By JEFF MACKLER and BRUCE LESNICK
The relentless U.S. imperial beast has embarked on a full-scale, openly declared, bipartisan regime-change war aimed at overthrowing Venezuela’s democratically elected government headed by President Nicolás Maduro.
Top U.S. officials—from President Donald Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, National Security Adviser John Bolton and special envoy Elliot Abrams of Iran/Contra infamy, to Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and pretend socialist Bernie Sanders—almost daily take to the airwaves, with the world’s corporate media cheering in lock step, insisting that “all options are open,” including overt war via direct U.S. military intervention.
Sanders demanded that Venezuela open its borders to “humanitarian aid,” while DSA Democrat Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez waffled on the issue.
There are only two sides in the present conflict, period. One either supports the victory of the Maduro government over the U.S. onslaught, or one sides with the imperialist aggressors. There is no third option! And since the imperial U.S. war machine serves the same wealthy 1% that is responsible for cutbacks, austerity, exploitation, repression, and devastation in the U.S., the effects of a defeat of the Venezuelan people would be keenly felt by all working people here at home. This is why we must mobilize to demand:
• U.S. Out Now!
• End the Sanctions!
• Hands Off Venezuela!
President Trump’s most determined thrust toward war was set for Saturday, Feb. 23, at the Colombian border town of Cúcuta and at a manufacturing site at the Brazilian border, where U.S.-financed and orchestrated “humanitarian aid” conveys attempted to force their way into Venezuela, without success. The move was thwarted by Bolivarian National Guard forces and thousands of Venezuelan workers, peasants, and youth who blockaded the various bridges leading into their country.
The planned imperialist intervention was designed to serve as spectacular media opportunity depicting “murderous” Maduro forces turning back unarmed “humanitarian aid” trucks filled with food and medical supplies bound for the “starving people” of Venezuela.
Center stage in this crudely-orchestrated scenario was assigned to the U.S. and CIA-appointed puppet “president” Juan Guaidó, who slipped into Colombia to lead what was touted as a massive rebellion against the Venezuelan government. The high point of the event was projected to be mass desertions from the Bolivarian Armed Forces and Guaidó’s return to Venezuela, via a U.S. escort to be sure, as the nation’s new president. A vivid eyewitness account was presented by the weekly Latin American Summary (Resumen LatinoAmericano) in a Feb. 23 on-the-scene article entitled, “Bolivarian Venezuela Scores Another Strategic Victory”:
“Suddenly, as they rolled across the bridge on the Colombian side, they [the “aid” trucks] were set on fire by a group of guarimberos [road blockers] who sprayed the vehicles with gasoline while they were being filmed and photographed by many reporters.
“But since the hegemonic media are the violent advance units of mass mind poisoning, they invented another matrix of lies by accusing Chavismo supporters of starting the fire. What’s more, they told us that it was the members of the Bolivarian National Guard, who were stationed far from the scene, who were to blame for this clumsy action. And this morning every major corporate news agency from the National Public Radio (NPR), New York Times, Washington Post, BBC, the Guardian on down were reporting this as the gospel.
“What they didn’t say is that the thugs ‘hired’ by the opposition addicted to Guaidó and protected by the Colombian police (there are videos on the internet as evidence) became irate because things didn’t go well and they didn’t get paid their agreed upon fees. That’s why a hooded mob gave the ‘contractors’ a good beating. This also happened to Guaidó supporter Congressman José Antonio Olivares, who was hit in the face and head by a group shouting, ‘thieves, pay what you promised.’”
In a Feb. 27 address to the UN Security Council, Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza claimed that some of the “aid” trucks sent to Colombia’s border with his country were found to contain nails and wire—which could be used in constructing barricades. He produced photographs to back up his assertions.
Antiwar activists may remember how in the 1980s President Ronald Reagan’s Deputy National Security Adviser, Elliot Abrams, and his CIA cohorts used planes with fake Red Cross markings to send arms to the Contras, who were fighting to overthrow the popular government in Nicaragua, violating U.S. and international law in the process.
In the end, Guaidó, who now calls for direct U.S. military intervention, was compelled to admit that his “humanitarian aid” gambit was a failure, as was his boast that 600,000 Venezuelans would mobilize in Caracas to demand the government’s resignation. The small groups that did take to the streets in Caracas threw rocks at government soldiers. Guaidó’s claim that some 400 Venezuelan soldiers had deserted to his side was left unsubstantiated; the Venezuelan government put the figure at 20.
U.S. economic warfare
While Guaidó’s hoped-for triumphant re-entry into Venezuela as the nation’s savior proved to be farce, the real war waged by the U.S. against Venezuela remains deadly serious. The sanctions and related economic measures imposed by the U.S. against oil-rich Venezuela have been draconian, if not unprecedented. These include instructions to all U.S. banking institutions to seize hundreds of billions of dollars in Venezuelan accounts and transfer the funds into accounts payable to puppet president Guaidó.
The details of this have been well documented. Here it is sufficient to report that the full force of the U.S. leading capitalist banking elites, from the Bank of America to the J.P. Morgan Chase financial behemoths, have joined in stealing funds generated from the sale of Venezuelan oil in the U.S. and around the world. Add to this the U.S.-pressured decision of the British ruling class to sequester Venezuelan gold deposited in British banks to the tune of $1.3 billion, and the severing of Venezuelan access to the world’s lending institutions, and you have nothing less than a U.S.-led war against the Venezuelan people.
Indeed, a U.S. Army document published in September 2008 by Wikileaks demonstrates that the U.S. government sees economic aggression as a key component of its warfare strategy.
On Feb. 25, Vice President Pence demanded that all Latin American countries “freeze the assets of Venezuela’s state oil company, PDVSA.” Pence, according to the Feb. 25 New York Times, “also warned some countries in the region that have conspicuously sought to remain neutral in the crisis convulsing Venezuela that they cannot remain so, singling out Mexico and Uruguay.” The endlessly pontificating and threatening Pence declared, “We believe there can be no bystanders. No one on the sidelines of this, particularly in our hemisphere.”
Despite Guaidó’s abject failure at the border, the U.S. persists in demanding that its allies accept Venezuela’s being effectively expelled from the world economy. Insisting on the present legitimacy of the historic U.S. imperial credo embodied in the Monroe Doctrine of 1823, Trump’s partisan warmakers proclaim that Venezuela is today situated in the U.S. “backyard” and, therefore, barred from exercising its sovereign rights as a nation.
In the same breath, they assert that Venezuela’s dire economic straits, including major food and medical shortages and a raging inflation, are of Venezuela’s own making! “The nation with the largest oil reserves in the world,” according to the cynical imperialist interveners, “can’t feed its own people.” Nothing could be further from the truth!
Pence announced that U.S. military planes were consciously violating Venezuelan airspace to find future “humanitarian aid” access routes into Venezuela from Brazil and Colombia.
“There is no turning back,” Pence insisted, declaring that, as in Libya, where U.S./NATO and allied forces from Qatar and other Gulf State monarchies destroyed the infrastructure of that nation and murdered thousands, including its president Muammar Gadhafi, the U.S. was seeking to construct yet another “coalition of the willing” to do its bidding.
With the world’s largest oil reserves, Venezuela makes a prime target for U.S. profit-hungry corporate titans. However, there’s another dimension to the current aggression. U.S. oligarchs, who represent a tiny portion of the population but wield the lion’s share of political and economic power, cannot abide any group stepping out of line, be it at home or abroad. Though they pretend to support democracy, in truth, democratic rule by the majority is to the ruling rich like a cross to a vampire. They will never give up their power and privileges voluntarily, regardless of the wishes of the other 99% of the population.
The current attack on Venezuela demonstrates what happens when a majority democratically decides to defy the dictatorship of the wealthy 1%: at such a time, those at the top shed their democratic masks and strike out with vicious, deadly force. While mobilizing today to defend Venezuela’s democratic right to self-determination, working people in the U.S. would do well to remember this lesson of who really supports democracy and who really promotes violence.
The U.S. is no newcomer to engineering coups in Venezuela. Its 2002 effort, backed to the hilt by the Bush administration, lasted for 48 hours and included the arrest of President Hugo Chavez by a core team of U.S.-paid generals. In the intervening hours before massive mobilizations forced Chavez’s release, the coup makers passed 49 decrees abolishing the government’s progressive social measures while privatizing Venezuela’s oil industry, all in the name of returning the country to economic and social stability.
Similarly, the U.S.-engineered 1973 coup against the popular Salvador Allende government in Chile put the rightist General Augusto Pinochet in power. Capitalist stability was restored by Pinochet’s slaughter of 60,000 Chilean workers herded into a sports arena or otherwise murdered out of public view. The string of U.S.-backed coups in the region also includes Haiti in 1991 and 2004 and Honduras in 2009.
Cuba calls for worldwide mobilizations
Anticipating the possibility of another such regime-change slaughter, the Cuban newspaper Granma published a government statement entitled, “It is imperative to halt the imperialist military adventure against Venezuela.” Cuba’s revolutionary government called for massive worldwide mobilizations in support of Venezuela’s sovereignty.
On Feb. 23, the “humanitarian aid” invasion date set by Trump and Co., an estimated 150 antiwar protests, mostly in the U.S., demanded, “U.S. Hands Off Venezuela!” and “No to a U.S. Coup!” The Oakland, Calif., demonstration of 200 activists, initiated by a broad range of antiwar and social justice forces, including the United National Antiwar Coalition (UNAC), won the unanimous endorsement of the delegates to the San Francisco Central Labor Council, AFL-CIO.
To the consternation of U.S. officials, Cuba, as well as Iran, Russia, and China—all sanctioned or threatened with severe economic measures by the U.S.—joined forces to deliver tons of food and medical supplies to beleaguered Venezuela. Russian and Chinese agreements to expand purchases of Venezuelan oil are justly seen by the Maduro government as vital and widely viewed, regardless of motivation, as mutually beneficial.
Estimates of the cost of the U.S. economic war against Venezuela exceed $7 billion this year and is expected to rise to $30 billion in the years ahead.
No doubt the solidarity of revolutionary Cuba, itself invaded (in 1962), embargoed, and blockaded by the imperialist beast for nearly 60 years, is widely seen among Latin America’s working masses as an example of socialist politics in action. It was revolutionary Cuba that, along with Venezuela in 2005, when Hurricane Katrina had devastated much of New Orleans, offered to send serious humanitarian aid to the people of that city, including vast numbers of doctors and medical supplies. U.S. officials rejected this “no strings attached” offer.
In contrast, today, the strings attached to the phony U.S. “humanitarian aid” include a military invasion, conquest of Venezuela, and its return to colonial status. Demonstrating his extreme imperial arrogance, Trump bragged that Cuba and Nicaragua were next in line for colonial conquest.
Venezuela’s foreign minister, Jorge Arreaza, while stating that the events of Feb. 23 demonstrated that “the momentum of the coup is over,” took great care to make clear that Venezuela was incapable of resisting a full U.S. invasion. Venezuela’s sole defense, he stated, was in the expected solidarity of the Latin American people, a factor that he obviously held high in cautioning that a U.S. invasion would extract a great political price across the continent. Arreza added that should a U.S. invasion become a reality, the Venezuelan people would defend their country with their lives.
Socialist vs. “pink” revolutions?
Venezuela’s “pink revolution”—as with all of Latin America’s recent experience with the political rule of social-democratic, reformist, or left nationalist governments that promised to improve the lives of the working masses without fundamentally challenging their nation’s capitalist and private property foundation—has proved to be inadequate to the task.
John Pilger’s Feb. 22, 2019, Counterpunch article entitled “The war on Venezuela is built on lies” makes this absolutely clear. Pilger, a longtime admirer and friend of former Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and a sympathetic, anti-imperialist friend of Venezuela, explains in great detail what has been widely viewed as Venezuela’s democratic electoral process and its significant social achievements.
But Pilger’s balance sheet includes this painfully accurate yet contradictory statement: “For all the Chavistas’ faults—such as allowing the Venezuelan economy to become hostage to the fortunes of oil and never seriously challenging big capital and corruption—they brought social justice and pride to millions of people and they did it with unprecedented democracy.”
The iron laws of capitalism, whether in the U.S. or anywhere else in the world, repeatedly demonstrate that advancing the interests of the vast majority is inherently incompatible with defending the prerogatives of the minority ruling-class capitalist elite. Venezuela is a classic case in point. The Chavez/Maduro governments, as Pilger painfully notes, “never seriously challenged big capital,” that is, the overwhelming ownership and control by the “1 %” of Venezuela’s major industries—including its oil, partial “nationalizations” notwithstanding—its land, banking, and related financial institutions, basic resources, systems of transportation, shipping, etc.
Venezuela’s land largely remains the private property of big landowners. Its oil resource, vast as it is, remains dependent on imperialist ownership and control of the necessary infrastructure—refineries, pipelines, transport, etc.—to bring it from the ground to the market place. Indeed, Venezuela’s thick oil is largely incapable of passing through its pipelines without the importation and utilization of refined U.S. oil products to sufficiently dilute Venezuela’s crude.
In short, the Chavez/Maduro project of “coexisting” with capitalism left it incapable of developing a rounded economy capable of producing its own food—Venezuela imports almost all of its food—and instituting a semblance of planned and balanced economic growth aimed as satisfying human needs as opposed to capitalist profits. Today, 70 percent of Venezuela’s economy remains in capitalist hands, not to mention some 70 to 90 percent of its media.
Rhetoric aside, Venezuela is no socialist economy. The rhythms of its economic, and therefore social development, are contingent on the exigencies of the world capitalist market. When world oil prices, always manipulated by the U.S. and a few of the most powerful oil producers, plummeted from over $110 per barrel to less than $40 over the past decade, Venezuela’s economy suffered greatly and become increasingly subject to imperialism’s ever-deepening destabilization measures.
The Chavez government’s conscious decision to avoid any fundamental break with capitalism left it unprotected, as was the case with similar reform-minded governments in Brazil (Lula), Ecuador (Correa), Nicaragua (Ortega), and all the others. The Chavistas sought to coexist with the “boli-bourgeoisie” (Venezuelan capitalists) who occupied essential parts of the government infrastructure and were included in Venezuela’s United Socialist Party. Capitalism and government corruption are inseparable. In a true socialist society, real power resides in the democratic ownership, operation, and control of society’s wealth and resources by the working-class majority.
In contrast to Venezuela’s reform-minded but capitalist-committed Chavistas, Cuba’s socialist revolution of 1959 proceeded to rapidly, in Fidel’s words, “nationalize the capitalist class down to the nails in the heels of their boots.” It quickly established a planned economy based on meeting human needs, not capitalist profits; it distributed the land to the long-oppressed and exploited peasantry; and it armed its population to defend all of those gains. In consequence, Cuba’s proud revolutionary achievements remain largely intact and a shining example to oppressed people everywhere, despite more than a half-century of U.S. imperialist efforts to restore it to its former neo-colonial status.
The way forward for Venezuela
Venezuela today stands at the threshold of social change. It can take the Cuban route and move toward a fundamental break with capitalist domination or it can continue on the dead-end path of “peaceful” co-existence with an imperialist-backed internal capitalist elite. The latter course, as history has repeatedly demonstrated, is a sure road to disaster.
Genuine socialist revolution, established via direct and democratic rule of the working-class majority, requires the formation of a deeply-rooted mass revolutionary socialist working-class-based party with a program and cadre that have absorbed the lessons of history and are prepared to challenge capitalist/imperialist rule fundamentally. While such a party does not exist in Venezuela today, the conditions for its formation, given the deep radicalization brought on by the immediate threat of a U.S. invasion and the experience of millions with the failures of previous reformist projects, are propitious.
In the current context, the best defense is a good offence. There is nothing the Venezuelan government can do to placate the rapacious capitalists in the U.S. or within Venezuela. Appeasement will not work. Power must be met with power. And the only source of power within Venezuela that can match the imperial behemoth at the gates is an emboldened, organized, mobilized working class headed by a mass revolutionary socialist party.
A defeat for working people in Venezuela at the hands of the U.S. ruling rich would be a setback for working people the world over. The social forces attacking Venezuela are the same as those blocking efforts to seriously address climate change; the same as those promoting mass incarceration, racism, sexism, deportations, homophobia, and economic inequality; the same as those attacking unions and pushing austerity; the same as those advocating endless war. U.S. Hands Off Venezuela!