Practice English Speaking&Listening with: The US Strategy for Regime Change in Venezuela

Difficulty: 0

Its The Real News Network.

Im Sharmini Peries, coming to you from Baltimore.

On Wednesday, President Trump announced that the United States will recognize the Venezuelan

opposition leader Juan Guaido as the legitimate president of Venezuela.

President Maduro, in response, announced that he is cutting off diplomatic ties and the

embassys diplomatic staff has 72 hours to leave the country.

All this was triggered shortly after Juan Guaido, who is the president of the National

Assembly in Venezuela, swore himself in as the president.

Now, Juan Guaido swore himself in on the claim that Nicolas Maduro, the current president

of Venezuela, is illegitimate, and that given that the president and the vice president

is illegitimate, that he is the next in line for the presidency.

Yesterday, Vice President Mike Pence set the stage for all of this by making an announcement

directed at Venezuelans, urging them to rise up against President Maduro.

On behalf of President Donald Trump and all the American people, let me express the unwavering

support of the United States, as you, the people of Venezuela, raise your voices in

a call for freedom.

Nicolas Maduro is a dictator with no legitimate claim to power.

The United States joins with all freedom loving nations in recognizing the National Assembly

as the last vestige of democracy in your country, for its the only body elected by you, the


As such, the United States supports the courageous decision by Juan Guaido, the president of

your National Assembly, to assert that bodys constitutional powers, declare Maduro a usurper

and call for the establishment of a transitional government.

Now, leading up to all of this, tens of thousands of Venezuelans had taken to the streets of

Caracas on the 61st anniversary of the overthrow of Venezuelas last dictator, Marcos Perez


Now, supporters of President Maduro also took to the streets, because this is an annual

event that both sides, or just Venezuelans in general, come to celebrate.

But these demonstrations, and particularly the opposition demonstration, was manipulated

to make it look like that these were large protests demonstrating the overthrow, or desire

to overthrow, Nicolas Maduro.

Now, what is happening in Venezuela is of course the topic of this discussion.

And joining us from New York today is Alex Main.

Hes the director of the International Policy Department at the Center for Economic and

Policy Research in Washington DC.

And also joining me here in our studio is Gregory Wilpert.

He is our Managing Editor here at The Real News and hes also the author of Changing

Venezuela by Taking Power.

Gentlemen, I thank you both for joining me.

My pleasure.

Thank you.

All right, Alex let me start with you.

You work for a CEPR directing policy, so you have a lot of hands on experience in Washington

in terms of trying to make sense of the foreign policy of the U.S. towards Venezuela.

And there has been some strategic efforts here on the part of the U.S. to cripple Venezuelas

economy, to of course, organize the region against Venezuela.

Give us a sense of the strategies that the U.S. government and the Trump administration

in particular has been up to in recent months.

Well, this administration has been deploying a number of strategies over the last few years.

Really, they sort of support an ongoing strategy of regime change in Venezuela that weve

seen for a very long time, starting with the George W. Bush administration.

And really it continued, to a great extent, under the Obama administration, though perhaps

not quite as overtly as its become, again, very overt under President Trump.

And particularly since August of 2017, when he put into place economic sanctions that

have literally starved the economy of much needed international funding at a time when

the economy, of course, has been in a serious crisis.

So its reminiscent of the sort of U.S. policy that we saw towards Chile in the early

1970s, when I think its Kissinger or Nixon who famously said, “Were going to make

the economy scream.”

And certainly, the economy of Venezuela has been screaming.

It has to do a lot with some of the flawed economic policies of the Maduro government

itself, but its really grown much worse since these sanctions were put into place.

And then theres been a lot of talk of military intervention and of coups from people both

within the administration, such as former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, and people

very close to the administration who have had a great deal of influence on Venezuela

policy, such as Marco Rubio, who has entertained the idea of a coup to solve Venezuelas

problems, so to speak.

And now were seeing a strategy of complete nonrecognition.

Really to be fair, this administration never really recognized the Maduro government.

After the elections that took place that first elected Maduro, the Obama administration,

of course, hadnt really recognized the results and had sort of followed the hard

line opposition in not recognizing the results of those elections.

Then they sort of learned to live with the government, but now they are coming out saying

that they no longer recognize the government as being legitimate.

And I think whats very clear is that with all these threats, with the sanctions and

so on, theyre really trying to find breaches within Venezuelas armed forces.

Really, they are seen sort of as the arbiter, unfortunately, theyre seen sort of as the

arbiter of political outcomes in Venezuela today.

And I think theres a very concerted effort to try to provoke the armed forces into supporting

this newly heralded opposition leader who was unknown until really just weeks ago.

And of course, there are reports that came out earlier last year that very senior-level

Trump administration officials have been meeting with dissident Venezuelan army officers, ones

that were very clearly seeking support for a military coup.

So I think thats whats happening here, and well have to see.

I mean, to date the armed forces, or at least the bulk of the armed forces and certainly

the high command of the armed forces of Venezuela, has now wanted to get involved in this way

in politics, and hopefully, that will remain the case.

But obviously, were under a tremendous amount of pressure this time.

All right, Greg.

Now, for those who are just joining us and wasnt a part of the previous Livestream

we had done on Venezuela as this news broke, give us a sense of what are some of the events

that have taken place in the recent past that has led to this situation today.

Well first of all, as Alex mentioned, efforts to overthrow both the Chavez government and

then the Maduro government go way back, and of course, found its most important expression

in the 2002 coup attempt against Chavez.

But more recently, these efforts, of course, have intensified, and I assume that the reasons

theyve intensified are several fold.

First, there was the death of President Chavez, and that certainly looked like an opening

for the opposition and for the U.S. government to overthrow the government, and thats

when they organized massive protests already, right after that election.

Then the economic crisis, the decline in oil prices, misguided economic policies on the

part of the Maduro government that led to hyperinflation, led I think to the sanctions,

that further intensified the economic situation.

And then, of course, we also have, from a couple of months ago, the assassination attempt

using bombs on drones that attacked Maduro during a military parade.

And that was foiled, but that was the clearest indication yet of the efforts to overthrow


He himself, later on, went on to say that more attempts will be coming and he specifically

identified Mike Pence and John Bolton and Marco Rubio as being behind these efforts.

And this was then shortly later, I think, confirmed with both of their, that is, Pences

and Boltons trip throughout Latin America, where they toured various governments and

put pressure on them to turn against Venezuela, not that they needed much pushing, considering

that they visited mostly conservative governments.

Of course, Ecuador, I think, was an interesting exception that at least for a while wasnt

considered conservative, but now should be considered part of that conservative camp.

And then we also had some interesting events that showed fractures within the security

apparatus of the Venezuelan government, first of the kind of arrest of the opposition leader,

Juan Guaido, which turned out to be a fake arrest.

Guaido himself said that they were actually sympathizers of his and they immediately let

him free and were basically telling him to do something, basically.

And then the incident of national guard soldiers basically trying to steal weapons, 27 of them

ended up being arrested, this happened just yesterday.

So we had a number of different incidents that really led up to this.

And we knew that already, Juan Guaido, when he first took office of the National Assembly,

he said that he was basically intending something like this, that he wasnt recognizing President

Maduro as the legitimate president of Venezuela, and already suggested that something like

this would be coming sooner or later.

I think what took people by surprise more than anything, although we saw warning signs

for this as well, was the recognition by the U.S. government by and by the OAS Secretary

General, and now a whole bunch of other conservative governments in the region, that Maduro is

not the legitimate president, according to them.

All right, Alex.

Give us a sense of the kind of support that the opposition in Venezuela, and I guess Juan

Guido in particular, are getting from the international community, at least in the region


U.S. has of course endorsed him swearing himself in as the president, as I said earlier, but

at the same time we have countries that in the past may have remained neutral in the

situation in Latin America coming forward and endorsing Juan Guaido.

And this is very surprising, particularly coming from Canada, from Ecuador.

Were not surprised with both Bolsonaro in Brazil, given that he and the Trump administration

has already declared an affinity with each other in terms of the region.

But what do you make of the support that Juan Guaido is getting from the region?

Well, on the one hand, as Greg was pointing out, there are a lot of conservative governments

out there now in Latin America.

Theres been a big swing to the right.

And you have right wing and far right wing governments, such as in Brazil, that are completely

aligned, really, with the U.S. strategy of regime change in Venezuela.

And so, its a geopolitical context that is very difficult for Venezuela at the moment,

it has very few allies.

But what is surprising to me is to what extent theyre ready to accept such an intense

level of intervention in internal politics.

Because traditionally in Latin America, theres been a very strong reticence to that sort

of thing, coming obviously from the history of U.S. intervention in the region.

And so, theres been actuallyand I think the case of Cuba is sort of emblematic of

that, of how Latin American governments both on the right and the left have been very much

opposed to the U.S. strategy of regime change in Cuba for a very long time.

So its surprising to see them go quite this far in the case of Venezuela, but I think

it has something to do with the fact that Venezuela is not just an outlier in political

terms in the region now, but is a country that.

Represents a real threat to the right regionally, to the extent that if they recover economically,

if oil prices go up again, it can become once again a regional powerhouse as it was under

Chavez, it can have a great deal of influence politically around the region.

And of course, Venezuela was a real leader in the sort of pink tide of left governments

that emerged in the early 2000s, and they were quite strong until 2009, 2010.

And so, I think whats going on in part is a real fear that Venezuela could make a

comeback, so to speak.

At the moment, theyre really crippled economically.

I mean, theyre in a very, very difficult situation that the U.S. has made much more


And no other countries have imposed these sorts of economic sanctions against Venezuela,

but of course, since most of international financial institutions, private and public,

works through the United States, United States sanctions have a tremendous amount of effect.

So anyway, yeah, Im on the one hand, not surprised, on the other hand, to a certain

extent, surprised that they would accept this level of intervention.

Thats a really bad precedent.

And of course, it violates international law, it violates the OAS charter, interfering to

this extent in the internal politics of another country.

All right, Greg.

Now, theres been tremendous internal economic strife on the people of Venezuela for the

last five, almost six years now, and this could lead the people, I mean the discontent

is so great that the people would tend to support any change, even legitimate or not,

but people are suffering.

Now, what can the government do?

I mean, we have to actually face the fact that a lot of this economic strife couldve

been evaded by the government if they had introduced certain economic policies sooner

and addressed the problem more head on.

So if you were advising the government, what would you be saying to them?

Well, theres kind of an issue that we discussed here on another report on The Real News with

Mark Weisbrot, who points out that the current sanctions on Venezuela make it very difficult

to do a course correction, not impossible, but extremely difficult.

And the big problem is that Venezuela, that I think the Maduro government did not implement

a sensible exchange rate policy, so it created a tremendous amount of opportunity for corruption.

And when the political crisis hit, there was a tremendous amount of capital flight, which

created a huge gap between the official exchange rate and the black market exchange rate, and

this led to incredible opportunities for corruption in Venezuela.

And that problem was never really fixed.

The government has tried to various economic reforms, but none of them really went far

enough to actually address this or resolve this fundamental problem.

And so, thats kind of the heart of the economic problem in my opinion and I think

in the opinion of many other economists who have looked at this.

But right now, theyre facing, on top of this economic problem, this political problem,

this geopolitical problem, really, which could lead to an actual civil war like situation.

I think we have to be very clear on this, and thats why I think, regardless of what

you think of what the Maduro government has done economically or politically, it one should

not allow things to come to the situation where a civil war actually begins.

That is, as Alex mentioned, there is this hope on the part of the Trump administration

and of the radical oppositionone should keep in mind that theres also the moderate

opposition that does not pursue this particular course of action and actually has not endorsed

Guaido as the president.

But this radical opposition and the Trump administration are pursuing a course where

theyre hoping for a military uprising that will completely destroy the country would

put everyones lives in danger.

And the U.S. bears all the responsibility for this kind of situation, if it were to

come to pass.

All right, Alex.

Now, the Trump administration seems to be very clear on where they are at.

Where is Congress and Senate, are there members within these bodies that might take a different

position than the Trump administration, and is there any hope that there is dissent in

terms of endorsing Guaido in this way?

And is there anything that Congress can do?

Doesnt some of this actual responsibility for this kind of foreign policy lie on the

part of Congress?

Well, to the extent that the Trump administration is engaging in sort of illegal, illegal under

international law, illegal intervention, the Congress should try to serve as a check to

that and hold the government accountable.

Unfortunately, most of the leadership of Congress, I think, is really just about as bad on Venezuela,

and this is for a variety of reasons.

But I think one of the main ones is that theres no pushback from any sectors.

Certainly, a lot of the Venezuelans that are here in the U.S., the diaspora, are very often

favorable to U.S. intervention.

And its also the impact of Florida politics, where for a very long time, and unfortunately

it continues to remain the case, essentially the very conservative Latino sectors that

we find in South Florida and in other parts of the country, such as a more limited extent

in New Jersey, for instance.

They have an enormous influence on certain members of Congress.

And these members of Congress tend to congregate in the House Foreign Affairs Committee and

the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, where of course, they have a lot more leverage over

U.S. policy in Latin America.

And so, the priority for these sectors has been, traditionally, regime change in Cuba,

but its shifted more and more towards Venezuela, in part because Venezuela is seen, I think

mistakenly, as propping up the Cuban government somehow, but also because again, because of

Venezuelas enormous potential regional influence as an oil power.

So they really have a bullseye on Venezuela and they have had for a very long time, and

theyve played a very big role in shaping policy.

Now, you do have certain progressive sectors that have opposed, really, both Obama and

Trump, on certain policies towards Venezuela, and particularly sanctions, which they quite

rightly identified as harmful to ordinary Venezuelans, but also having a polarizing

effect in Venezuela and on Venezuelan politics, and sort of serving to bolster the more hard

line forces on both sides of the political divide, thereby really undermining efforts

to have dialogue.

And there have been efforts that have been scuttled in the past by hard line sectors,

with support from hardliners such as Senator Marco Rubio, and there are new efforts that

are under way.

And unfortunately, the position that the U.S. is taking, and that of course Brazil has followed

and Canada has followed now, Ecuador as well, risks further polarizing things politically.

Certainly, there is a risk of civil war, particularly if there is a real breach within the armed


And that could occur, and things could get very violent, very ugly and they would have

very detrimental effects, not just for the people of Venezuela, but really regionally

Latin America.

It would certainly have spillover effects.

Greg, what is the responsibility of the military now?

And a lot rests with the military and how they will act.

In the past they have opted for keeping peace and the least amount of violence possible.

Do you think that will be the case?

Well, its very hard to say.

I said in the previous segment that I think it varies, of course, according to rank, where

I think the generals would probably hold with Maduro, but we dont know.

The big unknown is whether the midlevel and lower officers will perhaps organize something

against Maduro.

There are just too many of them, its too difficult to know what everybodys thinking.

And they are also suffering from the economic crisis, and so some of them might be motivated

because of that.

Plus, theyre not benefiting frommany of them actually are benefiting from corruption,

but some of them dont, because they dont have access to those kinds of benefits.

Or others might not care, and say that, “Well, we can make even more money under a corrupt

opposition government, which is definitely a possibility.

So we just dont know whats going to happen to those.

I think thats really the big question.

But the main thing, I think, really is that the opposition really needs to come to its

senses in Venezuela and negotiate with the Maduro government.

The Maduro government has offered to negotiate with the opposition.

As a matter of fact, as I said, theres moderate opposition figures who have offered

to negotiate as well.

And I think the government also needs to make real compromise, I mean in the sense that

it needs to recognize how dangerous the situation is.

I think Maduro should not just blithely believe that everything is going to be fine.

This is a very, very serious situation at the moment, I think, and that means in order

to prevent bloodshed, it means actually conceding something to the opposition.

Thats my opinion.

Because if they dont, we could get into, like Alex and I have said, into a civil war


What does that look like, conceding to the opposition?

Its hard to say.

I mean, it could even involve another presidential election, perhaps.

I mean, something like that, something dramatic.

I know that sounds crazy for some people on the Chavista side to contemplate, but it would

have to be a managed transition, which it would be, I think, if there is an election.

Even if the opposition were to win, it would not mean a total loss of power.

They still have many other institutions.

It would be a managed transition, whereas if the course that the radical opposition

and the course that the Trump administration is seeking is a complete break.

They want to get rid of, wipe Chavismo off the face of the earth, and that would probably

only happen with bloodshed.

And thats why Im saying in order to prevent that, it would mean a compromise that

has to be made by the government.

All right, Alex.

Let me give you the last word.

As far as Washington is concerned, and if there are people in Congress that want to

evade bloodshed and this worsening of the situation in Venezuela, what should happen


Well, more people need to be paying attention in Congress, because like I said, unfortunately,

theyve allowed sort of the radical right wingers with a radical interventionist agenda

in Latin America to have the upper hand in the discussion on Latin America, to really

shape the policy agenda.

So there just needs to be more involvement of progressives.

They should have been more involved earlier, and they have spoken out occasionally.

But really, what were seeing now, there was so much support for the normalization

effort of Obama that came from the bulk of Democrats and even a number of Republicans.

And that was obviously rational, reasonable policy.

And yet, were not seeing that in the case of Venezuela.

People turned a blind eye, they just havent felt any need, any pressure to do so.

But were seeing a real conflagration, a situation that could become a huge problem,

ultimately, for the United States.

You destabilize Venezuela, you end up destabilizing, frankly, a big part of the region, certainly

the Andean region.

And thats something that should be of concern, and members of Congress should want to preempt

what we could really characterize as destabilization tactics that are being employed by the Trump


All right.

We here at The Real News will continue to have this discussion about whats unfolding

in Venezuela and what can be done about it.

I have been speaking with Alex Main, hes the Director of International Policy at the

Center for Economic Policy and Research in Washington, DC.

And Ive been speaking with our Managing Editor here at The Real News Network.

And his book, Changing Venezuela by Taking Power, is to be noted in this situation.

I thank you so much for joining us, both Alex and Greg.


Thank you.

And well continue this discussion tomorrow here on The Real News Network, so do join

us and thank you for joining us.

The Description of The US Strategy for Regime Change in Venezuela