Take Over in Venezuela

Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez during a state visit to Caracas in 2000.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luis Nieto, Montevideo, May 14, 2019 — Hugo Chavez’s first visit to Uruguay might have gone unnoticed but for two local politicians: General Liber Seregni refused to meet with the leader of a military coup and Eleuterio Fernandez Huidobro, a man was always on the lookout for a soldier with whom he could share power, had long championed him.

Standing atop a mountain of foreign money, Chavez laid the foundations for his 21st century version of socialism at a time when the Marxist-Leninist model had collapsed all over the world, as if struck by lightning. A Venezuelan soldier, who had made a name for himself by attempting a coup d’etat against a social-democratic president, suddenly took on the gargantuan task of finding a new path to achieving socialism, and of redefining socialism itself.

Two classic socialist pamphlets — Lenin’s What Is to Be Done? and Mao’s Little Red Book — seemed outmoded after Lieutenant Colonel Chavez believed he had found a formula in those billions of dollars which later were lost to bribes, theft, gifts and purchases of goodwill that could tilt the scales of any international organization. Much of that fortune went to a business partner willing to share its revolutionary know-how: Fidel Castro’s Cuba. continue reading

Until it collapsed, the Soviet Union paid the Cuban government the equivalent of roughly five billion dollars a year to turn the island into one big aircraft carrier stationed a few miles off the coast of its main enemy. But by 1990, as the Eastern European Socialist Bloc collapsed, things had started to go very badly for Castro and his countrymen. No solution had appeared on the horizon until a somewhat unsophisticated soldier swaggered into Castro’s office, desperate to be seen as a comrade. Chavez did not make a good impression on Castro. He was not to Castro’s taste but his petroleum was. He came from a country on which Castro had long set his sights, so the Cuban leader lent his support in the form of guerilla fighters.

In his over-exuberance, Chavez made a proposal to Fidel Castro that they unify their two countries. The island’s strongman latched onto the idea immediately but had no intention of publicizing it. As it turned out, things happened as Chavez had proposed, but on Fidel Castro’s terms: in the form of medical help to a friendly country.

The Cuban government gave Ramiro Valdes, one of the original leaders of the Cuban revolution, the task of getting 20,000 Cuban soldiers into Venezuela. Valdes then took command of the unofficial new country, appropriating its anthems, flags and diplomatic missions, and setting a single military command structure. Only after the current president of the National Assembly, Juan Guaidó, and his deputies took charge of the resistance did the scope of Cuba’s intervention become widely known.

Is there a moral justification for spying on a foreign government, meddling in its politics and influencing its political parties because of some perceived “good.” What is the “noble goal”? Is socialism as we know it a dream to be pursued or a nightmare from which we are never allowed to wake up?

Of course, the vast majority of Uruguayans reject the notion of a another country such as the United States, whether the president be Trump or Obama, determining the direction and manner we choose to legitimately exercise the right to elect our leaders.

But it is also true that the reason the Uruguayan left ruminates so furiously is because it has run out of formulas to copy and paste. The smell of gunpowder still lingers on, because once all the bloodsuckers are exterminated, the world should be a paradise for all humanity, singing with our fists held high. But that has not come to pass.

On his deathbed Chavez named Maduro as his successor. The choice was between Maduro or Diosdado Cabello. He had no doubt that the former bus driver from Caracas would make a good workers’ president. Cabello, by contrast, had never enjoyed a friendly relationship with the Cubans.

Maduro is the product of a Cuban political training center run by the Union of Young Communists while the current minister of defense, Vladimir Padrino Lopez, is a member of the first graduating class of a school run by the Cuban army for senior Venezuelan officials. Cabello was left to deal with narcotrafficking, a political bomb always about to go off.

The threat of invasion from the United States is somewhat like the tale of the bogeyman. In fact, it is just as dangerous to let Cuba remain there, eternalizing the crisis, with the result being hunger, misery and death. The Cuban regime’s needs to squeeze out every last drop of Venezuelan wealth to pay for the failure of its socialist model.

Juan Guaidó and his deputies in the National Assembly advance and retreat before trying again, both in Venezuela and abroad. It is the struggle of David against Goliath.

Meanwhile, in a meeting on Friday, May 3, member countries of the Lima Group — Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Cost Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, Panama, Paraguay and Peru — passed a resolution asking Cuba to play a role in resolving the Venezuelan conflict.

Finally, somebody gets it. The opposition’s improvisational approach has called its strategy into question. After the president of the Venezuelan parliament issued an executive order for the release of Leopoldo Lopez, representatives of the Lima Group countries adopted three measures in support of  the National Assembly: 1) an investigation into money laundering by business associates, relatives and officials with ties to the Maduro government, 2) actions aimed at those countries propping up the regime (Russia, China, Turkey and Cuba) to convince them that supporting Maduro is not the best option and 3) support for the agenda of the Venezuelan parliament, specifically its calls for Maduro to step aside, a transitional government and free elections.

None of this was possible a few months ago.  The courage and the successes of the deputies of the National Assembly have opened the way, although some only consider their mistakes.


Editor’s note: This editorial was previously published in the Uruguayan weekly Voces and is reproduced here with permission of the author.

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Onions And Caviar, Is It The Beginning Of The End? / 14ymedio, Luis Nieto

Lorena Freitez, Venezuela’s new Minister of Urban Agriculture
Lorena Freitez, Venezuela’s new Minister of Urban Agriculture

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luis Nieto, Montevideo, 3 March 2016 – On 21  January, the sociologist Lorena Freitez was appointed Minister of Urban Agriculture of Venezuela, replacing Emma Ortega, who had lasted only two weeks in office. The new minister launched an ambitious slogan: “Transforming consumer cities into productive cities.”

Freitez’s reasoning is that if 84 percent of the Venezuelan population lives in cities, and only 11 percent in the countryside, it seems obvious that cities, taking advantage of the productive space they have, can produce the food they need, without needing to rely on imports and the little produced by the 11 percent who live in the countryside. Her mission is to promote the “Productive Revolution” from the communes, according a Tweet from President Maduro’s at the time Emma Ortega was replaced by the young sociologist. continue reading

A daughter of sociologists, the young Chavista activist is known for her dedication to the creation of “collectives,” groups of militant “Bolivarians,” always ready to say yes to whatever comes their way. One of the collectives funded by the young sociologist, “Tiuna El Fuerte,” can be defined certainly not for its knowledge of agriculture, but for its commitment to the hard core of the Cuban and Venezuela military who support the Chavista regime. Fuerte Tiuna is headquartered at the Defense Ministry, which is also the principle enclave of the regime’s Armed Forces and it various Intelligence Agencies. Someone who organizes the so-called “colectivos”  — vigilante gangs — in a such a select environment, is without a doubt a totally committed Chavista.

There is no doubt that in any serious country a ministry under the name of “Urban Agriculture” has not prospered. It would not have been permitted by a parliament with common sense and independence, not would ordinary people have allowed it. What is driving Maduro now? Nothing less than using whatever piece of land is available to plant onions, potatoes and corn. It is a clear appeal to “every man for himself.”

In his ministerial appointment, formalized through Twitter, he argued that he and his wife Cilia raised 50 chickens at home, and that this is what any Venezuelan can do to easily overcome the food emergency. “The time has come to promote a new productive culture.” While the measures differ, this is the spirit of Mao’s Cultural Revolution, or the forcible transfer to the countryside imposed by Pol Pot in Cambodia, to name just two examples that cost millions of human lives.

Chavez had already insisted on taking advantage of the green spaces in Caracas to produce food for the population. In a corner of the Miraflores Palace, seat of the government, he managed to harvest corn, tomatoes and peppers. In addition, he worked on a project to fill Caracas with vertical chicken coops, to be used by a large number of apartment buildings.

With regards to government innovation, we have to remember when Maduro decreed the Ministry of Supreme Human Happiness. One assumes that the new Minister of Urban Agriculture will advance over the green spaces of the major cities to fulfill the goal for which the new Ministry was created.

The mission does not stop at agricultural production wherever there is land available in the city, but urges the breeding of fowl and hens on apartment balconies and terraces, along with pigs and goats in the more arid parts of the city. This, lamentably, is not a joke. Searching the internet and reading the official propaganda confirms the importance of these initiatives to the Chavista regime, which has devoted millions of bolivars to it.

Today, from Caracas, we are asking them to disclose the state of Public Health, where the deficit of medicines is affecting children with cancer as well as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s patients. There are no medicines, there is no food for the population, the popular vote left Chavismo without support from the Parliament, but the civil-military regime, as Chavismo likes to define itself, clings to the rickety raft of this tropical Titanic. Something the friends of Maduro, Cabello and the rest of the followers of the late Colonel Hugo Chavez should give some thought to.

Many are experts in surviving these unfortunate decisions of international solidarity, and when it is all over, and all that is left is the memory of the pain inflicted on the people of Venezuela, they will continue on in the name of the people. An abstract people, of course, using the political procedures manual to achieve power by democratic means, because on this, Chavismo wrote the book.

But not everything will be onions planted in pots and gardens. The opposition says that Chavismo has stolen from the public coffers an amount greater than Venezuela’s foreign debt. The National Assembly (a unicameral parliament), now in the hands of the opposition, has decided to launch an investigation into irregularities into the allocations to well-known names, such as José David Cabello, who holds the position of National Customs and Tax Superintendent and is the brother of Diosdado Cabello, former president of the National Assembly. Or the nephews of Maduro’s wife Cilia Flores, now prisoners in New York. Carlos Erik Malpica Flores, one of the nephews, was the nation’s treasurer, a function he alternated with cocaine smuggling.

General Rafael Oropeza and Colonel Felix Osorio, both former Ministers of Food, were responsible for containers of meat and poultry from Uruguay that were left to rot on the docks of the port of Maracaibo, because the business was not about food but about the hard currency that the Central Bank advanced, well above the official exchange rate, with which they later operated on the black market. The list is very long, and all those investigated have direct ties to Chavista power.

Parliamentary deputy Ismael García, who presented the initiative to form an investigative committee, argued that there is sufficient documentation to indicate that of the 230 million dollars allocated to carry goods and services to Venezuela, sixty percent ended up in shell companies, that overcharged and faked imports. The deputy said that according to documents in the hands of the National Assembly, the fraud reached 138 billion dollars over a decade. Money now needed to import medicines and food that should be being provided by the destroyed Venezuelan food industry. In 2014 alone, 400 million dollars in medicines was lost, never appearing in the stocks of the healthcare system. Meanwhile, Venezuela is the Latin American country with the greatest amount of money invested in armaments.

These ladies and gentlemen of the brokerages will not have to plant onions in car covers and whatever container can hold a little bit of earth, they are assured of caviar, the very best produced in Russia, one of the countries with which Venezuela maintains privileged trade relations.

Desperate for fresh hard currency, PDVSA, the Venezuelan state oil company, has just sold to the Russian Rosneft 500 million dollars in shares of the Venezuelan state company PetroMonagas, of the Orinoco Belt; the Russians now have 40 percent of the shares in a company that, like so many others, is little by little letting the heritage of PDVSA seep away.

* Editor ‘s note: This column of opinion has been previously published in the Uruguayan weekly Voces. It is reproduced with the permission of the author.


Nicolas Maduro’s Insults / 14ymedio, Luis Nieto

The secretary general of the Organization of American States, Luis Almagro. (OAS)
The secretary general of the Organization of American States, Luis Almagro. (OAS)

Background from Translating Cuba: Uruguayan Luis Almargo, secretary-general of the Organization of American States, sent a letter to Venezuela’s National Electoral Council this November regarding potential irregularities in the upcoming elections and condemning the assassination of an opposition politician at a campaign rally. Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro responded by saying, “to call Almagro a piece of trash is an insult to trash.”

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luis Nieto, 5 December 2015 – It is not Nicolas Maduro’s insults that provoke sadness, but rather the reaction of Luis Almagro’s compatriots, because the current secretary general of the Organization of American States (OAS) is a Uruguayan senator from the Popular Participation Movement (MPP), the majority group of the Broad Front (Frente Amplio). If the ex-president and senator José Mujica and the MPP are informed about the Venezuelan situation, it is even more incomprehensible that they can be so hard on Almargo, who is demanding guarantees for the opposition within a democratic system, as required by Mercosur (the Southern Common Market) of its partners. continue reading

Or perhaps Almagro was unknown to ex-president Mujica or was imposter during his tenure as Foreign Minister in Mujica’s administration. What matters now is knowing whether the OAS secretary general will fulfill the duty of overseeing the quality of democracy of the countries that make up the institution that he leads, or will be distracted, like his predecessor José Miguel Insulza was, when he served at the head of the regional institution.

In Venezuela, we have seen the closing of newspapers and the purchase of radio and TV stations with public funds and their subsequent operation by Chavistas; the express dismissal of elected deputies at the will of the president of the National Assembly and the regime’s number two, Lieutenant Diosdado Cabello; the imprisonment on false evidence of governors and mayors elected by popular vote; the detention and prosecution of students simply for demonstrating in the streets; the financing and provisioning of paramilitary groups such as El Picure which, curiously, is now mentioned as possibly responsible for the assassination of the Social Democrat leader Luis Manuel Diaz; use of the Venezuela’s state-owned oil company (PDVSA) for partisan purposes, because none of this could have been done without generous cash.

Venezuela lacks nothing that one would see in any dictatorship, although, it is true, it maintains a very thin crust of democratic formality. Lately we have heard the argument that in the Caribbean the kind of insult Maduro uses to disqualify Almargo is nothing unusual. It is also true that Chavez dispatched insults with pleasure when he wanted to illustrate his contempt toward someone. And in Cuba, as well, the term “worm” is applied to those who oppose the Castro regime.

But wanting to generalize this behavior to the entire Caribbean region is an unjustified excuse not to clearly reject Maduro’s insult to Almagro. He said it one, two, three, several times and from various angles, so as to leave no doubt. He is accustomed to showing the whip to his friends, and has called the Uruguayan vice president a coward. Who’s next?

Almagro isn’t speaking based the politics that drove the president he served under, Mujica, he is the highest authority of the OAS, and it is logical that his opinion represents the plurality of the countries that make up that organization, and which are beginning to tire faced with a regime that only flees forward, indebting the country to China and Russia to disguise its extravagances.

Maduro, a cocky blowhard who doesn’t respond to ridicule as he relates in details the conversations he has with birds, still generates some kind of expectation in the Latin American left. In private, the whole world is laughing at him, but he continues to feed the hopes that this is the path to socialism.

Living in the limbo of political ethics is dangerous, and more dangerous if you occupy important positions, or take advantage of your notoriety to spread the idea that anything goes. In Chavismo there is no possibility of moving toward socialism. None. Rather, the regime seems inspired by “the worse the better,” so any little help in increasing the arbitrariness, the institutional loss of prestige, the loss of the decision-making power of citizens, is welcome.

Fidel Castro had already raised complacent smiles with his use of the term “pluralcrap” to refer to the system of political parties with which Uruguay has built its society. The left let it go, like a vitality that, perhaps, it continues to share.

Maduro’s insult should raise a unanimous and unambiguous condemnation, first of all by Almagro’s partners. When it comes to human rights there is no territoriality, or is there? True or not, Uruguayan deputy Maria Macarena Gelman? You, more than almost anyone, bear witness to the fact that human rights have no country.

The letter Almargo wrote to Tibisay Lucena, Chavista president of the National Electoral Council, is a clear compendium of the unfavorable conditions that the Chavista regime imposes on the opposition, ahead of the December 6 parliamentary elections.

Apart from Maduro’s insulting language, which should be broadly rejected by the Uruguayan left, it is the threat, implying that if the opposition wins he will resist from the streets, and we already know what that means: calling up his civil-military alliance against the Democratic Unity Roundtable of Venezuela.

From the head of the Executive Branch, with the Armed Services at his command, Maduro is announcing that he will take control of the streets and, in this case, he will engage in, among others, the same crimes that he himself invented in order to prosecute Leopoldo Lopez, San Cristóbal Mayor Daniel Ceballos and Mayor of Metropolitan Caracas Antonio Ledezma, among more than one hundred political prisoners. With the aggravating circumstance in this case that Maduro will oppose, with the use of public force, a decision that emanates from the popular vote. An announced coup d’etat, nothing more, nothing less. Does Almagro’s letter to Venezuela still make no sense?

Maduro, and Latin American governments as well, started badly because they were blind to the amount of evidence of fraud presented by the Venezuelan opposition in asking for an audit of the election data. Many of these governments, we must not forget, were recipients of the millions that Chavez stole from Venezuela in order to create an favorable environment internationally for himself. Not only can it be said they were bribes, because they were delivered as solidarity donations with great fanfare, but, how else can one classify the suitcase full of cash that Antonini Wilson took from Caracas to Buenos Aires in a plane belonging to the state oil company, as if everything were Chavismo’s private property, to the shame of his gullible friends?

Did Uruguay not receive, among so many other gifts, the electronic scoreboard for Centenario Stadium, 10 million dollars for clinics, and even what was necessary to remodel the building now occupied by the President of the Republic? Why would the Venezuelan government give Uruguay this money, which belonged not to it but to its people, when today its people don’t even have toilet paper?

When Maduro insults Almagro he insults all those who are following with great concern what is happening in Venezuela, where we have family and friends. He reminds us too much of what we experienced in Uruguay and, as well, of the courageous attitude of the government of the late Venezuelan president Carlos Andres Perez, the only Latin American government that broke off relations with the Uruguayan dictatorship, following its abduction of Elena Quintero from the grounds of the Venezuelan embassy in Uruguay. The same Carlos Andres Perez against whom, years later, Chavez, Maduro, Cabello and Cilia Flores attempted a coup d’etat. Even if only by the margin of doubt before these attitudes, all Uruguayans should take Madruo’s words as a personal grievance.


14ymedio Editorial Note: This op-ed was previously published in the Uruguayan weekly Voces. It is reproduced here with permission.