Saturday, August 23, 2014

A Defiant Ecuador Seeks Solutions in Assange Case



By Eva Golinger
August 2014
Telesur English

Two years ago, one of the most controversial figures of the age of cyberspace appeared on the doorstep of the Ecuadorian Embassy in London. On the verge of losing an appeal in the British courts that could open the door to his extradition to Sweden and then later, the United States, where a secret Grand Jury had convened to indict him, Julian Assange sought refuge in Ecuador’s modest Embassy flat. During the following two months, the Ecuadorian government studiously reviewed his case, calling in experts to discuss and debate the duties and risks Ecuador faced in granting the asylum petition.

On August 16, 2012, Ecuador’s Foreign Minister, Ricardo Patiño, announced that his country would grant Assange diplomatic asylum, a concept enshrined in the Convention on Diplomatic Asylum of 1954, also known as the Convention of Caracas.  The British government refused to recognize this status and initially threatened to violate Ecuador’s sovereignty by entering into the Embassy and arresting Assange. After strong protest from the Ecuadorian government and outcry from Latin American nations, England refrained from causing an international uproar by forcing entry into the Embassy, and instead chose to maintain a prominent police presence surrounding the building, impeding Assange’s escape.

Two years later, the Assange case is at a standstill. Despite his legal team’s efforts to end the unsubstantiated persecution against him from Sweden, where no formal charges have materialized, an extradition request still remains to bring him to Stockholm for “questioning”. The British government has made clear it would extradite Assange to Sweden if they could detain him. While no public extradition request has been issued from the United States to Sweden for Assange, sufficient evidence exists to demonstrate that a Grand Jury may have already indicted him in a US court, on charges, including espionage and/or aiding and abetting the enemy, that could result in his long-term imprisonment were he subjected to a trial. This well-founded fear of political persecution has reinforced Ecuador’s decision to maintain his political asylum.

In 2013, when Foreign Minister Patiño visited Assange in the Embassy on the one-year anniversary of his confinement, Ecuador initiated an effort to create a bilateral working group with the British government to find a solution to the situation. To date, no movement has been made in the group and England has refused to discuss the matter further. Recently, during Foreign Minister Patiño’s second visit to see Assange on August 16, 2014, the British Foreign Office issued a statement claiming they were “committed to finding solution”, yet only according to their vision of the outcome: "We remain as committed as ever to reaching a diplomatic solution to this situation. We are clear that our laws must be followed and Mr Assange should be extradited to Sweden. As ever we look to Ecuador to help bring this difficult, and costly, residence to an end." In other words, the British government sees no other solution than Assange’s extradition. Their unwavering, rigid position leaves no opportunity for diplomacy or creative problem-solving, which is what this case needs.

The Ecuadorian government has reiterated its support for Assange and has made clear that their country is bound by international law to maintain his asylum. As Minister Patiño has affirmed, there is no return policy on asylees who are still subjected to exactly the same conditions as when the asylum was granted. The persecution remains, and there are still no charges of any kind against Assange. Ecuador, a small nation of 15 million inhabitants with bananas and beautiful roses as its main exports, has remained defiant in the face of pressure from England, Sweden and their biggest ally, the United States.

Two years enclosed in the Ecuadorian Embassy, a narrow flat with just a handful of rooms, has taken its toll on Julian Assange. While he continues to work from his small space inside the Embassy, and his organization Wikileaks has not ceased publishing important documents exposing the abuses and illegal acts of powerful interests, the lack of sunlight, fresh air and regular exercise have obviously decreased his quality of life and impacted his health. Despite his confinement and separation from close friends and family, his spirits remain high, as was apparent during the visit with Minister Patiño, and he is optimistic about changes to a law in the UK that potentially could lead to his freedom.

Known within political circles as the “Assange Act”, an amendment was made in early 2014 to the Extradition Act 2003 in the British parliament. Resulting from discontent and discomfort over the legal limbo Julian has been in for the past four years – even two years before receiving asylum from Ecuador, Assange had been on house arrest in England, pending potential extradition to Sweden -  several British MPs began debating a substantive change to the law that would impede a future Assange situation from happening to someone else.

The amendment is included in the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 (not the most socially-friendly name), in Chapter 12, Part 12. It specifically states that “Extradition is barred if no prosecution decision has been made in the requesting territory”, as in Assange’s situation. If the country requesting extradition has not yet charged or decided to try the individual being requested, than the United Kingdom will not extradite. This is exactly the case of Julian Assange. The Swedish prosecution has not decided to try him yet or even formally charge him, and the extradition request is merely based on the desire to “question” him about certain allegations he may or may not be involved in.

In the parliamentary debates in the House of Commons leading up to the passage of the extradition act amendment, specific references to Assange’s case were made. According to the parliamentarians, the new clause, amending the extradition act of 2003, “seeks to ensure that people are not extradited when it is not certain they will be charged, so that they do not sit in a prison for months on end”. Reference was also made to the case of a British citizen, Andrew Symeou, who was extradited to Greece for questioning and remained in inhumane prison conditions for over ten months with no charges against him. In Julian Assange’s case, the debate concluded, “where a decision to charge and try is not taken, extradition cannot take place. People will not be left in limbo...”

Julian’s legal team will need to challenge this law in order for it to be applied to his case, since at present it does not appear to be retroactive. But there is no denying that this change in the law would impede Assange from being extradited to Sweden were it to have been in place previously. Ecuador’s Foreign Minister made reference to the amended law as a potential opening for dialogue with the UK government in the case. Ecuador has also offered to allow Swedish authorities question Assange inside the Embassy, or via videoconference, all to no avail. It seems as though the only parties interested in finding a solution to this situation are the government of Ecuador and Julian Assange. The Brits and the Swedes have done everything possible to stall and stonewall the case.

Foreign Minister Patiño has stated previously that Ecuador could bring the case before the International Court of Justice in the Hague, or the United Nations. The affronts to Ecuador’s sovereignty, the failure to recognize the asylum granted to Julian Assange and the refusal to provide him with safe passage to Ecuadorian territory are all violations of international law. Julian’s human rights are also affected. The inability to fully enjoy his right to asylum and the confining conditions he has been forced to remain in for two years, under threat by arrest by British authorities right outside the Embassy doors and windows, have subjected him to cruel and inhumane punishment. Were he to experience a medical emergency and need hospital attention, the British government has already made clear it would arrest him.


Both Julian Assange and Ecuador have taken on the most powerful world interests, despite the dangers, threats and consequences of their actions. Foreign Minister Ricardo Patiño and President Rafael Correa have made clear that Ecuador will stand strong in its decision to grant Assange asylum under international law, and they will not bow to pressure and intimidation from anyone. The Assange case goes beyond just simple political asylum and issues of sovereignty. It is matter of principle in a time in which information and secrecy have become ever more the tools of the most powerful. Justice must be done for those who have sacrified their liberties to warn us of these dangers.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The Dirty Hand of the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) in Venezuela



By Eva Golinger

Anti-government protests in Venezuela that seek regime change have been led by several individuals and organizations with close ties to the US government. Leopoldo Lopez and Maria Corina Machado- two of the public leaders behind the violent protests that started in February – have long histories as collaborators, grantees and agents of Washington. The National Endowment for Democracy “NED” and the US Agency for International Development (USAID) have channeled multi-million dollar funding to Lopez’s political parties Primero Justicia and Voluntad Popular, and Machado’s NGO Sumate and her electoral campaigns.

These Washington agencies have also filtered more than $14 million to opposition groups in Venezuela between 2013 and 2014, including funding for their political campaigns in 2013 and for the current anti-government protests in 2014. This continues the pattern of financing from the US government to anti-Chavez groups in Venezuela since 2001, when millions of dollars were given to organizations from so-called “civil society” to execute a coup d’etat against President Chavez in April 2002. After their failure days later, USAID opened an Office of Transition Initiatives (OTI) in Caracas to, together with the NED, inject more than $100 million in efforts to undermine the Chavez government and reinforce the opposition during the following 8 years.

At the beginning of 2011, after being publically exposed for its grave violations of Venezuelan law and sovereignty, the OTI closed its doors inVenezuela and USAID operations were transferred to its offices in the US. The flow of money to anti-government groups didn’t stop, despite the enactment by Venezuela’s National Assembly of the Law of Political Sovereignty and NationalSelf-Determination at the end of 2010, which outright prohibits foreign funding of political groups in the country. US agencies and the Venezuelan groups that receive their money continue to violate the law with impunity. In the Obama Administration’s Foreign Operations Budgets, between $5-6 million have been included to fund opposition groups in Venezuela through USAID since 2012.

The NED, a “foundation” created by Congress in 1983 to essentially do the CIA’s work overtly, has been one of the principal financiers of destabilization in Venezuela throughout the Chavez administration and now against President Maduro. According to NED’s 2013 annual report, the agency channeled more than $2.3 million to Venezuelan opposition groups and projects. Within that figure,  $1,787,300 went directly to anti-government groups within Venezuela, while another $590,000 was distributed to regional organizations that work with and fund the Venezuelan opposition.  More than $300,000 was directed towards efforts to develop a new generation of youth leaders to oppose Maduro’s government politically.

One of the groups funded by NED to specifically work with youth is FORMA (http://www.forma.org.ve), an organization led by Cesar Briceño and tied to Venezuelan banker Oscar Garcia Mendoza. Garcia Mendoza runs the Banco Venezolano de Credito, a Venezuelan bank that has served as the filter for the flow of dollars from NED and USAID to opposition groups in Venezuela, including Sumate, CEDICE, Sin Mordaza, Observatorio Venezolano de Prisiones and FORMA, amongst others.

Another significant part of NED funds in Venezuela from 2013-2014 was given to groups and initiatives that work in media and run the campaign to discredit the government of President Maduro. Some of the more active media organizations outwardly opposed to Maduro and receiving NED funds include Espacio Publico, Instituto Prensa y Sociedad (IPYS), Sin Mordaza and GALI. Throughout the past year, an unprecedented media war has been waged against the Venezuelan government and President Maduro directly, which has intensified during the past few months of protests.

In direct violation of Venezuelan law, NED also funded the opposition coalition, the Democratic Unity Table (MUD), via the US International Republican Institute (IRI), with $100,000 to “share lessons learned with [anti-government groups] in Nicaragua, Argentina and Bolivia...and allow for the adaption of the Venezuelan experience in these countries”.  Regarding this initiative, the NED 2013 annual report specifically states its aim: “To develop the ability of political and civil society actors from Nicaragua, Argentina and Bolivia to work on national, issue-based agendas for their respective countries using lessons learned and best practices from successful Venezuelan counterparts.  The Institute will facilitate an exchange of experiences between the Venezuelan Democratic Unity Roundtable and counterparts in Bolivia, Nicaragua and Argentina. IRI will bring these actors together through a series of tailored activities that will allow for the adaptation of the Venezuelan experience in these countries.”

IRI has helped to build right-wing opposition parties Primero Justicia and Voluntad Popular, and has worked with the anti-government coaltion in Venezuela since before the 2002 coup d’etat against Chavez. In fact, IRI’s president at that time, George Folsom, outwardly applauded the coup and celebrated IRI’s role in a pressrelease claiming, “The Institute has served as a bridge between the nation’s political parties and all civil society groups to help Venezuelans forge a new democratic future…”

Detailed in a report published by the Spanish institute FRIDE in 2010, international agencies that fund the Venezuelan opposition violate currency control laws in order to get their dollars to the recipients. Also confirmed in the FRIDE report was the fact that the majority of international agencies, with the exception of the European Commission, are bringing in foreign money and changing it on the black market, in clear violation of Venezuelan law. In some cases, as the FRIDE analysis reports, the agencies open bank accounts abroad for the Venezuelan groups or they bring them the money in hard cash. The US Embassy in Caracas could also use the diplomatic pouch to bring large quantities of unaccounted dollars and euros into the country that are later handed over illegally to anti-government groups in Venezuela.


What is clear is that the US government continues to feed efforts to destabilize Venezuela in clear violation of law. Stronger legal measures  and enforcement may be necessary to ensure the sovereignty and defense of Venezuela’s democracy.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

A TRIBUTE --- CHAVEZ: A Giant Under the Moon



(Aquí en español)

By Eva Golinger

A year has passed since the physical parting of Hugo Chavez and it’s still impossible to accept. His voice was a constant in revolutionary Venezuela, his discourse was a school in continuous development. A humble man with a noble soul, Chavez had the courage of warriors and a heart filled with patriotism. He defied the most powerful interests without ever flinching. His hand never trembled, he never bowed down, he was always firm with serenity and conviction, ready to confront the most powerful threats. His value was immense, a soldier of the people, a giant of centuries. Knowing him was a privilege and a priceless treasure.

Chavez had an impact on the world, leaving his fingerprint in struggles and dreams of social justice, from north to south. His legacy is transcontinental, without borders. “Chavez” translates to a symbol of dignity in all languages.

I had the honor of accompanying him on several of his international trips. I witnessed the massive support he received on almost every continent. His mere presence inspired millions. He represented the dreams of so many struggles, so many commitments to humanity, and he proved that another world is possible.

All around the world people ran to see him up close, anxious to hear his words full of hope, simple yet full of profound intimacy. Chavez breathed love, and although millions received him with open arms, there were always dangerous threats around him. He was unpredictable, always a step ahead. Washington called him a “wise competitor”, and coming from the US government that wasn’t only a compliment, but evidenced his grandeur. Not even the empire could control him.

In May 2006 I was on a book tour in Europe with the publication of the German and Italian editions of my first book, The Chavez Code. While finishing up my events in Germany, I had the luck of coinciding with President Chavez’s visit to Vienna, Austria for the Latin America-European Union summit.

I arrived at the hotel where the presidential delegation was staying and after greeting familiar faces in the lobby, I went to my room to rest. An hour later, I went downstairs to see what was going on and to find out the president’s schedule. When I entered the lobby, the friendly presidential protocol officer informed me we would be leaving in a few moments. He asked me to join them in the caravan. I hadn’t yet seen the president but I assumed we were heading out before him to an event, so I got in the car with the delegation.

They took us to a place in the center of Vienna. When we arrived, we saw an enormous amount of people, mainly young, who were both outside and inside the venue. “What is this place?”, I asked. “It’s a popular cultural center here called Arena”, I was told.

We got out of the car and saw thousands of people around the place. There was an event that evening with none other than President Hugo Chavez, leader of the Bolivarian Revolution. A while later, when we had entered the venue to see the impressive amount of people there, I was approached and told that I would be speaking at the event that night, there in front of the European crowd. “What an honor”, I thought, to participate in a public event in Vienna alongside Chavez.

The evening air was brisk and so many people kept arriving that they didn’t fit in the venue. The organizers decided they had to change the event from inside, where only 500 people fit, to right outside in a public square, where thousands could arrive. Never before had there been a phenomenon like this in Vienna. Thousands of European youth had gathered outdoors in a Viennese square to listen to a Latin American head of state. The quantity of people present was spectacular. Chavez wasn’t just a Latin American leader, he was an international sensation.

Time went by and the President didn’t arrive. People were getting anxious waiting for so long – punctuality in Austria was strict and they weren’t used to waiting. A while later, the presidential protocol folks asked me to go on stage with the rest of the delegation. We had to do something, they said, the people were waiting for too long to just leave them in limbo. I went to talk to the other members of the delegation, which included Nicolas Maduro, then President of the National Assembly, legislator Juan Barreto and Planning and Development Minister Jorge Giordani. “They president is not coming”, they told me. “So what are we going to do now?”, I asked. “We can’t just go out there when they are expecting Chavez”.

Two hours had passed from the start time of the event and the public was restless. We went to talk to the organizers, a group of friendly European activists. We told them about the possibility that Chavez wouldn’t come. He was tired and already resting in the hotel, preparing for the heads of state summit the following day.

The news hit them like a rock. It wasn’t possible, they said. Never before in history had so many people come out to a public place to hear a head of state from anywhere. We had to understand the historic importance of the moment.

We understood clearly that under no circumstances could we replace President Chavez before that crowd. It was Chavez or nothing, or better yet, it had to be Chavez, period. We took footage of the venue and thousands present, and we sent it with the Presidential Guard and the President’s assistants, asking them to please convey the importance of the event to him so he would come.  

Two hours went by and it was now nighttime, but no one had left. People actually kept arriving. They stayed alert singing “Uh Ah, Chávez no se va” in Spanish and in German, “Chávez geht nicht”.

After four hours under the beautiful full moon of Vienna, anxious for the arrival of the Comandante of the XXI century, there was movement. Chavez had seen the images and he understood the magnitud of the moment and the importance of speaking before European youth. Despite his fatigue and lack of sleep, he appeared, radiant, smiling as he looked upon the young crowd.

The arrival of the President was met with an impressive applause from the public around 10pm. The brilliant light of the moon reflected on the awe and intensity of the faces in the crowd. Everyone was completely attentive, listening hard to the Venezuelan leader. And President Chavez was inspired by the attention and dedication of the Viennese youth, and there outside “Arena”, he launched into a master class about building an international revolutionary movement. He talked about “The Triangle of Victory”, comprised of three principle factors: political objectives, strategy and power framed within conscientiousness, commitment and organization. Everyone stayed during the two hours that Chavez spoke, listening carefully to every detail about the international revolutionary project, showing their support and approval in applause, chants and smiles. “They accuse us of wanting to build an atomic bomb”, exclaimed Chavez. “But we aren’t interested in having atomic bombs. The empire can have all the atomic bombs. We don’t need an arsenal of bombs to save the world. We are the atomic bombs! And above all, youth of the world, you are the atomic bombs...bombs of love, passion, ideas, strength, organization”.

Sixty-four European media outlets covered that historic event in Vienna. “The Che Guevara of the XXI century”, they called him, fascinated with what had happened that night under the full moon. Never before had a head of state gone out to the streets to speak with the people. Never before had so many people spontaneously gathered outdoors in Vienna to hear a head of state speak, let alone one from Latin America. Chavez brought the love and sincerity of the Venezuelan people to Austria, and the people of Vienna received him with open arms.

“You are going to save the world”, he affirmed. “Know that you are not alone here. Know that youth all around the world, who speak different languages, who are bathed in other colors, have the same calling as you...In Latin America, in Africa, in Asia...Youth of the world awaken, workers of the world rise up, women rise up, students rise up. Let’s go together on the path of revolution!”

When he ended his speech, Chavez looked at the glorious full moon that had illuminated the event. “Ah...”, he said. “That full moon, so beautiful, makes me want to grab a guitar and go with you all to the Danub river to sing until dawn”. The glimmer in his eyes gave away his sincerity. It was a special moment, those that occur only once in a lifetime. It seemed like an intimate gathering amongst friends, although most of us didn’t know each other. But, we shared a love for justice and a dream for a better world. Chavez was just another brother in the fight for that dream.

Years later, Chavez’s international influence turned him into the number one enemy of Washington. Someone of his humility, sincerity, courage and conviction was not common, especially as the president of the country with the largest oil reserves on the planet.  The threats against Chavez were constant, attempts against his life never ceased. There was a systematic aggression against his government from the most powerful interests in the world, together with their agents in Venezuela. They gave their all against Chavez. A leader of his stature, influence, strength and dignity, with an immense capacity for love, was dangerous for the imperial agenda. They did what they could to neutralize him. 

We may never know if his death was provoked or not, although enough evidence exists to investigate. What we do know is that his mortal departure was not a goodbye. Men like Chavez don’t disappear, though some wish they would. Chavez’s legacy lives today and grows beyond the Bolivarian Revolution. His voice is present in every cry for freedom, his gaze is seen in brave young people who defy powerful and dangerous interests to expose truths. His love is present in the solidarity and heartfelt commitment that millions feel for revolutionary Venezuela. His strength and dignity guide the defense of the Patria Grande, today under threat again from those who seek to erase us from history.

Chavez will never disappear. His presence will continue to grow and multiply in every soldier of peace, every warrior for justice. Smiling, with a heart of gold, Chavez will always be a giant under the moon.


Thursday, February 20, 2014

Venezuela Beyond the Protests: The Revolution is Here to Stay





By Eva Golinger
February 20, 2014


For those of you unfamiliar with Venezuelan issues, don’t let the title of this article fool you. The revolution referred to is not what most media outlets are showing taking place today in Caracas, with protestors calling for the ouster of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro. The revolution that is here to stay is the Bolivarian Revolution, which began in 1998 when Hugo Chavez was first elected president and has subsequently transformed the mega oil producing nation into a socially-focused, progressive country with a grassroots government. Demonstrations taking place over the past few days in Venezuela are attempts to undermine and destroy that transformation in order to return power to the hands of the elite who ruled the nation previously for over 40 years.  

Those protesting do not represent Venezuela’s vast working class majority that struggled to overcome the oppressive exclusion they were subjected to during administrations before Chavez. The youth taking to the streets today in Caracas and other cities throughout the country, hiding their faces behind masks and balaclavas, destroying public buildings, vehicles, burning garbage, violently blocking transit and throwing rocks and molotov cocktails at security forces are being driven by extremist right-wing interests from Venezuela’s wealthiest sector. Led by hardline neoconservatives, Leopoldo Lopez, Henrique Capriles and Maria Corina Machado – who come from three of the wealthiest families in Venezuela, the 1% of the 1% - the protesters seek not to revindicate their basic fundamental rights, or gain access to free healthcare or education, all of which are guaranteed by the state, thanks to Chavez, but rather are attempting to spiral the country into a state of ungovernability that would justify an international intervention leading to regime change.

Before Chavez was elected in 1998, Venezuela was in a very dark, difficult period with a dangerously eroded democracy. During the early 1990s, poverty swelled at around 80%, the economy was in a sinkhole, the nation’s vast middle class was disappearing with millions falling into economic dispair, constitutional rights were suspended, a national curfew was imposed and corruption was rampant. Those who protested the actions of the government were brutally repressed and often killed. In fact, during the period of so-called “representative democracy” in Venezuela from 1958-1998, before the nation’s transformation into a participatory democracy under Chavez, thousands of Venezuelans were disappeared, tortured, persecuted and assassinated by state security forces. None of their rights were guaranteed and no one, except the majority excluded poor, seemed to care. International Human Rights organizations showed little interest in Venezuela during that time, despite clear and systematic violations taking place against the people.

Those in power during that period, also referred to in Venezuela as the “Fourth Republic”, represented an elite minority – families that held the nation’s wealth and profited heavily from the lucrative oil reserves. Millions of dollars from oil profits belonging to the state (oil was nationalized in Venezuela in 1976) were embezzled out of the country into the bloated bank accounts of wealthy Venezuelans and corrupt public officials who had homes in Miami, New York and the Dominican Republic and lived the high life off the backs of an impoverished majority.

Hugo Chavez’s electoral victory in 1998 shattered the opulent banquet the Venezuelan elite had enjoyed for decades, while they ran the country into the ground. He was elected precisely to break the hold on power those groups had harnessed for so many years, and Chavez’s promise was revolution – complete transformation of the economic, social and political system in the country. His electoral victories were solid, year after year, each time rising in popularity as more and more Venezuelans became motivated to participate in their governance and the construction of a new, inclusive, nation with social justice as its banner.

Chavez’s election was a huge blow to Washington and the powerful interests in the United States that wanted control over Venezuela’s oil reserves – the largest on the planet. In April 2002, the Bush administration backed a coup d’etat to overthrow Chavez, led by the very same elite that had been in power before. The coup involved mass marches in the streets of Caracas, composed of the wealthy and middle classes, calling for Chavez’s ouster. Snipers were used to shoot on those in the marches, creating violence and chaos that was immediately blamed on Chavez. Television, radio and newspapers in Venezuela all joined in the coup efforts, manipulating images and distorting facts to justify Chavez’s overthrow. He became the villian, the evil dictator, the brutal murderer in the eyes of international media, though in reality those overthrowing him and their backers in Washington were responsible for the death and destruction caused. After Chavez was kidnapped on April 11, 2002 and set to be assassinated, the wealthy businessmen behind the coup took power and imposed a dictatorship. All democratic institutions were dissolved, including the legistature and the supreme court.

The majority who had voted for Chavez and had finally become protagonists in their own governance were determined to defend their democracy and took to the streets demanding return of their president. Forty-eight hours later, Chavez was rescued by millions of supporters and loyal armed forces. The coup was defeated and the revolution survived, but the threats continued.

A subsequent economic sabotage attemped to bring down the oil industry. 18,000 high level technical and managerial workers at the state-owned company, PDVSA, walked off the job, sabotaging equipment and causing nearly $20 billion in damages to the Venezuelan economy. After 64 days of strikes, barren supermarket shelves due to intentional hoarding to create panic, and a brutal media war in which every private station broadcast opposition propaganda 24/7, Venezuelans were fed up with the opposition. Chavez’s popularity soared. A year and a half later, when the opposition tried to oust him through a recall referendum, he won a 60-40 landslide victory.

Leading efforts to overthrow Chavez were the very same three who today call for their supporters to take to the streets to force current President Nicolas Maduro from power. Leopoldo Lopez and Henrique Capriles were both mayors of two of Caracas’ wealthiest municipalities during the 2002 coup – Chacao and Baruta, while Maria Corina Machado was a close ally of Pedro Carmona, the wealthy businessman who proclaimed himself dictator during Chavez’s brief ouster. Lopez and Machado signed the infamous “Carmona Decree” dissolving Venezuela’s democratic institutions, trashing the constitution. Both Capriles and Lopez were also responsible for persecuting and violently detaining members of Chavez’s government during the coup, including allowing some of them to be publicly beaten, such as Ramon Rodriguez Chacin, former Minister of Interior in 2002.

All three have been major recipients of US funding and political support for their endeavors to overthrow Chavez, and now Maduro. The US National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and its offshoots, the International Republican Institute (IRI) and the National Democratic Institute (NDI) provided start-up funds for Machado’s NGO Sumate, and Capriles’ and Lopez’s right-wing party Primero Justicia. When Lopez split from Primero Justicia in 2010 to form his own party, Voluntad Popular, it was bankrolled by US dollars.

Over the ten year period, from 2000-2010, US agencies, including the US Agency for International Development (USAID) and its Office for Transition Initiatives (OTI), set up in Caracas in 2002, channeled more than $100 million dollars to opposition groups in Venezuela. The overall objective was regime change.

When Chavez was reelected in 2006 with an even larger margen of victory, nearly 64% of the vote, the US shifted its support from the traditional opposition political parties and NGOs in order to create new ones with youthful, fresh faces. Over one third of US funding, nearly $15 million annually by 2007, was directed towards youth and student groups, including training in the use of social networks to mobilize political activism. Student leaders were sent to the US for workshops and conferences on Internet activism and media networking. They were formed in tactics to promote regime change via street riots and strategic use of media to portray the government as repressive.

In 2007, these student groups, funded and trained by US agencies, took to the streets of Caracas to demand Chavez’s ouster after the government chose not to renew the public concession of RCTV, a popular private television station known for its seedy soap operas. The protests were composed of mainly middle and upper class youth and opposition politicians, defending corporate media and a station also known for its direct involvement in the April 2002 coup. Though their protests failed to achieve their objective, the “students” had earned their credentials as a solid fixture in the opposition. Later that year, their organizing helped to narrowly defeat a constitutional reform package Chavez had proposed in a national referendum.

After President Chavez passed away in March 2013 following a brutal battle with cancer, the opposition saw an opportunity to snatch power back from his supporters. Elections were held on April 14, 2013 in an extremely tense and volatile environment. Nicolas Maduro, Chavez’s chosen successor, ran against Henrique Capriles, who months earlier in October 2012 had lost the presidential election to Chavez by 11 points. This time, however, the results were much narrower with Maduro winning by a slim margen of just under 2 points. Capriles refused to accept the results and called his supporters to take to the streets in protest, to “get all their rage out”. During the two days after the elections, 11 government supporters were killed by Capriles’ followers. It was a bloodbath that received no attention in international media, the victims just weren’t glamorous enough, and were on the wrong side.

As 2013 wore on, the economic crisis in the country intensified and the old strategy of hoarding products to provoke shortages and panic amongst the population was back again. Basic consumer products disappeared from the shelves – toilet paper, cooking oil, powdered milk, corn flour – staples needed for everyday life in Venezuela. Inflation began to rise and speculation, price hikes, were rampant. While some of this was related to government controls on foreign currency exchange to prevent capital flight, a lot had to do with sabotage. A full economic war was underway against Maduro’s government.

Problems persisted throughout the year and discontent grew. But as the electoral period came around again in December, for mayors, the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) had sweeping victories. 242 out of 317 mayoralties were won by the PSUV, showing a solid majority of the country still supported the government’s party. 

Maduro called opposition governors and newly-elected mayors to a meeting at the presidential palace in late December in an attempt to dialogue and create a space to work together to improve the situation in country. The meeting was generously received by a majority of Venezuelans. Nevertheless, extremists, such as Machado and Lopez, saw the meeting as a threat to their goal of ousting Maduro well before his term ended in 2019. Once again they began to call for street protests and other actions against his government.

In January 2014, as Venezuelans arrived back from their Christmas vacations, economic difficulties continued. Maduro began cracking down on businesses violating newly-enacted laws on price controls and speculation. Towards the end of January, new measures were announced regarding access to foreign exchange that many perceived as a devaluing of the national currency, the bolivar. Sentiment built amongst opposition groups rejecting the new measures and calls for Maduro’s resignation increased. By February, small pockets of protests popped up around the country, mainly confined to middle and upper class neighborhoods.

During the celebration of National Youth Day on February 12, while thousands marched peacefully to commemorate the historic achievements of youth in the nation’s independence, another group sought a different agenda. Opposition youth, “students”, led an agressive march calling for Maduro’s resignation that ended in a violent confrontation with authorities after the protestors destroyed building façades, including the Attorney General’s office, threw objects at police and national guard and used molotov cocktails to burn property and block transit. The clashes caused three deaths and multiple injuries.

The leader of the violent protest, Leopoldo Lopez, went into hiding following the confrontation and a warrant was issued for his arrest due to his role in the deadly events and his public calls to oust the president. Days later, after a lengthy show including videos from a “clandestine” location, Lopez convened another march and used the event to publicly turn himself over to authorities. He was taken into custody and held for questioning, all his rights guaranteed by the state.

Lopez became the rallying point for the violent protests, which have continued to date, causing several additional deaths, dozens of injuries and the destruction of public property. Relatively small, violent groups of protestors have blocked transit in wealthier zones of Caracas, causing traffic delays and terrorizing residents. Several deaths have resulted because protestors refused to let ambulences through to take patients to the emergency room.

Ironically, international media have been portraying these protestors as peaceful victims of state repression. Even celebrities, such as Cher and Paris Hilton have been drawn into a false hysteria, calling for freedom for Venezuelans from a “brutal dictatorship”. The reality is quite different. While there is no doubt that a significant number of protestors in the larger marches that have taken place have demonstrated peacefully their legitimate concerns, the driving force behind those protests is a violent plan to overthrow a democratic government. Lopez, who has publicly stated his pride for his role in the April 2002 coup against Hugo Chavez, continues to call on his supporters to rally against the Venezuelan “dictatorship”.

While dozens of governments and international organizations, including UNASUR and Mercosur have expressed their clear support and solidarity for the Venezuelan government and President Maduro, Washington was quick to back the opposition protestors and demand the government release all those detained during the demonstrations. The Obama administration went so far as to threaten President Maduro with international consequences if Leopoldo Lopez were to be detained. In the aftermath of the first wave of violent protests, Maduro expelled three US diplomats from the US Embassy in Caracas, accusing them of conspiring to recruit students in Venezuela to engage in destabilization.

As the violence continues in some areas around the country, Maduro has made widespread calls for peace. A movement for peace was launched last week, led by artists, athletes and cultural figures, together with organized communities seeking to end not just the current chaotic situation, but also the high crime levels that have plagued the country over the past few years.

Most Venezuelans want peace in their country and a majority continue to support the current government. The opposition has failed to present an alternative platform or agenda beyond regime change, and their continued dependence on US funding and support – even this year Obama included $5 million in the 2014 Foreign Operations Budget for opposition groups in Venezuela – is a ongoing sign of their weakness. As a State Department cable from the US Embassy in Caracas, published by Wikileaks, explained in March 2009, “Without our continued assistance, it is possible that the organizations we helped create...could be forced to close...Our funding will provide those organizations a much-needed lifeline”.

During the past decade in Venezuela, poverty has been reduced by over 50%, healthcare has become free and accessible to all, as has quality education from primary through graduate school. State subsidies provide affordable food and housing for those who need it, as well as job training programs and worker placement. Media outlets, especially community media, have expanded nationwide, giving more space for the expression of diverse voices. Internet access has increased significantly and the state also built hundreds of public infocenters with free computer and Internet access throughout the country. Students are given free laptops and tablets to use for their studies. The government has raised minimum wage by 10-20% each year leading Venezuela to have one of the highest minimum wages in Latin America. Pensions are guaranteed after only 25 years of work and those who work in the informal economy are still guaranteed a pension from the state.


While problems persist in the country, as they do every where, most Venezuelans are wary of giving up the immense social and political gains they have made in the past fourteen years.  An opposition with nothing to offer except foreign intervention and uncertainty does not appeal to the majority. Unfortunately, media fail to see this reality, or choose not to portray it in order to advance a political agenda. In Venezuela, the revolution is here to stay and the interests of the 1% are not going to overcome those of the 99% already in power.