US policy to Venezuela: Combining military and electoral tactics

By James Petras
Correo del Orinoco

US efforts to overthrow President Chavez’s democratic government borrow many of the tactics applied against previous democratic adversaries. These include border incursions by Colombian paramilitary and military forces similar to cross border attacks by the US sponsored “contras” against the Sandinista government of Nicaragua during the 1980s. The attempt to encircle and isolate Venezuela is similar to Washington’s policy over the past half century against Cuba. The funneling of funds to opposition groups, parties, media and NGO’s via US agencies and “dummy” foundations is a repeat of the tactics applied to destabilize the democratic government of Salvador Allende of Chile 1970-73, Evo Morales in Bolivia 2006-2010 and numerous other governments in the region.

Washington’s multiple track policy, in its current phase, is directed at escalating a war of nerves, by constantly raising security threats. The military provocations, in part, are a ‘testing’ of Venezuela’s security preparations, probing for weaknesses in its ground, air and maritime defenses. These provocations also are part of a strategy of attrition, to force the Chavez government to put its defense forces on “alert” and mobilize the population and then to temporarily reduce the pressure until the next provocation. The purpose is to discredit the government’s constant reference to threats, in order to weaken vigilance and when circumstances allow making an opportune strike.

Washington’s external military build-up is designed to intimidate Caribbean and Central American countries that may be looking towards closer economic relations with Venezuela. The show of force is also designed to encourage the internal opposition toward more aggressive actions.

At the same time the confrontational posture is directed at the “weak links” or “moderate” sectors of the Chavista government who are nervous and anxious for “reconciliation” even at the price of unprincipled concessions to the opposition and the new Colombia regime of President Santos.

Washington is betting that a military build-up and psychological warfare linking Venezuela with revolutionary insurgents like the Colombian guerrilla will result in Chavez’s allies and friends in Latin America putting distance toward him.

Washington wants a military “polarization”: US or Chavez. It rejects the political polarization existing today which pits Washington against MERCOSUR, the organization of economic integration involving Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay with Venezuela in line for membership or ALBA (economic integration involving Venezuela, Bolivia, Nicaragua, Ecuador and several Caribbean states).

The FARC Factor

Obama and now ex-President Uribe accused Venezuela of offering sanctuary for Colombian guerrillas (FARC and ELN). In reality this is a ploy to pressure President Chavez to denounce or at a minimum demand that the FARC give up their armed struggle on terms dictated by the US and Colombian regime.

Contrary to Uribe’s and the State Department’s boasts that the FARC is a declining, isolated and defeated fragment of the past, as a result of their successful counter-insurgency campaigns, a recent detailed field study by a Colombian researcher demonstrates that in the last 2 years the guerrillas have consolidated their influence over one-third of the country, and that the regime in Bogota controls only half the country.

After suffering major defeats in 2008, the FARC and ELN have steadily advanced throughout 2009-2010 inflicting over 1300 military casualties last year and probably near double this year. The resurgence and advance of the FARC has crucial importance as far as Washington’s military campaign again Venezuela.

First it demonstrates that despite $6 billion plus in US military aid to Colombia, its counter-insurgency campaign to “exterminate” the FARC has failed. Secondly, the FARC’s offensive opens a “second front” in Colombia, weakening any effort to launch an invasion of Venezuela using Colombia as a “springboard”. Thirdly, faced with a growing internal class war, the new President Santos is more likely to seek to lessen tensions with Venezuela, hoping to relocate troops from the frontier of its neighbor toward the growing guerrilla insurgency.

Washington’s multi-track policy directed at destabilizing the Venezuelan government has by and large been counter-productive, suffering major failures and few successes.

The hardline toward Venezuela has failed to “line up” any support in the major countries of Latin America, with the exception of Colombia. It has isolated Washington not Caracas.

The military threats may have radicalized the socio-economic measures adopted by Chavez, not moderated them. The accusations emanating from Colombia have strengthened internal cohesion in Venezuela, except among the hard-core opposition groups. They have also led to Venezuela’s upgrading its intelligence, police and military operations.

The effects of the policies of tension and the “war of attrition” are hard to measure, especially in terms of their impact on the forthcoming crucial legislative elections on September 26, 2010. No doubt, Venezuela’s failure to regulate and control the multi-million flow of US funds to its Venezuelan collaborators has made a significant impact on their organizational capability. Likewise, the incompetence and corruption of several top Chavista officials, especially in public food distribution, housing and public safety will have an electoral impact.

It is likely that these “internal” factors are much more influential in shaping the alignment of Venezuela’s electoral outcome, than the aggressive confrontational politics adopted by Washington. Nevertheless, if the pro-US opposition substantially increases its legislative presence in the September 26 elections – beyond one-third of the Congress people – they will attempt to block social changes and economic stimulus policies.

White House policy based on greater militarization and virtually no new economic initiatives has been a failure. It has encouraged the larger Latin American countries to increase regional integration. It has not increased US influence. Instead Latin America has moved toward a new regional political organization UNASUR (which excludes the US), downgrading the Organization of American States, which the US uses to push its agenda.

What Washington fails to understand is that across the political spectrum from the left to the center-right, political leaders are appalled and opposed to the US push and promotion of the military option as the centerpiece of policy. Practically all political leaders have unpleasant memories of exile and persecution from the previous cycle of US backed military regimes.

In other words, Latin America perceives US military aggression toward Venezuela as a “first step” southward toward their countries.

President Chavez and his supporters would do well to concentrate on pulling the economy out of recession, tackling state corruption and monumental inefficiency and empowering the community and factory-based councils to play a greater role in everything from increasing productivity to public safety.

Ultimately Venezuela’s long-term security from the pervasive reach of the US Empire depends on the strength of the organized mass organizations sustaining the Chavez government.

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