The world witnessed the return of a strange and destructive 19th Century American pastime in May.
The pastime is filibustering; private efforts to overthrow foreign governments for personal or commercial gain. On 1 May 2020, a group of 60 to 70 adventurers in landed in Venezuela using two fishing boats.
The adventurers’ goal was to overthrow incompetent but elected Venezuelan President Nicholas Maduro. The invaders hoped to replace Maduro with opposition leader Juan Guaidó who also claims to be Venezuela’s president.
Note: there is no evidence that Guaidó was behind the coup attempt. On the other hand, some of the invaders were deserters from the Venezuelan military sympathetic to Guaidó. Former Venezuelan Major General Clíver Alcalá also had a role in the assault.
The Coup Attempt that Wasn’t
The coup attempt; which involved a group of men wandering around the streets with guns and lots of Tweets, failed fast. Incredibly, news reports claim some of the attackers were armed with paintball rifles and other nonlethal weapons.
Stupidly, the attackers challenged the well-equipped Venezuelan military with no heavy weapons of their own. For example, the adventurers took on tanks with automatic rifles.
Predictably, Maduro blames the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and President Donald J. Trump (R-Florida) for the amateur operation. However, the only evidence linking the attackers to the US government are Veterans Administration (VA) identification cards and an ID badge from the Pentagon.
Instead, a group of self-styled mercenaries and renegade Venezuelan soldiers led by Jordan Goudreau launched the attack. Goudreau, a Canadian, is a former U.S. Army Green Beret and founder of Sivlercorp USA a “private security company,” Vox claims.
Circumstantial evidence indicates that American Roen Kraft, an heir to the Kraft cheese fortune, and possibly British billionaire Sir Richard Branson were involved in the attack. Kraft denies giving Goudreau money, but Vox claims Alcalá promised coup supporters Venezuelan government contracts in return for financial support.
There is media speculation that Branson, Kraft, and others hoped to gain access to Venezuela’s oil reserves. Venezuela could have the world’s largest oil reserves, over 300 billion barrels in 2011 or more than Saudi Arabia, NS Energy claims.
What is Filibustering?
Therefore, the coup attempt was a classic filibuster staged by American and other soldiers of fortune for personal gain.
Unlike CIA coup attempts such as the Bay of Pigs, a filibuster is a private affair. Historically, combinations of disgruntled or exiled Latin Americans and US citizens launched filibusters. America has a lengthy history of filibustering.
For example, Southern slave owners joined with Cuban rebels to launch several attacks on Cuba before the Civil War. The goal was to make Cuba, then a Spanish colony, into an independent slave-owning country.
Some Southerners hoped to bring Cuba into the United States. Predictably, northerners in Congress blocked Cuba’s entry into the Union.
Likewise, during the early 20th Century the Cuyamel Fruit Company financed a coup against the government of Honduras. Cuymael Chief Executive Sam” the Banana Man” Zemurray backed the coup because the Honduran government levied taxes on his banana plantations.Ironically, the US government opposed Zemurray’s filibuster and deployed federal agents to stop it.*
The History of Filibustering
Other notorious filibusters include William Walker’s invasion and occupation of Nicaragua and attacks on Mexico.
Walker, a Southerner, conquered Nicaragua in the 1850s to make that nation into a slave state. Before invading Nicaragua, Walker led a spectacularly unsuccessful effort to conquer the Mexican state of Baja California.
Troops from other Central American nations eventually drove Walker out of Nicaragua. Ironically, America’s richest man Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt financed the operations against Walker.
Vanderbilt, a Northerner, feared Walker was interfering with his business interests in Central America. Thus, the conflict in Nicaragua was a prelude to America’s Civil War, with northerners and southerners fighting over slavery. Oddly, the British Royal Navy captured Walker and turned him over to Central Americans for execution.
Filibustering in the 20th Century
Historically, American filibustering ended in the 1920s when the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) began cracking down on the practice. For example, the FBI broke up a plan to invade Mexico from California.
US government interference in Latin America replaced filibustering. The US government operations, which included Marine invasions between 1910 and 1930 and CIA coups after 1950, sometimes benefited business interest.
However, ideology was the prime motivator of the CIA operations. They directed most of the CIA efforts against Communist and leftist regimes perceived as hostile to the US.
Notably, the Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba in 1961 targeted dictator Fidel Castro. Castro soon emerged as a loyal Soviet ally who allowed his country to be used as a Russian military base.
Cold War Filibustering
A kind of filibustering reemerged in the 1980s when Congressional Democrats blocked the Reagan administration’s efforts to overthrow the Communist Sandinista regime in Nicaragua.
To explain, American allies and the CIA recruited a private army of rebels they called the Contras. They financed the contras with funds from illegal arms sales and supposedly drug money. Ironically, some money used to fund the contras came from US weapons sales to Iran, an American enemy that was also a foe of the Soviet Union.
The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 put an end to ideologically motivated filibustering for a while. However, recent events in Venezuela show the practice has returned.
However, this time there appears to be no US government involvement. Though U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (R-Kansas) seems to sympathize with the coup. Confusingly, President Donald J. Trump Sr. (R-Florida) publicly mocks the attempt.
Meanwhile, Goudreau claims; without evidence, the U.S. State Department backed his efforts.
So what happened in Venezuela?
It is unclear who is behind the coup attempt in Venezuela, although its goals are clear.
A probable scenario is that Maduro himself was behind the attack. To explain, Maduro needs to distract the Venezuelan people from the nation’s economic problems and coronavirus. What better means of achieving that goal than a Yankee invasion.
I think Goudreau and Alcalá were plotting a real coup, but Venezuelan intelligence infiltrated their operation and encouraged the attack. Notably, Venezuelan troops were waiting for the invaders and captured them fast.
Plus, Maduro quickly put Goudreau on TV where the “mercenary” began parroting Maduro’s party line. I think Goudreau could be on Maduro’s payroll.
Thus the coup could have been a false flag operation designed to bolster Maduro and discredit Guaidó. What better way to discredit a Latin American politician than to portray him as a CIA puppet?
Is Maduro Planning a Reign of Terror?
A frightening possibility is that Maduro and the Venezuelan military are planning a dirty war or slaughter of their enemies.
Historically, right-wing Latin American regimes such as that in Argentina carried out dirty wars against the left. In Argentina and Chile in the 1970s, the military accused students, union members, and critics of being Communists then murdered them.
One possibility is that Maduro plans his own Reign of Terror against conservative and pro-American critics. By staging a fake coup, Maduro and the military can claim they are patriots protecting Venezuela from foreign influence when they torture and murder innocent Venezuelans.
One aspect of this coup is clear, the real losers are the people of Venezuela. Nicolas Maduro’s incompetent regime will continue and Maduro will have new pretexts to limit freedom and increase oppression. Conversely, Maduro’s enemies will now have more reasons to want the President dead.
Therefore, the real casualty of all filibustering is democracy. It is democracy that is the real loser in Venezuela.
* Source: The Fish That Ate the Whale: The Life and Times of America’s Banana Kingby Rich Cohen.