Venezuela has had its share of problems and is faced with a series of escalating economic and political crises. But none of these are as potentially catastrophic for the Venezuelan working class as the slow-motion coup d’etat currently being pursued by the Trump administration against president Nicolas Maduro. The coup is, at least in part, explicitly intended to allow U.S. corporations access to Venezuela’s rich oil reserves.
Not surprisingly this plan is being aggressively supported by right-wing leaders across Latin America, including Mauricio Macri of Argentina, Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil, and Sebastian Piñera of Chile, as well as most of the members of the so-called “Lima Group”.
Even as the United States continues to squeeze and isolate the Maduro-run Venezuelan government with horrendous consequences for the masses, Russia and China have declared their support for Maduro’s government using Venezuela as a proxy conflict to challenge the U.S. hegemony in the region. Just as we saw with Syria, Venezuela is becoming the new stage for a geopolitical chess game between international powers.
It is clear that after years of war in other regions of the world, U.S. imperialism has returned to its own backyard with a newfound taste for aggressive interventionism not seen since the 1980s. This threat to the people of Latin America requires a determined and strong anti-imperialist opposition within the U.S. Left.
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The “hawks” are back
It is unfortunate, but not surprising that among the most enthusiastic publicists and agitators of a coup in Venezuela are some of the best known war hawks of the U.S. regime, who, with the support of the liberal media and several Democratic Party officials, have been making veiled threats against the Maduro government since the crisis began. Indeed, the true evil troika behind the plot against Maduro is made up of John Bolton, Elliot Abrams, and Marco Rubio.
John Bolton, the current National Security Advisor and former Ambassador to the United Nations under President George W. Bush, is a faithful representative of the ruling class. A former senior fellow of the American Enterprise Institute, Bolton is involved with a number of other conservative political think tanks and lobbies. He is also a notorious warmonger who advocated for intervention in Iraq and Libya and continues to press for regime change and bombing campaigns against Iran and North Korea.
Meanwhile, Bolton has been explicit about U.S. capitalist intentions in Venezuela. In an interview with Fox Business he said, “It will make a big difference to the United States economically if we could have American oil companies invest in and produce the oil capabilities in Venezuela.”
Elliott Abrams, the U.S. Special Envoy for Venezuela, is a neoconservative war criminal who has returned, like the specter of administrations past, to the center of the political action in Latin America.
Abrams is well known as the architect of an attempt to whitewash the massacre of a thousand men, women, and children by U.S.-funded death squads in El Salvador when he was Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs under Reagan. He also helped organize the covert financing of the Contras, Nicaraguan paramilitary groups that were in charge of drowning the revolution in blood. .
Marco Rubio, a right-wing Republican senator from Florida, is representing the interests of conservative Cuban-Americans who “abhor the Caracas-Havana alliance” and see the possible fall of Maduro as a way to weaken the Cuban government.
In addition, Trump’s offensive against Venezuela is generating great enthusiasm among the Republicans and the Latino right-wing community in Florida. Vice President Mike Pence and top Florida Republicans plan to rally in Miami on Friday to support Guaidó, using it as an opportunity “to open a door with Hispanic voters in a state that’s critical to the president’s reelection.”
Donald Trump is showing that he is nothing more than a fraud; during his campaign, he said that the United States would stop intervening in other countries if he won the presidency.
Although the announcement of the withdrawal of troops from Syria and Yemen was in accordance with his non-interventionist campaign rhetoric, Trump is now recycling the politics of the war hawk politicians who have always been ready to fund military coups around the world. This is the real content of the “America First” slogan.
The backyard of bipartisan imperialism
But the clamor for war is not only coming from the offices of the Republican Party. The Democratic Party and the liberal press who just yesterday said that Trump must be impeached are today applauding the offensive against Venezuela.
As Jeremy Scahill of The Intercept points out, for the Democratic-Party-aligned liberal media, “The story is just ‘Maduro is a corrupt socialist dictator. He needs to be taken out so that Venezuela can be free.’ The central role that the U.S. has played under Bush, under Obama, and now, under Trump in destabilizing Venezuela, it’s just an afterthought, if it is even mentioned at all.”
Hugh Hewitt, one of MSNBC’s favorite commentators, declared on Meet the Press: “it is far more important to shut down the Maduro government than our government. And I think Donald Trump is leading there and he is winning there because of Bolton and Pompeo going down to see Bolsonaro and Duque. That’s going to happen. That’s going to bring us together.”
Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin seemed to speak for the bipartisan establishment when he welcomed Trump’s decision to recognize the newcomer, declaring on the Senate floor his support for Guaidó.
At least two of the Democratic presidential contenders, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and Congressman John Delaney, are supporting Guaidó; although they oppose a military solution, they believe that the steps taken by the Trump administration are correct. House Intelligence Committee Chair Adam Schiff said Trump was right to recognize Guaidó as president, and prominent Democrats such as Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, Elliot Engel and former Clinton Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala are openly campaigning against Maduro.
Famous liberal commentator Bill Maher—who supported Bernie Sanders in the 2016 primaries and then Hillary Clinton in the last presidential election—put into words what most Democratic party politicians actually think: “Today, Venezuela [has] a guy, an opposition leader who finally stood up, and we are backing him. And Russia warned us to back off because they’re backing the dictator. This was the Monroe Doctrine! This is our backyard! And Russia is now telling us to back off of what goes on in Venezuela because they know they can? Because they’re so emboldened? That does not bother you?”
Sanders, on the other hand, made a three-part tweet about the ongoing coup attempt in Venezuela. He correctly connected the situation in Venezuela to past US-sponsored interventions in Chile, Guatemala, Brazil, and the Dominican Republic, drawing the ire of the mainstream media.
However, even this tweet focuses first on denouncing Maduro, rather than putting front and center the denunciation of US imperialism. But most importantly, the real contradiction is that Sanders is likely to run for President within the very imperialist party that is currently cheering for Juan Guaidó.
Behind Trump’s plot against Venezuela are the bipartisan imperialist interests that in the past fomented military coups and have helped to install governments aligned with the United States, guaranteeing the plundering of the resources of the region.
But American hegemony over Latin America is not what it once was, and in its offensive against Venezuela, American imperialism is already antagonizing Russia and China.
Venezuela and world geopolitics
Since the Venezuelan right-wing opposition leader Juan Guaidó proclaimed himself president on Wednesday, January 23, the crisis in the country has acquired international dimensions. The Venezuelan conflict seems to be a top priority for Donald Trump’s government and a sector of the American regime, but the United States is not the only country intervening in the area.
The economic ties that bind Venezuela to Russia and China are profound. Venezuela owes both countries a total of more than $120 billion. As one analyst for Fox News said, “Russia’s tight relationship with Venezuela dates back to the government of Hugo Chavez, and in the ensuing years, Venezuela has been one of the few in the international community to back Russia’s involvement in Syria and Ukraine. But most importantly, Russia’s state-run oil company Rosneft has an especially deep-rooted interest in Maduro’s government.”
In 2017, Rosneft acquired an almost 50 percent stake in the U.S-based oil company Citgo, which is owned by Venezuela’s energy conglomerate PDVSA. Citgo serves as collateral on Venezuela’s debts to Rosneft and basically gives Russia strategic sway in Latin America.
For its part, China has injected $65 billion into Venezuela for the past decade. China also helped Venezuela to set up factories for manufacturing cars, telephones and infrastructure. China has also sold significant quantities of military equipment to Venezuela, such as vehicles used by the National Guard.
Although the scope of geopolitical differences and economic antagonisms among these powers is not clear, alarms are being raised in the international arena about the military consequences of the Venezuelan crisis.
China has a satellite tracking facility at the Venezuelan Guarico Air Base. Russia has a strong cyber presence at the Naval Base in La Orchilla. That’s why Trump’s threat to send 5,000 troops to Colombia cannot be taken lightly. Although the United States has already ruled out an imminent military intervention in Venezuela, last Sunday President Trump declared in a CBS interview that the military option “was still on the table”.
It is well known that the $20 million in “humanitarian assistance to the people of Venezuela,” delivered straight to the right-wing opposition led by Guaidó, will not be used to mitigate the hunger of the Venezuelan people but rather to strengthen the coup attempt by the right wing in the country.Nothing good can be expected from the dispute between international powers in Venezuela. Although Trump faces an internal political crisis precipitated by the recent government shutdown and the scandals of the Mueller investigation, his “Venezuelan adventure” has the support of most of the Republicans and an important sector of the Democrats, which has had its claws in Latin America for decades.
The legacy of Chavism
Venezuela is going through a great social and economic crisis. The economy has been in recession for five years. In 2018, inflation was estimated at one million percent. Wages barely reach six dollars per day and 87% of the population lives in poverty.
Oil production went from 3 million barrels per day in 2014 to barely 1,15 million per day in the third quarter of 2018. Power shutdowns are widespread. The number of Venezuelan refugees and migrants reached 3 milllion in 2018. A large part of the population eats only once a day, and malnutrition affects 68 percent of people living in Venezuela. While this is happening, wealthy Venezuelans who benefited under Chavism have saved around $600 billion.
In this context, popular support for Nicolas Maduro has fallen dramatically.
Imperialism and the right-wing opposition are trying to take advantage of popular discontent, as U.S. sanctions against Venezuela are forcing the masses towards a desperate situation. The limits of this imperialist policy and its internal allies are threefold. First, the massive discontent with the government has not translated into broad popular support for Juan Guaidó. Second, with few exceptions, the Venezuelan army continues to back Maduro’s government. Third, as mentioned above, Russian and Chinese backing of Maduro is motivated by their strategic interests in Venezuela.
The right-wing media argues that the crisis in Venezuela is due to the “socialist” character of its economy and government. In his State of the Union, Donald Trump said: “We stand with the Venezuelan people and their noble quest for freedom and we condemn the brutality of their regime whose socialist policies have turned that nation from being the wealthiest in South America into a state of abject poverty and despair.”
However, Venezuela’s current problems are precisely due to the fact that Venezuela is not and has never been socialist. Neither Chavez, and much less Maduro expropriated capitalist property as a whole; they maintained a single-commodity based economy, the model of semi-colonial countries that produces wealth for the big capitalists in the world’s global powers and lastly, they did not put any of partially expropriated industries in the hands of the working class.
Venezuela’s economy is based on oil exports. During the good years of the Hugo Chavez’ government (2004-2013), the economy flourished thanks to the rise of commodity prices. But since 2014, oil prices fell dramatically, putting the Venezuelan economy on the edge of the abyss. The economic crisis revealed the real character of Chavism.
The capital accumulated in the years when the oil prices increased (2004-2013) were not used to diversify the economy, especially in its weak and nodal points of low local production of food and medicines.
Furthermore, the Venezuelan bourgeoisie and foreign capitalists were not expropriated. In fact, as Maduro himself recognized, 3,000 U.S. companies are still operating in Venezuela. The expropriations made by the Chavez regime came with very high compensations for the proprietary companies. In addition, the expropriated industries were not transferred to the hands of working-class bodies of democratic representation but to the hands of the Chavist bureaucracy, which became increasingly corrupt.
Far from advancing the country towards the real socialization of the means of production, foreign capital’s presence in the country, linked to the exploitation of oil and natural resources, has increased.
Although it was confronted with imperialist interests, Chavism did not destroy the native and foreign capitalist property. Paradoxically, the Chavista regime used the rhetoric of the “Bolivarian revolution” and “socialism of the 21 Century” to build popular support. By doing this, the “Bolivarian revolution” actually degraded the struggle for socialism and drove the masses (who today are suffering from the oppression of a regime that they defended courageously just a few years ago) away from a truly revolutionary horizon.
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Albeit on a smaller scale, the legacy of Chavism is playing the same reactionary role as Stalinism did when, with the collapse of the Soviet Union and the delegitimization of the socialist project, capitalism was restored in the former workers’ states. The right wing wants to paint Venezuela as a socialist disaster; if the left echoes this characterization of Venezuela as socialism, we will be allowing governments that have nothing to do with the socialist project to characterize the kind of society we fight for.
Fighting on the front lines against the imperialist intervention in Venezuela does not mean giving political support to the repressive Bonapartism of Nicolas Maduro and the Chavist regime. Yet, it is high time that a strong and combative anti-imperialist movement re-emerges in the US, in the spirit of the anti-Vietnam war movement in the ’60s and ’70s and on a smaller scale, the anti-globalization movement in Seattle and the Iraq war protests.
For socialists, anti-imperialism is not a footnote; it’s at the center of the socialist project.