Juan Guaidó is a useful pawn for U.S. interests in Venezuela, but is he expendable?
On January 15th, the White House reported that VP Mike Pence spoke by phone “today” with Guaidó, the president of Venezuela’s National Assembly. It claimed the call was made “to recognize his courageous leadership following his arrest and intimidation this weekend, and to express the United States’ resolute support for the National Assembly of Venezuela as the only legitimate democratic body in the country.” On the 23rd, Guaidó declared himself interim president of Venezuela.
In its brief statement about the call between Pence and Guaidó, the White House failed to report that the VP “pledged” that the Trump administration would support him “if he seized the reins of government from [elected President] Nicolas Maduro by invoking a clause in the South American country’s constitution.”
This was revealed by The Wall Street Journal and sheds light on what actually was said during the conversation. “That late-night call set in motion a plan that had been developed in secret over the preceding several weeks, accompanied by talks between U.S. officials, allies, lawmakers, and key Venezuelan opposition figures, including Mr. Guaido himself,” it reported. Citing an anonymous administration official, it noted, “Almost instantly, just as Mr. Pence had promised, President Trump issued a statement recognizing Mr. Guaido as the country’s rightful leader.” On the 23rd, Trump twitted, “President @realDonaldTrump has officially recognised the President of the Venezuelan National Assembly, Juan Guaido, as the Interim President of Venezuela.”
The Journal went further, pointing out, “Other officials who met that day at the White House included… [Sec. of State] Pompeo and [National Security Advisor] Bolton, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who presented Mr. Trump with options for recognizing Mr. Guaido.” It added, “Mr. Trump decided to do it. Mr. Pence, who wasn’t at that meeting, placed his phone call to Mr. Guaido to tell him, ‘If the National Assembly invoked Article 233 the following day, the president would back him.'”
On the 30th, as reported by Roll Call, Trump placed a follow-up call to Guaidó. Press Sec. Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement, the call was made to “congratulate him [Guaidó] on his historic assumption of the presidency and to reinforce President Trump’s strong support for Venezuela’s fight to regain its democracy.” During the call, Guaidó “noted the importance of the large protests across Venezuela against former dictator Maduro, set to occur today and Saturday,” she added.
Almost on cue, following Trump’s call 11 European Union countries quickly recognized Guaidó as Venezuela’s president, including Austria, Britain, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, France, Germany, Poland, Portugal, Spain and Sweden. By mid-February, 65 countries had recognized him as president. Quickly thereafter, Canada, Israel and the bloc of right-wing Latin American governments known as the Lima Group recognized Guaidó.
As if they were a Greek chorus cheering from the sidelines, the U.S. mainstream media joined it anointing Guaidó as president. As summarized by GreyZone, “The New York Times editorial board hailed Guaidó as a ‘credible rival’ to Maduro with a ‘refreshing style and vision of taking the country forward.’ The Bloomberg News editorial board applauded him for seeking “restoration of democracy” and the Wall Street Journal declared him ‘a new democratic leader.’”
The innumerable print and media reports about the on-going Venezuela crisis share a common portrait of Guaidó, one in which he emerged, like an innocent new-born politician, from the social chaos to take leadership. More troubling, it presents him as a unifier of large spectrum of political groups in opposition to the Maduro regime. This portrait is not only mostly a fiction but serves to hide not only his history as a rightwing militant but the role the U.S. government has played for a decade-a-half in shaping Guaidó for his current effort to orchestrate a coup d’etat.
In the highly informative expose, “The Making of Juan Guaido,” Dan Cohen and Max Blumenthal, report that as a student, Guaidó strongly opposed Venezuela’s former president Hugo Chavez and supported the 2002 coup attempt against him. He backed Radio Caracas Televisión (RCTV), the privately-owned rightwing radio station, that played a key role in fermenting the 2002 coup by helping mobilize anti-government demonstrations, blaming government supporters for attacks on anti-government forces and blocking pro-government reports about the coup.
Guaidó graduated from Caracas’ Andrés Bello Catholic University in engineering in 2007 and went on for a graduate degree in the governance and political management program at George Washington University. At GW, he studied under the Venezuelan economist Luis Enrique Berrizbeitia, a leading Latin American neoliberal economist.
In 2007, the Maduro regime refused to grant RCTV’s a license renewal and Guaidó helped lead anti-government rallies protests against the decision. Guaidó and some of his closest associates were part of a rightwing youth group, “Generation 2007,” that sought to overthrow the Chavez government. The group included Leopoldo López, a Princeton-education man who came from one of Venezuela’s richest families and was a descended from his country’s first president, who long worked with the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and was elected mayor of a district in Caracas. López founded the Popular Will (Voluntad Popular) party which Guaidó eventually came to lead.
Two years earlier, in October 2005, some of those who would form the Generation 2007 group – but apparently not Guaidó — went to Belgrade, Serbia, for rightwing insurrectionary training. The trip was sponsored by the Center for Applied Nonviolent Action and Strategies (CANVAS) and largely funded by the NED. Stratfor, the military-intelligence contractor, reported that “[CANVAS] may have also received CIA funding and training during the 1999/2000 anti-Milosevic struggle.”
Stratfor outlined CANVAS’s training program in revealing terms: “Success is by no means guaranteed, and student movements are only at the beginning of what could be a years-long effort to trigger a revolution in Venezuela, but the trainers themselves are the people who cut their teeth on the ‘Butcher of the Balkans’ [i.e., Milošević]. They’ve got mad skills. When you see students at five Venezuelan universities hold simultaneous demonstrations, you will know that the training is over and the real work has begun.”
In 2010, Statfor outlined what one analyst called a plan to “drive a dagger through the heart of the Bolivarian revolution.” The scheme involved upending country’s electrical system, thus leading to a 70 percent in service. “This could be the watershed event, as there is little that Chavez can do to protect the poor from the failure of that system,” a Stratfor internal memo declared. It went on to note, “This would likely have the impact of galvanizing public unrest in a way that no opposition group could ever hope to generate. At that point in time, an opposition group would be best served to take advantage of the situation and spin it against Chavez and towards their needs.” Nine years later, an idle scheme became a threating reality.
In 2010, Guaidó and a handful of other student activists attended a secret five-day training retreat at Mexico City’s Fiesta Mexicana run by Otpor, the Belgrade-based regime-change trainers backed by the U.S. government, notably Otto Reich, an advisor to the Reagan and Bush administrations. Venezuela’s Socialist Party legislator Robert Serra claimed, “Behind this [retreat] are big interests and big finances, we´re talking about an international network which sought to destabilise our country.”
One of Guaidó’s associates, Miami-based Maria Corina Machado, was identified as the key to a 2014 plot against Maduro. She claimed that the plot was OK-ed by U.S. Ambassador to Colombia, Kevin Whitaker. “I have already made up my mind and this fight will continue until this regime is overthrown and we deliver to our friends in the world,” Machado said. And insisted, “If I went to San Cristobal and exposed myself before the OAS, I fear nothing. Kevin Whitaker has already reconfirmed his support and he pointed out the new steps. We have a checkbook stronger than the regime’s to break the international security ring.”
Most troubling, the Popular Will party, including Guaidó, was actively involved in a 2014 campaign known asguarimbas, anti-Maduro street protesters. He tweeted a video featuring himself wearing a helmet and gas mask and surrounded by masked and armed associates. They blocked a highway and had violent clashes with the police. The demonstration also took place at universities where students wore T-shirts embossed “Popular Will” or “Justice First.” The 2014 guarimbas showdown ended with the killing of about 43 people and, in a 2017 incident, 126 people, including many Chavistas and police officers.
In 2015, Guaidówas elected a member of the National Assembly and, in 2018, he spearheaded the opposition coalition named the Democratic Unity Round Table (MUD). As a member of the Venezuelan parliament, Guaido headed an inspection commission investigating high-profile corruption cases, such as the Odebrecht construction company bribery case, involving officials of Maduro’s government. Odebrecht, the largest construction and development company in Latin America, admitted in 2016 to bribing government officials in a dozen South American countries.
As Cohen and Blumenthal report, “Guaidó is known as the president of the opposition-dominated National Assembly, but he was never elected to the position.” They point out that Guaidó was fourth in line among opposition-group leaders for the position but the first was under house arrest, another was hiding out in the Chilean embassy, the third mysterious did not assume the position and the fourth was Guaidó. The Popular Will party represents only 14 percent of legislators.
In late 2018, Guaidó visited Washington, Colombia and Brazil to help coordinate plans for mass opposition demonstrations during Maduro’s second inauguration in January 2019. Leading the anti-Maduro campaign, Bolton screeched, “What we’re focusing on today is disconnecting the illegitimate Maduro regime from the source of its revenues. We think consistent with our recognition of Juan Guaidó as the constitutional interim president of Venezuela that those revenues should go to the legitimate government.” As reported in the Journal, another U.S. official said, “We have been engaged with the same strategy: to build international pressure, help organize the internal opposition and push for a peaceful restoration of democracy. But that internal piece was missing.” A U.S. official said, “He [Guaidó] was the piece we needed for our strategy to be coherent and complete.”
The New York Times confirmed this assessment, quoting William Brownfield, the former American ambassador to Venezuela: “For the first time, you have an opposition leader [Guaidó] who is clearly signaling to the armed forces and to law enforcement that he wants to keep them on the side of the angels and with the good guys.”
Like the tide, America’s political puppets come and go, some last longer while other serve for but an historical instant. Among the many who’ve served U.S. interests and were, in time, swept from the historical stage are Manuel Noriega (Panama), Augusto Pinochet (Chile), Rios Montt (Guatemala) and Anastasio Somosa (Nicaragua) along with the (Shah) Mohammad Reza (Iran) and Saddam Hussein (Iraq). Looking to Guaidó’s fate, Diego Sequera, a Venezuelan journalist, notes, “It doesn’t matter if he crashes and burns after all these misadventures, to the Americans, he is expendable.”