Operation Condor 2.0: Behind Aznar’s Award to Guaidó and the Atlas Network

Karen Méndez Loffredo

Interview with Julián Macías Tovar, researcher and editor of Pandemia Digital.

Former President José María Aznar presented the 10th FAES Freedom Award to former Venezuelan MP Juan Guaidó. The event was also attended by the president of the Community of Madrid, Isabel Díaz Ayuso, the mayor José Luis Martínez Almeida and the leader of the Partido Popular, Pablo Casado.

According to a statement from the Foundation for Analysis and Social Studies (FAES), chaired by José María Aznar, this year’s award was unanimously granted to the former Venezuelan deputy, Juan Guaidó, “for giving prestige to the democratic cause of Venezuela and arousing international solidarity with it”.

The award received by Guaidó has been given on other occasions to personalities such as Margaret Thatcher, Shimon Peres, Mario Vargas Llosa, Enrique Krauze, Luis Almagro, as well as to NATO and the think tanks International Republican Institute (IRI) and the National Democratic Institute (NDI).

But what is the relationship between this award, the recent meeting of Latin American right-wing leaders in Ecuador and the Atlas Network organization, what is being pursued, who is behind it? Julián Macías Tovar, researcher and editor of Pandemia Digital, has many of these answers.

Why do you think FAES awarded this prize to Juan Guaidó?

Well, I think it follows the line of awards given by this organization. Previously, Margaret Thatcher was one of the awardees, and Almagro, of the OAS. So, they award prizes to their international geopolitical circles. We must not forget that FAES is an organization of Atlas Network, which is a compendium of foundations that have a very clear role on a geopolitical scale and that, clearly, is on the side of Guaidó.

A second interpretation can also be made. I believe that not only within the Venezuelan opposition, but from the moment that the same people, entities and institutions, countries began to generate internal criticisms about Guaidó, it is like a farewell prize then to look for another character to lead the opposition following their key principles, which is through the use of lies and violence.

Or could it also be to refloat him because of the little internal support he has in Venezuela?

After all his maneuvers, the results they expected from him are far below what was planned and he has had a lot of criticism. But it could be that, if they cannot find a better option to continue, not only attacking the Venezuelan Government, but also to maintain the discursive axis of confrontation with other governments in Latin America or other countries in the world, since the Venezuela joker is always visible and they need to lead that narrative with a person in the opposition who will continue talking about the lack of democracy, then I think it could be any of these options. What is true is that I am not at all surprised that a figure like Guaidó was awarded.

Talking about Latin American leaders. Recently we saw that Keiko Fujimori, Leopoldo López, Colombian President Iván Duque, PP leader Pablo Casado and Isabel Díaz Ayuso, who participated through video, met at a forum in Ecuador. What unites them?

You forgot to mention that José María Aznar, the president of FAES, was also there. Guillermo Lasso not only belongs to Opus Dei, which is an ultra-Catholic space, a minority within the Church that has been closely associated with the ultra-right, with coups d’état, but the most important thing about Guillermo Lasso is that he is the president of Ecuador Libre, which is a foundation of Atlas Network, in which the ultra-right invests a lot of money to attempt to coordinate efforts against the left.

And in Spain, more than the Popular Party as a whole, there is a much more solid structure than that of the political parties, which is specifically related to foundations and the media, which is not the Popular Party itself. Let us remember that both Esperanza Aguirre and José María Aznar represent that right wing within the Partido Popular, which they call liberal conservative, but which is a neo-liberal and ultra-Catholic space that has a whole network of spaces of power interwoven which seeks to influence not only governments, but also internal political parties.

For example, in the Popular Party, the politician with the best results is Feijóo, who has an absolute majority in Galicia, but he does not belong to this space at all, on the other hand, Ayuso together with Cayetana Álvarez de Toledo, who was also a member of FAES, Aznar’s right hand, represent this space like no one else.

So the victory of Ayuso in Madrid has served as a reminder of this somewhat naïve strategy of not talking about political or electoral measures or programs, but about slogans such as communism or freedom. The word freedom is one of the discursive elements that always appears, but if we remember who is behind it, the ideologists, the gurus, we find people like Milton Friedman, who was the ideologist of the whole Operation Condor that carried out coups d’état in Latin America.

You mention Atlas Network a lot. Tell us a little more about it, what is it, who are its members, what are their objectives, how do they operate?

A little after the Cold War and Operation Condor, which was explicitly supported by the CIA, by the United States, several spaces were created that were not directly related to U.S. institutions.

In Ronald Reagan’s time, a foundation called Heritage Foundation was created, which is what FAES represents for the Popular Party, which is somewhat similar to the Tea Party in the United States, defending the most conservative values related to ultra-Catholicism and the most neoliberal spaces that speak of the dissolution of the State and that there is only a free market, that privileges private companies, that there are no public services and that the great fortunes are not taxed, among other things.

So, at that time, this foundation was created and gradually it was linked to other foundations. FAES was a very important foundation, especially for Latin America, that was created to develop the search for companies and families that would finance think tanks to carry out the cultural battle and to support politicians, governments and policies that would serve these interests.

Right now, the main people or companies that are behind it are the Koch family, which not only fund the Heritage Foundation, but also the Atlas Network. Then we have big companies like the oil company Exxon or the tobacco company Philip Morris, and others, which according to these interests drive all these think tanks and their relationships with politicians and the media in their favor.

And what are they doing now?

In each of the elections they are clearly represented. The most recent case is that of Ecuador, where the current president, Guillermo Lasso, was tutored for many years by José María Aznar.

Let us remember that Guillermo Lasso was Minister of Economy at the time of the great financial crisis in Ecuador at the end of the 90’s, and investigators reported that he moved money to tax havens, such as the Cayman Islands or Panama, and it is alleged that José María Aznar was supporting Lasso’s bank in Panama.

They were named honorary doctors at the same time in a private university in Ecuador, and he was the one who encouraged him to create the Ecuador Libre foundation, under which there are at least a score of columnists, media directors and influencers who have supported him in this dirty campaign against Correism, which have disseminated false news with the support of these media and through fake accounts in social networks.

For example, now in this forum in Ecuador there has been an explicit support to Keiko Fujimori, and in fact, she was one of those presented, and with all the revolt in Colombia there was an explicit support to Iván Duque. So in the end they are trying to organize a reactionary political space driven by lack of scruples, human rights violations or crimes against humanity, with campaigns of dirty war, disinformation and hatred.

Another case that comes to mind is the recent arrest in the United States of Arturo Murillo, Jeanine Añez’s number two in the coup in Bolivia and who was the person who signed the contract with CLS Strategies, which is the US company that Facebook accused of generating false accounts to attack many governments, but specifically detected false pages and millions of dollars spent on advertising and disinformation and hate campaigns against the governments of Venezuela, Mexico and Bolivia.

And one of the founders of this company CLS Strategies is Peter Schechter, who was president of the Atlantic Council Foundation for Latin America, and the director of the Atlantic Council for Latin America and Europe is José María Aznar.

In the end, there is a whole network of companies, organizations such as the OAS or the Atlantic Council itself that serve as a geopolitical lobby to attack leftist governments. They even act with US funds, through USAID, which provides funds and intervenes locally in several countries, through the NED (National Endowment of Democracy), the IRI, NDI and a lot of other spaces that also intervene and that, in some way, coordinate organizations, foundations and the media in the different countries.

There is a synergy between all these organizations to unbalance governments or to influence elections, mainly in Latin America.

Does their power of influence reach the media?

Yes, yes, of course, of course. We must not forget, speaking of José María Aznar, that he is one of the advisors of News Corp, which is the largest media conglomerate in the world, which owns Fox News and many other channels in the world.

Then, the Atlas Network people usually have their own media and they also act in coordination with others, as we said. For example, the NED financed the communication agency Fides, which provides information to more than one hundred media in Bolivia and which clearly supported the coup d’état against Evo Morales.

But if we go to Ecuador, beyond all these people who work in the Ecuador Libre Foundation, there are others who are media directors or columnists in different media that operate in the same way. For example, Fernando Villavicencio, who has been appointed deputy and who started the case against Rafael Correa, has a media outlet financed by the Thousand Leaves Foundation, which is also financed by the NED, and thanks to this financing not only has made these accusations, but also published this type of information against Correa’s government.

For example, in the case of Venezuela, since we are talking about Juan Guaidó, I investigated all the accounts, all the Facebook pages of the media that supported Guaidó as well as those of the most well-known opponents, and 100% are managed from the US, and I am talking about more than 20 media outlets. There is a clear connection not only of financing, but of organizing and coordinating disinformation attacks, both in social networks and in the media.

That’s how the right is organized, and the left?

I believe that everyone has made the same diagnosis that there has been an advance of hate messages, surely Venezuela has been one of the first places where such strategies have been used, but globally the extreme right is gaining ground precisely because such strategies are not only being executed, but also because they have total impunity.

My understanding is that for some time now the ultra-right has been investing everything in technology. We are talking about the fact that nowadays they are launching satellites for facial recognition to compare it, to cross-reference it with their databases of their own social network platforms, and the left has neither slingshots, nor a single concern, or perhaps they do. But the world is moving towards digitization in both information consumption and entertainment content.

Clearly the right, or the ultra-right, has been visionary and has staked everything on this, while the left lives in complacent contemplation, without making it a priority.

These types of strategies, which not only cross many ethical, moral and democratic lines for the purpose of getting one political party or another into government, are also changing this society into one that is worse, with more hatred, more polarized, more enmity, with artificial hatreds, that are created.

Where is all this leading us? Clearly towards disaster and conflicts, even armed conflicts, coups, because they encourage so many negative things that we assumed we were immunized against that would not be repeated, but we saw, for example, that events like Bolivia happened or we see that Mario Vargas Llosa, the president of one of the foundations of the Atlas Network, recently said that a military coup was possible in Peru if Pedro Castillo won.

That is why I call this Operation Condor 2.0 because they use the same methods, strategies and have the same lack of scruples, and it should no longer be only the left that must make a diagnosis, but society in general must undertake a diagnosis and a reflection to take measures to curb this wave that is extremely dangerous for the peoples and for all of humanity.

Translation by Internationalist 360°