Last night, as I watched the television news, there were consecutive stories on massive street protests in Ukraine and Venezuela. They were all presented as democratic protests against undemocratic and unresponsive governments. Not one of the stories mentioned the not unimportant detail that, in each case, the violent street protests were targeting governments democratically elected by the people.
But that’s precisely the point.
I have previously suggested that recent coups and coup attempts have been so disguised that they are not even recognized as coups. Unlike the covert coups of earlier administrations, in places like Iran, Guatemala and Chile, the coups of the Obama administration are not seen to be coups and involve no tanks or guns. They are silently disguised as domestic current events.
One of the ways these coups have been disguised is as the expression of the public will through mass democratic expression in the streets. These coups cloak themselves as domestic, democratic movements that attempt to bring about a regime change in the streets that could not be accomplished in the polls. A mass minority protesting in the streets produces a cry heard more loudly around the world than a silent majority in a secret and sound proof polling booth. This regime change in disguise amplifies the minority in the street into a voice great enough to overturn the majority in the polls.
In Venezuela, opponents of the Bolivarian Revolution hoped to win in the polls in a way they had repeatedly failed to do while Chavez was alive. But Chavez’ successor, Nicolás Maduro, handed them yet another defeat, and the revolution continued. Despite monitors from around the world certifying the election as fair, the United States continued to defy every other country in the world by refusing to recognize Maduro’s victory and backing the opposition’s claims of fraud and their demands for further recounts.
The American legitimization of the protest in the streets provided cover to the opposition while it attempted to overturn the election results and amounted to cooperation with another Venezuelan coup attempt. When an opposition that for fourteen years had failed at the polls to change the government failed at the polls again, it created the appearance of a massive social movement in the streets to give credibility to calls to change that government through social pressure.
In the recent municipal elections, the Venezuelan opposition hoped the Chavez’ glow had worn of off Maduro. It hadn’t. Maduro and his allies won 76% of the mayoral races in a municipal election that saw an impressive 58.92% turnout.
Frustrated, and realizing that they simply cannot terminate Chavez’ revolution in the polls, the opposition once again took to the street. Right wing opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez – who was involved in the 2002 coup attempt against Chavez – called for his supporters to take to the streets. Leaving no doubt that the goal was, once again, coup, Lopez insisted that the violence would go on until they "got rid of Maduro."
And, once again, the U.S. backed, not the numbers in the polls, but the smaller numbers in the street. While the Mercosur governments of Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay and Venezuela released a statement describing the opposition violence in the streets as "attempts to destabilize the democratic order," the U.S. helped them to destabilize the democratic order, and, once again, jumped in with the coup. An anonymous State Department Spokesperson insisted that "The government of Venezuela has an obligation to protect the basic rights and safety of its citizens and to ensure that government institutions respond effectively to the legitimate economic and social needs of its citizens.” There may or may not be "legitimate economic and social" concerns, but they are not being expressed legitimately. The protestors are not a lawful majority changing the government in the polls, but a violent minority who lost in the polls trying to have their way in the streets magnified by U.S. media and U.S. support.
Secretary of State John Kerry added the cry that "We are particularly alarmed by reports that the Venezuelan government has arrested or detained scores of anti-government protesters." What he doesn’t say – and the omission helps to delegitimize and destabilize the government – is that scores of protestors were arrested because many of the protestors committed crimes. Mark Weisbrot reports that protestors attacked police, threw Molotov cocktails, burned cars, set fire to government buildings and committed other acts of violence and vandalism. Fernando Vegas adds throwing stones, burning barricades and damaging government buildings. Vegas also reports that as of February 17, according to the Venezuelan Interior Affairs Minister, of the 120 people arrested in recent protests, only 14 remain in custody, and that they have been charged with specific acts of vandalism and violence. By not reporting this opposition violence, or by blaming it on the government, Kerry and the media help the minority vote to delegitimize the government that was elected by the majority vote: a coup disguised as mass social protest. Since the Americans and the opposition partners they fund with the $5 million allotted in the 2014 U.S. budget couldn’t accomplish regime change by the 2002 coup or the 2013 federal or municipal elections, they wield democracy as a weapon and try to change the regime undemocratically in the streets, disguised as democracy in action.
An analogous silent coup could be happening in Ukraine. Seamus Milne says in the Guardian that the Ukrainian protest is being "played out through the western media according to a well-rehearsed script. Pro-democracy campaigners are battling an authoritarian government." But, he adds: ". . . it bears only the sketchiest relationship to reality." Though Viktor Yanukovych is often portrayed in the media as a dictator flown in by Russia, the man the protestors are trying to remove on the streets was elected in the polls in 2010 by a full 48.9% of the people in elections declared fair by international observers.
Not only does the western media view of the president "bear only the sketchiest relationship to reality," so does the western view of the opposition. In order to make the script work, the media not only omits the inconvenience of the democratic polls that put the president in power, the western media also omits that at the head of the mass opposition in the streets is the far right nationalist Svoboda Party, complete with all their fascist and anti-Semitic tendencies. And the Svoboda Party is joined by the even more extreme Right Sector. This "sometimes overtly neo-Nazi" group has been active in the protest from the very beginning.
So the situation on the streets of Ukraine is not like situation on the Arabian streets. This is not a mass pro-democracy movement overthrowing an unelected government. This is the losers of the last election trying to reverse the results of the polls in the streets. And, to make the script work, the media has to change the roles and turn the democratically elected president into the undemocratic one and the opposition into the hero. And so, the western media cooperates in the delegitimization of the government
And so do the western governments. Writing in the Independent, Patrick Cockburn says, "The opposition has received an overwhelmingly good press from western television and newspapers portraying the struggle as one between ordinary Ukrainians and a repressive government. The television-friendly version of the protest has little time for complicated stuff about the role of outside powers . . . ." But, there has been a role – and perhaps even a leading role – for outside powers.
Recently, a phone call captured by Russian electronic intelligence reveals the American handwriting behind "the well-rehearsed script." U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Victoria Nuland was caught planning who the U.S. wants to win the regime change. She can be heard telling Geoffrey Pyatt, the U.S. ambassador in Kiev, who America wants as the future leader of Ukraine. Pyatt even refers to the West needing to "midwife this thing." Patrick Cockburn says that the leaked phone call shows that "senior U.S. officials saw themselves as determining who should form a future Ukrainian government".
So the current protests in both Venezuela and Ukraine seem to fit the pattern. A group too small to win in the polls looks much larger in the streets. The U.S. media amplifies their voice, creating the deception of a mass democratic movement. The U.S. government then supports the opposition in the streets and contributes to the delegitimization of the democratically elected government, clearing the way for the government that is more palatable to the U.S. and to the minority of voters who lost in the polls. And so, a silent coup that looks like a domestic democratic movement is born.
Ted Snider has a graduate degree in philosophy and writes on analyzing patterns in US foreign policy and history.