Venezuelan Assembly Grants Executive Powers While Military Drills in Defensive Exercises

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By Z.C. Dutka

In response to US president Obama’s use of an executive order to sanction Venezuelan authorities, Venezuelan leader Nicolas Maduro requested decree powers to pass an “anti-imperialist law to prepare for all scenarios.” The National Assembly voted by majority their approval this on Wednesday morning.

Decree Powers

The bill, which must be approved by 60 percent of the Assembly according to Venezuela’s constitution, will now move on to a second reading to obtain final approval.

In the past, the Obama administration has condemned Maduro for using decree powers to pass legislation, stating that “the separation of powers…are essential elements of democracy.” In contrast, Mr. Obama’s executive order by which Venezuela was labeled “a threat to [US] national security” did not require approval from any legislative body.

Venezuelan law mandates that it must be specified to what end the enabling powers will be used. In this instance, Maduro wrote the proposal together with the deputy attorney general, Reinaldo Muñoz, to preserve the country’s “integrity…[and] sovereignty, in the face of any circumstances that could arise with this imperialist aggression.

The Venezuelan president last requested enabling powers in 2013, to pass a series of laws aimed at reducing corruption.

Military Drills

During this morning’s address, president Maduro ordered Venezuela’s armed forces to drill in “defensive military exercise” this Saturday, and invited the participation of people’s militias and the general public.

“Venezuela must be prepared, we must preserve (the country) as a land of peace,” he said.

In addition to the drills, the head of state promised to protect the integrity of the upcoming parliamentary elections.

“I ask god for protection, if major events shake our country- with me alive or not, the order is rain or shine, parliamentary elections will happen this year whether the empire wants it or not. …Let the people decide what will happen in this country,” Maduro said before the Assembly.

“And we will go into it with the same position as always… If we win, win, and if we lose, lose and that’s it … Democracy, peace and constitution is what we want.”

UNASUR & ALBA

Ecuadorian president Rafael Correa announced yesterday that representatives of the Union of South American States (UNASUR) will meet tomorrow in Uruguayan capital Montevideo to prepare for a presidential summit next week in which the question of US interference in Venezuela will be discussed.

At next week’s summit, Correa told reporters, the bloc “will give the corresponding answer to that gross, illegal, shameless, outrageous, and unjustified act of interference by the United States in the internal affairs of Venezuela.”

For his part, UNASUR Secretary Ernesto Samper condemned the White House decision yesterday evening, saying “I don’t think it is good for a country to impose unilateral sanctions … the Venezuelan affairs have to be resolved by the Venezuelan people.”

The Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas, a trade bloc founded by Hugo Chavez and known by its initials ALBA, also released a statement Tuesday evening.

The categorizing of Venezuela as an “unusual and extraordinary threat” to US national security “constitutes an unprecedented aggression against that country and thus our region,” the statement reads.

“This aggression violates every principle of international law which governs relationships between states, treating every state as equal and sovereign.

It also undermines the historic anti-imperialist struggle claimed by our people, and threatens the peace and tranquility of our countries,” says the document, which was upheld by the 12 Latin American and Caribbean member states that make up the bloc.

Venezuela Hopes for the Best, Prepares for the Worst

On Saturday Venezuela will conduct some of its largest military drills in recent years. Along with the navy, army and air force, the voluntary militia forces and general public have all been invited to take part in a series of military exercises aimed at testing Venezuela’s defensive abilities.

Venezuela

Visiting Russian forces will also join a number of exercises, including anti-aircraft drills. The Russian navy will also pay a friendly visit to Venezuelan ports.

The Russian visit is no surprise. The backbone of Venezuela’s air defense system is its pair of Russian made S-300VM air defense systems, purchased in April 2013 from Moscow. Widely considered among the most effective mobile air defense systems in the world, the S-300VM can blast missiles and aircraft out of the sky from a distance of up to 200 kilometers. Saturday’s exercises will the first time the Venezuelan military will use the S-300VMs in such large scale drills. Given that the S-300VM was developed and sold by Russia, its no surprise Venezuela is happy to have Russian troops on hand.

The Russians are also expected to join exercises involving BM-30 Smerch rocket launchers.

These exercises aren’t the first major joint Venezuela-Russia drills. In 2008, the Venezuelan and Russian navies held three day exercises in the Caribbean, aimed at honing counter-narcotics operations. Right wing pundits in the United States quickly claimed the drills were no less threatening than the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Both then and today, claims that Venezuela is adopting an aggressive military posture (supposedly exemplified in these drills) are distortions. All too often, hawks in the United States claim that Venezuela is dramatically and unnecessarily expanding its military capacity. However, the facts are that Venezuela has modernized its military in a measured manner, but is hardly out of step with its neighbors. From 2005 to 2008, Venezuela did indeed undergo a notable overhaul of its armed forces, and invested heavily in modern technology, sparking criticism from the United States – which ironically boasts the most expensive military in the world. Since then, Venezuela has slowed down new acquisitions, and today its annual military spending is roughly in line with most South American neighbors, in terms of GDP. According to World Bank figures, between 2008-2012 Venezuela’s military expenditure was around 1 percent of GDP. Comparatively, U.S. military spending during the same period was around 4 percent of GDP, while Colombia was 3 percent.

The second major spanner in the works for believers in the “new Cuban missile crisis” hypothesis is the nature of Venezuela’s drills. Unlike NATO’s naval drills on Russia’s doorstep in the Black Sea earlier this week, Venezuela’s exercises are explicitly defensive.

For example, if the U.S. doesn’t plan on flying warplanes in Venezuelan airspace, why should it be concerned about anti-aircraft drills? If U.S. tanks never roll across the Venezuelan countryside, how could BM-30 Smerch tests pose a threat to Washington’s interests?

The obvious answer is that there are some voices in Washington that do see Venezuela’s ability to defend its own sovereign territory as a threat to U.S. interests – people like Senator Marco Rubio and Senator Bob Menendez, who have long advocated for the U.S. to interfere in Venezuela’s domestic politics. Indeed, the threat of a U.S. backed (or even instigated) attack on Venezuela is very real. After all, many of Venezuela’s neighbors have been invaded by the United States and its proxies, including Grenada in 1983, Nicaragua in 1981, Cuba in 1961, Guatemala in 1954 and others. Yet the most oft-cited historic parallel has been that of Chile’s Allende government, which was overthrown by a U.S. backed military coup in 1973.

Years before the coup actually took place, President Richard Nixon had secretly issued a letter to the CIA ordering them to make Chile’s economy “scream,” while publicly denouncing Salvador Allende’s government as a “threat” to the region.

Today, President Nicolas Maduro says Washington wants Venezuela’s economy to scream, to soften the country for another coup attempt. President Barack Obama has already declared Venezuela a threat to the United States, while his predecessor supported a failed coup in 2002.

As Maduro stated earlier this week, “Venezuela must be prepared.”

He continued by explaining that Venezuela is a “land of peace,” and the government’s priority is protecting democracy. Specifically, he vowed to ensure no foreign intervention or internal sabotage derails parliamentary elections slated for late this year.

“I ask god for protection, if major events shake our country- with me alive or not, the order is rain or shine, parliamentary elections will happen this year whether the empire wants it or not,” he stated.

Fundamentally, Saturday’s military exercises are about defending Venezuelan sovereignty, territory and democracy.

Venezuela Sounds Alarm after Obama Invokes International Emergency Act

By Z.C. Dutka

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Venezuelan foreign minister Delcy Rodriguez sent an alert to international solidarity groups this afternoon, indicating that recent actions taken by the US government are meant to justify “intervention,” and do not correspond with international law.

The warning came within 24 hours of an address made by US president Barack Obama, in which Venezuela was labeled an “unusual and extraordinary threat to [US] national security”.

While slapping a new set of sanctions on the South American nation, Obama declared a national emergency, invoking the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA) against Venezuela. Other states which currently have the IEEPA invoked against them include; Iran, Myanmar, Sudan, Russia, Zimbabwe, Syria, Belarus and North Korea.

Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro responded to the move yesterday evening by describing it as the most aggressive step the US has taken against Venezuela to date.

The Venezuelan leader branded the declarations as “hypocritical,” asserting that the United States poses a much bigger threat to the world.

“You are the real threat, who trained and created Osama Bin Laden… “ said Maduro, referring to Bin Laden’s CIA training during the late 1970s to fight the Soviet army in Afghanistan.

He also remarked upon “double standards” in the White House’s accusations that Venezuela has violated human rights in its treatment of anti-government protestors.

“Defend the human rights of the black U.S. citizens being killed in U.S. cities every day, Mr. Obama,” he said.

“I’ve told Mr. Obama, how do you want to be remembered? Like Richard Nixon, who ousted Salvador Allende in Chile? Like President Bush, responsible for ousting President Chavez? … Well President Obama, you already made your choice … you will be remembered like President Nixon,” Maduro declared during a live television broadcast.

The South American president went on to outline ways in which the United States has already interfered in Venezuelan affairs, pointing to 105 official statements made by that government in the past year- over half of which demonstrate explicit support for Venezuelan opposition leaders.

The Venezuelan government previously accused the United States of playing a direct role in a thwarted coup attempt last month. The president today reminded viewers that the man believed to have financed the coup, Carlos Osuna, is currently “in New York, under the protection of the US government.”

Maduro also requested this morning the use of the Enabling Act to pass “a special law to preserve peace in the country” in the face of US threats.

If the powers are granted by the National Assembly, Maduro plans to draft next Tuesday an “anti-imperialist law to prepare us for all scenarios and to win,” he said today.