Tag Archives: Nicholas Maduro

Pence’s Visit To Latin America Indicates Important Shift In U.S. Policy

Just last week Vice President, Mike Pence returned from a trip to Argentina, Chile, Colombia, and Panama. Unlike the majority of the trips by senior American officials to the region the purpose of the visit was not purely to talk about trade, economic, or other issues as if the situation were normal.

Instead, Pence’s trip sought to target a serious regional security issue—the Venezuelan crisis.

The Vice President has taken advantage of the momentum created among countries in Latin America, of which most now recognize the Venezuelan government as a dictatorship and, at long last, are willing to do something about it.

The presidents of the three main countries visited by Mr. Pence- Colombia, Argentina, and Chile- have rejected a U.S. military operation against the regime of Nicolas Maduro, as was suggested by President Trump two weeks ago. The Vice President seems to have accepted the Latin American leaders’ convictions that no U.S. troops should be posted on Venezuelan soil. This is a wise decision; many American soldiers would likely lose their lives against Venezuela’s 280,000 troops. This is not 1983 Grenada, nor is it 1989 Panama.

However, Pence seems to have received enough assurances from these Latin American presidents that there is enough consensus and unity in the region to use economic and diplomatic means to twist the arm of the Venezuelan regime. Even the cautious and often-reserved Chilean president, Michelle Bachelet expressed support for economic sanctions.

Addressing Venezuelan exiles in Doral, Florida, Pence reminded them of the sanctions that have already been imposed on Venezuela and stated clearly “there will be more sanctions to come.” Furthermore, Pence assured the audience that the U.S. is ready to do everything in its capacity “to help Venezuelans recover their democracy.”

Less than 48 hours after the Vice President’s speech, the United States imposed new sanctions on Venezuela. This time, restrictions were placed on the trade of new Venezuelan government bonds, which will make it harder for Venezuela to pay off its debt. This alone will probably not be enough to sufficiently weaken the regime. In addition, the U.S. has not suspended purchase of Venezuelan oil; CITGO, the American branch of PDVSA which owns some refineries and pipelines in the U.S., has been exempted from any new sanctions.

Yet, this does not mean that this could not be the next step. In fact, it should be the next step if there is no substantial change in Venezuela.

Despite the insufficiency of the sanctions, Pence’s strategy on Venezuela should be seen as a major turning point in U.S. policy. The Bush Administration delegated such policy to the State Department bureaucracy, as later the Obama Administration did to countries of the region, which were then ruled mostly by left-wing governments sympathetic to the Venezuelan regime.

This time, U.S. policy towards Venezuela is also based on cooperation with Latin American countries while simultaneously trying to regain leadership in the region. The U.S. again, regards itself as a major power that can make a difference in Latin America. Furthermore, this time the U.S. is taking the initiative and not merely “leading from behind,” the Obama doctrine which has now become a euphemism for abdication.

The status-quo in Venezuela is unacceptable. For the first time, we are hearing from the highest levels of the American government what we have been saying here at the Center for Security Policy for a long time. The deterioration of democracy is not merely a moral problem of human rights or freedom, but also a security problem, as the spread of dictatorial impunity enables transnational crime and terrorism.

Venezuela has been dangerous to our security for almost two decades, ever since the Chavez regime began its journey in 1999 to become a rogue state. The Venezuelan model created a revolutionary copycat in Ecuador, Bolivia and Nicaragua, aggravating the security situation even further.

Pence’s speech should be taken as a contract. We the people, including Venezuelan exiles and others in the country, should hold the Administration accountable to make good on its promises. American refineries continue to lobby against an oil embargo on Venezuela, arguing that it would raise fuel prices and cut into their profits. But the security and determination of the U.S. in the world arena is worth much more than a gallon of gas.

Crippling economic sanctions and diplomatic efforts should not stop until the Maduro regime collapses.

Don’t Allow Lobbyist And Deceiving Voices Conceal The Truth About Venezuela

More than fifty days after mass civil disobedience began in Venezuela, more than 50 people have died at the hands of the government.

People have lost fear and the government is resorting to more measures that are repressive to subdue the population. The idea is to make every effort to stay in power regardless of human casualties. Thus, the Venezuelan government is launching the so-called “Plan Zamora,” an unclear plan and has not been published in a written form. This makes the plan even more unpredictable and dangerous. So far, “Plan Zamora” has been applied on three Venezuelan states, Táchira, Carabobo, and now Barinas (Chavez birthplace).

“Plan Zamora” consists of a military-civic coalition that includes national guards, the military, militias, and para-military groups. The purpose is “to prevent a coup d’état” and “to restore order” in the face of protests. This means increasing repression, assassination of protestors, and SA-style elimination of opponents.

Indeed, in the last several days, five protestors were treacherously murdered under the plan. It is a system aimed at intimidating protestors to the point of dissuading them from further joining demonstrations.

Maduro has also proposed a constitutional reform aimed at eliminating the National Assembly, currently dominated by the opposition. A new constitution would be drafted by a new constituent assembly elected by the local city halls and by community groups, carefully picked as stooges of the Maduro regime. The move would secure power consolidation in the hands of Nicolas Maduro.

The United States has once again increased its sanctions on Venezuela’s chief Supreme Justice and seven other members of the Supreme Court. Such step was taken in reaction to their decision last month, to strip the opposition-controlled National Assembly. Those sanctions will freeze their assets within U.S jurisdiction and no U.S citizen will be allowed to do business with them.

This is an important step as it discourages government officers from obeying illegal and unconstitutional orders. However, it remains insufficient given the magnitude of the regime crimes. From now onwards every military officer, every security official, and every government official that follows the government must be sanctioned. Likewise, every single individual involved in the drug business, which is today a huge government business. The purpose of these measures should be to encourage desertion from the government.

Furthermore, the Trump Administration should not compromise with lobbyists or with members of Congress that have been lobbied by the Venezuelan government. Most such lobbying is conducted through CITGO, the U.S based company associated with the Venezuelan oil giant PDVSA. So far, CITGO has scored incredible successes, which are scary in terms of how foreign agents can corrupt Washington. Former Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA) effectively prevented the Senate from passing sanctions legislation against Venezuelan government officials in 2014. Former Congressman Joseph Kennedy (D-MA) was in charge of Citizens Energy, a non-profit organization that distributed heating oil provided by CITGO to U.S poor neighborhoods, to buy the good will of the U.S establishment.

The same applies to U.S business interests that, so far, have prevented full sanctions against CITGO and PDVSA. This step is also long overdue that could have devastating consequences for the Maduro regime.

Trump’s campaign promises included the curbing of such lobbyists and we hope and expect that the president makes good on his promises.

Additionally, Venezuela has its own conscious and unconscious accomplices in its disinformation campaign in the United States. This week the Rev Jesse Jackson warned the Trump Administration not “to help get rid of a regime it does not like,” as if Venezuela were not a huge violator of human rights or the number one sponsor of international transnational crime. He praised the regime founded by Hugo Chavez as one that brought about reduction of poverty and improvement in health care services, as if Venezuelans were not facing hunger now or as if they were any safer in the face of government-sponsored violence. Worse, Jackson criticizes the old elite that ruled Venezuela before Chavez and forgets the new class of billionaires that the Chavez regime created by allowing them to benefit from dubious businesses, government connections, and plain corruption. This includes his own vice president, who in his early forties has accumulated a fortune of 3 billion dollars in a supposedly socialist and egalitarian regime.

Jackson accuses the United States of mobilizing the Organization of American States (OAS) against Maduro, when in fact the person taking the lead is the OAS Secretary and former Foreign Minister of a Uruguayan president with strong left-wing credentials. Jackson forgets that OAS members are appalled by the violations of the organization’s democracy charter and human rights commitment. Furthermore, countries of the region such as Brazil and Colombia are concerned that drug cartels are receiving Russian weapons from Caracas, including MANPADS, a shoulder-launched surface to air missile. The Swedish government also confirmed that such missiles were found in a camp ran by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).

Last but not least, Jackson called to follow the initiative of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, a Caribbean country that has accused the OAS of being a “weapon of destruction” against Venezuela. But Jackson does not mention that St. Vincent as well as other Caribbean countries benefitted from Venezuelan oil largesse in exchange for political support. Furthermore, as I wrote a few years ago, several Caribbean countries that are part of Venezuela’s political Bolivarian Alliance (ALBA) have issued passports to Iranians, presumably at the request of Venezuela.

St. Vincent and the Grenadines itself produced unreliable travel documents, where anybody may obtain a new passport and easily change their names. It is reasonable to assume that Iranians could have taken advantage of this vulnerability. Likewise, St. Vincent forged an alliance with Iran, who sent the island US $7 million for social projects.

The Trump Administration, as well as the media and the public, must be aware of these facts and politically fight obstacles that prevent us from carrying out the obligation to protect our national security, the security of the region, and the values for which America stands.

Diplomatic and economic efforts must continue until Venezuela recovers its democracy.

Venezuelan Crisis Requires Immediate Action

Venezuela is facing a major crisis. As in the Arab Spring, Venezuelans have lost fear of a government that is becoming ever more authoritarian and murderous. Recently, a 25 year old woman was intentionally run over by a car whose drivers were policemen and a top officials in the Maduro regime.

Since major protests began, forty one people have died. Even though the government uses violence to deter protestors, people continue to demonstrate because living under the current regime is a nightmare. The protesters don’t care.  They will fight the oppressors with anything they have, including human excrement.

The Venezuelan people have no choice. The military continues to be loyal to the government, as these officers have been allowed to enrich themselves by securing economic privileges and total impunity in practicing drug trafficking.  Also, the Cubans provide more than 40,000 troops to help the regime to remain in power, as well as providing advice on the use of repressive tactics – a minor detail former President Barack Obama forgot to take into account while negotiating with the Castro regime.

Cuba knows that if Maduro leaves they will lose its most important benefactor.  Meanwhile, Russia seems to be providing oil and diesel to Cuba already.  Russian weapon supplies sustain Maduro’s regime, too. Russia and Cuba are very much interested in keeping the Maduro regime alive. Cuba wants to continue securing oil supplies and Russia does not want to lose this strategic ally.

But there is more. The Iranians are also interested in sustaining the Maduro regime. The Islamic Republic has secret military agreements with Venezuela and it was reported that 10,000 Iranians and Syrians hold Venezuelan passports. Some have estimated that this number could be as high as 25,000.  It is reasonable to assume that many of these individuals, as well as FARC members who have found refuge in Venezuela for a long time, could join the fight on Maduro’s side just to protect their interests.

For many years drug traffickers have enjoyed the privilege of using Venezuelan airports and seaports to transport drugs that end up in the United States and Europe.  It goes without saying that they are scared to death to lose an ally such as Maduro.  It is reasonable that the drug mafias are likely to use their murderous power and capability to save the regime.

The president of Costa Rica, Guillermo Solis blasted Luis Almagro, the Secretary of the Organization of American States (OAS), for having a belligerent attitude towards Maduro. Solis also claimed that there is nothing we can do to solve the Venezuelan crisis.

In a recent press conference call the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for the Western Hemisphere, Michael Fitzpatrick declared that the crisis in Venezuela is a problem for the Venezuelans to solve.

Well, if drug trafficking, terrorism, mass flow of refugees, malevolent Russian, and both a Cuban and Iranian presence is not our problem, what is our problem?

U.S. policy in the Western Hemisphere, and in particular Venezuela, has yet to be defined.  It is a policy inherited from the Obama and Bush Administrations, as well as the State Department bureaucracy.  This policy is defensive and projects concern that the U.S. might be blamed for the ouster of Maduro.  Really?

If we apply crippling sanctions we would be siding with the people of Venezuela. Hungry and angry Venezuelans are going to blame the U.S. for the downfall of the tyrant? This cannot be serious.

The U.S. Senate introduced bi-partisan legislation that codifies into law the executive orders issued by Obama – but not properly implemented.  According to which, sanctions are to be imposed on violators of human rights, drug traffickers and corrupt officials.

All this is very nice, but there is no movement yet.

The Trump Administration has acknowledged that the problem is serious but so far no economic sanctions have been imposed since sanctions were imposed on the Venezuelan vice-president, Tareck Al Assami, in February.

In an article written last month, I pointed out:

“[I]t is unbelievable that in the year 2004, when the people of the Ukraine rebelled against a fraudulent government, they got more American and international attention than Venezuela is getting now”. A few years ago, the Obama Administration asked Hosni Mubarak to step down from office as popular uprisings began to fill the streets of Cairo. The Reagan Administration in the late 1980’s asked Ferdinand Marcus in the Philippines to step down as soon as it realized that the regime was unsustainable”

So, why can’t we apply the same logic to Venezuela, where our national security is at higher stake, and announce that “Maduro has to go?”

U.S. Government, Media, and Public Opinion Can No Longer Be Indifferent To The Situation In Venezuela

We watch TV and the general media in the United States. Talk shows and news are broadcast 24 hours a day. Themes are being repeated constantly. Of course, important issues such as North Korea, Iran, the future of Obamacare, and tax reform are being discussed.  These are all vital issues, no question about it, yet, with such 24/7 flow of news, how is that the Venezuelan crisis is ignored?

What justifies ignoring the crisis in Venezuela, a country located a few hours’ flight away from the United States, whose actions are so consequential in terms of democracy, human rights, and our own national security?

In the last several days we are witnessing men and women in the streets fighting for their lives, struggling for their children and for a life of freedom and dignity. The current popular uprising has been named “The Mother of All Protests”, meaning this is the ultimate battle to depose a regime whose existence is no longer humanly tolerable.

We have seen people marching and screaming in despair. Venezuelan President, Nicolas Maduro and all the security forces are up against innocent civilians in order to preserve an obsolete and oppressive regime.  The police, the Bolivarian National Guard (militarized police), and the army are spreading tear gas.  Paramilitary and street gangs are attacking civilian neighborhoods and destroying property.  We have seen a courageous Venezuelan woman standing in front of an armored car forcing the car to withdraw.  This act of unbelievable courage has very much reminded us of the events of Tiananmen Square 27 years ago.  Two young people already lost their lives, as I am writing these lines.  A young 17-year-old girl stated that she does not care if she dies “as long as this murderous regime collapses”. This state of mind is similar to the one we witnessed in Czechoslovakia during the Prague Spring and in Tunisia during the revolt against the Ben Ali regime, where two courageous individuals set themselves on fire in a sign that they preferred to die rather than live a life without human dignity.

People continue to starve and are being helped by Venezuelan emigres in the United States and other countries.  Food, basic products, soap, clothing is being shipped to Venezuela. Families struggle to feed their children. In many households, husband and wife take turns to have dinner one night each, while the government and security apparatus continue to illicitly enrich themselves.

It is unbelievable that in the year 2004, when the people of the Ukraine rebelled against a fraudulent government, they got more American and international attention than Venezuela is getting now. A few years ago, the Obama Administration asked Hosni Mubarak to step down from office as popular uprisings began to fill the streets of Cairo. The Reagan Administration in the late 1980’s asked Ferdinand Marcus in the Philippines to step down as soon as it realized that the regime was unsustainable.

In Venezuela, this is the third popular uprising and the international reaction has been mild.  In the United States, Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson expressed concern that the Maduro government is working to silence the opposition.

“We are concerned that the government of Maduro is violating its own constitution and is not allowing the opposition to … organize in a way that expresses the views of the Venezuelan people.”

Well this censorship is an old problem and is not going to resolve itself.  Maduro is seeking to silence and eliminate the opposition altogether.  So, we know this is happening so we need to finally raise our voice and act accordingly.

Can we be mild with a country that only a few days ago, it was disclosed, provided more than 10,000 passports to Syrians, Iranians and other questionable individuals from the Middle East?

Can we have a ‘wait and see’ approach towards a government that has transformed a petro-state (and one of the wealthiest in South America) in a narco-state enabling massive traffic of drugs destined to the U.S?  How many chances can we give to a government that has deceived everyone and has proven over and over again that is not interested in compromising?

Maduro reacted to the protests by blaming the United States and rushed to seize the General Motors plant in Venezuela.

Meanwhile PDVSA, the giant Venezuelan oil company, has systematically lobbied our government and Congress to avoid punitive action.  They have been able to secure support through donations. Former Senator Mary Landrieu from Louisiana actively tried to prevent a sanctions bill against Venezuelan individuals involved in human rights violations from passing. Most recently PDVSA had the audacity to donate half a million dollars to the presidential inauguration ceremony, expecting to achieve similar results. This shows how permeable our system is.

We cannot allow this situation to go on. The U.S needs to demand the resignation of Mr. Maduro and apply heavy sanctions on the corrupt and murderous elite that governs the country.  If we don’t do it in the name of human rights, we have to do it in the name of regional, and our own, national security.

Venezuela’s Crisis Cannot Wait Too Long, But Requires External Pressure

Last week the Organization of American States (OAS) convened, with the purpose of discussing a situation in Venezuela. The meeting followed a report, prepared by the OAS secretary Luis Almagro, where he denounces the government of Venezuela for human rights violations, abuse of power, imprisonment of opponents, and application of torture on dissidents. Almagro concluded that the dialogue between the government of Venezuela and the opposition has been manipulated by the government and has no chance to succeed.

On March 28, OAS convened to discuss the situation of Venezuela. Although the majority of the countries of the hemisphere expressed concern over the situation, the expulsion of Venezuela from the OAS was not considered and no decision was made with regard to the next steps. Countries such as Mexico and Canada have expressed concern that the situation required permanent monitoring and some sort of deadline.

Countries such as the ALBA group (Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, Nicaragua) sided with Venezuela. So did the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, and several Caribbean nations that depend on Venezuelan largesse. However, at least 20 countries expressed concern on the Venezuelan situation, including the largest and most powerful countries.

Venezuela tried to avoid the discussion by citing the principle of national sovereignty and it resorted to personal insults.

The Venezuelan governments reaction to the OAS did not leave room for speculation with regard to hope of any change. Within hours of the debate the Venezuelan Supreme Court removed the immunity of the National Assembly, which is controlled by the opposition, effectively disempowering it. This generated an uproar by both the people and the opposition, leading to protests, which the government and the military repressed with violence.

The Venezuelan Attorney General, Luisa Ortiz denounced the step taken by the Supreme Court as “unconstitutional.” This has been interpreted as an internal crisis that Chavismo is suffering. A Nuevo Herald report suggests that Maduro prompted the Supreme Court decision at the recommendation of the Raul Castro regime. In the past, Fidel Castro warned the Venezuelan government that if the regime does not turn fully authoritarian, it is not likely to survive.

Following the attorney general’s statement, the Supreme Court reversed the decision and reinstated the immunity to the legislative power. Let us not fool ourselves; the move gives the deceptive impression that there is constitutionality and respect for the division of powers in Venezuela. There is not.

Venezuela has been a dictatorship for a long time and a dangerous one. OAS members should not believe that the Venezuelan government is legalistic or constitutionalist. The opposition knows this. This is why they continued to demonstrate, despite the Supreme Court’s retraction. The constitution has been violated and continues to be violated. The division of powers is just one aspect of it. The fact that the opposition continues to fight and not celebrate “a good act” by this corrupt Supreme Court is encouraging. Likewise, the OAS convened an emergency meeting for Monday April 3rd to discuss the Venezuelan self-coup.

Maduro is desperately trying to keep his regime alive, as he feels entrapped between civil revolt and international pressure. He will resort to more repression. As we anticipated for a long time, the editor of the Venezuelan daily “El Nacional,” Miguel Angel Otero had the courage to report that in the Venezuelan states of Barinas, Apure, Guárico, and Táchira there are guerrillas and arms from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). Táchira and Apure border Colombia, giving easy access to FARC fighters. These arms are not likely to be delivered as part of the agreement between Colombia and the FARC. This means that FARC fighters may be used in the Venezuelan repression.

A recent report from the Council on Foreign Relations confirmed what we at the CSP Menges Project have been saying for years: Colombian bands, FARC fighters, Mexican drug cartels, and most certainly Islamic terrorists are operating in Venezuela.

This is going to be a tough fight and Maduro is not likely to surrender. The nefarious groups mentioned above will defend Maduro to pursue their own interests too. The country is likely to succumb to unprecedented violence if not a bloody civil war.

Maduro is also capable to resort to an external military provocation as his recent posting of Venezuelan troops on Colombian territory has shown.

The OAS needs to be united now and call for Maduro’s immediate resignation and for general elections at their meeting on April 3rd. Maduro in power has turned into a nightmare that is no longer tolerable.

If the OAS fails in its effort (which is most likely), the U.S is the only country that can topple the Maduro regime by applying targeted sanctions against Venezuelan political and military leaders. Congressman Jeff Duncan, who chairs the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Western Hemisphere, raised the possibility of applying sanctions to the Venezuelan elite. The current state of despair Venezuela is experiencing has to do with the fall of the oil prices. Oil income provides the Venezuelan government with foreign currency that’s distributed to domestic oil producers. Furthermore, the United States has always been a huge market for Venezuela’s oil. But as Venezuela’s oil crisis is aggravated, Venezuela started importing oil from the United States at a rate of 50,000 barrels a day.

The Venezuelan political and military leadership needs to feel the pressure.

The U.S will have to monitor what the OAS is doing but it will have to be ready to take unilateral steps and use its leverage over Venezuela.

Congress And Trump Must Impose Actual Sanctions To Bring About Regime Change In Venezuela

Most recently, the US Senate has unanimously condemned the despotism of the Maduro regime in Venezuela by adopting resolution S. Res.35.

This is a most welcome statement since the resolution it expresses concern about the political, economic, social and humanitarian crisis in Venezuela. The resolution denounces the scarcity of goods and medicines; human rights violations; imprisonment of political opponents; violation of the principle of separation of powers and the rule of law; government elements’ involvement in drug trafficking and money laundry activities; widespread violence and massive human exodus from the country.

Likewise, the Senate statement urges the United States government to support the Organization of American States (OAS)’ efforts to restore democracy and the rule of law in the country and “to instruct appropriate federal agencies to hold officials of the government of Venezuela accountable for violations of United States law and abuses of internationally recognized human rights.”

The bill is now circulating in the US House of Representatives supporting OAS Secretary Luis Almagro in his effort to apply the OAS Democratic charter.

Similarly, last year Almagro not only demanded the application of the OAS ‘s democratic charter but also stated that President Nicolas Maduro must be removed from office.

Most recently, a new confrontation between Almagro and the Maduro Government took place. Early in February, the Secretary not only spoke about applying the OAS Democratic Charter on Venezuela but also announced that he will review the Venezuelan chain of command that has been involved in torture and human rights violations. He also urged general elections in Venezuela in order to enable a transition from an “authoritarian regime to a democratic one.”

Such courageous acts on the part of Almagro have been repudiated by Bolivia, Ecuador, and Cuba. Furthermore, last month, the government of Raul Castro denied an entry visa to Almagro because he accepted an invitation by the family of Osvaldo Paya, a dissident who died in unclear circumstances. Cuba’s repudiation of Almagro was a slap in the face to Obama’s reconciliation policy and a reaffirmation of the Cuban/Venezuelan alliance.

Currently, 30,000 Cuban officers are posted in Venezuela advising the Maduro government on how to consolidate a totalitarian repressive regime. The recently published State Department Human Rights Report on Venezuela claims that human rights abuses includes politization of the judiciary to undermine legislative branch action;, intimidation and arbitrary prosecution of critics; “indiscriminate police action against civilians leading to widespread arbitrary detentions, unlawful deprivation of life, and torture; and government curtailment of freedom of expression and of the press. Likewise, “ the government… did not permit judges to act according to the law without fear of retaliation. At times the government blocked media outlets and harassed and intimidated privately owned television stations, other media outlets, and journalists throughout the year using threats, fines, property seizures, arrests, criminal investigations, and prosecutions”.

The report cites sources from NGO’s and other agencies that reported:

“[E]xtrajudicial killings by police and security forces; torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions and lack of due process rights that contributed to widespread violence, riots, injuries, and deaths in prisons; inadequate juvenile detention centers; corruption and impunity in the police; arbitrary arrests and detentions; abuse of political prisoners; interference with privacy rights; lack of government respect for freedom of assembly; lack of protection for Colombian migrants; corruption at all levels of government; threats against domestic NGOs; violence against women; employment discrimination based on political preference; and restrictions on workers’ right of association”

The bi-partisan Senate resolution awaiting now approval in the House sends a clear message that it repudiates the Venezuelan government and supports Almagro’s efforts to bring about the end of the Maduro regime in Venezuela and the restoration of a full fledge democracy in the Caribbean country.

However, it is not accompanied by any effective sanctions that can help Almagro’s objectives.

The resolution fails to call for the cessation of U.S transactions with Venezuela’s oil company PDVSA and apply other sanctions against the political and military leadership in Venezuela.

Currently, the US is the largest customer of a regime of human rights violators mixed up with Iran and narco-terrorists. Such action is in all likelihood to be tacitly supported by the OAS. The peoples of Latin America are waiting for U.S action that can confront dictatorship up front. Likewise, such action is in the interest of the United States as it is directly confronting a regime that endangers its national security.

We see no reason why not to remove such a rogue element from the Western Hemisphere.

New Venezuelan Vice-President Has Ties to Hezbollah and Transnational Crime

In a move to protect his totalitarian regime and subjugate the Venezuelan people, President Nicolas Maduro appointed Tareck El Aissami as his vice-president and successor.

This appointment, made on January 4th, is not coincidental. It comes at a time when the Venezuelan government is facing a huge crisis of legitimacy that can no longer be denied. Starvation, violence, and chaos now characterize Venezuela. Even the Vatican supported the call of the Venezuelan Church for civil disobedience and rebellion. The Vatican quoted the teachings of St. Thomas Aquinas who gave validity to sedition in the case of a government that is evil and does not deserve to hold power.

As Maduro made the announcement, he pointed out that the reason why he brought El Aissami is because he is concerned about “citizens’ security”. Speaking directly to El Aissami, Maduro said “Get heavily involved, day and night, in the issue of citizens’ security and the need to purge local and regional police. Be ready terrorists, we are coming strong”.

This means that El Aissami is coming not to restore citizens’ security but to eliminate the last bastion of resistance to the powers that challenge the tyranny of the Maduro government. El Aissami has been the governor of Aragua state for the last several years; the most violent state in the country. Restoring security is not really his forte.

Furthemore. El Assami, like Maduro, belongs to a sector of chavismo the ruling elite called “The Francisco Miranda Front“, which is the pro-Castro sector. This also reflects tensions between Maduro and other sectors of the regime, incluidng the military groups that joined Hugo Chavez in his failed coup d’etat of February 4, 1992. (the group is known by the term 4F) . Tensions between the 4F and Maduro emerged as a result of the deteriorating economic situation and scarcity the country is suffering. A group of officials asked for the resignation of Mr. Maduro.

This means that the regime is losing the support of the military. Against this background we may speculate why El Assami was appointed.

El Aissami has been a key liaison between Venezuela and Iran and Hezbollah for many years. As head of the office of Immigration (ONIDEX) and Minister of Interior he provided passports to individuals from the Middle East; mainly Iranians. Iranian presence in Venezuela includes Hezbollah and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. Their presence is part of the military philosophy of the Chavez regime that sought to develop a defense strategy by using guerilla warfare. In practice, what it means is the protection of the regime in the same way that revolutionary guards protect the Ayatollah and in the same way that now Hezbollah is fighting for the survival of the Assad regime in Syria. Hezbollah and the Revolutionary Guards are training soldiers of the revolution in camps in Venezuela and also in the ALBA school, located in Santa Cruz.

El Aissami played an important role in all these connections that also include money laundering operations and dealings with drug cartels. Venezuela’s ports and airports are being used freely by drug cartels.

Therefore, it makes sense to assume that the move to appoint El Aissami is to increase repression by mobilizing all these elements. There is a chance that the Iranian repressive apparatus will join the Cubans to secure the survival of their Venezuelan ally. This could mean confrontations not only with civil society but also with potential insurrected military officials. This is likely to increase Venezuela’s dependence on Iran.

In addition, it is also likely that the presence and influence of Iran will increase in Venezuela and elsewhere in the Western Hemisphere.

In addition, it was disclosed that the Venezuelan embassy in Baghdad sold passports to anyone. It can be assumed that Sunni terrorists may have acquired those passports. El Aissami’s father was the representative of the Iraqi Baath party in Venezuela. Former Sadam Hussein operatives and officers are an integral part of the Islamic State. Therefore, the possibility that Sunni extremists may increase their presence is real as well. Let us remember that most recently, U.S. Southern Command reported that 10% of those crossing the Southern border are of Sunni Arab origin. It is not clear to what extent these two facts may be related but it is worth further exploration.

The Venezuelan government is a nightmare for its own population and the world seems to think it is not their business. Now, with the appointment of El Aissami, a man associated with terrorism, drug trafficking and corruption this situation should be of even greater concern to the U.S. and to the region. Without some direction from the United States and certain Latin American countries like Brazil, Argentina and Colombia, the Maduro regime will continue to be a serious security threat as well as a bastion of criminality and lawlessness.

This is the time for the United States to build international support and particularly in the region impose sanctions to every single political, military and para-military leader that supports the Maduro government.

Since we have inherited from President Obama a process of normalization with Cuba, it would be very convenient to apply some pressure on the “friendly“ Castro Regime to stop supporting the Venezuelan regime. As we pointed out, Cuba offcials are currently heavily involved in the survival of the Venezuelan regime. The Venezuelan situation is so chaotic that civil war is likely to erupt at any time. Such scenario could have regional implications.

The current government of Venezuela is no longer popular with many Latin American countries that once supported the Bolivarian Revolution like Brazil and Argentina. Some time ago the South American trading block known as Mercosur suspended Venezuela from its’ membership.

The Trump Administration has now an opportunity to change policy and develop an entire new diplomatic, economic and political strategy aimed at reducing the influence oft he Maduro-El Assami regime. It is the right thing to do and it is in our security interest.

Venezuela Flaunts It’s Status As A Narco-State

Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro recently appointed Nestor Reverol as new Minister of Interior and Justice. Reverol, whose new position puts him in charge of the justice system and law enforcement has been recently accused by a Federal Court in New York of participating in a drug trafficking network and of aiding in the smuggling of cocaine into the United States.

Reverol is a former general in the Venezuelan Armed Forces, a former director of the national Anti-Drug Office and a former commander of the National Guard. Maduro’s actions are, indeed, “anti-imperialist” in nature but they are also a reconfirmation that Venezuela is a proud, no longer “in the closet” narco-state. American State Department reports have defined Venezuelan officials’ involvement in drug trafficking as “cases of corruption” within government.

Maduro’s defiant actions clearly confirm that drug trafficking is the official policy of the Venezuelan government not merely “corruption”. Furthermore, the United States is investigating a handful of additional high ranking Venezuelan officials that include among others, Diosdado Cabello (the former president of the National Assembly), Tareck Al Assimi (governor of the State of Aragua and former Minister of Interior who allegedly was responsible for providing passports to members of Hezbollah). Likewise, two nephews of Mr. Maduro’s wife were accused by a Federal court in New York of attempting to smuggle 800 kilograms of cocaine into the United States. Already in 2009, Venezuela had been denounced as being the main country of transit for Colombian drugs enroute to the United States.

The United States has yet to react to the official drug trafficking policies of the Venezuelan government. It is not in the interests of our government to turn a blind eye to Maduro’s actions and namely to Mr. Reverol’s appointment. It must not only protest that appointment to the Venezuelan government but also take punitive actions as part of the war on drugs. Furthermore, the U.S. needs to treat Venezuela for what it is: a narco-state that affects the well-being of American citizens. I can see no better time than this to take punitive action in the form of economic sanctions and other restrictions against the entire political and military elite.

Similarly, there has been no progress on the situation of Venezuelan democracy and national dialogue as decided on at the last gathering of the Organization of American States (OAS).

At that meeting, the U.S. voted to support dialogue between the government and the opposition to solve the serious economic and political crisis Venezuela now confronts.

As expected, Maduro is undermining this dialogue. On the one hand, the Electoral National Council approved the first step taken by the opposition to move ahead with the recall referendum after the opposition was able to collect 1% of the electorates’ signatures. However, at the same time, the Maduro-controlled Supreme Court Tribunal declared the acts of the Venezuelan parliament “null and void”. Since the opposition took control of the National Assembly Maduro has used the Supreme Court to systematically block laws legislated by that body.

Interestingly enough, normalization of relations between the different branches of government was a pre-condition set by the OAS before dialogue between the government and opposition were to begin.

The actions of the Venezuelan government confirm the suspicion that it has no intention to hold a decent dialogue and even less to open up the system to democracy. All Venezuela received from the OAS was a break from international pressure.

Most recently the Vatican agreed to be a mediator in the Venezuelan crisis along with their recommendations to include former presidents Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero (Spain), Leonel Fernandez (Dominican Republic), and Martin Torrijos (Panama) as part of the mediating group. These ex-presidents are considered to be sympathetic to the Venezuelan government and that is why they were accepted. However, nothing much should be expected from the Vatican. As former Uruguayan president, Julio Maria Sanguinetti and the Argentinean scholar, Guillermo Lousteau have pointed out, Pope Francis has adopted a populist position where he has expressed deep concern about the “dangers” of the market, capitalism, unlimited consumption, globalization, modernization and the rule of the wealthy (what he calls oligarchy) but has not spoken up against the authoritarianism of the Maduro government.

The Venezuelan Church has heroically resisted and has been a vocal critique of the Maduro government’s harsh authoritarianism. The Pope has spoken against violence in Venezuela but his message has been well too ambiguous. Pope Francis has met with Maduro as well as with the opposition leader Henrique Capriles Radonsky and with the wife of political prisoner Leopoldo Lopez. However, the Pope has kept an equidistant relation with both sides. This may make him a fair mediator in theory but his extreme caution casts doubt on his ability to accomplish much, particularly when good mediation would require pressure on Nicolas Maduro to give up his absolute power.

The international community, including the United States, needs to speak up against authoritarian elected governments. Nothing is a better proof of this than the impotence of the Western world as the Turkish government continues its’ crackdown on its entire civil society in the aftermath of the most recent failed coup d’état.

A challenge for the next American president should be to build a real pro-democracy coalition and help set a new international consensus.

The Challenge After the Venezuelan Elections

Joyous celebrations have taken place across Venezuela as the opposition resoundingly defeated the ruling Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) founded by Hugo Chavez and now led by Nicolas Maduro.

The victory was overwhelming as the opposition won 112 seats in the Venezuelan parliament while the ruling party retained 55 seats. It is the first time since the year 2000 that the PSUV is not in power.

While there are many reasons to celebrate this unprecedented victory, this is only the beginning of a liberation process that will face serious resistance by a ruthless government that still controls the executive power and is even trying to expand its power in the few remaining weeks before the National Assembly is handed over to the opposition.

The Union of South American Nations (UNASUR), a regional organization that has supported the Chavista government in Venezuela, commended President Maduro for having quickly recognized his defeat. But the reality is different.

It was the Venezuelan Defense Minister, General Vladimir Padrino Lopez, who resisted attempts by Maduro and the president of the National Assembly, Diosdado Cabello, to resort to fraud and refuse to recognize the electoral results.

General Padrino Lopez, a supporter of the regime who has strongly believed in the role of the army in strengthening the Bolivarian Revolution, refused to cooperate with Maduro and Cabello. His argument was that this would have generated extreme violence.

In other words, the military, which the Chavista government cultivated for more than a decade purging opponents and rewarding key officers, withdrew its unconditional support from the government. Furthermore, polls among the military showed a trend similar to the one shown by the civilians that there was overwhelming support for the opposition.

The idea of committing fraud was raised a few days before the election in a meeting that took place in the largest military base in Caracas between the top political leaders (including Maduro and Cabello), the top military leadership, the intelligence and security apparatus, and at least one representative from the Cuban government. Cuba has been the architect of the Venezuelan repressive apparatus and the staunchest supporter of the Maduro regime.

A few days after the election, Maduro announced a change in his cabinet in order to carry out “re-structuration”. However, this is most likely a plot to expel the Defense Minister. Yet, it could well be that discontent in the army is such that the removal of General Padrino Lopez may not be enough to restore the support of the army. If this is the case we will soon know.

Maduro will do whatever he can to use the executive power to undermine the opposition. The government has already proceeded to appoint 12 judges to the Supreme Court with a clear Chavista identity. In addition, it decided to transfer the official radio and TV station of the National Assembly to the workers (mostly Chavistas) in order to prevent the new National Assembly from firing these government employees or use these official media to spread different political ideas.

On their part, the newly elected leaders of the National Assembly already declared they will give an amnesty to political prisoners and promised new laws to revive the decimated private sector. But these steps are likely to be undermined by the government who already pledged to continue the revolution. In addition, what Maduro is really counting on is that the opposition will undermine itself by infighting and internal squabbles. IT IS, THEREFORE CRITICAL FOR THE OPPOSITION TO REMAIN UNITED IF THEY ARE TO SUCCEED.

It is likely that blood will be spilled. The Maduro government’s paramilitary and gangs of lumpen and common criminals will be mobilized and chaos might increase.

With regard to the international contest, support for Maduro is fading. As we pointed out in our last article the regional block that has supported the Chavez/Maduro regime seems to be undergoing a crisis

The Secretary of the Organization of American States (OAS), Luis Almagro, contrary to his predecessor, Jose Miguel Insulza, stressed the importance of respecting the democratic process and the obligation of the government of Venezuela to guarantee all the necessary liberties to the population and the press. He denounced the suppression of opposition candidates and the incarceration of political opponents. The Chilean Government, by order of the Chilean Supreme Court, is expected to request that the OAS be allowed to visit political prisoners in Venezuela. This is a significant step.

By the same token, the government of President Cristina Kirchner, a strong supporter of the Venezuelan regime will leave power on December 10th. The Brazilian workers party, another supporter of Venezuela is under serious public scrutiny as well as questions about its legitimacy due to numerous government scandals and government corruption.

The U.S. government must now monitor the situation in Venezuela and adhere to a strict human rights policy.

Neither normalization nor accommodation with  Maduro should be sought. However, the Obama Administration should strengthen relations with the new leaders of the National Assembly by giving them the recognition they deserve since they represent the true will of the majority. Likewise, the Administration should seriously address with the new legislative leaders other important issues such as the Government’s connections with drug trafficking and terror.

By the same token, the Obama Administration should take advantage of the new shift in the OAS and actively encourage a human rights agenda and the implementation of the organization’s democratic charter.

Finally, the Obama Administration must also reinforce relations with the governments of Argentina, Colombia, Mexico, Paraguay, Uruguay and Chile to support a change in all the issues mentioned above.

Massive Demonstrations Against The Venezuelan Government

Thousands of Venezuelans marched on May 30th to protest the deteriorating situation in Venezuela that includes impoverishment, rationing, scarcity, oppression, imprisonment, citizens’ insecurity, mafia style government and repression.

The demonstrations in Venezuelan cities were echoed by marches in many cities in the world including Brazil, the United States, Spain, Switzerland, Chile, Canada, Costa Rica, and other countries and cities.

Venezuelans protested the unjust and unlawful incarceration of political leader Leopoldo Lopez (now holding a hunger strike), former San Cristobal mayor, Daniel Ceballos (also in a hunger strike) and the mayor of Caracas, Antonio Ledezma.

Likewise, demonstrators demanded that a date be established to have parliamentary elections in Venezuela, a step that the government-controlled national electoral council has so far refused to do.

At the same time the deteriorating economic situation has reached levels unknown in the country. Food and medicine are now being meagerly rationed in a country that once was among the most prosperous in Latin America.

An inflation of between 50 and 100% per month is expected to take place this year. There is a parallel black market to purchase dollars. The price of the dollar on the black market is almost 100 times higher than the official rate. Imports have considerably diminished. Food and medicines are scarce. An underground economy exists but it is far from sufficient to satisfy the needs of society. Now it is the populations that the ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) claims to represent, the poorest, the humble, and the needy that are also struggling. The assault against the capitalistic economy has destroyed the productive forces that delivered the goods necessary to make life possible. A situation like this was never experienced even in the worst times of pre-Bolivarian Venezuela.

The gravity of today’s Venezuela is reflected in the fact that the PSUV has created internal dissidence. A political faction of the PSUV, Marea Socialista (Socialist Tide), seceded from the party claiming that the revolution was betrayed and that Maduro does not represent “true Chavismo”. Of course, there is no way we can realistically say that Hugo Chavez‘s wasteful and repressive policy is not directly related to the current situation in Venezuela. Indeed Marea Socialista is as fanatic and stubborn as Chavez and Maduro but what matters here is that the crisis is causing an internal rupture within the government making the Maduro regime more vulnerable, and more likely to collapse

This also explains the electoral council’s delay in scheduling a date for parliamentary elections. The result of such election could be so catastrophic for Maduro and his accomplices that more time is needed to prepare a major systematic fraud, a fraud that common sense will make very difficult, if not impossible to hide.

Interestingly enough, only a few leaders of the opposition Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD) participated in the march. The key leaders of MUD insist that the institutional framework is the way to defeat the Maduro government. They suggest continuing to try the electoral option and defeat Maduro at the ballots is the best plan of action.

However, as we have repeatedly pointed out, the Bolivarian government has been designed from the beginning to perpetuate itself in power and does not show any signs that will accept a different party in government. Therefore, a transition can only take place through mass mobilization and international pressure.

The internal rupture within the government may provide an opportunity to make both mass mobilization and international pressure easier.

A handful of former Latin American and Spanish presidents led by former Bolivian president, Jorge Quiroga expressed their support for the protestors.

These former leaders include a diverse gamut of political views and ideologies including the socialists Felipe Gonzales (Spain) and Ricardo Lagos (Chile), the Social democrat Fernando Henrique Cardozo (Brazil), the conservatives Jose Maria Aznar (Spain) and Andres Pastrana (Colombia) and others. They demanded a halt to persecution of journalists, the liberation of political prisoners, the demand for free and transparent elections and removal of government controls over the economy as an important first step. Former presidents of Colombia and Bolivia, Andres Pastrana and Jorge Quiroga visited Mayor Ceballos in prison and attended the Caracas demonstration in person.

However, we are still waiting for Latin American presidents and world presidents including President Obama to do what these ex-presidents have done. Leopoldo Lopez’s wife, Lilian Tintori implored the three Latin American women presidents, Dilma Rousseff of Brazil, Michelle Bachelet of Chile and Cristina Kirchner of Argentina to intervene on behalf of the prisoners and the Venezuelan people.

Unfortunately, they are unlikely to answer Tintori’s pleas, least of all Cristina Kirchner whose sympathies towards the Maduro regime are crystal clear. Bachelet has praised the Venezuelan government for its achievements in bringing social justice but has said nothing about the hunger and scarcity suffered by those populations. Some Latin American leaders live in a situation of frivolity and indifference that reminds us of the world during the Nazi period.

As we pointed out in an article that we published early in May, Diosdado Cabello, president of the National Assembly and the second most powerful person in the Venezuelan government is being investigated by U.S. authorities as being one of the heads of trafficking and shipping operations of cocaine. It is expected that U.S. authorities will issue an indictment sometime soon. Likewise, the same informants and dissidents that have testified against Venezuelan top officials seem to have confirmed that the Venezuelan government had substantially cooperated with Hezbollah to help the terrorist organization establish terrorist cells, receive false passports, weapons, and engage in money laundering activities.

If the U.S authorities issue an indictment it will be imperative upon President Obama to take punitive measures against Venezuela for the illicit activities the country is involved in and promoting. By the same token, if evidence is provided, Congress should quickly move to declare Venezuela a state sponsor of terrorism and /or narco-state. Proper sanctions must ensue.

Indeed, something needs to be done. The status quo is unsustainable. Venezuela is a living hell for its citizens and a threat to regional and U.S. security.