By Theodore Shoebat
Venezuela is going through a horrendous blackout. The US backed opposition leader, Juan Guaido, has already said that he will be declaring a “state of national emergency” in a special session of parliament on Monday. Over the weekend parts of Venezuela were stuck without power and 70% went through an outage last week. Guaido stated that 16 states continue to be without power while six only have partial power and that the blackout has cost the private sector at least $400 million from the power being out.
On Thursday were hundreds were stuck in the Caracas subway while countless people were driving through streets darkened by outages.
'This country has… become a disaster'
The latest crisis to hit Venezuela is an electricity blackout that's affected most of the country[tap to expand] https://t.co/IvIaxxvLMS pic.twitter.com/8ebISOD8Nq
— BBC News (World) (@BBCWorld) March 8, 2019
While officials in Washington are putting the blame solely on Maduro, it appears that the blackout is really due to the sanctions on Venezuela which have impeded the country from importing and producing the oil that it could use to support its thermal power plants. As a report from the New York Times state:
“The sanctions have affected Venezuela’s ability to import and produce the fuel required by the thermal power plants that could have backed up the Guri plant once it failed.”
This is amazing: buried deep in this NYT article is a sentence indicating the Trump economic sanctions are a major cause of the deadly blackout in Venezuela, contradicting the rest of the article. No one has noticed; this should have been the main story: https://t.co/KGDZ4eI17g pic.twitter.com/DYhODSK737
— Mark Weisbrot (@MarkWeisbrot) March 10, 2019
That the blackout could be the result of a cyber attack is not far-fetched. Kalev Leeatru, writing for Forbes Magazine, makes this observation:
While the reality is that Venezuela’s blackout was most likely due to chronic underfunding of its electrical infrastructure and deferred maintenance, the idea of a foreign nation state manipulating an adversary’s power grid to force a governmental transition is very real.
In the case of Venezuela, the idea of a government like the United States remotely interfering with its power grid is actually quite realistic. Remote cyber operations rarely require a significant ground presence, making them the ideal deniable influence operation. Given the U.S. government’s longstanding concern with Venezuela’s government, it is likely that the U.S. already maintains a deep presence within the country’s national infrastructure grid, making it relatively straightforward to interfere with grid operations. The country’s outdated internet and power infrastructure present few formidable challenges to such operations and make it relatively easy to remove any traces of foreign intervention.
Widespread power and connectivity outages like the one Venezuela experienced last week are also straight from the modern cyber playbook. Cutting power at rush hour, ensuring maximal impact on civilian society and plenty of mediagenic post-apocalyptic imagery, fits squarely into the mold of a traditional influence operation.
In the end, regardless of what actually happened this past week in Venezuela, it is likely that cyber-based infrastructure attacks will continue to grow as a weapon of modern warfare.
Venezuelan officials have also said that the blackout is a cyberattack from the US, as we read in the Guardian:
Venezuela’s defense minister has accused the United States of masterminding a crippling power cut that has left virtually the entire South American country without electricity and stirred fears that its crisis could be entering a volatile new phase.
Nearly all of Venezuela’s 23 states were cast into darkness on Thursday afternoon after the most severe power cut in the country’s recent history.
“No one can be so naive to think this was the result of bad luck or chance,” Padrino López said on Friday as millions of Venezuelan citizens prepared for a second night in the dark.
“This is an aggression designed to destablise the Venezuelan people and the Venezuelan state.”
Padrino López claimed the alleged US “attack” – supposedly conducted against the Guri hydroelectric plant in southern Venezuela that supplies much of the country’s electricity – had been “prepared, planned and well-defined” in Washington and admitted it had caused “difficulties”.
But Padrino López insisted Maduro’s officials and the armed forces were fighting back. “We are here to transmit a message of peace to all of the Venezuelan people … all is calm.”
Maduro has also attributed the blackout to American cyber rattling:
“we received another attack, of a cybernetic nature, at midday… that disturbed the reconnection process and knocked out everything that had been achieved until noon. … We discovered that they were carrying out high-tech… attacks against the power systems.”
Maduro also pointed out that “one of the sources of [electric] generation that was working perfectly,” was sabotaged, and accused domestic “infiltrators of attacking the electric company from the inside.”
If the blackout is really a cyberattack, it would not be surprising at all. The story reminds me of how opposition elements within Venezuela paralyzed the country’s economy by sabotaging its oil production back in the early 2000s.
In December of 2002, the Coordinadora Democrática, the largest umbrella organization of opposition groups against the government, led by the Venezuelan Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Production (Fedecámaras), Venezuela’s main business union, and the trade union federation Confederación de Trabajadores de Venezuela (CTV), called for a workers strike. Its interesting that a people who are ‘starving’ are still strong enough to starve even more and do “a workers strike.”
It escalated into a serious strike, known as the the 2002–2003 oil lockout/strike. Most of the shops in eastern Caracas closed its doors, while downtown and western Caracas continued to see its shops open since most shop owners either supported Chavez or were indifferent to politics.
On December 4th of 2002, the captain of a large oil tanker, called the Pilín León, anchored in the Lake Maracaibo shipping channel and refused to move. The rest of the 13-ship fleet working for PDVSA also did the same. Managers of PDVSA also refused to work, paralyzing the oil company of the Venezuelan government. The company’s management even locked out employees, preventing them from entering facilities to work. Huge parts of the operational staff of PDVSA also refused to work, including virtually all of its marine flotilla captains.
As a result of the strike, petroleum production fell to one-third and Venezuela was forced to import oil to survive and to meet its foreign obligations (so much for being an axis of evil. Venezuela is obviously no Third Reich in regards to political strength). It became, obviously, very difficult for people to fill their tanks and many gas stations closed down. Long lines at gas stations became very common, airlines had to cancel many domestic flights, banks curbed their opening hours, and many shops were shutdown notwithstanding the Christmas shopping season. The Coordinadora Democrática came up with a slogan: “2002 without Christmas, 2003 without Chávez”. In order to boost up the image of the strike, private television networks “canceled regular advertisements and ran pro-strike, anti-Chávez spots around the clock.” Venevisión’s president openly declared solidarity with the strike. As Golinger wrote:
“no product commercials, no soap operas, no movies, no cartoons, and no sitcoms. They broadcast an average of 700 pro-opposition advertisements each day, paid for by the stations themselves and by the opposition umbrella group, Democratic Coordinator.”
A struggle between the private networks and the state-run Venezolana de Televisión ensued in a rivalry over the minds of the population. In one instance, state television said that all universities were open, while private networks affirmed that they were all closed. In 2009, the privately ran television network, Globovisión, was assessed $2.3 million in back taxes for the opposition advertisements shown during this period.
A question one must ask is, if Venezuela is such a despotism or a party of the “Axis of evil” that John Bolton says it is (its funny because Bolton said the same thing about Syria and Libya), then why would such a tyranny allow for a private network to spend so much money on propaganda calling for its overthrow?
On December 6th, a Portuguese immigrant and taxi cab driver, João de Gouveia, murdered three opposition protestors at the Plaza Francia in Altamira, a centre for opposition demonstrations. Opposition media wanted to portray Gouveia as a pro-government gunman and repeatedly aired a video purportedly showing him at a pro-Chavez rally that was also attended by Freddy Bernal, a pro-Chavez mayor. Bernal, however, rejected this as propaganda and said that Gouveia had suffered from “schizophrenia and paranoia” and had been used by the opposition. “It was a trick to create a provocation,” said Mr. Bernal, who claimed that the clip was manipulated. Meanwhile, the government claimed that Gouveia was hired by the opposition in order to create an atmosphere for a military takeover.
But there was another explanation given by a Venezuelan government official, and that was that Gouveia admitted that he was paid by a rebellious member of the armed forces and was working for the CIA, as we read from a report from the Guardian:
One senior government official has even claimed that De Gouveia has already confessed to receiving money from a dissident member of the armed forces and admitted to working for the CIA. The official said that he recognised that the allegation was like “Mission Impossible”. He said that De Gouveia confessed after being told that there had been a plan to kill him after the shootings, in the same way that Lee Harvey Oswald was killed after the assassination of President Kennedy.
This latter explanation was never proven. Regardless, the opposition used the murders and “energized and radicalized the opposition movement”. On December 9th, the opposition firmly declared that the strike would not end until Chavez would resign.
The strike terribly damaged Venezuela’s economy and because so many people couldn’t fill their tanks up with gasoline, transportation of goods were greatly impeded and food shortages became a reality. The strategy was to cripple Venezuela with food shortages and other harsh difficulties and then blame the Chavez government in order to force him to resign.
The government had to take serious measures to mitigate the dismal situation. On December 12th, Chavez fired four executives of PDVSA who were leading the strike (they were fired, not executed as they would be in a serious tyranny). These four men, in fact, were fired in April before the coup but were reinstated by Chavez after the coup.
By January of 2003, 300 executives and managers were fired. The Chavez regime had its eyes on the Pilín León tanker and decided to use the navy to force it back to work. However this plan was rescinded due to a lack of a qualified crew. But fortunately a group of retired seaman took over the ship and worked for two days to get the ship functioning again and successfully parked it. A disturbing aspect of this story is that the whole ship was boobytrapped. What made restarting the ship so difficult was that the previous crew who hijacked the tanker “had sabotaged the ship, leaving behind hard-to-notice traps in the computer system and elsewhere that could set off an explosion.”
18,000 PDVSA employees, 40% of the company’s workforce, were fired for “dereliction of duty” during the strike.
The economic damages on Venezuela as a result of the strike were severe. During the first four months of 2003, Venezuela’s GDP fell 27% and it left its oil industry with a cost of $13.3 billion.
Oil production was brought back up by promoting lower-level employees in the PDVSA who were, typically, loyal to Chavez. They also split the company by east and west Caracas, with the eastern part — being where most of the striking executives and managers were concentrated — being greatly brought down in size. Energy Minister Rafael Ramírez reported that restoring the oil company was difficult due to people trying to sabotage it, as we read in a New York Times report: “Restoring oil operations had been delayed by sabotage at most installations, he said.”
In this strike, all of the executives of the PDVSA refused to work, thousands of employees went on strike, all thirteen of the company’s tankers were hijacked, the major private television networks spent millions on spreading propaganda against the government. There is no way that all of this was coming solely from a grassroots movement. There had to have been some serious coordination and backing. And the fact that the US has funneled tens of millions of dollars to fund the opposition in Venezuela, its not that difficult to wonder who would back up such an immensely calculative operation to cripple the Venezuelan economy.
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