As the social and political crisis in Venezuela drags on, the fate of the country’s 32 million residents remains uncertain. Elected president Nicolas Maduro remains in control of the country for the time being, but self-appointed “interim president” Juan Guaidó has maintained his oppositional base and continues to bid for power. The conditions for the masses are dire, with food and medical scarcity endemic. For now the Venezuelan military has remained loyal to the Maduro government, though its allegiance could change.
The Trump administration, for its part, has put forward an array of militarist right-wingers to push “regime change” in Venezuela: Mike Pence, Mike Pompeo, John Bolton and the new “envoy to Venezuela,” Elliot Abrams – a man complicit in propping up right-wing dictatorships in Latin America in the 1980s. U.S. forces have linked up with Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro and Columbia’s Iván Duque to plot Maduro’s ouster.
The hypocrisy of the anti-Maduro coalition’s supposed concern for human suffering could not be more transparent. Not only does the U.S. government support regimes far less democratic than Venezuela (e.g. Saudi Arabia), but the U.S. has its own hand in perpetuating the suffering of the Venezuelan people through the imposition of economic sanctions on Venezuelan oil, the country’s main export. Thus, the U.S. political elites are starving Venezuela of billions of dollars, while making a big show of financial aid amounting to only a fraction of lost oil revenue.
In fact, Venezuela is accepting humanitarian aid. Just not from those governments explicitly trying to kill all remnants of the “Bolivarian Revolution.” U.S. aid to Venezuela is not impartial or benevolent. Rather, weaponized aid is being used to destabilize Maduro and provide a potential material base for Guaidó to manipulate the desperate population toward his ends.
AOC and Bernie: legitimizing regime change
With Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s rise to prominence and Bernie Sanders’ 2020 presidential run kicking off, Venezuela provides an important test, both for them and their supporters on the socialist left. If socialism stands for the interests of the international working class, Venezuela today poses the question: what is a truly socialist, internationalist position? How should we, leftists in the “belly of the beast,” relate to the crisis that our own government has a direct hand in creating?
As many have argued, the most basic position of socialists must be a complete rejections of U.S. imperialism’s attempt to destabilize and control sovereign nations – be it Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Venezuela or elsewhere. As we know from history, U.S. foreign policy has never been about helping the masses take their destiny in their own hands. Rather, the U.S. has helped topple innumerable democratic leftist governments, and has propped up innumerable right-wing dictatorships. Opposing U.S. meddling with the call “Hands off Venezuela!” is essential.
The second basic position of socialists in relating to the Venezuelan crisis must be a revolutionary, anti-capitalist perspective for resolving the crisis. This includes drawing a clear delimitation from Maduro’s government, which has become increasingly repressive. Against the idea that Venezuela’s failure is a sign of the failure of socialism, we assert quite the contrary. The reason of Venezuela’s crisis today is that Chávez’s regime did not really break with national or foreign capitalists, and did not end the dependent character of the country’s economy. Whatever gains were made by the Venezuelan masses under Hugo Chávez should be defended, and the working class must fight for real socialism and a workers government.
Yet Ocasio-Cortez and Sanders have failed both tests. Neither of them have taken a clear stand against U.S. meddling, and neither advocate real socialism.
Ocasio-Cortez, for instance, recorded herself explaining her opinion about the Venezuelan crisis: “People want to make this about ideology, about capitalism, about socialism. What people don’t understand is that this is about authoritarianism vs. democracy in many different ways…” She went on to compare Venezuela to Zimbabwe as “failed states.” Her message? The Venezuelan people need “democracy.”
Interestingly, AOC’s tepid statement was critiqued by actor and activist Pamela Anderson
openly supports US intervention to Venezuela and supports US military and big corporations she claims she’s fighting against…
— Pamela Anderson (@pamfoundation) 25. Februar 2019
Indeed Ocasio-Cortez, by remaining silent on the very real U.S. military build-up and the machinations to topple Maduro, gives legitimacy to “the military option” of a coup. By refusing to denounce U.S. meddling, she betrays the interests of Venezuelan masses and provides a left cover for Trump’s exceedingly right-wing goal of regime change. And by vaguely focusing on “democracy,” AOC is giving an approving nod to Guaidó’s pro-imperialist opposition as the legitimate expression of the Venezuelan people’s will – an absurd claim.
Bernie Sanders, for his part, has also jumped on the bandwagon of regime change by calling on Maduro to allow in weaponized “humanitarian aid” and to “respect the opposition”:
The people of Venezuela are enduring a serious humanitarian crisis. The Maduro government must put the needs of its people first, allow humanitarian aid into the country, and refrain from violence against protesters.
Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters blasted Sanders on twitter for this statement. “Are you f-ing kidding me?” he commented, “you cannot be a credible candidate for President of the USA. Or, maybe you can, maybe you’re the perfect stooge for the 1%.”
Bernie, are you f-ing kidding me! if you buy the Trump, Bolton, Abrams, Rubio line, “humanitarian intervention” and collude in the destruction of Venezuela, you cannot be credible candidate for President of the USA. Or, maybe you can, maybe you’re the perfect stooge for the 1 %.
— Roger Waters (@rogerwaters) February 23, 2019
While both Ocasio-Cortez and Sanders would likely oppose a crude military invasion of Venezuela, each in their own way are legitimizing the opposition and remaining deadly silent on the threat of a coup. Neither are willing to truly examine the role of U.S. imperialism or envision a socialist Venezuela. The U.S. left must do better than that.
Hands off Venezuela!