How Florida Reactionaries Undermine Venezuelan Democracy
Remember the Tonkin Gulf Resolution? In 1964 that joint congressional resolution propelled the United States into war lasting nine years. Resolution 488, passed by House of Representatives by a 393 – 1 vote on March 4, is a moral and practical equivalent. Its title was “Supporting the people of Venezuela as they protest peacefully for democracy, a reduction in violent crime and calling for an end to recent violence.”
The vote took place under a provision known as “suspension of the rules” which Congress uses for “legislation of non-controversial bills.” The sole dissenter was a Kentucky Republican. Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen introduced R 488. In Florida she represents the 27th congressional district, part of Miami-Dade County. All but unanimous backing for the resolution is reprehensible – for three reasons.
One, the resolution did not tell the truth. It speaks of Venezuelans “protesting peacefully.” Actually as of March 7 protesters had shot five people dead. Three were soldiers. Six deaths are attributed to opposition roadblocks, 30 more because roadblocks prevented access to emergency services. Soldiers had killed three people, one a government supporter. When protests started in Táchira, Mérida, and Caracas in early February, police did not intervene until government offices and police cars were being attacked and burned and until food and medical supply trucks were blocked. The government arrested officers who violated orders to to act with restraint.
The resolution suggests Venezuela is undemocratic. Over 15 years, however, governments there have won 17 out of 18 national elections. They are elections that for fairness and efficiency are “the best in the world,” according to the Carter Center in Georgia. Press freedom abounds: Venezuela’ predominately privately-owned newspapers and television outlets disseminate opposition viewpoints. Their television broadcasts reach 90 percent of viewers nationally.
Real democracy means uplift for everybody. In Venezuela poverty dropped from 50 percent in 1998 to 32 percent in 2011. Social spending increased from 11 percent of the GDP to 24 percent. Pensioners rose from 500,000 to 2.5 million; people finishing college, from 600,000 to 2.3 million. High school enrollment increased 42 percent. Children malnutrition and infants deaths have fallen dramatically. Every year the minimum wage has increased 10 – 20 percent.
Media misrepresentation contributed to the resolution’s passage. Protesters, for example, hardly represent Venezuela’s majority population. Disturbances have taken place in only 18 of 335 municipalities, places where the middle and upper classes live and where right-wing politicians are in charge. Most students in the streets attend private schools. National polling shows that 85 percent of respondents oppose “protests continuing throughout the country.”
Secondly, passage of Ros-Lehtinen’s resolution is a new chapter in the process of U.S. preparations for undermining Venezuela’s elected government. Money tells some of that story. Analyst Mark Weisbrot reports, “[O]ne can find about $90 million in U.S. funding to Venezuela since 2000 “just looking through U.S. government documents available on the web, including $5 million in the current federal budget.” According to Venezuelanalysis.com: “Over one third of US funding, nearly $15 million annually by 2007, was directed towards youth and student groups, including training in the use of social networks to mobilize political activism.” And, “Embassy cables also reveal US government funding of opposition parties.” Discussing his leadership of the National Endowment for Democracy, a prime source of U.S. funding, Allen Weinstein told the Washington Post in 1991 that “a lot of what we do today was done covertly 25 years ago by the CIA.”
Preparations are evident too from a report produced by Venezuelan – U.S. lawyer Eva Golinger. She alludes to a meeting on June 13, 2013, location unspecified, attended by representatives Colombia’s “Center for Thought Foundation and the Democratic Internationalism Foundation. The two groups have links with ex-Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, right wing protagonist of destabilization in Venezuela. Mark Feierstein, regional head of the US Agency for International Development, attended the meeting.
It generated a document entitled “Venezuelan Strategic Plan,” which detailed 15 “action points.” They included destruction of facilities, “massive mobilizations,” food shortages, and “insurrection inside the army.” The document mentions “crisis in the streets that facilitate the intervention of North America and the forces of NATO, with support of the government of Colombia.” “Violence [causing} deaths and injuries” is anticipated.
The third objection to Ros-Lehtinen’s resolution, and especially to congressional consensus, relates to her associations. She is famous for projecting Cuban-American determination to undo the Cuban Revolution onto the national stage. She thereby bears major responsibility for continuing a national policy of economic blockade of that island. Nor has she challenged her neighbors’ toleration of, even direct participation in, anti-Cuban terrorist attacks. It’s clear now that her neighbors have extended terror attacks to Venezuela, presumably as their contribution to U.S. plans to overthrow Venezuela’s government.
Surely it’s reasonable to expect that U.S. congresspersons, as part of their job description, might ask questions.
They could have inquired about Raul Diaz Peña, who in 2010 showed up in Ros-Lehtinen’s Miami office after having just arrived in the United States. Weeks earlier he had escaped from prison in Venezuela where he was serving time for having bombed embassies in Caracas in 2003. He told reporters on hand that costs for his escape and U.S. entry amounted to $100,000. The congresswoman indicated she “had been lobbying the US government”on his behalf .
On February 23, two days before Ros-Lehtinen introduced her resolution, Robert Alonzo held a “patriotic lunch” for friends at his farm outside Miami. He told them he wanted “help and solidarity of unyielding Cuban – exile combatants in their campaign to step up resistance to [President] Maduro’s misrule.”
Present were Reinol Rodríguez, head of the paramilitary group Alpha 66; José Dionisio Suárez, admitted murderer of ex-Chilean foreign minister Orlando Letelier in Washington; and Armando Valladares, formerly imprisoned in Cuba for bombings and more recently implicated in a plot to kill Bolivian President Evo Morales.
Born in Cuba, Alonso was living in Venezuela until authorities there discovered 153 Colombian paramilitaries lodged at his farm near Caracas. Their plan was to kill then President Hugo Chavez. Alonso helped out with the coup attempt against Chavez in 2002 by leading an assault on the Cuban Embassy.
Another meeting to plan the ouster of President Chavez took place in Miami in 2009. On hand were Jose Antonio Colina Pulido, on the lam after the embassy bombings in 2003; Joaquim Chaffardet, intelligence chief in Venezuela linked to the bombing of a fully loaded Cuban Airliner in 1976, along with Miamian Luis Posada; and Johan Peña, self-exiled after participating in the 2004 murder of Venezuelan prosecutor Danilo Anderson.
Other notable neighbors include: Patricia Poleo, who plotted against Danilo Anderson; military officer Gustavo Diaz, who helped propel the anti-Chavez coup attempt in 2002; and Angel De Fana who tried to kill Fidel Castro in 1997. Former Miami-area FBI head Héctor Pesquera attended a meeting in Panama where final arrangements were made to kill Danilo Anderson.
Finally, R-488 is emblematic of a serious problem relating to the conduct of U.S. foreign policy, specifically privatization. The U.S. government has long farmed out decision-making on and implementation of policies toward Cuba to agents, really proxies, belonging to the Cuban-American émigré community. The same tendency now crops up in regard to Venezuela.
It’s apparent that privateers involved with Cuban affairs, epitomized by Representative Ros-Lehtinen, are promoting a U.S. campaign to undermine Venezuela’s government. Joining this essentially autonomous force are self-exiled, often terrorist-inclined, migrants from other Latin American countries, notably Venezuela. The evidence shows that the milieu where Resolution 488 was spawned nurtures this class of dark characters. That the resolution gained quick, basically unquestioning approval – after all, it was deemed “non-controversial” – is bad news for the future of democracy in both Venezuela and the United States.
W.T. Whitney Jr. is a retired pediatrician and political journalist living in Maine.