Juán Guiadó's failed military takeover was a charade, but its international supporters have further interests and plans for ousting Maduro's government, reports Orlando Hill
Juán Guiadó, the president of the Venezuelan national assembly and self-proclaimed 'Interim President', is doing his best to develop a reputation of an incompetent clown.
In February, he intended to cross the border leading a convoy of lorries loaded with “much needed” humanitarian aid in the expectation that people would rise up and overthrow the government. They didn’t.
Last Tuesday, 30 April, he paraded a group of 50 soldiers from the National Guard, ‘liberated’ Leopoldo López, the leader of his party Voluntad Popular, who was under house arrest for inciting violence, and marched to the Generalissimo Francisco de Miranda Air Base, popularly known as La Carlota. It was supposed to be the final push in the ‘Operation Liberty’. The expectation this time was that the military would uprise, join the people and overthrow the country’s democratically elected president Nicolás Maduro. Once again, it was a miscalculated flop.
The dissensions in the armed forces were much fewer than calculated. And most (80 per cent according to the defence minister, Vladimir Padrino López) that did join were deceived. According to Army Lieutenant Jairo Betermin, he and his troops received an order late Monday (29) to get their uniforms ready to receive medals and "news that would change our lives."
At about three o'clock in the morning, the troops were ordered to get their rifles and head to the Tocorón Penitentiary, in the state of Arágua, about 150km distant from Caracas. They were told that the prison had been invaded “with a thousand rifles and they were going to release the prisoners to attack the people." When they arrived there, they were ordered to shut the motorway and were told by the National Guard commander Rafael Pablo Soto Manzanares and his brother Major Cequeda that a coup was underway. As soon as Betermin found out, he informed his superiors and was ordered to take his troop back to their base. According to the soldier this was another act of sabotage by the right-wing coup plotters that want to see elements of the military in confrontation with each other.
The masses also decided not to follow Guiadó’s script by staying at home, going to work or heading to Miraflores, the presidential palace, to show support for President Maduro. The leader of the opposition seems to have burned the credibility that he had left, displaying very little social legitimacy. His is a personality inflated from the outside by the US, EU and the UK.
It was neither a military coup nor a social explosion. The announced protagonists - the military and the people - did not show up for the meeting and refused to follow the script which was presented to them.
There was some international support for the coup. The most enthusiastic support came from a tweet by the president of the European Parliament, Antonio Tajani. “Today #30abr, marks a historic moment for the return to democracy and freedom in Venezuela, which the European Parliament has always supported. The release of the Sakharov Prize @leopoldolopez by military personnel to the order of the Constitution is great news. Go Venezuela free!”
The tweeter in high office, Donald Trump, informed his followers on the day that he was “monitoring the situation in Venezuela very closely. The United States stands with the People of Venezuela and their Freedom!” In another tweet he warned that “If Cuban Troops and Militia do not immediately CEASE military and other operations for the purpose of causing death and destruction to the Constitution of Venezuela, a full and complete... embargo, together with highest-level sanctions, will be placed on the island of Cuba. Hopefully, all Cuban soldiers will promptly and peacefully return to their island!” The US government still say that all cards remain on the table, including military intervention.
Cuba’s president, Miguel Díaz-Canel, responded to the threat by reaffirming that there “are no Cuban military operations or troops in Venezuela. We call upon the international community to stop dangerous and aggressive escalation and to preserve peace. No more lies.”
In a previous tweet Díaz-Canel delcared Cuba’s solidarity to “the legitimate government of #Venezuela that is calmly and courageously facing the new coup attempt by the pro-imperialist right with the complicity of the #US and lackey governments of the region.”
A direct military intervention by the US seems unlikely. Trump’s administration is aware firstly that Congress will hardly authorise a military adventure that can cause many American victims especially so close to an election, and secondly that the Colombian and Brazilian military oppose an armed aggression against Venezuela. In Brazil the head of the Office of Institutional Security (GSI), General Augusto Heleno, stated that Guaidó is weak militarily and that Brazil does not intend to intervene in the neighbouring country. According to him, "there is the constitutional precept which Brazil will maintain, not to interfere in the internal affairs of friendly countries. They know we will not intervene militarily."
Instead Trump’s supporters seem inclined to partially finance a mercenary army. Erik Prince, founder of the private security firm Blackwater, in his campaign to privatise warfare has developed a plan to deploy 4,000 to 5,000 mercenaries from Colombia and other Latin American nations to conduct combat and stabilisation operations. One of the key arguments in Prince’s plan is that the opposition needs a “dynamic event” that breaks the stalemate that has existed since Guiadó declared himself interim president in January.
Prince is seeking $40 million from Trump supporters and Venezuelan millionaire exiles. He also plans to get billions of dollars from frozen Venezuelan assets around the world. Among these assets is the $1.2 billion worth of gold which the Bank of England has refused to hand over to Maduro. The Bank’s decision was reached after US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo and National Security Adviser John Bolton lobbied the UK government to help cut off the regime from its overseas assets. It is not clear how the Venezuelan opposition could legally get hold of these assets, but as Guiadó has been recognised as the interim president by countries led by the US, along with the UK and the EU, it could be argued that he has the authority to form his own military force.
When told of the plan by Reuters, US and Venezuelan security experts described it as “politically far-fetched and potentially dangerous because it could set off a civil war.” However, some in the Venezuelan opposition despite understanding the danger of such a plan said that private contractors might prove useful “in the event Maduro’s government collapses, by providing security for a new administration in the aftermath.”
Public support not extinguished
Edson Bagnara, who is in Venezuela reporting back for the Brazilian Worker’s Landless Movement (MST), claims that the coup plotters, backed by the United States, will not give up because the US remain interested in Venezuela's oil, natural gas, gold and water reserves. "The United States will not give up their plan to try to take over the Venezuelan state. I believe that the revolutionary forces and the Armed Forces, with the exception of one or another small group, will not rise up the government, and the government continues to have the hegemony."
The Brazilian Workers’ Party (PT) announced its solidarity to Venezuela, condemning the coup attempt. In their opinion, Guiadó and his followers' failure to overthrow the government is a clear demonstration of the popular support the government has “after years of policies aimed at the well-being of the population and contrary to imperialist and local elites.” The statement goes on to point out that the solution to Venezuela’s problems “is to lift the international economic embargo of which the country, and especially its population, are victims.”
Gilberto Maringoni, member of the Brazilian Socialism and Liberty Party (PSOL), thinks that Maduro seized the opportunity to once again show strength:
“The situation is still very poor in the economy, but the purchase of millions of basic food baskets abroad and the fact that Iranian and Russian products line the supermarket gondolas soothe the most pressing demands. But the economic blockade and the internal structural problems do not guarantee salary, employment and income to the population. The government, however, was able to postpone once again the sharpest point of the crisis.”
In his opinion, if Maduro is smart, “he will not arrest Guiadó. Instead of a martyr, it may be better to keep him as a master of ceremony for an ever smaller audience.”
Just a rehearsal?
There is another hypothesis that the attempted coup was a rehearsal of a simulated scenario, a means of gathering information. It happened in Chile. On 29 June 1973, about two months before the overthrow of President Allende there was an attempted military coup, which became known as El Tanquetazo. It was easily and quickly dismantled by officers loyal to Allende. Among the loyal officers was the army commander General Augusto Pinochet.
Stopping another right-wing attempt to overthrow the government will involve Maduro taking real and radical measures to combat hyperinflation and shortages, giving people more to defend. The history of Latin America has shown that it is not enough to put your faith in the armed forces.
Orlando was born in Brazil and was involved in the successful struggle for democracy in the late 1970s and 80s in that country. He teaches A level Economics. He is a member of the NEU, Counterfire and Stop the War.
More articles from this author
- Fighting racism with solidarity
- Paulo Freire, a Philosophical Biography - book review
- Can Heterodox Economics Make a Difference? Conversations with Key Thinkers - book review
- Protesting against pollution: don’t incinerate our climate
- Venezuela, the Present as Struggle: Voices from the Bolivarian Revolution - book review
- Changing the narrative on Palestine: The Big Ride 2021 – photo essay
- Monopsony Capitalism: Power and Production in the Twilight of the Sweatshop Age - book review