What You Need to Know about the Coup in Venezuela

The U.S. is again attempting a foreign coup in Venezuela. This is not the first time, and if it doesn’t succeed, it will not be the last time. For those of us who are United States citizens, we have a tremendous responsibility to inform ourselves about what our government is doing and to not perpetuate the real and devastating harm that is being caused.

Imagine for a moment that another country declared our elections fraudulent because so many of us are unhappy with Trump, or because the person who wins the popular vote does not become the president. Imagine that country has several nearby military bases. In fact, can you imagine another country having a military base in or near the US?

For example, did you know about the role the United States has played in making sure that “socialism isn’t working” in Venezuela and causing a devastating economic crisis? From this interview with two scholars who have both written multiple books on Venezuela (some of which I’ve read and used in my classes):

Juan Gonzalez: “Citgo, the huge American-based subsidiary of the Venezuelan oil industry, which has not been allowed to remit back any of the money that it’s making here in the United States back to Venezuela.”

Steve Ellner: “The sanction that prohibits Citgo from remitting profits to Venezuela is a very important measure. It means that the Venezuelan government is being deprived of approximately $1 billion a year.”

“But, Juan, in addition to that, there is a major impact in terms of discouraging commercial and financial interests throughout the world from any kind of transaction with Venezuela. There is a list of 70—approximately 70 Venezuelan officials who are being sanctioned. And that translates into a situation in which the U.S. government, and specifically Steven Mnuchin, the secretary of the treasury, has undertaken different investigations, workshops with representatives of Japan, Europe, Latin America, in order to find out where the shell companies are. In other words, he has created a situation in which commercial interests throughout the world are afraid to have anything to do with Venezuela. That amounts to virtually a block—an economic blockade.”

Did you know Mike Pence made an announcement to the Venezuelan people declaring someone else the president before Juan Guaidó even declared himself the president? Did you know our ambassadors and VPs made videos to people in other countries for social media? Can you imagine getting a message on FB from Angela Merkel telling us who our president “really” was?

soa latin america

Original image source: School of the Americas Watch

The coup attempt in Venezuela takes place within a history of constant violent military intervention throughout Latin America. These interventions happen regardless of Democratic or Republican administration; the most recent and obvious example is the coup in Honduras which was supported and ratified by Secretary of State Hilary Clinton and President Obama in 2009. There seems to be no sense of irony to the calls of “lack of democracy” in Venezuela while an explicitly, clearly illegitimate and fraudulent president sits in office in Honduras with the full support of Washington.

Furthermore, in the US we are basically never exposed to how or why anyone would support Chavismo at the grassroots. What do you know, for example about the deeply democratic comunas? Now this environment has changed, but it is still essential to consider, and to wonder critically what accounts are being left out now?

Democracy Now! and NACLA are good places to get reliable coverage of what’s happening in Venezuela.

When we are ill-informed or when we turn away, or worse, when we perpetuate the idea that Maduro is a dictator, that there is another legitimate president, that a coup is legitimate, or any of the other lies our government is peddling to us, we put real people’s lives in danger.

military interventions map

Saturday Rec: Wormwood

Wormwood

Pairs well with: plaid suits, elaborate cocktails, a blanket to hide under for the rest of your life, and maybe more cigarettes. Just don’t let your cocktail out of your sight for a moment.

CIA document approving use of LSD through MKULTRA project with redactions

Dr. Sidney Gottlieb’s approval of an MKULTRA subproject on LSD.

Watch it if you feel yourself becoming a little bit sympathetic for the FBI in the Trump era. Although it is about the CIA, this is guaranteed to immunize you from forgetting the darkness of the United States security apparatus and its allegiances.

This docuseries, directed by expert filmmaker and story teller Errol Morris, goes beyond the MKUltra premise that it starts with and gets more and more upsetting, linking the sci-fi mind control premise (although it’s true, not fiction) to contemporary military operations. Much of the series was eye-opening and shocking even for a cynical anarchist who studies Latin America like me.

I believe it is only episode two or three when one of the family’s lawyers describes seeing the “burn bowls” inside of the agency. These instruments were meant for quick and regular document destruction.

You can learn more about Frank Olson (the subject of the documentary) and his son’s ongoing struggle for justice here.

Also recommended: everything Errol Morris has directed, including

  • Fast, Cheap, and Out of Control (experts on mole rats and hedge sculpture!)
  • The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara (somehow not a boring talking head documentary!)
  • Mr. Death: The Rise and Fall of Fred A. Leuchter, Jr. (about the electric chair, yet watchable)
  • Gates of Heaven (film about a pet cemetary that made Werner Herzog eat his shoe)
  • The Unknown Known: The Life and Times of Donald Rumsfeld (it will cure whatever trust you have left in authority and war-mongering after the Fog of War)
  • The B-Side: Elsa Dorfman’s Portrait Photography (will remind you life is still worth living after watching Donald Rumsfeld, without being cliché)

Ongoing assassinations and violence in Honduras: Carlos Hernández

A selfie of Carlos Hernandez wearing a white Oxford shirt.

Carlos Hernández, killed in his law office in Tela, Honduras, on April 10, 2018.

Last week, another person two degrees of separation from me was assassinated in Honduras. His name was Carlos Hernández, and he was killed in his law office in the municipality of Tela. He was the lawyer of one of five people who have been criminalized for defending the water in their community as part of an encampment they have sustained since May 2017 against intense persecution. I have met all five of them.

 

I have visited their encampment.

He is not the first person to die in relationship to their small community’s struggle.

It is unlikely we will ever know exactly who his killer is, and even less likely that person will face any judicial process because rates of impunity in Honduras for homicide are estimated at over 90%.

It is heavy to feel so surrounded by death. I cannot imagine how it would feel if I were actually living among it daily, breathing in its possibility at every turn. The violence is so frequent even among the people to whom I am directly connected that I fear that my friends and family are becoming tired of hearing about the deaths and death threats to my compañerxs in Honduras, and will stop being willing to act. I do not wish to center myself, but rather hope to connect myself personally as an act of solidarity, enabling others to also feel personally connected and invested in the lives of others.

Carlos Hernández was young. He was the lawyer for the mayor of Arizona, Arnoldo Chacón. Chacón is one of 5 members of the Broad Movement for Dignity and Justice (MADJ – Movimiento Amplio por Dignidad y Justicia) who have been formally accused of “usurpation” for stopping the state of Honduras and the company INGELSA from developing a hydroelectric dam on the Río Jilamito.

These community members have sustained “Camp Dignity in Defense of the Río Jilamito” since May 2017, defending their water and community from attack by a foreign company. All 5 of the accused, along with the many other members of the community who have participated in the encampment, have been subject to threats and attacks over this time period. Yet they persist. They arrive, daily, in shifts, making sure the camp is tended at all times. They make food for each other, take care of each other, make decisions together, and they confront the alliance of government and private capital which not only criminalizes this care-taking activity but dares to call it usurpation.

I first met these community members after they had completed just a few weeks of their encampment, at the end of May 2017. The camp is humble but cozy, and the reception they gave to our large Witness for Peace delegation of 22 U.S. citizens was deeply welcoming. We ate soup together, we chatted, we played games, and took pictures. They found enough chairs for all of us and hardly a chair for anyone else, and we could not manage to convince anyone to swap places and take a seat in our places. Of course. It would be rude to sit while an honored guest was standing.

Picture is of a banner, sign, and Honduran flag that cover barbed wire and make up a barricade

Barricade at Camp Dignity in Defense of Water and Life at Rio Jilamito

The people who spoke that day to us are the very same people who have been criminalized and whose lives have been threatened since then. I would like to use their names and to show their faces to humanize these every day rural people who have decided to take such enormous risks to protect the water in their community, but I am afraid that it may put them in more risk. I would like to humanize them, to counter the implicit suggestion that they are terrorists for impeding economic development – to which they did not consent and from which they will not benefit – but the very act of doing so may harm them further.

The assassination of Carlos Hernández can only be understood as part of a larger system of structural and political violence which runs deep. He was killed in a country which has recently inaugurated a fraudulent President, and this presidency and regime (and the support it receives from the United States) is inseparably related to the skyrocketing rates of violence. (I plan to write more about exactly how all of this is connected but have linked to some excellent existing analysis above by Radio Progreso, Jesse Freeston, Sandra Cuffe, and Ryan Morgan to get that conversation started here.)

Even in the face of incredible odds and almost unthinkable danger, the community at Jilamito continues to maintain their active resistance to INGELSA and its hydroelectric dam project. Their resistance shows us all that it is possible.

 

Click here for a list of concrete actions you can take in solidarity with people in Honduras.

How to Take Action in Solidarity with the Honduran People

image is of the altar for Berta Caceres at Utopia in Honduras
  1. Ask your Congressional Representative to Co-sponsor the Berta Cáceres Act or thank them for already doing so. The bill asks that the United States suspend all “…security assistance to Honduran military and police until such time as human rights violations by Honduran state security forces cease and their perpetrators are brought to justice.” It is widely and strongly supported by Hondurans working for justice.
  2. Donate money or time (however small the amount) to an organization like Witness for Peace Solidarity Collective or Honduras Solidarity Network that works in solidarity with social movements on the ground so they can continue to do their work throughout this crisis, including accompaniment work. Avoid giving money to charity-focused organizations that do not seek to empower Hondurans to have autonomy over their own institutions.
  3. Organize a fundraiser for an organization like those above.
  4. Write an email to the US embassy telling them how disappointed you are in their position after informing yourself on the position of the US government in Honduras.
    US Embassy in Honduras Charges D’Affaires Heide Fulton: BronkeHM (at) state.gov
  5. Find and support local justice work in your community because these struggles are about more than just Honduras.
  6. Find ways to publicly let Hondurans know you support them in their struggles. This increases theur visibility by letting the Honduran government know there may be international pressure for certain humsn rughts abuses, and it is simply encouraging for people who have been marginalized to know that others are thinking of them and taking public actions (even pictures) on their behalf.
  7. Pay attention to what is happening in Honduras and tell people you know about it as well. Help others around you understand the connection between US foreign policy and the crisis in Honduras – this is a crisis created and perpetuated, in reality, on US soil, and we can change it by organizing on US soil as well. A few good resources are the Honduras Solidarity Network, Democracy Now!, NACLA, and the Upside Down World.

Last updated April 9, 2019.