Tuesday, September 11 marks the 45th anniversary of one the bloodiest and most tragic events of the second half of the twentieth century: the US-backed fascist military coup that ushered in a quarter-century of police-state dictatorship in the South American country of Chile.
Tens of thousands of Chilean workers, students and left-wing intellectuals were rounded up, imprisoned, tortured and murdered on the orders of a military cabal headed by Gen. Augusto Pinochet. The Pinochet regime carried out these crimes in the closest collaboration with the Nixon White House, the Central Intelligence Agency and the Pentagon.
What had been a situation of immense revolutionary potential, marked by mass workers’ mobilizations, strikes and factory occupations, was turned into a bloody defeat, a nightmare of killing and repression. This was thanks to the betrayals of the Popular Unity government of Salvador Allende, backed by the Stalinist Chilean Communist Party, which sought to suppress the offensive of the Chilean workers and brought General Pinochet into Allende’s cabinet.
That these crimes are not merely a regrettable legacy from some long distant past was driven home by two events within the past two weeks.
The first was the delivery of a eulogy at the funeral of Republican Senator John McCain by the 94-year-old Henry Kissinger, America’s preeminent surviving war criminal. As national security adviser and then secretary of state under Richard Nixon, Kissinger was intimately involved in both the planning of the Chilean coup and the support given by Washington to the atrocities carried out by Pinochet. It was Kissinger who made the infamous statement, “I don’t see why we need to stand by and watch a country go communist because of the irresponsibility of its own people.”
The second development was the publication Saturday by the New York Times of a report that US officials repeatedly met between the fall of 2017 and the beginning of this year with a group of Venezuelan military officers seeking American support for the overthrow of the government of President Nicolas Maduro.
It was a public statement by President Donald Trump in August of last year broaching a US “military option” in Venezuela that “encouraged rebellious Venezuelan military officers to reach out to Washington,” according to the Times account.
Appearing alongside his then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, the former head of ExxonMobil, whose predecessor company long dominated Venezuela’s oil production, Trump declared: “Venezuela is not very far away and the people are suffering. They’re dying. We have many options for Venezuela including a possible military option, if necessary.”
It has since emerged that, far from an off-the-cuff rant, Trump’s public statement reflected internal discussions in which he was pressing aides for plans for a US invasion of Venezuela, an option he also discussed privately with select Latin American heads of state on the sidelines of the opening session of the United Nations General Assembly a year ago.
That this has remained Washington’s policy was spelled out in a speech delivered by Tillerson in February, in which he invoked the long and bloody history of US-backed coups, from the overthrow of Guatemala’s Arbenz in 1954, to the ouster of the Goulart government in Brazil a decade later, to the Pinochet coup in Chile, through to the abortive coup against Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez in 2002 and the Honduran coup backed by the Obama administration that toppled Manuel Zelaya in 2009.
“In the history of Venezuela and South American countries,” Tillerson declared, “it is often times that the military is the agent of change when things are so bad and the leadership can no longer serve the people.”
In Venezuela, as in all of the countries before it, the concern in Washington is not whether the government is acting to “serve the people,” but whether it is sufficiently subservient to US foreign policy interests and the global profit drive of US banks and corporations.
If US officials decided not to provide material support for the Venezuelan officers who first approached them last year, it was because they did not believe these men had the competence or the level of support within the military necessary to pull off a successful coup.
The deeply corrupt military command has been a principal pillar of the bourgeois nationalist government that emerged under the late Hugo Chavez and continues under Maduro. It has enriched itself even as the working class has seen its living standards decimated. Washington’s strategy is to bring the country’s economy to such a state of collapse that the military is induced to overthrow the government to defend its own interests, violently repressing the impoverished masses and establishing a regime completely subordinated to US interests.
Tuesday will also mark 17 years since the September 11 terrorist attacks on New York City and Washington that claimed the lives of nearly 3,000 people. The ceremonies marking this year’s anniversary will be the most subdued yet. It comes in the wake of an announced shift in US national defense strategy from the “global war on terror” to preparing for “great power” confrontation, i.e., war with nuclear-armed Russia and China, and under conditions in which the US military and CIA are operating in de facto alliance with Al Qaeda in Syria, Yemen and elsewhere.
The US intervention in Venezuela is driven by this stated strategy of “inter-state strategic competition,” in particular by the conflict with Beijing over China’s increasing influence in Latin America, long regarded by Washington as its “own back yard.”
The Maduro government’s cementing of closer economic ties with both China and Russia is seen to be undercutting the drive for US imperialist hegemony in Latin America and threatening the interests of US energy conglomerates in a country that sits atop the world’s largest proven oil reserves.
Over the past decade, China has extended more than $50 billion to Venezuela through oil-for-loan deals, and just two months ago it announced another $250 million from the China Development Bank to boost the country’s oil production. Russia, meanwhile, has funneled some $6 billion to the state-owned Petróleos de Venezuela (PDVSA) in return for oil and petroleum assets.
To secure its interests in Venezuela, as throughout the hemisphere, Washington is prepared to resort to—and openly discusses—methods ranging from starving the population to military coup, assassination and direct US invasion.
In the context of US policy in Venezuela and the entire history of Washington’s relations with the countries to its south, the hypocrisy of the campaign being waged by decisive layers of the US ruling establishment, the Democratic Party, the media and the military and intelligence apparatus over “Russian meddling” stands starkly exposed. Unsubstantiated allegations of Russian hacking of Democratic Party computers and the alleged activity of social media bots pale to insignificance in the light of Washington’s long and bloody record of overthrowing elected governments, installing murderous dictatorships and carrying out military interventions—and its ongoing preparations for similar crimes in the future.
US imperialism remains the world’s greatest “meddler,” with horrific consequences for masses of people around the world. The working class in the US must resolutely oppose its interventions along with the contemptible hypocrisy with which it drapes its militarist policies.
As for Venezuela, the task of settling accounts with Maduro and the corrupt military and capitalist elements he represents is that of the Venezuelan workers, not the CIA and the Pentagon.