Wednesday, February 26, 2014

When the truth isn't so clear cut

The story line was that the Ukrainian government under President Viktor Yanukovych precipitated the situation in Kiev by choosing to strengthen his country's ties with Russia rather than aligning with the European Union. This decision supposedly caused so much consternation with the opposition parties that activists took over the streets to protest the decision.

When the demonstrations turned violent, President Yanukovych turned his security forces on their own countrymen and ordered them to fire. Dozens were killed and Yanukovych suddenly found himself in an untenable position.

President Obama called on Mr. Yanukovych to tell his security forces to stand down. Mr. Obama proclaimed that the United States stood behind those protesting for freedom and democracy. He said the country needed to move toward multi-party democracy and needed to open itself to the West.

Mr. Yanukovych fled the capital on Saturday just before the Parliament voted to remove him from office. The protesters were victorious. Democracy had triumphed. Ukraine could now turn its attention to the West.

But not so fast.

What was really going on in the Ukraine? What was really at stake?

Maybe a clue could be gathered from yesterday's announcement by the European Union that it would provide loans to the Ukrainian government to assist in economic and political reform. At the same time the EU warned Russia to stop meddling in the internal affairs of Ukraine.
VICTORIA NULAND: Good. So, I don’t think Klitsch should go into the government. I don’t think it’s necessary. I don’t think it’s a good idea.
GEOFFREY PYATT: Yeah. I mean, I guess, you think—in terms of him not going into the government, just let him sort of stay out and do his political homework and stuff. I’m just thinking, in terms of sort of the process moving ahead, we want to keep the moderate democrats together. The problem is going to be Tyahnybok and his guys. And, you know, I’m sure that’s part of what Yanukovych is calculating on all of this. I kind of—
VICTORIA NULAND: I think—I think Yats is the guy who’s got the economic experience, the governing experience. He’s the guy—you know, what he needs is Klitsch and Tyahnybok on the outside. He needs to be talking to them four times a week. You know, I just think Klitsch going in, he’s going to be at that level working for Yatsenyuk. It’s just not going to work.
And then there was US Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland having the spotlight thrust on her for using some very colorful language in talking about the EU. But that episode only served to divert people's attention to what was really important on the leaked telephone conversation. On tape we had Ms. Nuland talking with the US ambassador to Ukraine, Geoffery Pyatt, about who the US was backing in the confrontation. That's right, while everyone focused on Ms. Nuland telling the EU to fuck off, everyone ignored the fact that US officials were working with the opposition to overthrow the democratically elected government of Viktor Yanukovych.

A similar situation is playing itself out in Venezuela where the US government is providing backing for the groups organizing street protests against the government of Nicholas Maduro. Venezuela has been on Washington's shit list ever since Hugo Chavez came to power and began attacking the fundamental and systemic inequality in the nation.

The language the US uses when discussing Venezuela in public mirrors that they use when talking about the situation in the Ukraine. In both cases our government claims to be on the side of democracy and human rights. Washington issued calls for both governments to order their security forces to stand down. Yet, in both cases, our government was working behind the scenes to effect the overthrow of democratically elected governments.

As an aside, my wife and I had a conversation about Venezuela the other day. She had a couple of Venezuelan students who both came from fairly wealthy families who had the money to send them to college in the United States. Neither of them had anything good to say about Hugo Chavez. They blamed him for the worsening economic situation in the country. My wife adopted their views on the situation. Thus she never contemplated the condition of the poor and the ways in which they had been exploited by international capital for decades. She also didn't understand that our government cut aid to Venezuela because our elected officials didn't like the idea of a socialist trying to make things better for the poor and working class. She also didn't understand that our government has been funding various opposition groups for years in an effort to destabilize the government down there.

In both the Ukraine and Venezuela the parties in power had enough support in the legislature to pass the laws they wanted to without any assistance from the opposition. Now I'll be the first to tell you that operating in that manner is a recipe for disaster as it marginalizes a great number of people (look at what happened in Egypt under the Muslim Brotherhood), but it certainly doesn't give the United States the right to meddle in their politics to try to put someone friendly in power. The irony is you don't have to leave this state to see such tactics demonstrated. The Texas Taliban, under Governor Rick Perry, has forced its views on women's rights, gay rights, health care and the environment down everyone's throats in the Lone Star State simply because they don't need Democratic support in the state legislature to pass anything.

And the notion that our government will go out on a limb to promote democracy and human rights is downright laughable. Where is the US outrage over the non-democratic governments of Saudi Arabia and Bahrain? Where is the outrage over the treatment of women? Last time I checked we're still providing military hardware to the Saudis and military assistance to the Bahrainis. For decades our government openly supported right-wing military dictatorships in South and Central America. No one in Washington ever raised a stink about the slaughter of innocents in East Timor at the hands of the Indonesian government.

The truth about what happened in Ukraine is a very murky concept indeed and it certainly doesn't follow the narrative we've been force fed over the past few weeks.

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