Eva Golinger is a Venezuelan-American lawyer and author of The Chavez Code, which exposed US government involvement in the April 2002 military coup that briefly ousted left-wing Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, before he was reinstated by a popular uprising. Golinger is a determined campaigner against Washington's attacks on revolutionary Venezuela. She has just published a new book, Bush vs Chavez: Washington's War on Venezuela, detailing the current US threats to Venezuela. She spoke to Green Left Weekly in late October.
Golinger told GLW that she analysed US intervention in Venezuela as having "three different fronts of attack". "One of them is the financial front, which the US has been pursuing over the last five years or so, by financing the opposition. This has increased over the past year, doubled in some instances. In fact, funding by USAID [the US Agency for International Development], through its Office of Transition Initiatives (set up here after the coup), is now up to US$7.5 million a year. But, more interestingly, the recipients of the funding have increased dramatically.
"Two years ago, there were about 63 organisations receiving funding and, today, according to the latest documents I've gotten under the US Freedom of Information Act, there are 132 groups. When we talk about financial power, it's not just the money; it's about the penetration of Venezuelan society by using money to get into the various sectors. They find groups that are allegedly human rights groups, groups that work in the education system and so on, but are really working for the opposition.
"Basically, the US is funding these organisations in civil society ... to obtain control in all different parts of the country. There are large concentrations of programs in Merida, for example, also in Tachira, Zulia, and then in the interior of the country - places like Barquisimeto, and the states of Lara, Monagas, and Anzoategui.
"The US government has censored the names of organisations, but they've left the descriptions of what the funding is for, and even the titles of the projects. So we know what they are proposing to do with the money; we just don't know if they're actually doing it. In some cases, they've made an error and left names in. I've actually taken them to court over all this. The case is in the final stages in the District Court in Washington DC. It has already gone through the entire legal process with appeals, their motion to dismiss, and our response, and now it's in the hands of the judge. It could be decided any time. I think we have a really strong chance of winning the case.
"The issue is over the fact that they used an exemption in the FOI legislation to censor the names of organisations. This exemption protects personal privacy rights. But we're using the legal argument that we're not trying to get individuals' names, but rather the names of organisations - which have no privacy rights. On top of that, we're talking about USAID - not the CIA, or the NSA [National Security Agency] - so what's so private? This is public money. We should win, but we're up against the government, so you never know.
"So, USAID money has increased, and the same with [money from] the National Endowment for Democracy. And it's not just the money. They're bringing down their best experts. For example, in the case of the [presidential] election campaign right now, they're bringing in political strategists, communications experts, to help them craft the entire [opposition] campaign. It's not just money, because in the case of Venezuela, which is different from Haiti, or Nicaragua, or even Bolivia, the opposition doesn't need the money. The dollars don't really compare, if you contrast it to the new Plan for Transition in Cuba, for example. The total there is about $80 million. In Venezuela, the total is about $9 million a year.
"It's the political contacts as well. For instance, on October 28, a right-wing think-tank, closely tied to the Republican Party, is hosting an event in Washington, DC, called 'Can Venezuela be saved?' And the only speaker is Julio Borges, who is the opposition vice-presidential candidate with [presidential candidate] Manuel Rosales. All sorts of things are involved with what I call the 'financial front'."
Golinger explained that the second major area of US intervention is the "diplomatic front", "basically the exercise of diplomatic terrorism by the US government toward Venezuela". "This includes sanctions against Venezuela for made-up things. There are three areas of sanctions right now. The US is claiming Venezuela is not collaborating on [curbing] drug trafficking, which is not true ... The US government just released a new report saying that they're sanctioning Venezuela again for not cooperating on the war on drugs.
"In some ways, it's just symbolic; just a statement from the White House saying that all the countries not collaborating on drugs will be sanctioned - with the exception of Venezuela. Venezuela is not cooperating with the war on drug trafficking, but funding will not be cut for activities 'promoting democracy' and the strengthening of 'democratic political parties'. They say, 'We'll cut the funding to help Venezuela counter drug trafficking, but we won't cut funding to keep the opposition alive' ...
"There's a chapter in my new book describing how the US Drug Enforcement Administration was discovered last year to be engaging in espionage tactics. I was given documents by the National Guard's counter-drugs division, which showed specific cases where DEA agents were either aiding drug trafficking, or were smuggling drugs and getting them into the US themselves. So, the idea is that, they are trying to make Venezuela look bad [on drugs], or they are engaged in drug trafficking themselves, which has been known for years.
"The second sanction is for trafficking in persons. But there is not a shred of evidence that Venezuela is not doing everything in its power to prevent trafficking in persons.
"The other area, which is the most important of all, is this new classification the US created in May of this year - and Venezuela is the only country on the list - which is for not cooperating with the 'war on terrorism'. So, there's the arms sanction. Venezuela is prohibited from buying arms that have been manufactured in the US or use US parts. That's the major sanction, because when asked what does that classification mean, and what other countries are on that list, the official response was, 'Venezuela is the only country on that list'. So the reporters asked, 'Well, what are the other countries that are prohibited from buying arms?' The spokesperson said, 'All the countries on the list are state sponsors of terrorism'.
"So, Venezuela is receiving the same sanctions as all the countries the US considers terrorist nations, yet the US hasn't classified Venezuela as a terrorist nation. It's been put on its own list - it's basically almost a 'terrorist nation'. They did that because they wouldn't be able to get away with classifying Venezuela as a terrorist nation within the world community - just yet. The US is working on that very hard though.
"This is all within what I call the diplomatic front. It includes the constant hostile declarations made by US officials toward Venezuela, which began in a very public and aggressive way in January 2005 with [US Secretary of State] Condoleezza Rice, when she stated that 'Chavez is a negative force in the region'. This was regurgitated and recycled by the US media and other officials in the US government ...
"By the time we get to January 2006, [US Director of National Intelligence John] Negroponte and [then-defence secretary Donald] Rumsfeld are saying Chavez is another Hitler, and he's one of the most dangerous and destabilising forces in the region. And then we get to the arms sanctions and the special classification.
"Most recently, the US Congress has issued a report on border issues — it's the first time Venezuela has ever been mentioned in a report on border issues. It talks about Mexico, and then there's an entire page devoted to Venezuela, where it says — absurd as it sounds — that President Chavez is engaged in smuggling Islamic radicals from out of the Middle East to Margarita Island, where they are training them in Spanish and giving them ID documents and sending them to Mexico, where they are crossing the border to the US. So now Venezuela is a border issue too!
"They've brought Venezuela into all different areas. It's also an immigration issue. The Bush administration has demanded a list of all people of Arab descent living on Margarita Island. I've requested documents from all US government entities on the issue of Margarita Island. And every agency has refused to give us the documents. In fact, the latest one is the DIA [Defence Intelligence Agency]. They have 45 documents, which is a lot — each one could be 100 pages long. They've classified them as 'Top Secret'. There's a Lebanese community on Margarita Island that has been there for decades."
Golinger said the results of a US State Department survey sent to US ambassadors, asking about terrorism in their host nations, listed groups like Coordinadora Simon Bolivar, a community-organising group in Barrio Enero 23 in Caracas, as "terrorist groups".
Golinger said the survey results alleged a number of foreign groups considered terrorist by Washington were active in Venezuela, including the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the National Liberation Army of Colombia (ELN), Palestinian group Hamas and "something related to al Qaeda, allegedly connected to Margarita Island".
Golinger explained, "There's a whole financial link alleged. It's not true. I've researched it. What's particularly amazing is that in the report ... and the Congress hearings over the summer on the terrorist issue, the question [was] raised: 'Is Venezuela a terrorist nation?' ... All of these terrorist rings are referred to. But, they're all citing a news article that was written in October 2003 in the US News and World Report ...
"A giant map of Venezuela [in the magazine] listed all the training camps throughout the country. All the people cited as sources were anonymous US officials. So, after the report came out, we all reacted. Everyone was writing letters to the editor, the Venezuelan embassy complained. And the head of the Southern Command of the Pentagon, which is in charge of this region, was interviewed by the Miami Herald. He completely refuted the whole article, saying there was nothing to show any terrorist links with Venezuela.
"Yet, that article has never been corrected. Now, three years later, even though it was refuted by the Pentagon, and none of the allegations have ever been justified, it is being used as the principal source of evidence on terrorism in Venezuela. It's incredible. They're all citing it, but that article is a complete fabrication."
She explained that Washington's third front of attack is the "military front". "This includes an increased military presence in the region. I've done a lot of investigating this year on the island of Curacao [in the Caribbean], close to Venezuela, where the US has a military base. I have a chapter devoted to it in my new book, because it is really alarming."
"[The US build-up] is with the support of the Dutch government, less so with the Antilles government", Golinger explained. She said there is a government-owned refinery in Curacao that has been rented to Venezuela since 1984. The contract is set to expire in 2019. Golinger said the refinery "produces most of the oil for Central America and the Caribbean. It's incredibly important and strategic."
Washington is trying to convince the Curacao government to break the contract and sell the refinery to a US company. "All the major infrastructure companies, water, gas, electricity, telephone, [in Curacao] are US-owned. And now they want the refinery. You can see Venezuela from Curacao ... You could launch a missile attack from Curacao, easily."
"So, there's Curacao, and then there's Colombia", Golinger told GLW. "There's a major build-up of military bases there. While we are not certain of the exact number of US troops in Colombia, we do know from official documents that the sum total of US forces in the Latin American region is 40,000 troops ... That's a huge number. It's enough to invade any Latin American country.
"The US conducts military exercises regularly. I went to Curacao to check out some of the warships involved. It's pretty freaky ... that's all intended to intimidate. They haven't done that since the end of the Cold War.
"Another part of the military front are the psychological operations. It's a media war, but it goes beyond use of the regular media and gets into all kinds of propaganda ... There's a doctrine of psychological warfare prepared by the Pentagon ...
"The use of Colombian paramilitaries by the US is also included in the military front. And the intervention of US Special Forces is part of that as well."
Golinger explained: "I actually interviewed a paramilitary here in Caracas. What he told me is that all the paramilitaries work jointly with the US and the Special Forces in Colombia. They're trained by them, in command-and-control operations.
The paramilitaries are the "actors". "For example, they're the ones sent over to try to assassinate Chavez. But the command-and-control is directed and controlled by the US Special Forces. The US forces come in, and are on the ground in Colombia, but they send the paramilitaries to do the dirty work, together with the Colombian army.
"The US has been building up a secret base near the border with Venezuela, next to Apure state. It's a small base, but the US is building airplane hangars for spy planes. It's basically a launching point for espionage operations and monitoring of Venezuela. They also have large amounts of high-ranking US Special Forces there. At every one of these bases ... there are always the high-ranking US Special Forces, the high-ranking Colombian forces, then the low-ranking Colombian forces, and finally the paramilitaries. It's like a chain of command, but at the head of that command are the US Special Forces."
Golinger said that there were attempts to push the FARC into Venezuela to provide an excuse for Colombian troops to enter the country. "They want to increasingly make that border area a combat zone - to declare it an uncontrollable international zone, so they need to bring in international forces to control it. This would include all of that area, from Apure to Zulia."
In her new book there is a chapter on Plan Balboa, a 2001 military exercise underwritten by the US that is "basically the invasion plan for Venezuela". "What they do is come in from Colombia, Panama and from bases in Curacao. What they do on their map is take over Zulia and the border area and declare it an international zone ...
"In the case of Venezuela, Plan Balboa is the virtual, trial stage of invading the country, and then over the past five years they have been trying it out. The April 2002 coup was the first stage. The US had military forces here, and brought in submarines and other equipment, and their Black Hawk helicopters. How did it play out? It didn't work, and since then they have been preparing for the next stage. For example, the movement for Zulia to secede, or to become an autonomous state, is related to all that."
Right now, most of Venezuela's developed oil industry is located in Zulia and Falcon. "So, the idea is to expand Plan Colombia into that region, and the border area that requires international forces, and, at the same time, move for secession of Zulia. Eventually, they would just divide the country and take the oil wealth. And from there they would deal with the rest of the country."
GLW asked Golinger about Washington's ability to stage a military intervention while it was bogged down in Iraq. She explained that, on top of the 40,000 US troops stationed in Latin America, "the recent military exercises in the Caribbean showed their strength ... right in the area near Venezuela, they had about eight major warships, one of which was the aircraft carrier USS George Washington, with 85 combat planes and 6500 troops on board. In all, they had about 10,000 troops. That's a total of 50,000 [soldiers] in the region. Every single ship had Tomahawk missiles and so on, and they hung out off [Venezuela's coast] for two-and-a-half months ...
"The US could come in and take out the country. Venezuela has built up its armed forces recently, but it doesn't have the capacity to stop the attack. They could take us out with a bombing campaign, just like they did in Iraq.
"Increasingly, we're getting prepared ... But the [military] reserves are not sufficiently trained yet. And even with the troops, their weaponry is not nearly as sophisticated as the US's ... However, it's like what Cuba has shown with their resistance and their preparation of the people. They're so ready, that if the US were to go in there and invade, they would have to massacre millions and millions of people [to conquer the country]. So, Venezuela is trying to do the same kind of thing; similar, but in a Venezuelan way. 'You won't be able to just take us out, you'll have to kill everybody' ...
"More than having an invasion, they're going to try and assassinate President Chavez. And that's where the paramilitaries come in, because that's what their mission is. The paramilitary leader I spoke to told me that. They're already here. There are more than 3000 in the region of Caracas alone."