A new report by the American Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) says the US’ geopolitical adversaries are deploying blockchain technology to help avoid sanctions and counter US financial power.
According to the FDD, with the increase of adoption of cryptocurrencies around the world, efforts are underway to build new systems for transferring value that work outside of conventional banking infrastructure.
Governments in Russia, China, Iran, and Venezuela are experimenting with the technology that underpins the crypto market, said the report. They are prioritizing blockchain technology as a “key component of their efforts to counter US financial power.”
“Russia, Iran, and Venezuela have initiated blockchain technology experiments that their leaders paint as tools to offset US financial coercive power and increase sanctions resistance. China is also wary of US financial power and the ever-present threat of sanctions against Chinese officials,” the study finds.
The efforts of the four nations go beyond mere sanctions evasion, according to the report, which said that they “seek to reduce the potency of unilateral and multilateral sanctions by developing alternative payment systems for global commerce.”
The authors of the report noted that the US position of influence is not necessarily permanent.
“Technology has created a potential pathway to alternative financial value transfer systems outside of US control. The target timeline may be two to three decades, but these actors are developing the building blocks now. They envision a world in which cryptocurrency technology helps them eclipse US financial power, much the way that the dollar once eclipsed the British pound.”
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro says security forces have foiled an opposition coup attempt that included plans to assassinate him and other top political figures.
“We have revealed, dismantled and captured a fascist band of terrorists that planned a coup against Venezuelan society and Venezuelan democracy,” Maduro said in a Wednesday evening broadcast.
“They are captured, behind bars, with clear evidence after following this group of criminals and fascists.”
The plan allegedly involved an attack on the headquarters of the Sebin intelligence agency to release General Raul Baduel, a former defense minister arrested on corruption accusations in 2009 after falling out with the Socialist Party.
Maduro said the plan involved opposition leader Juan Guaido as well as political leaders from Chile, Colombia and the United States, but Guaido dismissed the accusations as lies.
Communications Minister Jorge Rodriguez said the plan involved both active and retired army officers and was to have been executed between Sunday and Monday this past weekend.
“We were in all the meetings to plan the coup d’état. We were in all the conferences,” Rodriguez said, suggesting that government informers had infiltrated the alleged plotters during planning meetings.
At least six of the alleged plotters had been detained, the minister said in a televised speech in Caracas, presenting testimony from one of them, named as Lieutenant Carlos Saavedra.
Four of the officers were arrested last Friday, a move denounced by Guaido in a statement on Tuesday, though no details of the circumstances, or the reasons for their arrests, emerged.
Guaido, who as the head of the opposition-controlled National Assembly invoked the constitution in January to assume a rival interim presidency, has repeatedly called on members of the armed forces to join his cause.
Maduro views Guaido as a “puppet” of the United States, accusing him of fomenting violence to oust him in a failed coup which he managed to launch nearly two months ago.
Rights group claim some 700 people, including about 100 members of the military, are detained in Venezuela for political reasons. The government denies it has put anyone behind bars for such causes.
Photograph Source: The White House – Public Domain
On June 19, The Washington Post reported that Trump has apparently lost interest in the Venezuela coup attempt and taken to attacking members of his own administration for their failure to oust the government of President Nicolas Maduro. The article quotes anonymous administration officials who claim that Trump believes John Bolton and other officials working on the Venezuela coup “got played” by both Venezuelan coup leaders and members of the Maduro government. Trump is said to have “chewed them out” at an angry meeting about the failure to topple Maduro. Apparently, Trump believed that doing so would be “low hanging fruit” and an easy win that he could “tout as a major foreign policy victory,”. This should come as no surprise, however. As Counterpunch reported at the time, the coup attempt was already stalling by late February – just a month after it had first been launched.
Like Trump, the coup’s cheerleaders in the mainstream press have been scratching their heads as to why Washington’s puppet – so-called ‘interim president’ Juan Guaido – didn’t quickly succeed in seizing power. Certainly, the lasting popularity of the policies enacted by the late Hugo Chavez and the revulsion at the idea of US intervention held by most Venezuelans are major factors. But there is another more subtle, but also more significant factor at play – the decline of US power in the Trump era. Under his presidency, the US imperial apparatus has fallen into the hands of a child in an adult’s body who can’t stay on subject when talking, let along on point when acting. Indeed, Washington’s traditional foreign policy establishment – including Henry Kissinger – endorsed Clinton in the 2016 presidential race. She was the preferred option because she would be the more competent administrator of empire.
Trump, on the other hand, though representing the most reactionary US government in recent memory, paradoxically has also led to an opening to challenge US power. The first reason is that he and his administration are much less disciplined about obscuring their true intentions behind insincere proclamations of benevolent motives. Whereas the George W. Bush administration in the run up to the Iraq War successfully manufactured consent amongst a large swath of the US public by scaring them over false claims about “weapons of mass destruction,” the Trump administration doesn’t even hide the fact that its foreign policy is motivated by advancing the US economic interests. National Security Advisor John Bolton admitted during an interview with Fox News that Washington seeks “regime change” in Venezuela to benefit US corporations. “It will make a big difference to the United States economically if we could have American oil companies invest in and produce the oil capabilities in Venezuela,” he said nonchalantly. Just months earlier, Trump had spoken openly about how his administration intends to stay on friendly terms with the brutal Saudi dictatorship because it is good for business. Taken together, these two statements perfectly communicate to the world both the naked self-interest that guides US foreign policy and the extreme hypocrisy by which it is exercised.
Second, and most significantly, the Trump administration has in its incompetence brought to the fore how US foreign policy can be both highly destructive while simultaneously an utter failure – even on its own narrow terms. In spite of utilizing every regime change tool its entire imperialist arsenal short of direct military intervention, the coup attempt has now failed and been all but shelved by Trump himself. Nonetheless, it has caused huge suffering to Venezuela’s civilian population. Economic sanctions, for instance, which form a large part of the coup strategy, have according to a recent report from the Center for Economic and Policy Research led to the deaths of around 40,000 people. They have furthermore exacerbated the economic crisis that has been roiling the country since around 2015, leading to greater shortages of food and medicine. US allies in Europe and elsewhere in Latin America must surely have picked up on the fact that they have been strung along with a “regime change” strategy that has caused mayhem yet failed to achieve its objectives. The significance of this is hard to overstate. The memory of failure in Venezuela will reverberate for many decades to come and make these allies think twice next time they are asked to support the next US foreign escapade.
Furthermore, it has brought attention to what is, in fact, a familiar pattern in world affairs – one that, nonetheless, has been subjected to years of historical revisionism. The failure-plus-huge-destruction model is nothing new when it comes to US intervention both military and non-military. The classic case of the latter is Cuba. In spite of a nearly six decades-long economic blockage that has cost its economy over $100 billion, the political and economic system has not been destroyed and replaced with Washington’s bogus vision of what democracy and prosperity should look like – so-called “free markets” along with an electoral system subverted by US meddling and/or by money and corporate interests, as it has been in its own country. In terms of military intervention, the paradigmatic case is Vietnam, where the US was forced into making a humiliating retreat. Again, though the war completely failed in its objective to “contain communism,” it nonetheless led to the deaths of several hundreds, if not millions, of Vietnamese civilians, not to mention needless military casualties on both sides.
So, if Venezuela represents a decisive opportunity to challenge US power, where does that leave anti-imperialists? Above all, we must recognize that, since the coup’s failure is an event of world-historical importance, it leaves us with a responsibility not to squander it. First of all, we must pull no punches in ridiculing the Latin American and European governments that supported the coup for their contemptible kowtowing to Washington’s agenda. They must never be made to forget that they lent legitimacy to a foreign policy blunder that has killed tens of thousands, further destabilized the region and exacerbated political divisions within Venezuela. They must also be made to wear sackcloth and ashes simply for the fact that they cozied up to a US administration that is racist, reactionary and fascistic to its core and led by an outright conman, crook, and shyster. Second of all, we must also communicate to the wider public – to the non-radical and even apolitical sections of the population – that US imperialism not only is destructive to the well-being of the vast majority of humanity but also becoming an increasingly risible exercise even on its own terms. This is crucial because it provides a way of framing the debate for the benefit of people who are not highly political by nature and are therefore easy prey for manufacturing consent for empire and globalized capitalism. Finally, and most crucially, we must not be complacent. As the rise of other fascistic governments around the world – from Brazil to Eastern Europe – demonstrates, the neoliberal and imperialist status quo is morphing into a new fascistic stage of its evolution. The failure of traditional progressive parties to provide an alternative has opened a gaping political space that reactionary populists have been more than happy to fill. And their rise will only embolden Washington to continue cavorting around the globe, leaving a trail of death and destruction in its wake. As the second decades of the new millennium nears completion we are beginning to truly understand what Rosa Luxemburg meant when she said: “” Bourgeois society stands at the crossroads, either transition to Socialism or regression into Barbarism.”
Western secret services are perfecting clandestine tools which are designed to weaken countries like viruses weaken bodies, the Russian foreign intelligence chief has said. This kind of warfare is currently used in Venezuela.
The criticism came from Sergey Naryshkin, who heads Russia’s foreign intelligence agency SVR. He said spies are constantly improving the tool used to dispose of governments that the West does not like.
“We are talking about creating a universal algorithm for conducting clandestine influence operations in a continuous manner and on a global scale,” he said. According to the official, this clandestine work “never stops and targets not only enemies, but also friends and neutral powers in the times of peace, crisis and war.”
It can be compared to the action of a virus; it can spend decades destroying a human organism without symptoms, and once diagnosed, often it’s too late to treat it.
The methods used to influence and destabilize other nations include creating network-oriented structures that can operate on a premise of public activism, art, science, religion or extremism, the Russian official said. After collecting data on the fault lines in a targeted society, those structures are used to attack those weak points in a synchronized assault, overwhelming the nation’s capability to respond to crises.
Simultaneously the perpetrators push a narrative through local and global media and social networks that claims that the only way to resolve problems is to replace the government of the victim nation with another one, possibly with a direct foreign support.
“We can observe this scenario being implemented in Venezuela,” Naryshkin said.
The US is currently trying to replace Venezuela’s elected President Nicolas Maduro with another person, Juan Guaido, whom Washington recognized as the legitimate head of the South American nation.
Among others, the US backs his bid with economic sanctions against Venezuela and a massive diplomatic and media campaign in support of the pretender. Guaido’s attempts to actually seize power in Caracas have been futile, so far.
The Russian intelligence chief was speaking at an international security forum in Ufa, Russia, which is hosted by the Russian National Security Council. The event is meant for officials directly involved in policy making on security issues. Almost 120 nations are participating in this year’s gathering.
The political party of Juan Guaido — Voluntad Popular (Popular Will) — was never all that popular to begin with. The sixth largest political party in Venezuela, Popular Will is heavily financed by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). Now, a recently exposed embezzlement scandal in Colombia risks to further alienate the party from the Venezuelan people.
What was supposed to be Guaido’s watershed moment has instead turned out to be a public-relations failure far worse than his quickly quelled attempted military coup, which MintPress Newsreported caused even the New York Times to describe Guaido as “deflated.”
What happened in Colombia appears to be so damning that not only is the Colombian intelligence service leaking documents exposing wrongdoing by Popular Will representatives appointed by Guaido, but the Organization of American States (OAS) — which is typically just as pro-opposition as the Colombian government — has called for an investigation.
In a tweet issued June 14 at 10:47 p.m. Venezuela time, Guaido called on his ambassador to Colombia — whom he had shut out of the aid event — to formally request an investigation by Colombian authorities, whose already-existing investigation is the reason the story came out in the first place. That was more than four hours after Secretary General of the OAS Luis Almagro called for an investigation that would clarify the “serious charges,” identify those responsible and effectuate accountability.
But Guaido had already been well aware of the charges, having dismissed his appointees who appear to be ringleaders of the embezzlement scheme. According to the report, he was contacted by the journalist who exposed the scandal 30 days before the story was published.
What happened in Cúcuta isn’t staying in Cúcuta
There’s barely a peep about the scandal in the Western press. A Google News search for “Juan Guaido scandal” and “Popular Will scandal” turned up nothing of relevance at the time of this article’s writing. But on Latin America social media, everyone is buzzing about it. American journalist Dan Cohen appears to be the first to highlight the scandal to an English-speaking audience.
It started with a request from Juan Guaido to billionaire investor and regime-change enthusiast Richard Branson.
Associates of Venezuelan coup frontman Juan Guaidó embezzled funds raised in Cúcuta, Colombia for humanitarian aid and lavishly spent it on hotels, nightclubs and expensive clothes. This is a monumental scandal! Great work by @OrlvndoA.
PanAm Post Español
Enviados de @jguaido se apropian de fondos para ayuda humanitaria en #Colombiahttps://buff.ly/2ZqFjAh Por @OrlvndoA#14Jun
The stated purpose of the concert was to help raise funds for humanitarian aid and spotlight the economic crisis. At least that’s how it was billed to Americans. To Venezuela’s upper class, it was touted as the “trendiest concert of the decade.”
It was to be a congregation of the elite with the ostensible purpose of raising funds for the poor. One director of Popular Will toldVice News in 2014 that “the bulk of the opposition protesters are from the middle and upper classes and are led by Venezuela’s elite.” The class character of the opposition has not changed since.
Meanwhile, USAID was to coordinate the delivery of aid alongside Guaido; and Elliot Abrams, who in Guatemala used “humanitarian aid” as cover for the delivery of weapons into the country, is running the White House’s policies toward Venezuela. And so the aid was widely criticized, even by the International Red Cross, as politicized. By others, it was called a Trojan Horse.
The concert was held in Colombia across a bridge linking the country to Venezuela. International media had claimed Venezuelan President Nicholas Maduro had the bridge shut down to prevent the delivery of aid, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo demanded that the “Maduro regime must LET THE AID REACH THE STARVING PEOPLE.” But the bridge, in fact, has never been opened for use.
Nonetheless, Richard Branson sought to raise $100 million and promised that Guiado “will be coming to the other side of the bridge with maybe a million of his supporters.” In the end, it was a little more than 200,000 who came.
Venezuelan singer Carlos Baute, left, gets ready to embrace Venezuela Aid Live concert organizer Sir Richard Branson, prior to the start of the concert on the Colombian side of the Tienditas International Bridge on the outskirts of Cucuta, Colombia, on the border with Venezuela, Feb. 22, 2019. Fernando Vergara | AP
Meanwhile, Guaido told the President of Colombia, Ivan Duque, that more than 1,450 soldiers had defected from the military to join them. But that figure was also inflated. A new report by PanAmPress, a Miami-based libertarian newspaper, reveals that it was just 700. “You can count on your fingers the number of decent soldiers who are there,” one local told the outlet.
Despite the low turnout, organizers lived it up in Colombia. Representatives from Popular Will, which rejects the socialist leadership of Venezuela, found themselves living like socialites across the border.
There were earlier signs of excess and debauchery. One Popular Will representative was hospitalized and his assistant found dead after overdosing while taking drugs with prostitutes, although Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) claims they were poisoned.
celine and julie go bowling @MissPavIichenko
FyreFest walked so Richard Branson’s aid concert could run.
Replying to @RealAlexRubi
Turns out I extremely called this one. The @richardbranson aide concert in Colombia was rife with debauchery & excess:
– $150,000+ per night on hotels & nightclubs – Prostitutes – Luxurious dinners, fancy drinks – High end clothe shopping spreeshttps://es.panampost.com/orlando-avendano/2019/06/14/enviados-de-guaido-se-apropian-de-fondos-para-ayuda-humanitaria-en-colombia/amp/?__twitter_impression=true …
The inflated soldier count meant more funds for the organizers, who were charged with putting them up in hotel rooms. Guaido’s “army was small but at this point it had left a very bad impression in Cucuta. Prostitutes, alcohol, and violence. They demanded and demanded,” the report said.
They also left a bad taste in the mouth of the authorities. The Colombian government was supposed to pay for some of the hotels, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees was to cover the costs of others, while Guaido’s people were only going to pony up the cash for two of the seven hotels.
But Popular Will never paid, leaving one hotel with a debt of $20,000. When the situation became completely untenable, the hotel kicked 65 soldiers and their families to the curb. One soldier anonymously told the outlet that the party was not taking care of their financial needs as promised.
Guaido’s ambassador to Colombia took money out of his own pocket to try to resolve the dispute, but the check bounced.
The responsibility of taking care of the needs of the defectors went to Popular Will militants Rossana Barrera and Kevin Rojas, as decreed by Juan Guaido in a signed statement. They were also charged with overseeing the humanitarian aid.
Barrera is the sister-in-law of Popular Will member of Congress Sergio Vargara, Guaido’s right-hand man. She and Rojas were managing all the funds.
But the pair started to live well outside their means, a Colombian intelligence source told the outlet. “They gave me all the evidence,” writes PanAmPress reporter Orlando Avendano. “Receipts that show excesses, some strangely from different check books, signed the same day but with identical writing styles.”
Rojas and Berrera were spending nearly a thousand dollars at a time in the hotels and nightclubs. Similar amounts were spent at times on luxurious dinners and fancy drinks. They went on clothes shopping sprees at high-end retail outlets in the capital. They reportedly overcharged the fund on vehicle rentals and the hotels, making off with the extra cash. Berrera even told Popular Will that she was paying for all seven hotels, not just the two. And they provided Guaido with the fake figure of more than 1,450 military defectors that needed accommodation.
In order to keep the funds flowing, Rojas and Berrera pitched a benefit dinner for the soldiers to Guiado’s embassy in Colombia. But when the embassy refused to participate, Berrera created a fake email address posing as a representative of the embassy, sending invitations to Israeli and U.S. diplomats. They canceled the event after Guaido’s embassy grew wise to the scheme and alerted those invited.
“The whole government of Colombia knew about it: the intelligence community, the presidency, and the foreign ministry,” writes PanAmPress, calling it an “open secret” by the time Guaido dismissed the pair. But that was after Guaido had been defending them staunchly, trying to avoid a firing by transferring responsibilities to the embassy.
Berrera was called to the embassy for a financial audit, represented by Luis Florido, a founding member of Popular Will. She turned in just a fraction of the records uncovered by Colombian intelligence, accounting for only $100,000 in expenditures. “The [real] amount is large,” the outlet reports, citing an intelligence agent who says far more was blown.
Meanwhile, “at least 60 percent of the food donated” by foreign governments “was damaged.”
“The food is rotten, they tell me,” the PanAmPress reporter said, adding that he was shown photographs. “They don’t know how to deal with it without causing a scandal. I suppose they will burn it.”
It isn’t yet known exactly how much was embezzled by Popular Will, but it is likely the truth will come out in due time, and more investigations are likely underway. On Monday, Venezuelan defectors said they will hold a press conference in Cucuta, showcasing more corruption by Popular Will. For now, however, the fallout remains to be seen.
One thing is certain: the scandal threatens to end Juan Guaido’s 15 minutes of fame. The de facto opposition leader had little name recognition inside Venezuela and never won a political position with more than 100,000 votes behind him. But the overnight sensation never had a lengthy life expectancy anyway.
Though he received so few votes (Venezuela’s population is nearly 32 million), Guaido became the president of the National Assembly because the body is controlled by a coalition of opposition groups, despite President Nicolas Maduro’s PSUV Party being the largest in the country. That was in January, and the length of the term lasts only one year. In 2015, the opposition coalition decided that after each term, the seat would be rotated to a representative of a different opposition party. While there is no law barring Guaido from being appointed president of the National Assembly again, tradition runs counter to it and another party may want to seize on a chance to get into the limelight.
Supporters of the coup — and Guaido’s self-declaration as interim president — claim that Maduro is derelict of his duties, which justifies a transition of presidential power according to the constitution. But the article that allows for such a transition in certain cases stipulates that ”a new election by universal suffrage and direct ballot shall be held within 30 consecutive days.”
To date, Guaido has run 145 days past his deadline to have elections held, and the opposition has made it clear they are not willing to accept new elections if Maduro runs.
This, of course, makes little dent in Guaido’s legitimacy in the eyes of the U.S. and other countries that have recognized his presidency. U.S. allies in Latin America have shown over the past few years that they have little regard for the sanctity of their constitutions. In 2017, a U.S.-backed candidate in Honduras, Juan Orlando Hernandez, ran for re-election in explicit violation of that country’s constitution and only wound up winning through fraud. Last week, Ecuador made the decision to allow the U.S. military to operate from an airfield in the Galapagos Islands despite a constitutional provision stating that the “establishment of foreign military bases or foreign facilities for military purposes shall not be allowed.”
Alexander Rubinstein is a staff writer for MintPress News based in Washington, DC. He reports on police, prisons and protests in the United States and the United States’ policing of the world. He previously reported for RT and Sputnik News.
A hawkish Republican senator has suggested that the United States should take military action against Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro so countries opposing the US are intimidated and surrender to Washington’s demands.
To handle foreign conflicts “we need points on the board,” Senator Lindsey Graham, who is a close ally of President Donald Trump, was quoted as saying on Friday by Fox News.
The warmonger from South Carolina told Fox News that the US needed to resolve its issues with other countries using military actions.
The Chair of the Senate Committee on the Judiciary suggested using US military force to resolve America’s conflicts with countries opposed to US foreign policy.
“Do what Reagan did in Grenada. Put military force on the table … start with your own backyard,” he suggested.
Graham implied that after the US military invasion of Venezuela, other Latin American counties, as well as countries opposed to US foreign policies such as North Korea and Iran, would be intimidated and give in to US demands.
“Fix Venezuela, and everybody else will know you’re serious,” Graham, who is a notorious supporter of US interventionism, suggested to the Fox News host.
Graham has in the past repeated his call for US military intervention in Venezuela. Last month, as representatives of the Venezuelan government and opposition forces were meeting in Norway for talks on resolving the political crisis in the Latin American country, the Republican senator dropped another Grenada reference aimed at scaring government representatives.
In 1983, Reagan ordered US troops to invade the small Caribbean island nation of Grenada, resulting in an easy victory for the Americans.
MEXICO CITY (Sputnik) – Almost 70 tonnes of humanitarian aid have arrived in Venezuela from China, the South American country’s Health Minister Carlos Alvarado said.
“This technical humanitarian aid consists of 68 tonnes of medications,” Alvarado said on Monday as quoted by the Globovision channel.
He also stressed that the aid, which was the fourth shipment so far, consisted of medicines and sanitary materials. According to Alvarado, Venezuela has received 465 tonnes of humanitarian aid in total from China, Russia, Red Cross and UNICEF.
In February, Russia sent its first batch of humanitarian aid to Venezuela via the World Health Organization and the Pan American Health Organization’s channels. The second shipment arrived in mid-April. On 7 June, Russian Foreign Ministry’s Director of the Latin American Department Alexander Schetinin said Russia was cooperating with the United Nations to provide Venezuela with new humanitarian aid.Venezuela has been suffering from a severe political crisis since late January, when US-backed opposition leader Juan Guaido proclaimed himself interim leader in a bid to oust incumbent President Nicolas Maduro from power. The political crisis was aggravated by the economic one that worsened as the United States imposed several rounds of sanctions against Venezuela.
Maduro has accused Washington of working with Guaido in order to orchestrate a coup and to take control of Venezuela’s resources. China, Bolivia, Russia, Turkey and numerous other countries have voiced their support for Maduro as Venezuela’s only legitimate president.
“Our citizens should know the urgent facts…but they don’t because our media serves imperial, not popular interests. They lie, deceive, connive and suppress what everyone needs to know, substituting managed news misinformation and rubbish for hard truths…”—Oliver Stone