A video report on the forces behind the Venezuelan regime change lobby in Washington, DC and the campaign of disinformation the opposition and its US backers have waged to gin up support for sanctions and even military intervention.
By Thomas Hedges
On May 24th, America’s preferred Venezuelan government, which was self appointed, not elected, and which had no power to issue passports or perform any other diplomatic duties, took over the Venezuelan embassy in Georgetown. The takeover followed a weeks-long battle between Venezuelan opposition members and a group of activists protesting Washington’s efforts to support a coup in the country.
ANTI GUAIDO PROTESTER: “We are here to make sure that the Venezuelan embassy stays in the hands of the duly elected government in Venezuela.”
In January, the United States recognized opposition leader and head of Venezuela’s national assembly Juan Guaidó as the country’s new interim president.
JUAN GUAIDO: “I swear to assume all of the powers of the national executive as the interim president…”
Since then, Guaidó’s opposition government has, with the vigorous support of the US, launched multiple failed coup attempts to topple the Venezuelan government.
It was after one of Guaidó’s failed coup attempts on April 30th that pro-opposition protesters in Washington showed up at the Venezuelan Embassy in Georgetown to demand activists inside the embassy leave. As the coup floundered in Venezuela, the battle shifted to Washington, with the DC-based lobbying operation of Guaidó and his Popular Will party, taking the lead.
In this report, we look at the forces behind the Venezuelan regime change lobby in Washington, and the campaign of disinformation they and their US backers have waged to gin up public support for sanctions and even a military intervention.
That disinformation campaign began outside the embassy, as opposition members agitated by anti-Chavista media accused CODEPINK and other activist groups of being paid fronts for Venezuela’s government.
FIRST OPPOSITION PROTESTER: “I’m an American. My wife is a Venezuelan. I’m here to support the Venezuelans in their stand against these radical extremist organizations over here. Some of them are known communists and socialists.”
SECOND OPPOSITION PROTESTER: “These people protesting in front of our embassy, they are making money. If you do the math they are being paid 14 to 15 dollars an hour. There is a donation in the name of CODEPINK, the non-profit organization of $15 million from the Maduro regime: 15, one, five.”
It isn’t true that groups like CODEPINK, which are a part of the Embassy Protection Collective, have been paid millions of dollars by Maduro. But it’s that sort of disinformation that’s fueled acts of violence and abuse from opposition protesters and the police.
RANIA KHALEK: “I’m a fucking bitch?”
THIRD OPPOSITION PROTESTER: “Yeah.”
RANIA KHALEK:“Why am I a fucking bitch?”
THIRD OPPOSITION PROTESTER: “Because you’re being paid to be here—“
RANIA KHALEK: “You don’t even know who I am.”
FOURTH OPPOSITION PROTESTER: “What’s your name, you ugly Indian? Yeah, take my photo, cause I’m prettier than you. Tomorrow I’ll be beautiful and white, while you’ll still be an ugly Indian bitch. Faggot, one day you’re going to get it, fagot.”
BRIAN BECKER, ANSWER COALITION: “Many of us have been the victims of violent assault, people putting horns directly into our eardrums at the decibel level of 110, people have been pushed, have been thrown down.”
GERRY CONDON, PRESIDENT OF VETERANS FOR PEACE: “I tried to through a cucumber up to my friends. I was attacked and gang-tackled by about five or six secret service police, who then threw me to the ground right on my face […] But the context here — the Trump administration has opened up a new front in the regime change war against Venezuela by turning this embassy over to their handpicked self-appointed government in Venezuela.”
So what exactly were opposition protesters demanding? On the surface, their pleas seem quite modest: they claimed want the return of consular services so they could renew their passports and visas.
In a VICE news report, the embassy collective was portrayed as a group of non-Venezuelans who’d not only appropriated a struggle that wasn’t theirs, but used shady tactics to attack those on the other side.
ELLE REEVE, VICE REPORTER: “We tried to get inside, but the activists upstairs wouldn’t let us in, saying we were the hipster media arm of the empire.”
Interviewed in the piece as if she was a regular protester is Diliana Bustillos, who’s actually de facto leader in Washington, DC, and is heavily plugged into the Guaidó lobby.
DILIANA BUSTILLOS: “My fight! My struggle! My building!”
But what VICE fails to mention is that Bustillos has, as Jeb Sprague and Alex Rubinstein of Mintpress pointed out, a background in corporate marketing and works as a senior manager at a computer technology company who’s clients include Boeing. She’s also volunteered with Visión Democrática, a group that lobbies for “democracy promotion” in Venezuela, which is essentially code for regime change.
Visión Democrática has served as a de facto DC lobbying shop for Guaidó’s Popular Will Party. It’s been led in part by Francisco Marquez, a Popular Will activist currently acting as the number two to Guaidó’s wannabe ambassador, Carlos Vecchio.
The leadership of the Venezuelan opposition in DC presents itself as a peaceful, non violent group of activists seeking for a democratic outcome in their home country.
Yet Visión Democrática’s Marquez was among the attendees of an off the record meeting at the DC think tank, the Center for Strategic and International Studies, or CSIS, dedicated to discussing a US military invasion of Venezuela. The Grayzone exposed the meeting and the list of participants in an exclusive report.
And here’s Robert Nasser, a key protest leader featured in VICE’s puff piece on the Venezuelan opposition, declaring that Venezuelans like would gladly support a US invasion of their home country.
JEB SPRAGUE: “So if Trump invaded, with Colombian and Brazilian support, you think Venezuelans would welcome with open arms —“
ROBERT NASSER: “I would say on the whole, yes.”
Support for a US invasion permeates virtually every corner of the pro-Guaido opposition movement. From the owner of the website askavenezuelan.com saying “With no U.S. Marine Corps there is no paradise,” to the fact that the movement’s most celebrated American political figures are hawkish Republicans, to Guaido himself asking for assistance from the head of US Southern Command, the evidence points overwhelmingly towards a push for invasion in Venezuela.
The people The Grayzone spoke to at the embassy protests were no different.
FIRST OPPOSITION PROTESTER: “At this point the Venezuelan people are suffering enough and in my personal opinion I would support boots on the ground— ”
FIFTH OPPOSITION PROTESTER: “Us, as civilians, we cannot fight against criminals […] We need military aid […] We cannot win this war alone. We can’t.”
SIXTH OPPOSITION PROTESTER: “The US is an ally. The US is supporting the restoration of democracy. We want to vote and right now the Venezuelan people are kidnapped.”
It turned out Hernandez is a managing director at Innovatics Group, and previously worked at a free market advocacy group called the Atlas Network, whose name is an homage to Ayn Rand’s novel Atlas Shrugged, whose goal is to limit government and promote private-property rights in countries around the world.
ATLAS NETWORK PROMO VIDEO: “Atlas freedom champions are knocking down barriers to wealth creation, fighting corruption and fostering free enterprise by reducing the role of government and protecting individual liberty.”
Its funders include ExxonMobil, the tobacco company Phillip Morris and the Koch Brothers. It also receives money from the State Department and the National Endowment for Democracy.
It’s easy to, at a glance, see a group of concerned Venezuelans when protests break out on the street in response to what’s happening in Venezuela. But on closer inspection, this seemingly grassroots movement whose broad calls for democracy, freedom and change appear innocent is the face of something that has become all too commonplace in American foreign policy: which is to give a populist face to what are actually the interests of multinational corporations, something national security advisor John Bolton actually let slip out in an interview earlier this year:
JOHN BOLTON, ON FOX BUSINESS: “We’re looking at the oil assets. That’s the single most important income stream […] It’ll make a big difference to the United States economically if we could have American oil companies invest in and produce the oil.”
And the May 24th takeover is a stark example of that. The man behind the flag is Juan Guaidó’s wannabe ambassador, Carlos Vecchio. And Vecchio has been cultivated by US soft power groups for this very moment.
CARLOS VECCHIO, AT INTERNATIONAL REPUBLICAN INSTITUTE EVENT: “Thank you Elliott [Abrams] for your words. Thank you for becoming a friend in this fight.”
He’s spent the past weeks imploring the US naval southern command to help his colleagues seize power in the Venezuelan capital of Caracas.
Now that he’s inside the prized embassy in America’s capital, Vecchio has successfully shifted this battle’s base of operations from Caracas to Washington, DC’s immense halls of power.
Thomas Hedges is a photographer, videographer, and journalist who produces video reports and documentaries for The Grayzone. His work has also appeared in The Guardian, Salon, and Truthout.