The False Story of Venezuela’s ‘Burning Aid Convoy’

Venezuela burning
Humanitarian aid truck set ablaze by an anti-Maduro demonstrator throwing a Molotov cocktail. (Credit: New York Times).

Not for the first time, a U.S. “regime change” policy is generating false claims to support the campaign to remove a government out of favor in Washington.

The “burning aid convoy” story in Venezuela is an echo of the “babies torn from incubators” story in Kuwait of a generation ago. It’s the same familiar narrative: the enemies of a U.S. regime change policy are so monstrous, they must be replaced. But what if the story isn’t true?

In 1991, when the U.S. was preparing to invade Kuwait, the Bush administration hyped the story of a 15-year-old girl who said she saw occupying Iraqi soldiers tear 22 babies from their incubators in Kuwait. The specificity of the number and the despicable nature of the alleged crime served to demonize Iraq in the eyes of the Americans.

According to BillMoyers.com, seven U.S. senators cited the story in speeches urging Americans to support the war. President George H.W. Bush repeated the story on 10 separate occasions.

In fact, the story was completely false. The supposed eyewitness was the daughter of the Kuwait ambassador to the United States and she made the story up. Dr. Mohammed Matar, director of Kuwait’s primary care system, told ABC News, “I think it was just something for propaganda.”

Molotov Cocktail

Fast forward to 2019: On February 23, U.S. government officials claimed Venezuelan government forces burned a truck carrying humanitarian aid from neighboring Colombia. In fact, video of the incident, uncovered by the New York Times, shows the blaze, which spread to other trucks in the convoy, was caused by an anti-government demonstrator throwing a homemade bomb.

Here’s what U.S. policymakers said on Twitter.

The junior Senator from Florida repeated the claim.

US AID administrator Mark Green went further, claiming that President Maduro had ordered an attack on the trucks.

None of these claims were accurate, and there is no evidence to support any of them.

U.S. officials were relying on footage released by the Colombian government, which had 13 minutes of footage missing.

The New York Times obtained the full footage. It shows the blaze was caused by an anti-government demonstrator throwing a Molotov cocktail, the popular slang term for a home-made bottle bomb.

Uncorrected

In other words, the fire on the aid trucks was not, as Bolton claimed, part of the “peaceful efforts” of the anti-government forces. It was not set by “the regime,” as Rubio claimed. It was not ordered by the president, as Green claimed.

None of the inaccurate tweets have been taken down or corrected.

Rubio, Bolton, and Green did not respond to the Times’ requests for comment. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and special envoy Elliott Abrams continue to repeat the untrue allegation.

The “burning aid convoy” story has served its purpose for U.S. policymakers, just as the “tearing babies from incubators” story served its purpose. In a regime change policy, the truth is optional.


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