The UK is trying to meddle in Latin America once more | Ken Livingstone

By Ken Livingstone for The Morning Star

RECENT revelations of a “Venezuela Reconstruction Unit” in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office show that once again Britain’s Conservative government is falling into line with US foreign policy and acting as Trump’s poodles on the world stage.

The unit’s stated aims are to “co-ordinate a British approach to international efforts to respond to the dire economic and humanitarian situation in Venezuela.” News in January 2020 that Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido had been welcomed in London by Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, along with representatives of the unit, suggested that whatever reconstruction they had in mind, it was not going to involve the elected government.

Juan Guaido shot to prominence with his failed attempt to overthrow the Venezuelan government early in 2019. Despite his reputation being increasingly tainted by political failure, his association with drug traffickers, his team’s embezzlement of humanitarian funds and his rejection by many of his opposition colleagues at home, Britain’s government has doggedly stuck to its decision to follow the US drive for “regime change” and recognise him as “interim president” of Venezuela.

While Guaido struggled to mobilise support in Venezuela, his representative Vanessa Neumann worked hard to cultivate contacts in Britain throughout 2019, encouraging support for US sanctions against Venezuela and promising that a meeting with Guaido would “sustain British businesses in Venezuela’s reconstruction.”

In September 2019 Britain’s government pledged £30 million to organisations inside Venezuela for “humanitarian aid,” while the US increased its funding by awarding an extra $52m, part of which was intended to directly support Guaido’s campaign. The US is well known for using organisations like the National Endowment for Democracy for channelling funds to local NGOs operating in foreign countries to undermine or destabilise governments of which it disapproves.

The British government, which has not disclosed details of which organisations in Venezuela received the aid, seems to be following where the US leads.

Another example of Britain’s adherence to the “regime change” agenda is that of the Venezuelan gold reserves currently deposited with the Bank of England. As US sanctions have intensified and world oil prices have dropped, these reserves are now needed in Venezuela.

In a striking demonstration of non-independence from government, the Bank of England has been refusing to repatriate the gold because it says the legitimacy of the Venezuelan government is disputed.

In an attempt to break the deadlock, the Venezuela Central Bank has arranged for funds released from the sale of the gold to be deposited directly with the United Nations Development Programme Fund for the purchase of food and medicine needed to tackle the pandemic. However, the Bank of England still refuses to abide by its contract with the Central Bank and the outcome will have to be decided by the British courts.

There’s nothing new about British complicity with US “regime change” efforts.

In 1973, when Allende’s elected government in Chile was brought down with the help of the CIA, the British Foreign Office tried to manipulate news coverage to be favourable to Pinochet’s new military regime.

To its credit, the subsequent Labour government did break off relations with Pinochet, but in 1979 normal service was resumed with gusto by Margaret Thatcher who supplied copious quantities of weapons to the dictatorship. Thatcher’s support for US adventures in Latin America was unflinching throughout the Reagan years, whether toppling progressive governments or supporting right-wing dictatorships.

After a period with US and British governments occupied elsewhere, interest in Latin America was revived by British Foreign Secretary William Hague who called for renewed efforts to develop influence in the region, with a particular focus on oil and mining interests.

At the same the so-called “pink tide” of progressive governments had a different idea — to secure their nations’ natural resources for the good of the community.

This clash of ideas has been played out in Brazil. Britain and the US supported the now discredited Lava Joto enquiry — the main mechanism used to bring about the impeachment of President Dilma Rousseff. Then, as soon as a right-wing government was installed, Britain increased its diplomatic presence in mining areas and British politicians hurried to Brazil to discuss free trade and privatisation.

The British government responded with similar enthusiasm to the recent military coup in Bolivia, a country rich in lithium, where the government of Evo Morales had previously nationalised energy and water and achieved significant wealth redistribution.

Despite Morales winning the election comfortably, the pro-US Organisation of American States cast doubt on the results and in the ensuing confusion he was forced by a military coup to step down and call for new elections. His far-right replacement was immediately recognised by both the US and British governments.

Venezuela has endured decades of hostility from the US, with actions ranging from support for a coup, funding of opposition groups, economic sanctions and a constant barrage of negative propaganda.

The evidence that the FCO has been working behind the scenes with the Venezuelan opposition, and that the Bank of England is prepared to sacrifice its independence to keep the Trump and Johnson administrations happy, makes it clear that the “special relationship” is very much alive.

We must condemn British complicity in the US “regime change” agenda and call for solidarity and respect for Venezuela’s national sovereignty.

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