August 2017        

Report from Venezuela

Chronicle of a coup foretold?

Seán Edwards

Latin America is the original seat of neo-colonialism. After the wars of liberation from Spanish colonial rule, power did not rest in the hands of those who had fought for it. The new ruling class lost no time in establishing a relationship with Britain, and later with the growing imperialist power of the United States, which came to regard the entire continent as its “back yard.”
      Many times, the United States has intervened in Latin American states to ensure its continued dominance, even to the extent of installing fascist regimes, as in Chile, Argentina, and Brazil.
      So when Hugo Chávez won his spectacular election victory in 1998, with his programme of “Bolivarian Revolution” reasserting Venezuela’s sovereignty and independence and promising to use the country’s oil wealth for the benefit of the people, it infuriated the Venezuelan right wing and its ally, the United States, which set about organising the coup d’état of 2002.
      Although this was defeated by an unprecedented mass mobilisation of the people, at no time has the threat been lifted. The imperialist-oligarchic counter-attack has won victories over weaker opponents in Argentina and Brazil. Venezuela is its principal target.
      The Bolivarian Revolution has brought enormous benefits to the people. Misión “Barrio Adentro” (Operation “Into the Neighbourhood”) brought medical services to the poor areas, with the participation of Cuban doctors, where Venezuelan doctors had never bothered to go.
      Misión Robinson eliminated illiteracy. The Bolivarian University opened up higher education to students from the working class. Most recently the Gran Misión Vivienda Venezuela (Great Venezuelan Housing Mission) has housed 1.8 million families from the shanty towns that surround all Venezuelan cities.
      Yet with all this massive social investment, and in spite of all its talk of “21st-century socialism,” the property and the economic power of the capitalist class has been left untouched.
      This class, which for decades enjoyed unrestricted access to Venezuela’s oil wealth, without ever developing the economy, and now deeply resents seeing this wealth spent on social projects, continues to invest its profits abroad, with the flight of capital amounting to more than $100 billion since Chávez’s election; and its hatred for the government never abated.
      The beast is infuriated but is not seriously wounded. The state’s own efforts to develop industry or agriculture were also inadequate, to put it mildly.
      So, when the price of oil dropped, the Venezuelan economy crashed. As Rocío Maneiro, the Venezuelan ambassador, explained at a meeting in Dublin, income from oil dropped from $100 billion to $6 billion.
      The weaknesses of the economy were exacerbated by a campaign of economic sabotage, with companies hoarding goods to create shortages for which the government would be blamed, exporting subsidised Venezuelan food to sell it for the full market price over the border in Colombia or Brazil, and speculating in goods and currency.
      A combination of all these troubles and its own weaknesses, hesitations, and mistakes, compounded by the loss of Hugo Chávez in March 2013, resulted in a large number of its supporters losing confidence in the government and abstaining from voting in the National Assembly elections in December 2015.
      This gave the opposition a majority in the Assembly. Rather than establishing a working relationship with President Maduro, it declared that its only ambition is to remove him—by any means. The constitution, with its separation of powers, does not allow this.
      A section of the opposition resorted to organising violent gangs to create as much havoc as possible: blocking roads, attacking government buildings, and assassinating officials, judges, and ordinary citizens, like Orlando Figuera, who was burnt alive.
      The aim is to provoke a response from the government that could be used to justify an invasion. This was stated explicitly by an opposition spokesman, Juan Requesens, in an address to Florida International University in the United States.
      The government’s response has been to organise elections to a National Constituent Assembly, which would have the power to propose amendments to the constitution, which would then be put to a referendum. It is described as a peaceful alternative to violence; the opposition describe it as a move to consolidate the “personal dictatorship” of Nicolás Maduro, and Donald Trump threatens sanctions if the election proceeds, a threat echoed by Federica Mogherini on behalf of the European Union.
      The election will take place on 30 July, and the government faces a challenge to win a big turn-out. It must also defeat any effort by the violent gangs to prevent the vote taking place. This may require stronger action than it has been willing to take so far, though military forces will be deployed to protect polling stations.
      The opposition organised what they said was a referendum—without the National Electoral Council, the only body in the state authorised to organise voting. They claimed that mote than 7 million people voted to overthrow the president, though there were no safeguards against multiple voting (which has been proved), or multiple counting for that matter. It can’t be investigated now: the ballots were destroyed.
      This was, of course, reported in the corporate media as a valid vote—unlike the forthcoming election to the Constituent Assembly, which will be conducted in accordance with the highest international standards.
      The government of Nicolás Maduro has been unwilling to take strong measures in defence of the economy or in defence of public order and instead endeavoured to engage the opposition in negotiations. However, not even Pope Francis could persuade them to engage in serious discussions. Why should they? They have the full backing of the United States, as expressed by President Obama, who declared Venezuela to be a threat to the United States, an absurd falsehood repeated by President Trump.
      They also have the backing of the international corporate media, which would have us believe that the murderous gangs who burn food supplies, burn buses and burn people alive are participating in peaceful demonstrations. The murder of Orlando Figuera, for example, was not reported in the Irish Times.
      It was against the background of this crisis that the 15th Congress of the Communist Party of Venezuela (PCV) took place at the end of June. The PCV has many issues with the government of Nicolás Maduro, which has been drifting to the right on many issues, including labour issues (in spite of the existence of very good labour law) and the absence of a programme to establish a genuinely sovereign economy.
      Above all, the party believes that peace will be achieved only with the defeat of fascism, not with appeasement. It is angry that the Gran Polo Patriótico, set up to co-ordinate the work of political parties and people’s organisations, has been virtually abandoned by the government party, the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV). Together with Patria Para Todos (Homeland for All) and other parties and groups, it has established the Anti-Fascist Anti-Imperialist Popular Front. The PSUV is invited to join.
      The Communist Party, as always the most determined and resolute in the pursuit of independence, sovereignty, and social progress, insists that victory can be won by building the people’s unity and by mobilising all the popular forces, by deepening and advancing the revolution.

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