By Wyatt Reed
August 29, 2019
As Brazil’s Bolsonaro allows elite landowners to incinerate the Amazon, professional regime-change operatives like Jhanisse V. Daza seek to redirect blame for the fires onto the leftist government of Bolivia, whose President Evo Morales faces elections in October.
With fires set by landowners raging throughout the Amazon for nearly a month, a group of Western-backed information warriors has begun working to redirect outrage from the far-right Brazilian government toward a more convenient target.
Originally content to merely accuse Bolivians of not responding fast enough, the regime-change machine is switching gears and making the absurd claim that Bolivia bears the majority of responsibility for the Amazon fires.
The campaign has been orchestrated by Jhanisse Vaca Daza, an anti-Morales operative identified merely as an “environmental activist” in a recent BBC report pointing the finger at the Bolivian president for the fires.
A closer look at Daza’s work, however, reveals that she is the spearhead of a network of Western organizations that trained and advised the leaders of regime-change operations from Venezuela to Eastern Europe to the ongoing anti-China protests in Hong Kong.
On her social media accounts, she has shared memes portraying the democratically elected president as a “dictator” clad in a sailor cap, and with a Hitler-style mustache that reads “no.”
When the Amazon fires broke out, however, her strategy changed.
Employing the hashtag #SOSBolivia, Daza and her allies have mobilized to ensure that the environmental crisis is exploited to its maximum propaganda potential – despite reports from Bolivia’s government that more than 85 percent of the fires had been extinguished in around eight days of its operations.
A report from NASA pointing out that the fires were concentrated in Brazil, and another report explaining that Bolivia’s most-affected area, Chiquitanía, is not even in the Amazon, was also of little apparent interest to those behind the hashtag campaign.
Proponents of regime change in Bolivia, ranging from outspoken libertarians to self-proclaimed leftists, have drawn from the same playbook they’ve deployed against Venezuela, Nicaragua, and Cuba for decades. They are recycling techniques that employ economic, physical, and media-based warfare designed to undermine and delegitimize anti-imperialist governments at every turn.
The SOS hashtag was popularized in recent years among Latin America’s elite as a way of drawing attention to the supposed “dictatorships” they endure under democratically elected socialist governance. They have employed the slogan in various violent revolts of the upper classes – most notably throughout the Venezuelan guarimbas of 2014 and 2017 and the Nicaraguan tranques of 2018.
Tellingly, the most frequent users of the SOS hashtag rarely, if ever, extend their plea for international assistance to the many victims of the right-wing, US-supported governments of Honduras or Brazil.
At the core of the #SOSBolivia social media campaign is a little-known NGO named Ríos de Pie, or Standing Rivers. The group was founded just over a year ago by Jhanisse V. Daza, a self-described “human rights activist.”
Though the hashtag was kicking around online for a week or so, it took off after Daza’s organization began publishing glossy infographics accusing the Bolivian government for the spread of the fires.
Their advertising materials, tweets, and publicity stunts aimed to force the Bolivian government to agree to “international aid.” And when the Morales administration accepted the token aid offered by Western states, there was scant evidence it did so because of an online public pressure campaign. That didn’t stop Daza from taking credit at a rally.
“Do you know why [the aid] arrived? Because citizens who aren’t authorities, citizens who – some of us are influencers… we organized, and pressured, and the aid arrived,” she proclaimed.
The other major goal of Daza and her allies is to gin up outrage abroad, especially among leftists in the Global North, and mobilize climate activists against Bolivia. Corporate greenwashing groups like Extinction Rebellion – aimed less at radically challenging capitalism and more at keeping it from eating itself alive – have called for rallies outside Bolivia’s embassies this weekend throughout Europe.
And some former colonial European powers like what they are hearing. When Jhanisse Vaca Daza gave a speech for TEDx in February, outlining a “strategic nonviolent struggle” approach to overthrowing Morales, her event was sponsored by Spain’s embassy in Bolivia.
Spain colonized the land of modern-day Bolivia for hundreds of years, and continues to undermine the country’s socialist government today. President Morales has lashed out at foreign powers like Spain seeking to retrench its control over his country’s political system and natural resources: “We will always fight against colonialism and imperialism.”
The coup kids go to Harvard
The push to get progressives in the imperial core to equivocate between the far-right Bolsonaro and the Pink Tide progressives is part of a larger strategy aimed at isolating Bolivia internationally by convincing its only potential allies that it is not actually socialist.
But Jhanisse Daza is hardly a socialist herself, and far from an impartial observer. Her LinkedIn hypes up her anti-government credentials, claiming that Ríos de Pie “is currently fighting the Morales regime and organizing ordinary citizens to defend their rights through nonviolent protests.”
According to her publicly available Facebook profile, Daza has a Bolivian passport and lists her hometown as the country’s capital Sucre. She has spent a significant portion of her educational and professional career in the United States, however.
She attended Ohio’s Kent State University, where her thesis focused on “Authoritarian Regimes in South America,” and subsequently completed academic programs in Britain and Chile.
Daza then studied at the elite Harvard Kennedy School, participating in its “Leading Non-Violent Movements for Social Progress” program.
The Kennedy School has become a haven for expat regime-change cadres since the progressive wave swept over Latin America. Among the school’s alumni and faculty is a who’s who of the coup administration the US has recently sought to install in place of Venezuela’s elected government: Ricardo Hausmann, Leopoldo Lopez, Juan Ignacio Hernandez, and Carlos Vecchio.
These figures have since spearheaded the bid to re-privatize Venezuela’s oilfields, hoping to secure their own personal financial interests by helping to hand over Venezuela’s oil wealth to the US energy sector. They maintain plausible deniability by insisting they are mere functionaries of a would-be Venezuelan government rather than emissaries of the oil companies on whose behalf they’ve represented. (As The Grayzone reported, Vecchio is the former lawyer for ExxonMobil.)
Incidentally, Daza is indirectly linked to the longtime hard-right leader of Venezuela’s regime-change push, Leopoldo Lopez, through his first cousin, Thor Halvorssen, who supports her work through his Human Rights Foundation. (Daza also praised Lopez on her publicly available Instagram account.)
The son of a Venezuelan oligarch, Halvorssen is a former campus libertarian activist who entered the human rights industry with help from right-wing billionaires like Peter Thiel, conservative foundations, and international NGOs like Amnesty International.
His Human Rights Foundation (HRF) has been referred to in media puff pieces as the “Davos for dissidents,” and indeed, it functions as a training network for exiled activists seeking to topple the governments of states targeted by Washington.
“Non-violent action… as a weapon of mass destruction”
This May, the HRF began issuing Freedom Fellowships to ten “anti-authoritarian” activists in places which NATO governments seek to destabilize, including Venezuela, Nicaragua, Russia, and Hong Kong.
Jhanisse V. Daza was appointed by HRF as the manager of the Freedom Fellowships. On the foundation’s page, she declares that, “Thanks to the Freedom Fellowship, [she] co-founded a movement in Bolivia named Ríos de Pie. It already is becoming one of the leading non-violent resistance movements to Evo Morales’ authoritarian regime.”
Back in 2014, the BBC attended training sessions overseen by Halvorssen’s HRF at the Oslo Freedom Forum. In the basement of an Oslo luxury hotel, correspondent Laura Kuenssberg described witnessing “a school for revolution” where activists including US-funded leaders of the Uyghur World Congress and front-line activists in Hong Kong’s Occupy Central protests learned “how to be successful and topple a government for good.”
The BBC’s Kuenssberg reported, “We’ve been told many of Hong Kong’s demonstrators were trained long before they took the streets to use non-violent action, as they describe it, as a weapon of mass destruction.”
At its event in New York in 2018, she linked up with leading Venezuelan regime-change activists, including Joanna Hausmann, the daughter of US-appointed coup leader Juan Guaidó’s top economic adviser and a YouTube personality who collaborated with the New York Times for an anti-Chavista propaganda video that violated the newspaper of record’s own ethics code.
Links to US government-funded regime-change groups
HRF is not the only Western government-backed regime-change group to have propelled the career of Jhanisse V. Daza.
When the Human Rights Foundation announced Daza was one of its “freedom fellows” in 2019, the organization noted that this “pilot opportunity” was sponsored “in partnership with CANVAS,” or the Center for Applied Non-Violent Action and Strategies.
CANVAS also co-sponsored the online program Daza graduated from at Harvard’s Kennedy School. Students like her gained a “systematic opportunity for nonviolent social movement mid-level leaders to learn from the experiences of peers and through the coaching of Harvard/CANVAS faculty,” according to Kennedy School literature.
CANVAS grew out of the Otpor! movement, a US-backed cadre of youth activists that brought down Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic, who was targeted for overthrow by NATO for being insufficiently compliant.
An email by a Stratfor staffer boasts: “the kids who ran OTPOR grew up, got suits and designed CANVAS… or in other words a ‘export-a-revolution’ group that sowed the seeds for a NUMBER of color revolutions. They are still hooked into U.S. funding and basically go around the world trying to topple dictators and autocratic governments (ones that U.S. does not like ;).”
Stratfor revealed that CANVAS “turned its attention to Venezuela” in 2005, after cultivating opposition movements that led pro-NATO regime-change operations across Eastern Europe. Among those trained by CANVAS were the leaders of Venezuela’s coup attempt this year, including Juan Guaido, Leopoldo Lopez, and scores of figures associated with the US-supported Popular Will party.
“They’ve got mad skills,” Stratfor said of CANVAS trainers. “When you see students at five Venezuelan universities hold simultaneous demonstrations, you will know that the training is over and the real work has begun.”
Suddenly, the “real work” of professional regime change-makers like HRF and CANVAS has been concentrated on Bolivia, a progressive Latin American government that has yet to face full wrath of Washington in the way Venezuela, Nicaragua, or Cuba have.
And Daza is a direct ally of CANVAS founder Srdja Popovic, the former leader of the Western-backed Serbian regime-change group Otpor!. He has been promoting her on his Twitter account, accusing Bolivia of “bad governance” and “environmental disaster.”
The relationship goes back further. In May 2018, the Bolivian anti-Morales activist posted a photo with Popovic on her public Facebook page, remarking, “I’m in heaven right now.”
Silence on Bolsonaro, warnings of violence against Evo
Just like her counterparts in other countries targeted by the US, Jhanisse V. Daza cloaks cynical regime-change ambitions with a veneer of humanitarian goodwill, broadcasting ostensible concern for indigenous people and other marginalized groups.
But her dubious implication that the world’s first indigenous president secretly harbors anti-indigenous sentiment has not resonated with the actual people in question. Indigenous groups in Bolivia have backed Morales’ candidacy by wide margins throughout the past three elections, and this support is largely projected to continue into the next.
This is why Daza’s efforts are so crucial to ongoing Western efforts to overthrow progressive governments in Latin America. By perpetuating a narrative in which the devastating fires throughout the Amazonian basin are actually a byproduct of socialism, and not the capitalist expansionism widely acknowledged, even by mainstream media, as the source of the crisis, Daza is able to simultaneously demonize progressive governments and indemnify the far-right government of Brazil.
Her bosses at the Human Rights Foundation have not mentioned Bolsonaro once on Twitter since the far-right demagogue took power. Despite near universal condemnation from across the globe for his many racist, sexist, xenophobic, anti-indigenous, and homophobic remarks and policies, the organization has kept silent.
It is clear that for the foundation and their Freedom Fellowship recipients, the externally imposed right-wing governments currently privatizing Latin America’s riches are not human rights violators worth discussing.
While she touts her Rios de Pie NGO for “spreading the use of non-violence as the main form of protest,” Daza warned on the blog of Iyad al-Baghdadi – another regime change activist promoted by HRF – that “one citizens movement alone cannot guarantee Bolivians will not take to more radical measures. Violence is a real risk when people find their will overturned by authoritarian structures.”
Wyatt Reed is a Virginia-based activist and journalist who covers climate and racial justice movements and foreign policy issues. Follow him on Twitter at @wyattreed13.