Vol. XLIII No. 06 February 10, 2019

Venezuelans Stand Tall

R Arun Kumar

SO the reasons for the US meddling and interference in the internal affairs of Venezuela are finally out, direct from the horse’s mouth. Of course it is about oil, gold, diamonds and all the other natural resources that Venezuela has. But above all, it is about something more, as US president Donald Trump has stated in his State of the Union, ceremonial address to the US citizens. “We condemn the brutality of the Maduro regime, whose socialist policies have turned that nation from being the wealthiest in South America into a state of abject poverty and despair.  Here in the United States, we are alarmed by the new calls to adopt socialism in our country. Tonight, we renew our resolve that America will never be a socialist country (Emphasis added). It is ‘socialism’ and its spread to the US that has got the ‘mighty’ US worried and made it play all its dirty tricks to destabilise the democratically elected government of Venezuela led by Nicolas Maduro.

The US sprung into action by freezing $7 billion of Venezuelan State oil company’s (PDVSA) assets. The UK had blocked Maduro government from withdrawing $1.2 billion worth of gold deposited in the Bank of England. On the other hand, the US had given access to all Venezuelan assets in their country to the self-declared president of Venezuela, Juan Guaido. Above it, they also promised $20 million as ‘humanitarian aid’ to Guaido, who did not even contest the presidential elections.

The mask of ‘democracy’ that the US wears whenever it wants to enact a regime change in any country slips off, when we compare two recent events happening in two different countries – Egypt and Venezuela. Only days back, Egyptian president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi got the constitution amended in order to allow him to stay in power beyond 2022, when his second term in office ends. This amendment would also give Sisi the power to appoint top judges and bypass judicial oversight. Sisi, to briefly recap, has come to power after a coup killing hundreds of activists who were demonstrating for the restoration of democracy and against imperialist intervention. This was in the background of the massive protests in Tahrir Square. Since then, he had been curbing all sorts of dissent, arresting or forcing into exile a number of opposition leaders. Even his re-election last year was orchestrated by pressurising all the serious challengers to exit from the race and if they did not heed, he put them into jail. While all this was going on, neither the US, nor did its tail-waggers utter a single word in condemnation. For them, it is a perfectly democratic government, since it is on their ‘side’.

On the other hand, Venezuela is targeted precisely because, as Trump himself had stated, it is continuing on a path quite contrary to that of the US – the path of Bolivarian socialism. The late president of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez had embarked on this path against the dominant ideology of neoliberalism and imperialist intervention. He advocated a radical vision of transformation, which included many social missions to eliminate poverty, illiteracy, unemployment and brought out a thorough change in the way resources were distributed. He put to use the vast mineral resources for the benefit of the society, which were hitherto going into the pockets of private individuals.

These policies had angered the US for many reasons. One, for using the country’s wealth for the upliftment of the poor. Two, because his radical agenda not only won over the masses of Venezuela, but also started winning the hearts of the majority of the people in the entire Latin America. Many Left leaning, progressive governments were elected to power, started cooperating amongst themselves and moved away from their earlier dependence on the US. Three, since Chavez, politics in Latin America took a drastic turn. Electoral battles in any country saw one common feature – all the right-wing parties started accusing their opponent Left leaning candidates as allies of Chavez, who would turn their country too into Venezuela. Even in the Mexican presidential election held last year, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO), was accused of intending to turn Mexico into another Venezuela. Similarly, Bolsonaro the right-wing president of Brazil, had made criticism of Venezuela as one of his crucial points in electoral campaign. These show how deeply have Chavez’s policies and politics affected the Latin American countries. The US was more worried about these spreading ideas of ‘wealth and power distribution’ and wanted to curb them at any cost. And of course, Chavez’s ardent support to socialist Cuba and the Cuban revolution is a reason that cannot be ignored. And so is his fervent anti-imperialist rhetoric and campaign.

It is with this intention, the US has increased its assistance to all sorts of opposition groups in this region, by providing them with money and all other requisite resources. These opposition groups, representing the interests of the elite oligarchs, put to use all these resources to destabilise the democratically elected Left leaning governments. Violent attacks on Left and progressive activists and sabotage were part of this strategy. Media played a prominent role in their efforts by spreading all sorts of lies, demonising the Left and mostly blocking any news of the Left from appearing. In the present Venezuelan crisis, twitter has removed thousands of accounts which are in support of the Venezuelan government and even suspended the official account of the Venezuelan government’s press team.

Corruption in various layers of society, failure (or resistance) of the bureaucracy to ensure the benefits of various governmental policies reach the poor, also contributed to strengthening the opposition campaign against the governments. This is the experience not only of Venezuela, but also of Brazil and many other Latin American countries, which had these progressive governments. Many governments which were unable to meet these myriad challenges and multi pronged attacks, and failed to educate the people of these attacks, lost the game and elections. Venezuela is one country, which is resisting all such attempts for the past nearly two decades.

Many expected Venezuela to ‘fall’ after the tragic death of Chavez. But that was not to be and Maduro was navigating through all the challenges hurled at him, both internally by the opposition groups and externally, by the global economic crisis. In spite of all the adverse circumstances, the government tried to continue with the welfare measures. Still, education and health are provided free of cost. Housing, which is internationally recognised as a human right, is sought to be ensured by the government in Venezuela. It had recently constructed and handed over 2,300,000 houses for the working class families and another 700,000 houses are scheduled to be handed over in this year. Moreover, Maduro stated that he intends to honour his election promise of providing 5,000,000 houses to the needy poor. Hence, Venezuela was identified as an important target for the US’ operation, ‘regime change’.

The global economic crisis and the fall in the prices of oil, together with the economic sanctions imposed by the US, have virtually created a war like situation in Venezuela. The falling value of currency because of the manipulative schemes of the elites is another concern. Maduro rightly termed the crisis staring the country as ‘economic warfare’. The scarcity of essentials started playing on people’s nerves, creating a sense of anger against the government. A reflection of this was found in the recently concluded elections, where majority of the people preferred to abstain from voting. Amidst such apathy, the opposition was able to ride to victory in the National Assembly. Of course, Maduro and his party won the presidency and many local bodies after these elections to the Assembly.

Juan Guaido, is the chairman of Venezuela’s legislative body. His proclamation as the president, has put the legislature in direct confrontation with the executive branch of the government, that is with president Maduro. The judiciary of the country rightly declared the acts of Guaido as illegal and anti-constitutional. This has pitted the legislature against the judiciary too. For the first time in the recent period, various State institutions are pitted against one another. In this background, except for one or two defections, the country's armed forces staunchly remain loyal to the constitution and to President Maduro.

The efforts of the US are now to ensure defections in the armed forces, as it realises that unless the military switches sides, its attempts to topple Maduro will not succeed. Bolton, the National Security Adviser of the US has openly called the armed forces to betray their country and support the US. With that appeal failing, recent reports indicate that US is making ‘irresistible offers’ to army generals to switch sides. While those are the carrots, the stick dangled by the US is its threat to exercise the ‘military option’, as stated by Donald Trump. US planes are doing their reconnaissance trips and on February 5, US-made arms cache was found near an airport in Valencia, a Venezuelan city.

In spite of these threats, Maduro has offered to discuss with the opposition groups. Mexico, Uruguay and even the Pope have called for discussions, which the UN too is supporting. Exposing their real intentions and true to the script, Guaido has rejected these offers. He feels buoyed by the ‘international support’ and seems to think that it can compensate his lack of popular support. It is a chimera to think that international support alone can make him the president. Moreover, when countries like China, Russia, Cuba, Mexico, Turkey and Iran have all stated that they stand firm with Maduro and are opposed to any external intervention.

Experts are pointing to similarities in the US strategy in Venezuela with that of it in Libya and Syria. We are witness to what is happening in both these countries, post the US intervention. Maduro has warned the US government against undertaking any such adventurist missions. While it is true that the opposition groups and their protests are attracting more people and at times even those from non-elites, it should be remembered that the situation in Venezuela is not one-sided as being portrayed by the US-backed Western media. There still exists considerable Chavista base in the country (though a section of which is critical of Maduro), who are united in their opposition to the US and Guaido. It is this solid base of Chavistas that is once again rallying in defence of Maduro, the sovereignty of Venezuela and against US intervention. If they stand tall and firm, the US game-plan will once again fail and it will be forced to eat humble pie.