Venezuela: US ramps up hostility with fresh sanctions, US-backed opposition protests

Students with symbolic chains outside the Cuban embassy. Photo from

As Washington ramps up anti-Venezuelan rhetoric, its proxies in the South American nation appear to be following a US-backed plan to bring down the democratically elected government.

On February 15, opposition students began a four-day protest outside the Cuban Embassy.

The group of about students allegedly assaulted an elderly passer-by. In the past, members of the same group have allegedly been involved in blockading roads and burning tires during protests in the city of Merida.

Venezuela Analysis said the aim of such protests in Merida has often been to demand early vacations; but in some cases, they have been organised to oppose government policy.

Despite receiving police protection from retaliation for their alleged violence, the group continued to argue that the government is suppressing protests.

When Venezuela's socialist President Hugo Chavez returned to Caracas after more than two months of cancer treatment in Cuba, members of the group attributed his return to their small protest.

Opposition protester Vilca Fernandez told Venezuelan media that, “we brought the Cuban government [sic] to its knees”.

The protesters were described by Venezuelan Youth Minister Mary Pili Hernandez as “a tiny group, manipulated by foreign interests”.

Unsurprisingly, many Venezuelans view these groups as out of touch, if not downright deluded. Yet some US-backed intelligence firms seem convinced that these students could be the future leaders of the country.

The Venezuelan government has long-held that groups like this are financed and coached by US elements. Robert Serra, a legislator from the governing United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) described this group as “financed from abroad”.

Now, the government has fresh evidence that the US is meddling in Venezuela's domestic affairs.

Documents published by WikiLeaks in February show that US-based intelligence firm Stratfor has been working with the Center for Applied Non-Violent Action and Strategies (CANVAS) to destabilise the Venezuelan government.

The leaked documents indicate that CANVAS and Stratfor are involved in a campaign to unify the opposition parties with the aim of eventually overthrowing the Chavez government.

The students’ movement appears to be the lynch-pin of CANVAS activities.

CANVAS is following the script that its forerunner, Otpor, a US government-funded student movement in Serbia that contributed to the overthrow of Serbian dictator Slobodan Milosevic.

On February 24, leaders of Venezuelan opposition parties announced a new campaign against the government, which followed diktat contained in the Stratfor documents to the letter.

Within two days of this, more student protests occurred in Miranda state, where there were reports of some participants sporting the Otpor logo.

These US proxies, however, are only part of the story. Washington continues to exert pressure from abroad, announcing fresh sanctions against Venezuela.

On February 11, the US Department of State imposed sanctions on Venezuelan state arms manufacturer CAVIM, under the Iran, North Korea, and Syria Non-Proliferation Act (INKSNA).

INKSNA is aimed at depriving Iran, North Korea and Syria of exchange of equipment that could be used to produce a weapon of mass destruction and cruise or ballistic missiles.

These new sanctions came just weeks after US President Barack Obama described the Chavez administration as “authoritarian”, and accused the his government of engaging in “suppression of dissent”.

As usual, Obama offered no actual evidence to back his statement against a government that has repeatedly won elections widely recognised as free and fair. This did not stop the US leader remarking: “The future of Venezuela should be in the hands of the Venezuelan people.”

It was an ironic statement given Washington's ongoing efforts to reassert its influence over Venezuelan domestic affairs.

Last year, the US poured US$20 million into backing opposition parties, some of which have links to plotters of the 2002 coup.

The US campaign to politically isolate Venezuela, manipulate internal politics and buy opposition parties does not exactly correlate with Washington's supposed desire to put Venezuela “in the hands of the Venezuelan people”.

However, as Mark Weisbrot wrote in The Guardian last October, “Venezuela is sitting on 500 [billion] barrels of oil, and doesn't respect Washington’s foreign policy. That is what makes it public enemy number one.”

The Chavez government is also heading a popular revolutionary process that is redistributing wealth to the poor, promoting forms of direct democracy and nationalising a growing number of companies who violate the law. Such policies are part of the government's stated aim of building “socialism of the 21st century”.

So long as Venezuela continues to have independent government, especially one that pushes anti-capitalist policies, it will draw the ire of Washington.

As Venezuelan electricity minister Hector Navarro recently put it, “imperialism is aware that to end the Venezuelan revolution would be to eliminate other revolutions in the world”.