Britain’s covert war on Venezuela

Demonstration in Brazil thanking Venezuela for medical aid supplies

The investigative journalism website Declassified UK has uncovered new evidence of Britain’s ongoing attempts to undermine Venezuela’s socialist government. In 2020, the British government initiated a project designed to promote Venezuelan opposition media; a separate programme, Westminster Foundation for Democracy (WFD), has backed Venezuelan opposition campaigns to the tune of £75,000 since 2016. The British government is the sole external funder of Transparencia Venezuela, which has been organising an opposition coalition since 2019. Last year, the left-wing news website The Canary exposed a secret ‘Venezuela reconstruction unit’ inside the British Foreign office.

Venezuela faces an almost total blockade, with oil exports and production slashed by 69%, a boycott of credit and international financing and at least $30bn of funds frozen abroad. In January 2019 the obscure opposition legislator Juan Guaido became head of the National Assembly, swore himself in as interim president and launched a series of failed coup attempts. His illegitimate claim was immediately recognised by Britain and a host of other European countries and Western allies. 

 After two years of fraud, failure and fiasco Guaido is dead in the water; shunned even by the majority of the opposition in Venezuela. His US-directed boycott of December 2020’s National Assembly elections means he no longer holds any elected position. Even the European Union has dropped any reference to him as ‘interim president’. Despite this – but in line with the position of the new Biden administration in the US – Britain continues to recognise Guaido as Venezuela’s official leader. It still wants the gold sitting in the vaults of the Bank of England to be handed over to him. The Venezuelan Central Bank attempted to reach an agreement with Guaido’s legal team to free up $120m worth of assets frozen in Britain to purchase British vaccines, bypassing US sanctions. Guaido’s lawyers rejected the initiative.

Westminster Foundation for ‘Democracy’

WFD is Britain’s answer to the notorious US National Endowment for Democracy (NED). Britain is the main source of funding for the organisation, providing £11.4m in the year to March 2020. Whilst the WFD ostensibly operates in 33 countries, Venezuela is its focus, with a permanent office and two full time staff. It worked with opposition legislators in the outgoing National Assembly and astroturf ‘local civil society organisations’. None were from the grassroots networks that form the backbone of Venezuela’s Bolivarian Revolution. WFD job adverts demand applicants work with the British embassy and ‘contribute to development of future business opportunities in Venezuela’. The WFD came out publicly in support of Juan Guaido. When he launched an armed coup attempt in April 2019, the WFD proclaimed that this was ‘not an assault on democracy but the other way round’. A WFD representative contemptuously described Chavismo as ‘a plague’. 

Conflict, Stability and Security Fund

Between 2016 and 2018 the British Foreign Office financed opposition media platforms including Efecto Cocuyo, the Faith and joy radiophonic institute and the National Union of Press Workers. This work has now been taken over by the Conflict, Stability and Security Fund (CSSF). The CSSF is directed by the National Security Council, chaired by Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Since 2019 CSSF has spent £450,000 on working with Venezuelan opposition media. Now a new project plans to further ‘influence’ media in Venezuela, offering £250,000 from Britain’s supposedly depleted aid budget. It operates out of the British embassy in Colombia but warns in an advert for personnel: ‘the British government – and its resourcing of the project – should not be expressly referred or linked to the individual outputs of the project (i.e. individual articles, events etc.).’ This allowed one of its mouthpieces, Efecto Cocuyo, to be lauded as a defiant ‘independent news website’ by then Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt at a media freedom conference in 2019. 

The murky world of Transparencia Venezuela

Claudia Castilla, a ‘research assistant’ for Transparencia Venezuela, is a Colombian national who works out of the British embassy in Bogota. A supporter of the Venezuelan opposition figure Leopoldo Lopez, Castilla studied in London between 2017-2018 on a scholarship programme funded by the British Foreign Office to ‘develop future leaders’. Prior to this she worked for a charity linked to the notorious Cerrejon coal mine in Colombia run by British mining giants BHP, Glencore and Anglo American. Transparency International has an operating income of £25.7m; Britain’s Department for International Development is a major donor. Transparencia Venezuela’s director, Mercedes de Freitas, is the vice president of Fundacion Tierra Viva (Living Earth Foundation) whose funders include Chevron, Total, Shell Venezuela and the British embassy.

Last autumn, CSSF gave Transparencia Venezuela £450,000 to create an anti-government organisation, Coalicion Anticorrupcion, claiming to ‘fight corruption’. It has links with Guaido, who has repeatedly been embroiled in corruption scandals. Transparencia Venezuela’s leaders include Rocio Guijarro, who during the short-lived coup against Chavez in 2002 signed a decree dissolving Venezuela’s constitution; Carlos Fernandez, former president of Venezuela’s Chamber of Commerce Fedecamaras, who played a key role in the oil lock-out of 2003 and members of the Venezuelan Petroleum Chamber who want to reprivatise Venezuelan oil. The British government appears to be the only external funder of the coalition which reports back to the British embassy in Caracas every three months. Britain’s continuing war on Venezuela’s Bolivarian Revolution must be exposed and opposed. 

Sam McGill

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 280 February/March 2021