Popular Will

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Group.png Popular Will  
(Political party)Rdf-icon.png
Juan Guaido.jpg
Self-proclaimed "interim President"

Popular Will (Spanish:Voluntad Popular) is a centrist social-democratic political party in Venezuela admitted into the Socialist International in December 2014,[1] led by former Mayor of Chacao, Leopoldo López, who is its national co-ordinator, and founded by Juan Guaidó, the self-proclaimed interim President of Venezuela.

Popular Will currently[When?] holds 14 out of 167 seats in the Venezuelan National Assembly, the country's parliament, and is a member of the Democratic Unity Roundtable, the electoral coalition that currently holds a majority in the National Assembly.[2]

Anti-Chavez Party

In 2009, Juan Guaidó founded a political party to capture the anti-Chavez energy his Generation 2007 had cultivated. Called Popular Will, it was led by Leopoldo López, a Princeton-educated right-wing firebrand heavily involved in National Endowment for Democracy programs and elected as the mayor of a district in Caracas that was one of the wealthiest in the country.[3] Lopez was a portrait of Venezuelan aristocracy, directly descended from his country’s first president. He was also the first cousin of Thor Halvorssen, founder of the US-based Human Rights Foundation that functions as a de facto publicity shop for US-backed anti-government activists in countries targeted by Washington for regime change.[4]

Though Lopez’s interests aligned neatly with Washington’s, US diplomatic cables published by Wikileaks highlighted the fanatical tendencies that would ultimately lead to Popular Will’s marginalisation.[5] One cable identified Lopez as “a divisive figure within the opposition… often described as arrogant, vindictive, and power-hungry.” Others highlighted his obsession with street confrontations and his “uncompromising approach” as a source of tension with other opposition leaders who prioritised unity and participation in the country’s democratic institutions.

By 2010, Popular Will and its foreign backers moved to exploit the worst drought to hit Venezuela in decades. Massive electricity shortages had struck the country due the dearth of water, which was needed to power hydroelectric plants. A global economic recession and declining oil prices compounded the crisis, driving public discontentment.

Stratfor and CANVAS – key advisors of Guaidó and his anti-government cadre – devised a shockingly cynical plan to drive a dagger through the heart of the Bolivarian revolution.[6] The scheme hinged on a 70% collapse of the country’s electrical system by as early as April 2010:

“This could be the watershed event, as there is little that Chavez can do to protect the poor from the failure of that system,” the Stratfor internal memo declared. “This would likely have the impact of galvanising public unrest in a way that no opposition group could ever hope to generate. At that point in time, an opposition group would be best served to take advantage of the situation and spin it against Chavez and towards their needs.”

By this point, the Venezuelan opposition was receiving a staggering $40-50 million a year from US government organisations like USAID and the National Endowment for Democracy, according to a report by the Spanish think tank, the FRIDE Institute.[7] It also had massive wealth to draw on from its own accounts, which were mostly outside the country.

While the scenario envisioned by Statfor did not come to fruition, the Popular Will party activists and their allies cast aside any pretence of non-violence and joined a radical plan to destabilise the country.

Towards violent destabilisation

In November, 2010, according to emails obtained by Venezuelan security services and presented by former Justice Minister Miguel Rodríguez Torres, Guaidó, Yon Goicoechea, and several other student activists attended a secret five-day training at a hotel dubbed “Fiesta Mexicana” hotel in Mexico.[8] The sessions were run by Otpor!, the Belgrade-based regime change trainers backed by the US government. The meeting had reportedly received the blessing of Otto Reich, a fanatically anti-Castro Cuban exile working in George W. Bush’s Department of State, and the right-wing former Colombian President Alvaro Uribe.[9]

Inside the meetings, the emails stated, Guaidó and his fellow activists hatched a plan to overthrow President Hugo Chavez by generating chaos through protracted spasms of street violence.

Three petroleum industry figureheads – Gustavo Torrar, Eligio Cedeño and Pedro Burelli – allegedly covered the $52,000 tab to hold the meeting. Torrar is a self-described “human rights activist” and “intellectual” whose younger brother Reynaldo Tovar Arroyo is the representative in Venezuela of the private Mexican oil and gas company Petroquimica del Golfo, which holds a contract with the Venezuelan state.

Cedeño, for his part, is a fugitive Venezuelan businessman who claimed asylum in the United States, and Pedro Burelli a former JP Morgan executive and the former director of Venezuela’s national oil company, Petroleum of Venezuela (PDVSA). He left PDVSA in 1998 as Hugo Chavez took power and is on the advisory committee of Georgetown University’s Latin America Leadership Program.[10]

Burelli insisted that the emails detailing his participation had been fabricated and even hired a private investigator to prove it.[11] The investigator declared that Google’s records showed the emails alleged to be his were never transmitted.[12]

Yet today Burelli makes no secret of his desire to see Venezuela’s current president, Nicolás Maduro, deposed – and even dragged through the streets and sodomised with a bayonet, as Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi was by NATO-backed militiamen.

  • Update: Burelli contacted the Grayzone after the publication of this article to clarify his participation in the “Fiesta Mexicana” plot.

Burelli called the meeting “a legitimate activity that took place in a hotel by a different name” in Mexico.

Asked if Otpor coordinated the meeting, he would only state that he “likes” the work of OTPOR/CANVAS and while not a funder of it, has “recommended activists from different countries to track them and participate in the activities they conduct in various countries.”

Burelli added: “The Einstein Institute trained thousands openly in Venezuela. Gene Sharp’s philosophy was widely studied and embraced. And this has probably kept the struggle from turning into a civil war.”

The alleged Fiesta Mexicana plot flowed into another destabilisation plan revealed in a series of documents produced by the Venezuelan government. In May 2014, Caracas released documents detailing an assassination plot against President Nicolás Maduro. The leaks identified the anti-Chavez hardliner Maria Corina Machado – today the main asset of Sen. Marco Rubio – as a leader of the scheme. The founder of the National Endowment for Democracy-funded group, Sumate, Machado has functioned as an international liaison for the opposition, visiting President George W. Bush in 2005.[13]

“I think it is time to gather efforts; make the necessary calls, and obtain financing to annihilate Maduro and the rest will fall apart,” Machado wrote in an email to former Venezuelan diplomat Diego Arria in 2014.

In another email, Machado claimed that the violent plot had the blessing of US Ambassador to Colombia, Kevin Whitaker:

“I have already made up my mind and this fight will continue until this regime is overthrown and we deliver to our friends in the world. If I went to San Cristobal and exposed myself before the OAS, I fear nothing. Kevin Whitaker has already reconfirmed his support and he pointed out the new steps. We have a cheque-book stronger than the regime’s to break the international security ring.”[14]

Guaidó heads to the barricades

That February, student demonstrators acting as shock troops for the exiled oligarchy erected violent barricades across the country, turning opposition-controlled quarters into violent fortresses known as guarimbas.[15] While international media portrayed the upheaval as a spontaneous protest against Maduro’s iron-fisted rule, there was ample evidence that Popular Will was orchestrating the show:

“None of the protesters at the universities wore their university t-shirts, they all wore Popular Will or Justice First t-shirts,” a guarimba participant said at the time.[16] “They might have been student groups, but the student councils are affiliated to the political opposition parties and they are accountable to them.”

Asked who the ringleaders were, the guarimba participant said, “Well if I am totally honest, those guys are legislators now.”

Around 43 were killed during the 2014 guarimbas. Three years later, they erupted again, causing mass destruction of public infrastructure, the murder of government supporters, and the deaths of 126 people, many of whom were Chavistas. In several cases, supporters of the government were burned alive by armed gangs.[17]

Guaidó was directly involved in the 2014 guarimbas. In fact, he tweeted video showing himself clad in a helmet and gas mask, surrounded by masked and armed elements that had shut down a highway that were engaging in a violent clash with the police. Alluding to his participation in Generation 2007, he proclaimed, “I remember in 2007, we proclaimed, ‘Students!’ Now, we shout, ‘Resistance! Resistance!'”

Guaidó has deleted the tweet, demonstrating apparent concern for his image as a champion of democracy.

On 12 February 2014, during the height of that year’s guarimbas, Guaidó joined Lopez on stage at a rally of Popular Will and Justice First. During a lengthy diatribe against the government, Lopez urged the crowd to march to the office of Attorney General Luisa Ortega Diaz.[18] Soon after, Diaz’s office came under attack by armed gangs who attempted to burn it to the ground. She denounced what she called “planned and premeditated violence.”

In a televised appearance in 2016, Guaidó dismissed deaths resulting from guayas – a guarimba tactic involving stretching steel wire across a roadway in order to injure or kill motorcyclists – as a “myth”.[19] His comments whitewashed a deadly tactic that had killed unarmed civilians like Santiago Pedroza[20] and decapitated a man named Elvis Durán, among many others.[21]

This callous disregard for human life would define his Popular Will party in the eyes of much of the public, including many opponents of Maduro.

Cracking down on Popular Will

As violence and political polarisation escalated across the country, the government began to act against the Popular Will leaders who helped stoke it.

Freddy Guevara, the National Assembly Vice-President and second in command of Popular Will, was a principal leader in the 2017 street riots. Facing a trial for his role in the violence, Guevara took shelter in the Chilean embassy, where he remains.[22]

Lester Toledo, a Popular Will legislator from the state of Zulia, was wanted by Venezuelan government in September 2016 on charges of financing terrorism and plotting assassinations.[23] The plans were said to be made with former Colombian President Álavaro Uribe. Toledo escaped Venezuela and went on several speaking tours with Human Rights Watch, the US government-backed Freedom House, the Spanish Congress and European Parliament.

Carlos Graffe, another Otpor-trained Generation 2007 member who led Popular Will, was arrested in July 2017. According to police, he was in possession of a bag filled with nails, C4 explosives and a detonator. He was released on 27 December 2017.[24]

Leopoldo Lopez, the longtime Popular Will leader, is today under house arrest, accused of a key role in deaths of 13 people during the guarimbas in 2014. Amnesty International lauded Lopez as a “prisoner of conscience” and slammed his transfer from prison to house as “not good enough”.[25] Meanwhile, family members of guarimba victims introduced a petition for more charges against Lopez.[26]

Yon Goicoechea, the Koch Brothers posterboy, was arrested in 2016 by security forces who claimed they found found a kilo of explosives in his vehicle.[27] In a New York Times op-ed, Goicoechea protested the charges as “trumped-up” and claimed he had been imprisoned simply for his “dream of a democratic society, free of Communism.”[28] He was freed in November 2017.[29]

David Smolansky, also a member of the original Otpor-trained Generation 2007, became Venezuela’s youngest-ever mayor when he was elected in 2013 in the affluent suburb of El Hatillo. But he was stripped of his position and sentenced to 15 months in prison by the Supreme Court after it found him culpable of stirring the violent guarimbas.

Facing arrest, Smolansky shaved his beard, donned sunglasses and slipped into Brazil disguised as a priest with a bible in hand and rosary around his neck.[30] He now lives in Washington, DC, where he was hand picked by Secretary of the Organisation of American States (OAS) Luis Almagro to lead the working group on the Venezuelan migrant and refugee crisis.

On 26 July 2018, Smolansky held what he called a “cordial reunion” with Elliot Abrams, the convicted Iran-Contra affair felon installed by Trump as special US envoy to Venezuela.[31] Abrams is notorious for overseeing the US covert policy of arming right-wing death squads during the 1980’s in Nicaragua, El Salvador, and Guatemala. His lead role in the Venezuelan coup has stoked fears that another blood-drenched proxy war might be on the way.

Four days earlier, Machado rumbled another violent threat against Maduro, declaring that if he “wants to save his life, he should understand that his time is up.”[32]

A pawn in their game

The collapse of Popular Will under the weight of the violent campaign of destabilisation it ran alienated large sectors of the public and wound much of its leadership up in exile or in custody. Guaidó had remained a relatively minor figure, having spent most of his nine-year career in the National Assembly as an alternate deputy. Hailing from one of Venezuela’s least populous states, Guaidó came in second place during the 2015 parliamentary elections, winning just 26% of votes cast in order to secure his place in the National Assembly. Indeed, his bottom may have been better known than his face.

Guaidó is known as the president of the opposition-dominated National Assembly, but he was never elected to the position. The four opposition parties that comprised the Assembly’s Democratic Unity Table had decided to establish a rotating presidency. Popular Will’s turn was on the way, but its founder, Lopez, was under house arrest. Meanwhile, his second-in-charge, Guevara, had taken refuge in the Chilean embassy. A figure named Juan Andrés Mejía would have been next in line but for reasons that are only now clear, Juan Guaido was selected.

“There is a class reasoning that explains Guaidó’s rise", Sequera, the Venezuelan analyst, observed. “Mejía is high class, studied at one of the most expensive private universities in Venezuela, and could not be easily marketed to the public the way Guaidó could. For one, Guaidó has common mestizo features like most Venezuelans do, and seems like more like a man of the people. Also, he had not been overexposed in the media, so he could be built up into pretty much anything.”

In December 2018, Guaidó sneaked across the border and junketed to Washington, Colombia and Brazil to coordinate the plan to hold mass demonstrations during the inauguration of President Maduro. The night before Maduro’s swearing-in ceremony, both Vice President Mike Pence and Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland called Guaidó to affirm their support.

A week later, Sen. Marco Rubio, Sen. Rick Scott and Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart – all lawmakers from the Florida base of the right-wing Cuban exile lobby – joined President Trump and Vice President Pence at the White House. At their request, Trump agreed that if Guaidó declared himself president, he would back him.[33]

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met personally with Guaidó on 10 January 2019, according to the Wall Street Journal. However, Pompeo could not pronounce Guaidó’s name when he mentioned him in a press briefing on 25 January 2019, referring to him as “Juan Guido.”

By January 11, Guaidó’s Wikipedia page had been edited 37 times, highlighting the struggle to shape the image of a previously anonymous figure who was now a tableau for Washington’s regime change ambitions.[34] In the end, editorial oversight of his page was handed over to Wikipedia’s elite council of “librarians,” who pronounced him the “contested” president of Venezuela.

Guaidó might have been an obscure figure, but his combination of radicalism and opportunism satisfied Washington’s needs. “That internal piece was missing,” a Trump administration said of Guaidó. “He was the piece we needed for our strategy to be coherent and complete.”

“For the first time,” Brownfield, the former American ambassador to Venezuela, gushed to the New York Times, “you have an opposition leader who is clearly signalling to the armed forces and to law enforcement that he wants to keep them on the side of the angels and with the good guys.”[35]

But Guaidó’s Popular Will party formed the shock troops of the guarimbas that caused the deaths of police officers and common citizens alike. He had even boasted of his own participation in street riots. And now, to win the hearts and minds of the military and police, Guaido had to erase this blood-soaked history.

On 21 January 2019, a day before the coup began in earnest, Guaidó’s wife delivered a video address calling on the military to rise up against Maduro. Her performance was wooden and uninspiring, underscoring the her husband’s limited political prospects.[36]

At a press conference before supporters four days later, Guaidó announced his solution to the crisis: “Authorise a humanitarian intervention!”

While he waits on direct assistance, Guaidó remains what he has always been – a pet project of cynical outside forces:

“It doesn’t matter if he crashes and burns after all these misadventures,” Sequera said of the coup figurehead. “To the Americans, he is expendable.”[37]

 

Related Document

TitleTypePublication dateAuthor(s)Description
Document:The Making of Juan Guaidó: How the US Regime Change Laboratory Created Venezuela’s Coup LeaderArticle29 January 2019Dan Cohen
Max Blumenthal
Juan Guaidó is the product of a decade-long project overseen by Washington’s elite regime change trainers. While posing as a champion of democracy, Guaidó has spent years at the forefront of a violent campaign of destabilisation in Venezuela


References

  1. "Socialist International - Progressive Politics For A Fairer World". www.socialistinternational.org.Page Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css must have content model "Sanitized CSS" for TemplateStyles (current model is "plain text").
  2. "Leopoldo López anunció que Voluntad Popular es ahora un partido político" Archived 2011-10-03 at the Wayback Machine. (Spanish, visited January 18, 2011)
  3. "The Making of Leopoldo Lopez"
  4. "Oslo Freedom Forum founder’s ties to Islamophobes who inspired mass killer Anders Breivik"
  5. "What the Wikileaks Cables Say about Leopoldo López"
  6. "VZ elections"
  7. "NED Report: International Agencies Fund Venezuelan Opposition with $40-50 Million Annually"
  8. "Plan conspirativo "Fiesta Mexicana" fue elaborado hace 10 años y costó 52 mil dólares, revela Rodríguez Torres"
  9. "Who is Venezuelan Terror Plotter, Lorent Saleh? Four Former Latin American Presidents Just Might Know"
  10. "Pedro Burelli, GCL Advisory Committee"
  11. "Evidence in English"
  12. "Teorías conspirativas se hacen sentir en Venezuela"
  13. "President George W. Bush welcomes Maria Corina Machado, the founder and executive director of Sumate, an independent democratic civil society group in Venezuela"
  14. "María Corina Machado, Diego Arria y Kevin Whitaker involucrados en intento de magnicidio y golpe"
  15. "Crónicas guarimberas: el asesinato "indirecto", Zello, y el ramboshow de Vivas"
  16. "From Violent Barricades in 2014 to Official Right-Wing: Venezuela's Opposition"
  17. "In Detail: The Deaths So Far"
  18. "Guaidó joined Lopez on stage at a rally of Popular Will and Justice First in February 2014"
  19. "Guaidó dismissed deaths resulting from guayas as a myth"
  20. "Deadly tactic that had killed unarmed civilians like Santiago Pedroza"
  21. "Este es Elvis Durán, el motorizado degollado por la guaya tensada como barricada"
  22. "Freddy Guevara took shelter in the Chilean embassy, where he remains"
  23. "Venezuelan Authorities Make Arrests Linked to Destabilization Plots"
  24. "Carlos Graffe salió en libertad tras cinco meses en prisión"
  25. "Venezuela: Leopoldo López moved to ‘house arrest’ as repression deepens"
  26. "Guarimba Victims Pursue New Charges Against Leopoldo Lopez as Opposition Marches"
  27. "Detienen en Venezuela a opositor equipado con explosivos"
  28. "I Am in Prison Because I Want Freedom for My Country"
  29. "Yon Goicoechea was freed in November 2017"
  30. "On the run: How one opposition mayor fled Venezuela"
  31. "Trump's 'Axis of Evil': Pompeo, Bolton & Abrams"
  32. "Machado declares that if Maduro 'wants to save his life, he should understand that his time is up'”
  33. "Pence Pledged U.S. Backing Before Venezuela Opposition Leader’s Move"
  34. "By 11 January 2019 Guaidó’s Wikipedia page had been edited 37 times"
  35. "Venezuela’s Opposition Leader Calls for More Protests ‘if They Dare to Kidnap Me’"
  36. "On 21 January 2019 Guaidó’s wife delivered a wooden and uninspiring video address"
  37. "The Making of Juan Guaidó: How the US Regime Change Laboratory Created Venezuela’s Coup Leader"
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