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Maduro's fight for survival

Opinion
Bid to tamper with the Constitution seen as circumvention of democracy that invites regime change in Venezuela, writes Shannon Ebrahim.

Unfortunately, blueprints for regime change against left-wing governments cannot be relegated to mere conspiracy theory. Venezuela is a current case in point. Thanks to declassified secret documents and WikiLeaks, we now know that for years the US has been funding NGOs operating in Venezuela which have been pursuing a regime-change agenda against the democratically elected governments of Hugo Chavez, and now Nicholas Maduro.

The blueprint for regime change in Venezuela has had a long genesis.

Documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act in the US in 2002 showed that the National Endowment for Democracy allocated $2million during the six months before the 2002 coup to finance political parties and NGOs involved in the coup.

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Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro File picture: Enrique de la Osa/Reuters

The coup failed, but the government became all the wiser to the hidden hand operating behind the scenes to unseat it.

WikiLeaks then revealed that between 2004 and 2006, USAid provided $15m in funding to about 300 Venezuelan NGOs.

In 2005, a now declassified report written by former US ambassador William Brownfield stated that the International Republican Institute and the National Democratic Institute were working with the Venezuelan opposition to establish, finance and select candidates for legislative elections. The US continues to fund anti-government groups in Venezuela to the tune of at least $2m annually.

By 2015 the US didn’t even try to hide its attempts to manipulate political developments in Venezuela. In that year, Barack Obama authorised $5.5m to support anti-government groups in Venezuela.

In the same year he issued a decree that “Venezuela is an unusual and extraordinary threat to the security of the US”.

The concern in Venezuela and across Latin America was that Obama’s decree seemed to leave open the potential for foreign intervention.

Foreign intervention has taken various forms in the ensuing years, all with the purpose of destabilising the country and orchestrating what is commonly referred to as a soft coup. NGOs have been accused of training paramilitary militia.

Anti-government protesters are now seen carrying sophisticated weaponry and gas masks. Contrary to reports in the media (which is largely against the Maduro government), anti-government protesters have been far from peaceful. They have set off street explosions, killed police, attacked public services and transport, burnt ambulances, destroyed educational infrastructure and attacked journalists working for the state broadcaster.

The opposition has been vociferous in its intention to topple Maduro, and last year declared that in six months it would topple the government through various unconstitutional ways. Another weapon in its collective arsenal has been economic war - taking measures to contribute to high rates of inflation, and shortages of food and personal hygiene products.

But it has to be accepted that Maduro’s own economic policies have also contributed to the high inflation rate (now at 700%) and shortages of basic goods. The fact that Venezuela went through a drought last year which affected its hydroelectric power generation only made matters worse. Sanctions imposed on the country have also affected the economy negatively.

By pushing Venezuela to the point of a humanitarian crisis, General Kurt Tidd, chief of the Southern Command of the US, was able to put forward the argument that “the growing humanitarian crisis in Venezuela could end up demanding a response at regional level”.

At the same time the US has been working through its ally Luis Almagro, the secretary-general of the Organisation of American States (OAS), to push for a regional intervention in Venezuela.

To date, Almagro has been unable to get the necessary majority within the OAS to authorise a regional intervention. It seems the US is trying to use the OAS to destabilise Venezuela, much the same way it did to Cuba in the 1960s. Venezuela now says it is withdrawing from the OAS.

The onslaught by opposition and outside forces against his government has led Maduro to take extreme measures.

On May Day he announced that he was invoking his presidential powers to call for the formation of a constituent assembly to rewrite the constitution.

The 500-member assembly will exclude political parties, but include representatives of social movements and unions, forming what Maduro calls a working-class base.

The problem with this move is that Maduro is tampering with a constitution drawn up by a constituent assembly under Chavez, which enjoyed widespread support.

Now he is being accused of circumventing democracy, and few will accept his argument that such a move is necessary to block what his government calls a soft coup. With streets blocked, mass demonstrations and violence taking place this week, it seems pro and anti-government forces are on a collision course.

The blueprint for regime change may succeed, as the government has been forced into a corner and is now digging a hole for itself that it may not be able to climb out of.

* Shannon Ebrahim is Independent Media's foreign editor.

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