“When there is a government that is not in the interests of the circles of imperial power and their allies, it will be attacked.”— Cuban Ministry of Foreign Relations, April 27, 2017
The conflict over Venezuela has deep historic roots. The modern world-system is built on a foundation of colonial domination. Seven European nations conquered the empires, nations, and peoples of vast regions of the planet from the sixteenth through the twentieth centuries, converting the conquered into suppliers of cheap raw materials on a base of forced labor, thus enabling the economic development of the conquering nations and their immediate neighbors. During the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the colonized formed anti-colonial movements, obligating the colonial powers to concede political independence. However, colonial economic structures were preserved following independence, and various imperialist forms of penetration and intervention were developed. As a result, the former colonies did not have true independence, which gave rise to popular anti-imperialist movements throughout the former colonies. These movements condemned not only the imperialist powers, but also the national politicians, political parties, and governments that accommodated imperialist interests for personal gain.
In this global scenario defined by neocolonial structures and imperialist policies, any nation that has been able to mobilize its political and economic resources toward an autonomous road has been branded an outlaw nation by the global powers. The governments, corporations, and civil organizations of the powerful have sought to destroy the governments and political leaders that possess the audacity and the capacity to lead their peoples and nations toward a destiny different from that assigned to them by the global powers. They have used all methods, including aggressive and barbarous military attacks, support for brutal dictatorships, economic sanctions, and the dissemination of half-truths and lies. Examples of nations seeking autonomous economic and political development that have been branded and punished are legendary. They include the People’s Republic of China, Vietnam, (North) Korea, Nasser’s Egypt, Cuba, Tanzania in the time of Nyerere, Chile in the age of Allende, the first stage of the Sandinista Revolution in power in Nicaragua, the government of al-Qaddafi in Libya, and the Islamic Republic of Iran. In Latin America today, the targeted nations are Venezuela, Cuba, Nicaragua, and Bolivia.
Economic interests shape political thought and behavior in the colonies and neocolonies, as occurs everywhere. Accordingly, two tendencies emerge, namely, accommodation and revolution. Those who accommodate to imperialist interests are tied to sectors that economically benefit from the colonial/neocolonial economic relation. Such sectors include the landed estates and mines that export raw materials as well as import/export commerce with the metropolis. Some accommodationists are well grounded in the ideological orientation of the North by virtue of education and employment. In the great majority of cases, in the transition from colonialism to neocolonialism, the accommodationists are installed in political power by the withdrawing colonial power.
However, the majority of the people in the neocolonies, including peasants, workers, and professionals, do not have an interest in accommodation to neocolonial domination. They have an interest in the economic and social development of the nation, on a base of diversity of production and commerce, including scientific and technological development. They have an interest in the structural transformation of neocolonial economic structures, such that autonomous and nationally directed economic development can occur. They have an interest in the true sovereignty of the nation. They have an interest in the taking of political power from the accommodationists, such that the state can act to promote the economic development of the nation and to defend the social and economic rights of the people.
Domination and exploitation nearly always are based on force, but they are never carried out by brute force alone. The global conflict between colonialist North and neocolonized South includes a battle of ideas, as the imperialist powers justify their interventions with ideological distortions that they present to their own peoples and that they disseminate throughout the world. They speak of communism, terrorism, human rights, and humanitarian intervention. With these ideological maneuvers, the imperialist nations and imperialist policymakers present themselves as defenders of democracy and civilization as they inflict great damage on the peoples of the world as well as on their own young men and women who are sent to carry out morally questionable missions in hostile areas.
Such are the fundamental dynamics of the world. A world-system founded on colonialism, constituting a neocolonial world-system that ensures the flow of raw materials, lowed-waged manufactured goods, and capital from the neocolonies to the metropolitan centers. Indirect political control by the core powers, with the support of accommodationist actors. Anti-imperialist social movements throughout the neocolonies, with the taking of political power by the movements in some cases, branded as outlaw nations and attacked. The dissemination of ideological distortions, designed to discredit the recalcitrant nations and their leaders and to justify economic and military actions against them. If our frame of reference is not shaped by colonial consciousness, that is, by consciousness of these fundamental historical and global dynamics of the last five centuries, we are not going to be able to understand very much about the world today, and we will be more easily taken in by the ideological distortions.
Colonial consciousness helps us to understand the conflict concerning Venezuela today. The Venezuelan twentieth century popular anti-imperialist movement above all was oriented to attaining national control of the oil industry. The movement was not able to attain control, in spite of the nationalization of the industry in 1976, because Venezuelan managers accommodated to the economic interests of international oil capital. Following the implementation of neoliberal policies, which began in 1989 in the case of Venezuela, foreign penetration of the economy intensified, and foreign political influence increased. In 1992, Hugo Chávez led a group of military officers in a failed coup d’état, proclaiming the need for a constitutional assembly. Released from prison in 1994, Chávez formed the Bolivarian Fifth Republic Movement. He was democratically elected president in 1998, on the basis of a campaign calling for an alternative constitutional foundation and charging that the national elite was “kneeling undignified before the imperial power.” When Chávez assumed the presidency in 1999, he convoked a Constitutional Assembly, the delegates of which were elected by the people in free, direct, and universal elections. The Constitutional Assembly approved a new Constitution that established the Fifth Republic. Chávez was elected president for two consecutive terms under the mandates of the Constitution, winning in free elections by strong majorities, before dying of cancer in 2013 prior to the completion of his second term. (See various posts in the category Venezuela).
The presidency of Hugo Chávez had three basic dimensions. First, the taking of effective control of the oil industry, by appointing managers of the state petroleum company who were committed to Venezuelan national development and not the interests of international capital. In addition, Chávez visited leaders of OPEC countries, forging new agreements with respect to limits on oil production, thus generating higher prices and more government income. Secondly, the redistribution of income, through the channeling new oil revenues toward programs that responded to the needs of persons of modest income, including programs that reduced illiteracy and expanded educational opportunity and health care. Thirdly, a foreign policy that sought Latin American unity and integration, seeking to develop alternative structures to those of the neocolonial world-system. Accordingly, Chávez and Fidel founded in 2004 the Bolivarian Alternative for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA), an association of Latin American and Caribbean states dedicated to integration, unity, and mutually beneficial commerce and cooperation. ALBA was the foundation for other regional anti-imperialist initiatives, such as the South American Union of Nations (UNASUR, founded in 2008) and the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC, founded in 2010), in which Venezuela was one of the leading actors (see various posts in the category Latin American unity) .
As a popular revolutionary project that seeks to attain the true sovereignty of the nation and to develop its own endogenous project of national development, the Chavist Bolivarian Revolution is a threat to the neocolonial world-system. The U.S. government has sought to undermine the Chávez government through the support of those sectors in Venezuela that have economic interests opposed to the goals of the revolutionary project, sectors that benefit from the neocolonial world order. These sectors initially included: the technocratic elite that managed the petroleum industry prior to 1998; the business elite, owners of import-export companies; leaders of the union of petroleum workers, who were in a privileged position relative to the majority of workers; the landed estate bourgeoisie, historic beneficiaries of the core-peripheral relation; and the traditional political parties, junior partners in the imposition of neocolonial structures and in the implementation of neoliberal policies. The opposition sectors control the private media of communication, and they can count on international financial support and the active engagement of the US embassy.
During the period of the Chávez presidency from 1998 to 2013, the opposition generated much conflict, but the Chavist forces prevailed. However, with the death of Chávez in 2013, the opposition escalated its tactics, seeking to destabilize the government of Nicolás Maduro. 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 by responding with political intelligence. He convoked peaceful demonstrations by supporters of the Bolivarian revolution; he announced the organization of popular vigilance in centers of work and study and in neighborhoods; and he called for dialogue with the moderate opposition, seeking to isolate the extreme right.
But more challenges lay ahead. Beginning in the summer of 2014, oil prices began a sustained and sharp fall, which significantly affected the Venezuelan economy, inasmuch as petroleum accounts for ninety percent of national income from foreign trade. In addition, China adopted a model of slower economic growth, which reduced the prices of metals and soybean exported by Venezuela to her trading partners in Latin America. Moreover, the value of the U.S. dollar increased, resulted in higher costs for imported goods in Venezuela. These dynamics made evident the limits of the strategy of using oil revenue to redistribute income. Further progress must be made in practice with respect to the Revolution’s goal of increasing and diversifying national production.
An economic war, which had been waged by the opposition against the governments of both Chávez and Maduro, intensified and had greater effect in the context of the economic difficulties of 2014-2015. Inasmuch as Venezuela imports more goods that it consumes, the country is dependent on the importing companies. When these companies, with foreign financial support, reduce the availability of food, medicine and consumer goods by hording goods in warehouses and reducing imports, the result is critical shortages, price speculation, and price increases. The withholding of food and medicine as a political weapon violates international law, and in the case of Venezuela, it has been conducted by importers and big merchants against the people of their own nation.
The difficulties from the economic war, in conjunction with a constant anti-government campaign by the corporate owned media, gave rise to a lack of satisfaction with the government by the people. As a result of the growing popular dissatisfaction, a coalition of opposition parties won the parliamentary elections of December 6, 2015, attaining nearly a two-thirds majority.
The opposition parliamentary victory of 2015 makes evident the need for the improvement and further development of popular assemblies, where the people are able to discuss their concrete problems with their co-workers and neighborhoods. In such a setting, informed revolutionaries are able to explain the sources of the shortages and price increases, making clear the culpability of the opposition, and not the revolutionary government. The Bolivarian revolution has had a commitment to develop popular assemblies, but it needs to develop them further.
However, the limitations of the opposition parliamentary victory also should be understood. The Chavists continued to control other governmental powers, namely, the executive and judicial branches as well as the military forces. In addition, the Constitution of 1999 was a creation of the Bolivarian revolution, and it supports revolutionary goals. Moreover, the opposition has no viable program to offer. In reality, the opposition favors a neoliberal dismantling of the structures established by the Bolivarian Revolution, but it did not campaign on such a program, and if now announced, such a platform would not have popular support.
Therefore, the opposition in early 2016 found itself in control of one of four governmental branches, with an unannounced agenda that, if clearly proclaimed, would not have popular support. Moreover, the opposition was divided between a moderate and extreme opposition. The moderates were prepared to work within the structures of the Constitution to promote their political objectives, even though this would likely imply merely partial and limited political power. In contrast, the extreme opposition, recognizing the obstacles to obtaining sufficient popular support for a neoliberal restauration through constitutional means, sought to foster political destabilization and to create an international image of chaos, which would provide a pretext for a foreign military intervention that would create the opportunity for the taking of full political control by Venezuelan actors committed to neoliberalism.
In the opposition-controlled parliament, the extremists gained the political upper hand over the moderates. The extremists immediately demonstrated their contempt for the other constitutional powers. They projected that the constitutionally elected president would be removed from power within three months. They called for popular demonstrations against the government, and they organized violent gangs that burned public buildings, looted commercial establishments, and attacked supports of the Bolivarian Revolution. Rather than formulating a proposal for an alternative direction for the nation, their focus was on the fomenting of political instability. The international media supported their agenda, falsely portraying the violence as repression by the government of peaceful demonstrators.
In 2016, the opposition-controlled parliament came into conflict with the Venezuelan Supreme Court over the seating of three parliamentary deputies. Much was at stake here, because the three additional seats would have given the opposition a two-thirds majority, enabling it to adopt measures without presidential approval. However, the Supreme Court ruled that the three deputies should not be seated, as a result of irregularities in the voting in their districts. The Parliament defied the Court, and administered the oath of office to the three deputies, thus ignoring the constitutional authority of the Supreme Court. In response, the Court ruled the National Assembly to be in contempt of court.
The Constitution mandates that, if the National Assembly is found in contempt of court, a Constitutional Assembly should assume the functions of the National Assembly, until the National Assembly obeys the decision of the Court. Accordingly, taking into account the continuing violence of the opposition and the ongoing stalemate between the National Assembly and the Supreme Court, in June 2017 Maduro convoked a Constitutional Assembly. Some 545 delegates to the Constitutional Assembly were elected in a universal, secret, and direct election held on June 30, 2017. The majority of the elected delegates were Chavists, a result that was influenced by the fact that a good part of the opposition was oriented to disruption rather than to the nomination of candidates, and by popular disgust with the conduct of the opposition since its parliamentary victory of December 2015.
Reflecting growing popular rejection of the opposition for its irresponsible conduct, Chavist candidates won the regional elections of October 2017. The Chavist party, United Socialist Party of Venezuela, won 18 state governorships; whereas two opposition parties, Democratic Action and Justice First, won five. Chavist candidates received 54% of the total votes cast. Voter participation was 61%, the highest in the nation’s history for regional elections.
In response to the violence and the attempts at promoting political instability, Maduro was continually calling for dialogue with respect to any issues of substance. Accordingly, an encounter between the government and the opposition was held in the Dominican Republic, in which it was agreed that the presidential elections scheduled for the end of 2018 would be moved up to May of that year. The Constitutional National Assembly emitted a decree to the effect, and elections conducted by National Electoral Council were held on May 20, 2018.
Maduro won the May 2018 presidential elections with 5,823,728 votes (67.7%). Henri Falcón of Progressive Advance was second with 21.1%. Two other candidates had lower percentages. The elections were recognized as free and fair by the opposition candidates and by international observers. The voter participation was lower than in previous elections in the Chavist era, for two reasons. First, the switch of voters from the opposition to the “ni-ni” category (neither for nor against the Chavists), as a result of the irresponsible conduct of the parliamentary majority. Secondly, some opposition leaders, recognizing that they could not win and more oriented to destabilization, called for a boycott of the elections. Nevertheless, Maduro’s absolute vote was roughly the same as in previous elections that the Chavists won, but now the vote represented a higher percentage of the votes cast. Moreover, Maduro’s vote as a percentage of eligible voters was higher than that of the winning candidates in recent presidential elections in other nations, including Brazil, Argentina, and the United States.
In fact, the Venezuelan electoral system in the Chavist era is recognized as one of the best in the world, with transparency and high voter participation. It has been so characterized by former President Jimmy Carter. In last 20 years, 25 elections have been held; and Chavists have won 23 of them.
But the United States stands against Venezuela. In 2015, the Obama administration declared that Venezuela is a threat to the national security of the United States. In August 2017, the Trump administration ordered economic and financial sanctions against Venezuela, with the intention of deepening the economic problems caused by the fall in oil prices, stimulating an economic collapse. The United States has endeavored to use the Organization of American States, its historic diplomatic arm for controlling Latin America, in its attack on Venezuela. The OAS attack is directed by Luis Almagro, Secretary General of the OAS, with the coordination of the Southern Command of the U.S. military. Amargo convoked a session of OAS on March 28, 2017, but he was unable to obtain the approval of OAS members for the expulsion of Venezuela from OAS (as was done with respect to Cuba in 1961) or any other action against Venezuela. On January 11, 2019, a U.S.-supported resolution not recognizing the legitimacy of the Maduro government and urging countries to take punitive measures against Venezuela was presented at an extraordinary session of the Permanent Council of OAS; however, it did not obtain the necessary votes from the member nations.
U.S. policy toward Venezuela has nothing to do with democratic elections or constitutional procedures. From the U.S. point of view, the problem with Venezuela is that it is an oil rich country that does not submit to its mandates. And even worse, it is a country that has played a leading role in forging a unified movement toward autonomous economic development and genuine political independence among nations located in what used to be the U.S. “backyard.” The USA is supporting an economic and media war against Venezuela with the intention of promoting political instability and an international image of chaos, in order to justify a military intervention, dressed up as humanitarian aid.
U.S. policy in Venezuela is consistent with its general policy with respect to Latin America, which involves efforts to destabilize governments in the vanguard of change, operating through opposition political sectors that have an economic stake in the neocolonial world order. Today, the attack is directed against of Venezuela, Bolivia, and Nicaragua. It was directed against Ecuador and the citizen revolution led by Rafael Correa, before that revolution was hijacked by a Trojan Horse. Meanwhile, in accordance with the same imperialist objectives, the economic, commercial, and financial blockade of Cuba continues.
As the Bolivarian revolution in Venezuela struggles to move forward in the face of the interferences and the threat of military intervention by the imperial power, it must in the long term strengthen itself through the diversification of the economy; the strengthening of popular assemblies and alternative structures of popular power; and the further development in practice of South-South commerce. Nicolás Maduro, the constitutionally elected and legitimate President of Venezuela, is working hard on these objectives.
Perhaps the United States will ultimately decide not to take the option of military intervention, taking into account the risks, including armed resistance in the occupied nation, opposition by numerous governments and international organizations, and widespread popular rejection in the world and in the United States itself. However, taking into account the declining capacity of the United States to apply economic forms of inducement and coercion, as well as the growing political resistance of the neocolonized to U.S. demands, the peoples and nations of the world must be prepared for the increasingly likely possibility that the United States will return to its earlier forms of imperialism. That is, we must prepare ourselves for the sad phenomenon of the declining hegemonic power increasingly turning to military interventions and propping-up military dictatorships in defense of its economic interests.