The Atlas Network and Venezuela

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Imagine if top members of the USA government were somehow intertwined with think tanks, connected to powerful business interests that utilise organisations, foundations and apparent grassroots movements to direct policy, not only in their own country but across the globe. Usually, in this hypothetical scenario, this is done to ferment regime change or at the very least to alter decision making in the favour of corporate interests and against the people of said country. What a terrible world that would be.

What if it was directly connected to recent elections and forthcoming interventions in foreign countries? 

Well read on.

We need to start with a bit of background for the Atlas Network, one of the main collections of think tanks currently whittling away at South America to mould it into something more pleasing to their interests.

How the Atlas Group was formed

The Atlas Network was actually founded by an English entrepreneur named Antony Fisher, who, in 1946, decided that his best way to gain power was to “litter the world with free-market think tanks.” He was advised by Friedrich Hayek, the author of The Road to Serfdom that rather than entering into politics itself, the best way to manipulate policy was to alter the public discourse, seemingly from the ground up.

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Leonard Read, who was described as a “free market ideologue” had also been thinking in similar terms. Read had successfully battled against appropriate workers rights in Los Angeles for the US chamber of commerce, but now he set his sights on dismantling more of the welfare state in favour of his and his friends business interests. Read formed the non profit organisation, the Foundation for Economic Education, in New York, which was founded to help sponsor and promote the ideas of free-market intellectuals. Fisher visited this foundation and, upon meeting Read, was encouraged to set up a similar organisation in the UK. Also during his trip to the USA Fisher picked up tips on the battery farming of chickens which made him a wealthy man if one of dubious moral fibre.

In 1955, Fisher founded the Institute of Economic Affairs. The idea was to provide a centralisation for “free market thinkers” and was set up specifically to provide opposition to the growing aspects of the Welfare state in British society.

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The IEA helped to popularise hostility to these programs and ideas via the media of the day, namely through opinion columns in magazines and newspapers, radio interviews, and conferences.

Not surprisingly businesses provided the bulk of funding to IEA, as leading British industrial and banking giants from Barclays to BP pitched in with large annual contributions. 

According to “Making Thatcher’s Britain,” by historians Ben Jackson and Robert Saunders, one shipping magnate remarked that, since universities were providing ammunition for the unions, the IEA was an important source of bullets for business.” – which to me reminds me of recent proclamations of “us all being sick of experts.”

The Intercept reveals:

“The Atlas Network proudly proclaims that the IEA “laid the intellectual groundwork for what later became the Thatcher Revolution of the 1980s.” IEA staff provided speechwriting for Margaret Thatcher; supplemented her campaign with policy papers on topics as varied as labour unions and price controls; and provided a response to her critics in the mass media. In a letter to Fisher after her 1979 victory, Thatcher wrote that the IEA created “the climate of opinion which made our victory possible.”

From the Centre for Public Impact:

“The government decided to begin a programme of privatisation, transferring nationalised entities from the public sector into private ownership and operation.

Despite the fact that its 1979 election manifesto promised only to “sell back to private ownership the recently nationalised aerospace and shipbuilding concerns”, the Conservative government of 1979-1983 “did privatise several other assets as well as British Aerospace (BAE), including the nuclear research company Amersham International and half of Cable and Wireless”. 

Here is a list of the companies privatised by the Thatcher government:

British Petroleum October 1979, British Aerospace February 1981, Cable & Wireless October 1981, Amersham International February 1982, National Freight Corporation February 1982, Britoil November 1982, Associated British Ports February 1983, Enterprise Oil July 1984, Jaguar August 1984, British Telecommunications December 1984, British Shipbuilders 1985 onwards, British Gas December 1986, British Airways February 1987,Rolls-Royce May 1987, BAA July 1987, British Steel December 1988, Water December 1989,Electricity 1990.

So you know that meme floating around blaming the EU for all of this – well that’s a load of old bollocks. Please stop sharing it.

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As she explained in her memoirs, Lady Thatcher saw privatisation as “fundamental to improving Britain’s economic performance”. But it also just so happened to chime with her political ideology, so that was lucky. 

“It was one of the central means of reversing the corrosive and corrupting effects of socialism,” she declared, adding: “Just as nationalisation was at the heart of the collectivist programme by which Labour governments sought to remodel British society, so privatisation is at the centre of any programme of reclaiming territory for freedom.”

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Fredreich Hayek then set up a new group of free-market economists called the Mont Pelerin Society. One of its members, Ed Feulner, helped found the conservative Washington think tank the Heritage Foundation, drawing on IEA’s work for inspiration. Another Mont Pelerin member, Ed Crane, founded the Cato Institute. As I am sure you remember the Koch brothers were major donors to both of these think tanks.

Here is a 2017 document I found from the Cato Institute praising Margaret Thatcher for her pioneering thought on privatisation and how she led the way for business to take the reins of public utilities all across the globe.

In 1981 Fisher wanted to expand his operations globally so set out to gain backing for the Atlas Network. Fisher began to fundraise, pitching corporate donors with the help of letters from Fredreich  Hayek, Margaret Thatcher and Milton Friedman. With this seal of approval The Atlas Group soon found itself the recipient of huge amounts of cash from large companies such as Pfizer, Procter & Gamble, and Shell and astronomically wealthy Republicans such as Richard Mellon Scaife.

Fisher explained to these donors that their connections to the group would have to remain clandestine in order for the actions of the groups to succeed.

Fisher asserted “To influence public opinion, it is necessary to avoid any suggestion of vested interest or intent to indoctrinate,” 

This is remarkably similar in concept to the current crop of “Alternative Media” outlets and figureheads that we have who are secretly backed by the elites and yet supposedly peddle an antiestablishment message. Fisher also noted that the IEA’s previous success at directing policy was determined by the public’s perception that it was an academic and completely impartial institution, when in fact it was nothing of the sort and had a very focussed set of ideals.

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Ah what the hell, I’ll do the list again:

Breitbart, Rebel Media, Project Veritas, The Washington Free Beacon, The Daily Caller, The Rubin Report, James O Keefe, Dave Rubin, Charlie Kirk, Candace Owens, Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity, Laura Ingraham, Glenn Beck (and you can also chuck in Tommy Robinson, Richard Spencer, Laura Loomer, Lauren Southern, Milo Yiannapopolous, Ben Shapiro, Stephen Crowder, Dinesh D’souza, PragerU, Westmonster and Gatestone Media – please read the previous blogs) are all admitted tools of elitist industrialists who are being used to advance their agenda whilst being disguised as organic journalism. Furthermore they know this, they just don’t respect you, and they just take the money and lie to your face.

Atlas all over the globe

Atlas grew rapidly. By 1985, the network featured 27 institutions in 17 countries, including nonprofits in Italy, Mexico, Australia, and Peru.

1985 also saw the introduction of Alejandro Chafuen to the Atlas Group. 

Government funded?

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So whilst the IEA had the incredible good fortune to “chime” with the political aspirations of the kind, grandmotherly figure of the Iron lady, the Atlas Group’s ideas just so happened to fall in line with the administration of George H W Bush, which was being ran at the time by the actor and President Ronald Reagan. (That’s a little joke about puppet Presidents and the influence of the CIA there).

Reagan just so happened to be destabilising left wing governments all over the place, particularly in South America. This was a campaign that included death squads, genocide, drug smuggling, selling weapons to the enemy, lying under oath, the attempted destruction of black communities in America, the Rockefeller drug laws, expanding the slave worker/prison population and high treason – but let’s not get sidetracked.

Publically the Atlas Group denied and mocked government funding describing this (accurately) as a bribe. This is somewhat undermined by their standard methodology of hiding their wealthy donors and existing purely to bribe and direct politicians to make favourable policy decisions – but hey ho.

However, as the Intercept discovered:

“In one 1982 letter from the International Communication Agency, a small federal agency devoted to promote U.S. interests overseas, a bureaucrat at the Office of Private Sector Programs wrote to Fisher, in response to an inquiry about acquiring federal grants. The bureaucrat said he was barred from giving “directly to foreign organizations,” but could cosponsor “conferences or exchanges with organizations” hosted by groups like Atlas. He encouraged Fisher to send over a proposal. The letter, sent one year after Atlas’s founding, was the first indication that the network would become a covert partner to U.S. foreign policy interests.

Memos and other records from Fisher show that, by 1986, Atlas had helped schedule meetings with business executives to direct U.S. funds to its network of think tanks. In one instance, an official from the U.S. Agency for International Development, the principal foreign aid arm of the federal government, recommended that the head of Coca-Cola’s subsidiary in Panama work with Atlas to set up an IEA-style affiliate think tank there. Atlas’ partners also drew funding from the coffers of the National Endowment for Democracy, a government-charted non-profit, founded in 1983 that is funded largely by the State Department and USAID to build U.S.-friendly political institutions in the developing world.”

So that’s as believable as Terry Wogan’s toupee then.

Alejandro Chafuen

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Alejandro Chafuen was born to extremely wealthy parents in Argentina. He studied in America before returning home around the time that the military of Argentina were detaining, torturing and murdering thousands of students, activists and dissenters against the government. Chafuen remembers the time with the sort of disconnected fondness that a serial killer might recall the first time he pulled the legs of a puppy, writing that the military had acted out of necessity to prevent a communist “takeover of the country.”

(As an aside, am I really the only one who thinks he looks a little bit like Omar Sharif’s troubled older brother?)

Chafuen was particularly adroit at attracting donors and explaining the philosophy of the Atlas Group. Essentially if a medical company puts out some data the public may cry foul and look for instances of bias. However if a think tank puts out data and their donors and sponsors are either unknown, hidden or obfuscated by a series of conduits then people will be more willing accept their findings and proposals as sound even hand advice. When Fisher died in 1991, Chafuen fully took the reins of the organisation.

“Journalists are very much attracted by whatever is new and easy to report,” Chafuen said. The press is less interested in quoting libertarian philosophers, he contended, but when a think tank produced a survey people would listen. “And donors also see this,” he added.

These donors would include MasterCard, ExxonMobil and the Koch brothers.

More government funding?

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The Centre for International Private Enterprise or CIPE is a non-profit organisation affiliated with the US Governments National Endowment for Democracy, which you may recall is a Government backed foundation used to direct funds to the correct think tanks and political organisations and in this manner help to direct and implement USA foreign policy. The CIPE was created by the US Chamber of Commerce Foundation – one of America’s largest business lobbying organisations – but also receives over 95% of its funding directly from USAID. So it’s pretty clear that this CIPE just like the NED is a Government entity used to manipulate governments abroad with a veneer of secrecy, what does that have to do with the Atlas Group? Well Chafuen himself has credited CIPE with providing the initial funding and logistical connections to allow their network of think tanks to flourish.

One particularly suspicious connection is Judy Shelton. Judy Shelton is an economist and senior fellow at the Atlas Network. After Trump’s election victory, Shelton was made the chair of the NED. She previously served as an adviser to the Trump campaign and transition effort. Chafuen beamed when he talked about it. “There you have the Atlas people being the chair of the National Endowment for Democracy,” he said.

Other Trump administration connected to the Atlas Network include Trump’s counterterrorism adviser Sebastian Gorka who once led an Atlas-backed think tank in Hungary. Vice President Mike Pence has attended an Atlas event and spoken highly of the group. Betsy Devos, Jeff Sessions, Scott Pruitt, Rex Tillerson, Mike Pompeo, Brett Kavanaugh, Neil Gorsuch and John Bolton also have uncomfortably close relationships with Koch affiliated think tanks and organisations.


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Rex Tillerson, the former USA Secretary of State has had a bone to pick with Venezuela for many years.

As the Mintpress reported:

“Venezuela’s recent rocky history begins with Chavez’s nationalization of the oil sector under the state oil company PDVSA in 2007. The Chavez government offered ExxonMobil book value for assets that it intended to assume control over, while the Tillerson-led company demanded market value, which they priced at roughly $15 billion.  Eventually, the World Bank’s arbitration court ordered Venezuela to pay $1.6 billion to ExxonMobil.”

This is all complicated by the border dispute between Venezuela and Guyana over an area called the Suriname basin. This is an area of great natural beauty and each nation is competing to own this so that they can hold the coveted prize of most flowers in one area as awarded by the Guinness Book of World Records. Nah, is it bollocks, it’s all about money and oil.

“According to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), “The Guyana Suriname Basin [is] 2nd in the world for prospectivity among the world’s unexplored basins and 12th for oil among all the world’s basins – explored and unexplored.” The basin, which stretches from eastern Venezuela to the shores of northern Brazil, is one of the major prizes in the world for energy corporations and governments alike.

Indeed, the USGS estimates that roughly 15 billion barrels of undiscovered oil and 42 trillion cubic feet of gas reserves lie under the basin, just waiting to be extracted. Such staggering economic potential has made the territorial waters off Venezuela and Guyana highly sought after, especially since contesting border claims make legal obstacles to exploration far more surmountable, as they allow companies to deal with a compliant government in Georgetown, rather than an independent one in Caracas.”

So Tillerson and ExxonMobil have been backing the Guyanese government. They provided financial support to politicians they felt best suited their needs and were rewarded for their efforts.

As the Huffington Post reported:

“Under Secretary Clinton, the State Department set up a program called the Energy Governance and Capacity Initiative. The program aims to both promote fossil development and prevent the ‘resource curse’ by providing ‘independent oversight’ of the oil and gas industry in nascent oil states. The program is currently helping the Guyanese government write profit sharing agreements, environmental regulations, and develop a strong rule of law to counterbalance corporate power.”

Put simply this meant the U.S. State Department oversees the program that is literally writing the regulatory and financial architecture that will govern energy extraction in Guyana. Tillerson, the former CEO for ExxonMobil, was at the time the top official at the State Department.

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Oil Prices worldwide

There is another reason it is vital for the USA to control oil rich countries like Venezuela and others if at all possible and that is to do with the manipulation of OPEC.


“Consider the fact that Venezuela’s oil reserves alone account for roughly one-quarter (24.8 percent) of all proven crude oil reserves within the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC). This makes Venezuela hugely influential when it comes to decisions about oil production and, consequently, global oil prices. And when you couple Venezuela with Iran, a key ally of the Bolivarian Republic, both countries together account for nearly 40 percent of OPEC crude.”

If you had a sway over Venezuela – you have more of a sway over setting oil prices globally.


“One must also consider Saudi Arabia, which closely trails Venezuela in terms of proven crude reserves (22 percent of OPEC reserves). The centrality of Venezuela should be immediately apparent. Installing a right-wing, pro-U.S. government in Venezuela would mean that the U.S. would effectively control, or at least have significant influence over, nearly 85 percent of OPEC production (Venezuela and the Gulf monarchies), thereby isolating Iran within the grouping. Put differently, Venezuela is the only thing keeping OPEC from being a plaything of Washington and Wall Street.”

Oh by the way here is an Atlas Network conference that was scheduled for October 2017 with speakers from many of their think tanks.

Its aim was what to do to “help the humanitarian crisis” unfolding in Venezuela. 

So how would that work then?

Well let’s just consider Brazil for a second. Brazil actually accounts for 3% of global oil production where as Venezuela accounts for 3.1%. Following the removal of left wing politicians dedicated to helping their own country and the installation of elements who had more time for big business, banks and couldn’t be bothered with the trifles of worker’s rights or the environment the country suddenly turned from a liability to an asset for the USA, Wall street and their business minded friends.

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Let’s not forget the revelations from the Intercept shown in the previous chapter

“Among its other exploits of late, Atlas has played a role in a Latin American nation roiled by the region’s most acute political and humanitarian crisis: Venezuela. Records obtained through the Freedom of Information Act by author and activist Eva Golinger, as well as State Department cables disclosed by whistleblower Chelsea Manning, reveal U.S. policymakers’ sophisticated effort to use Atlas think tanks in a long-running campaign to destabilize the reign of Venezuelan leader Hugo Chávez.

As early as 1998, Cedice Libertad, Atlas’s flagship think tank in Caracas, Venezuela’s capital, received regular financial support from the Center for International Private Enterprise. In one grant letter, National Endowment for Democracy  funds marked for Cedice are listed to help advocate “a change in government.” The director of Cedice was among the signatories of the controversy “Carmona Decree” supporting the short-lived military coup against Chávez in 2002.

A 2006 cable laid out a strategy from U.S. Ambassador William Brownfield for funding politically active nonprofits in Venezuela: “1) Strengthening democratic institutions, 2) penetrating Chávez’s political base, 3) dividing Chavismo, 4) protecting vital U.S. business, and 5) isolating Chávez internationally.”

In Venezuela’s current crisis, Cedice has promoted the recent spate of protests against President Nicholás Maduro, Chávez’s embattled successor. Cedice is closely affiliated with opposition figure María Corina Machado, one of the leaders of the massive anti-government street demonstrations in recent months. Machado has publicly recognized Atlas for its work. In a videotape message delivered to the group in 2014, she said, “Thank you to the Atlas Network, to all freedom fighters.”

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War is Boring reported:

“As for propaganda and political efforts in Venezuela the United States provided direct material support to opposition parties. The U.S. State Department openly gave $14 million to opposition groups in Venezuela in 2013 and 2014 and helped fund political campaigns against the Maduro government.

The U.S. Agency for International Development, long thought to be a front for CIA operations, funded an ominously-named “Office of Transition Initiatives” in Venezuela, joining with the National Endowment for Democracy to spend more than $100 million supporting the political opposition there.”

Since his election in 1998 Hugo Chavez had become an enemy for the USA due to his refusal to bow to their policies and his selfish insistence on trying to do what was best for Venezuela, not the oil companies. This led to years of sanctions, interference, assassination attempts and a failed USA coup in 2002. Still the country improved for its inhabitants. Chavez undertook a radical program of reforms which greatly improved the living standards of workers and the poor at home, as well as a restructuring of political and economic relations in the Latin America-Caribbean region. This was not well liked in the USA.

Following Chavez death in 2013 Maduro was elected as his replacement. Maduro was not as skilled in money management as his predecessor but the downward trend in the country is both exaggerated and also unfair to blame on him exclusively. The arranged and manipulated drop in the price of oil was used in 2015 to further undermine the government of Venezuela. This was their main source of income which in turn led to problems paying for importing goods and a distinct drop in standards was seen in the country. It is not quite at the level, so often talked about on Infowars, where citizens are forced to catch and eat rats in the streets, but it wasn’t a complete barrel of laughs.

As John Pilger reports:

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“Since Chavez's death in 2013, his successor Nicolas Maduro has shed his derisory label in the Western press as a "former bus driver" and become Saddam Hussein incarnate. His media abuse is ridiculous. On his watch, the slide in the price of oil has caused hyper inflation and played havoc with prices in a society that imports almost all its food; yet, as the journalist and film-maker Pablo Navarrete reported this week, Venezuela is not the catastrophe it has been painted. "There is food everywhere," he wrote. "I have filmed lots of videos of food in markets [all over Caracas] ... it's Friday night and the restaurants are full."

In 2018, Maduro was re-elected President. A section of the opposition boycotted the election, a tactic tried against Chavez. The boycott failed: 9,389,056 people voted; sixteen parties participated and six candidates stood for the presidency. Maduro won 6,248,864 votes, or 67.84 per cent.

On election day, I spoke to one of the 150 foreign election observers. "It was entirely fair," he said. "There was no fraud; none of the lurid media claims stood up. Zero. Amazing really."

Like a page from Alice's tea party, the Trump administration has presented Juan Guaido, a pop-up creation of the CIA-front National Endowment for Democracy, as the "legitimate President of Venezuela". Unheard of by 81 per cent of the Venezuelan people, according to The Nation, Guaido has been elected by no one.

Maduro is "illegitimate", says Trump (who won the US presidency with three million fewer votes than his opponent), a "dictator", says demonstrably unhinged vice president Mike Pence and an oil trophy-in-waiting, says "national security" adviser John Bolton (who when I interviewed him in 2003 said, "Hey, are you a communist, maybe even Labour?").

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Pilger points to the complicity of the media, big business and the political class for manipulating the public opinion and the truth for their own benefits in a pattern that has been, and in all likelihood, will continue to be, used all over the world many, many times.

“In 2006, Channel 4 News effectively accused Chavez of plotting to make nuclear weapons with Iran: a fantasy. The then Washington correspondent, Jonathan Rugman, allowed a war criminal, Donald Rumsfeld, to liken Chavez to Hitler, unchallenged.

Researchers at the University of the West of England studied the BBC's reporting of Venezuela over a ten-year period. They looked at 304 reports and found that only three of these referred to any of the positive policies of the government. For the BBC, Venezuela's democratic record, human rights legislation, food programmes, healthcare initiatives and poverty reduction did not happen.  The greatest literacy programme in human history did not happen, just as the millions who march in support of Maduro and in memory of Chavez, do not exist.

When asked why she filmed only an opposition march, the BBC reporter Orla Guerin tweeted that it was "too difficult" to be on two marches in one day.

A war has been declared on Venezuela, of which the truth is "too difficult" to report.

It is too difficult to report the collapse of oil prices since 2014 as largely the result of criminal machinations by Wall Street. It is too difficult to report the blocking of Venezuela's access to the US-dominated international financial system as sabotage. It is too difficult to report Washington's "sanctions" against Venezuela, which have caused the loss of at least $6billion in Venezuela's revenue since 2017, including $2billion worth of imported medicines, as illegal, or the Bank of England's refusal to return Venezuela's gold reserves as an act of piracy.

The former United Nations Rapporteur, Alfred de Zayas, has likened this to a "medieval siege" designed "to bring countries to their knees". It is a criminal assault, he says. It is similar to that faced by Salvador Allende in 1970 when President Richard Nixon and his equivalent of John Bolton, Henry Kissinger, set out to "make the economy [of Chile] scream". The long dark night of Pinochet followed.”

The guys behind the guys behind the guys:
The Koch Brothers and The Atlas Network

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