Let’s Not Be Fooled Again – this time about Venezuela

How are we to think about the crisis in Venezuela when the main proponents of U.S. policy are known liars and war criminals? Specifically, of course, I’m thinking about Donald Trump and Elliot Abrams — not to mention John Bolton. That, for me is the question.

It seems to me in such tragic circumstances, our attitude towards the crisis (regardless of our judgments about Nicolas Maduro and socialism) should be governed by principle.

In fact, the current policy of the United States violates at least half a dozen principles. They include:

  1. National Sovereignty: Venezuela’s political and economic problems should be of no concern to our government.  
  2. Self-Determination: Venezuela has the right to choose its own form of government and economy.
  3. Anti-Imperialism: Revealingly, most of the countries aligned with the Trump administration are either charter members of Europe’s Axis of Colonialism or representatives of Euro-American client states. Meanwhile those opposing Trump’s policy are former colonies of the U.S. and Europe and/or have been invaded by the military forces of those inveterate imperialists. The latter include Russia, China, India, South Africa, and Mexico along with countries such as Ecuador, Bolivia, and Nicaragua. All of those countries know a thing or two about European and U.S. imperialist tyranny.
  4. Nuremberg (forbidding the punishment of civilian populations)
  5. Skepticism about the statements of proven liars
  6. Consistency

For starters, let me focus here on consistency. This principle dictates that:

  • If we’re worried about foreign interference in our own electoral process, we should stay out of Venezuela’s.
  • If Maduro’s jailing of political opponents concerns us, the same should be true relative to Brazil and Bolsonaro’s jailing of Luiz Ignacio Lula da Silva, the country’s most popular politician. (And yet, our government had no hesitation in recognizing Bolsonaro’s legitimacy.)
  • If we worry about humanitarian crises, we should stop cooperating with Saudi Arabia and its war against Yemen, the poorest country in the Middle East. That war has caused the worst humanitarian crisis in the world.
  • If crooked elections are cause for delegitimizing governments, we shouldn’t recognize the current government of Honduras, whose election of Juan Orlando Hernandez was certified as unfree and unfair by the OAS. It called for new elections. (But, of course, both the Obama and Trump administrations have recognized Hernandez as a legitimate head of state.)
  • If we’re outraged by police violence against demonstrators, we should cut off all aid to Israel for killing hundreds of unarmed demonstrators (including women and children) at the Gaza border and wounding thousands of others.

But none of these issues matter at all to the Trump administration. They care not a bit about humanitarian crises, fair elections, the right to protest or the jailing of political opponents. As both Trump and John Bolton have said openly, their concern is Venezuelan oil, controlling it and profiting from that control. That’s imperialism.

Moreover, the so-called “humanitarian aid” at the country’s borders in Brazil and Colombia is a pittance worth some millions of dollars, while the profits frozen from the country’s sale of oil and its access to its own gold reserves are worth billions – as are the mercantile transactions with other countries now prevented by the U.S. embargo. According to the Red Cross and the U.N.  (both of whom refuse to participate in its distribution) the disputed humanitarian aid is nothing more than a political ploy. In other words, if the U.S. truly cared about the welfare of the people of Venezuela, it would stop its embargo and allow Venezuela access to its money and markets so the country itself could buy food and medicine on the open market.

The appointment of Elliot Abrams as the Trump’s point man for Venezuela speaks volumes about the administration’s criminal intentions. Abrams, of course, is a convicted felon. He was the U.S. brains behind the genocidal policy of Rios Montt in Guatemala during the 1980s, when more than 200,000 Guatemalans (mostly indigenous) were slaughtered by Montt and his generals. Elliot Abrams is a war criminal. And his selection by Mr. Trump to run his show in Venezuela indicates an embrace of the old CIA playbook used again and again in its more than 68 regime-changes operations since World War II – with most of the removed officials having been democratically elected.

The playbook runs like this:

  • Any country attempting to establish an economy that serves the interests of its poor majority
  • Is routinely accused of being run by a dictatorship
  • It is subject to regime change by direct U.S. invasion
  • Or by right wing (often terrorist) elements within the local population
  • To keep said country within the capitalist system
  • So that the U.S. might once again use the country’s resources for its own enrichment
  • And for that of the local elite.

Standardly, the strategy is to use a combination of terrorism, sanctions, embargoes to make civilians within the country so miserable that even the poor will rise up and join forces with the elite to remove the so-called “dictator” from office.  That’s what’s happening in Venezuela at this very moment. To repeat: it’s a violation of the Nuremberg Principles forbidding punishment of civilian populations.

Perhaps the most surprising thing about Venezuela is how we believe our politicians on the subject of regime change. You’d think that at least after Iraq and Libya (not to mention Panama and Grenada) we’d show some skepticism. What was it that Great Man tried to say a few years ago? “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me”? I mean, how many times do we have to be fooled before we’re shamed out of our minds by our collective stupidity?

After all, these people (the Trumpists) are proven liars. Everybody knows that. It’s the subject of jokes every night on Colbert and on Saturday Night Live. Trump is a laughing stock. And yet when he speaks about his compassion for the Venezuelan people, about the lies of its government (!!), his concern for democracy and the integrity of elections, or about Maduro’s corruption (!!) the press actually takes him seriously. Give me a break, please!

Let me say it clearly, Donald Trump and his administration have not a shred of credibility. Period! Not a shred! Whatever he says (whatever they say) should be taken as an outright lie unless proven otherwise by absolutely unimpeachable sources.

And by the way, let me conclude by saying that it’s clearly wrong to blame Venezuela’s problems on socialism. First of all, Venezuela is not a socialist country. It’s governed by a socialist party, but its economy is dominated by private corporations. So is its news media.

France is more socialist than Venezuela. And besides, under Hugo Chavez, the economy thrived (largely because oil prices remained high). And just six years ago (after 14 years of so-called Bolivarian Socialism), polls determined that Venezuela was the happiest country in South America. As a matter of fact, it won that distinction two years in a row – in 2012 and 2013. Worldwide, in those years, its happiness index came out ahead of France, Spain, Italy, and Germany.

Right now, of course, it is not a happy place. Its condition is roughly the same as when Chavez took over in 1999 after decades of governance by its white elite creols. And, it’s true, the current unhappiness is surely due to mismanagement and corruption on the part of the Maduro administration. But it also has a lot to do with the fall of oil prices on the world market, but especially with the U.S. embargo and sanctions against Venezuela.

Bottom line: Please realize that we are being lied to about Venezuela! Our government is the main criminal there. Whatever we might think of Maduro or of socialism, the principles articulated at Nuremberg, as well as those of national sovereignty, self-determination, anti-imperialism, consistency, and common-sense skepticism before liars should be our guides.

Tell the president, your senators and congressional representatives: Yankee go home! Get out of Venezuela!

Rios Montt Is a Born Again Christian! A Prominent ‘Christianist’ Cleric Supported His Genocide. Should He Be Droned Next?

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In all the analysis of the Rios Montt trial and conviction for genocide, it is rarely even mentioned that the General was a born again Christian. He was directly and vocally supported not only by Ronald Reagan and Elliot Abrams, but by prominent clerics like Pat Robertson.

Robertson’s support of Montt was not casual. Nor was it ignorant of Montt’s tactics. In reference to those atrocities, Nikolas Kozloff of Counterpunch writes:

“Far from denouncing such practices, Robertson rushed to defend Rios Montt. ‘Little by little the miracle began to unfold,’ he wrote of the regime. ‘The country was stabilized. Democratic processes, never a reality in Guatemala, began to be put into place.’ Robertson also praised Rios Montt for eliminating death squads, despite recent estimates that tens of thousands were killed by death squads in the second half of 1982 and throughout 1983. Most damning of all, even as Rios Montt was carrying out the extermination of the Mayan population, Robertson held a fundraising telethon for the Guatemalan military. The televangelist urged donations for International Love Lift, Rios Montt’s relief program linked to Gospel Outreach, the dictator’s U.S. church. Meanwhile, Robertson’s Christian Broadcasting Network reportedly sponsored a campaign to provide money as well as agricultural and medical technicians to aid in the design of Rios Montt’s first model villages.”

Hmm. . . . Aid and comfort to a perpetrator of genocide, defense of its practice, fund-raising on its behalf, concealment of concentration camps as “model villages” . . . Those sound like the crimes that justify the droning of “Islamist” clerics. But there’s been not a word about this connection in the U.S. mainstream press, much less from our government officials.

The hypocrisy of it all is not surprising to me. It is exactly what I’ve come to expect from personal experience of Guatemala and of Central America in general. There during the ‘70s and ‘80s Evangelicals and the U.S. media supported dictators throughout the region. Moreover, far from being seen as the accomplices of terror, the Evangelicals were favored by the U.S. government in its fight against Roman Catholic liberation theology. Remember, Montt’s atrocities occurred during what Chomsky calls “the first religious war of the 21st century” – the war of the United States against the Catholic Church in Latin America.

My personal experience makes all of this unforgettable for me. For the last 20 years and more, I’ve been associated with an evangelical term-abroad program for North American students in Central America. My job was to teach our students about liberation theology.

Each semester we would take students to Guatemala to visit the killing fields there. For a period, Rios Montt was always among the speakers interviewed by our students. So were professors at the Evangelical Seminary in Guatemala City. To a man, they supported Rios Montt amid the charges of genocide that always swirled around him. They echoed Robertson’s defense and/or denial of the on-going genocide. They spoke glowingly of Montt’s quasi-sermons delivered with great passion each Sunday morning as he explained his policies in terms of the Bible.

On one occasion, a student of ours summoned the courage to ask “President” Montt the question that was on everyone’s mind: “There are charges,” he said, “that you were behind mass killings of Mayan Indians. Now that it’s over, do you have any regrets about your policy?”

The ex-president’s face grew angry. He stepped from behind the podium and shook his finger at our student. “Listen,” he thundered. “I did what I did because God told me to do it! To ‘regret’ my actions would be a sin against God!”

That’s the kind of man Christianist clerics like Robertson supported. That’s the kind of Christian jihadist outlook that motivated genocide.

Now imagine what would happen to “Islamist” clerics responsible for aiding, advising and supporting Muslim acts of terrorism exactly like Montt’s, in exactly the way the Christianist cleric, Pat Robertson did.

In fact, little imagination is required. Think of the fate of Anwar al-Awlaki, the U.S. citizen and Muslim cleric who recently was listed as droned by the Obama national security state. His “crimes” in relation to Islamic terrorism allegedly mirrored those of Robertson in his support of Rios Montt. The C.I.A. not only killed Awlaki, but later murdered his 16 year old son in the same way.

Could it be that Rev. Robertson and some members of his family will be droned next? Hmm . . . .

Unconditional Support for Israel? Even God Couldn’t Pass that Test!

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In last week’s debate about Chuck Hegel’s nomination for Secretary of Defense, the phrase “unconditional support for Israel” surfaced as the expressed or implied criterion for Senate approval of nominee Hegel. Individuals like Elliot Abrams and organizations such as the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) implicitly used that criterion to criticize the nominee for failing to offer such support despite Mr. Hegel’s unblemished record of voting for Israel’s interests. In doing so the AIPAC and its allies were evidently hoping to find receptive ears in the conservative Christian community which typically constitutes Israel’s strongest support-group on the grounds that the Jews are God’s “Chosen People.”

However, even passing acquaintance with the Bible shows that God himself (sic) never offered “unconditional support” of Israel, nor did the prophets, or Jesus of Nazareth. In fact, the Bible’s stories are largely accounts of Israel’s infidelities, of prophetic criticism of those failures, of their severe punishment by God. (Prophets, of course, were routinely denounced, persecuted, and killed for not offering unconditional support to the Jewish state.)

Usually divine punishment came in response to neglect and mistreatment of those who arguably represent God’s real “chosen people,” viz. the poor and oppressed – the widows, orphans, and resident immigrants. In fact, it might be argued that the Jews were God’s chosen people only insofar as they made up a paradigm of the poor and oppressed when Jacob’s descendents were enslaved in Egypt and exiles in Babylon. Given that understanding, the Palestinians today far better fit the profile of “chosen people” than do Zionist Jews.

Imagine the changes that would take place in U.S. domestic and international politics if Christians adopted the understanding of chosen people as the country’s and world’s poor and oppressed. Imagine if they demanded that nominees for Secretary of Defense or of President (!) show evidence of unconditional support for inner city children, the homeless, LGBTQs, AIDS victims, and the billions on our planet living on less than $2 a day. Imagine if they recognized Mother Earth herself as oppressed by U.S. consumption patterns and demanded the reforms necessary for her unconditional support.

If Christians made such demands (as we should), our country, our world would be an immeasurably better place. Because we do not, but concentrate instead on a nationalistic understanding of chosen people, Christians end up aggravating the world’s problems rather than pointing the way to solutions.

It’s time to change, read the Bible through the eyes of the poor and oppressed, and make demands accordingly.