This week will soon be a memorable ‘week that was’ in Caribbean and South American history.
It’s difficult to say ahead what it will be remembered for. But come this coming Wednesday, May 31, governments of the smaller independent nations in the two neighboring regions will show the world whether they have nurtured the ability to reject external pressures to support larger nations pursuing their own selfish political ambitions in their continental and island space.
The upcoming May 31 meeting of the Permanent Council of the Organization of American States (OAS) is not without controversy, having been convened through suspicious circumstances - some of which violate the OAS’ own statutes governing summoning of meetings, as well as its ‘Democratic Charter’ relating to external intervention in the internal affairs of member-states of such regional and international bodies.
It is also a bit of history in replay, this time through a slow-motion coup against Venezuela - a small nation that is both Caribbean and South American and a stalwart state promoting political and economic integration to lessen the region’s historic and still growing dependence on North America and the European Union (EU).
Venezuela has for over a decade been advocating and charting the way, along with Cuba, for the transformation of the petroleum-based PetroCaribe initiative into a new regional political and economic pact that will lead to a Caribbean and South American Economic Zone based on pooling of resources and skills in the common interests of member-nations.
For just as long, Washington has been seeking ways and means to reverse the political tide in Caracas – and it now feels certain it can put gears in motion to achieve that intention.
Courting for blessings…
More than five decades after South American nations approved the expulsion of Cuba from the and over three decades after the Caribbean provided cover for U.S. military intervention in Grenada, today’s governments are being courted, at the OAS again, to bless another US-led intervention in their region, this time in Venezuela.
As with Cuba following its 1959 Revolution and Grenada after its 1979 Revolution, Washington has already used its powerful regional influences to divide governments in pursuit of its political objectives in a region it still considers ‘America’s backyard’.
Cuba was expelled from the OAS in 1961 and has refused to return, even if invited, for as long as the OAS continues to be regarded by Havana as the ‘U.S. Ministry of Colonies in the Americas’.
Venezuela has also announced its ‘Vexit’ from the OAS and has thus joined Cuba in refusing to submit to the dictates of Washington, from within or without.
Fig Leaf clothing
Now that Venezuela has pulled out of the OAS, it cannot be expelled. But there are fears in Caracas - and elsewhere across the region - of worse being planned and already underway, for which Washington has engineered guaranteed selective support to ensure majority backing when the time comes.
In Grenada’s case, Washington’s brief (four-and-a-half years) wait ended with the gift of the revolutionary suicide that started with the arrest and detention of Prime Minister Maurice Bishop on Oct. 17, 1983 and his execution two days later by fellow members of the ruling New Jewel Movement (NJM) in the name of the People’s Revolutionary Army (PRA).
Following the executions, Caribbean leaders, in the main, supported Washington’s intervention plan and offer, leading to a clear military invasion in the name of a ‘rescue mission’.
The real fear is that Washington has been able to assure itself today that it can count on enough Caribbean and Latin American votes at the OAS to cloak its planned but unspecified unilateral actions against Venezuela in the fig leaf of an invitation to intervene – and with majority support, no matter how achieved.
The USA has never taken its eyes off neighboring Venezuela, which has the highest certifiable crude oil deposits in the world (more than Saudi Arabia) and has always been a major supplier to the United States, never mind the state of political relations between Caracas and Washington.
Since firebrand radical President Hugo Chavez’s death and his replacement by current President Maduro - and taking advantage of the worsening economic and social crises mainly created by the steep drops in the price of oil on the world market - Washington has steadily targeted Caracas for regime change.
Under Presidents Bush and Obama, a sustained war was waged against the ‘Bolivarian Socialism’ espoused, heralded and led by President Chavez. The same continues under President Donald Trump.
The White House and Congress have historically, especially since 1998, approved successive sanctions, presidential orders, and decrees to authorize official U.S. support for Venezuelan opposition forces, including direct financing of anti-government forces and U.S. Treasury sanctions against top government officials.
U.S. State Department figures indicate that since 2009, some US$49 million had been given by Washington to right wing opposition political elements in Caracas for such reasons as “expanding democratic space” and “supporting political competition”, even “introducing alternative political concepts” such as “participatory democracy.”
Intensity and Gravity
The opposition entities receiving U.S. support also include some behind the current violent protests, despite Maduro and his ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) having won all but one of the major electoral contests held since Chavez’s death.
Meanwhile, the number of deaths continues to grow in Venezuela as the opposition violence escalates in both intensity and gravity.
The violent tactics being used by the opposition are crude and extreme: Most of the deaths are at opposition-controlled rallies; many civilians have been killed by nefarious means, including use of sniper fire; real guns and self-made explosive devices are openly seen in hands of masked pro-opposition protesters; many National Guard and Police officers, while on duty, have been harmed by violent attackers, even pelted with packaged excreta.
The violence has also escalated to previously unknown proportions: A young man was set on fire by opposition activists for being identified as a ‘Chavista’ (a supporter of Maduro and the PSUV).
The opposition also organized a protest in the small rural homestead where Chavez grew up and destroyed statues of the late leader while setting fire to the house he lived in.
Chavez symbols were also destroyed in government buildings, including the National Electoral Council headquarters.
Even a statue of Cuba’s National Independence Hero, Jose Marti, was attacked by the opposition protesters, leading to condemnation by Cubans in Venezuela.
In the meantime, the government announced last week that the security forces had apprehended and exposed several know opposition personalities and persons in their pay held with Molotov Cocktails and other explosive devices.
Clear U.S. backing
Like a slow motion coup, the violence in Venezuela has been spreading, mainly through opposition-controlled urban areas – and like in Chile against socialist leaders President Salvador Allende in 1973 and the Michael Manley Jamaica in 1976, Washington’s support for the opposition is crystal clear.
Earlier this year President Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, and Florida Republican Senator Mark Rubio met and posed for photos with Lilian Tintori, the wife of jailed opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez, serving 14 years for his role in activities that led to the death of over 40 Venezuelans.
Tintori later tried to enter Ecuador to support the opponents of the ‘Citizens Revolution’ led by outgoing President Rafel Correa, ahead of the presidential elections in February, following which she returned to Venezuela and has been leading protests since April – again with the support of President Trump, who has called for her husband’s release.
Olive Branches rejected
Maduro has reached out with two Olive Branches.
He is offering to create a freely elected Constituent National Assembly, but the main opposition MUD Alliance has absolutely rejected participation - despite some 17 other opposition parties agreeing to join talks about it.
The President also assured the opposition that elections for Governors will be held in December 2017, followed by regional elections in July 2017 – and presidential elections in 2018, as constitutionally due.
But the opposition, which has consistently called for elections, has now rejected the President’s public assurances (of elections) as “a trap” - and instead called on supporters to continue the protests until Maduro is forced out of office.
Once Bitten, Twice Shy…
Caribbean Community (CARICOM) leaders are indeed perplexed about history repeating itself.
‘Once bitten, twice shy’ (according to a much-used proverb), they fear the Caribbean again being pressured into giving fig leaf support to U.S. plans to intervene in Venezuela, in pursuit of regime change.
Saint Vincent and the Grenadines Prime Minister, Dr. Ralph Gonsalves, warned Caribbean OAS member-states in mid-May to avoid being divided by Washington’s selective invitation of certain countries to meetings on Venezuela, at the exclusion of others.
Dominica’s Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit has also joined the call on the plotters to keep their hands off Venezuela.
CARICOM, the Association of Caribbean States (ACS) and the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) have also latched on to the principle of non-intervention.
CARICOM Foreign Affairs Ministers met in Barbados May 18-19, after which they called for “non-intervention” in Venezuela and advocated a peaceful political settlement.
Antigua and Barbuda’s veteran Ambassador to the OAS, Sir Ronald Sanders, also warned the Caribbean against becoming victims of the “politics of exclusion” being pursued by Washington and its OAS allies.
South American leaders (including Bolivia’s Evo Morales, former Ecuador President Rafael Correa and Nicaragua’s Daniel Ortega) have also advocated opposition and resistance to the imposition of external intervention in Venezuela.
The CELAC group (comprising South American and Caribbean states) also supports non-intervention.
A Plotted Plan…
The anti-Caracas lobby has set a special OAS Permanent Council meeting in Washington for Wednesday, May 31, to discuss Venezuela - in its absence.
The plotters are feared to have devised a plan to seek OAS support for political, economic and other unspecified actions and measures against Caracas.
Caribbean requests for more information on the expected outcomes of the Wednesday meeting have not been met.
As a result, Ambassadors to the OAS in Washington and other senior delegates - including foreign affairs ministers - are heading to Washington on Monday and Tuesday, uncertain of what to expect.
The general feeling among those concerned leaders who have spoken is that Grenada should not be repeated in Venezuela.
The eyes of the world will, therefore, be focused on Washington on the last day of May, when South America and the Caribbean will, once again, have to show where they really and truly stand on US external intervention in their region.
The 14-member CARICOM group is usually united in its positions at the OAS.
United, they can significantly influence OAS decisions in the 34-nation grouping.
But long and sustained efforts by the anti-Venezuela lobby have sown division within both CARICOM and South American ranks inside the regional body.
Some Caribbean and South American states indeed voted recently for positions advocated by those advocating punishing Caracas, instead of condemning violence and the increasing number of resulting deaths.
In the weeks leading to Wednesday’s Washington meeting, several CARICOM member-states have been re-thinking their positions, most choosing to abstain or be absent from meetings called to discuss Venezuela.
Some have taken umbrage to Washington and the plotting minority selecting to invite some countries and exclude others through what they describe as a policy of ‘politics of exclusion’.
Caribbean leaders were also concerned that a meeting of the leading ALBA political body earlier planned for Caracas for May 31 might not have been a correct tactical or strategic move – and are now pleased the Caracas parley has been called off.
CARICOM foreign ministers together commendably opposed external intervention in the region at their last meeting in Barbados.
It is now to be seen whether this united front against external intervention will prevail in Washington on Wednesday.
As it stands, the very last day of this month can also be the very first time that the Caribbean and Latin America will have stood up, united and strong, to tell Washington ‘Enough is Enough’ -- and insist that Venezuela’s independence must be respected -- without external intervention in its internal affairs, come what may!