Coups and Jail: Assaults on Freedom


The long-expected coup attempt in Venezuela began this week, declared by Maduro as failed while Guaido received backing from some prominent figures. Meanwhile, Julian Assange has been sentenced for 50 weeks in the UK for skipping bail in 2012 when he sought asylum in the Ecuadorian Embassy. Both events are quite disheartening.

Think what you will of Assange, but WikiLeaks’ importance cannot be denied. His arrest, after Ecuadorian President Moreno buckled under US pressure, sparked outrage (and no small amount of cheering from some circles). But it isn’t skipping bail in the UK and sexual assault charges in Sweden that many are concerned about – by all means, if the Sweden case is true then send him there.

What this is really about is the fear that he will be extradited to the US, where he so far would face charges of aiding (then) Bradley Manning leak a trove of documents to WikiLeaks. Assange spent 7 years in the Ecuadorian Embassy to avoid this extradition, and Manning did spend a number of years imprisoned; her sentence was commuted by Obama in what I considered to be an image boosting move in his final days as POTUS before Trump ran in (I was called cynical by some for that, I wonder why).

Their separate imprisonments, however, along with any other whistleblower – Edward Snowden, exiled in Russia; Witness K here in Australia – have been absurd abuses of power. Such revelations are entirely within the publics’ interest, and rather than condemned they should be applauded as heroes.

On the door of a toilet stall in QUT’s Garden’s Point campus – complete coincidence I found it – there was this message written:

“Free Julian Assange. All our Freedoms and Liberties [sic] are at stake.”

Beneath that, another hand wrote:

“They fear him for he tells the truth.”

I completely agree, random restroom vandals. I’ve stated before that our government should be taking a much more active role in the Assange case, yet the only party that has even suggested trying to recover him is the Greens. As if we needed any more reason to vote for them this year? I digress.

Regarding Venezuela, similarly disturbing assaults on the concept of freedom have taken place. Opposition Leader, Juan Guaido, who declared himself the rightful President of the country – and has even been recognised as such by many – despite holding no power and seemingly little support from the military, has called for a coup. Maduro has already announced the coup was defeated easily, but this is by no means the end.

As with Assange, think what you will of Maduro – increasingly authoritarian and, while the US is much to blame, economically incompetent – he is the President of Venezuela. Yes, the general population want change, and may well want Maduro gone, but not if that change involves a US backed military regime. When I say this coup attempt and probably future invasion is an assault on freedom, I don’t mean to say Venezuela is happy or particularly free under Maduro. What I am saying is that the general population would likely prefer Maduro and, through their own movements, want to remove him internally. The assault on freedom comes from the interventionist and imperialist US, and other countries.

Colombia’s hostile President said people backing the coup were on the “right side of history”. European Parliament President, Antonio Tajani, has proclaimed it as the “return of democracy and freedom” to Venezuela. US Senator Marco Rubio has come out in support of the coup – although he did not see it as one – and SoS Pompeo has not ruled out US military involvement in the country. Even Erik Prince, founder of Blackwater and brother of Betsy DeVos, has chimed in by offering to have mercenaries sent into Venezuela – because war crimes in the Middle East should be shared just as equally to Latin America.

There is an incredibly Orwellian feeling about all of this. Maduro isn’t great, but it takes some serious mental gymnastics to consider him a dictator while calling an attempted military coup, without popular backing internally, the saviour of democracy. At least elections were held to keep Maduro in power, whether you think it was rigged or not. The US, however, does not have any humanitarian concerns – they just want a puppet. The country advocating for democracy has a habit of propping up extreme dictators, and for a bunch who pride themselves on self-determination and freedom they don’t appear to believe that those same principles apply to anyone else.

I don’t live in Venezuela, so I can’t comment definitively, but living under Maduro’s rule with the option of popular struggle to oust him or elect a new government sounds much more appealing than being under the boot of US imperialism.

It’s also another chance to make a quick jab at the mainstream media, mostly the US’. Leftist rags like CNN or MSNBC have been quite supportive of the coup taking place, and of Guaido. It’s almost like points of division between ‘left’ and ‘right’ are superficial and manufactured, and when it comes to serious matters involving people’s lives, destruction has bipartisan support.

Both Assange and Maduro are not the sort of people I would look to as good role models, but it is their opposition to the US, and the freedoms they defend as a result, that matter. Assange should be freed and brought back to Australia, and Venezuela’s future should be decided by the Venezuelan people, not the US, the EU, or any other mouthpiece spruiking doublespeak. We can only wait and see just how far the US will go to control these two situations.


Liked this? Read Julian Assange: Hero or Enemy?

Previous piece: Ethics of Investigative Journalism

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