By Stan Santos
Troika—a Russian vehicle pulled by a team of three horses abreast. Also, a group of three people working together, especially in an administration. On Nov. 1, 2018, before the Congressional elections, Republicans held a campaign event at the “Freedom Tower” in Miami, with Cuban and Venezuelan exiles and supporters. John Bolton, President Trump’s national security adviser, declared, “The troika of tyranny in this hemisphere—Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua—has finally met its match.”
It reads like the introduction to an epic tale, except for the destruction and human suffering that will surely follow. But who are the heroes of the opposing “troika”?
Juan Guaído will serve as the youthful face of the violence to come, along with fellow representatives of the Venezuelan elite class, Carlos Vecchio and Leopoldo Lopez.
Guaído studied in the United States at George Washington University; Vecchio and Lopez attended Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School. Vecchio later became an attorney for Exxon Mobil and Lopez was assistant to the chief economist and economic adviser for petroleum of Venezuela.
The Kennedy School is widely known as a recruiting center and platform for CIA officials, including senior fellow, disgraced CIA director and U.S. Army General David Petraeus. Former CIA official Melvin Goodman, author of Whistleblower at the CIA, oversaw agency ties with the Kennedy School in 1990. He wrote that “many Harvard professors have questioned their links to the CIA and tried unsuccessfully to kill the program.” Goodman contends that the Kennedy School and the CIA still have a close relationship.
While studying in the United States, Lopez co-founded Primero Justicia (Justice First) and later, along with Vecchio, Voluntad Popular (Popular Will). These groups became political parties with a significant number of seats in the opposition National Assembly. In 2002, Lopez organized mass demonstrations during the failed coup against President Hugo Chavez.
In 2012, Justice First ran millionaire Henrique Capriles against Chavez, losing by a wide margin. Following Chavez’s death, Capriles ran against Nicolás Maduro and lost again. In 2013, La Jornada, Mexico’s largest print newspaper, reported that “the CIA has provided generous funding to Justice First through its financial arm, the National Endowment for Democracy.” La Jornada called Capriles and his associates “children of the CIA.”
According to the Wall Street Journal, Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, Bolton, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Sen. Marco Rubio (R–Fla,), Republican hawks and the governments of Brazil and Colombia selected Guaído to be president of Venezuela. On Jan. 23, 2019, Guaído declared himself interim president, in violation of Article 233 of the Venezuelan Constitution, the same article that Pence instructed him to use to justify his illegal move.
Sadly, the leadership of the U.S. Democratic Party decided to back the coup in Venezuela. In early 2014, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D–Fla.), later to be the disgraced chair of the Democratic National Committee, called for sanctions against the Maduro administration. She recently held a Venezuela Community Forum, including as special guest, “Ambassador” Carlos Vecchio.
It is not clear when Democratic Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi polled party activists or gained consensus, but last month she expressed support for Trump’s plans to overthrow the Venezuelan government. On Feb. 9, Pelosi issued her own statement recognizing Guaído as the interim president of Venezuela.
Oil is the prize, sanctions are the weapons. According to the U.S. Energy Administration, Venezuela has the largest deposits of crude oil in the world, estimated at close to 300 billion barrels. Saudi Arabia is next with about 270 billion barrels. The United States consumes more oil than any other country, or 20% of the world supply.
Venezuela’s oil production has declined from 2.4 million barrels per day in 2015 to 1.34 million in 2018. Analysts predict that production will drop to about 800,000 this year, and as low as 680,000 in 2020. Also, sanctions have blocked access to naptha, which is necessary to dilute the heavy crude produced in the Orinoco belt, so production will decline further.
The huge increase in U.S. oil production and the imposition of sanctions against Venezuela are facts that will not speak well of the Obama legacy. Both have caused immense suffering for the Venezuelan people. Since 2008, U.S. oil production increased by 77%, contributing to market conditions in which oil prices went from $130 per barrel to about $50 in 2016.
Forbes analysts predict continued volatility in prices, “We can expect the rollercoaster to continue.” The glut continues, as global producers pump more oil than consumers need. For countries such as Venezuela that rely on oil for survival, with fluctuating prices, conditions will worsen. A long feared global recession will cause the bleeding to increase until there is nothing left. Despite this, oil remains the prize and Venezuela continues to resist.
In August 2018, an independent expert to the UN Human Rights Council reported the following (excerpts):
“The Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela has contributed to saving millions of persons from homelessness. Over two million housing units have been delivered to persons who would otherwise live in shanty towns. In order to address hunger, the Local Supply and Production Committees provide needy Venezuelans with 16kg packages containing sugar, flour, dried milk, oil…
“El Sistema, established by the late José Antonio Abreu, has offered free musical education to over one million youngsters, contributing to a reduction in juvenile delinquency. Gustavo Dudamel, Music and Artistic Director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, is a product of El Sistema.
“Critics in and outside the country see it as a failed State and blame the crisis on the fiasco of socialism, but few look for other contributing factors. By contrast, the Government tends to blame outside causes, notably the drop in oil prices, international smuggling rings, contraband, sanctions, and 19 years of economic warfare, not unlike the non-conventional wars waged against Cuba, Chile and Nicaragua.
“With political will and international solidarity, solutions can be found, since the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela is a rich country with the largest oil reserves in the world and major gold, bauxite and coltan deposits, enough to finance the needs of the Venezuelan people, provided that the country is allowed to function free of embargoes and financial blockades.
“Over the past sixty years, non-conventional economic wars have been waged against Cuba, Chile, Nicaragua, the Syrian Arab Republic and the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela in order to make their economies fail, facilitate regime change and impose a neo-liberal socioeconomic model. In order to discredit selected governments, failures in the field of human rights are maximized so as to make violent overthrow more palatable. Human rights are being ‘weaponized’ against rivals.”
In dependency theory, capitalists analyze crises in terms of markets, commodities, balance of payments, consumption and growth. Latin Americans must use socialist and indigenous analysis to capture the history of exploitation suffered by the descendants of the first peoples of the continent.
For generations, the colonial settlers of Europe and the United States looted Latin America of her gold, silver and iron ore. The galleons sailed low in the water to their cities, where they made coin and implements of war. They returned with their machines of destruction to continue the pillage and cycle of exploitation. Now, they want the very blood of mother earth.
Like a circle, the descendants of the first peoples survive on the outer edge, unable to develop their human, intellectual and creative capacity, while the riches flow to the center. Yet they resist, waiting for the day when the center collapses from its inherent corruption and they recover their human potential. Whatever the outcome in Venezuela, the struggle for liberation will continue.
Stan Santos is an activist in the labor and immigrant community. Contact Stan at firstname.lastname@example.org.