By Eva Bartlett
America has for years been waging an economic war against Venezuela, including debilitating sanctions which have dramatically affected the state’s ability to purchase medicines, and even mundane replacement parts needed in buses, ambulances, etc. Alongside the economic war there has been a steady propaganda war, but in recent months, the propaganda has escalated dramatically, from corporate media to US political figures.
Venezuela is described as “the country pilots are refusing to fly to,” as per a March 18, 2019, AP article on American Airlines cancelling all flights to Venezuela, containing scary phrases like “safety concerns” and “civil unrest.”
On March 9, American cancelled my Miami-Caracas flight on the basis that there wasn’t enough electricity to land at Caracas airport. Strangely enough, the Copa flight I took the following day after an overnight in Panama had no problem landing, nor did Copa flights on the day of my own cancelled flight, according to Copa staff.
The cancellation of flights to Venezuela then lends legitimacy to the shrill tweets of Marco Rubio, Mike Pence, John Bolton, and the previously unknown non-president, Juan Guaido.
I’ve been in various areas of Caracas since March 10, and I’ve seen none of this “civil unrest” that corporate media are talking about. I’ve walked around Caracas, usually on my own, and haven’t experienced the worry for my safety corporate media is telling Westerners they should suddenly feel more than normal in Venezuela.
In fact, I see little difference from the Venezuela I knew in 2010 when I spent half a year here, except the hyperinflation is absurdly worse and in my absence I missed the years of extreme right-wing opposition supporters street violence – a benign term for the guarimbas which saw opposition supporters burning people alive, among other violence against people and security.
So it strikes me that the decision of American Airlines to stop flying to Venezuela is not about safety and security issues, but is political, in line with increasingly hollow rhetoric about a humanitarian crisis that does not exist, even according toformer UN Special Rapporteur, Alfred de Zayas.
I asked Paul Dobson, a journalist who has lived in Venezuela the last 14 years, if anything like this had happened before. Turns out it has, also at a very timely moment.
“At the time of the National Constituent Assembly elections, July 30, 2017, the major airlines – including Air France, United, American, pretty much all of the European airlines – suspended their flights one day before the elections, citing “security reasons.” Most of the services were reopened about four days after the elections, some of them two weeks after the elections.”
So were there ‘security concerns? I asked Paul.
“This was towards the end of street violence (guarimbas) that had been going on for six months in the country. Why didn’t they suspend their activity six months before, two months before? They did it the day before the elections, clearly trying to influence votes and the way that people see their country internationally. There were no extra security concerns that day than any day over the last 6 months. So, there was really no justification for it. And it caused massive problems on the ground, around elections.”
America manufactures crises; Venezuelans respond with calm
On February 23, a month after a previously largely-unknown, US-backed man named Juan Guaido claimed he was the president of Venezuela, there was a short-lived period of instability at the Venezuelan border with Colombia, when America insisted on forcing aid trucks into Venezuela.
Aid trucks that burned that day were the result of attacks of masked young men on the Colombian side, and not from the Venezuelan military as western corporate media and Marco Rubio would have you believe. Less-known is that the ‘aid trucks’ contained very odd humanitarian aid, including nails and wire.
Were their fake concerns genuine, the US could have done what Cuba, China, and Russia, among others, have done and send the aid through appropriate channels, like the UN and the Red Cross. America’s attempt to ram trucks through Venezuela’s border has been revealed as the cheap propaganda stunt that it was.
A couple of weeks later, suddenly there was a very timely country-wide power outage for six days, affecting most things in Venezuelan infrastructure and life, a reality that Palestinians in Gaza have been living since at least 2006 when Israel bombed their sole power plant, never since allowing them to import the parts needed to adequately repair it.
When I lived in Gaza, I grew accustomed to outages of 16-22 hours a day, for months on end. Near-daily sustained 18 plus hour power outages continue in Gaza, but that’s not something the regime-change squad were or are outraged about.
Western media coverage of the blackout was tabloidesque, claiming without any proof whatsoever that 300 people had died due to the outage, portraying Venezuelans collecting water from a spring at the Guaire river in Caracas as collecting dirty sewage water, looting (which actually occurred in the Western border city of Maracaibo and not in Caracas, unless there were localized and unreported incidents), and in general blaming the Maduro government for everything under the moon.
Talking with journalists of Mision Verdad, an independent Venezuelan investigative news site, I learned that one of the targets of looting was a mall in Maracaibo, where electronics were the items of choice, not food. Another incidentreportedly involved looting beer and soft drinks. Odd behaviour for a starving people in a humanitarian crisis.
When I arrived three days into the outage, aside from darkened buildings, empty streets, and in following days long lines at water dispensaries and ATMs, I saw no instability. Instead, I saw and learned of Venezuelans working together to get through the drastic effects of the power outage.
I learned at the Ministry of Urban Agriculture of how they took vegetables and crops to hospitals and schools during the electricity outage, but also of how urban agriculture has become an act of resistance in a climate of war and fake news. At a circular plot next to a social housing block I saw young men and women working the land, bursts of lettuces, herbs, beetroots, spinach, and peppers, as well as plots still being planted.
At the Fabricio Ojeda commune, in Catia—a western Caracas barrio of over 1 million people—residents spoke of the 17 tons of produce they generated a few years ago, then sold in the community at prices 30-50% lower than the average market price.
One of the commune leaders spoke of raising rabbits as an affordable, and easy to maintain, source of protein.
“We’re trying to achieve self sustainability of this produce, for the community. This is what we’re doing against the economic war,” he said.
Two days ago, visiting the Caracas barrios of Las Brisas, I asked Jaskeherry, head of a colectivo (organized group of people) how the community had managed during the power outage.
“We had a contingency plan with all the colectivos in the area to organize ourselves to help the people. My fridge is connected to a power bank. The community brought their meat here and I stored it. We brought a cistern here. Around 300 families were benefiting from this. Each community has their own colectivo that does things like this to help out.”
I’ve heard from several different people here that one reason for the lack of chaos is that Venezuelans have already dealt with US-instigated crises, and have learned to remain calm at such times, surely to the dismay of US pot-stirrers who hoped for scenes of chaos, the pretext to US intervention.
Manufactured poverty; Support from and for government
I’ve gone into a number of smaller and large supermarkets in the lower middle-class areas of Caracas, and in it’s upper middle-class regions of Chacao and Altimira. There is food, including luxury items, which Venezuela’s poor can’t afford.
And in some stores there are said to be empty shelves, although I haven’t yet seen this.The policies of private companies —including the largest, Polar, whose CEO opposition supporters wanted him to run against Maduro in the last elections – to hoard goods and create false shortages is well known. That said, this theme that there is no food is one continually pumped by Western corporate media, along with the “humanitarian crisis” claim.
To help the poorest, the government initiated a food box delivery program known by its acronym, CLAP, wherein organized communities distribute government subsidized food to 6 million of Venezuela’s poorest families.
The system is not perfect, and I’ve heard complaints of boxes being late in reaching some communities. However, I’ve been told—including by a woman I interviewed yesterday who herself works in CLAP distribution—that problems lie in corruption on a local level, individuals in communities not distributing fairly or evenly.
Hotheads like Marco Rubio, and script reading corporate media, try to maintain that President Maduro has little support. But massive rallies of support, and a notable absence of opposition rallies of recent, counter that propaganda.
On March 16, for two hours I walked with Venezuelans at their anti-Imperialist, pro-government march, filming them, speaking with them, hearing person after person insist on their support for their elected president, Maduro.
Many or most of those marching were from Caracas’ poorest communities, the darker skinned, Afro-descendant Venezuelans that are scarcely given a voice by corporate media, almost certainly because they are ardent supporters of the government and Bolivarian revolution.
When I asked about their feelings of corporate media coverage of Venezuela, people told me it wasn’t depicting the reality, “they make it up, it’s all lies, all lies. The only president we recognize is Nicolas Maduro. And we want this man, Juan Guaido, to be arrested immediately”.
A young tax lawyer told me:
“We’re here to support our (Bolivarian) project. We don’t want any war. We want medicine for our people—we don’t want sanctions from any government that prevent us from purchasing medicine. It’s very difficult for us to bring what’s needed for our people.”
Leaving the still crowded demonstration, I went towards Caracas’ eastern districts, hoping to attend one of the three or four opposition actions that a local journalist told me they had been tweeting about. None panned out.
A few days later, I went to Bellas Artes metro, the same scenario transpired, I couldn’t find the opposition protest that I’d heard was planned. Eventually, in front of the National Assembly, I did film between 15-20 well-dressed men and women not doing much other than standing around. Eventually, most passed by security and onto the premises. I didn’t hear them issue, or attempt to issue, any opposition statement, nor was there any violence from or against them.
A mass of government supporters arrived on motorbikes. A nearby man told me that these women and men on bikes had come to preserve the peace. He said that opposition had said they would stage a provocation (his words match what the local journalist told me, based on tweets to that effect from opposition/supporters), and that the pro-government bikers were not going to allow that to happen.
Height of hypocrisy and irony; US to ensure ‘foreign influences are not controlling Venezuela’
The US has been forcibly exerting its foreign influence over Venezuela for years, to the detriment of the Venezuelan people it crocodile-tear purports to care about. Most Western corporate media do not mention the manifold adverse effects of the immoral sanctions imposed on Venezuela.
At the end of January, UN human rights expert Idriss Jazairy denounced the sanctions, clearly noting they are, “aimed at changing the government of Venezuela,” and that, “Coercion, whether military or economic, must never be used to seek a change in government in a sovereign state.”
On top of this, America recently withheld US$5 billion intended for the purchase of medicines and raw materials used in medical production, Venezuelanalysis reported, after already freezing numerous Venezuelan assets, apparently holding them for their groomed puppet would-be president, Juan Guaido.
Unsurprisingly, John Bolton recently again menaced Venezuela, reiterating Trump’s, “all options are on the table,” military intervention threat and as though hallucinating blathered on about foreign influence and Venezuela and keeping the Imperialist Monroe Doctrine alive.
In a meeting with the US Peace Council delegation in mid-March, Venezuela’s Foreign Minister, Jorge Arreaza, spoke of the openly-hostile US leadership.
“When you have such an administration saying almost every single day, ‘all the options are on the table.’ And they say the military option is not discarded, then we have to be prepared for all of the options.
We told Mr.Elliott Abrams, ‘the coup has failed, so now what are you going to do?’ He kind of nodded and said, ‘Well, this is going to be a long term action, then, and we are looking forward to the collapse of your economy.’”
President Maduro, in a meeting with the delegation, told us:
“We do not want foreign military intervention. Venezuelan people are very proud of the national independence. These people surrounding president Trump—John Bolton, Mike Pompeo, Marco Rubio, Elliott Abrams —every single day on Twitter, these guys are tweeting about Venezuela. Not about the US, the American people…they have an obsession with Venezuela, like a fatal obsession with Venezuela. This is extremely dangerous, and we need to denounce it and make it stop.”
Having written extensively about the war propaganda and Imperialist rhetoric around Syria over the past eight years, this obsession is very familiar. As Alfred de Zayas, said in a recent interview:
“If you call Maduro corrupt, people will gradually believe, he must be somewhat corrupt. But nobody reminds you that corruption in Venezuela in the 1980s and 90s – before Chavez, before Maduro – was rampant. The press is focusing only on Maduro, because the name of the game is to topple him.”
We’re seeing Syria (and Libya, Iraq…) all over again. The demonization of the leadership of a country America wants to dominate. The absurd rhetoric steaming daily from corporate owned media, pretty much in chorus. The troll army ready to attack with an energetic vitriol on social media anyone who dares to present a non-Imperialist perspective. And most worrisome, the acts of terrorism intended to hurt the people and incriminate the government.
Sadly, it seems the United States is ready to stoop to the same dirty tactics it and allies used against Syria over the past eight years: backing and collaborating with terrorists to attack the state. Indeed, last night while trying to finish this article, the power cut and remains off in many areas of the country.
Earlier this week, Information and Communications Minister Jorge Rodriguez tweeted that the cause of this recent outage was an attack at the Guri Hydro complex, Venezuela’s central hydroelectric power plant and transmission area.
By today, electricity has partially been restored to Caracas.
I spent much of this afternoon riding on the back of a motorbike around Petare. The district is known as the largest “slum” in Latin America, an extended series of barrios, and is one of Caracas’ poorest and most dangerous areas. Wherever we rode, I looked for the humanitarian crisis corporate media insists exists. Instead, I found vegetables, fruit, chicken and food basics sold wherever I went, from the main square to hillside barrio of 5 of July (5 Julio).
On the hillside of Avila, the mountain overlooking Caracas, I saw at intervals while riding lines of people collecting spring water in jugs since the power outage has affected water distribution. I also saw lines of tankers, being organized by the municipality and with the military, to distribute water around the city and country. A chart listed over twenty hospitals designated to receive water.
The Venezuelan government has accused America of being behind both the March 7 outage and this week’s, stating the former was a combination of cyber, electromagnetic and physical attacks on the power grids (like the alleged secret US plan to do the same to Iran’s grid), and the latter a direct physical attack on the Guri complex, causing a fire at three transformers.
Clearly, the goal of such attacks is to create so much suffering and frustration among the public that there is chaos, and a “needed” US intervention.
The chaos has not happened, the people have refused it.