At his presidential inauguration in 2014, Nicolás Maduro observed that he is the first worker president in the history of Venezuela, and that he is the first president who is Chavist, that is, an activist in the Bolivarian Revolution led by Hugo Chávez. Maduro is a former bus driver who received his formation in political, historical and ethical consciousness through union leadership. During the neoliberal era, he was a candidate of the old Socialist Party for president. He later became a leading member of the Bolivarian Fifth Republic Movement of Chávez. He was minister for foreign affairs of the Chávez government, and he attained a level of international recognition for his elegant discourses in defense of the Bolivarian Revolution in various international fora. When Chávez became ill with cancer, he called upon the Bolivarian Movement to name Maduro as his successor, a request made, he said, “from my heart.” Initially serving as interim president, Maduro was elected president for a full term in 2013, in accordance with the 1998 Constitution.
The Maduro presidency has been characterized by an escalation of the strategies of the Right to destabilize the government of Venezuela, seeking to take advantage of the death of Chávez. In February 2014, fascist gangs were organized to attack citizens and property, and the international media falsely presented the violent groups as peaceful student protestors. There were calls for US intervention. But Maduro weathered the storm. The government arrested and prosecuted, in accordance with the law and the constitution, thirteen persons. And it proposed dialogue with the moderate opposition, with the promise of attending to any legitimate demand or grievance. Thus, the government was able to prevail in the first stage of the conflict by isolating the violent extreme Right.
The Venezuelan economy, however, is overly dependent on oil income, and it imports many necessities, such as food and medicine. The government of Chávez gave emphasis to taking control of the oil industry, channeling oil revenues to social missions, and developing a foreign policy of cooperation and unity with Latin America and the Caribbean, offering favorable terms of oil purchases as a dimension of the policy. The diversification of the economy and increasing national production were long-term goals, but they have not yet been achieved, and the national economy remains overly dependent on oil and on the importation of necessary goods.
In 2014, there was a sharp decline in oil prices. Seeking to take advantage of this situation to promote destabilization, Venezuelan import-export companies, which form an important part of the opposition, ceased with their importation and sale of necessary goods, thus producing shortages and inflation. In addition to this economic war, violent gangs were organized. The international news media began to portray Venezuela as a country in crisis and civil disorder.
Most people think in concrete terms about the problems they confront, and not with a political, economic, and historical perspective. When problems like shortages and high prices occur, most people blame the government, and they do not necessary have a clear understanding of the sources of the problem. In the case of Venezuela, the opposition created a problematic situation for the people through its economic war, and then it sought to take advantage of this situation, blaming the government for it. Many people did not have sufficient political consciousness to reject the opportunistic opposition for its treasonous behavior in defense of its particular interests and in defense of foreign interests.
The experience of revolutions teaches us that a popular revolution can attain the active and committed support of twenty-five to forty percent of the people. There will emerge an opposition of ten to fifteen percent, composed of those economic sectors with a particular economic interest in the preservation of the old order, a consequence of its privileges in the neocolonial world-system; and of middle class or urban individuals who are confused by the ideological distortions of the mass media, controlled by the corporations. Thus, there are approximately fifty percent of the people that are neither with the revolution nor with the opposition in a committed form. Their lack of commitment has the consequence that they have a less developed understanding of the national and global political and economic issues. For the most part, they support the revolution, as long as things are going relatively well, and they are not called upon to make sacrifices. But the revolution can temporarily lose the support of the “ninis” (neither for nor against the revolution) under particular conditions.
The economic war of 2014 and 2015 in Venezuela had the consequence that the Bolivarian Revolution lost the support of the “ninis” in the parliamentary elections of December 2015. Political parties of the opposition had formed a coalition, the Table for Democratic Unity (MUD for its initials in Spanish). With MUD parliamentary candidates speaking in vague terms in favor of change, the opposition coalition took a majority of the seats, although the party of Chávez remains the largest single political party.
But MUD did not arrive to a parliamentary majority with a political platform. It envisions a return to the neoliberal past, a vision not expressed to the people in the parliamentary campaigns. The more that MUD proposes or implements neoliberal policies, the more it risks popular rejection. So the strategy of the parliamentary opposition has been to seek to remove Maduro from office prior to the completion of his term, and to destabilize the constitutional process, possibly ensuring its control of the government in a post-Chávez era through US military intervention.
In the face of this situation, the government of Maduro has called for respect for the constitutional process, maintaining that the parliamentary majority ought to recognize the constitutional limits of its authority and respect the authority of the executive and judicial branches and the counsel on elections. In response to the economic war, the government has attempted to supply necessary goods at lower prices in state stores, but the process is complicated by the phenomenon of opportunistic individuals purchasing goods and reselling at higher prices. In addition, the government has intensified and expanded its efforts in the diversification of the economy, the expansion of national production, and the further development of popular councils.
It is to be expected that the unfolding global popular revolution will have its setbacks. The forces opposed to its agenda are powerful, inasmuch as they include the governments of the most powerful nations as well as the largest international corporations, which control the international media of communication; and they include those sectors of the national bourgeoisie connected to international capital. Moreover, the transformation of the established structures of the world-system, which promote the underdevelopment of the majority, confronts many obstacles. We must constantly keep in mind two fundamental facts. First, those who oppose the popular revolution have no viable alternative proposal. They can only imagine the continued implementation of neoliberal economic policies and the unleashing of neo-fascist wars. They point the road toward the certain continuing spiral of decline into chaos and violence and the possible extinction of humanity. Secondly, the achievements of the Third World popular revolutions for national and social liberation are remarkable. They have accomplished fundamental structural transformation of some nations, and they have formulated a consensual Third World proposal for a more just, democratic and sustainable world-system, pointing to an alternative road for humanity.
The road of social transformation has its setbacks, but humanity is on that road, led with wisdom, dignity and courage by the formerly colonized peoples of the earth. We the peoples of the North must find the wisdom and the courage to discern the unfolding human drama and to stand committed with the political and moral alternative emerging from below.
Key words: Venezuela, Maduro, opposition, economic war, Bolivarian Revolution