By MICHAEL SCHREIBER
— UPDATED, Aug. 2 — On July 30, Venezuela elected a new 545-member National Constituent Assembly, which takes on the task of rewriting the country’s 1999 constitution.
The country faces a severe economic crisis, made worse by the economic sabotage of pro-capitalist oppositionists. Working-class neighborhoods are plagued by shortages of food, medicine, and other basic products. Proposals for amendments to the constitution have dealt with issues such as insuring better housing, carrying forward a thorough land reform, and requiring stricter environmental safeguards. It remains to be seen to what extent proposals from the workers, poor peasants, and grassroots political activists will be incorporated into the deliberations of the new Assembly.
The National Electoral Council said that 41.5 percent of the electorate took part in the Constituent Assembly vote. That represents over 8 million people, a vote exceeding any previous vote for the Maduro government.
Bourgeois opposition parties, which controlled the sitting National Assembly—now to be displaced under current provisions of Venezuela’s constitution—called for a boycott of the election and put up no candidates of their own.
In the weeks leading to the vote, radical opposition groups—including armed units of the far-right—staged violent skirmishes and arson attacks on government facilities. Small battles raged in the streets of Caracas and other cities. In one incident on the day of the vote, a large explosion in a middle-class neighborhood of Caracas injured at least seven police officers patrolling on motorcycles, while nearby residents applauded. Photos of the explosion were featured in major journals worldwide—often with captions about “government violence” that conveyed the misleading impression that pro-Maduro forces had ignited it.
An attempted coup against the government, even a murderous military action such as the one led by Gen. Pinochet in Chile in 1973 and backed by the United States, is not out of the question. It should be recalled that the U.S. supported and rushed to recognize the short-lived coup government in Venezuela in 2002, after Hugo Chavez had been deposed by the military. The George W. Bush administration labeled the coup “a victory for democracy.” A similar scenario is clearly on the minds of some oppositional figures today as they call for foreign intervention.
Two weeks before the National Constituent Assembly election, on July 16, opposition groupings held an informal poll, in which 7 million people (98 percent of the respondents) reportedly voted against the Constituent Assembly. Included in the poll was a question as to whether the military should “defend” the current constitution and “back the decisions” of the seated National Assembly. The New York Times commented on July 31 that “some interpreted [the question] as taking the temperature for support for military intervention.” The Times quoted Christopher Sabatini, a foreign policy expert at Columbia University, as stating, “That kind of question is reminiscent of Pinochet and 1973.”
For now, Defense Minister Gen. Vladimir Padrino López has affirmed his loyalty to the government and has spoken against a coup. Several former military officers hold major posts in the Maduro government, as they did under Chavez, including in the state oil company PDVSA. But if the political crisis begins to spiral out of control and Maduro is unable to maintain “order,” it is questionable whether the “loyalty” of the officers corps will persist.
The Trump administration and other U.S. politicians and major media predictably condemned the Constituent Assembly vote as a “sham.” Trump blasted President Nicolás Maduro as “a dictator,” although he is happy to shake the hands of real dictators and authoritarian leaders of countries that are allied to the United States.
The day after the vote, Washington froze Maduro’s personal assets that are subject to U.S. jurisdiction, while stating that further economic sanctions against Venezuela and its oil industry might follow. Venezuela exports 10 percent of its oil to the United States. The pro-U.S. governments of Mexico and Panama indicated that they would join in the latest U.S. sanctions. Spain pushed for EU sanctions as well.
“Why are they sanctioning me? Because I called democratic elections so that people can freely vote for the National Constituent Assembly,” Maduro retorted. “I feel proud to be sanctioned, Mister Imperialist Donald Trump.”
Ominously, on Aug. 1, the U.S. State Department raised the threat of its intervention into Venezuela with the objective of “regime change.” Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, the former CEO of Exxon-Mobil, told the press, “We are evaluating all of our policy options as to what can we do to create a change of conditions where either Maduro decides he doesn’t have a future and wants to leave of his own accord or we can return the government processes back to their constitution.”
Socialist Action joins those who are demanding, “U.S. Hands off Venezuela!” We stand opposed to all imperialist sanctions, and we call for an end to Washington’s overt and covert support to the right-wing groupings that are working to create chaos in Venezuela and bring down the government. We note that the United States has a compelling interest in gaining lucrative concessions in the Venezuelan oil fields and ultimately in re-privatizing the entire oil industry.
How can Venezuela escape its economic and political crisis? For the country’s working people, the decisive road forward lies in socialist revolution—taking the course first charted by Russia 100 years ago and Cuba in 1959. This is the only way that the interests and aspirations of the country’s working class and poor peasants can be fulfilled.
An essential step in this process is the construction of a mass revolutionary socialist party, rooted in the struggles of the Venezuelan workers. The central task of such a party would be to organize and mobilize Venezuela’s working masses with the aim of placing a revolutionary government in power that can abolish the capitalist state and replace it with a workers’ state.
Such a party must be independent of the Maduro government, which has sought to carry out an impossible balancing act between capitalist interests and the needs of the people. It must likewise be independent of the ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), which has shown itself to be under the sway of privileged bureaucrats and the “Boli-bourgeoisie”—millionaires disguised as “Chavistas.”
The Maduro/PSUV government has proven itself clumsily unresponsive to the burning needs of the Venezuelan people, and has even committed injustices against them. But it is the job of the Venezuelan people alone to replace that government—without intervention by U.S. imperialism. The international working-class movement must close ranks against the attempts of the United States, working with its right-wing proxies inside Venezuela, to disrupt the country’s economy and overthrow the government.
UNAC’S statement on Venezuela
Below, we reprint the statement of the United National Antiwar Committee (UNAC) and the newly formed Black Alliance for Peace on the crisis in Venezuela.
The United States has been conducting a brutal, 20-year-long campaign of destabilization against Venezuela in an attempt to cause “regime change” in that country. This has taken the form of economic sabotage and financial manipulation as well as support for the mobilization of right-wing forces in increasingly violent demonstrations.
This is not a recent policy, but one that has also been carried out under the Obama and Bush administrations as well as the present Trump administration. In 2002, right-wing forces inside Venezuela attempted a coup against then-President Hugo Chavez. Many sources have confirmed that the U.S. gave the go-ahead to the opposition to orchestrate the coup and promised support. Soon after the coup, the people of Venezuela turned out in the streets in massive numbers and restored Chavez to the presidency.
Barack Obama continued the assault on the Venezuelan revolution by imposing crippling sanctions and asserting that Venezuela was a “security threat” to the United States. These attacks from the U.S. exemplify attempts to realize full-spectrum dominance, the epitome of imperialist intervention which has brought so much suffering to the world.
Some of the very same opposition leaders who were involved in the 2002 coup attempt are today behind the present unrest, which has seen well-financed opposition forces leading violent protests against the government of Nicolas Maduro. The U.S. corporate media has reported on these actions, but has blamed the violence on the Venezuelan government and has not reported the huge mobilizations in defense of the Maduro government.
Now a bipartisan bill has been submitted in the Senate (S.1018) with the intention of further destabilizing Venezuela. For more information on this bill and some actions you can take to oppose it, please go here: http://afgj.org/take-action-today-to-support-venezuelas-democracy.
The economic crises in Venezuela is severe. The Venezuelan economy is dependent on its large oil resources. The oil has been nationalized since 1976, but there has been a continual push from U.S. interests as well as wealthy Venezuelans to privatize it. Though the oil remains nationalized, the refining, transportation and markets are all private and have been used to undercut the ability of the oil industry to support the economy. Additionally, in the past few years, with the encouragement of Wall Street, oil production around the world has been kept high, driving down the price, which hurts oil-dependent economies, including those of countries that the U.S. opposes, such as Russia and Iran in addition to Venezuela.
The U.S. media also has been full of stories of Venezuelan supermarkets with near-empty shelves and long lines of people seeking basic necessities. What hasn’t been reported is that the privately owned food corporations are deliberately hoarding supplies intended for working-class neighborhoods, while making sure that food and other goods are readily available in the wealthier areas.
The Bolivarian Revolution has always endeavored to be an ally of the people of United States and to extend a hand of friendship and solidarity. When the U.S. government turned its back on the people of the Gulf Coast in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the Venezuelan government offered humanitarian aid, but was rebuffed. Venezuela provided fuel assistance to low-income Black and Brown people when the U.S. government would not.
These acts reinforced the strong support that many in the Black community had for the process in Venezuela and deepened the commitment of Black activists to stand in solidarity with the people of Venezuela and their process. This support is in line with the long-standing Black radical tradition of defending nations under imperialist attack by the U.S. government.
The defeat of the Bolivarian Revolution at the hands of U.S. imperialism and its reactionary right-wing allies in Venezuela would be a defeat for progressive forces all over the world and a disaster for the people of Venezuela and its people, as it has been in Libya and Ukraine and Haiti and every nation which has lost its sovereignty to the two-party commitment to imperialist intervention.
UNAC and the Black Alliance for Peace demand:
End U.S. interference in the affairs of Venezuela!
Self-determination for the Venezuelan people!
End the sanctions and economic warfare now!