Venezuela and the Re-Emergence Of Sovereignty in the Americas
ON September 22, Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro appeared at the United Nations General Assembly via a pre-recorded speech. He appeared there after a month of successfully challenging the attempt by the United States of America to isolate Venezuela politically and suffocate it economically. “It is possible to confront imperial aggressions,” Maduro said in a measured tone. His speech was calm, his manner affirming the point he was making that the phase of “resistance” was now giving way to the phase of “recovery”; in other words, Venezuela had prevailed over the imperialist attempt to overthrow the Bolivarian Revolution, and now the Venezuelan government, with its regional allies, were committed to recovering the dynamic of that Revolution.
The US unilateral and illegal sanctions regime remains in place and so does the US government’s commitment to overthrow the Bolivarian process. None of that has changed. The US policy was set in motion during the attempt to eject the government of Hugo Chávez by a coup d’état in 2002, and then deepened by the Obama and Trump sanctions policy; Washington’s hybrid war against Venezuela oscillated from the use of violent force to the use of information warfare. The policy and practice of this violence – a violation of the UN Charter – has not changed. Although US President Joe Biden did not highlight the blockades of Cuba and Venezuela in his speech at the UN, he continues the maximum pressure policy of Trump against these two countries.
Failure by the US and its allies to overthrow the government of President Maduro disoriented the already fragmented right-wing Venezuelan opposition. This opposition has been divided by the egoism of its various leaders, by their desire to be picked by Washington as the favoured political instrument, and by their distance from the Bolivarian project. Washington and its European allies picked their favourite – for a time it was Juan Guaidó – which annoyed the rest of the field. Some of the opposition parties, including the older ones, have come to understand that large parts of the Bolivarian project are simply too popular to undo and have to be accepted; they are far away from other parts of the opposition who would like to uproot Bolivarianism and re-establish a capitalist project with intimate ties to US-based capital. These differences are real, and they have manifest themselves in the impossibility of creating a united opposition.
In December 2020, most of the opposition – including the two old ruling parties (Copei and Acción Democrática) – participated in the legislative elections, which established a new National Assembly. They rejected both the maximalism of Juan Guaidó and his backers (such as Leopoldo López, now in exile in Spain), as well as the imperialist hybrid war against Venezuela. Most of the leaders whom I spoke to at that time told me that they looked forward to the establishment of political normalcy inside Venezuela. None of these opposition parties did particularly well in the elections. The ruling alliance – the Great Patriotic Pole – won 253 out of 277 seats (Maduro’s United Socialist Party of Venezuela won 219 seats). None of the opposition leaders I met said that there was any fraud in the election, which went off smoothly. They were not satisfied with the result, but that had to do with their own political agendas – such as for privatisation – which has very little popular support in the country. The Guaidó section boycotted the election, getting considerable North American and European support for their noise about election fraud. Having remained outside the electoral process, and having failed in their coup attempts, Guaidó’s grouping now seems totally marginal.
That is why, in August 2021 and from September 3-6, all of the opposition parties met with the government in Mexico under the mediation of the Norwegian government. The opposition team was led by Gerardo Blyde, a leader of a party associated with the anti-Chavista MUD (Bureau of Democratic Unity) front; Blyde had led the opposition team for the 2019 Oslo and Barbados talks. Blyde’s team included Guaidó’s close associate Carlos Vecchio as well as Guaidó’s aide Stalin González, and a range of others, including Roberto Enríques of Copei. The government team was led by Jorge Rodríguez, the president of the National Assembly, and a close ally of Maduro. “We have a long way to go, we have a lot of work to do, we have many issues to discuss, but today we have shown that we can say the hardest things to ourselves,” said Rodríquez. Participating in the dialogue included delegations from Bolivia, Russia, and Turkey, from Britain, Canada, and the United States.
The opposition has agreed to take part in regional and local elections, which will be held across Venezuela in November 2021.
On September 18, the Mexican government hosted the sixth presidential summit of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), a body that includes 33 of the countries from the Americas (but excludes Canada and the United States). Brazil, which had been a member when the group was founded in 2011, was suspended last year. Maduro arrived at the conference as the hero of the hour. His presence there was used as the reason why South America’s two most right-wing presidents – both close allies of the United States – stayed away: these were Sebastián Piñera of Chile and Iván Duque of Colombia. Two other presidents of the right – Luis Lacalle Pou (Uruguay) and Mario Abdo Benítez (Paraguay) – attended the conference but could not define its agenda.
As part of the US government’s maximum pressure on Venezuela, it has used its diplomatic power to try and isolate Venezuela from regional platforms. In 2017, 12 countries from the Americas met in Peru to create the Lima Group. The purpose of the group – led by Peru’s then right-wing government and by Canada – was to overthrow the Bolivarian process. Since 2017, several of the countries have seen elections that have brought Left-leaning parties to power, and these governments have either left the Lima Group or have ceased to participate in it actively. These include Argentina, Bolivia, and Mexico. The new president of Peru – Pedro Castillo – has since disbanded the group. The US used the Organisation of American States (OAS), founded in 1948, of which it is a member, to attack Venezuela at many forums. That is why, in 2020, Venezuela withdrew from the OAS, calling it a pawn of the United States. Mexico’s President Andrés Manuel López Obrador called for the ‘substitution of the OAS’ by a ‘truly autonomous organisation – not a servant to anyone, but a mediator’.
At the CELAC meeting, Bolivia’s president Luis Arce called the OAS ‘obsolete and ineffective’. There is growing agreement amongst most Latin American and Caribbean countries to shift their focus from the OAS to CELAC, although there is no unanimity of opinion on this development. Maduro proposed instead to deepen the work of CELAC, to create a proper secretariat and to hold regular ministerial meetings to address major issues in the hemisphere. ‘There is a contradiction between the OAS and the CELAC’, he said. ‘It is the same contradiction as that which exists between Monroeism and Bolivarianism,’ the references being to the contest between the imperialist vision of US President James Monroe and the national liberation vision of Simón Bolívar.
On behalf of CELAC, Mexico’s foreign minister Marcelo Ebrard announced the Declaration of Mexico, whose 44 points included consideration of vaccine delivery, the creation of a Latin American and Caribbean Space Agency, the creation of a disaster fund, and the creation of a nuclear free zone in the region.
Lacalle Pou of Uruguay and Abdo Benítez of Paraguay abstained on various votes and tried to provoke a debate about the situation in Venezuela. The Declaration of Mexico, however, contained a sharp attack on the illegal US sanctions on Venezuela and Cuba, as well as called upon the states to uphold the UN Charter. A few days after Maduro’s UN speech, his foreign minister Felix Plascencia met in New York City with 17 other countries – including China and Russia – to deepen the ties between the Group of Friends in Defence of the UN Charter, a body that includes countries with one fourth of the world’s population. They are committed to the UN Charter as the basis for international relations. This sensibility was evident in the Mexico meeting. That is why Maduro’s response to Lacalle Pou and Abdo Benítez was measured. He said that he understood that their provocations would designed to inflame the rhetoric and scuttle the summit, which is why he said that “Latin and Caribbean unity is more important than any other problem or difference” between the states. Instead, Maduro challenged them to a debate, asking them to set a time and place, in which they could discuss the situation of human rights in the hemisphere.
No doubt that settling the internal political conflict in Venezuela and the changed regional climate has diminished the possibility of regime change by the United States and its allies. That changed climate was visible in the statement made by the UN’s High Commissioner for Human Rights, former Chilean president Michelle Bachelet. Until recently, Bachelet and her team have produced harsh statements about the government of President Maduro; these statements have provided fodder for the regime change advocates. Now, in Mexico City on September 15 at the 48th session of the Human Rights Council, Bachelet said, “I reiterate my call for sectoral sanctions to be lifted.” This was a remarkable retreat from her previous statements.
Bachelet has likely moved her views because of the changed climate in Latin America and the Caribbean and partly because of the fact of the impact of illegal sanctions. Venezuela’s representative to the Council, Héctor Constant Rosales told the delegates about the report by Alena Douhan, UN Special Rapporteur on the negative impact of unilateral coercive measures on the enjoyment of human rights.
Douhan’s 19-page report, a final version released on September 18, was an indictment of the harshness of the illegal sanctions regime. It showed that as a consequence of the “sectoral sanctions on the oil, gold, and mining industries” and due to the “economic blockade and the freezing of the Central Bank assets,” for instance, more than 2.5 million Venezuelans struggle with hunger, with a 213.8 per cent increase in undernourishment or chronic hunger. The lack of revenue has meant that water and electricity supplies are down to 50 per cent of their capacity and the medical situation remains critical. “The humanitarian exemptions,” Douhan wrote, “appear to be ineffective and insufficient.”
Douhan argued in the report that the sanctions undermine human rights and violate international law. She asked for all these unilateral and illegal measures to be lifted. Having studied the report, Venezuela’s foreign minister Felix Plascencia told the Council, “The Special Rapporteur made it clear that these measures, in the form of collective punishment, are international crimes that threaten the Venezuelan people.” CELAC’s Declaration of Mexico echoed this opinion. So did the Group of Friends in Defence of the UN Charter.
Three of Venezuela’s great opponents in Latin America might not survive elections: Piñera is not running Chile’s November presidential elections, but his sort of right-wing focus might not prevail, while in 2022 Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro will face a very difficult election opponent in the Left-wing former president Lula; in 2022, Iván Duque can no longer run for re-election, which means his successor of the right will face the popular Left-wing former mayor of Bogotá, Gustavo Petro. Whether Lula and Petro will win or whether Chile will be governed by the centre-left’s Gabriel Boric is unclear. What is clear is that these governments of the right will face their people long before Maduro will have his next election in 2024, the same year as Mexico. The emerging alliances in Latin America and the Caribbean – anchored by Maduro and López Obrador – have already reshaped the hemisphere to the disadvantage of imperialism.