As a 24 year old lieutenant in the Trinidad and Tobago Regiment during the Black Power riots of the 1970s, Raffique Shah led a mutiny to deny the government use of military against the mass movement. He and 80 soldiers were court martialled and jailed. He won an appeal and would later enter electoral politics with George Weekes and Basdeo Panday, with the United Labour Front, the political party they co-founded, becoming the official opposition in 1976. A trade unionist (working with cane farmers since the 1970s), Shah has offered political commentary for several Trinidadian newspapers since the 1980s, and now writes a weekly column for the Trinidad Express. His articles and other commentary, including his reflections on the Black Power period in 1970s Trinidad, can be found at http://www.trinicenter.com/Raffique/
This article was originally carried in the Trinidad Express on February 4, 2019.
Sitting as we are in Trinidad and Tobago on ringside seats watching the political crisis in Venezuela unfold, events are moving so quickly they appear to be spiralling out of control.
The apparent chaos was scripted in Washington over more than a decade, with only the key actors’ names and roles changing to suit the dynamics of regime-replacement. The aim of the exercise, as one of my lecturers in military warfare used to prefix his sessions, is to remove Nicolas Maduro from the presidency of Venezuela by any means necessary, and replace him with a compliant candidate, once the puppet understands that when he is installed in office, he complies with the dictates of the US State Department.
As the Venezuelan economy all but imploded, igniting a social crisis of humungous proportions that, in turn, triggered an exodus of refugees that overwhelmed neighbouring states and grabbed global attention as a humanitarian crisis. Washington hastily implemented its regime-change blueprint with Adolf Hitler’s blitzkrieg-like tactics that caught even some of the more sober world leaders by surprise, trapping them into supporting an initiative that is manifestly illegal.
Two months ago, who in Venezuela, or here in T&T, or anywhere else in the world, knew of 35 year-old Juan Guaido? Media reports suggest that fewer than 20 percent of Venezuelans knew anything about the leader of the obscure Popular Will party who, in the wake of a series of coincidences, emerged as President of the National Assembly.
It seems that the far-right activist’s comrades and associates, who were involved in violent anti-Chavez activities from their university days (circa 2005), fled the country to escape prosecution. In the vacuum that was left in the opposition-controlled Assembly, Guaido, whose party had won 26 percent of the popular vote in the 2015 elections, was selected as President-I imagine their equivalent of our President of the Senate.
There is very little information on him on the Internet, the most in-depth being an article in a publication named Grayzone titled ‘The making of Juan Guaido’, co-authored by two credible journalists, Max Blumenthal and Dan Cohen. Its opening paragraph says: “Before the fateful day of January 22, fewer than one in five Venezuelans had heard of Juan Guaidó. Only a few months ago, the 35-year-old was an obscure character in a politically marginal far-right group closely associated with gruesome acts of street violence. Even in his own party, Guaidó had been a mid-level figure in the opposition-dominated National Assembly…”
With the crisis appearing to take a life of its own, Washington decided it was opportune to intervene more directly than it had been doing ever since Nicolas Maduro succeeded the deceased Hugo Chavez in 2013. The unlikeliest of candidates to replace Maduro, Guaido received a phone call from US Vice President Mike Pence that set in motion one of the biggest hoaxes in history when Guaido proclaimed himself interim President.
Supposedly sophisticated democracies like Canada and the United Kingdom rushed to recognise and legitimise Guaido, about whom they knew nothing. European Union countries were marginally more guarded: they gave Maduro eight days to hold fresh presidential elections, failing which they would go with Guaido. And even more incomprehensible, editorials in respectable publications such as the New York Times, Bloomberg News and the Wall Street Journal were singing hosannas to Guaido.
A long list of nation states and regional alliances (the Lima Group, some members of the OAS) were trampling each other in their rush to breach the United Nations charter on the recognition of the legitimacy of heads of governments and states. And predictably, politicians such as T&T’s Leader of the Opposition and other nonentities rushed to be counted among pilgrims kneeling at the altar of power in Washington.
It is no coincidence that almost all the high priests of that diocese have been publicly proclaimed as liars of legendary proportions, with several of them already indicted on serious felonies, and their pope, Donald Trump, leading the lies-per-day stakes, and also very likely to be impeached or indicted.
As I wrote last week, I am not about to defend Maduro or Chavez whom I admired when he won presidential elections and seemed set to right the wrongs that plagued resource-rich Venezuela for far too many years. His Petrocaribe initiative and close ties forged with Caribbean countries were laudable. But things went awfully wrong at home, and when that happens, the leader must pay the ultimate price — loss of power, maybe even life.
But America and its neo-liberal, sometimes neo-Nazi allies must not arrogate unto themselves the power to inflict change as they see fit, as is clearly the case in Venezuela. The US is hell-bent on installing the unknown Guaido as a puppet-president who will not go to the toilet without seeking his master’s permission. Watching him on television, I see Little Boy Lost who hasn’t the foggiest idea about what to say or do to extricate Venezuela from the mess it’s in. All he does is offer inducements to his compatriots who will abandon Maduro and support him instead, or threaten to sic his bullying big stepbrother on those who oppose him.
I pity Juan Guaido: little does he know he’s an expendable pawn in a high-stakes game of global chess. In that arena, the winners will always be brawn over brain, the powerful over the meek. Sadly, the beleaguered people of Venezuela will be no better off under Guaido than they have been under Maduro. Plus ça change…