Thursday, March 14, 2019


El caso de la joven Kirchner pone en evidencia como la derecha basa sus ataques en la parte personal y no la batalla de ideas. Similarmente, Elliott Abrams en su comparecencia a la Comisión de Relaciones Exteriores del senado norteamericano la semana pasada dijo que su gobierno está tratando de convencer a los gobiernos aliados expulsar de sus países las familias de la gente allegada al Presidente Maduro. O sea, no se trata de un delito que debe ser canalizado a través de los tribunales, sino simplemente porque tu papa tiene alguna relación con Maduro, te van a expulsar de Francia o Alemania donde estás haciendo un postgrado. La derecha no tiene corazón. Lo que le espera la gente crítica (tanto chavista como no-chavista) si Juan Guaido llega al poder.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019


Shannon O’Neil kicks off her article for Bloomberg titled “López Obrador is Dismantling Democracy in Mexico” with the astounding statement that between AMLO (López Obrador) and Jair Bolsonaro “it is Mexico’s democracy that is under greater threat." Never mind that Brazil is rapidly degenerating into the repressive state that Bolsonaro’s neo-fascist rhetoric and glorification of the 1964 coup signaled. And never mind that AMLO is really being called out because he has implemented nothing more than timid, but much needed, changes in Mexico. 

The article goes on to point to AMLO’s “power grab” in the form of strengthening the executive branch at the expense of the legislative branch, even though his Morena party controls congress. He is also rebuked for going beyond the established system of electoral democracy by calling referendums which are allegedly tantamount to demagoguery. These are the same accusations made by Jorge Castañeda in his co-authored Leftovers in 2006 which called AMLO a “populist” (in the bad sense of the word) and a member of the “bad left.” Nowhere does Castañeda or O’Neil explain why referendums are inherently undemocratic. 

The article also claims that AMLO is riding roughshod over established institutions such as the judicial branch. Nowhere is mention made, however, of what Trump calls the “deep state” which will obstruct any meaningful change in Mexico and eventually sabotage AMLO’s rule. 

O’Neil also warns that AMLO “is building a parallel labor confederation to challenge the Mexican Workers Confederation, long allied to the once-dominant Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI).” The implication is that any attempt to alter established institutions is tantamount to demagoguery. Nowhere is mention made, however, of the fact that the Mexican Workers Confederation is notoriously corrupt and part of a populist (also in the bad sense of the word) network, which was institutionalized in Mexico over half a century ago.    

O’Neil ends the article saying that the system of checks and balances, which AMLO is allegedly dismantling, is “much harder to build than to break.I am also a firm believer in the system of checks and balances, but not when who is doing the checking and balancing is corrupt and closely tied to the nation’s elites.

O’Neil’s accusations against AMLO bare an uncanny similarity with the narrative used against Chávez from the very outset of his rule in 1999. The real playbook which has been revealed by so many experiences of progressive governments in third world countries over the years consists of Washington playing back seat and maintaining a low profile while it encourages the local elite consisting of business interests, traditional parties and politicians, the church hierarchy, and the international and local media to promote destabilization in the name of resisting demagoguery, caudillismo and authoritarianism. If that doesn’t work, and if AMLO holds his ground, then Washington will shift into a higher gear by playing an increasingly activist role. That’s what Venezuela has taught and that’s what we can expect in the case of Mexico. O’Neil’s article sheds light on the future scenario.  

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Jim Risch  yesterday called on the media not to use the term “self-proclaimed president” for Juan Guaidó instead of "interim president." The media will certainly take that request seriously. In the committee’s hearings yesterday, “special envoy” Elliott Abrams stated that the U.S. government has tried to convince all U.S. allies in Europe and Latin America to ratchet up sanctions and also to expel the families of Venezuelan government heads. A proposal was also introduced that threatens reprisals against Turkey due to its commercial relations with Venezuela. The war on Venezuela is all-encompassing; it’s not just an “economic war.”  And the Venezuelan opposition, at least the current that Guaidó heads, is completely on board with everything that is being done including the threats of military intervention. The following is an article of mine on the overlap between Trump and the Venezuelan opposition.

Tuesday, March 5, 2019


by Steve Ellner

Michael Cohen’s statement last Wednesday that he fears Trump would not concede defeat in the 2020 elections has sparked concern about the breakdown of basic rules of democratic electoral politics. Indeed, as far back as the 2016 presidential elections, Trump refused to vow that he would recognize the official results if Hillary Clinton were to be declared winner. Obama responded by saying “that is dangerous.”

There is an appalling similarity between the situation playing out in the U.S. and Venezuela. Under the Chávez and Maduro governments, both presidents pledged to accept the official electoral results even if they favor the opposition (as the Chavistas did in 2007 and 2015), but the opposition refrained from following suit. Indeed, in a number of elections (2004, 2005, 2013, 2017, 2018) the opposition refused to recognize the announced results. If both Trump and the Venezuelan opposition were highly skeptical of the electoral process before hand, they should not have participated in the first place. It’s like one sports team claiming that the umpire or referee is highly impartial. If that’s the case, they shouldn’t be playing ball.

The Venezuelan opposition’s recent launching of a shadow government headed by Juan Guaidó is thus just the latest in its ongoing refusal to play by the established rules of the game nearly since Chávez was first elected president in 1998. Now, more than ever before, the opposition is controlled by the radical right in the form of Guaidó’s party Voluntad Popular. 

The anti-Maduro narrative coming from both the Venezuelan opposition and Washington paints the picture of a repressive undemocratic South American government with an opposition that is simply calling for democracy. Naturally, our sympathies have to lie with the “democratic” opposition. But in Venezuela, the situation is more complex and the overlap in the tactics and rhetoric of the Venezuelan opposition and the U.S. right is startling. Both the Venezuelan opposition and the U.S. right threaten the use of extra-legal means with possible violent outcomes. Fox News commentator Sean Hannity, for instance, reacted to demands for Trump’s impeachment with a call for “every honest patriot to take to the streets.” Just as in Venezuela, those who call for street mobilization in certain contexts know full well that there is a dynamic at play in which those protesting may well resort to violence.   

Venezuela is now on the verge of a civil war because in addition to occasional excessive force on the part of security forces, opposition leaders have promoted protests that frequently result in widespread destruction of public property and fatalities: 70 odd public transportation vehicles seriously damaged as were several metro stations and public buildings during the 4-month long protests in 2014 along with the killing of 6 national guardsmen and 2 policemen; and attacks on an air force base in Caracas and police stations in the state of Táchira during four months of supposedly “peaceful” protests in 2017.  

Similarly, the United States could well slide into a situation of widespread violence due to the refusal of Trump and his allies to respect the rules of the game. Joshua Geltzer, a former senior official of Obama’s Justice Department set off controversy when he advocated that electoral college members be required to pledge acceptance of electoral outcomes and that the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff should reaffirm loyalty to the constitution. True to form, Trump and his allies of the ilk of Sarah Palin struck back at Geltzer. An October 2017 poll conducted by the company that makes the game “Cards Against Humanity Saves America” reported that 33 percent of people in the U.S. fear that a civil war in the nation is “likely” in the coming decade. The figure among Democratic Party voters is over 40 percent. 

Trump and the Republicans have something else in common with the Venezuelan opposition. They support neoliberal formulas in which the private sector governs the economy without any state interference: that means mass deregulation in the case of the U.S. and mass privatization in the case of Venezuela. This is an additional reason why the Democrats, who uphold different views on economic policy, should be reluctant to heap praise on the Venezuelan opposition, which is for the most part on the right side of the political spectrum.

The standard differentiation between the democracy of “developed” Western nations and the “underdeveloped” third-world ones has become misleading in the age of Trump. The notion that Venezuelan opposition leaders are the “good guys” and champion Western-style democracy and the Venezuelan government is authoritarian and represent third-world backwardness – Washington’s narrative accepted by the mainstream media – is even more deceptive. 

In short, Trump and his allies are now living up to the worst of the stereotypes of third-world political leaders at the same time that they rely on some of the same tactics as those employed by the Venezuelan opposition. The end result in both nations in which the right has become a major player is instability and an erosion of people’s faith in democracy.

A talk I will be giving on March 5 titled "What's Behind the War on Venezuela?"

Thursday, February 28, 2019


What is coming out now about the Trump Organization reminds me of the case of Bernie Madoff.  Everybody on Wall Street knew for a long time that behind Madoff’s front organization was a Ponzi scheme. Nobody did anything about it until the house of cards collapsed. They were all accomplices and their neglect was criminal. Now it’s coming out that the shady and illicit dealings of the Trump Organization was a well-known fact ever since Trump’s real estate business moved into Manhattan with the help of Roy Cohen, himself a mafioso lawyer (formally Joseph McCarthy’s right-hand man). That was back in the 1960s. The New York city establishment didn’t do anything. Trump wasn’t just a Republican during those years. He was a Republican and a Democrat and had close links with top leaders in both parties. Wasn’t that criminal neglect…. at best?    

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Talking to U.S. Congresspeople and their staff about Venezuela

Yesterday and today I participated in an initiative to meet with staff members of progressive Democratic congresspeople to talk about Venezuela. We attempted to refute the narrative of the Trump administration that the economic sanctions are designed to hurt members of the Maduro government, not the Venezuelan people. In addition, we argued that what is happening in Venezuela points to a Libya-type scenario if Trump succeeds in dismantling the Maduro government. We pointed out that Juan Guaidó represents the most radical fringe of the opposition and that the main leaders of the opposition as a whole lack credibility and support in the population as a whole, even among those who are one hundred percent anti-Maduro. 
     In one of the meetings, one of the staff members asked whether Maduro is responsible for Venezuela’s economic difficulties. This is an important issue because it shifts the blame from the sanctions to the incompetence of the Maduro government. Opposition leaders and anti-Maduro academics are arguing that the sanctions and even the decrease in international oil prices have nothing to do with the current economic difficulties because the economic crisis predates both. If by sanctions, they're referring to Trump's financial sanctions of August 2017, then the argument seems plausible. But the fact is that the war on Chavismo goes back to the U.S. supported coup in 2002 and then the U.S.-supported general lockout of 2002-2003 (both spearheaded by the Venezuelan chamber of commerce), and then came the first U.S. sanctions in 2004. It's been a steady war on the government with members of the Venezuelan elite (the Church hierarchy, the business sector, the traditional politicians and labor leaders) and Washington all playing their part. 
     Of course, in conversations with U.S. congresspeople and their staff, the specifics of Venezuelan politics should be minimized, but U.S. interventionism, which goes back to the early days of the Chavista government, has to be underlined.