Tillerson: ‘We are evaluating all of our policy options as to what can we do to create a change of conditions’
Last Wednesday, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson announced that his nation’s intelligence agencies were ‘evaluating all of our policy options as to what we can do to create a change of conditions (in Venezuela), where either Maduro decides he doesn’t have a future and wants to leave of his own accord, or we can return the government processes back to their constitution.’
Tillerson’s words have been interpreted as a declaration of the USA’s intent to force a change of government, or, failing that, to impose ‘regime change’, in the South American country.
It wouldn’t be the first time the superpower intervened directly, or indirectly, in Latin America: Guatemala in 1954, Chile in 1973, El Salvador in 1980, Granada in 1983, Panama in 1989, Haiti in 2004 and Honduras in 2009 make up the long list of nations to have undergone US attempts to force changes of government and align their leadership with US interests.
‘We are very, very troubled by what we’re seeing unfold,’ the former Exxon Mobil chief executive said, referring to the arrests of opposition leaders, Leopoldo López and Antonio Ledezma. The incident was ‘very alarming,’ added Tillerson, and ‘could lead to an outbreak of further violence in the country.’
Both the US and the European Union have refused to recognise Venezuela’s new National Constituent Assembly. The assembly was an initiative of the government of Maduro and has been harshly criticised by the opposition who consider it an attempt to dismantle the Constitution of 1999 and strengthen the power of the ruling party at the expense of democracy.
Voting for this body took place on Sunday 30 July amid a climate of violence in which opposition protestors clashed with the Bolivarian National Guard. The day ended with at least a dozen dead. It also left a number of shocking images, like the footage of motorcycle police involved in an explosion in Plaza Altamira de Caracas, an opposition stronghold.
Some supposedly neutral witnesses in Altamira say that the majority of the protestors are young people from the cerros (the poorer neighbourhoods of the city). Witnesses say the youths act violently in the protests in exchange for privileges which are then not given to them.
‘Most of them are youths from the cerros, which are like the favelas. They come down to the city because they’re being offered money. Now they’re feeling ripped off. In fact, yesterday many were complaining, asking “where are all the things we’d been promised? There aren’t enough people here to achieve anything…” It’s like they’ve suddenly understood all the propaganda machinery behind the opposition, which has sold them out, you know?’ reports one Spanish medical student staying in Caracas.
Maduro’s government claims that 41.53% of the electorate (8 million Venezuelans) voted in the poll.
The opposition refused to take part in the electoral process, describing it as illegitimate from the outset. They claimed that only 12% of the electorate had taken part and that the government had lied in order to give legitimacy to its proposal for constitutional reform.
Henrique Capriles, twice a presidential candidate and leader of the biggest opposition party in congress, has insisted on convening presidential elections in December. Another opposition leader, Leopoldo López, is against this idea. Their disagreement has sparked a civil war in the Bureau of Democratic Unity – an organisation that groups together several opposition parties.
Fraudulent vote count
On the same Wednesday that Tillerson and the EU made their announcements, a highly unusual communique came out of London. Smartmatic, the UK-based company that supplied the technology for the ballot, claimed that the official turnout figure for the weekend vote to elected the controversial new assembly was fraudulent.
Smartmatic spokesman, Antonio Mugica, said that the turnout figure of more that eight million was ‘manipulated’ and exceeded the real number by ‘at least one million votes’. The declaration is striking to say the least, as the company has collaborated with the Venezuelan government in various electoral processes over the past 13 years.
When pressed by journalists, Mugica acknowledged that they had not made their findings known to the Venezuelan National Council because ‘they weren’t going to like’ the results obtained.
It wouldn’t be the first time the superpower directly intervened directly, or indirectly, in Latin America: Guatemala in 1954, Chile in 1973, El Salvador in 1980, Granada in 1983, Panama in 1989, Haiti in 2004 and Honduras in 2009 make up the long list
President of the National Electoral Council, Tibisay Lucena, described Smartmatic’s statement as ‘an unprecedented opinion from a firm whose only role in the electoral process is to provide certain services and technical support that had no bearing on the results.’
Smartmatic has Venezuelan roots and was apparently trusted by Hugo Chávez. Between 2004 and 2015, the company took part in 14 national elections in Venezuela, processing 377 million votes.
In 2004, the company was criticised by the opposition for failing to detect irregularities in a recall referendum. The process was also observed by the EU, the Carter Centre and the Organisation of American States (OAS) however. Now, opposition leader and president of the National Assembly, Julio Borges, has been quick to denounce the revelation as ‘an earthquake of worldwide proportions.’ Capriles has called for an investigation by the prosecutor’s office.
Some have suggested that company – founded in Venezuela but now based in London – is attempting to disassociate itself from Maduro and of its past links with Chavez to bolster its international standing and credibility.
Postscript: shortly after this article was written, the South American trade block Mercosur suspended Venezuela indefinitely for failing to uphold democratic norms. Meeting in Sao Paulo, Mercosur foreign ministers said the move was meant to send a message to their South American neighbor.
‘Today in Venezuela there is no democracy,’ Argentine Foreign Minister Jorge Faurie told reporters after meeting with his counterparts from Brazil, Uruguay and Paraguay. ‘Essentially what Mercosur is saying is: Without democracy, no, you cannot be a part of Mercosur.’
Even the Vatican has joined the offensive, calling on Venezuela to suspend its Constituent Assembly and expressing ‘profound concern for the radicalization and worsening of the crisis.’ The secretariat of state issued a statement calling on Maduro’s government to guarantee ‘full respect for human rights and basic freedoms, as well as for the existing Constitution.’
Tags: politics, venezuela, Latinamerica