Moon of Alabama Brecht quote
February 07, 2019

Venezuela - U.S. Aid Gambit Fails - War Plans Lack Support

A day after the U.S. coup attempt in Venezuela the U.S. game plan was already quite obvious:

The opposition in Venezuela will probably use access to that 'frozen' money to buy weapons and to create an army of mercenaries to fight a 'civil' war against the government and its followers. Like in Syria U.S. special forces or some CIA 'contractors' will be eager to help. The supply line for such a war would most likely run through Colombia. If, like 2011 in Syria, a war on the ground is planned it will likely begin in the cities near that border.

bigger

The U.S. is using the pretext of 'delivering humanitarian aid' from Columbia to Venezuela to undermine the government and to establish a supply line for further operations. It is another attempt to pull the military onto the coup plotter's side:

[I]f the trucks do get across, the opposition can present itself as an answer to Venezuela’s chronic suffering, while Mr. Maduro will appear to have lost control of the country’s borders. That could accelerate defections from the ruling party and the military.

Dimitris Pantoulas, a political scientist in Caracas, called the opposition’s aid delivery plan a high-stakes gamble.
...
“This is 99 percent about the military and one percent about the humanitarian aspects,” he said. “The opposition is testing the military’s loyalty, raising their cost of supporting Maduro. Are they with Maduro, or no? Will they reject the aid? If the answer is no, then Maduro’s hours are numbered.”

A New York Times op-ed by a right-wing former foreign minister of Mexico, Jorge G. Castañeda, details the escalation potential:

According to Mr. Guaidó and other sources, $20 million in American medicines and food will be unloaded this week just outside Venezuelan territory in Cúcuta, Colombia; Brazil, and on a Caribbean island — either Aruba or Curaçao — near the Venezuelan coast.

Venezuelan military officials and troops in exile will then move these supplies into Venezuela, where if all goes well, army troops still loyal to Mr. Maduro will not stop their passage nor fire upon them. If they do, the Brazilian and Colombian governments may be willing to back the anti-Maduro soldiers. The threat of a firefight with their neighbors might just be the incentive the Venezuelan military need to jettison Mr. Maduro, making the reality of combat unnecessary.

This escalation strategy is unlikely to work unless some additional provocation is involved. The Venezuelan government blocked the border bridge between Cúcuta in Colombia and San Cristobal in Venezuela. Its military stands ready to stop any violation of the country's border.

The U.S. responded to the blocking of the road with a sanctimonious tweet:

Secretary Pompeo @SecPompeo - 16:55 utc - 6 Feb 2019

The Venezuelan people desperately need humanitarian aid. The U.S. & other countries are trying to help, but #Venezuela’s military under Maduro's orders is blocking aid with trucks and shipping tankers. The Maduro regime must LET THE AID REACH THE STARVING PEOPLE. #EstamosUnidosVE

The U.S. government, which actively helps to starve the people of Yemen into submission, is concerned about Venezuela where so far no one has died of starvation? The lady ain't gonna believe that.

The Venezuelan military has shown no sign of interest to change its loyalty. The fake aid will be rejected.

The government of Venezuela does not reject aid that comes without political interference. Last year it accepted modest UN aid which consisted mostly of medical supplies from which Venezuela had been cut off due to U.S. sanctions. The UN claimed that around 12 percent of Venezuelans are undernourished. But such claims have been made for years while reports from Venezuela (vid) confirmed only some scarcity of specific products. There is no famine in Venezuela that would require immediate intervention.

The International Red Cross, the Catholic church's aid organization Caritas and the United Nations rejected U.S. requests to help deliver the currently planned 'aid' because it is so obviously politicized:

"Humanitarian action needs to be independent of political, military or other objectives," UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters in New York on Wednesday.
...
"What is important is that humanitarian aid be depoliticised and that the needs of the people should lead in terms of when and how humanitarian aid is used," Dujarric added.

Rejecting aid out of political reasons is not unusual. When the hurricane Katrina in 2005 caused huge damage along the U.S. gulf coast, a number of countries offered humanitarian and technical aid. U.S. President Bush accepted help from some countries, but rejected aid from other ones:

An offer of aid from the Venezuelan president, Hugo Chávez, which included two mobile hospital units, 120 rescue and first aid experts and 50 tonnes of food, has been rejected, according to the civil rights leader, Jesse Jackson.

Mr Jackson said the offer from the Venezuelan leader, whom he recently met, included 10 water purification plants, 18 power generation plants and 20 tonnes of bottled water.

The U.S. intent to establish a 'humanitarian aid' supply line into Venezuela has a secondary purpose. Such aid is the ideal cover for weapon supplies. In the 1980s designated 'humanitarian aid' flights for Nicaragua were filled with weapons. The orders for those flights were given by Elliot Abrams who is now Trump's special envoy for Venezuela.

While the trucks from Colombia are blocked at the border other 'humanitarian aid' from the United States reached the country.

Officials in Venezuela have accused the US of sending a cache of high-powered rifles and ammunition on a commercial cargo flight from Miami so they would get into the hands of President Nicolás Maduro's opponents.

Members with the Venezuelan National Guard [GNB] and the National Integrated Service of Customs and Tax Administration [SENIAT] made the shocking discovery just two days after the plane arrived at Arturo Michelena International Airport in Valencia.

Inspectors found 19 rifles, 118 magazines and 90 wireless radios while investigating the flight which they said arrived Sunday afternoon. Monday's bust also netted four rifle stands, three rifle scopes and six iPhones.

The pictures show sufficient equipment for an infantry squad. Fifteen AR-15 assault rifles (5.56), one squad automatic weapon (7.62) with a drum magazine, and a Colt 7.62 sniper gun as well as accessory equipment. What is missing is the ammunition.

Where one such weapon transport is caught multiple are likely to go through. But to run a war against the government pure weapon supplies are not enough. The U.S. will have to establish a continuous supply line for heavy and bulky ammunition. That is where 'humanitarian aid' convoys come in.

Unless a large part of the Venezuelan military changes sides, any attempt to overthrow the Venezuelan government by force is likely doomed to fail. The U.S. could use its full military might to destroy the Venezuelan army. But the U.S. Senate is already quarreling about the potential use of U.S. forces in Venezuela. The Democrats strongly reject that.

A Senate resolution to back Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido, once expected to get unanimous support, has been torpedoed by a disagreement over the use of military force, according to aides and senators working on the issue.
...
“I think it’s important for the Senate to express itself on democracy in Venezuela, supporting interim President Guaido and supporting humanitarian assistance. But I also think it should be very clear in fact that support stops short of any type of military intervention,” [Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J.] told NBC News.

It is unlikely that Trump would order a military intervention without bipartisan support.

The a clandestine insertion of a mercenary 'guerrilla' force into Venezuela is surely possible. Minor supply lines can be established by secret  means. But, as the war on Syria demonstrates, such plans can not be successful unless the people welcome the anti-government force.

Under the current government most people in Venezuela are still better off than under the pre-Chavez governments. This lecture and this thread explain the economic history of Venezuela and the enormous progress that was made under Chavez and Maduro. The people will not forget that even when the economic situation will become more difficult. They know who is pulling the strings behind the Random Guy Guaido who now claims the presidency. They know well that these rich people are unlikely to better their plight.

U.S. politicians are making the same mistakes with regards to Venezuela as they made with the regime change wars on Iraq and Syria. They believes that all people are as corrupt and nihilistic as they are. They believe that others will not fight for their own believes and their own style of life. They will again be proven wrong.

Posted by b on February 7, 2019 at 19:19 UTC | Permalink | Comments (99)

February 06, 2019

U.S. Asks More Countries To Occupy Northeast Syria

Monday's piece about the situation in Syria included a judgment that now seems to be wrong.

The Trump administration planned to replace U.S. troops in northeast Syria with those of various allies.

James Jeffrey, the neoconservative U.S. special envoy to the anti-ISIS coalition, thought up an elaborate scheme to 'protect the Kurds' and to secure the borders to Turkey with the help of allied troops.

Aaron Stein @aaronstein1 - 17:33 utc - 24 Jan 2019

The Jeffrey plan being carried to Ankara/Rojava is very complex, requires open-ended commitments from UK-France, Turkish patrols in rural areas, SDF acquiescence, 3rd party forces, and US top cover, perhaps including a US enforced NFZ (unclear if POTUS is on board with this bit)

A week later the Wall Street Journal reported that the crazy scheme failed to win support from any of the relevant parties. The Kurds rejected it and Britain and France declined to send troops on a never ending mission between the waring Turkish and Kurdish sides.

The assertions that the scheme failed may have been premature. There are signs that it is still been worked on.

Today Secretary of State Mike Pompeo talked to foreign ministers and officials of the U.S. coalition against ISIS. He made a remark that seems to announce a request to these allies to send their troops to replace the U.S. forces in northeast Syria:

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Wednesday reassured allies that the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria was not “the end of America’s fight” and called on them to recommit to permanently defeating Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.
...
“Our mission is unwavering, but we need your help to accomplish it, just as we’ve had over the past months and years,” Pompeo said, “To that end, we ask that our coalition partners seriously and rapidly consider requests that will enable our efforts to continue.

“Those requests are likely to come very soon,” he added, without elaborating.

Pompeo also wants (vid) the coalition to "removal of all Iranian led forces from Syria." He also asked for hundreds of millions fro Iraq.

One of the participants of the meeting was the German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, a rather daft member of the formerly social democratic party. As he traveled to Washington DC he lamented (in German) about a "vacuum" that would be created when the U.S. troops withdraw (my translation):

Before his flight to Washington Foreign Minister Heiko Maas (SPD) said: "In Syria we still have no clarity how a vacuum can be avoided after the announced U.S. troop draw-down, so that no new escalation of old conflicts and a resurgence of the Islamic State can happen." He hoped to receive more information on the issue during the talks in Washington. The danger from the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq "is by far not over."

How come these politicians never learned physics? Northeast Syria is not closed off from the atmosphere or the surrounding lands. That makes a vacuum there impossible.

Former British ambassador to Syria Peter Ford offers a helpful Guide to Decoding the Doublespeak on Syria. It includes this entry:

Term: Vacuum. ‘The US will be leaving a vacuum when it pulls troops out’.
Meaning: Restoration of law and order. Once the US stops blocking the way the Syrian government will return to the currently US-controlled territory and will keep ISIS down, as it is doing in the rest of Syria, and Turkey out.

The tone of Maas' remarks seems intended to prepare the German public for a military mission in northeast Syria.

Turkey had already rejected the idea of foreign troops on its southern border. Yesterday Erdogan felt the need to again emphasize it:

As Turkey prepared for a summit on Syria with Russia and Iran, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said his country wanted sole control over a proposed buffer zone in northern Syria, rejecting a plan by the United States for a multinational force to police the area.
...
The Wall Street Journal reported in January that Washington was trying to get Western partners, such as Australia, France and the United Kingdom, to patrol the stretch of Syrian territory along the Turkish border after US troops leave the area. Washington is concerned that Turkey will attack the YPG once US soldiers are withdrawn.

In his speech, Erdogan said the US plan was not an option. “I repeat: Any proposal except a model for a safe zone under Turkish control, with other countries just providing logistical help, is unacceptable.”

He said there was no example for a safe zone successfully administered by “international powers.” The Turkish president said Turkish troops would be welcomed by locals in Syria: “They trust us.”

Nearly all population centers near the Turkish borders in northeast Syria have a Kurdish majority. The Kurds certainly do not trust Turkey. Erdogan wants to push the Kurds away from the Turkish border. He would then 'resettle' the Syrian refugees in Turkey in those areas. Most of the refugees are relatives of Turkish supported 'rebels' and aligned with Erdogan's Islamist ideology.

Prewar map of ethnic majorities by town

Green=Kurd, Purple=Arab, Red=Turkmen, etc -
Map by Ariyan Newzad - source - bigger

The U.S. idea of bringing in some other foreign troops to replace the U.S. contingent is unfortunately not dead. Pompeo announces new "requests", Maas is playing up a "vacuum" and Erdogan feels the need to emphasize Turkish opposition to it.

Any foreign state would be crazy to commit to such a scheme. A deployment of troops there would be:

  • Illegal under international law,
  • against the will of the host country Syria,
  • against the will of the NATO member and neighbor Turkey,
  • in the midst of ethnic-religious conflicts,
  • without secure communication routes and
  • without a defined end.

The people benefiting from such a deployment would by the PKK/YPK Kurds that helped to defeat ISIS. But they are themselves an internationally recognized terrorist organization that should not be supported. The other party to benefit is Israel which historically uses the Kurds to undermine the sovereignty of Arab countries. A foreign troop deployment in northeast Syria would help Israel's aim to keep Damascus weak.

The J. Jeffrey plan is a mess and should not have been given any thought at all. It is worrying that discussions about it still continue.

Posted by b on February 6, 2019 at 18:24 UTC | Permalink | Comments (106)

February 04, 2019

Syria Sitrep - Trump Says U.S. Will Leave But Pentagon Keeps Adding Forces

The U.S. retreat from northeast Syria is still not happening. In yesterdays interview with CBS President Trump again said the troops would leave, but the the Pentagon is doing the opposite of retreating.


(not current) bigger

The Islamic State forces north of the Euphrates are left to holding some 4 square kilometer of ground near the border to Iraq. The few hundred ISIS fighters still alive could be killed in a day or two which would then be the right time for the U.S. to leave as President Trump announced two month ago.

But the U.S. military keeps increasing its troop numbers and supplies in the area. During the last two month the number of U.S. soldiers in northeast Syria rose by nearly 50%. Instead of the officially acknowledged 2,000 there are now at least 3,000 U.S. soldiers in northeast Syria. New weapons and equipment arrive every day. Additionally, the Syrian Observatory reports, the U.S. is bringing in a significant number of TOW anti-tank missiles and heavy machine guns even though there is no longer an apparent use for these:

[T]he International Coalition Forces brought quantities of anti-armor thermal missiles during the recent period, to their bases east of Euphrates area, in conjunction with bringing quantities of machineguns known as “DShK”, and the reliable sources confirmed to the Syrian Observatory that the range of the missiles reaches about 6 km, but the reasons for bringing these weapons was not known, especially as the “Islamic State” Organization in its last pocket at the east bank of Euphrates River is almost ended, ..
...
[T]he Syrian Observatory has documented since the US president’s decision to withdraw until the 3rd of February 2018, the entry of 1130 trucks at least, carrying equipment, ammunition, weapons, military, and logistic equipment to bases of the International Coalition east of Euphrates, ..
...
The process of entering the trucks also comes in conjunction with the arrival of hundreds of soldiers of the US Special Forces to the Syrian territory in a specific and special operation, the goal of which is to arrest the remaining leaders and members of the “Islamic State” Organization who are trapped in the remaining 4 kilometers for it east of Euphrates, ..

Today the New York Times finally confirms the increased troop numbers the Observatory reported weeks ago:

The American military has started withdrawing some equipment, but not yet troops, officials said on Sunday. The number of American troops in Syria has actually increased in recent weeks to more than 3,000 — a standard practice to bring in additional security and logistics troops temporarily to help protect and carry out the process of pulling out — three Defense Department officials said.

The explanation makes little sense. One does not need 1,000 additional troops to secure and remove the stocks of a 2,000 strong force deployment in mostly friendly territory.

The NYT also reveals that the U.S. wants to led the Kurdish PKK keep the arms it received:

A meeting in late January of the National Security Council’s “deputies committee” — the No. 2 leaders of national security departments and agencies — recommended allowing the Syrian Democratic Forces, a coalition of Kurdish and Arab fighters, to keep the equipment the Pentagon has provided them and for an American-led air campaign to continue airstrikes to defend them against the Islamic State, according to two senior American officials.

This breaks a promise the U.S. repeatedly made to Turkey and gives Ankara more reasons to threaten the Kurds.

On Saturday a U.S. air attack targeted a Syrian army position south of the Euphrates near the border town al-Bukamal:

A military source told SANA that the U.S.-led coalition warplanes carried out an air strike overnight Saturday on Syrian artillery position in Sokkariyeh village, west of al-Bukamal city.

The source added that the attack resulted in destroying the artillery and injuring two soldiers.

SANA reporter said that, in parallel with the coalition’s aggression, Daesh terrorists attacked military points in the area, but the army units repelled the attack and killed and wounded most of the attacking terrorists.

This is one of several incidents that lets one assume that the U.S. intentionally lets some ISIS fighters escape to bother the Syrian government.

The U.S. military says it fears the ISIS would regrow should U.S. troops retreat. But that argument only holds when no other troops would replace them. The only viable solution to handle northeast Syria after the territorial defeat of the Islamic State is obviously to ask the Syrian government to retake control of its land. It could defeat remaining Islamic State sleeper cells, handle the prisoners the Kurds have taken,  and keep the YPK/PKK and Turkey apart. But the U.S. foreign policy borg is still unwilling to concede that.

James Jeffrey, the neoconservative U.S. special envoy to the anti-ISIS coalition, thought up an elaborate scheme to 'protect the Kurds' and to secure the borders to Turkey with the help of allied troops.

Aaron Stein @aaronstein1 - 17:33 utc - 24 Jan 2019

The Jeffrey plan being carried to Ankara/Rojava is very complex, requires open-ended commitments from UK-France, Turkish patrols in rural areas, SDF acquiescence, 3rd party forces, and US top cover, perhaps including a US enforced NFZ (unclear if POTUS is on board with this bit)

A week after that tweet the Wall Street Journal reported that the crazy scheme failed to win support from any of the relevant parties. The Kurds rejected it and Britain and France declined to send troops on a never ending mission between the waring Turkish and Kurdish sides.

No news has been released of any different scheme. The YPK/PKK Kurds the U.S. used as proxy force against the Islamic State recently lobbied in Washington to keep some U.S. troops in the area:

The group’s message to Washington policymakers has centered around slowing the US withdrawal, and stopping Turkish plans to police a safe zone on the border of northern Syria, which the SDC sees as a potentially deadly repeat of the 2018 incursion into the Kurdish-held city of Afrin.

The lobbying effort is likely to fail.

The Kurds still demand a substantial autonomy in exchange for letting the Syrian army retake the control of the northeast. Damascus rejects any local autonomy that goes beyond cultural rights. The teaching of a Kurdish language in local schools will be allowed, but there will be no separate Kurdish administration. As the alternatives fail to evolve the Kurds will soon have to choose between agreeing to Damascus' conditions or getting slaughtered by a Turkish invasion force.

Meanwhile Russia is working to reestablish the Adana Memorandum of 1998 between Turkey and Syria. In it Syria promised to hinder all Kurdish attacks from Syria on Turkey, while Turkey promised to refrained from anti-Kurdish engagements on Syrian grounds. The reviving of the agreement would require that Turkey gives up on the parts of Syria its forces and currently occupy and continue to turkify. There are already low level contacts between Turkey and Syria on the ground, but the Turkish President Erdogan is not yet willing to go further. A new meeting in the Astana format between Turkey, Russia and Iran is supposed to take place on February 14. It might come up with a new solution.


In his Sunday interview with CBS President Trump again explained his position on the retreat. Asked about concern that the defeated ISIS might rise again should the U.S. move out he responded:

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: And you know what we'll do? We'll come back if we have to. We have very fast airplanes. We have very good cargo planes. We can come back very quickly, and I'm not leaving. We have a base in Iraq and the base is a fantastic edifice. I mean, I was there recently. And I couldn't believe the money that was spent on these massive runways. And these-- I've-- I've rarely seen anything like it. And it's there. And we'll be there. And, frankly, we're hitting the caliphate from Iraq and as we slowly withdraw from Syria. Now the other thing after this--

MARGARET BRENNAN: How many troops are still in Syria? When are they coming home?

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Two thousand troops.

MARGARET BRENNAN: When are they coming home?

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: They are starting to, as we gain the remainder, the final remainder of the caliphate of the area, they'll be going to our base in Iraq. And, ultimately, some will be coming home. But we're going to be there and we're going to be staying--

MARGARET BRENNAN: So that's a matter of months?

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We have to protect Israel. We have to protect other things that we have. But we're-- yeah, they will be coming back in a matter of time. ...

Trump's claim that there are only 2,000 U.S. troops in Syria shows that he apparently does not know what Pentagon is doing behind his back. He also has no idea of any real timeline for the retreat even as he continues to promote it.

Trump believes that he can keep troops in Iraq and use that country as a base against Iran:

MARGARET BRENNAN: But you want to keep troops [in Iraq] now?

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: --but when it was chosen-- well, we-- we spent a fortune on building this incredible base. We might as well keep it. And one of the reasons I want to keep it is because I want to be looking a little bit at Iran because Iran is a real problem.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Whoa, that's news. You're keeping troops in Iraq because you want to be able to strike in Iran?

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: No, because I want to be able to watch Iran. All I want to do is be able to watch. We have an unbelievable and expensive military base built in Iraq. It's perfectly situated for looking at all over different parts of the troubled Middle East--
...
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: --rather than pulling up. And this is what a lot of people don't understand. We're going to keep watching and we're going to keep seeing and if there's trouble, if somebody is looking to do nuclear weapons or other things, we're going to know it before they do.

That the U.S. plans to stay in Iraq to "watch Iran" was news to the president of that country:

Iraqi President Barham Salih said on Monday that President Donald Trump did not ask Iraq’s permission for U.S. troops stationed there to “watch Iran.”
...
“Don’t overburden Iraq with your own issues,” Salih said. “The U.S. is a major power ... but do not pursue your own policy priorities, we live here.”
...
“It is of fundamental interest for Iraq to have good relations with Iran” and other neighboring countries, Salih said.

There are already moves underway in the Iraqi parliament to (again) kick the U.S. out of the country. The Sadr faction, the biggest one in parliament, is preparing legislation to achieve that. Other groups have threatened to use force to push the U.S. out. Back in December Elijah Magnier predicted that the U.S. would have either leave voluntarily or will be pushed out by force:

The Iraqi parliament can exert pressure over the government of Prime Minister Adel Abdel Mahdi to ask President Trump to pull out US troops before the end of his mandate in 2020. The US establishment and the “Axis of the Resistance” can both connive and plan, but the last word will belong to the people of Iraq and to those who reject US hegemony in the Middle East, ..


Back to Syria. Idelb governorate continues to be the largest problem left in the receding war on Syria. It is ruled by the al-Qaeda aligned Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS).


bigger

The Syrian military is waiting for orders to attack the enclave and is using artillery to 'soften up' the al-Qaeda positions near its lines. A new Bloomberg piece notes the contradiction in the argument of those who want the U.S. to stay in Syria because of ISIS. They never say a word about the much larger al-Qaeda force:

Islamic extremism in that war-torn country, runs their argument, is nowhere near as extinct as the President claims.

There’s plenty of evidence that the critics are right about that. But it doesn’t necessarily translate into a case for staying in Syria. Because US troops aren’t even marginally involved in the fight against the biggest remaining jihadi force there — which is al-Qaeda, not ISIS.
...
After eight years of civil war, the biggest chunk of jihadi-held territory in Syria now belongs to al-Qaeda, America’s original enemy in the global war on terror. Almost two decades after the September 11 attacks, the group’s Syrian affiliate has been on the march, seizing Idlib province in a dramatic advance last month. Its military strength is estimated to be in the tens of thousands, perhaps the largest concentration of armed jihadists ever assembled in one place.

But the US military isn’t fighting it — and isn't likely to, even if Trump were to abandon his plan to withdraw.

It will be Syrian, Russian and maybe some Iran supported forces that will have to clean up the mess the U.S. created by arming al-Qaeda. But they can only do so when their backs are not threatened by some new nefarious U.S. scheme. That the U.S. continues to supply dubious forces in the northeast, including with anti-tank weapons, increases the concern that Trump's repeated announcements of a retreat are not the last words spoken on that issue.

Posted by b on February 4, 2019 at 18:09 UTC | Permalink | Comments (180)

February 03, 2019

The MoA Week In Review - OT 2019-07

Last week's posts on Moon of Alabama:

Use as open thread ...

Posted by b on February 3, 2019 at 17:42 UTC | Permalink | Comments (141)

U.S. Coup Attempt In Venezuela Lacks International Support

There is little doubt where 'western' media stand with regards to the U.S. led coup-attempt (vid) in Venezuela. But their view does not reflect the overwhelming international recognition the Venezuelan government under President Nicolás Maduro continues to have.

The Rothschild family's house organ, the Economist, changed the background of its Twitter account to a picture of the Random Dude™, Juan Guaidó, who the U.S. regime changers created to run the country.


bigger

The tweet is quite revealing:

The Economist @TheEconomist - 23:59 utc- 31 Jan 2019

Juan Guaidó and Donald Trump are betting that sanctions will topple the regime before they starve the Venezuelan people econ.st/2DMOeEk

It is quite obvious that Trump’s Illegal Regime Change Operation Will Kill More Venezuelans. The Economist supports that starvation strategy.

The supposedly neutral news agencies are no better than the arch-neoliberal Economist. The Reuters' Latin America office also changed its header picture to Random Dude. It reverted that after being called out.

Agence France-Press stated at 11:10 utc yesterday that "tens of thousands" would join a rally.

AFP news agency @AFP - 11:10 utc - 2 Feb 2019

Tens of thousands of protesters are set to pour onto the streets of Venezuela's capital #Caracas Saturday to back opposition leader Juan Guaido's calls for early elections as international pressure increased on President #Maduro to step down http://u.afp.com/Jouu

That was at 7:10am local time in Caracas several hours before the rally took place. Such "predictive reporting" is now supposed to be "news". A bit later AFP posted a video:

AFP news agency @AFP - 15:50 utc - 2 Feb 2019">

VIDEO: Thousands of opposition protesters pour onto the streets of Caracas to back Venezuela's opposition leader Juan #Guaido who is calling for early elections, as international pressure increases on President Nicolas #Maduro to step down

That was at 11:50am local time. The attached video did not show "thousands" but some 200 people mingling around.

Hours later a pro Random Dude rally took indeed place. From what I gathered it was attended by some 50-80 thousand people. (Others calculate less.) Flags of the United States and Israel were raised: 1, 2, 3, 4.


bigger

Pro Chavismo rallies took place in several Venezuelan cities. These were not billed as anti-coup demonstrations but as commemorations of the 20 year anniversary of socialist policies. That might have effected their size. The rally in Caracas was attended by some 20-30 thousand people: 1, 2, 3.


bigger

The New York Times report on yesterday's events in Venezuela mentions the pro-government rallies only in paragraph 33 to 35 of its 37 paragraph long story.

The shorter Washington Post report puts them in paragraph 15 and 16 with lines that are consciously constructed to make the rallies seem  tiny and Maduro look like a liar:

The pro-government demonstration in central Caracas had drawn about 300 people by 10:30 a.m. Dressed in red and carrying ruling party flags, they were marching toward the presidential palace.

“Our people, once again, overflowing this avenue,” Maduro said, addressing his supporters. “Those who accuse us of being a dictatorship must know that since the foundation of the revolution, we have become a profoundly free and democratic people. Venezuela will never have a dictatorship.”

The rally took place after noon. How many people walked somewhere at 10:30am is irrelevant to the total participation. The pictures prove that the venue where the rally took place was indeed quite full.

During his speech Maduro called for new elections to the Venezuelan parliament, the National Assembly. The parliament, currently not functional as the Supreme Court blocked its power for not following its judgments, is controlled by the opposition.


The U.S. is now trying some gambit over 'aid' it wants to deliver to the opposition in Venezuela. National Security Advisor John Bolton originally planned to deliver it through the Red Cross:

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said last Saturday that we would be prepared to donate an initial $20 million dollars to the Red Cross, to the UN High Commission for Refugees. So we’re looking at all this very carefully.

But the Red Cross rejected such politicization of its traditionally neutral role:

Alexandra Boivin, ICRC delegation head for the United States and Canada, said the ICRC had told U.S. officials that whatever plans “they have to help the people of Venezuela, it has to be shielded from this political conversation.”
...
ICRC director of global operations Dominik Stillhart said the committee would only take part in such coordinated efforts if they are executed “with the agreement of the authorities, whoever the authorities are.”

A new scheme was though out:

[Random Dude] said that in the coming days, the opposition would try to move humanitarian aid into the country by land and sea along three border points, including the Colombian city of Cucuta. He described the move as a “test” for Venezuela’s armed forces, which will have to choose if they allow the much needed aid to pass, or if they instead obey the orders of Maduro’s government.

The 'aid' must be thoroughly checked before it enters the country and the government should take care to distribute it evenly. During the war on Syria so called 'humanitarian aid' from Turkey, Israel and Jordan was used as cover for large scale weapon and munition transports which mostly ended up in the hands of Jihadists.

So far the Venezuelan military proved to be solidly in the camp of the government. Two officers, a military attache in the Venezuelan embassy in Washington DC and an air force general who fled to Columbia, are the only known defectors. Both had office jobs and did not command any operational units. This analysis provides that without military support the coup attempt is unlikely to be successful. As the Venezuelan author concludes:

For now, Venezuela faces a government weak in the economic and social arenas, but with strong judicial and military institutions. This will be the case unless —weakened by international pressure— Chavismo’s emerging fissures gather momentum and are able to undermine the government’s stability. However, as long as the U.S. government’s strategy operates on the basis of threats, Chavismo will have a reason to remain strong and unified.


The U.S. failed to get sufficient international support for its recognition of Random Dude as president of Venezuela. So far only Canada, Israel and 14 Latin American states took its side. A few European nations are slowly following.

But no international organization supports the position. Mexico and Uruguay, both members of the Lima group - a 'coalition of the willing' created by Canada, rejected to recognize Guaido and called instead for new elections. Secretary of State Pompeo's attempt to get the Organization of American States (OAS) on his side failed:

The efforts were unsuccessful, garnering only 16 favourable votes out of the 34 countries, with US allies Guyana, Santa Lucia, and Jamaica abstaining.

The United Nations Secretary General Guterres announced that the UN only recognizes the Maduro government. Italy blocked a European Union recognition of the Random Dude while the EU parliament, which has no power in foreign policies, followed the U.S. position. The EU now only demands new elections to be held sometime in the future. The African Union supports Maduro and spoke out against the coup attempt. Russia, China, NATO member Turkey, South Africa, Iran and Syria spoke in support of the Maduro government.

The media are misleading on the international support. On February 1 Reuters headlined EU states move to recognize Venezuela's Guaido: diplomats. But the piece itself contradicts the headline. It found only four out of twenty eight EU states, Britain, France, Germany and Spain, that were expected to announce support. On February 4 the Washington Post headlined European nations recognize Guaido as Venezuelan leader but the report says that only Spain, France and Sweden took that step. The Guardian also headlines: EU countries recognise Juan Guaidó as interim Venezuelan leader but names only five countries, Spain, France, the UK, Sweden and Denmark, one of which is poised to leave the EU.

In total the 'international support' the U.S. led coup attempt has gained so far is quite thin. It has no international legitimacy. Unfortunately only few if any of the 'western' media will point that out.

Posted by b on February 3, 2019 at 17:31 UTC | Permalink | Comments (114)

February 01, 2019

Venezuela - Coup Propaganda Claims Gang Violence Is Coup Supporting Protest

To demonize the President of Venzuela, Nicolás Maduro, and Venezuelan government forces, a concerted effort is made to falsely depict gang violence, and the police reaction to it, as a confrontation between coup supporting protesters and the Maduro government.

Gang violence in the various slums in Caracas and elsewhere has been a problem for decades. The phenomenon is by far not exclusive to Venezuela. The gangs mostly fight each other over territory, but sometimes collide with the police that tries to keep the violence level down. This violence has nothing to do with the recently attempted coup or the anti-government protest by the mostly well-off people who support it.

On January 29 the Washington Post, the CIA's favored outlet, launched the campaign. As detailed yesterday an incident of gang violence and the police's reaction to it was manipulated into a story of anti-government protest.

The first three paragraph of the story told of an alleged anti-government protests in a slum in Caracas which included the arson of a culture center. The next day the police arrested some culprits which led to more violence. Some twenty propaganda filled paragraphs about the coup attempt follow. Only at the end of the Washington Post piece was revealed what really happened. The arson incident took place a January 22, a day before the coup attempt. It was a gang attack:

Around midnight, neighbors say, a group of hooded boys threw molotov cocktails at the culture center.

The following day the police arrested some of the arsonists. More rioting followed:

A group set fire to barricades, threw stones and attacked an outpost of the National Guard. ... Neighbors said that criminal gangs were among the crowd and created havoc by violently confronting the police.

The whole tit for tat incident was typical gang vs. police violence. It likely had nothing to do with the coup attempt.

On January 30 the New York Times added to the propaganda theme:

The agents barged into the home of Yonaiker Ordóñez, 18, on Sunday morning as he slept. Dressed in helmets and carrying rifles, the men grabbed the teenager and forced him to another room without explaining why they came, his family said.
...
The operation resembled one of the many police raids against the gangs that terrorize Venezuela’s poor neighborhoods. But Mr. Ordóñez’s only crime, his family said, was that he attended a protest against the government days before.

The Times goes on to claim that a special police force, the FAES, has replaced the National Guard as anti-protester force. It quotes an 'opposition lawmaker', a 'human rights organization', a 'former military general who broke ranks with Mr. Maduro', a 'criminologist in Caracas who teaches at the Central University of Venezuela' and an 'opposition activist' in support of that claim. No attempt is made to quote someone from the police or government side. How the FAES, a special police force with some 1,000 officers in Caracas, could ever replace the 70,000 strong militarized National Guard is left unexplained.

On January 31 an op-ed by the dude the U.S. wants to make president of Venezuela, Juan Guaidó, was published in the NYT. He mentioned (not by chance) the same incident describe in the Washington Post. He also claimed that it was motivated by anti-Maduro sentiment:

Last week in Caracas, citizens from the poorest neighborhoods that had been Chavista strongholds in the past took to the streets in unprecedented protests. They went out again on Jan. 23 with the full knowledge that they might be brutally repressed, and they continue to attend town hall meetings.

The phrase 'they went out again on Jan. 23' confirms that the incident happened before the coup-attempt on January 23 and the demonstrations related to the coup.

Today Bloomberg reports of the same incident as WaPo and NYT before. It also falsely claims that the FAES police raids against gangs are part of a government reaction to an alleged anti-Maduro sentiment:

Since protests against Maduro began last week, the socialist regime has regularly sent the police’s elite Special Action Force racing into Caracas slums on personnel carriers and motorcycles. Its masked members, all in black, attack demonstrators with weapons including tear gas, guns and even grenades. They settle long-standing scores and rob residents’ homes, eyewitnesses say. At least 35 people have died amid the demonstrations, adding to scores of deaths in two years of unrest.

The government sent the FAES to arrest gang criminals in Caracas' slums ever since that force was founded for exactly that purpose. To say that it does so "since protests against Maduro began last week" makes absolutely no sense.

The unhinged National Security Advisor John Bolton highlighted the alleged anti-government protest in a radio interview today:

[W]hat we’ve seen, the violence you’ve referred to already, which interestingly has been largely in the poorest parts of Caracas, that is to say directed against the poorest residents of the city, the former supporters of Chavez by basically armed gangs called collectivos [sic!] in Spanish trained and equipped by Cuba. These are the thugs and killers that have been sent out in the past days, were sent out against earlier expressions of opposition to Maduro. And it’s these people, they are absolutely ruthless. This is as cold-blooded, they’re capable of cold-blooded murder, and they’ve engaged in it already. 

"The slums are rising up!" "They get brutally repressed!" It is the same story repeated again and again. It is also false.

Gang violence is a huge problem in Venezuela. Like in other countries it is a side-effect of rapid urbanization and the uncontrolled growth of new city quarters or slums. Other factors are drugs and the availability of weapons. Some six million guns are believed to be in civilian hands and drug dealing is rampant. Youth unemployment exacerbates the problem. The same gang problem exists in Brazil, Honduras, Colombia, Mexico and elsewhere. In Los Angeles 60% of all homicides are gang related.

The problem is not new. In March 2011 the Guardian reported on Drugs, murder and redemption: the gangs of Caracas. In October 2012 Time Magazine published a photo essay about the The Street Gangs of Caracas. In June 2015 the government created a joint military and police force to get a grip on the problem. It was not successful: Controversy Continues over Venezuela’s New Security Operation. The Daily Mail ran a typically sensational piece about gang violence in Caracas in June 2016: Boss of brutal kidnap gang boasts of murdering HUNDREDS - and police admit they're powerless to stop him. In August 2016 Reuters chimed in: Ultra-violent gangs thrive in chaotic Venezuela despite crackdown. In May 2017 the LA Times headlined Venezuela's raging homicide epidemic is going unrecorded.

Since the late 1980s the homicide rate in Venezuela (and elsewhere) has constantly risen. The gang violence existed in Venezuela way before 2002 when the socialists under Hugo Chavez came to power. Several large programs were created to calm it down with more or less success. Special anti-gang forces were created and abandoned. The problem still does not go away. There are many ideas of how to fight gang violence. Some may work, some may not. They all require lots of money and time.

In 2017 the Venezuelan government created the Bolivarian National Police Special Forces (‘FAES’ in Spanish). It replaced a joint military and police force, the Operation Liberate the People, that was criticized after some bloody incidents. The FAES are equipped like typical SWAT teams and have a similar function. Here are pictures of them in a recent raid against criminal groups. There are only 1,000 FAES officers in Caracas, a city with 3 million people. Their job is to react to violent gang crime. The force is too small to be tasked with controlling anti-government demonstrations. That is the job of the regular police and national guard.

Criminal gang activity in the slums and the police reaction to it that has been going on for decades. To now claim that it is somehow related to the recent coup attempt and anti-Maduro activities is nonsensical.

It is typical demonization propaganda. As soon as the U.S. government declares some head of state an 'enemy', U.S. media start to villainize that person. The same stories that were written about alleged cruelty of Saddam Hussein, Muhammad Ghaddafi, Kim Jong-Il and Bashar al-Assad will now be recycled with regards to Nicolas Maduro. In Syria the shabiha, youth groups supporting the Baath party, were claimed to be a secret killer force for the government. The same claim is now made about colectivos in Venezuela. These are civil neighborhood groups doing social work in support of the United Socialist Party. It is lather, rinse, repeat 'reporting' in the service of war mongering.

The people who live in the slums of Caracas have profited most from the socialist policies of Hugo Chavez and Nicolas Maduro. They are the most avid chavistas. It were those people who took to the streets and came to Chavez' help during the failed coup in 2002. If they would really rise up against the government, the streets would be full and Maduro would be finished.

To claim that these people now engage in the anti-government protests is at best wishful thinking of the coup-attempt supporters. More likely it is war drums propaganda.

Posted by b on February 1, 2019 at 20:08 UTC | Permalink | Comments (283)