Canada’s Anti-Venezuela Policy: A Result of Material Interests and US Subordination

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May 22, 2019

Canada has followed the Trump administration’s lead on Venezuela, but it’s charting a very different path with regard to Cuba. Yves Engler explains that while there are material reasons for the difference, Canada has followed the U.S. lead for a long time.

Story Transcript

GREG WILPERT It’s The Real News Network and I’m Greg Wilpert in Baltimore. Canada is ratcheting up its effort to help oust Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro. Just last week, Canada’s Foreign Minister, Chrystia Freeland, returned from a trip to Cuba where she lobbied Cuban officials to withdraw, or at least reduce, their support for the Maduro government. Before that, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had meetings or phone conversations with Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, European Council President Donald Tusk, and Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez— all on the same of topic on Venezuela. Here’s what Chrystia Freeland had to say on Venezuela shortly before she left to Cuba last week.

CHRYSTIA FREELAND The Maduro regime’s chronic economic mismanagement has squandered Venezuela’s enormous potential for prosperity, but we remain hopeful that under a freely-elected government representing the best interests of Venezuela’s people, prosperity can be restored. Canada is very proud to work with our hemispheric partners to find an urgent and sustainable solution to the crisis and we will continue to seek new ways together to support the people of Venezuela.

GREG WILPERT Why is the liberal government of Justin Trudeau so interested in ousting Maduro? Is it because Trudeau and Freeland are genuinely concerned about the situation in Venezuela? Joining me now to discuss this issue is Yves Engler. Yves is a Canadian commentator and author of several books. His most recent one is Left, Right: Marching to the Beat of Imperial Canada. Thanks again for joining us, Yves.

YVES ENGLER Thanks for having me.

GREG WILPERT So, I have already mentioned a couple of the lobbying efforts that Freeland and Trudeau have been engaged in with regard to Venezuela. As far as we know, what are they hoping to achieve from these discussions about Venezuela with Cuba, Spain, the EU, and Japan, and are there any indications that they might be succeeding?

YVES ENGLER Well, I think they are trying to rally support for Juan Guaido, for the head of the National Assembly who is self-appointed president. Trudeau also had a phone conversation with Juan Guaido last week. I think they have had some success in the diplomatic arena in terms of convincing other countries to join this effort to try to undermine Maduro’s government. I think, for some countries from the standpoint of the Trump administration, its better if the phone call is coming from Justin Trudeau than if it’s coming from Donald Trump, so I think that Canada to some extent puts a little bit of a nicer face on this campaign to undermine the Venezuelan government, to undermine the Maduro government. Obviously, with regards to Venezuela specifically, they aren’t having success. They have attempted to overthrow this government in quite an open and aggressive way for the past four months and that has not transpired, but they have been able to deepen the economic problems in the country.

Canada brought in another round of sanctions against the fourth round of sanctions over the past two years in mid-April, sanctioning, I think, another 43 Venezuelan officials. So, they have been able to build this international coalition of dozens of countries that are trying to isolate the Maduro government. Canada’s been right at the center of that and Freedland has been incredibly active in that campaign, but obviously, the main objective has been a failure. With regards to Cuba specifically, it’s obviously also been a failure. Cuba is still very much aligned with the Maduro government, despite this pressure, which I should also mention included a phone call from Trudeau representing the Lima Group of governments opposed to the Maduro government in the hemisphere, where Trudeau contacted the Cuban President to present the Lima Group’s position to try to break off Cuba from Venezuela. So, no, I don’t think it’s been successful in its big objectives, but it has been, I think, successful in developing an international coalition.

GREG WILPERT Now, what else has Freeland been doing with regard to Venezuela? Tell us about her actions with regard to the April 30th coup attempt, when self-declared interim President Juan Guaido called on the military to rise up against Maduro and claim that segments of the military had joined him. What was Canada’s reaction?

YVES ENGLER Well immediately, Freeland was tweeting in favor, you know, in support of basically any violence that transpired. By definition, it was the responsibility of the Maduro government, even though it was an open military coup attempt. She put out a video of her, sort of, speaking to the Venezuelan people to try to rally them to support these efforts. She immediately called for an emergency phone call meeting of the Lima Group, which put out—Again, of countries that are hostile to the Venezuelan government’s throughout atmosphere, which that meeting put out a statement, again, critical of the Maduro government. Then, they had an emergency meeting of the Lima Group in person, which Freeland traveled to Chile, where I believe it was held. It’s very—I mean, it’s this very active campaigning of diplomatic interventions.

Canada—There’s another element that gets little attention, but Canada continues to give out this human rights prize, which they did at the end of April. They’ve been doing this for 10 years now to Venezuelan groups. They gave this prize, again, to another group that’s a bit hostile to the Maduro government. There’s a long line of these human rights crises that the Canadian embassy in Caracas has been giving out and it’s about building up oppositional forces. These groups then get to tour Canada and they get a certain amount of money to go on this tour. I believe they also do some form of tour within Venezuela and it generally leads to a certain amount of media attention. So, it’s really this continued pressure campaign.

GREG WILPERT You know, as you’re pointing out, there is a very big dichotomy that on the one hand Canada is not completely in the Trump administration’s corner when it comes to Venezuela, but on Cuba, they’re steering a, kind of, contradictory direction. That is, historically there is this connection between Cuba and Canada. Now, apparently, they’re being pushed also too harshen their tone towards Cuba in order to put pressure on Venezuela, but I’m wondering what’s at the bottom of this? That is, why is it that Canada is so interested and willing to play along with regard to Venezuela when clearly it doesn’t want to play the same game with regard to Cuba, precisely because of these long historic relations, all of the investments that Canada has in Cuba, and the companies that could be affected now by these harshened sanctions that allow citizens, that allow people basically, to sue Canadian companies in US courts if they benefited from the expropriations after the Cuban Revolution? So, why do you think there is so much alignment on Venezuela, but not with regard to Cuba?

YVES ENGLER Yeah. I mean, I think part of the thing with regards to Venezuela is clearly just the liberal governments supporting Washington and its aggressive campaign, but part of it is also the fact that there is a major segment of Canadian corporations that have been hostile to the Bolivarian Revolution going back to the late 90s, early 2000s, and that’s been expressed in many forms. The main segment of corporate Canada—There’s Canadian banks that have, there’s many stories of Canadian banks that have not been happy with the Chavez government and the Maduro government. Petro-Canada had some of its operations nationalized in 2007, but the main segment is the mining sector. There’s a number of major Canadian mining companies that have had multibillion dollar, $1.3 billion, I think one, and $1.2 billion court decisions that they won against the Venezuelan government for having their gold concessions. Crystallex and Rusoro had their gold concessions challenged by the Chavez government back in the early mid-2000s. And more broadly, Canadian mining dominates the hemisphere and the Canadian mining sector has tens and tens of billions of dollars invested in Ecuador, in Peru, in Mexico, and any moves towards more nationalistic resource policies, are a threat to Canadian mining companies in Venezuela.

So, I think that the Freeland government is following Washington on Venezuela, but there’s also a major segment of corporate Canada that’s hostile to the transformations in Venezuela. But I think also when we look at the Cuba question, sometimes I think there’s been an exaggeration of how much Canada has been sympathetic to the Cuban Revolution. In fact, if you actually go back to the fact that Canada and Mexico, I think, were the only two countries in the hemisphere that didn’t break off diplomatic relations with Cuba after the revolution. We have the internal files from this period that show that the Diefenbaker government in Canada actually was pressured by the Americans not to break off diplomatic relations. They didn’t want to break off diplomatic relations because they wanted Canada to continue to spy for the US on Cuba. That transpired and we have internal government documents that show that the Communications Security Establishment, which is essentially Canada’s version of the NSA, had major spying operations from the Canadian embassy in Havana. Canada was even spying on Cuba from other countries in the hemisphere. So Canada, during the Cuban Missile Crisis, Americans said that some of the best intelligence they got actually came from Canadian diplomats.

Canada has always had a little bit of two faces to its policy vis-a-vis Cuba. Yes, Canada has continued diplomatic relations. Yes, there has been Canadian business relations. Though, after the Cuban Revolution, Canadian banks were nationalized, they were compensated, unlike many American companies. I think that there’s also a history of Canada aligning against Cuba in Nicaragua, claiming that the Sandinistas in the 1980s, that Cubans were responsible for what was going on in Nicaragua. So there also is this history of Canada aligning with Washington’s push of blaming Cuba for all the problems in the hemisphere, and the like. I think that, you know, in some ways this is a really, you could see it in the most open and, kind of, flagrant way with regards to Canada-Venezuela-Cuba right now, but it does also fit within a bit of a broader historical pattern.

GREG WILPERT Well, I think that’s very important to keep in mind, but we’re going to have to leave it there for now. I was speaking to Yves Engler, author and activist from Canada. Thanks again, Yves, for having joined us today.

YVES ENGLER Thanks for having me.

GREG WILPERT And thank you for joining The Real News Network.

Creeping Toward Tyranny

By Chris Hedges

May 06, 2019 “Information Clearing House” –

The destruction of the rule of law, an action essential to establishing an authoritarian or totalitarian state, began long before the arrival of the Trump administration. The George W. Bush administration’s invasion of Iraq and implementation of a doctrine of pre-emptive war were war crimes under international law. The federal government’s ongoing wholesale surveillance of the citizenry, another legacy of the Bush administration, mocks our constitutional right to privacy. Assassinating a U.S. citizen under order of the executive branch, as the Obama administration did when it murdered the radical cleric Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen, revokes due process. The steady nullification of constitutional rights by judicial fiat—a legal trick that has enabled corporations to buy the electoral system in the name of free speech—has turned politicians from the two ruling parties into amoral tools of corporate power. Lobbyists in Washington and the state capitals write legislation to legalize tax boycotts, destroy regulations and government oversight, pump staggering sums of money into the war machine and accelerate the largest upward transfer of wealth in American history, one that has involved looting the U.S. Treasury of trillions of dollars in the wake of the massive financial fraud that set off the 2008 economic collapse. The ruling elites, by slavishly serving corporate interests, created a system of government that effectively denied the citizen the use of state power. This decades-long disregard by the two major political parties for the rule of law and their distortion of government into a handmaiden for corporations set the stage for Donald Trump’s naked contempt for legality and accountability. It made inevitable our kakistocracy, rule by the worst or most unscrupulous (“kakistocracy” is derived from the Greek words kakistos, meaning worst, and kratos, meaning rule).

Those in the parade of imbeciles, grifters, con artists, conspiracy theorists, racists, Trump family members, charlatans, generals and Christian fascists, all of whom often see power as a way to enrich themselves at the expense of the taxpayer, are too many to list here. They include former Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, Ivanka Trump, Jared Kushner, Vice President Mike Pence, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke (who blamed “environmental terrorist groups” for the 2018 California wildfires, hired private jets to fly himself around the country and opened public lands for mineral and gas exploitation), former Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt (who held lavish dinners with the coal-mining and chemical executives whose companies he then deregulated) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. This moral swamp also contains bizarre, Svengali-like figures darting in and out of the shadows, such as Stephen Miller, Michael Flynn, Steve Bannon, Kellyanne Conway, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Anthony “The Mooch” Scaramucci and Omarosa Manigault Newman, not to mention paid-off porn stars and mistresses, sleazy lawyers and bungling and corrupt campaign managers.

At the center of this clown court is Trump, who, if the rule of law was in place, would have been impeached on his first day in office for violating the Constitution’s emoluments clause; by violating that prohibition, this chief executive is raking in millions from officials of foreign governments and lobbyists who stay at his hotels and resorts and use his golf courses. Trump not only does not attempt to mask his profiting from his office but in corporate promotional material says that those who stay at his properties may be able to get a photo with the president of the United States. As illustrated by the Robert Mueller report and by Attorney General William Barr’s open contempt for Congress, Trump does not even bother to pay lip service to the requirements of the law or the Constitution.

The mechanisms that once made democracy possible have withered and died. We no longer have elections free of corporate control; real legislative debate; an independent press rooted in verifiable fact that lifts up the voices and concerns of the citizens rather than peddling conspiracy theories such as “Russiagate” or cheerleading for disastrous military interventions and occupations; academic institutions that vigorously examine and critique the nature of power; or diplomacy, negotiation, détente and compromise. Puffed up by self-importance, intoxicated by the ability to wield police and military power, despots and their grotesque courtiers are freed with the collapse of the rule of law to carry out endless vendettas against enemies real and imagined until their own paranoia and fear define the lives of those they subjugate. This is where we have come, not because of Trump, who is the grotesque product of our failed democracy, but because the institutions that were designed to prevent tyranny no longer function.

Trump will eviscerate what little legal restraint remains. The Republican Party, which has been transformed into a Trump personality cult, will not stop him. Neither will the Democratic Party leadership, which thinks Trump will be an easy target in the 2020 presidential election, a foolish mistake similar to the one Hillary Clinton made in the 2016 campaign. That the Democratic Party elites place their hope to regain power in Joe Biden, a goofy male version of Clinton, is yet another example of the colossal failure of the democratic process. It shows how out of touch the ruling elites are with the growing social inequality, economic stagnation, suffering, disempowerment and rage that afflict over half the population.

The old forms of political theater and the ruling ideology of neoliberalism that buttressed the ruling elites in the past do not work anymore. Yet, the mind-numbing presidential campaigns, begun two years before the vote and devoid of meaningful content, are once again dominating the airwaves with empty slogans and the posturing by carefully packaged political personalities. This burlesque is anti-politics masquerading as politics. Its disingenuousness, obvious to most of the country, is what made Trump’s crude taunts and ridiculing of the system so attractive to betrayed voters. Trump may be inept, vile and a con artist, but in this system of anti-politics you vote not  for what you want, but against those you hate. And the established elites, the Bushes and the Clintons, are loathed far more than Trump by most of the country.

The billions in campaign funds provided to selected candidates by the wealthy and corporations, as the political philosopher Sheldon Wolin wrote, created, before the arrival of Trump on the political landscape, “a pecking order that calibrates, in strictly quantitative and objective terms, whose interests have priority. The amount of corruption that regularly takes place before elections means that corruption is not an anomaly but an essential element in the functioning of managed democracy. The entrenched system of bribery and corruption involves no physical violence, no brown-shirted troopers, no coercion of the political opposition. While the tactics are not those of the Nazis, the end result is the inverted equivalent. Opposition has not been liquidated but rendered feckless.”

Mass culture has for decades been awash in the lies skillfully disseminated by the public relations and advertising industries. These lies appeal to our vanity and insecurities. They are used to sell us products or experiences that promise an unachievable happiness. These forms of manipulation, which confuse how we are made to feel with knowledge, also were adopted by political parties before Trump gained the presidency. “The result,” Wolin wrote in “Democracy Incorporated: Managed Democracy and the Spector of Inverted Totalitarianism,” “has been the pollution of the ecology of politics by the inauthentic politics of misrepresentative government, claiming to be what it is not, compassionate and conservative, god-fearing and moral.”

Armando Iannucci’s movie “The Death of Stalin,” a brilliant black comedy, captures what happens when self-interested narcissists, buffoons and gangsters make the laws and rule a state. Once power is based solely on blind personal loyalty and whim, anything, including wholesale murder, becomes possible. Rights are transformed into privileges that can be instantly revoked. Lies replace truth. Opinions replace facts. History is erased and rewritten. The cult of leadership replaces politics. Paranoia grips a ruling elite that feeds off conspiracy theories, sees mortal enemies everywhere and increasingly lives in a hermetically sealed nonreality-based universe. Force becomes the sole language despots use to communicate to a restive population and the outside world.

Despotic regimes are uninterested in, and often incapable of understanding, nuance, complexity and difference. They perpetuate themselves through constant drama and never-ending crusades against internal and external enemies that are presented as existential threats to the nation. When real enemies cannot be found, they are invented. The persecution of “undesirables” starts with the demonized—immigrants, the undocumented, poor people of color and Muslims, along with those under occupation in the Middle East or socialists in Venezuela—but these “undesirables” are only the beginning. Soon everyone is suspect.

Trump’s capricious and arbitrary decisions to remove those around him from power keep his courtiers constantly on edge. The instability fuels the vicious court intrigues that characterize all despotism. Trump’s inner circle, aware that the only criterion to remain in power is an exaggerated and obsequious personal loyalty acutely attuned to his mercurial moods and temper tantrums, base all decisions on pleasing the despot. This leads to extreme mismanagement and corruption.

The corporate capitalists who hold real power view Trump as an embarrassment. They would prefer to put a more dignified face on the American empire, one like Biden who will do their bidding with the decorum of a traditional president. But they will work with Trump. He has given them huge tax cuts, is slashing what is left of government oversight and regulation and has increased the budgets for internal security and the military. It may be an uncomfortable relationship, as was the relationship between German industrialists and the buffoonish leaders of the Nazi Party, but for the corporate elites it is far preferable to having to deal with a Bernie Sanders or an Elizabeth Warren. Capitalists, throughout history, have backed fascism to thwart even the most tepid forms of socialism. All the pieces are in place. The hollowing out of our democratic institutions, which cannot be blamed on Trump, makes tyranny inevitable.

Behold the breathtaking weakness of the Empire!

By The Saker

May 01, 2019 “Information Clearing House” –  

The Empire has suffered painful defeats in Afghanistan and Iraq, but one has to admit that these are “tough” countries to crack.  The Empire also appears to have lost control of Libya, but that is another complex country which is very hard to control.  We also saw all the pathetic huffing and puffing with the DPRK.  But, let’s be honest, the USA never stood a chance to bully the DPRK into submission, nevermind invading or regime-changing it.  Syria was much weaker, but here Russia, Iran and Hezbollah did a world class job of repelling all the AngloZionist attacks, political and military.  Besides, I for one will never blame Trump for not listening to Bolton and not triggering WWIII over Syria (yet?)

But Venezuela?!

No Hezbollah or Iran backing Maduro there.  And Venezuela is way too far away from Russia to allow her to do what she did in Syria.  In fact, Venezuela is in the proverbial “backyard” of the USA and is surrounded by hostile puppet regimes.  And yet, tonight, it appears that the US puppet Guaidó has failed in his coup attempt.

Moon of Alabama did a great job covering the events of the day, so I will refer you to the excellent article “Venezuela – Random Guyaidó’s New Coup Attempt Turns Out to Be A Dangerous Joke“.  I fully concur that today’s coup was both a joke and very dangerous.

Russian readers can also check out this article by Vzgliad which also gives a lot of interesting details, including the fact that Guaidó launched his coup from the Colombian Embassy in Caracas (see here for a machine translation).

But the thing which amazes me most tonight is the truly breathtakingly pathetic weakness of the clowns who launched this latest failed operation: Pompeo and Mr MAGA.  Check them out:

Let’s begin with Pompeo.

According to him, the coup failed because of Russia (what else is new?)!  Not only that, but Maduro had already decided to run to Cuba, but then the Russians stopped him.

So are we to believe that the coup was a stunning success, yet another feather to the CIA’s “hat” of failed successful covert operations?  Apparently so.

After all, why would Maduro want to run unless he realized that the situation was hopeless?

But then “Russia” called him and told him to stay put.  The conversation must gone something like this:

Putin: Mr Maduro – you don’t need to worry about a thing.  Just do what we tell you and stay put.
Maduro: but my people hate me!  They all turned against me! The military is behind the coup!
Putin: no, no, it’s all under control, just stay put.
Maduro: but the mob will lynch me if I stay!!!!
Putin: no worries, nobody will touch you.

Does that dialog look credible to you?  I sure hope not!  I think that anybody with a modicum of intelligence ought to realize that Maduro’s decision to stay in place could only have been based on one of two possible considerations:

  1. The coup has failed and Maduro is safe or

  2. The coup is successful and Maduro will stay and fight till his last breath (like Allende did)

But tonight Maduro is safe in Caracas and the coup plotters are on the run.

The truth is that only a loser and imbecile like Pompeo could come up with such a lame excuse in a desperate attempt to “cover his ass” and blame his failure on the Neocon’s favorite scapegoat: Russia.

Now let’s check what his boss had to say:

Trump does not blame Russia.  Instead, he blames Cuba!

I don’t know what kind of silly scenarios Mr MAGA ran in his head to come up with “the Cubans did it” but that is even more ridiculous than “the Russians did it”.  Reading this “tweets” (how appropriate for this bird-brain!) one

could get the impression that the Cubans launched a full-scale military attack (involving both the Cuban military and “militias”) and that they orchestrated a brutal crack-down on the Venezuelan people.

In the real world, however, Cuba did nothing of the sort.

But, really, who cares?!

In the Empire of Illusions fact don’t matter.  At least to the leaders of the AngloZionist Empire who continue to believe that only spin matters.

In the case of Venezuela, spin alone failed.

So what’s next?

According to the typical scenario revealed to us by John Perkins, the next step should be a full-scale US invasion.  And yes, he is right, that would be what the Empire would have done in its heyday.  But nowadays?

Check out this interesting news snippet: Eric Prince wants Blackwater to send 5,000 mercenaries to Venezuela (does anybody know why and how these clowns came up with the 5,000 figure?  First Bolton, now Prince.  Do they *really* think that this is enough?!).

The point is not whether Prince will ever get to send mercenaries to Venezuela or whether the Trump administration is inclined to accept this offer.  The point is that Prince would have never made this offer in the first place if the US military was up to the task.  It is not, and Prince knows that very well.

As for Maduro, he seems to have the support not only of a majority of his people, but of the Venezuelan armed forces.  As for the armed forces, they are clearly enjoying the support of the people.

This is a very bad combination for the Empire.  Here is why:

Yes, Venezuela has immense problems.  And yes, both Chavez and Maduro have made mistakes.  But this is not about Chavez or Maduro, this is about the rule of law inside and outside Venezuela.  This is about the people of Venezuela, even the suffering ones, not willing to renounce the sovereignty of their country.  Yes, Chavez did not solve all of Venezuela’s problems, but to deliver the country to the Empire would mean crushing any hope of true, real, people power.  The Venezuelan people apparently have no illusions about their Yankee neighbors and they don’t want the Empire-style “democracy” to turn Venezuela into the next Libya.

I should never say never, and God only knows what tomorrow (May 1st) will bring (Guaido has called for a mass protests) but my gut feeling is that the Empire “injected” itself into Venezuela just enough to trigger an immune reaction, like a vaccine, but not enough to infect Venezuela with a toxin powerful enough to kill it.

In the meantime, US aircraft carriers are in the Mediterranean trying to scare Russia, Syria and Iran all at the same time.  I can just imagine the disgusted contempt with which this latest sabre-rattling with outdated hardware is received in Moscow, Damascus or Tehran.  Even Hezbollah remains utterly unimpressed.

The truth is that the only people who have not come to the realization that the Empire is broken and defeated are the rulers of the Neocon deep state and those who still watch the legacy Ziomedia.

By now everybody else has realized who utterly impotent the Empire has become.

Conclusion:

The Empire only *appears* to be strong.  In reality it is weak, confused, clueless and, most importantly, run by a sad gang of incompetent thugs who think that they can scare everybody into submission in spite of not having won a single significant war since 1945.  The inability to break the will of the people of Venezuela is only the latest symptom of this mind-boggling weakness.

I will leave the last word to this charming lady who really said it all:

Mapping the American War on Terror: Now in 80 Countries

by Stephanie Savell

Counterpunch

February 21, 2019

In September 2001, the Bush administration launched the “Global War on Terror.” Though “global” has long since been dropped from the name, as it turns out, they weren’t kidding.

When I first set out to map all the places in the world where the United States is still fighting terrorism so many years later, I didn’t think it would be that hard to do. This was before the 2017 incident in Niger in which four American soldiers were killed on a counterterror mission and Americans were given an inkling of how far-reaching the war on terrorism might really be. I imagined a map that would highlight Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, and Syria — the places many Americans automatically think of in association with the war on terror — as well as perhaps a dozen less-noticed countries like the Philippines and Somalia. I had no idea that I was embarking on a research odyssey that would, in its second annual update, map U.S. counterterror missions in 80 countries in 2017 and 2018, or 40% of the nations on this planet (a map first featured in Smithsonian magazine).

As co-director of the Costs of War Project at Brown University’s Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs, I’m all too aware of the costs that accompany such a sprawling overseas presence. Our project’s research shows that, since 2001, the U.S. war on terror has resulted in the loss — conservatively estimated — of almost half a million lives in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan alone. By the end of 2019, we also estimate that Washington’s global war will cost American taxpayers no less than $5.9 trillion already spent and in commitments to caring for veterans of the war throughout their lifetimes.

In general, the American public has largely ignored these post-9/11 wars and their costs. But the vastness of Washington’s counterterror activities suggests, now more than ever, that it’s time to pay attention. Recently, the Trump administration has been talking of withdrawing from Syria and negotiating peace with the Taliban in Afghanistan. Yet, unbeknownst to many Americans, the war on terror reaches far beyond such lands and under Trump is actually ramping up in a number of places. That our counterterror missions are so extensive and their costs so staggeringly high should prompt Americans to demand answers to a few obvious and urgent questions: Is this global war truly making Americans safer? Is it reducing violence against civilians in the U.S. and other places? If, as I believe, the answer to both those questions is no, then isn’t there a more effective way to accomplish such goals?

Combat or “Training” and “Assisting”?

The major obstacle to creating our database, my research team would discover, was that the U.S. government is often so secretive about its war on terror. The Constitution gives Congress the right and responsibility to declare war, offering the citizens of this country, at least in theory, some means of input. And yet, in the name of operational security, the military classifies most information about its counterterror activities abroad.

This is particularly true of missions in which there are American boots on the ground engaging in direct action against militants, a reality, my team and I found, in 14 different countries in the last two years. The list includes Afghanistan and Syria, of course, but also some lesser known and unexpected places like Libya, Tunisia, Somalia, Mali, and Kenya. Officially, many of these are labeled “train, advise, and assist” missions, in which the U.S. military ostensibly works to support local militaries fighting groups that Washington labels terrorist organizations. Unofficially, the line between “assistance” and combat turns out to be, at best, blurry.

Some outstanding investigative journalists have documented the way this shadow war has been playing out, predominantly in Africa. In Niger in October 2017, as journalists subsequently revealed, what was officially a training mission proved to be a “kill or capture” operation directed at a suspected terrorist.

Such missions occur regularly. In Kenya, for instance, American service members are actively hunting the militants of al-Shabaab, a US-designated terrorist group. In Tunisia, there was at least one outright battle between joint U.S.-Tunisian forces and al-Qaeda militants. Indeed, two U.S. service members were later awarded medals of valor for their actions there, a clue that led journalists to discover that there had been a battle in the first place.

In yet other African countries, U.S. Special Operations forces have planned and controlled missions, operating in “cooperation with” — but actually in charge of — their African counterparts. In creating our database, we erred on the side of caution, only documenting combat in countries where we had at least two credible sources of proof, and checking in with experts and journalists who could provide us with additional information. In other words, American troops have undoubtedly been engaged in combat in even more places than we’ve been able to document.

Another striking finding in our research was just how many countries there were — 65 in all — in which the U.S. “trains” and/or “assists” local security forces in counterterrorism. While the military does much of this training, the State Department is also surprisingly heavily involved, funding and training police, military, and border patrol agents in many countries. It also donates equipment, including vehicle X-ray detection machines and contraband inspection kits. In addition, it develops programs it labels “Countering Violent Extremism,” which represent a soft-power approach, focusing on public education and other tools to “counter terrorist safe havens and recruitment.”

Such training and assistance occurs across the Middle East and Africa, as well as in some places in Asia and Latin America. American “law enforcement entities” trained security forces in Brazil to monitor terrorist threats in advance of the 2016 Summer Olympics, for example (and continued the partnership in 2017). Similarly, U.S. border patrol agentsworked with their counterparts in Argentina to crack down on suspected money laundering by terrorist groups in the illicit marketplaces of the tri-border region that lies between Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay.

To many Americans, all of this may sound relatively innocuous — like little more than generous, neighborly help with policing or a sensibly self-interested fighting-them-over-there-before-they-get-here set of policies. But shouldn’t we know better after all these years of hearing such claims in places like Iraq and Afghanistan where the results were anything but harmless or effective?

Such training has often fed into, or been used for, the grimmest of purposes in the many countries involved. In Nigeria, for instance, the U.S. military continues to work closely with local security forces which have used torture and committed extrajudicial killings, as well as engaging in sexual exploitation and abuse. In the Philippines, it has conducted large-scale joint military exercises in cooperation with President Rodrigo Duterte’s military, even as the police at his command continue to inflict horrific violence on that country’s citizenry.

The government of Djibouti, which for years has hosted the largest U.S. military base in Africa, Camp Lemonnier, also uses its anti-terrorism laws to prosecute internal dissidents. The State Department has not attempted to hide the way its own training programs have fed into a larger kind of repression in that country (and others). According to its 2017 Country Reports on Terrorism, a document that annually provides Congress with an overview of terrorism and anti-terror cooperation with the United States in a designated set of countries, in Djibouti, “the government continued to use counterterrorism legislation to suppress criticism by detaining and prosecuting opposition figures and other activists.”

In that country and many other allied nations, Washington’s terror-training programs feed into or reinforce human-rights abuses by local forces as authoritarian governments adopt “anti-terrorism” as the latest excuse for repressive practices of all sorts.

A Vast Military Footprint

As we were trying to document those 65 training-and-assistance locations of the U.S. military, the State Department reports proved an important source of information, even if they were often ambiguous about what was really going on. They regularly relied on loose terms like “security forces,” while failing to directly address the role played by our military in each of those countries.

Sometimes, as I read them and tried to figure out what was happening in distant lands, I had a nagging feeling that what the American military was doing, rather than coming into focus, was eternally receding from view. In the end, we felt certain in identifying those 14 countries in which American military personnel have seen combat in the war on terror in 2017-2018. We also found it relatively easy to document the seven countries in which, in the last two years, the U.S. has launched drone or other air strikes against what the government labels terrorist targets (but which regularly kill civilians as well): Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Pakistan, Somalia, Syria, and Yemen. These were the highest-intensity elements of that U.S. global war. However, this still represented a relatively small portion of the 80 countries we ended up including on our map.

In part, that was because I realized that the U.S. military tends to advertise — or at least not hide — many of the military exercises it directs or takes part in abroad. After all, these are intended to display the country’s global military might, deter enemies (in this case, terrorists), and bolster alliances with strategically chosen allies. Such exercises, which we documented as being explicitly focused on counterterrorism in 26 countries, along with lands which host American bases or smaller military outposts also involved in anti-terrorist activities, provide a sense of the armed forces’ behemoth footprint in the war on terror.

Although there are more than 800 American military bases around the world, we included in our map only those 40 countries in which such bases are directly involved in the counterterror war, including Germany and other European nations that are important staging areas for American operations in the Middle East and Africa.

To sum up: our completed map indicates that, in 2017 and 2018, seven countries were targeted by U.S. air strikes; double that number were sites where American military personnel engaged directly in ground combat; 26 countries were locations for joint military exercises; 40 hosted bases involved in the war on terror; and in 65, local military and security forces received counterterrorism-oriented “training and assistance.”

A Better Grand Plan

How often in the last 17 years has Congress or the American public debated the expansion of the war on terror to such a staggering range of places? The answer is: seldom indeed.

After so many years of silence and inactivity here at home, recent media and congressional attention to American wars in Afghanistan, Syria, and Yemenrepresents a new trend. Members of Congress have finally begun calling for discussion of parts of the war on terror. Last Wednesday, for instance, the House of Representatives voted to end U.S. support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen, and the Senate has passed legislation requiring Congress to vote on the same issue sometime in the coming months.

On February 6th, the House Armed Services Committee finally held a hearing on the Pentagon’s “counterterrorism approach” — a subject Congress as a whole has not debated since, several days after the 9/11 attacks, it passed the Authorization for the Use of Military Force that Presidents George W. Bush, Barack Obama, and now Donald Trump have all used to wage the ongoing global war. Congress has not debated or voted on the sprawling expansion of that effort in all the years since. And judging from the befuddledreactions of several members of Congress to the deaths of those four soldiers in Niger in 2017, most of them were (and many probably still are) largely ignorant of how far the global war they’ve seldom bothered to discuss now reaches.

With potential shifts afoot in Trump administration policy on Syria and Afghanistan, isn’t it finally time to assess in the broadest possible way the necessity and efficacy of extending the war on terror to so many different places? Research has shown that using war to address terror tactics is a fruitless approach. Quite the opposite of achieving this country’s goals, from Libya to Syria, Niger to Afghanistan, the U.S. military presence abroad has often only fueled intense resentment of America. It has helped to both spread terror movements and provide yet more recruits to extremist Islamist groups, which have multiplied substantially since 9/11.

In the name of the war on terror in countries like Somalia, diplomatic activities, aid, and support for human rights have dwindled in favor of an ever more militarized American stance. Yet research shows that, in the long term, it is far more effective and sustainable to address the underlying grievances that fuel terrorist violence than to answer them on the battlefield.

All told, it should be clear that another kind of grand plan is needed to deal with the threat of terrorism both globally and to Americans — one that relies on a far smaller U.S. military footprint and costs far less blood and treasure. It’s also high time to put this threat in context and acknowledge that other developments, like climate change, may pose a far greater danger to our country.

This article originally appeared on  TomDispatch.


Canadian hypocrisy in Venezuelan coup-d’etat

FightBack! Friday, 25 January 2019 Alex Grant

Working hand-in-hand with the Trump administration, the Canadian government has been at the forefront of the attempt to artificially install Venezuela National Assembly president Juan Guaido as president. The Trudeau regime has the temerity of declaring Venezuela a dictatorship at the same time as it sells Saudi Arabia $15-billion in arms. Utilizing the mass media they are attempting to fool the population into supporting another right wing coup in Latin America. But increasingly people are seeing through the lies and hypocrisy.

For two decades US imperialism has been doing everything in its power to organize a coup against the democratic wishes of the people of Venezuela. The reason for this was the revolutionary process sparked off by the election of Hugo Chavez that redirected Venezuela’s oil wealth away from US oil corporations and a local oligarchy, and towards social programs, healthcare and education, for the benefit of Venezuela’s poor. A 2002 US-backed military coup was defeated by the movement of the masses, and in the following years there was an oil lockout, a recall referendum, and ongoing economic sabotage, but each of these were defeated. The present coup attempt is a continuation of this decades-long struggle to regain control of Venezuelan oil wealth for imperialist interests, and not due to any “humanitarian” concern for democracy by Canada and the USA.

While Canadian foreign minister Chrystia Freeland was denouncing Venezuelan president Maduro as a dictator, she missed the irony that she was standing right next to Brazilian far-right demagogue Jair Bolsonaro. Those telling lies have a tendency to try and paint their opponents with their own crimes. Establishment mouthpieces and Canadian Broadcasting Corporation journalists have accused Venezuela of banning the right wing opposition from the May 2018 presidential election. This is an outright fabrication. However, it is a incontrovertible fact that Bolsonaro only won the Brazilian presidency after the most popular candidate, Lula da Silva, was illegitimately banned from the ballot, jailed on trumped up charges and even gagged from making any statement on the election. Despite this the Canadian regime had no problem congratulating Bolsonaro on his victory, and the CBC even ran a piece on how Canadian business can profit from the new autocratic regime in Brazil!

Venezuela’s opposition, of which Guaido is the newest figure head, is far from peaceful and democratic. In 2017 they initiated a series of violent street protests while calling for a presidential election. During these protests they murdered dark-skinned Chavista supporter Orlando Figuera by setting him on fire. Prominent oppositionist Maria Corina Machado has recently issued a death threat against Venezuelan president Maduro, saying that if he wants to save his life he must leave office now. The political basis of the opposition is crystal clear for all to see as they have issued a transition plan that is based on mass privatization, the “opening up” of the oil industry to foreign multinationals and an attack on workers’ rights.

The opposition’s 2017 violent street protests failed and led to them becoming more discredited in the eyes of the population. From calling for an early presidential election they turned to a tactic of boycott knowing that they were heading for a defeat. There was no ban, and any government or media spokesperson saying so is telling lies. In fact there were three opposition candidates standing against Maduro, one being prominent oppositionist, Henri Falcon, who gained 21% of the vote. This was against the direction of the US and Canadian regimes which were directing the opposition to play a longer game to prepare a coup when the timing was better. They directed foreign monitors to stay away as they did not want their lie of a “rigged election” to be revealed. However observers, including former Spanish president Zapatero, did not report any major irregularities. Even taking into account the high level of abstention, Maduro won the support of 31% of the electorate, a figure higher than that of Trump (less than 25%), or Trudeau (26%).The election was held by the same electoral commission, using the same methods, as the 2015 National Assembly election that returned a majority for the opposition. This is a modern version of the medieval drowning test for witchcraft. If the Bolivarians sink, the election is fair, if they float the election is rigged!

No leftist, or even democrat, should support this US-Canadian backed coup. The indecent haste by which the Canadian government, and the Trump administration, issued their support has shown that this was all planned long in advance. It has been revealed that Freeland discussed with Guaido two weeks before he illegitimately declared himself president. But the Trump administration has a serious public relations problem and is widely despised by people of every nationality. So the less ugly face of Canada is wheeled out to give more legitimacy to the power grab. Some have characterized this as Canada being the lap dog of US imperialism. However, the reality is that Canada is one of the largest foreign investors in Latin America, both in oil and mineral extraction and banking. For example, Canadian owned Scotiabank (aka “The Bank of Nova Scotia”) is a major player in most South American countries. Canada is perfectly capable of acting to defend its own imperialist profits without needing an impetus from the USA.

In response to a question of how he can attack Maduro while recognizing Bolsonaro, Canadian prime minister Trudeau deflected saying that the Maduro government was responsible for “a humanitarian crisis the likes of which South America has not seen in a long time, leading to mass exodus, an extreme number of refugees fleeing all across South America.” Trudeau has hypocritically forgotten the caravan of refugees from Honduras who are escaping the repercussions of the 2009 US/Canada backed coup and the rigged 2017 election. Incidentally, Honduras is also part of the cabal of countries supporting the Venezuelan coup attempt. These politicians do not care about democracy, all they care about is the profits they can extract with the aid of right wing regimes.

Those who oppose the coup in Venezuela are immediately accused of backing the Maduro government and the economic crisis in the country. The reality is that there is no need to support Maduro in order to oppose this pro imperialist, pro privatization, anti worker coup that would make everything worse. Just ask the people of Honduras or Haiti who have suffered the most recent coup plots. But there are real problems in Venezuela. There are significant food shortages and hyperinflation. A major cause of the crisis has been the US and Canadian sanctions, combined with economic sabotage by the opposition linked oligarchy that still controls the economy. The low price of oil on the global market has exacerbated all the contradictions in Venezuela.

However, the Maduro government has proven unable to deal with the very serious economic crisis. His policies of  compromises and concessions with the oligarchy and imperialists have failed. Rather than expropriating the saboteurs, and putting control of the economy in the hands of the working class, Maduro keeps on appealing to them to invest. This weakness invites further aggression and does nothing to solve the problems in Venezuela. There is no socialism in Venezuela, as the main levers of the economy remain in private hands and the workers do not control production. However, the reforms gained by the workers during the Chavez years are intolerable to the oligarchy and imperialists, so there is also no functioning capitalist economy. This half-way-house is the worst of both worlds.

The Venezuelan Marxists of Lucha de Clases do not support the policies of the Maduro government and did not vote for him in the presidential elections. At the same time they are crystal clear in their opposition to the ongoing imperialist coup attempt. They argue that this can only be effective combated by revolutionary means and by harnessing the revolutionary enthusiasm of workers, peasants and the poor. The Venezuelan Marxists have said that: “The only way to combat the reactionary coup is on the basis of the revolutionary energy of the working class and the poor peasantry. Militias must be set up in every neighbourhood, community and factory. Factories should be taken over and placed under worker control. Latifundia should be occupied and defended with Popular Defense Brigades, which already exist in different states of the country.” It is absolutely vital to defeat the coup that would destroy all the gains of the past and would make the Venezuelan working people pay a heavy price for having dared to challenge the power of the oligarchy.

The notion that Donald Trump is somehow a champion of democracy is laughable. Voter suppression and gerrymandering are rife in the US electoral system. The US Senate is massively unrepresentative with small states having the same number of senators as the millions living in California. The electoral rules actively discriminate against third party candidates. Politics is a game where he who has the most billionaires wins. And Donald Trump didn’t even win the majority of votes in a contest where half the voters do not turn up. The democratic legitimacy of the US regime is non-existent. Trump even made apologies for the Saudi Arabian murder of Jamal Khashoggi.

Canada is not much better, but is far more hypocritical. The “progressive” Trudeau government likes to present a pro worker democratic face that apologizes for past oppression of indigenous communities. Despite this they have broken their promise of democratic reform. They have broken their promise to respect collective bargaining and have repeatedly removed the democratic right to strike (most recently against postal workers). They have broken their promise to respect first nations and have repeatedly violated native sovereignty over oil and gas pipelines. Canada still has a hereditary feudal monarch as head of state, and in the recent past the representative of her Britannic Royal Majesty has even shut down parliament in order to save the government from a vote of no confidence! The above is all combined with their support of autocratic regimes abroad. We have absolutely nothing positive to learn from so-called Canadian or American “democracy”.

It is the job of every socialist, indeed every democrat, to oppose this imperialist coup in Venezuela. By struggling against the oppressors of the Venezuelan people we also struggle against our own oppressors at home. We say, “Hands off Venezuela! For internationalism and workers’ democracy!”