Venezuelans took to the streets in August 2017 in response to Trump’s comment that he would consider the “military option” against Venezuela. (Photo: PSUV)
by John Lesnick, from Counterpunch, February 6, 2019
Ruling elites have united behind the Trump administration in its illegal, unjust and brutal attempt to meddle in the internal affairs of Venezuela. Democrats and Republicans alike have fallen in line, revealing the degree to which the two parties march in lock step when the geopolitical prerogatives of the one percent are at stake. The governments of some 20 countries, including Canada, Britain, Spain, Germany, France, Australia, Brazil, Israel and Argentina, have all pledged fealty to the U.S. and its hand-picked puppet in Venezuela. The New York Times, champion of the “liberal” wing of the ruling rich, editorialized in support of the Trump administration’s transparent coup plotting on January 24 insisting, “the Trump administration is right to support Mr. Guaidó.” Pretend socialist and Democrat Bernie Sanders shed crocodile tears, decrying violence and economic disaster in Venezuela while failing to note his own government’s hand in creating those conditions. Sanders provides left cover for U.S. military intervention asserting, “The United States should support the rule of law” in Venezuela. To date, self-described “Democratic Socialist” Alexandria Ocasio Cortez has been silent on U.S. aggression in Venezuela.
On the heels of a multi-year, evidence-free propaganda offensive denouncing Russia’s supposed interference in the 2016 U.S election, it is beyond ironic to see politicians, pundits and corporate media moguls cheer for the proven, documented and admitted interference by the U.S. in Venezuela. As reported by Al Jazeera,
“On Venezuela, Democratic Party leaders are often hard to distinguish from their Republican counterparts…most, like Nancy Pelosi, have staked out openly pro-coup positions. And after two years stoking anti-Russia panic, MSNBC’s standard script offers little guidance to confused liberals seeking to triangulate a political position – Trump is for the coup but Russia is against it – what to do?”
The Devil is in the Details
Soon after Donald Trump assumed the Presidency, Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Vice President Mike Pence began a concerted campaign to convince Trump to adopt a plan to oust elected Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro. As the New York Times reported,
“Mr. Rubio’s approach has generated unusually bipartisan support, including from leading Democrats like Senators Richard J. Durbin of Illinois and Robert Menendez of New Jersey.”
In September of 2018, the Times ran the headline, “Trump Administration Discussed Coup Plans With Rebel Venezuelan Officers.” The article reports, “American officials eventually decided not to help the plotters, and the coup plans stalled.” But the machinations didn’t end there. The focus shifted to finding some figurehead who could claim to be the “legitimate” Venezuelan ruler. After considering various opposition politicians, Rubio and Pence settled on the little-known engineer serving as president of the Venezuelan National Assembly, Juan Guaidó. According to AP and the Washington Post, the preparations for the current coup and secret meetings with Guaidó date back at least to December, 2018. “In mid-December, Guaido quietly traveled to Washington, Colombia and Brazil to brief officials on the opposition’s strategy of mass demonstrations to coincide with Maduro’s expected swearing-in for a second term on Jan. 10…”
On Tuesday, January 22, Trump, Pence and National Security Advisor John Bolton met to discuss options. According to the Times, Pence advised Trump to assure Guaidó that the U.S. would recognize his bid for power if, by chance, he were to make such a claim. Trump agreed. Later that day, Pence called Guaidó to give him the good news. Pence then posted a video online asserting that elected President “Nicolas Maduro is a dictator with no legitimate claim to power.” In the video, Pence went on to proclaim U.S. support for Guaidó. Then, surprise, surprise: Guaidó claimed he was the rightful president the very next day. The Trump administration and U.S. imperial allies around the world quickly endorsed Guaidó’s claim.
Shortly after declaring himself “interim president,” Guaidó moved to seize Venezuelan oil revenue held in the U.S. so as to use those funds to finance his assault. As the Washington Post reported, “For now, the hope is to use the newly declared interim government as a tool to deny Maduro the oil revenue from the United States that provides Venezuela virtually all of its incoming cash, current and former U.S. officials said.” On January 29, the U.S. imposed additional sanctions on Venezuela’s state-owned oil company, PDVSA (Petróleos de Venezuela, S.A.) Forbes reports, “The restrictions would amount to $7 billion in blocked assets today, and an estimated $11 billion in export revenues over the course of 2019, according to [National Security Advisor John] Bolton.” In an interview on Fox Business, Bolton bragged of how U.S. corporations would benefit from the new sanctions:
“You know, Venezuela is one of the three countries I call the troika of tyranny. It will make a big difference to the United States economically if we could have American oil companies really invest in and produce the oil capabilities in Venezuela. It’d be good for the people of Venezuela. It’d be good for the people of the United States.”
On January 25, the Bank of England refused to allow Venezuela to access $1.2 billion in its gold reserves. Bloomberg reports,
“The Bank of England’s decision to deny Maduro officials’ withdrawal request comes after top U.S. officials, including Secretary of State Michael Pompeo and National Security Adviser John Bolton, lobbied their U.K. counterparts to help cut off the regime from its overseas assets…”
The U.S. Treasury department released a statement the same day announcing,
“The United States will use its economic and diplomatic tools to ensure that commercial transactions by the Venezuelan Government, including those involving its state-owned enterprises and international reserves, are consistent with”
U.S. recognition of Guaidó as the interim president.
Among the rationalizations presented in the corporate media for replacing Maduro with Guaidó is that the process that resulted in Maduro’s 2018 election victory was flawed. But former U.S. President Jimmy Carter declared in 2012 that,
“the election process in Venezuela is the best in the world.”
In February of 2018, the main right-wing opposition parties, fearing defeat, pledged to boycott the presidential election scheduled for May. Two minor opposition candidates did participate. Maduro won the election, but as intended by the boycott, there was lower than normal voter turnout. The U.S. and the main Venezuelan opposition groups refused to recognize the results.
Guaidó and his backers among politicians and the media also cite article 233 of the Venezuelan constitution as justification for his ascension. But that article refers only to a procedure to be followed if the elected president (Maduro in this case) were to become permanently unavailable. And in such a case, the next in line for the presidency would be Venezuelan Vice President Delcy Rodríguez, not be Guaidó, who is the leader of the National Assembly.
Also cited as justification for attempting to illegally oust Maduro are severe inflation and other economic difficulties currently confronting Venezuela. In a perverse twist, corporate apologists seek to tie the current hardships in capitalist Venezuela to the “failure of socialism.” Bret Stephens, writing in an Op Ed for the New York Times, calls Venezuela a “socialist catastrophe,” insisting that, “Twenty years of socialism, cheered by [Jeremy] Corbyn, [Naomi] Klein, [Noam] Chomsky and Co., led to the ruin of a nation.”
What coup supporters fail to mention, however, is the campaign of harsh economic sanctions imposed by the U.S. and its imperial allies against Venezuela, dating back to the Obama administration. Those sanctions, together with U.S. moves to block loans to Venezuela from the world’s leading financial institutions, have wreaked havoc with the Venezuelan economy. In his recent report, U.N. Special Rapporteur, Alfred de Zayas, characterized the sanctions as “economic warfare.” He went on to recommend that the International Criminal Court investigate the economic sanctions against Venezuela as possible crimes against humanity. As quoted in the London-based Independent, Zayas explained,
“What’s at stake is the enormous, enormous natural resources of Venezuela. And I sense that if Venezuela had no natural resources no one would give a damn about Chavez or Maduro or anybody else there.”
Eugenia Russian of FUNDALATIN, a Venezuelan human rights organization formed before Hugo Chavez was elected President, explained to the Independent,
“It is insufficient to see only the errors or deficiencies that the government may have, without seeing the environment of international pressure under which this population lives.”
We should note that this latest campaign of U.S. imperial intervention is not the first of its kind directed against Venezuela or other countries in Latin America and the Caribbean that refuse to march in lock step with U.S. corporate interests. Other hostile actions include:
- The illegal, decades-long economic blockade of Cuba.
- The invasion of Guatemala in 1954.
- The Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba in 1961.
- The invasion of the Dominican Republic in 1965.
- The U.S. supported coup in Chile in 1973.
- The Contra war against Nicaragua from 1981-1990.
- The invasion of Grenada in 1983.
- The invasion of Panama in 1989.
- U.S. backed coups and occupations in Haiti in 1991, 1994 and 2004.
- The U.S. supported coup in Honduras in 2009.
- Material aid to Nicaraguan opposition groups from at least 2016 to the present.
- Support for Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil.
- The U.S. supported coup against Hugo Chavez in Venezuela in 2002.
- Economic sanctions against Venezuela from 2006 to the present.
- A special $5 million fund for Venezuelan opposition groups established by Barak Obama in 2011.
- Coup attempts against Venezuela’s Maduro in 2015 and 2018.
The Wall Street Journal reported on January 30 that the current U.S. attack on Venezuela is but the first move in a strategy to
“reshape Latin America.” In particular, “After Venezuela and Cuba, U.S. officials are eyeing Nicaragua.”
When first elected in 1998, the Chavez government promoted significant reforms. It used revenue from the nationalized PDVSA energy sector to increase social spending by 60% from 2002-2012. By 2012, Venezuela had reduced inequality by 54% and poverty by 44%. Extreme poverty was reduced from 40% in 1996 to 7.3% in 2010. Medical care became free, as did education from preschool through university. But today, under relentless economic and political attack by U.S. imperialism and its allies, many of these reforms have been whittled away and the living conditions of the working class have become ever more dire.
Socialists support Venezuela’s right to self-determination unconditionally. But this does not imply agreement with every policy or pronouncement of the Chavez and Maduro governments. Within Venezuela, the only force strong enough to beat back the current assault and future imperial offensives is the masses of working people. Unfortunately, the Venezuelan United Socialist Party, led by President Maduro, has failed to fully prioritize working class interests. Despite its name, it has demonstrated – by its consistent defense of private industry, land and banking, and by its failure to fully mobilize the independent power of masses of working people – that it is a capitalist rather than a socialist party.
When faced with similar aggression in the 1960s, the Cubans took a different road, leading ultimately to the arming of the workers and peasants, nationalization of key industries and banking under workers’ control, and the creation of committees of workers and farmers in every village, neighborhood and workplace to defend their revolution. Up to now, Maduro, and Chavez before him, have sought to tame Venezuelan capitalism in the hope of gaining enough breathing space to implement reforms. Meanwhile, attacks from the still-powerful Venezuelan capitalist class and their imperial boosters continue unabated. In this manner, the Venezuelan working class has been fighting with one hand tied behind its back. Unleashing the full strength of the working class and openly challenging the capitalists for power offers the best chance of defeating the current and all future attacks against the Venezuelan people.
Nevertheless, we do not condition our support for the self-determination of the Venezuelan people in any way. Any changes or improvement in the Venezuelan government are for the Venezuelan people alone to make. The U.S. imperial machine has no progressive role to play in Venezuela or elsewhere! The last thing U.S. corporate leaders want is a truly mobilized, active and empowered Venezuelan working class. In the U.S., antiwar and working-class activists must take to the streets to demand, “U.S. Out Now! Hands Off Venezuela!”
Same Enemy, Same Fight
Working people in the U.S. must understand that the same corporate behemoths that push for cutbacks, layoffs, offshoring and austerity here at home – all to maximize corporate profits – are behind the latest threats against Venezuela. Working people in the U.S. gain nothing, and stand to lose much, if the one percent succeeds in imposing their will on the Venezuelan people. For this reason, we must do all that we can to stay the hand of the warmakers, understanding that in this context as in so many others, an injury to one is an injury to all.
The power of organized, mobilized workers is the only thing that coup plotters, war hawks and capitalist oligarchs in the U.S or Venezuela truly fear. Two recent examples demonstrate this point.
The first is the recent strike of the Los Angeles teachers. Inspired by their brother and sister unionists who fought and won strikes in West Virginia, Virginia, Oklahoma, Colorado and Arizona, the 34,000-strong UTLA strikers faced down an intransigent school board and forced it to accede to a number of important demands that advanced the interests of teachers, students and the broader community.
Then there was the response of La Guardia air traffic controllers to President Trump’s recent government shutdown. On the day that federal workers missed their second paycheck, an unusual number of controllers at La Guardia Airport called in sick. Delays resulted and quickly spread to other airports. Within hours, the phony government shutdown was over! The political and economic cost was high enough to force bipartisan agreement to resume paying the salaries of government workers. That’s power!
That kind of power can stop the U.S war-makers in their tracks; it can stop the current U.S. aggression against Venezuela; and in Venezuela, it can be used to mount a potent defense against the current capitalist assaults from the internal coup plotters and their U.S backers.