Education & Society, Geopolitics

Announcing ‘Corporate Coup: Venezuela and the End of US Empire’

Anya Parampil, The GrayzoneAn excerpt from “Corporate Coup”: Introduction: The Project for a New American Century

Upon walking through the front doors of Venezuela’s Foreign Ministry, or Cancillería, in Caracas, one is greeted by a peculiar art installation which, at first glance, appears to be a large, fractured, black-trimmed window with a tail stretching behind it. As you gaze past the structure to see what is labeled the Sala de Salvador Allende, or “Salvador Allende Room,” located in the Cancillería lobby, the towering sculpture’s full image becomes clear. It is an artistic rendering of former Chilean President Salvador Allende’s glasses, left shattered on the floor of his office on September 11, 1973, after US-backed military forces stormed the Presidential Palace in Santiago and overthrew his government. Allende died from gunshot wounds, later ruled to be the result of suicide, amidst the putsch.

I first encountered the sculpture in February 2019, during what became the first of three extended reporting trips I made to Venezuela over the next two years. Days before my arrival, a little-known opposition lawmaker named Juan Guaidó had stood in the center of Caracas’ John Paul II Square and declared himself president of Venezuela, announcing a direct challenge to the authority of President Nicolás Maduro—and sparking an international political crisis that lingers to this day.

Up until that point, the entirety of Guaidó’s burgeoning career had been defined by his ascent within foreign-funded civic organizations in Venezuela. As we will learn, after studying at George Washington University in Washington DC, he joined the ranks of Voluntad Popular, a US-backed opposition party borne from foreign-sponsored student protests that rocked Venezuela throughout 2007. By 2016, Guaidó was representing his native Estado La Guaira in the country’s national legislature at the tender age of 32.

When he announced his self-declared presidency less than three years later, however, Caracas-based pollster Hinterlaces found that a whopping 81 percent of Venezuelans had no idea who Guaidó was. Even so, the novice politician managed to woo officials Washington. According to The Wall Street Journal, his confidence was inspired by a conversation with none other than US Vice President Mike Pence, who placed a call to Caracas on the eve of Guaidó’s makeshift swearing-in ceremony to “set in motion a plan that had been developed in secret over the preceding several weeks, accompanied by talks between US officials, allies, lawmakers and key Venezuelan opposition figures.” The scheme marked an unprecedented twist in US foreign policy: Washington had declared its regime change mission in Caracas “accomplished” before a physical transition in government had actually taken place—and it never would. Today, Guaidó’s name is primarily evoked as a punchline; synonymous with the most infamous US-backed coup that wasn’t.

To myself and my colleagues, the Venezuela dilemma presented a fascinating reporting opportunity—a chance to cover one of the Trump Administration’s most consequential foreign policy blunders while getting a firsthand look at Chavismo, a political movement that permanently altered the course of history on our shared American continent. Each time I touched down at Simón Bolívar International Airport in Venezuela’s Estado La Guaira, it was evident the country was experiencing extraordinary times. The facility is cavernous and seemingly equipped to route a normal number of flights per day, but was usually empty aside from other passengers disembarking from my gate. I often imagined the ghosts of decades past cluttering the airport’s vacant halls: suit-clad men and women rushing to board flights destined for Miami, or Zurich, or Madrid at the height of Venezuela’s neoliberal era. Since 2016, however, major airlines such as Aeromexico, Lufthansa, and Delta have halted flights to Venezuela, citing its increasingly strained economic situation and hurdles to transferring foreign currency out of the country.

During the 40-minute ride from Venezuela’s seaside airport to its capital, the bright blue hue of nigh Caribbean waters blurs into tropical greenery as the highway twists through serene coastal mountains before giving way to the unmistakable combustion of city life. Descending into the explosive metropolis, Caracas first spills out from either side with rainbow speckled barrios that tumble down the edge of its surrounding hills. Suddenly, the colorful commotion of the neighborhoods is replaced by the frenetic industrial energy of downtown—a whistling mix of modern skyscrapers and brutalist government buildings sprouting amidst archaic compounds adorned with delicate arches and wrap-around balconies reminiscent of Imperial Spain. The intractable pulse of the city center is only reined in by the Cordillera de la Costa Central mountain chain, magnificent emerald slopes that encase Caracas’ roiling urban heart.

On my first ride into Caracas, I observed a bustling Latin American landscape pulsing with all the normal signs of daily life. According to Western media, however, the Venezuela I had entered was a hellish netherworld. Headlines such as “Pets on the Menu as Venezuelans Starve” and “How Venezuela Became a “Warzone” created the impression that travelers should expect to encounter a virtual zombie flick playing out in its streets. The Obama Administration’s March 2015 decision to issue an executive order classifying the country as an “unusual and extraordinary threat” to the national security of the United States underscored the message that Venezuela was a place to fear. Yet the more time I spent in the country, the more I came to understand the true nature of its struggle. Indeed, Venezuelans and their government have been thrust into a war—just not the one portrayed in the West’s global media apparatus.

“Today, we proudly proclaim for all to hear: the Monroe Doctrine is alive and well,” White House National Security Advisor, John Bolton, triumphantly declared before a group of Cuban Bay of Pigs veterans in April 2019, roughly three months after the US recognition of Guaidó. 10 Days later, Ambassador Samuel Moncada, Venezuela’s representative before the United Nations in New York, expressed to me his conviction that Bolton’s Monroeist views were based in a 200-year-old ideology that “in the 21st century is clearly racist, illegal, and against” the UN Charter and founding principles, enshrined to guarantee the territorial sovereignty, political independence, and self-determination of all nations.

Unfortunately for the US and Venezuelan population alike, Bolton’s words represented not only the view of Trump’s Administration, but an unelected bureaucracy that has dominated Washington across decades of superficial changes in leadership. Indeed, one could draw a direct line between Washington’s contemporary Venezuela policy and the CIA-backed putsch that ousted Chile’s Allende, Latin America’s first democratically elected socialist president, in 1973—an act of terror that colored a continent-wide campaign of US-sponsored counterinsurgency and lethal political repression. The statue of Allende’s splintered spectacles on the floor of Venezuela’s Foreign Ministry today are a reminder of the threat that all independent governments in the region continue to face as Monroe’s ghost wanders the halls of Washington, haunting its permanent guard with deranged visions of colonial conquest conjured in the cradled infancy of US empire.

This reality weighs heavily on the shoulders of Venezuela’s current government officials, many of whom bear the legacy of underground movements that once resisted their own country’s US-backed junta. In the decades preceding its 1998 revolution, Venezuela was ravaged by the same dark forces that reigned across Chile and the rest of the South American continent throughout the 20th century: military dictatorship, a dirty war against leftist guerillas, and pro-market shock therapy prescribed to benefit a tiny domestic ruling class that placed the boundless wealth beneath its soil—including the largest oil and gold deposits in the world—under the command of foreign interests.

It’s no surprise then that when a charismatic Venezuelan paratrooper stormed the country’s political scene and declared war on its domestic oligarchy, the public was ripe for more than your average nationalist revival. Following decades of colonial and neoliberal subjugation, Venezuela’s sole path to sovereignty was political revolution.

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