Two demonstrations and two well-attended marches that took place in Caracas on Sept. 1 reflected all the tension of the current environment in Venezuela. The supporters of the Bolivarian government and «socialism with a Venezuelan face» took to the streets, as did the opposition, led by the Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD). The demonstrations were intended to show who «controls the street,» and whom the public favors. And as it turned out, more supporters of MUD were found in the rich neighborhoods of the capital, while the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) was firmly entrenched in those districts where ordinary people live.
According to MUD’s leaders, the opposition managed to rally about a million people under its banner, but politicians and journalists who are known for their objectivity dispute those numbers. José Vicente Rangel, for example, has declared that no more than 30,000 marched with the opposition. But Western agencies have cited totally different figures. Deutsche Welle reported that there were far fewer «Chavistas» than opposition protesters in attendance, alleging that «Maduro himself claimed 30,000 followers». But the Venezuelan president actually said nothing of the kind. He offered different numbers: about 300,000 supporters at the Bolivarian demonstration vs. the opposition’s 30-35,000. «I respect them,» said Maduro of his political opponents. «And I would like them to respond to the hand I am extending to them and bring the economic war, sabotage, and threats of violence to an end». But his plea has gone unanswered.
After the demonstrations on Sept. 1, Foreign Minister Delcy Rodríguez and Interior Minister Néstor Reverol held a press conference and invited the diplomats accredited in Venezuela.
Rodríguez and Reverol presented unassailable evidence that the leaders of the opposition tried to use the Sept. 1 demonstration to destabilize the country. It was yet another attempt to provoke a showdown and to encourage the clash between the participants in the two marches to turn bloody (the more victims the better), all while accusing government of being the one guilty of spilling blood.
The opposition nicknamed their demonstration, «The Taking of Caracas». As Delcy Rodríguez asserted, the government’s proactive moves made it possible to avoid a massacre, while the actions of the conspirators «were frustrated by the security services and the police». Rodríguez mentioned that snipers had appeared in Caracas, positioned to fire on the demonstrators. She stated that «the highest ranks within Venezuela’s right-wing conservative camps» are trying to sway international public opinion by presenting «fictitious images of our country» and creating «scenarios that will encourage an intervention by outside forces».
Interior Minister Néstor Reverol has spoken in detail about the work of the Venezuelan intelligence services in recent months. Dozens of acts intended to sabotage the transportation and oil sectors, as well as energy supply lines, have been foiled. Secret stockpiles of food and emergency supplies have been unearthed. Shipments of weapons that the conspirators were trying to smuggle into the country have been intercepted. Colombian-sponsored paramilitary camps have been discovered in Venezuela. One of these camps was uncovered in a densely wooded, mountainous area, only a few kilometers from the presidential palace of Miraflores. Small arms were seized from these hideouts, including a sniper rifle with a range of 1,800 meters.
Venezuela’s intelligence services have neutralized many radical opposition leaders. Arrests have been made and evidence presented of the efforts by those arrested to undermine the state. Daniel Ceballos, the former mayor of the city of San Cristóbal (in the state of Táchira, close to the Colombian border), has been imprisoned. According to Venezuela’s Ministry of Internal Affairs, Ceballos had been planning to lead the Sept. 1 anti-government protests by radical groups. He’s a dangerous figure: in 2014 he helped orchestrate mass riots that left 43 dead on both sides.
Among those arrested were Carlos Melo – an activist with the group Avanzada Progresista – and Yon Goicoechea from the Voluntad Popular party, who provided a channel of communication between the opposition and the US embassy. Goicoechea has also proven his loyalty to the Stars and Stripes through his diatribes against Hugo Chávez and in 2008 was rewarded with the Milton Friedman Prize (which included $500,000 in cash) «for advancing liberty». From 2013 to 2016 this freedom fighter studied at Columbia University and returned to Venezuela as events began to unfold in Caracas, declaring that he was now «ready to govern the country».
Back then a warrant was put out for the arrest of Lester Toledo – the political coordinator of the Voluntad Popular party who recruited and paid street fighters.
The US embassy in Caracas has thus far refrained from any public statements about «The Taking of Caracas» or the government’s harsh response to the most recent coup attempt. But in any event the Obama administration is opposing the government of Nicolás Maduro on all fronts, taking advantage of any «momentary opportunities» in Latin America. A typical example was the Aug. 11 Joint Statement on Recent Developments in the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela. Although that statement could not truly be described as «joint,» since it was signed by only 15 out of 34 OAS members, including the US, Canada, Mexico, Colombia, and Honduras, while being rejected by Venezuela’s dependable allies – Ecuador, Nicaragua, Bolivia, El Salvador, etc. The statement urges Venezuela’s government to ensure «that the remaining steps for the realization of the Presidential Recall Referendum be pursued clearly, concretely and without delay, and thus contribute to the quick and effective resolution of the current political, economic and social difficulties in the country».
The political battles in Venezuela currently revolve around this issue – the collection of signatures in support of a referendum to recall President Maduro. Venezuela’s National Electoral Council (CNE) has almost completed its verification of the signature forms compiled during the first phase of this political process. During the second phase, the opposition will need to gather signatures from 20% of the voting population – at least four million people. The CNE’s leaders have announced that this second phase will take place in October. Hence the haste on the part of the OAS, i.e., the Obama administration. In accordance with the Venezuelan constitution, if a recall referendum is held in 2016 and the voters decide to oust Nicolás Maduro, a new presidential election will be scheduled. But if a referendum with that outcome does not take place until after January 2017, Vice President Aristóbulo Istúriz – an ally and supporter of Hugo Chávez – would replace Maduro. For the opposition that would be tantamount to defeat.
The conspiracy against the Bolivarian government is being led by Luis Almagro, Uruguay’s former minister of foreign affairs and the current secretary general of the Organization of American States. Almagro is an agent representing US State Department policy and has labeled Maduro a «dictator».
Venezuela’s leaders push back against the OAS secretary general at every international forum. Last June Delsey Rodríguez offered some revelations about Almagro while addressing the 46th session of the OAS General Assembly, «Every day we get evidence that the secretary general of this organization has taken the side of the Venezuelan opposition that is planning to overthrow the legitimate government of President Nicolás Maduro, in addition to unassailable evidence that the secretary general is reckoning on outside interference in Venezuela’s internal affairs and speaking as an agent of Washington».
The US embassy in Venezuela has been collecting the latest updates around the clock, sending its assessments and recommendations on to Washington. Several years ago the size of the embassy workforce was slashed at Caracas’s insistence, but the remaining staffers’ subversive work continued. Experienced personnel from the State Department, CIA, and US military intelligence were dispatched to the country, as well as a team of specialists from the NSA.
Chargé d’Affaires Lee McClenny, who heads up the US embassy in Venezuela, favors the «soft option» of removing Maduro, after the success of the «Brazilian experiment» to oust Dilma Rousseff. Thus the embassy is particularly attentive to criticism of «Bolivarian dominance» of government agencies. The second-in-command at the embassy, Brian Naranjo, is a leading specialist on Venezuela who first arrived in the country in January 1996. He began his career as a second secretary in the political department – a position that serves as a traditional cover for CIA operatives. Brian witnessed Hugo Chávez’s rise to power and has wide-ranging connections, not limited to the opposition camps.
Apparently, Lee McClenny and Brian Naranjo will continue their work to organize a «recall referendum». From the standpoint of America’s coup-plotting masterminds, this is the option for regime change that currently looks most promising. The problem faced by these «masterminds» is that the Bolivarian leaders, including the military, will never capitulate to their opponents.