Joe Emersberger and Justin Podur
Monthly Review Press, 327 pages
For those skeptical of U.S. corporate media coverage of Venezuela, the question often pops up – why? What is the purpose of such venomous commentary? The obvious and indeed paramount answer is the overthrow of a socialist government and its replacement with something that resembles the Colombian hall of horrors: "A multigenerational civil war, the exclusion of the majority, the murder of social leaders and the reconfiguration of the economy for the benefit of the United States and the local elite" -- that Colombian recipe is what the U.S. would impose on Venezuela, as Joe Emersberger and Justin Podur write in their powerful new book, Extraordinary Threat, The U.S. Empire, the Media, and Twenty Years of Coup Attempts in Venezuela.
Unlucky Colombia has served as a laboratory for U.S. counterinsurgency for decades. It also functions as NATO's toehold in Latin America. That toe, however, has a fungus that infected the country's entire power structure with murderous violence. But that's not how North American sachems view things. U.S. politicos and military bigwigs drool over Columbia with love and would like nothing better than to refashion Venezuela in its image. Nevertheless, Colombia remains a byword, an evil omen of the death and destruction that the empire rakes across the Global South.
In the early 2000s, the U.S. supported Colombian fascist president Alvaro Uribe's bloodletting, which included the "false positives" scandal. In that, "the army killed 10,000 or more completely innocent noncombatants to boost the death toll they could report of guerillas." And that death toll was already substantial. "Thousands of Colombians were disappeared during each year of Uribe's rule: 15,732 in 2002, 12,577 in 2003 and 9,759 in 2004." Indeed from 2000 to 2010, the Columbian civil war never let up, as Uribe, "who held office from 2002 to 2010 kept ramping the conflict up, promising victory against the guerillas." Notably, Uribe's demobilized paramilitaries confessed to 32,909 crimes, most of them murders.
So Colombia is the model for state murder and extra-judicial killing that the U.S. plans to inflict on Venezuela with its multitudes of socialists, communists, leftists and Chavistas – all of whom would face certain extermination, massacres by future U.S.-backed paramilitaries. And the method is Plan Colombia, a policy of death squads and drug enforcement originally promoted by none other than Senator Joe Biden.
"For over a century," the authors write, "the United States has used terror tactics – including everything from direct military invasion to economic strangulations – to assert its self-appointed right to rule over all countries in the Americas. It has smashed small countries…that could only have posed the 'threat of a good example.'" This is exactly the threat Venezuela has presented since Hugo Chavez came to power in the late 1990s. That perilous "good example" continues under Nicolas Maduro, despite the country's recent economic decline. Indeed, that so-called threat of good example scares the U.S. oligarchy for as long as Venezuela remains socialist.
Chavez inherited an impoverished country with a thin, glittering layer of affluence at the top. To the horror of Washington and Venezuelan plutocrats, he promptly began redistributing wealth to the poor. Under Chavez, "Venezuela's poverty rate fell by half." This is all the more impressive when you consider that when he took office in 1999, GDP per capita "was at one of its lowest points in decades. Then it was driven even lower by the first two attempts to oust Chavez."
Extraordinary Threat documents the relentless Western media campaign against Chavez, as it threw mud on this potentially dangerous "good example." The idea was to smear Chavez and to brainwash readers and viewers into believing that Venezuelan socialism caused poverty. Under Chavez, just the opposite occurred. But in the imperial core, the lie worked. North Americans are among the world's most misinformed when it comes to Venezuela.
"No one in the western media is ever held accountable for telling outright lies about [Venezuela]," the book notes, adding that the most outlandish prevarication came from Obama in March 2015, when he imposed sanctions. He declared a "national emergency," because Venezuela embodied "an extraordinary threat to the national security of the United States." This was utter garbage. Geographically far smaller than the U.S., with a fraction of the population, a miniscule portion of the wealth, and the aggregate of its soldiers and weaponry tiny by comparison to those of the U.S., Venezuela is no match for the biggest military empire in human history, and Venezuelan leaders would be insane ever to directly challenge that astoundingly violent imperial force. And they are not insane.
One wild fabrication about Venezuela is that Maduro is so authoritarian, he's practically a dictator. And yet what's never mentioned is that he tolerates a violent opposition, bent on insurrection and financially boosted by a hostile foreign power. The U.S. would never endure for an instant what Venezuela's left-wing government has put up with for years. So who's the authoritarian?
Indeed, in the sure-can-dish-it-out-but-can't-take-it department, the U.S. excels. "Six times in this century (so far) the United States has decided that a democratically elected head of state in the Western Hemisphere had to go: Venezuela's Hugo Chavez in 2002, Haiti's Jean Bertrand Aristide in 2004, Honduras's Manuel Zelaya in 2009, Bolivia's Evo Morales in 2019, Nicaragua's Daniel Ortega and Venezuela's Nicolas Maduro in 2019." So the U.S. is a regime change recidivist maniac. But God help any country that ever tries to respond in kind, because the North American empire would bomb it to smithereens.
Another pervasive fib about Venezuela is that its socialist government has, since Chavez's day, pulled a puppet-media's strings, squelching the opposition's press freedom. This is false. Opposition newspapers and TV stations abound – and they quite openly and enthusiastically support the opposition's savagery, as this new book amply documents. The book recounts the six attempts to overthrow the government by the U.S.-backed opposition, with war whoops and hollers from local press and TV hostile to the governing socialists.
One U.S. accusation is true: Venezuelan poverty has increased under Maduro since 2014. But that's for four reasons, with the U.S. responsible for two – years of support for an insurrectionist opposition, and after 2017, crippling U.S. economic sanctions. The other two reasons are Maduro's policy errors and the dramatic crash of the price of oil. So Maduro is only partly to blame for the economic pinch. A rather small part.
One example of how criminal U.S. sanctions have crushed Venezuela and murdered civilians: In 2013, the country "was importing about $2 billion per year in medicine." By 2018 under Trump's sanctions, that fell to $140 million. That's a lot of sick people not getting treatment. In fact, it's thousands slaughtered by the U.S. from 2017-2018, during which period there was a 31 percent increase in general mortality.
The U.N. human rights official Michelle Bachelet noted problems in Venezuela before sanctions, as if thus to excuse the U.S. But "that's precisely what makes sanctions so depraved," Emersberger and Podur write. "Imagine a defense attorney saying 'Your honor, I will show that the victim was already in intensive care when my client began to assault him." That aptly describes U.S. actions – assaulting the wounded. And not just in Venezuela, but throughout Central and Latin America and the Caribbean. The wreckage of imperial policy is everywhere, from the killing fields of an unlivable Honduras to the nightmare of Colombia. Is it any wonder small left-leaning countries struggle against malignant U.S. regime-change efforts, to avoid this fate?