U.S. Reiterates Its Negative Assessment of Cuba

On May 13, 2019, Kimberly Breier, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State, Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, delivered a speech in Bogota, Colombia to the Concordia Americas Summit. [1]

As expected, she had negative comments about Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua. Here is what she said about Cuba:

  • “In Cuba, the regime has not fundamentally changed, and it continues to aid and abet the Maduro regime in Venezuela. This is unacceptable for the United States and for the region. The U.S. Administration has been unwavering in our focus to promote freedom in this hemisphere. We seek a stable, prosperous, and free country for the Cuban people. We will not turn a blind eye to the ongoing and systemic human rights abuses and repression by the Communist Cuban regime against its people or tolerate Cuba’s indefensible support for Maduro in Venezuela.”
  • “So we are taking action. The State Department’s historic decision on Title III of the LIBERTAD Act recognizes the reality of Cuba today, which is no closer to transitioning to democracy and freedom than it was over 20 years ago. We have also continued adding entities to the Cuba Restricted List to strip the regime of support to its security services and have increased efforts to assist democratic actors, small businesses, and Internet connectivity on the island.”

The Concordia Summit was founded in 2011 with the “mission” of being a “member-based organization dedicated to actively fostering, elevating, and sustaining cross-sector partnerships for social impact.” Its “vision” is to “create a global community where challenges are solved collaboratively and inclusively.” These exceedingly general statements could cover almost anything.

Concordia also says that it has focused on the “unique captivation of Latin America, with its vibrant dynamics but challenging issues. The region’s critical position on the global stage, and the interconnected nature of its challenges with the success of the Western Hemisphere, aligns with Concordia’s ethos to create an inclusive, collaborative global community. Latin America has remained a focal point for Concordia since 2011, with the evolution of the organization’s on-the-ground work in Colombia resulting in the establishment of the Concordia Americas Initiative.”[2]

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[1] U.S. Embassy in Havana, Western Hemisphere: remarks on “A New Era in the Americas” at the 2019 Concordia Americas Summit (May 13, 2019).

[2]  Concordia, About [Concordia].

 

Cuba Facing Shortages of Basic Foodstuffs and Other Products

In recent weeks Cuban shop shelves increasingly have been empty with scarcity of basic products such as eggs, flour and chicken, causing massive, hours-long queues for them whenever they come into stock.[1]

On May 10, in response, the Cuban government announced that  it is launching widespread rationing of chicken, eggs, rice, beans and other basic products. Every Cuban receives a ration book that allows them to buy small quantities of these basic goods each month for payment equivalent to a few U.S. cents.

Cuba imports 60 to 70 percent of its food because of poor domestic output. Now such imports economically are more difficult due to a reduction in aid from its key ally Venezuela, lower Cuban exports and tightening of the U.S. embargo. Another reason for the current shortages is Cuban hoarding because of fear of products disappearing and speculators hoping to re-sell goods at higher prices in the black market.

Cuba’s Commerce Minister Betsy Díaz Velázquez said that the aim of these measures is “achieving equity in the distribution of some products” and was not rationing.

She also said that in March Cuba produced 900,000 fewer eggs than the 5.7 million needed daily to satisfy national demand. That deficit shrank to 600,000 by mid-April, she said. The production of pork, the most-consumed meat in Cuba and a normally affordable staple of most people’s diets, is hundreds of tons below target.

A Cuban small business owner said, “What the country needs to do is produce. Sufficient merchandise is what will lead to shorter lines.”

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[1] Reuters, Cuba to Ration More Products Due to Economic Crisis, U.S. Sanctions, N.Y. Times (May 10, 2019); Asssoc. Press, Cuba launches widespread rationing in face of crisis, Wash. Post (May 10, 2019); Measures for the purpose of fair distribution in the domestic market, Granma (May 10, 2019).

 

 

President Trump’s Skepticism About John Bolton’s Advice

According to journalists at the Washington Post, President Donald Trump is questioning his Administration’s recent aggressive strategy about Venezuela and about his National Security Advisor, John Bolton, one of the main advocates of such a strategy. [1]

As discussed in an earlier post, last week’s failure of an attempt to takeover the Venezuelan government by Juan Guaidó has prompted Trump to complain about having been misled about how easy it would be for such an attempt. Moreover, these journalists say, Trump’s “dissatisfaction has crystallized around . . . Bolton and . . .i [his] interventionist stance at odds with . . . [Trump’s] view that the United States should stay out of foreign quagmires.”

An unnamed U.S. official who is familiar with U.S.-Venezuela policy says “Trump [privately] has expressed concern that Bolton has boxed him into a corner and gone beyond where he is comfortable.” Nevertheless, two senior administration officials said Bolton’s job was “safe.”

Various current and former officials and outside advisers have said that the failure of last week’s takeover attempt has “effectively shelved serious discussion of a heavy U.S. military response.” One sign of this development was Vice President’s recent speech, as discussed in a prior post, announcing new U.S. measures regarding Venezuela that did not include any use or threat of military force other than the frequent comment that “all options are on the table.”

Trump has himself to blame too. His “approach to foreign intervention is largely ad hoc and idiosyncratic — driven less by ideology than by his hunger for foreign policy victories and confidence in his own deal-making skills.” This “lack of ideological coherence has played to the advantage of “ Bolton and Secretary Pompeo.

Another expert, Richard Haass, the president of the Council on Foreign Relations, said, ““There is a fundamental conflict between the administration’s desire for regime change and what it is willing to do to bring it about. That is the contradiction of Mr. Trump’s foreign policy.”

John D. Feeley, a former U.S. ambassador and Univision political analyst, said that military intervention in Venezuela is unlikely because it “runs counter to Donald Trump’s 2020 reelection narrative. At a time when you’re pulling people back from Syria, back from Iraq, back from Afghanistan, how do you say we’re going to commit 50-, 100-, 150,000 of our blood and treasure to a country where you can’t tell the bad guys from the good guys?”

Conclusion

This news of Trump’s questioning the wisdom of advice from John Bolton is a welcome surprise. As noted in a prior post, this blogger and others more deeply involved in analyzing national security issues seriously question the wisdom of Bolton’s long-held belief in the use of U.S. military force.

Now is the time for Bolton to leave the government!

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[1] Gearan, Dawsey, Hudson & Kim, A frustrated Trump questions his administration’s Venezuela strategy, Wash. Post (May 8, 2019); Landler, With Mix of Threats and Blandishments, Trump Bandies Policy of Regime Change, N.Y. Times (May 8, 2019).

 

One of Saint Oscar Romero’s Final Conversations

Carolyn Forché, an American poet and author, [1] then 27-29 years old, lived in El Salvador, January 1978—March 1980. Her memoir recounts her amazing sojourn in this country, which then was on the precipice of a brutal civil war.[2]

As an admirer of Monseñor (now Saint) Oscar Romero, I was especially interested in her accounts of seeing him on four occasions and conversing with him on the last of these.[3]

Mass in the Cathedral

Forché first saw Romero while he was celebrating mass in the then unfinished Cathedral of San Salvador, the capital of the country. He was “in his white vestments before a spray of microphones, giving a homily with a litany of names of those disappeared or found dead that week, some of whom were in coffins lined up at the altar, with windows cut into the lids to reveal their faces, except the mutilated. “ (Pp. 193-94)

“In shafts of sunlit dust sent from the louvers of the two bell towers we stood shoulder to shoulder; women in scarves or mantillas, men holding their straw hats, children sitting along the altar rail as the homily was broadcast to thousands of radios throughout the country, to machine shops, bodegas, to pickup trucks, and the battery-operated radios in the villages. When his homily giving guidance and counsel came to an end, Monseñor walked toward the coffins with an aspergillum [liturgical implement], sprinkling holy water on the dead, and then he walked through the congregation, and we parted to make a path for him, the water sprinkling down on our bowed heads, as it had on the coffins.” (Pp. 193-94.)

Upon later reflection, “I would understand that here the dead and the living were together, and those who stood alive before him, he was blessing in advance.” (P. 194.)

Lunch at the Carmelite Convent

On another occasion Forché went for lunch with the Carmelite sisters at their convent where they operated the Hospital of Divine Providence for cancer patients. Monseñor Romero, who lived in a small casita on the hospital grounds, came late for lunch. Apologizing for his lateness, he said, “there were so many meetings this morning, so many problems to address, that he lost track of time.” Forché heard someone mentioning her name, and Monseñor nodded his head yes, glancing at me.” (Pp. 213-15.)

But the two of them did not have any conversation on this occasion although she later recalled hearing his voice from the convent kitchen, saying,“ We must hope without hoping. We must hope when we have no hope.”(P. 336.)

It should also be mentioned that the hospital’s small, modern chapel is where Romero was assassinated while celebrating mass on March 24, 1980. (P. 332.)

Another Mass at the Cathedral

Presumably in early 1980, Forché attended another mass at the Cathedral,  “hoping once again to receive Communion from Monseñor, to feel the raindrops from his aspergillum land on me. . . . I took photographs of him at the altar, speaking into what appeared to be a telephone held by an altar boy . . . .[To] the left of the altar is Father Ignacio Ellacuria, arms folded, not wearing his glasses, his eyes appearing to focus on Monsignor’s raised hand.” [4] (Pp. 311-13.)

After mass that day, Forché “noticed a man wearing sunglasses, who was, inexplicably, carrying an attaché case . . . He paused near one of the side altars as if offering a special prayer. The following day, a priest found an attaché case carrying seventy-two sticks of dynamite behind that side altar. It had been set to detonate during a funeral Mass for a civilian member of the junta, scheduled for that afternoon, but the detonator had apparently failed.” (P. 312.)

Conversation with Romero

On March 14, 1980, Forché and a Venezuelan journalist met with Romero in a community room at the Hospital of Divine Providence. Responding to questions from the journalist, Romero said finding a solution to the conflict had not been exhausted. “For if that were true, we would already be in the midst of a full civil war.” (P. 327.)

Another question prompted Romero to say, “My relation with the [guerrilla] organizations is one of a shepherd, a pastor with his people, knowing that a people has the right to organize itself and to defend its right of organization. And I also feel perfectly free to denounce those organizations when they abuse the power and turn in the direction of unnecessary violence. This is my role as pastor: to animate the just and the good and to denounce that which is not good.” (Pp. 327-28.)

Romero continued, “As I have told you, I do not have a political role in El Salvador, but rather a pastoral one. As a pastor, it is my duty to construct this Church, my community, the church. That is what I am responsible for. And this Church, as a people, illuminated by God, has a mission too among the people in general.” (P. 328.)

The journalist then asked about Monseñor’s own safety. The response, “ I have a great confidence in the protection of God. . . One does not need to feel fearful. We hear from Jesus Christ that one should not tempt God, but my pastoral duty obliges me to go out and be with the people, and I would not be a good pastor if I was hiding myself and giving testimonies of fear. I believe if death encounters us in the path of our duty, that then is the moment in which we die in the way that God wills.” (P. 328.)

After the journalist left. Forché and her friend Leonel, who also was there, discussed with Romero a meeting she had had with a Salvadoran official who was going to defect. Romero then told Leonel that “It is for the best” that Forché leave the next day (March 15), and Leonel agreed. (Pp. 328-29.)

Forché, however, did not want to leave and said to Romero, “But Monseñor, forgive me but it is so much more dangerous for you.” He replied, “My child, my place is with my people, and now your place is with yours.”  Romero added that he wanted her to “speak about the sufferings of the poor, the repression, and the injustice,. . .[to] say what I had seen.” He “assured me that the time would come for me to speak, and that I must prepare myself and I could do that best through prayer.” (P. 329.)

Forché left El Salvador the next day (March 15), and Romero was assassinated on March 24. (P. 332.)

Conclusion

On April 26, 2019, before I had read her book, I heard Forché speak about it at a “Literary Witnesses” meeting at Minneapolis’ Plymouth Congregational Church.

I asked her whether she had any comments on the impact on Romero of the March 12, 1977, murder of his friend and fellow priest, Rutilio Grande, and the opinion, often expressed, that this death converted or transformed Romero to be more outspoken against the human rights abuses of the Salvadoran government. (Pp. 28-29.)

In response, Forché said that Grande was murdered just before she arrived in the country, but based upon what she heard about Romero and her conversation with Romero, noted above, she disputed any contention that Romero was converted or transformed by that murder. He always expressed solidarity with the people and spoke out against repression.

For anyone interested in El Salvador, this well-written book is highly recommended.

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[1] Carolyn Forché , Poetry Fnd; Carolyn Forché, Wikipedia.

[2] Forché, What You Have Heard Is True: A Memoir of Witness and Resistance (Penguin Press;  New York; 2019); Goldman, A Young Poet, a Mysterious Stranger and an El Salvador on the Brink of War, N.Y. Times Book Review (April 20, 2019); Meyer, How to Write Poetry About Conflict. The Atlantic (Mar. 25, 2019).

[3] This blog has published many posts about Romero, his life and death, his continuing inspiration for many people throughout the world, including this blogger as well as various legal proceedings regarding his assassination. See the posts listed in the “Oscar Romero” section of List of Posts to dwk commentaries—Topical: EL SALVADOR.

[4] Father Ellacuria at the time was Professor and Rector of the Jesuit University of Central America (UCA) as well as a Jesuit priest, philosopher and theologian On November 16, 1989, he was was one of the six Jesuit priests who were murdered near their apartments at UCA. This blog has published many posts about these priests, their brutal murders and various legal proceedings regarding that horrible crime. See the posts listed in ”The Jesuit Priests” section of List of Posts to dwk commentaries—Topical: EL SALVADOR.

 

Vice President Mike Pence Addresses Disruption and Transformation in the Americas

On May 7, U.S. Department of State co-hosted the 49th Annual Washington Conference on the Americas, which is designed to provide an  opportunity to hear from the most senior-level officials and engage with over 250 business and policy leaders, members of the diplomatic community, and media representatives from throughout the hemisphere. The theme of this year’s Conference was “disruption and transformation in the Americas.”

Vice President Pence’s Speech

At this Conference U.S. Vice President Mike Pence presented the Trump Administration position on these issues.[1] His focus was Venezuela,which he said was “the single greatest source of disruption.”  After reviewing that country’s significant events of the last year, Mr. Pence outlined the following new U.S. actions regarding Venezuela:

  • [At] “the President’s direction, the United States Navy will deploy the USNS Comfort to the Caribbean, Central America, and South America this June. The Comfort will embark on a 5-month humanitarian mission to address the Venezuelan crisis.  The United States military and medical personnel, working alongside their counterparts across the region, will be there to provide medical assistance to communities in need and help relieve countries overwhelmed by the influx of the suffering people of Venezuela.” (However, before it can be deployed from its homeport of Norfolk, Virginia, a staff of doctors, nurses and other medical staff has to be assembled.)
  • The U.S. has “ positioned more than 500 metric tons of food and humanitarian supplies on the Venezuelan border, ready for immediate distribution.  The American people have provided nearly $260 million in aid to support displaced Venezuelans and the host nations that support them so generously.”
  • “If the Supreme Court of Venezuela does not return to its constitutional mandate to uphold the rule of law, the [U.S.] will hold all 25 of its magistrates accountable for their actions.”
  • The U.S. “has sanctioned more than 150 government officials and state-owned businesses loyal to the dictator.”
  • But “these sanctions need not be permanent.” The U.S. “will consider sanctions relief for all those who step forward, stand up for the constitution, and support the rule of law — like General Manuel Cristopher Figuera, the former chief of the Venezuelan intelligence service, who just last week broke ranks with the Maduro regime and rallied to the support of the Venezuelan constitution and the National Assembly.  In recognition of his recent actions in support of democracy and the rule of law, . . .[the U.S.] is removing all sanctions on General Manuel Cristopher Figuera effective immediately.”
  • The U.S. “will help the fledgling Venezuelan democracy regain its footing.  We’ll build a brighter future after Maduro is gone — creating jobs, fighting poverty, and expanding opportunity.”
  • The U.S. “will continue to exert all diplomatic and economic pressure to bring about a peaceful transition of democracy in Venezuela.  But to those who continue to oppress the good people of Venezuela, know this: All options are on the table.

Conclusion

There are at least two items of good news in Vice President Pence’s remarks. First, he did not say anything about any current U.S. plan to use any military force with respect to Venezuela. Second, the hospital ship to be deployed should be helpful to ordinary Venezuelans who have been deprived of adequate medical care.

The USNS Comfort (in the above photograph) is a non-commissioned hospital ship owned by the U.S. Navy and operationally crewed by civilians from the Military Sealift Command, consisting primarily of naval officers from the Navy’s Medical Corps, Dental Corps, Medical Service Corps, Nurse Corps and Chaplain Corps, and naval enlisted personnel from the Hospital Corpsman rating and various administrative and technical support ratings When fully staffed it can provide the following services: general surgery, ophthalmologic surgery, dermatology, medical evaluation and treatment, preventive medicine, dental screenings and treatment, optometry screenings, eyewear distribution and public health. In accordance with the Geneva conventions it and its crew do not carry any offensive weapons.[2]

Without referencing Pence’s speech, Spain’s acting foreign minister, Josep Borrell, on May 8 said that Venezuela needs “a peaceful, negotiated and democratic solution” to its problems and that Spain and other European countries “will continue to reject any pressure that borders on military intervention” in Venezuela.”  The U.S. repeated assertion that “all options are on the table” is like “a western cowboy” who is threatening to draw his gun.[3]

Again without specifically discussing the Pence speech, U.S. commentators offer another perspective. They say that Trump “has yet to articulate a coherent theory for when the United States should push for such change and when it should avoid it.” Instead, they say, “Trump’s approach to foreign intervention is largely ad hoc and idiosyncratic — driven less by ideology than by his hunger for foreign policy victories and confidence in his own deal-making skills.”[4]

This “lack of ideological coherence has played to the advantage of Secretary Pompeo and the national security adviser, John R. Bolton, two hawkish officials with strong interventionist tendencies,” who have used hawkish rhetoric regarding Venezuela, Cuba and Iran, for example. “Critics say the disconnect between Mr. Trump and his advisers is confusing the nation’s allies and heightening the risk of a military conflict.” [5]

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[1] White House, Remarks by Vice President Pence at the Washington Conference on the Americas (May 7, 2019); Reuters, U.S. Lifts Sanctions on Venezuelan General Who Broke With Maduro, N.Y. Times (May 7, 2019); Assoc. Press, US to Send Hospital Ship to Help With Venezuelan Refugees, N.Y. Times (May 7, 2019).

[2] Southcom, Hospital Ship USNS Comfort in Latin America; Enduring Promise Medical Assistance MissionUSNS Comfort (T-AH-20), Wikipedia.

[3] Assoc. Press, The Latest: Spain Official: US Like a ‘Cowboy’ on Venezuela, N.Y. Times (May 8, 2019).

[4] Landler, With Mix of threats and Blandishments, Trump Bandies Policy of Regime Change, N.Y. Times (May 8, 2019).

[5] See n. 4 supra. See also U.S. Reactions to Failure of Juan Guiadó’s Attempt To Takeover Venezuelan Government, dwkcommentaries.com (May 6, 2019).

 

U.S. Reactions to Failure of Juan Guaidò’s Attempt To Take Over Control of Venezuela

Last week saw the failure of an attempt to take over the Venezuelan government by the country’s opposition leader and president of the National Assembly, Juan Guaidó, and U.S. reactions to this development.

Failed Take Over[1]

On Tuesday morning (April 30),  Guaidó, with the support of his mentor (Leopoldo López), the director of the regime’s intelligence agency (Manuel Ricardo Cristopher Figuera Manuel) and some low-ranking soldiers called for other officials and soldiers to join them in attempting to remove President Nicolás Maduro from power. Trump Administration officials—Trump himself plus Vice President Pence, Secretary of State Pompeo and National Security Advisor John Bolton—publicly announced support for what they called “Operaciōn Libertad.”

By sunset that same day, however, it was clear that Mr. Guaidó had failed to persuade the military to rise up against Mr. Maduro. As a result, Leopoldo Lopez and family sought and obtained refuge in the Spanish Embassy while Figuera had fled the country.  The attempted takeover had failed.

Nevertheless, the following Saturday (May 3), Guaidó tried again to enlist Government officials and soldiers to join his movement. Again it failed.

In addition, by the end of the week, Venezuela’s Attorney General publicly announced that  everyone linked to the recent attempted coup had turned themselves into traitors to be prosecuted in accordance with the country’s constitution and laws. Already 18 arrest warrants have been issued, including one for Leopoldo Lopez in the Spanish Embassy.

Trump Administration’s Public Reactions[2]

Before the attempted takeover Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had focused on Russia’s alleged influence over Maduro and repeated that all options, including U.S. military intervention, were still on the table, while President Trump had issued a tweet attacking Cuba for supporting Maduro and promising new economic sanctions on the island.

Immediately after the events of April 30, U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton and U.S. Special Envoy for Venezuela, Elliott Abrams, publicly accused the Venezuelans minister of defense, Vladimir Padrino López, and two other regime leaders of backing out after having promised to remove Mr. Maduro and support Mr. Guaidó.

On Friday, May 3, President Trump added to this U.S. discombobulation with  a long telephone conversation with Russia’s Vladimir Putin on several topics. Afterwards Trump apparently accepted Putin’s assurances that Russia “is not looking at all to get involved [in Venezuela], other than he’d like to see something positive happen.” Trump added, “”And I feel the same way. We want to get some humanitarian aid. Right now people are starving.” (This statement was obviously contradicted by what Secretary Pompeo and Bolton had been saying and by the Kremlin’s subsequent statement that Putin in his telephone conversation had condemned “outside interference in . . . [Venezuela’s] internal affairs” and added that “attempts to change the government in Caracas by force undermine prospects for a political settlement of the crisis.”)

Nevertheless, on Sunday, May 5, Secretary Pompeo appeared on several national television programs to reiterate the old and now discredited Administration talking points about Venezuela, which he reprised with journalists on his flight later on Sunday to Finland for the Arctic Council Ministerial.

On  ABC’s “This Week”, for example, Pompeo rejected the notion that there had been faulty U.S. intelligence over the apparent failure of Juan Guiadó’s call for a removal of Maduro. The Secretary said, Oh, no, not at all. This is the Venezuelan people attempting to re-establish their democracy. The United States has joined with them. We have supported the National Assembly’s choice. Juan Guaido is the interim president of the country. . . . [These] things sometimes have bumpy roads, to be sure, but Maduro can’t feel good. He’s ruling for the moment, but he can’t govern. There is enormous poverty, enormous starvation, sick children that can’t get medicine. . . . This is not someone who can be part of Venezuela’s future, and whether that change takes place today or tomorrow or a week from now, one can’t predict.”

Pompeo continued on ABC, “Our mission is to work with a large coalition, now 50 countries-plus, who are determined to restore democracy and then ultimately a productive economy to Venezuela. What we can do is provide support, get support from the Organization of American States, the Lima Group, the entire region, that understands that restoring democracy for the Venezuelan people is an imperative, and get them all to work together so that we get the outcome we’re looking for.”

In response to the ABC journalist’s direct question of whether “a U.S. military invasion of Venezuela  [was] really an option?’” Pompeo said, “Oh, make no mistake, we have a full range of options that we’re preparing for. That’s part of what we were doing on Friday [May 3] was making sure that when this progresses and a different situation arises that the President has a full-scale set of options: diplomatic options, political options, options with our allies, and then ultimately a set of options that would involve use of U.S. military. We’re preparing those for him so that when the situation arises, we’re not flat-footed.”

Another direct question on the ABC program was posed as to whether the President believes that he can intervene militarily without getting congressional authorization Pompeo responded, “I don’t want to speak to that. The president has his full range of Article 2 authorities, and I’m very confident that any action we took in Venezuela would be lawful.”General Joseph Dunford

Trump Administration’s Internal Reactions[3]

On May 1 the White House held an emergency session of senior national security advisors for discussion about Venezuela. Their discussions apparently included an “intense debate . . . over whether the U.S. military should be used to raise pressure on Maduro, with senior Pentagon officials warning an armed intervention would be counterproductive.” This meeting included Admiral Craig Faller, Commander of the Southern Command, Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan and other senior officials, including Marine General Joseph Dunford, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; Secretary of State Mike Pompeo; Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats;  National Security Advisor John Bolton and Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney.

Another meeting occurred on Friday, May 3 with the same people.

The Southern Command reportedly has “given the White House an array of options for potential military action. . . . [including] U.S. naval exercises or deployments of warships outside Venezuelan waters, delivery of humanitarian aid into the country, and more military contacts with neighboring countries to try to enlist their support for joint action.” Admiral Craig Faller, the current head of Southern Command, said the Pentagon was also “carefully looking at plans” to expand an embargo on Cuba, as Trump suggested in a tweet this week, to erode Havana’s support for Maduro’s government.”

Evaluation of U.S. Policies Regarding Venezuela[4]

A former senior administration official with deep knowledge of the region described the failed coup as “ the Bay of Pigs II” — a reference to the failed U.S.-backed attempt to invade Cuba and overthrow Fidel Castro in 1961.

Several analysts have said that “the Trump administration has misread the dynamics of the Venezuela crisis. They said the White House underestimated Maduro’s resilience and fostered unrealistic expectations about the ease of regime change, partly by trusting apparently duplicitous Venezuelan military officials.” One of them, Michael Shifter, president of the nonpartisan Inter-American Dialogue, a Washington think tank that specializes in Latin America, said, “They have made a series of terrible miscalculations,”

Shifter added,“The Trump administration’s repeated ultimatums, hints of military intervention and threats to blockade Cuba, all of which could backfire by eroding broad international diplomatic support for the anti-Maduro forces, and by goading the Venezuelan armed forces to rally around [Maduro].”

Another expert on Venezuela in the Washington Office on Latin Ameera, a nonprofit nongovernmental organization, David Smilde, said, “This is characteristic of the neoconservatives who are running foreign policy now. They think they can huff and puff and put forth strong rhetoric … and the foe will back down. But time and again, that doesn’t happen. The sociology of authoritarian governments is far more complex.”

A New York Times editorial correctly summed up the current status. U.S. military intervention, “repeatedly cited as a possibility by Mr. Trump and Mr. Pompeo, remains a terrible idea. However invested the Trump administration is in the ouster of Mr. Maduro, a direct intervention would find little support across a region with bad memories of American meddling, and would brand Mr. Guaidó as an American lackey.”

A different conclusion was reached by a Washington Post editorial. After reciting some of the Maduro regime’s horrible policies and actions, the editorial said, “Therefore, whatever its ultimate outcome or, indeed, its strategic wisdom, Tuesday’s uprising is not a ‘coup attempt,’ as the Maduro regime, echoed by too many people abroad, calls it. Rather, it is the latest in a series of legitimate and, for the most part, nonviolent efforts by Venezuelans, both civilian and military, to throw off an oppressive, toxic regime so that they can freely elect a legitimate government. Supporters of freedom and democracy should stand in solidarity with Mr. Guaidó and the many thousands of Venezuelans now bravely asserting their rights.” However, the editorial concluded, “By working closely with these [six South American nations that are backing Guaidó. . .  , and not by intervening militarily, the Trump administration may increase the chances that Mr. López’s declaration Tuesday — “It’s time to conquer freedom” — proves out.”

Conclusion

These recent events should put the kibosh on the  Southern Command’s “plan” of February 2018 for military invasion of Venezuela, as discussed in a prior post. One can only hope that another result could be the diminution of the influence  or actual ouster, of John Bolton as National Security Advisor.

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[1] Venezuela Crisis: Guaidó Calls for Uprising as Clashes Erupt, N.Y. Times (April 30, 2019); Zuñiga, Faiola & McCoy, Venezuela’s Maduro denies Pompeo’s claim that he sought to escape to Cuba after day of clashes left 1 dead, dozens hurt, Wash. Post (April 30, 2019); Reuters, Trump Threatens ‘Full’ Embargo on Cuba Over Venezuela Security Support, N.Y. Times (April 30, 2019); Rogers, Trump, Seeking to Put Pressure on Maduro, Threatens Full Embargo of Cuba, N.Y. Times (April 30, 2019); Gearon & DeYoung, Trump threatens ‘complete embargo’ and ‘highest-level sanctions’ against Cuba over Venezuela, Wash. Post (April 30, 2019); Shifter & Binetti, Juan Guaidó’s Uprising Failed. What’s Next for Venezuela?, N.Y. Times (May 3, 2019); Fayola, How a plot filled with intrigue and betrayal failed to oust Venezuela’s president, Wash. Post (May 3, 2019); Venezuelan justice will act with weight against coup, says prosecutor, CubaDebate (May 4, 2019).

[2] Landler, Trump Says He Discussed the “Russian Hoax” in a Phone Call with Putin, N.Y. Times (May  3, 2019); Ballhaus & Salama, Trump & Putin Discuss Venezuela, North Korea, Mueller Report, W.S.J. (May 3, 2019); State Dep’t, [Secretary Pompeo] Interview With Jonathan Karl of ABC’s This Week (May 5, 2019); Demirjian & Sonne, Pompeo won’t promise to consult Congress about potential military intervention in Venezuela, Wash. Post (May 5, 2019); State Dep’t, [Secretary Pompeo’s] Interview With Chris Wallace of Fox News Sunday (May 5, 2019); State Dep’t, [Secretary Pompeo’s] Interview With Margaret Brennan of CBS Face the Nation (May 5, 2019); State Dep’t, [Secretary Pompeo’s] Remarks to Traveling Press on Plane (May 6, 2019).

[3] Wilkinson & Cloud, White House scrambles on Venezuela after major setback, Los Angeles Times (May 2, 2019); Assoc. Press, Shanahan, Pompeo and Bolton Meet on Venezuela, N.Y. Times (May 3,2019); Specia, Five Things You Need to Know to Understand Venezuela’s Crisis, N.Y. Times (May 3, 2019).

[4] See n. 3 supra; Editorial, A Treacherous Stalemate in Venezuela, N.Y. Times (May 2, 2019); Editorial, Don’t call it a coup. Venezuelans have a right to replace an oppressive, toxic regime, Wash. Post (April 30, 2019).

Cuba Reveals Purported U.S. TOP SECRET Document for Overthrow of Venezuela’s Government

On April 30, 2019, Granma, the official newspaper of the Communist Party of Cuba, published a summary with selected quotations of a purported TOP SECRET U.S. plan to overthrow the Venezuelan government issued by the U.S. Southern Command.[1] According to Granma, this plan outlines “[s]teps to speed up the definite overthrow of Chavismo and the expulsion of its representatives.” According to Granma, this “plan” has the following sections: Parts I, II and III and Media Plan, which are set forth below.

This “plan” may have been overtaken by this week’s apparent failure of the attempt by Venezuelan leader Juan Guaidó to oust Maduro from power, which will be discussed in a future post.

“Part I of the Plan”

Part I of this plan, according to Granma, was “implemented before the Venezuelan elections last year, but did not succeed in overthrowing Maduro. It contains the following:

– “Increase internal instability to a critical level, by ‘intensifying the undercapitalization of the country, the leaking out of foreign currency and the deterioration of its monetary base, bringing about the application of new inflationary measures.’”

– “The document suggests exacerbating divisions between members of the government, emphasizing the difference between the population’s living conditions and those of their leaders, and making sure that these are exaggerated.”

– “Fully obstruct imports, and at the same time discouraging potential foreign investors in order to make the situation more critical for the population.”

– “Appeal ‘to domestic allies as well as other people inserted from abroad in the national scenario in order to generate protests, riots and insecurity, plunders, thefts, assaults and highjacking of vessels as well as other means of transportation with the intention of deserting the country in crisis through all borderlands and other possible ways, jeopardizing in such a way the National Security of neighboring frontier nations.’”

– “The plan emphasizes the importance of ‘causing victims’ and ‘holding the Venezuelan government responsible.’”

– “Promote internationally the idea that the country is facing a humanitarian crisis.”

-“ Spread lies about extensive government corruption.”

– “Link the government to drug trafficking to discredit the Maduro administration before the world and among Venezuelan supporters.”

-“ Promote ‘fatigue inside the members of the PSUV (United Socialist Party of Venezuela), inciting annoyance and . . . [disunity?]among themselves, for them to break noisily from the government.’”

-:Design a plan to incite ‘the profuse desertion of the most qualified professionals from the country, to leave it with no professionals at all, which will aggravate even more the internal situation, and along these lines, putting the blame on the government.’”

“Part II of the Plan”

 

-“’Encourage dissatisfaction with the Maduro regime.’”

– “Highlight ‘the incompetence of mechanisms of integration created by the regimes of Cuba and Venezuela, especially the ALBA and PETROCARIBE, in order to tackle the situation of the country and its inability to find solutions to the problems that citizens are facing.’”

– “One section of the document is entitled: ‘Using the army officers as an alternative of definite solution.’”

– Continue preparing “conditions inside the Armed Forces to carry out a coup d’état before the end of 2018, if the crisis does not make the dictatorship collapse, or the dictator does not decide to move aside.’”

– “Continue ‘setting fire to the common frontier with Colombia, multiplying the traffic of fuel and other goods. The movement of paramilitaries, armed raids, and drug trafficking. Provoking armed incidents with the Venezuelan frontier security forces.’”

– “Recruit ‘paramilitaries, mainly in the campsites of refugees in . . . [three areas of Colombia], areas largely populated by Colombian citizens who emigrated to Venezuela and have returned.’”

“Part III of the Plan”

– “Prepare ‘involvement of allied forces in support of Venezuelan Army officers, or to control the internal crisis.’”

– “Establish ‘a speedy timeline that prevents the Dictator [Maduro] … winning control of the internal scenario.’”

– “Obtain support and cooperation from ‘friendly countries (Brazil, Argentina, Colombia, Panama, Guyana).’”

– “Organize ‘provisioning, relief of troops, medical and logistical support from Panama.’”

– “Make ‘good use’ of electronic surveillance and intelligence signals; of hospitals and equipment deployed in Darién (Panamanian jungle), Plan Colombia’s drone equipment, as well as the ‘landing fields’  at the former Howard and Albroock military bases in Panama; as well as those of Río Hato; and the United Nations Humanitarian Regional Center, designed for catastrophe situations and humanitarian emergencies, which has ‘an aerial landing field and its own warehouses.’”

– “Propose ‘moving on the basification of combat airplanes and choppers, armored conveyances, intelligence positions, and special military and logistics units, police, military district attorneys, and prisons.’”

– “Develop ‘the military operation under international flag, patronized by the Conference of American Armies, under the protection of the OAS, and the supervision, in the legal and media context of [OAS] General Secretary Luis Almagro.’”

– “Declare the ‘necessity of the continental command be strengthened to act, using the instrument of the Inter-American Democratic Charter, in order to avoid the democratic rupture.’”

– “’Binding Brazil, Argentina, Colombia and Panama to contribute greater numbers of troops, to make use of their geographic proximity and experience in forest regions.’”

– “Strengthen the ‘international’ nature of the operation ‘with presence of combat units from the United States and the other named countries, under the command of a Joint General Staff led by the USA.’”

– “Promote ‘international participation in this effort, as part of a multilateral operation with contributions from States, Non-profit Organizations, and international bodies. Supplying the adequate logistic, intelligence, surveillance, and control support,’ anticipating as key geographical points . . .[six towns] in Colombia, and . . . [three] in Brazil.”

“Media Plan”

 “’Create within the country, via local and international media, the dissemination of messages designed and based on testimony and publications originating in the country, making use of all possible capacity, including social media.’”

– “’Justifying and assuring through violent means the international backup to the deposing of the dictatorship, displaying an extensive dissemination, inside the country and to the entire world, through all open means and the capacities of the psychological war of the U.S. Army.’”

– “Back up and ‘strengthen’ the image of the OAS, as a multilateral institution to resolve regional problems.”

– “Promote ’the request of a dispatch of a UNO military force for the imposition of peace, once Nicolas Maduro’s corrupt dictatorship is defeated.’”

Conclusion

The Granma article says this purported plan was revealed [discovered? pilfered?] by Argentine intellectual Stella Calloni. A simple Google search of her name revealed that she is an 84-year-old Argentine journalist who specializes in Latin American international politics.[2]

That same Google search discovered that on May 17, 2018, Calloni did publish an article about this purported TOP SECRET U.S. document on Voltaire.net.org.[3]

That article by Calloni in turn cited to a publication on that same website of what appears to be an actual copy of a TOP SECRET U.S. document of that title and that date and authored by Admiral Kurt W. Tidd, Commander, U.S. Southern Command.[4]

The U.S. Southern Command, which is located in Doral, Florida,,  is one of ten Unified Combatant Commands (CCMDs) in the United States Department of Defense. It is responsible for providing contingency planning, operations, and security cooperation for Central and South America, the Caribbean (except U.S. commonwealths, territories, and possessions), their territorial waters, and for the force protection of U.S. military resources at these locations. USSOUTHCOM is also responsible for ensuring the defense of the Panama Canal and the canal area. According to Its stated mission, it  “deters aggression, defeats threats, rapidly responds to crises, and builds regional capacity, working with our allies, partner nations, and U.S. government (USG) team members to enhance security and defend the U.S. homeland and our national interests.”[5]

Admiral Kurt W. Tidd was the Commander of the Southern Command in May 2018 until he retired on November 26, 2018; the current Commander is Admiral Craig L. Faller. [6]

Although the Granma article purports to summarize an actual “TOP SECRET” document, there is no indication in this article or those by Calloni that this “plan” was actually adopted or approved by higher U.S. officials. And, as noted at the start of this post, this apparent “plan” may have been superseded by this week’s apparent failure of an attempt by Venezuelan leader Juan Guaidó to oust  Maduro from power, which will be discussed in a future post.

This blog has not compared, line-by-line, Granma’s English translation of the Plan with the apparent English-language original, but Granma’s version does track the apparent original. Nor has this blog attempted to determine whether there was any action on this apparent plan by higher officials in the Department of Defense or other agencies of the U.S. government.

Thus, this purported or apparent U.S. document raises, but does not resolve, disturbing issues.

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[1] U.S. master plan to destroy Bolivarian Venezuela, Granma (April 30, 2019).

[2]  Sierra, Calloni, chronicler of our time, Granma; Stella Calloni, Wikipedia; Stella Calloni, EcuRed: Cuban Encyclopedia.

[3]  Calloni, The United States “Master Stroke” against Venezuela, Voltaire.net.org (May 17, 2018). The Hong Kong-based Voltaire website says it was founded by French intellectual Thierry Meyssan as a “web of non-aligned press groups dedicated to the analysis of international relations . . . from diversified political, social and cultural backgrounds . . . and does not aim to promote a particular ideology or a world vision, but to hone the critical thinking of its readers . . . [and place] reflection before belief and arguments before convictions.”

[4]  Tidd, TOP SECRET: Plan to overthrow the Venezuelan Dictatorship—“Masterstroke,” Voltaire.net.org (Feb, 23, 2018).

[5] U.S. Defense Dep’t, U.S. Southern Command; United States Southern Command, Wikipedia.

[6] U.S. Defense Dep’t, Admiral Kurt W. Tidd; Kurt W. Tidd, Wikipedia; Inter-American Defense Board, Retirement Ceremony for Admiral Kurt W.Tidd and USSOUTHCOM Change of Command Ceremony (Nov. 29, 2018).