In 2008, Venezuela was one of the main instigators of a new structure, the Union of South American Nations, or UNASUR, aimed at uniting and integrating South America as an independent bloc of truly sovereign countries.
The organisation thus hoped to constitute a credible counterweight to the dominance of the US over the Western hemisphere and mirrored the establishment of homologous structures in the Eurasian space, such as the Eurasian Union or the Shanghai Organisation for Cooperation. Its Constitutive Treaty outlines the goal “to achieve a multipolar, balanced and just world”, a vision then shared by most of the Southern continent’s leaders.
In the first few years of its existence, the bloc was working successfully towards greater integration in terms of regional trade, migration, foreign policy and even defence. It was increasingly perceived as an emerging geopolitical force. UNASUR was widely expected to become one of the main pillars of a future multipolar world.
The destruction of an independent bloc
Today, the organisation is in ruins. Ecuador, where UNASUR’s headquarters are located, announced two week ago that it was leaving the group, following six other countries – Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Paraguay and Peru – who suspended their membership in April last year.
And finally, these seven countries, which together hold 88% of South America’s population and the bulk of its economy, met in Chile’s capital Santiago last Friday to set up an alternative organisation, PROSUR, aimed at replacing UNASUR.
PROSUR is no “union” or “community of states”. In its six-point declaration signed on Friday, it is simply referred to as a “space”. Chilean President Piñera described it as “an instance to be able to dialogue, to be able to coordinate [South American policies]”, and as “a forum without ideologies… but [with] a total commitment to freedom, democracy and human rights”.
So instead of a strong bloc for a sovereign, independent South America, we now have a forum for giving lessons on “democracy and human rights”. This must sound like music to the ears of the US State Department.
The Gang of Seven
The countries involved had already long been ganging up on Venezuela, supporting the US-sponsored coup attempt by declaring self-proclaimed interim president Guaidó the legitimate president of Venezuela. In 2017, all but Ecuador had joined other US-friendly states from Central and North America to form the Lima Group, an anti-Maduro coalition aimed at finding its own solution to the Venezuelan crisis.
Interestingly, the seven states have all undergone significant political changes in the last few years, bringing in new leaders with policies closely aligned to those of the US.
A pattern: independent leaders eliminated through unproven corruption allegations
First, left-wing President Fernando de Lugo of Paraguay, was impeached in 2012 in a process condemned as illegal by nearly all Latin American countries. His relationship with the US had been tense ever since he had opposed US military presence in his country.
But soon the leaders of South America’s two greatest economies, Brazil’s Dina Rousseff and Argentina’s Cristina Fernando de Kirchner, both strong supporters of multipolarism and national sovereignty, became the targets of massive media campaigns aimed at tarnishing their reputation with allegations of corruption.
On a background of anticorruption protests, Rousseff was impeached in 2016 in a process described by many as a coup, with her successor – the former vice-president – overseeing a significant reorientation of the country’s national and international policies. Rousseff’s predecessor Lula was the clear favourite to win the 2018 presidential election, but he was jailed at the start of the campaign following the same dubious anti-corruption investigations, and therefore barred from running. The consequence was the election as president of US-aligned, Donald-Trump worshipper, Brazilian-military-dictatorship nostalgic Bolsonaro.
In Argentina, the campaign against Cristina Fernando de Kirchner led to a wave of protests and helped US-friendly Mauricio Macri win the Presidential election in October 2015 and the ongoing investigations have now seriously undermined CFK’s chances of returning at the next election in 2020, despite her legendary popularity among ordinary Argentinians.
In Ecuador, President Correa was succeeded by his vice-president Lenin Moreno in May 2017, after winning an election where he promised continuity with his predecessor’s policies. However, once in power, Moreno unexpectedly turned his back on his predecessor’s legacy and engaged in a wide-ranging policy of “de-Correization”, mending relations with the US and joining the ranks of Venezuela’s opponents. Correa was forced into exile in Belgium after being subjected to police investigation and more recently a court order for his arrest.
In Peru, left-wing President Humala also had a friendly attitude towards Venezuela under Chavez, even though his relations with the country turned lukewarm after Maduro took office. However, he remained a strong believer in South American independence and integration. In early 2016 he became the subject of allegations of corruption, which helped his opponent defeat him in the May presidential election. Humala and his wife were arrested and jailed without trial in 2017, then released after nine months. They are still awaiting trial.
Finally, in 2018, staunchly pro-US, right-wing presidents Piñera and Duque took office in Chile and Colombia. They became the leading promoters of the PROSUR idea.
The pattern of unproven criminal allegations against left-leaning, US-critical, pro-sovereignty South American leaders should raise serious concern. It strongly contributed to the complete transformation of the continent’s political landscape, which in turn led to the sabotage of the geopolitically highly significant UNASUR project as well as to the recent onslaught on Venezuela by the leaders of neighbouring states.
A plan for violent regime change in Venezuela
Regime change in Venezuela, a country with an alternative model of development and an outspoken leader strongly opposed to US domination, would have been the cherry on the cake in the political reshaping of the region. In this case, however, only a heavier-handed approach had any chance of success.
Not only was there a long-lasting media campaign demonising the government and criminal allegations against the president, combined with mass street protests. In this case the protests were to turn violent, leading to deaths which could be blamed on the government. An alternative, opposition government had to be set up, ready to seize power at the appropriate time.
The way the events unfolded bore striking resemblance to the process leading to the overthrow of Ukraine’s President Yanukovich in 2014. In both cases, there was a strong national and international media campaign demonising the president with accusations of corruption and criminal abuse of power – Yanukovich and Maduro were supposedly “dictators” who needed to be toppled by a people’s revolution. In both countries, radical, violent groups joined the protests and attacked the police forces, causing deaths on both sides, which allowed the media of the US, EU and their local allies to denounce the president as a murderer.
Following the Ukraine coup script
Even more remarkably, in both instances the newly appointed parliamentary presidents (Turchinov and Guaidó) proclaimed themselves “interim president” in total breach of their countries’ constitutions, and yet both were quickly recognised by an overwhelming majority of Western leaders as the legitimate presidents of their respective countries.
On the day of the Ukrainian coup in February 2014, many members of parliament, realising they had been betting on the wrong horse, decided to switch sides, or conveniently stayed at home, enabling Ukrainian nationalist Turchinov to be elected President of the Rada (Ukrainian House of Parliament). Then, alleging that Yanukovich had vacated his position as president, a majority in the Rada voted to impeach President Yanukovich (ignoring the procedures requiremed by the Ukrainian constitution) and Turchinov was consequently declared interim president of Ukraine.
The parallel with Venezuela in 2019 is uncanny. On January 5th, Guaidó became president of the opposition-controlled National Assembly (a body elected in 2015 but whose powers had been officially transferred to the Constituent Assembly, elected in 2017), then on January 23rd announced that as the country no longer had a legitimate president, he was declaring himself interim president.
US State Security Adviser John Bolton even called on President Maduro to flee the country while it was still possible. Was he simply reading the next line in the playscript used in Ukraine in 2014, when Yanukovich fled the country to Russia as his private residence was being attacked by armed gangs?
Unlike the Maidan coup in Ukraine in 2014, the US-sponsored coup attempt in Venezuela seems to have failed. President Maduro did not flee and is still firmly in power, determined to prevent North American imperialists and their servants from eliminating one of the region’s last bastions of resistance to their rule, the sovereign Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela.
In contrast to Yanukovich, Maduro was able to mobilise hundreds of thousands of his supporters to take to the streets in defence of their government (a fact hardly reported by Western media), while the armed forces, despite strong international and internal pressure, including threats of post-coup reprisals, refused to give up their loyalty to the president.
Geopolitics: eliminating threats to the unipolar world
Another significant similarity between the two events lies in the geopolitical background. Both Venezuela and Ukraine until the 2014 coup were countries with a potential to play a significant role in the construction of a multipolar world. Venezuela was the main engine behind UNASUR, or what remained of it.
In Ukraine, The Maidan protests broke out when Yanukovich postponed his signature of the Association Agreement with the EU, as the Ukrainian leader realised this would lead to a collapse in the economically vital (especially to East Ukraine) trade with Russia. Russia was still trying to woo Ukraine into the Eurasian Union (an economic union bringing together several former members of the USSR).
The US determination to sabotage such attempts to build independent structures counterbalancing the power of the Western bloc was revealed in late 2012 in a candid statement by then US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who declared that Russia’s attempt to build the Eurasian Union was an attempt to “re-sovietize the region”, and the Americans were “[working] out ways to slow down or prevent it” – a frank assertion of the USA’s imperial right to control the destiny of former Soviet states.
Naturally, Ukraine would have constituted an important part of the original Eurasian Union project. Future membership of the new structure was viewed favourably by most Ukrainians in late 2012, according to opinion polls. However, less than a year later, thousands of people were out in the streets of Kiev in protest, standing up for a so-called “European choice” as an alternative to the Eurasian option. They were egged on by scores of American and European politicians, including the US ambassador, as well as financial support. As a result, the West was able to add Ukraine – or at least the bulk of its territory – to the list of its proudest conquests, and significantly weaken the potential of the Eurasian Union.
Countries wishing to become truly independent, or to preserve their sovereignty in today’s unipolar world, can only reach their goals by joining forces. UNASUR, the Eurasian Union, the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation and the BRICS group of countries could all constitute pillars of a future multipolar world, with truly independent, sovereign states and alliances, free from outside intervention and control.
The “reconquest of the Americas” described above, together with the recent conquest of Ukraine by the Western bloc, represent severe blows to the endeavour to build a multipolar world. Brazil’s geopolitical reorientation weakened both UNASUR and BRICS at once.
As we commemorate 20 years since the brutal attack on Yugoslavia by NATO forces starting on March 24th, 1999, following years of Western support for the country’s gradual, violent dismemberment, we remember the price paid by nations who refuse to take orders from the Western masters and insist on their right to follow their own path of development.
Last week, we remembered the barbaric invasion of Iraq by the US and its allies on March 19th, 2003. And on Sunday we will recall the start of the savage attack on Libya by the US, the UK and France on March 31st, 2011.
Regardless of one’s personal assessment of Nicolas Maduro’s record as President of Venezuela, all believers in the importance a multipolar world should celebrate his country’s victory in resisting the onslaught of Western imperialism and its servants, and be thankful that the South American nation did not turn into yet another March victim of Western aggression.
The Western world, far from growing out of its centuries-long tradition of interacting with other nations in an arrogant, superior, moralistic, and imperialistic manner, is in fact becoming increasingly aggressive and intolerant of dissent as it sees its dominance threatened by the emergence of alternative, potentially independent centres of power.
And yet only such counterweights to Western domination, by setting limits to the West’s imperial behaviour, can allow for a free and independent development of the world’s various cultures, civilisations and models of development.