By Arnold August
After the publication of Dan Kovalik’s four books since 2017 (The Plot to Scapegoat Russia, The Plot to Attack Iran, The Plot to Control the World and now The Plot to Overthrow Venezuela), I am finally honoring my promise to him to write a review, made at the time his first book was published two years ago. However, the review is of this fourth text, which just arrived last week. Although one could say “better late than never,” in this case, being “late” is actually a great advantage, as what is happening in Venezuela is, at this time, perhaps the single most important international issue.
It is no accident that commentators from Venezuela, Cuba, the rest of Latin America, the US itself and elsewhere are evaluating the Venezuelan experience as currently (and to differing degrees) occupying the epicentre of anti-imperialism or even the epicentre of the anti-imperialist left. The latter assessment is of great significance. Unlike Russia and Iran as the subjects of two of the three previous publications, the component of a new ideology – and the Venezuelan example with which we can identify – highlights the enormous international significance of this Latin American country for this entire hemisphere and beyond. A better world is indeed possible. This is not to underestimate or denigrate in any manner Iran, whose revolution I fully support, or Russia as a key player in support of a multi-polar world, one of whose key ingredients today is undoubtedly proud support for the Bolivarian Revolution and President Maduro. Irrespective of what one may think of these evaluations of Venezuela as the new epicentre, this country remains the focus of debate and discussion regarding international relations and, in particular, US policy toward the entire world.
In a gesture that Kovalik fully deserves, award-winning filmmaker and renowned author Oliver Stone wrote the foreword to the book. In it, he sets the tone for one of the main themes of the book and concerns in the US and internationally with regard to the US – and that is foreign policy, in general and including toward Venezuela. For example, Stone writes that “many Americans who should know better including many liberals and self-proclaimed ‘leftists,’ find themselves rooting against them and for the Empire and its culture of death.” Further, Stone indicates that “incredibly, many who claim to be in the ‘resistance’ against these thugs believe that somehow they can and will pull off a ‘humanitarian intervention in that country.’”
In the face of this almost unprecedented media campaign of lies, which has managed to capture the minds of people who are supposed to be immune to this, Kovalik steps up to the plate. This book is a page-turner. The author attracts the reader in time (a series of reader-friendly, sweeping, factual and historical surveys) and in space (Venezuela as part of Latin America and beyond as victims of US foreign policy toward the world, especially since World War II).
These dynamic and simultaneous surveys of both the historical background and current geopolitical conflicts are coupled in a talented and innovative manner that makes Kovalik’s vast fieldwork experiences from Venezuela and elsewhere modestly but movingly come to life throughout the book. While the reader is absorbed in the overall analysis, from time to time – and when it is most necessary – the lively human experiences that he has accumulated over the years seem to naturally blossom in the book to flesh out the investigation, providing innumerable treats for readers. Despite this, Kovalik is careful to make sure that the experiences are not about him but rather about the people interviewed: they are the protagonists in this book. Without exaggerating, the journey through the pages transports readers to the time and place under discussion as if it were a Google map zooming in on its subject from afar.
In addition, the author has crafted an original manner to completely and comprehensively refute US disinformation by turning American foreign policy against itself. For example, after fully demolishing the rejection by the US that the Venezuelan electrical power grid breakdown was not caused by the US but rather by Venezuelan mismanagement, the author provides the example of Puerto Rico. Its power grid is notorious for its dilapidated condition caused by the complete lack of concern and funds from Washington. The author comments, perhaps somewhat with tongue in cheek, “No one has ever claimed that this reality presents a legitimate reason for regime change, either in San Juan or in Washington.” Some may ask, is this an exaggerated comparison? I personally do not think so. What is the purpose of writing a book about Venezuela if it does not provocatively challenge the smug and arrogant US-centric thinking of the American elite toward other countries, such as Venezuela? These mainstream ideas and values have to be shaken up: the future of humankind depends on it.
Here is another of the many examples of the author’s approach to daring to challenge mainstream thinking. In confronting “humanitarian aid” as a pretext for the US to interfere in Venezuela, Kovalik surprises us with the example of Hurricane Katrina. Well done! We recall that while the US completely mismanaged the effects of Katrina, both Cuba and Venezuela offered important humanitarian aid (e.g. doctors and medicine) to the Katrina-affected area and its residents. The US refused the offer. Let that sink in. However, Kovalik calls the bluff: “Neither Castro nor Chávez threatened to storm the gates of the US to deliver the much-needed aid, and the press corps did not treat the US’s refusal as some high crime.”
Given the title of the book and its focus on oil, one might get the impression that the author does not deal with the issue of Chavismo as a very significant – and growing – ideo-political trend in Latin America. In fact, I had that misgiving – that is, before delving into the book. I discovered, as others surely will, nothing is further from the truth. In Chapters 3 and 4, both dealing with the background to the current situation, the reader is lured into the very heart of Chavismo. Yet, there is not even the slightest hint of the author’s ideological orientation, which I am not aware of. Rather, the facts and important anecdotes from direct experience, based on extensive and frequent visits to Venezuela, speak for themselves. Readers are left to reach their own conclusions about the basic features of this ideology as many people (individually and collectively) are exploring alternatives to the capitalist and aggressive imperialist status quo.
In Chapter 3, “1989 – The Year of Historic Massacres You’ve Never Heard Of,” the author makes sure that readers are fully aware of the historical significance of what happened that year. Never heard about it? Anecdotally, Kovalik reports that his spell-checker software recognizes the term Tiananmen but not Caracazo. (Neither does mine, I just checked!) The US has its favourite historical events to serve its own purposes, Caracazo was – and is not – such an event. After all, it was “just” a massive popular uprising against US-imposed neo-liberal policies that was crushed while hundreds, if not thousands, were killed. Yet, as he brings us through that event, like many others in the book, we are treated to such gems as the following from the testimony of a former Catholic priest from the US who has lived in Venezuela for several years: regarding Chavez as a common soldier at the time of the 1989 uprising, the priest mused, “He [Chavez] probably wondered why soldiers kill hungry people for stealing spaghetti.”
Is this simply an anecdote or is it a vivid insight into what Chavismo is all about? Further, in line with the publication’s innovative feature, it also deals with Caracazo in terms of time and space. Are there other essentially American massacres that we have not heard about? Try this one on for size: Panama, December 1989, during the US invasion. Did you know that US soldiers killed more people then than were killed on 9/11? The double standard on massacres and killings is also illustrated in the context of the US foreign policy to assassinate progressive religious leaders and activists. In 1984, as Chomsky points out, one priest was killed in Poland – and that generated a good deal of coverage compared with the virtual news blackout regarding 72 religious people who were killed throughout Latin America between 1964 and 1978 by US-sponsored regimes.
In Chapter 4, “The Bolivarian Revolution,” and in this context, the rise of Chávez and the accompanying features of this revolution with its economic policy, its particular political options of democracy and race, and other issues, begin to merge with the issue of oil. A new period was ushered in with regard to the never-ending tug-of-war between the use of this resource for the benefit of the Venezuelan people versus its control by the US and its allies.
Kovalik quotes many of the thought-provoking sources on the evolution of Venezuela under Chávez’s leadership, in this case indicating that derisive references to “squalid ones” for the first time in the country’s history became the object of the government’s attention. At the heart of this orientation, we see the political idea that the Bolivarian Revolution is a revolution of the poor for the poor in conflict with a wealthy few who governed Venezuela with US support. To bear this out, data and analysis are deftly merged with on-the-ground experience and interactions that the author accumulated in Venezuela over the years. While it not the only book on Venezuela to highlight a similar approach since Chávez came to power in 1989–1990, this one deserves special attention. It is the first to come off the press, as far as I know, that deals with the aftermath of the coup attempt on January 23, 2019.
In the context of this current period when “fraudulent elections” just rolls off the tongues of the US and its apologists, the readers have at their fingertips the famous evaluation of Venezuela’s electoral system by someone who is neither a communist nor a revolutionary but rather former President Jimmy Carter. On the elections that he monitored, he states, “I would say the election process in Venezuela is the best in the world.” This same refrain is repeated continuously by the open mainstream media and, as Oliver Stone warns as he comes out of the gate, by some “leftists.” In this regard, Kovalik’s book will be a handy reference to have on your bookshelf and could come with a guarantee to not collect dust.
Racial equality as an integral part of the Bolivarian Revolution is dealt with frankly, in a way that I have yet to see in another publication. Of course, Kovalik has the advantage of writing in the post-January 23, 2019 coup context. The astute observer, not restricted by superficial American puritanical morality and political correctness, would notice on TV that the current conflict is largely white (the US and its puppet) versus coloured. Like many of us, the author, in a modest way true to his personality, confesses as a result of observing the April 11, 2013 elections:
“I witnessed a campaign rally for Maduro, and what occurred to me was that nearly everyone I saw at the rally was black. That is, they were of African descent. I had not thought much of about the racial composition of and divisions within Venezuela, but this cannot be overlooked when thinking of that country and of the Bolivarian Revolution.”
We learn that Venezuela is in fact 70% Mestizo, that is, a nation composed of people with mixed blood from Indian and African descent. On the other hand, we read that at the 2019 Guaidó opposition rallies, the crowds are almost entirely white.
Furthermore, as Kovalik points out once again in time and space, the US has always held a strong prejudice against blacks, not only in the US but also south of the border, providing an example of the historic resentment that the US bears against Haiti for its attempt to establish the first black republic in that part of the world. He also does not miss the occasion to point out that the US, whose political system thrives on “identity politics,” conveniently turns a blind eye to the glaring identity politics being played out in Venezuela.
Even though the dismal human rights and economic situation in Colombia is quite well known, Chapter 5 is entirely devoted to comparing Venezuela and its achievements from the Bolivarian Revolution with Colombia. He brings to light some features we did not necessarily think about or know, thanks in large part once again to the author’s fieldwork in that country, which is one of the main US allies in the drive for regime change in Venezuela. Thus, this chapter, far from being redundant, is on the contrary a most valuable addition as a source to argue against Colombia in its ongoing attempt on behalf of the US to violently overthrow the Maduro government. We see the desire to reach this objective continues today and will probably do so into the future.
In Chapter 6, Washington’s cynical recipe for a regime change is described as “‘Make the Economy Scream,’ Add Chaos and Stir” and is being applied to Venezuela at this time. However, this deadly foreign policy is well entrenched in Washington. The author takes us through the historical experiences in Cuba, Nicaragua, Iran, Brazil (the original imposition of the Brazilian dictatorship, not the more current one through the soft power of the Obama Administration’s approach, which is dealt with later) and Chile. This chapter proves to be a useful tool in the hands of those who are driven to oppose US interference, bullying and aggression on a global scale, with Venezuela being the most recent and perhaps most dramatic example of this policy.
One of the most important achievements of the Bolivarian Revolution consisted of forging international allies in political terms as well the extension of the benefits from oil extraction and its revenues to other countries in the region. Based on this common overall political outlook of independence and sovereignty versus the US’s insatiable goal of world domination, new Latin American and Caribbean regional blocks have been formed. This groundbreaking shift in the political landscape, of course, was not to the liking of Washington. Could it be only when the Republicans are in power?
No! Thus, conveniently for those who may be sincerely confused but are thirsting for some truth, readers are confronted with Chapter 8, titled “The US Takes Down Venezuela’s Allies One at a Time.” Take up the challenge. This chapter itself is worth its weight in gold today, because, as the world watches the current US presidential campaign, especially the Democratic Party candidates vying for power, there seems to be a certain amount of confusion and any number of illusions and misconceptions. This outlook regards the different Democratic Party candidates, especially those who are presented as the left wing of the Democratic Party or self-proclaimed “democratic socialists,” keeping in mind if one accepts (I do not) that it is possible to have a left wing of this party even though it has always been devoted to war and aggression in Latin America and the world.
Thus, this chapter deals with – “one at a time” – the coup in impoverished Haiti, whose crime was to have access to Venezuela’s oil, the 2009 Honduras coup (significant as, at the time these words are being written, the entire hemisphere is grappling with the 10th anniversary of the Obama/Biden/Clinton coup in Honduras), attempts in Nicaragua and, lastly, Brazil (where the plot – and a plot it was indeed – to overthrow Lula and Dilma has been revealed since the publication of the book to have been anchored in the Obama mandate, thus making the chapter even more relevant today).
While it is a known fact that the objective of the US in Venezuela is indeed oil (Kovalik himself quotes John Bolton, who indicates very clearly that the objective is oil), it is most valuable to have at one’s fingertips all the facts indicating that a war – war, not just some hypothetical future military intervention that has been clutched upon as a pretext to avoid taking a stand against the current war in the name of “humanitarian aid” – is being waged to capture that resource, as Chapter 9 illustrates through its appropriate title “The War for Venezuela’s Oil Intensifies.” While many liberals in the north clutch their pearls in horror in the face of a potential US direct military intervention, as it would in fact be abominable, they seem to be immune or they gloss over the fact that there is a war going on now against Venezuela. Of course, the uncomfortable fact is that the most recent offensive against Venezuela to capture the oil and to smash Chavismo was actually initiated by the Obama Administration.
The chapter details the manipulation of oil prices by the US and its allies, such as Saudi Arabia, back in 2014 (during the first Obama mandate). It was intended as leverage, mainly against US competition from Iran and Russia. However, we read that hardest hit was Venezuela.
Moreover, “if this were not enough, President Obama, smelling blood in proverbial water then began imposing sanctions against Venezuela in 2015.” What was the pretext? Kovalik does not miss the opportunity to indicate the parallel between Trump’s pretext for building the wall along the Mexican border and Obama’s excuse back in March 2015 (three months after the “thaw” with Venezuela’s ally Cuba) to go for the Venezuelan jugular, that is, declaring “an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States posed by the situation in Venezuela.” Not only has the Obama approach mirrored Ronald Reagan’s 1985 declared pretext for war against Nicaragua, Obama’s plans for Venezuela “have only been accelerated by the presidency of Donald Trump.”
Along with the “humanitarian crisis,” the so-called “fraudulent elections” in May 2018 confirming Maduro as president constitute two of the major pieces of disinformation that the US has been fabricating as a pretext for foreign interference in Venezuela. Thus, the treatment of the presidential elections is described by Kovalik as part of the economic warfare against Bolivarian Venezuela: threatening Venezuela with more economic sanctions and even military intervention if they did not vote “the right way.” Kovalik, who together with many others from US and Canada as well as Europe and elsewhere who witnessed the elections, provides us the details of how the US tried to influence elections and came up with a fait accompli that they were fraudulent. It is very disconcerting to be confronted with some people on the left, “progressives” and so on, profusely quoted and provided space in the mainstream media, that they buy into the US narrative regarding the elections rather than the testimony of their own fellow citizens from these countries that had participated as observers in May 2018. However, this is what we are up against and, as such, the text is a must-read for anyone interested in Venezuela.
Chapter 10 is devoted to Trump’s special envoy to Venezuela, Elliot Abrams. Taking just one of many examples that highlight the nature of US policy toward Venezuela, “as assistant secretary of state for human rights, Abrams sought to ensure that general Efraín Ríos Montt, Guatemala’s then-dictator, could carry out ‘acts of genocide’ – those are the legally binding words of Guatemala’s United Nations-backed Commission for Historical Clarification – against the indigenous people in the Ixil region of the department of Quiché, without any pesky interference from human rights organizations, much less the US government.” This is just one of many examples that are highlighted in this chapter. Thus, it does not come as a surprise; in fact, it is a very welcome commentary with which the author closes the chapter by asking “and now, we are to believe that Abrams has come to bring democracy and human rights to Venezuela. Of all the lies being told about US designs upon and operations against Venezuela, this may very well be the biggest and wildest.”
Nevertheless, there is still widespread bipartisan support for US policy based on “humanitarian aid” for Venezuela in Congress and, of course, in the mainstream media, especially CNN, at which Kovalik correctly points an accusing finger. This constitutes yet another reason that this book is not only a must-read, but that it should also be actively promoted in the US along with the other left-wing journalistic, independent endeavours, which are indeed generously quoted from one end of the book to the other, as Kovalik does not consider himself to be the only writer battling disinformation on Venezuela.
Speaking about left-wing or socialist alternatives, the last chapter analyzes how the Trump regime change policy is exacerbating the crisis in Venezuela and its relation to the American political landscape. It deals with how the US, as is its custom, often points to foreign devils in order to divert attention from its own domestic economic and political situation. The only quibble that I have with the publication is when the author indicates that the offensive against Venezuela is taking place in the context of a situation when “Americans are beginning to seriously talk about socialism.” The reference appears to be the Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC) wing of the Democratic Party. However, far from fostering serious discussion about real socialism, these figures and their narrative serve the traditional role of the Democratic Party as the safeguard and shield against any revolutionary movement in the US. To put it more bluntly, as many US observers have charged, the Democratic Party is the gravedigger of any movement from the left or for socialism that dares to break out of the box of the two-party system.
If one reviews the last Democratic Party debate on TV in which Sanders participated, the transcript shows that Venezuela was not raised by any of the candidates nor by the hosts. It indicates the watertight grip that the elite have on the Venezuela narrative. It must, however, be admitted that foreign policy was not officially on the debate agenda.
Nevertheless, when one foreign country – Honduras – did come up, Sanders said the following in response to a comment by Joe Biden: “Picking up on the point that Joe made, we got a look at the root causes. And you have a situation where Honduras, among other things is a failing state, massive corruption…” CounterPunch editor and journalist Jeffrey St. Clair pointed out in a tweet, “Bernie called Honduras a ‘failing state’ without turning to Biden and saying ‘failing because of the coup your administration abetted.’” In addition, when Sanders was cornered by a journalist after the debate and queried on Venezuela, he dutifully proclaimed that, if elected, he will do everything he can to ensure “free and fair elections” in Venezuela against the Maduro “authoritarian” regime. What a progressive foreign affairs electoral plank! Sound familiar? There is a “humanitarian crisis” (as Sanders parroted on many occasions) in Venezuela and the US must come to the rescue. The defenders of this trend, either by blind conviction or lack of information, provide other examples of supposed opposition to wars or interference in the past and/or obvious real humanitarian crises, such as Yemen, to counter any criticism. However, more often than not, it amounts to “anti-war nostalgia” from the bygone days whereby it is now fashionable – from hindsight when all has since been exposed – to point out how wrong it was for the US to carry out its operations. Sorry, folks, but today the litmus test is Venezuela.
Thus, my only criticism is that by providing some credibility to the advocates of this so-called socialism, it negates the very real alternative to the status quo in the US offered by writers and journalists such as Kovalik himself, and the hundreds of other such activists and intellectuals quoted so justly throughout the book. In reading through the book, I was impressed but not surprised (being familiar with Kovalik’s work) that he proudly refers to the whole spectrum of the progressive American left, activists, writers as well as journalists.
As I was putting the finishing touches on the last part of the book review (and I hope that there will be other reviews from other writers) and struggling with the “norm” of writing a critical review and not only praise, I was stymied. I did not want to overdo it. It was the author himself who came to the rescue. I just came across the July 1 op-ed in the Boston Globe penned by Stone and Kovalik: “We must stop our nation’s push for relentless war.” In it, they appeal to Democratic Party presidential candidate Tulsi Gabbard, and not the so-called left or socialists, who will find no room to syphon any credibility.
This is what Congressperson Gabbard has previously said about Venezuela:
“The United States needs to stay out of Venezuela. Let the Venezuelan people determine their future. We don’t want other countries to choose our leaders. So, we have to stop trying to choose theirs.”
Note that Gabbard is not a socialist or even left-wing. Her claim to fame, as a former military member serving overseas, is to now take a stand in general against US interference and war. Admittedly, though, there is currently some controversy in social media as to whether or not one should give Gabbard a pass as an anti-war candidate. Ultimately, she volunteered for Iraq in 2004 after the Falluja massacre and the phony pretext for the war had been exposed and had become part of the public domain. Nonetheless, one must consider whether people can honestly and sincerely evolve. She more than makes up for her past, as she is not neutral on Venezuela, unlike the “socialist” wing of the Democratic Party. The latter’s silence on the issue is testimony to the cowardly “neutrality” that is disrupted from time to time by journalists (such as the one cited above questioning Sanders after the presidential debate), when the real nature of this centrism bears its ugly head: copy and paste of the Trump policy.
Now, if the left of the Democratic Party is nudged to take a stand like Gabbard, either as a result of the book’s circulation and other such endeavours on the journalistic or social media front, so be it. In any case, the book’s conclusion holds true: “None of us can stay neutral on this issue.”