And now we have the imminent threat of Washington's "save-the-Syrians" mission escalating and making an already catastrophic situation even worse. With the Geneva conference effort the administration is making some attempt to find a political solution that de-escalates the crisis and halts the current momentum toward a regional war. But the administration has not committed itself to a 'there is no military solution" stance. And pressure for military action from the right-wing war hawks led again by John McCain is mounting by the day.
IN DRONES WE (STILL) TRUST
This month Attorney General Eric Holder revealed for the first time that four Americans had been killed by drone strikes outside the battlefields of Afghanistan and Iraq. In his highly anticipated counterterrorism policy speech on May 23, Obama acknowledged concerns over his drone war and talked about the "moral dilemmas" of the program but at bottom defended the need for it and made clear it would continue. Although Obama stated that drones have their limits and that “force alone cannot make us safe,” he insisted that his targeted killing program has been effective in countering terrorism.
In order to assuage concerns over a lack of transparency regarding drone strikes, a presidential directive was released in advance of Obama’s speech stating that authority for the targeted killing program should be moved from the CIA to the Department of Defense. Obama also stated that he is open to working with Congress on establishing an independent court to review future drone targets. The true number of civilian deaths caused by U.S. drones (the Pakistani government alone says over 400 of its non-combatant citizens have been killed that way) was never mentioned. And the fact that none of the mechanisms for review suggested come even close to a legal standard for due process was ignored.
SAVING VENEZUELA FROM VENEZUELANS
Immediately following the closing of the polls, 54% of the votes were audited in the presence of witnesses from both political parties, as required by Venezuelan law. No problems were reported by either party. A statistical analysis of the voting machine audit from the balloting further confirmed the result.During a visit to Costa Rica this month, President Obama stated, "What we want for Venezuela is ... Venezuelans ... able to choose their own leadership in fair and free elections a democratic process that is credible." This was the latest punch thrown by Obama in an ongoing diplomatic attack by Washington against Venezuela. The statement, implying that Venezuela’s electoral system is undemocratic, alluded to the outcome of emergency presidential elections held in Venezuela in April due to the death of former President Hugo Chavez. On April 14 Nicolas Maduro, formerly Chavez’s vice president, won the election by a margin of 1.5%.
Nonetheless, opposition candidate Henrique Capriles, who had been handily defeated by Chavez just six months before, claimed that the elections were fraudulent and that his campaign would not recognize the results until 100% of the votes were recounted. The U.S. immediately echoed Capriles' demands. The day following the elections, Capriles urged his supporters to take to the streets and, "Take all of your hatred out, all your frustration, in the name of peace."
In a reenactment of the lead-up to the 2002 coup attempt against Chavez, opposition leaders colluded with private media to spread false information aimed at inciting violence. Photographs allegedly portraying the burning of ballot boxes and ballot papers began to be spread over the internet and through opposition-controlled news sources. A prominent opposition journalist, Nelson Bocaranda, alleged that Cuban doctors participating in Venezuela’s Barrio Adentro health program were participating in ballot burning. The photos were later revealed to have been taken several years ago when officials were destroying electoral materials following the 2006 and 2008 elections as mandated by law.
Tragically, these rumors resulted in death and destruction. The violence unleashed by opposition groups left nine people dead and 78 injured. Opposition mobs set fire to 18 Integral Diagnostic Health Centers, where Cuban doctors work, and three government-subsidized food markets. They also attacked the offices of two state television stations, various headquarters of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela, and the home of Tibisay Lucena, the director of Venezuela's National Electoral Council (CNE).
Rather than making any statements acknowledging the falsehood of photos being circulated in the media, Capriles has continued hurling unsubstantiated accusations of fraud and insisting that 100% of votes be recounted. To mollify opposition demands, the CNE brokered a deal with Capriles to carry out an audit of the 46% of voting boxes not already audited on the day of the elections. However, Capriles subsequently withdrew support for the audit and called for more anti-government demonstrations after the CNE rejected his additional demand that all the signatures and fingerprints that voters placed in the voter registry be verified, which would require an evaluation of over 15 million signatures and fingerprints.
WASHINGTON'S UNSAVORY ROLE
The CNE and other government officials contend that the Capriles campaign has yet to produce any credible evidence of irregularities and that its demands are simply aimed at tarnishing the legitimacy of Venezuela's electoral institutions. On May 2 the Capriles campaign formally brought their case before Venezuela's Supreme Court, and the defeated candidate affirmed that he would take the case to the Organization of American States' Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) after exhausting all legal methods at the national level.
Last year, former president Chavez withdrew Venezuela’s participation from the IAHCR, stating that the institution is beholden to U.S. political interests. Paralleling Chavez’s criticisms, Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa recently derided the IACHR for having 96.5% of its funds provided by the U.S. and Canada. He pointed out that this is particularly problematic since the U.S. and Canada are among a minority of countries in the Americas that never ratified the American Convention on Human Rights – freeing them of its jurisdiction.
The U.S. has fueled the climate of instability in Venezuela and emboldened opposition groups by perpetually disputing the legitimacy of Venezuela's electoral institutions while refusing to condemn any of the violent acts committed by Capriles supporters. To date, Washington has not recognized Maduro's victory and is still siding with Capriles' demands for a full recount. This represents a major escalation in U.S. hostility as it is the first time that Washington has refused to recognize a Venezuelan election result.
Despite Washington’s contention that it seems to know what is best for Venezuela’s democracy to thrive, the country’s election system has consistently received accolades from multiple international observation groups for its transparency and multiple forms of verification. Speaking on behalf of his election-monitoring organization, the Carter Center, former president Jimmy Carter stated, "Of the 92 elections that we’ve monitored, I would say the election process in Venezuela is the best in the world.” Meanwhile, the MERCOSUR trade bloc, the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR), and the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) have all recognized Venezuela’s electoral outcome and endorsed Maduro as the legitimate president.
Washington’s position has nothing to do with salvaging Venezuelan democracy. Rather the U.S. has used this impasse as a means of further polarizing Venezuela and supporting an increasingly disruptive opposition movement. Venezuelan Foreign Minister Elias Jaua aptly described Obama's stance as an attack on the “legitimate government of Venezuela.”
To draw from Galeano's words, if this is what saving Venezuela looks like, then a majority of Venezuelans would prefer to not be saved.
The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the entire War Times project