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Remember the Maine? CIA Intervention in Venezuela 

Photograph Source National Museum of the U.S. Navy

In January 1897, Frederic Remington, a 19th-century painter famous for his depictions of the Old West, was on assignment in Havana for William Randolph Hearst’s New York Journal to illustrate Spanish atrocities against Cubans. He sent a telegram to Hearst, noting: Everything is quiet. There is no trouble. There will be no war. I wish to return.”  Hearst replied: “Please remain. You furnish the pictures and I’ll furnish the war.”

One year later, on February 15, 1898, the battleship USS Maine mysteriously exploded in Havana Harbor.  Pres. William McKinley ordered the battleship sent to Havana on January 25th to observe the growing tension between the U.S. and Spain. The explosion killed 268 of the crew’s 354 men and shocked the American public.

The U.S. press went wild with headlines proclaiming, “Spanish Treachery!” and “Destruction of the War Ship Maine Was the Work of an Enemy!”  Hearst and the Journal offered a $50,000 award for the “detection of the Perpetrator of the Maine Outrage.” “Remember the Maine, to Hell with Spain!” became a rallying cry.

To this day, no one knows what caused the explosion. Initial reports claimed the ship was sunk by a naval mine.  Later investigations, one in 1911 and another in 1974, hypothesized that it was a coal dust fire. Still others believed it was due to sabotage, some speculating it was a covert Hearst operation to increase his newspaper’s readership.

While McKinley sought to maintain peace with Spain, Theodore Roosevelt, the Sec. of the Navy, led the war faction.  He insisted, “Let the fight come if it must. I rather hope that the fight will come soon. The clamor of the peace faction has convinced me that this country needs a war.”

On April 21, 1898, the U.S. declared war on Spain. The sinking of the Maine climaxed pre-war tensions, a provocation that accelerated the breakdown in diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Spain. The war last 10 weeks and the U.S. was victorious; it took temporary control of Cuba (although it still controls Guantanamo Bay), control of the Philippines (until 1946) and ongoing control of Puerto Rico and Guam.  Provocations can work.

***

Americans will likely never know the complete role the CIA has played – and likely continues to play — in the campaign to overthrow the Maduro government in Venezuela.  (Claims of “national security” are used to hide the truth.)  The Trump administration’s Troika of Evil – VP Mike Pence, Sec. of State Mike Pompeo and National Security Advisor John Bolton – seem to be plotting the overthrow of the Maduro government.  One can well assume that the CIA, along with other agencies of the U.S. military-industrial complex, have been recruited to destabilize Venezuela, if not worse. Given this, one can wonder if another provocative act like the sinking of the Maine will be orchestrated to legitimize a domestic coup – or U.S. military intervention — in Venezuela.

Since Pres. James Monroe proclaimed what became known as the “Monroe Doctrine” in 1823, the U.S. has actively intervened in the affairs of innumerable countries across the globe. Since its establishment in 1946, the CIA has played a key role in U.S. interventions, whether through destabilization campaigns or an outright coups, especially in Latin and South America and the Caribbean.

A review of a dozen or so CIA interventions between 1954 and 2002 is suggestive as to what might be playing out in Venezuela.

Guatemala,1954 – the CIA launched the so-called Operation PBSuccess against president Jacobo Arbenz in support of United Fruit Company and bombed Guatemala City.

Haiti, 1959 – the CIA intervened to halt a popular movement to overthrow the puppet dictator, Francois Duvalier; according to one report, “over 100,000 people were murdered.”

Brazil 1964 – the CIA backed a coup against the democratically-elected president Joao Goulart who threatened to tax U.S. multinational corporations.

Uruguay, 1969 – CIA agent Dan Mitrione trained security forces in torture as part of Operation Condor; the agency pushed a coup that installed a military dictatorship led by Juan Maria Bordaberry.

Cuba, 1961 – the CIA-backed Cubanexiles and oversaw the failed Bay of Pigs invasion in the wake of the Cuban revolution of 1959; repeated CIA attempts to kill Fidel Castro failed.

Bolivia, 1971– the CIA orchestrated a coup against Gen. Juan Jose Torres, installing Gen. Hugo Banzer who imposed a violent dictatorship.

Chile1973– the CIA backed Gen. Augusto Pinochet’s coup against Pres. Salvador Allende, imposing a dictatorship that last 17 years.

Argentina, 1976 – the CIA installed Gen. Jorge Rafael Videla in a coup as part of the Dirty War to overthrow the Peronists.

El Salvador, 1979 – the CIA supported a 1979 coup fearing a popular insurgency that culminated in the assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero (February 1980) and four American nuns (December 1980); in 1984, it financed Jose Durate’s campaign.

Grenada, 1983 – the CIA began efforts to destabilize the Marxist government in 1981 that led to the U.S. Marines invading in the country in ‘83 allegedly to protect about 1,000 American students on the island.

Panama, 1989 – the CIA orchestrated Operation Just Cause to overthrow its long-time operative, the drug trafficker Manuel Noriega, that left 3,500 civilians dead.

Peru1990 – the CIA backed Alberto Fujimori presidential election who renamed himself National Intelligence Service director, dissolved Congress and locked up the justices of the Supreme Court.

Venezuela, 2002 – the CIA backed mutinous army officers who briefly deposed Pres. Hugo Chávez in a coup attempt.

The CIA has also been involved in numerous other political and military campaigns in the region.

***

On February 15th, the U.S. celebrated the 121st anniversary of the sinking of the USS Maine.  Since then, the U.S. has engaged in numerous military and political interventions in countries across the globe.  Since its founding in 1947, the CIA has been the lead federal entity in foreign interventions and is likely playing a key role in the destabilization of Venezuela.  Little information about the agency’s role in Venezuela has been reported, but suggestive rumors are circulating.

Earlier this month, a 21 Air cargo flight from Miami International Airportwas seized by government authorities in Valencia, Venezuela, transporting 19 assault rifles, telescopic sights, radio antenna and other materiel likely for anti-Maduro forces.  The flight company denied all knowledge of what it was shipping.  The company that chartered the flight, GPS-Air, flatly rejected any claim that it had shipped weapons. As McClatchy reported, “Only a fool would try sending guns out of the [Miami] airport,” said Cesar Meneses, GP-Air’s cargo shipping manager.

Last year, a rumor circulated that the CIA was involved in an attempted assassination of Pres. Maduro. While giving a TV broadcast speech in February 2018, an explosion disrupted the event and Maduro blamed Colombia for the attack, saying later on, “I have no doubt that the name [Colombian president] Juan Manuel Santos is behind this attack.”  Trump advisor Bolton denied any U.S. involvement, insisting on Fox News, “I can say unequivocally there is no US government involvement in this at all.”

It’s unlikely that the American public will know the role the U.S. military-intelligence apparatus, especially the CIA, is playing in the attempted overthrow of the Venezuelan government.  A direct military intervention in the grand old sense of Cuba, Panama or Grenada seems unlikely.  Unfortunately, the Troika of Evil – Pence, Pompeo and Bolton – are likely scheming for a provocative incident similar to the sinking of the Maine.

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David Rosen is the author of Sex, Sin & Subversion:  The Transformation of 1950s New York’s Forbidden into America’s New Normal (Skyhorse, 2015).  He can be reached at drosennyc@verizon.net; check out www.DavidRosenWrites.com.

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