A new violent offensive has been mounted by Venezuela’s comprador bourgeoisie and feudal relics, with the 100 percent backing and instigation of US imperialism, to try to overthrow the democratically-elected government of Nicolás Maduro.
As in Ukraine and Thailand, US imperialism, having failed at the ballot to secure a regime compliant to its imperialist needs, has backed reactionary elements to try to obtain by naked force what it cannot gain by constitutional means.
In all three countries, US imperialism’s pose as a ‘champion of democracy’ has been exposed for all to see as the purest hypocrisy. The right to choose is strictly limited in the bourgeois world to those who choose within the range of choices acceptable to those who rule – and this does not include governments prepared to put the interests of their own people ahead of the demands of imperialism.
The right-wing assault took off on 12 February (Venezuelan Youth Day), with some university students and traditional conservative opposition groups taking to the streets in Caracas – not with a view to mere peaceful demonstration but to cause as much mayhem as possible. They attacked a government building, burned cars and damaged the entrance to a metro station.
“The demonstrations extended for several days, as it quickly became obvious that the principal purpose of the protests was to destabilise the government and seek the ouster of the democratically elected president of Venezuela, Nicolás Maduro.”
From the start, the actions of the oppositionists were not peaceful but violent, and aimed at provoking an appropriate government response to hooligan vandalism that could be fraudulently presented to the outside world as ‘the violent suppression of free speech’.
“To create conditions of ungovernability, the so-called ‘democratic opposition’ had taken to barricading the roads to prevent the free movement of people and precipitate a crisis. They have set up barricades using boulders, glass, trees, trash-filled bags, and anything else at their disposal. In other cases, they are throwing glass and nails (called miguelitos, nails thrust through pieces of garden hose) onto the road to impede traffic …
“Walking around areas controlled by the opposition it is impossible not to notice that many streets have been covered with car oil to make the surfaces slick causing motorbikes to skid out of control. The opposition assumes that [em]motorizados[/em], those on motorcycles, are government supporters … since most are from lower socioeconomic sectors and tend to be people of colour.
“It is also impossible not to notice the steel wire and barbed wire strung across the roadway, and some motorcycle drivers have either been injured or killed by these barriers …
“A retired general, Ángel Vivas, tweeted several times giving instructions to his followers on how to place the steel wire on city streets.” (‘What is happening in Venezuela?’ by Professor Miguel Tinker Salas, Venanalysis, 7 March 2014)
These actions ‘spread’ quickly to other parts of the country, with mobs setting up barricades and battling police, demanding an end to the Nicolás Maduro government. However, closer examination shows that it was not a question of the Caracas students inspiring escalating protests, but of the rolling out of a pre-arranged plan aimed at bringing down a popular government by making its enemies look very much stronger than they actually are.
From the reports emanating from the bourgeois media, one might gain the impression that almost the whole of Venezuela’s population was desperate to remove the government. The truth, however, is admitted to even by the New York Times:
“On the east side of this capital city, where the rich people tend to live, most children have stayed home from school for more than a week, protest bonfires burn in the streets at night, stores shut early and carnival celebrations have been cancelled.
“But on the west side, where many of the poor people live under tin roofs, you would hardly know that the country has been stirred by weeks of unrest. Schools operate normally, restaurants serve up arepas, and residents, enjoying the extra days off that President Nicolás Maduro has given the country, prepare to crown their carnival queens.
“Both sides of this city, the better off and the poorer, are dealing with many of the same frustrations: one of the world’s worst inflation rates, hours spent in line to buy food and other basic goods in short supply, and rampant violent crime.
“But while the poor are often hit especially hard by these troubles, the protests shaking the capital this month have been dominated by the city’s middle- and upper-class residents. They have poured into the streets of their neighbourhoods en masse, turning them into barricaded redoubts. Yet in the city’s poorer sections, life has mostly gone on as usual.”(‘Slum dwellers ask, “what protests?”’ by William Neuman, 28 February 2014)
Although entirely unsympathetic to the Venezuelan government, as one would expect from a major newspaper in the United States, its reporter is forced to conclude:
“But while conditions are often tough in poor neighbourhoods like Hornos de Cal and La Televisora, which cascade down the sides of a steep hill near the centre of Caracas, things are far better than they were 15 years ago, before Mr Chávez was president and before oil prices soared, bringing greater prosperity after years of hard times.
“There is improved water and electrical service, and many homes now have telephone lines with broadband internet provided by the government phone company. And there is a low-cost, government-built cable car that carries residents to and from the city centre in minutes, a life-changing transformation from the past, when they had to slog up the hill or often pay taxis to drive them.
“That has made many people reluctant to demonstrate against the government, even if they are unhappy with Mr Maduro.”
One might add that Neuman has listed only a tiny part of the benefits that Venezuela’s poor majority have received from its popular government. This is why the protests have not been widespread but have been restricted to certain pockets in the country – mostly middle- and upper-middle-class neighbourhoods; some 18 municipalities out of a total of 355.
Even in afflicted municipalities, protesters are often a minority, imposing siege-like conditions on their terrorised neighbours. In Mérida, a young woman was shot dead as she struggled to remove a barricade erected by oppositionists.
Even people who would criticise the government for not doing more for the poor – misguidedly blaming it for not being able to magic away the ills of the capitalist economic system or the frenzied resistance of reactionaries to all progressive measures – are only too aware that, were the opposition in power, then rather than gain more they would lose much of what they now have, since what the opposition most opposes is what it regards as the squandering of the national wealth on uplifting the condition of the poor.
Of course, their reasoning is that to win the battle of competition in capitalist society, one needs to lower one’s costs of production in order to survive. The reasoning of the poor, however, is that if they, the poor, have to starve to enable capitalism to thrive, then capitalism has to go.
Gradually, the rebellion of the rich is driving the Venezuelan masses towards this inevitable realisation.
Alleged economic mismanagement
It is this ‘irresponsible’ spending on the poor – and the assistance given by Venezuela to the struggles of neighbouring countries to free themselves from imperialist clutches, such as Bolivia and Ecuador, and the fraternal economic support for Cuba and for the 17 countries in the Caribbean and Central America who join Venezuela in the Petrocaribe initiative (supplying oil on preferential terms) – that imperialism and its Venezuelan hangers-on allege are the cause of the rampant inflation and shortages of essentials that are now bedevilling Venezuela.
However, inflation in Venezuela peaked at 103 percent in 1996, before Chávez took power. This came down to an annual average of 26 percent between 1999 and 2012, from which one can only conclude that it is not socialist policies that cause inflation.
The major part of Venezuela’s current economic problems have been deliberately caused or exacerbated by the rich reactionaries, who have, on the one hand, been hoarding essential commodities in warehouses with a view to causing shortages (which of itself has forced up the prices of the little that has been made available), and, on the other hand, have been converting currency into dollars, forcing down the exchange rate of the peso (thereby making imported goods much more expensive). The effect of high import prices is compounded by Venezuela’s distorted economy, which is overly dependent on oil extraction and export – a legacy that the Bolivarian revolution has been struggling to uproot.
High crime rate
Venezuela is notorious for its rather high crime rate. The protesters would have us believe that this is caused by desperation brought about by ‘economic mismanagement’. The truth is quite different. The condition of the poor has, even by the admission of the New York Times, vastly improved.
It is not government policy that is responsible for the condition of the poor – quite the contrary. The main cause is the inexorable loss of rural livelihoods.
In Venezuela, the rural population has been reduced to 15 percent of the whole, although they had constituted some 60 percent as recently as 1935. At the same time, however, before Chávez began his Bolivarian revolution, 75-80 percent of Venezuela’s land was owned by 5 percent of the population, and a mere 2 percent owned 60 percent of farmland, while 60 percent of the rural population had no land at all.
A major factor driving the peasants away from the countryside was the dependence of the Venezuelan economy on oil, which provided ample foreign exchange to enable the country to pay for cheap imports of food against which the relatively backward production methods current in Venezuela could not compete. As a result, the big landowners either reduced their levels of production and dismissed their peasant workers, or they modernised, substituting machines for peasant workers. In both cases, this left large numbers of peasants deprived of work, who inevitably drifted to the towns to live in immense slums and to try to make a living as best they could.
The petrol money that had destroyed much of Venezuela’s agriculture also facilitated the import of manufactured goods so cheap as to stifle the growth of industry in Venezuela. As a result, Venezuela never had sufficient in the way of industry to absorb many of the peasants who came from the towns, who had to live from hand to mouth as best they could and were not able to adopt the life of urban wage workers.
Far from being responsible for this state of affairs, both Chávez and Maduro have been implementing policies designed to return peasants to the land (compulsorily purchasing uncultivated land and distributing it to the peasantry) and to provide employment in government-sponsored cooperatives for the urban proletariat.
One might even say that if the popular Venezuelan government has been guilty of squandering precious resources, it is the vast sums of money it has paid in compensation to the rich when purchasing their unused land. It is paid in the hope of buying social peace – a hope that has proved to be in vain.
As it is,[a name=”_GoBack”>[/a] these very successful policies, which actually do reduce poverty and crime, are precisely the policies most hated and reviled by the government’s enemies.
US imperialism behind the scenes
US imperialism is the main motivator of the unrest. It is furious at the fact that Latin-American countries are, under Venezuelan and Cuban leadership, throwing off the shackles of imperialist domination, thereby drastically reducing the superprofits that US corporations can leech out of the continent.
When circumstances permit, it has every intention of reversing this situation, and it is making careful preparations for the purpose, bearing in mind that it did once try, and fail, to remove Chávez from power by means of a right-wing coup. Down but not out, US imperialism has been spending a great deal of money shoring up its oppositionist friends. Eva Golinger has reported that:
“Over the ten year period, from 2000-2010, US agencies, including the US Agency for International Development (USAID) and its Office for Transition Initiatives (OTI), set up in Caracas in 2002, channelled more than $100m to opposition groups in Venezuela. The overall objective was regime change.”
Having failed to make much of a dent on election results, US imperialism has turned to creating a ‘youth-protest movement’:
[h1]“Over one third of US funding, nearly $15m annually by 2007, was directed towards youth and student groups, including training in the use of social networks to mobilise political activism. [/h1]
[h1]“Student leaders were sent to the US for workshops and conferences on internet activism and media networking. They were informed on tactics to promote regime change via street riots and strategic use of media to portray the government as repressive.” (‘Venezuela beyond the protests’, Counterpunch, 21 February 2014)[/h1]
Without this funding, it was disclosed in a 2009 US State Department cable from the US embassy in Caracas published by WikiLeaks, “it is possible that the organisations we helped create … could be forced to close … Our funding will provide those organisations a much-needed lifeline.”
However, it is not just money that US imperialism supplies to its minions. It also advises on strategy to undermine the Venezuelan economy – as is shown by a document entitled ‘Strategic Venezuelan Plan’, prepared by the so-called Democratic Internationalism Foundation (headed by ex-Colombian rightist president Alvaro Uribe), the First Colombia Think Tank and the US consulting firm, FTI Consulting. According to Eva Golinger:
“The document … details the strategy to sabotage the electrical system in Venezuela, with the objective of blaming the government for a weak infrastructure and therefore projecting an image of crisis in Venezuela on an international level.
“As part of the plan, the authors propose, ‘To maintain and increase the sabotages that affect public services, particularly the electrical system, that will enable responsibility to be placed on the government for supposed inefficiencies and negligence.’
“For the past few months, blackouts and other electrical shortages have affected different regions throughout Venezuela, causing general discontent and reflecting negatively on the government. Just weeks ago, Venezuelan authorities detained various individuals involved in sabotaging the electrical system, and, at the end of September, President Maduro expelled three US diplomats from the US Embassy in Caracas for their alleged role in destabilisation plans against the state.
“In the section labelled ‘Actions’, the authors of the document detail their next steps to undermine the Venezuelan government.
“In addition to ‘Perfecting the confrontational discourse of Henrique Capriles’, the opposition candidate who lost to Maduro in April’s presidential elections, they also talk of ‘Generating emotion with short messages that reach the largest quantity of people and emphasise social problems, provoking social discontent. Increase problems with supply of basic consumer products.’
“Throughout the year, Venezuela has experienced problems with the supply of basic products, such as toilet paper, sugar, milk, oil, butter, flour and other food staples. Venezuelan authorities have confiscated tons of these products, illegally held inside warehouses belonging to opposition businesses. They have also captured large quantities of these items on the border with Colombia, where they are sold as contraband.
[h1]“According to the document, ‘The Strategic Venezuelan Plan’, agreed upon by representatives from the opposition to the government of Nicolás Maduro, is oriented towards these objectives with the strong and constant support of various world figures who aim to return Venezuela to the ‘true democracy and independence, which has been kidnapped for more than 14 years’.” (‘Document evidences destabilisation plan against Venezuela’, Postcards from the revolution, 8 November 2013)[/h1]
When this strategy failed to bring about an opposition victory in last December’s municipal elections, as had been hoped for and intended (the government-sponsored coalition, Polo Patriótico, won 70 percent of the municipalities), Venezuela’s wealthy élite clearly felt that they could not possibly continue to suffer until the next scheduled elections in Venezuela (the National Assembly elections in December 2015) – hence their desperate attempts to take to the street to overthrow the government by the use of violence and intimidation.
Opposition closely linked to US imperialism
In the light of the failure of Henrique Capriles to make the expected electoral gains against the Venezuelan government, the leader of the current ‘protests’ is one Leopoldo López, recently arrested for inciting violence. As one would expect, the said Mr López has the closest possible links to US imperialism:
“López has a long history with the United States and comes from one of the wealthiest families in Venezuela. López was involved in the US backed 2002 coup and received start-up money from the US National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and its offshoots, the International Republican Institute (IRI) and the National Democratic Institute (NDI).
“But López’s ties to the United States go back to his time as an undergraduate at Kenyon College in Ohio. Kenyon is known as a training ground for CIA assets, it even has a CIA scholarship programme. Kenyon has CIA-friendly professors and the Kenyon Review was even funded by the CIA.
“López spent five years at Kenyon and then went on to get a master’s degree at the JFK School for Government at Harvard. With this history, it not surprising to see him involved in the 2002 coup and in the leadership of the current unrest, while the US is funding his political party and opposition organising.
“WikiLeaks exposed the connection between the United States and opposition forces in trying to undermine the government. The documents came from the leaks from Stratfor and show how the CEO of Stratfor sees the US government manoeuvring to remove Chavez and how the state department provides information to a clueless US media.
[h1]“Recently, WikiLeaks released 77 diplomatic cables that mention Leopoldo López. In an analysis of those cables, Jake Johnston of the Centre for Economic and Policy Research, describes how the US, in addition to providing money, has provided guidance and kept the opposition from imploding …” (‘Opposition protests in Venezuela rooted in falsehoods, US support and violence’ by Kevin Zeese, popularresistance.org, 23 February 2014)[/h1]
An ill wind that may yet blow some good
Nobody should imagine for a second that the protesters are in any way democratic, let alone that their cause is just. What they actually want is a return to the old order, when no effort whatever was made to bring relief to the poor – especially the non-white poor.
What the people of Venezuela will hopefully learn from all this is that the reactionaries need to be ruthlessly suppressed: they are not won over by being allowed freedom of speech and assembly, but merely take advantage of these freedoms to plot the elimination of any freedom of the poor to enjoy slightly better conditions of existence.