar so weak, the stipend amounts to a sizable subsidy. Guaidó has retained strong bipartisan support in Washington, despite leaked contracts between himself and U.S. mercenary group Silvercorp showing he intended to rule alone after the coup, paying the organization to become his personal security force and crushing any resistance to his rule. Inside Venezuela, however, polls show only three percent of the population back him.

 

Biden: a break with the past or more of the same?

With elections coming up in November, it is possible that there will be a change in government in the United States before Venezuela. Democratic challenger Joe Biden currently holds a 6.5 point nationwide lead in combined polling. Over 100 organizations are urging the former vice-president to adopt a “good neighbor” policy with regards to the region. And while the Democratic National Platform is more progressive on Cuba, it makes clear that it wants regime change in Venezuela as well.

In order to better understand the potential for a different American path for Latin America under a Biden presidency, MintPress spoke with Dr. Barry Cannon, a sociologist specializing in Latin American politics at the National University of Ireland, Maynooth. Cannon was hopeful that a Biden presidency could mean a more multilateral approach in the region, some lessening of sanctions on Venezuela, and more openness towards negotiations. It could also mean the U.S. moving away from such close support with the far-right Bolsonaro administration and more cooperation with left-of-center governments, such as those in Mexico and Argentina.

“However, I wouldn’t expect any great departures from Trump-era policies,” he warned, noting that Colombia, “which has a far worse human rights record than Venezuela,” is, “almost always supported by the U.S.” While Washington will “continue to actively work against any Latin American country which challenges U.S. imperial power in the region,” such as Venezuela or Bolivia, where Movement to Socialism candidate Luis Arce is the frontrunner in October’s election. “It’s important to keep in mind the continuities in U.S. Americas policy with Trump in charge rather than the differences,” he concluded.

Feature photo | U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, second right, and Brazilian Foreign Minister Ernesto Araujo, are received at a reception center in the Boa Vista Air Base in Roraima, Brazil, Sept. 18, 2020. Bruno Mancinelle | Pool via AP

Alan MacLeod is a Staff Writer for MintPress News. After completing his PhD in 2017 he published two books: Bad News From Venezuela: Twenty Years of Fake News and Misreporting and Propaganda in the Information Age: Still Manufacturing Consent. He has also contributed to Fairness and Accuracy in ReportingThe GuardianSalonThe GrayzoneJacobin MagazineCommon Dreams the American Herald Tribune and The Canary.

The post Pompeo Announces Funding for Welfare, Healthcare and Indigenous Support. In Venezuela appeared first on MintPress News.

As Venezuela Foils CIA “Terror Plot” Pompeo Tours Its Neighbors To Talk Regime Change

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 17/09/2020 - 6:44am in

Venezuela’s government has announced it has foiled a potential terror attack, arresting a former CIA operative while he was on a stakeout near the country’s largest oil refining facility.

Matthew John Heath was arrested with three other Venezuelans outside the Amuay and Cardon refineries in Falcon state in the west of the country, reportedly carrying a submachine gun, a grenade launcher, four blocks of C4 explosives, a satellite phone, and stacks of U.S. dollars. He has been charged with terrorism and weapons trafficking. The country’s prosecutor general, Tarek William Saab, claimed that Heath entered Venezuela illegally via the Colombian border without a passport, although police found a photocopy hidden on his person. Saab also said that Heath was carrying a small coin or badge that CIA employees use to prove their identity to one another without raising suspicions.

Images released by the Venezuelan government show items seized from Heath upon his arrest:

Venezuela John Heath

According to police investigations, Heath is a former marine who served as a communications operator in a “secret CIA base” in Iraq for ten years between 2006 and 2016, where he was hired by private security firm MVM. MVM was founded by a former U.S. Secret Service agent and continues to work closely with Washington. According to business directory Dun & Bradstreet, the company “provides security staffing and consulting services, primarily to U.S. government entities.” “Need a secret agent?” begins MVM’s biography. Researcher Jeb Sprague told MintPress today that Heath’s family has a lengthy background in the oil industry. While this suggests that the operation could have been as “innocent” as a corporate spying mission, it is difficult to see why anyone would possess grenade launchers and C4 if not for seriously nefarious purposes.

 

A deafening silence

Silence on the incident from the U.S. government, who never misses an opportunity to escalate tensions with Venezuela, is notable. The fact that the government has not commented on a U.S. citizen being charged with terrorism is “very telling,” according to Caribbean specialist Arnold August, who told By Any Means Necessary that Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo “are in a difficult position,” “dancing around the fact that there are obvious incursions organized by the U.S. into Venezuela that are far from peaceful.”

The story is also being downplayed or simply ignored by corporate media, despite their predilection for printing stories that paint the Maduro government as authoritarian. This, for Latin America expert Dr. Rodrigo Acuña, was predictable. “I’m not surprised at the reaction to this article at all. The mainstream media rarely look to verify or follow up any allegations made by the Maduro government in Caracas that the Trump administration is looking to overthrow it,” he said. Acuña, a researcher and former associate lecturer in Spanish and Latin American studies at Macquarie University, Australia, told MintPress that the media often follows the U.S. government’s line when it comes to America’s “backyard.”

When the Bush administration supported a coup against the government of Hugo Chavez in 2002, with very few exceptions, most of the mainstream media ignored these allegations. Then when evidence was presented they continued to ignore the claims made by Chavez. This situation continues until this day, where Washington is doing almost everything within its power to topple the government of Nicolas Maduro…For its part, Washington then ignores the statements that come out of Caracas or even at the United Nations while the mainstream media for their part also act in a similar manner.”

After the botched May coup attempt that saw two American mercenaries, Airan Berry and Luke Denman, arrested, the government put out an extremely half-hearted denial, with Pompeo stating only that “there was no U.S. government direct involvement,” although he did admit that he knew who had funded the operation, promising to release the information “at an appropriate time.” This time, however, there has been radio silence from Washington.

 

Pompeo’s regime change tour

The incident in Falcon state happens just as Pompeo is about to embark on a four-day trip to many of Venezuela’s closest neighbors in order, in the State Department’s own words, to “defend democracy” and “strengthen security against regional threats.” Interestingly, when visiting Brazil, Pompeo is not traveling to its capital Brasilia, nor either of its largest cities, Rio de Janeiro or São Paulo, but to Boa Vista, a small city deep in the Amazon jungle on the Venezuelan border, in order to “underscore the importance of U.S. and Brazilian support for the Venezuelan people in their time of need by visiting with Venezuelan migrants fleeing the man made disaster in Venezuela.” That the “regional threat” means Venezuela is made explicit in the press release, the State Department declaring that Pompeo will meet Colombian President Ivan Duque in order to discuss “threats to regional security” like “Maduro’s illegitimate regime.” Pompeo will also visit Venezuelan neighbors Guyana and Suriname.

 

The Bay of Piglets and other coups

Just before the coup attempt in May, Trump advisor John Bolton not-so-cryptically tweeting that “Morning is coming to Venezuela — again.” U.S.-backed politician Juan Guaidó called on the military to rise up and overthrow Maduro. At the same time, 300 troops, led by American ex-Green Berets, attempted an amphibious invasion of Venezuela. Their mission was to shoot their way to Caracas, taking the presidential palace and ensconcing Guaidó as president. Guaidó had promised to pay the U.S. outfit around a quarter-billion dollars for their services. However, the operation ended in complete disaster upon even minimal pushback, as the mercenaries were immediately overpowered and apprehended by disgruntled members of the House of Socialist Fishermen in the sleepy coastal village of Chuao. Images show that some of the heavily armed, highly-trained mercenaries appear to have wet themselves in terror when coming into contact with lobstermen armed with handguns, fishing knives and box cutters. Berry and Denman were recently sentenced to 20 years in prison for their actions.

The U.S. government has bankrolled, if not organized, a great number of coup attempts in Venezuela, going back to 2002, where it supported insurrection attempts in April and December. Since then, it has spent hundreds of millions of dollars funding, training, organizing and supporting groups inside the country, all of which have one thing in common: a strong aversion to the left-wing government that has held power since 1999.

Juan Guaidó, the self-declared president of Venezuela, emerged as a Pentagon protege in 2007 as a leader of ultimately unsuccessful student protests aimed at forcing a change of government, subsequently studying at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. Since January 2019, Guaidó has launched five audacious bids at seizing the presidency from Maduro, each less successful than the last. Even before the “Bay of Piglets” fiasco in May, he was supported by only three percent of Venezuelans.

 

Economic crisis

The Amuay and Cardon refineries form the world’s second largest refining complex, capable of producing nearly one million barrels of gasoline per day, putting into perspective the enormity of the charges levied against Heath. Current oil production is far lower, however, due to mismanagement, and to U.S. sanctions, which greatly reduce the customers Venezuela has for its primary product. As the economy shrunk, poverty rose and so did shortages of key products. Large numbers of people simply left the country. And as sanctions bite, production levels have dropped to the point where there is even a gasoline shortage inside the country, causing long lines and much resentment at the government, the U.S., the opposition, and anyone in a position of authority. The COVID lockdown has led to reduced demand for oil, as citizens stay home as much as they can. Nevertheless, the destruction of the country’s largest oil refining complex would be a devastating blow to the society — all the more reason it might be targeted by those wishing to finally see an end to the socialist government.

Feature photo | Venezuela’s Attorney General Tarek William Saab holds a photo of bullets he says were seized with other weapons in connection with what the government calls a failed attack over the weekend aimed at overthrowing President Nicolás Maduro, during a press conference in Caracas, Venezuela, May 8, 2020. Matias Delacroix | AP

Alan MacLeod is a Staff Writer for MintPress News. After completing his PhD in 2017 he published two books: Bad News From Venezuela: Twenty Years of Fake News and Misreporting and Propaganda in the Information Age: Still Manufacturing Consent. He has also contributed to Fairness and Accuracy in ReportingThe GuardianSalonThe GrayzoneJacobin MagazineCommon Dreams the American Herald Tribune and The Canary.

The post As Venezuela Foils CIA “Terror Plot” Pompeo Tours Its Neighbors To Talk Regime Change appeared first on MintPress News.

Why is the US Government Using Stolen Cash To Pay Doctors in Venezuela?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 12/09/2020 - 3:36am in

Venezuelan doctors currently fighting COVID-19 are receiving funding from an unlikely source: U.S. backed coup leader Juan Guaidó. Health workers, who sometimes earn less than $20 per month, are receiving $100 dollars monthly from the self-declared president of Venezuela. Where is Guaidó getting all this money from? The U.S. government, who, in turn, is using the billions of dollars it has confiscated from Venezuela to fund his latest political stunt.

The right-wing opposition inside Venezuela announced it was planning on distributing more than $18 million to the country’s 62,000 health professionals over the next three months; around $300 per person.

The money for the campaign comes from Venezuelan government assets and accounts in the United States, which the Trump administration has frozen as part of its ongoing war against the government of Nicolas Maduro, although it has not been disclosed exactly where from, only that it has come from Venezuelan “sovereign funds.” Part of that war has meant recognizing Guaidó — a previously virtually unknown politician — as the legitimate president of Venezuela. Economic warfare against the country began in earnest under President Obama, who declared and redeclared a formal state of emergency across the United States due to the “unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security” Venezuela supposedly posed. 

However, the sanctions regime was drastically ramped up by President Trump, who has time and again declared his intention to overthrow Maduro. Sanctions have led to a near total worldwide blockade of Venezuela, with any company or nation trading with it cut off from the lucrative U.S. market. Trump has blocked the importation of lifesaving cancer and diabetes medicines, as well as medical instruments, leading to an estimated 100,000 deaths according to former UN Special Rapporteur Alfred de Zayas. Declared illegal by the United Nations, the sanctions have also stopped Venezuela exporting its primary product: oil. Due to the threat of U.S. sanctions, insurance companies have refused to work with Venezuelan oil companies, and without insurance, oil tankers cannot enter foreign ports. The result of the sanctions has been economic devastation for the country.

Since January 2019, Guaidó has attempted five separate, unsuccessful coups against the government, all with vocal U.S. backing. Though he is presented in Western media as a progressive social-democrat, or even a socialist, his party’s platform of mass privatization would be more reasonably compared to that of General Pinochet’s Chile. A leaked contract between Guaidó and U.S. mercenary Jordan Goudreau that stipulated that the ex-Green Beret would oversee the creation of a private death squad, ruthlessly putting down any dissent to his rule in the event of a successful coup, also suggests a more than passing resemblance to Latin American style fascism. Four more organizers of the botched May coup were arrested in Colombia last week.

While Guaidó enjoys overwhelming support from both Democrats and Republicans (despite Trump labeling him “the Beto O’Rourke of Venezuela” for his vapidity), he is not a popular figure inside his own country, unable to go anywhere without crowds of enraged people forming. Despite receiving a standing ovation from both parties at Trump’s State of the Union address in February, when he flew back to Caracas after a tour of the West, he was accosted by airline staff, pelted with trash from onlookers, covered in beer and other, less pleasant liquids and chased into his car to shouts of “traitor,” “murderer” and “fascist” from travelers. This incident was unironically described in the Western press as being “greeted by a throng of cheering supporters.” Recent polls from opposition-sympathetic pollsters show he has the backing of between three to four percent of Venezuelans, depending on the wording of the question.

Groomed from a young age by the U.S. government, Guaidó first came to public attention as a leader in the U.S.-backed student protests of 2007. Since then he has continually flown back and forth between Caracas and Washington for meetings, training, and negotiations.

With a flailing economy and a weak currency, a $10 monthly stipend for health workers currently battling the COVID-19 outbreak will certainly be a huge benefit to them. While the country’s initial coronavirus response successfully kept out a pandemic, returning immigrants helped spread the disease to the point where the country is experiencing around 1,000 new daily cases, with 460 total deaths nationwide. While the crisis has worsened, it is orders of magnitude better than neighboring countries such as Ecuador and Bolivia, where the country’s neoliberal rulers have let the pandemic rage almost unabated. Meanwhile, U.S. favorite Brazil has the second highest number of deaths of any country, at nearly 130,000, its president Jair Bolsonaro continually downplaying and denying the virus’ lethality, despite contracting it himself. We are “at the mercy of a deranged lunatic. This is no exaggeration,” wrote independent outlet Brasil Wire, despairing at his actions.

With a hotly-contested election coming up in November, many commentators on both right and left are warning of foreign interference. Venezuela, too, has its own elections this winter, Maduro inviting international observers from the U.N. and E.U. to oversee the vote, and pardoning over 100 opposition figures involved in political violence and coups. Still, those who are so outraged at the prospect of potential foreign meddling in domestic affairs appear unconcerned with the U.S.’ latest attempt to bribe the Venezuelan population into supporting regime change with its own government’s (stolen) money.

Feature photo | Opposition figure Juan Guaido, center, joins health workers at an event in Caracas, Venezuela, Sept. 10, 2020. Ariana Cubillos | AP

Alan MacLeod is a Staff Writer for MintPress News. After completing his PhD in 2017 he published two books: Bad News From Venezuela: Twenty Years of Fake News and Misreporting and Propaganda in the Information Age: Still Manufacturing Consent. He has also contributed to Fairness and Accuracy in ReportingThe GuardianSalonThe GrayzoneJacobin MagazineCommon Dreams the American Herald Tribune and The Canary.

The post Why is the US Government Using Stolen Cash To Pay Doctors in Venezuela? appeared first on MintPress News.

Trump and Biden: Equally Awful

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 03/09/2020 - 8:54am in

Trump, Biden in virtual tie in Texas in new poll - HoustonChronicle.com

Front and center in the raging debate among liberals and progressives over whether they should support Joe Biden or opt out of the two-party trap by voting third-party or not at all is the assumption that Biden would do less harm both to the world and to American leftism than Trump.

Even many hard-core Bernie-or-Busters accept the premise that Biden wouldn’t be as bad as Trump. They believe the additional damage that would result from a second Trump administration is an acceptable price for teaching the DNC a lesson and building a progressive movement.

But it’s not true that Biden wins the harm mitigation sweepstakes.

For every respect in which Biden would be better than Trump—or less awful—there is a compelling counterfactual that carries equal or greater weight.

If Trump wins, for example, we can count on his uniquely toxic combination of anti-science propaganda and organizational ineptitude to unnecessarily prolong and increase the body count of COVID-19. The WHO says that millions could die in the dreaded second wave; a disproportionately high number of those people could be Americans. Let’s guesstimate half a million dead here in the U.S.?

The net cost of Trump is equal to the total number of deaths here under his second term, minus the number that would occur under Biden. Since Biden can’t do anything about the pandemic until late January when he takes office and herd immunity appears to be closer than we previously believed, whether a ridiculously incompetent Trump or a refreshingly competent Biden is president after January probably doesn’t make a big difference. There’s a chance we have seen the worst of COVID-19. Still, it’s fair to say that thousands more Americans will succumb to the coronavirus under Trump and Biden.

On the other hand, Biden is likelier to start wars than Trump and Trump is likelier to end them. Biden voted to bomb Bosnia and invade Afghanistan. He was a big cheerleader and enabler for the Iraq war. Currently he’s threatening to start a hot war with Venezuela and new cold wars against China and Russia. He also promises to keep increasing the defense budget. Donald Trump was the first American president in decades to directly negotiate with the Taliban, with whom he signed a peace agreement to bring home all American troops from our longest war.

When we assess which candidate would do the most harm, even the breathtakingly disgusting body count from COVID-19 doesn’t come close to the over 1 million people who died in the Iraq war alone. Will Biden go to war against Iran? North Korea? Anything is possible. Biden’s record is clear; he is an extremely dangerous man. And even if you don’t care about all the brown people he would kill as president, remember 9/11. Our wars come to our shores sometimes.

Despite the usual election year hysteria, there is no daylight between Trump and Biden on most major issues. Neither old white man promises to restore the $600 a week supplemental unemployment insurance. Neither is in favor of the Green New Deal. Neither wants student loan forgiveness. Neither would sign Medicare For All. Both prioritize corporations over individual citizens. Neither would significantly liberalize immigration policy.

Even on the issue of the year, police violence, Trump and Biden are competing to see which one is more palatable to the Blue Lives Matter crowd. “You know me,” Biden assured the far right in a recent speech, referencing his authorship of the notorious mass incarceration crime bill and the USA-Patriot Act that destroyed fundamental privacy rights. “You know my heart, and you know my story, my family’s story. Ask yourself: Do I look to you like a radical socialist with a soft spot for rioters? Really?” When someone tells you they are an authoritarian, believe them.

The real difference between Joe Biden and Donald Trump has nothing to do with policy. No matter which evil man wins, we are in for a lousy four years.

This election comes down to personality. How do you like your monsters? Obnoxious and buffoonish? Or polite and affable? I prefer truth in advertising: Americans are up in arms about crappy American policies precisely because Donald Trump puts an appropriately nasty face on them.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of the biography “Political Suicide: The Fight for the Soul of the Democratic Party.” You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

 

 

Disbelief as Trump Appoints Disgraced Iran-Contra Criminal Elliott Abrams as Iran Envoy

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 08/08/2020 - 3:17am in

The Trump administration has appointed disgraced neoconservative hawk Elliott Abrams to the new position of chief advisor on Iran after former insider Brian Hook handed in his resignation earlier this week. “Special Representative Hook has been my point person on Iran for over two years and he has achieved historic results countering the Iranian regime,” said Secretary of State Mike Pompeo yesterday, “Following a transition period with Brian Hook, Elliott Abrams will assume the position of Special Representative for Iran, in addition to his responsibilities as Special Representative for Venezuela.”

Anger and disbelief appeared to be the chief emotions stirred by the decision. “Elliott Abrams appointment as Special Representative for Iran is as ludicrous as his failed career as Venezuela envoy,” reacted United Nations Special Rapporteur Alfred de Zayas. “Convicted war criminal Elliott Abrams gets to try and destroy Venezuela and Iran at the same time. He certainly does have a great track record in dealing with Iran and Latin America all at once,” wrote journalist Anya Parampil, referencing his participation in the Iran-Contra scandal. Activist group CODEPINK was equally condemnatory, claiming the appointment was “another low point for the Trump administration’s disastrous policy towards Iran.” “The dangerous conflict resulting from Trump’s withdrawal from the nuclear agreement will be exacerbated by a man committed to Washington’s failed policies of regime change, including in his present-day position as Trump’s representative for Venezuela,” they added. Even mainstream, corporate-funded outlets could not hide their skepticism at the decision. “Elliott Abrams, convicted of lying about Iran-Contra, named special representative for Iran,” read CBS News’ headline.

 

Killy Elliott

Abrams’ first day on the job in the Reagan administration as Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs could hardly have been more conspicuous. The previous day, a U.S.-backed and trained death squad in El Salvador had conducted a massacre in the village of El Mozote, killing at least 800 people and raping girls as young as 10. Survivors testify that the soldiers threw a three-year-old boy in the air and impaled him on their bayonets. Abrams immediately led a cover-up, telling the Senate that eyewitness reports were “not credible” and the massacre was being “significantly misused as propaganda against their side. In total, around 75,000 people were killed in what is misleadingly described as a “civil war,” but was, in reality, a campaign of extermination directed at anyone who dissented against the U.S.-backed dictatorship. Abrams lauded what happened in El Salvador as a “fabulous achievement” for democracy. Investigative journalist Jon Schwarz described Abrams as “supporting Latin American democracy pretty much like [serial killer] Jeffrey Dahmer supported all the people that he brought to his apartment.”

Former Vice President Dick Cheney, right, poses with former Deputy National Security Adviser Elliott Abrams in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, Wednesday, May 2, 2007. (AP/Charles Dharapak)

Former Vice President Dick Cheney, right, poses with Abrams in the Oval Office, May 2, 2007. Charles Dharapak | AP

Throughout the 1980s, Abrams was a chief architect of the genocides and dirty wars plaguing the region. In Guatemala, he pushed for arms sales to the dictatorship of General Efrain Rios Montt, claiming he had “brought considerable progress” to human rights in the region. “We think that kind of progress needs to be rewarded and encouraged,” he said. While General Rios Montt was later convicted of genocide and crimes against humanity, Abrams faced no consequences for his role in the killing over 200,000 people, nor did he suffer serious repercussions for his role in the Iran-Contra Affair, where government organizations sold weapons to Iran in order to fund far-right death squads in Nicaragua. Abrams pled guilty to lying to Congress about the affair but was quickly pardoned by George H.W. Bush.

 

New regime change opportunities

“The failure of Trump’s obscure government hawk character, Elliott Abrams, was evident in the U.S. Senate today. His criminal record and his arrogant vision of the Cold War has caused him to crush the dignity and courage of a free people time and again,” wrote Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, on hearing the news about Abrams’ new position. Since January 2019, Abrams has been tasked with overthrowing the Venezuelan government, constantly encouraging the country to rise up, and placing crippling sanctions on others who trade with the Caribbean nation. Yesterday, he confirmed that he has been attempting to bribe military generals to rebel and overthrow the country’s elected leader.

The appointment of perhaps the most hardline neoconservative hawk to the new position of Special Representative for Iran is the latest in a long line of escalatory measures the Trump administration has taken. In the last two years, the president has abandoned the nuclear deal, greatly increased sanctions on the country, supported anti-government protests in Tehran, assassinated Iranian General Qassem Soleimani, and prevented the importation of COVID-19 medicines and supplies. Given his record, it is doubtful whether many in Iran will be celebrating the return of Elliott Abrams.

Feature photo | Elliot Abrams, the U.S. special adviser for Venezuela and now Iran, listens to questions from reporters at the US embassy in Lisbon, April 9, 2019. Armando Franca | AP

Alan MacLeod is a Staff Writer for MintPress News. After completing his PhD in 2017 he published two books: Bad News From Venezuela: Twenty Years of Fake News and Misreporting and Propaganda in the Information Age: Still Manufacturing Consent. He has also contributed to Fairness and Accuracy in ReportingThe GuardianSalonThe GrayzoneJacobin MagazineCommon Dreams the American Herald Tribune and The Canary.

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Trump Tells Florida Crowd “Something Will Happen in Venezuela” Soon

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 15/07/2020 - 2:59am in

On a trip to COVID-19 riddled Florida this weekend, President Donald Trump not-so-cryptically revealed that he had something big planned for Venezuela during a meeting with leaders of the U.S. military’s Southern Command. “Something will happen with Venezuela. That’s all I can tell you,” he said, before adding that Washington would be “very much involved” in what he was referencing.

On Trump’s orders, Southern Command moved large numbers of forces to the region, ostensibly to conduct a counter-narcotics operation against Venezuela, which the U.S. has described as a “narco state,” with the DEA offering a $15 million bounty for President Maduro’s head. This, despite the fact the U.S. government’s own reports on drug smuggling barely even mention Venezuela and official summaries show that U.S.-allies Colombia and Ecuador are the sources of the vast majority of South American drugs that end up in the U.S. In May, Juan Guaidó, the Washington-backed self-declared president of Venezuela, green-lighted a coup attempt led by American ex-Green Berets that ended in total failure.

Despite privately writing him off as a spent force, the “Beto O’Rourke of Venezuela,” President Trump continued to publicly back Guaidó, telling a group of hardline Venezuelan and Cuban expats in Miami-Dade County this weekend that he still “stands with the righteous leader of Venezuela.” A recent poll found that only three percent of Venezuelans recognize Guaidó as legitimate, and over 80 percent of the country say the entire opposition movement has “no credibility” whatsoever.

This weekend, Trump’s Special Advisor on Venezuela, Elliott Abrams announced brand new sanctions not just on Venezuela, which is under a virtual total blockade, but on any company found to be helping the importation of goods to the country in any way. Abrams has managed to force London-based Lloyd’s Registrar to withdraw insurance and registration to ships the U.S. deems to be helping break the blockade, meaning they are unable to dock anywhere in the world. “It’s just not worth the hassle or the risk for [companies],” he gleefully told Reuters. “There are people who don’t cooperate…We’ll go after the ship, the ship owner, the ship captain.” U.S. citizens breaking the embargo already face 30 years in prison. Thus, Abrams appears to have dusted off his Nicaragua strategy from the 1980s, where the country was sanctioned and attacked so badly that they eventually gave in and accepted the U.S.-backed candidate Violetta Chamorro as president in 1990.

Washington’s power and influence have helped bring the Venezuelan economy to a standstill, with oil exports at their lowest in modern history. The sanctions regime was formally condemned by the United Nations; an American U.N. rapporteur visiting the country and estimating that over 100,000 people have been killed as a result, declaring the U.S. guilty of “crimes against humanity.” Sanctions are a bi-partisan endeavor, beginning under President Obama in 2015, who declared a “national emergency” due to the “unusual and extraordinary threat” Venezuela was posing to the United States.

Trump’s latest move to tighten the noose even further around the necks of Venezuelans appears to be at least partially motivated by his desire to shore up the vote of the large Latin American expat vote in Southern Florida, a state where polls show he is falling further behind Joe Biden. In the 2013 election, at least 92.5 percent of Venezuelans in Florida voted against Maduro and for the opposition candidate Henrique Capriles Radonski.

Biden has also taken a hard line on Venezuela and is attempting to out-hawk Trump on the issue. “It’s time for free and fair elections so that the Venezuelan people can turn the page on the corrupt and repressive Maduro regime,” he said, adding that, “Trump talks tough on Venezuela, but admires thugs and dictators like Nicolas Maduro. As President, I will stand with the Venezuelan people and for democracy.” Last month the largest Democratic Super PAC began running ads aimed at Latino Florida Latinos comparing Trump to Maduro, his predecessor Hugo Chavez, and former Cuban leader Fidel Castro. A recent poll found that only 19 percent of Venezuelans had confidence that the situation would improve in the short term. The U.S.’ latest moves suggest they would be correct in their pessimism.

Feature photo | President Donald Trump speaks about the counternarcotics operations at U.S. Southern Command, July 10, 2020, in Doral, Fla. Evan Vucci | AP

Alan MacLeod is a Staff Writer for MintPress News. After completing his PhD in 2017 he published two books: Bad News From Venezuela: Twenty Years of Fake News and Misreporting and Propaganda in the Information Age: Still Manufacturing Consent. He has also contributed to Fairness and Accuracy in ReportingThe GuardianSalonThe GrayzoneJacobin MagazineCommon Dreams the American Herald Tribune and The Canary.

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