Imperial attempts to undermine or overthrow the Bolivarian government have taken many forms, such as political and financial support for the most radical sectors of the opposition, backing for the April 2002 coup and attempts to isolate the country internationally. More recently, Barak Obama, just before leaving office renewed an executive order which declared that Venezuela was an “unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States”2 In a report submitted to the Committee of the Armed Forces of the United States Senate in April this year, Kurt W. Tidd, Chief of the Southern Command, said that:
“Venezuela faces significant instability in this next year due to widespread food and medicine shortages, political uncertainty and deteriorating economic conditions. The growing humanitarian crisis in Venezuela could eventually force a regional response.”
In August 2017, Donald Trump threatened Venezuela with a United States military intervention in the following terms:
“We have many options for Venezuela and by the way, I’m not going to rule out a military option…”
“We have many options for Venezuela, this is our neighbor… We’re all over the world and we have troops all over the world in places that are very very far away, Venezuela is not very far away and the people are suffering and dying. We have many options for Venezuela including a possible military option if necessary.”
A further step was taken in August 24 2017, when Donald Trump ordered a financial blockade of Venezuela. This wide range prohibition includes new public debt and bonds issued by the Venezuelan government, dividend payments or other distribution of profits to the Government of Venezuela from any entity owned or controlled, directly or indirectly, by the Government of Venezuela, as well as the purchase, directly or indirectly, by a United States person or a person within the United States, of Venezuelan Government securities.
In contrast with previous sanctions applied directly to high level government officials, this financial blockade is expected to have a serious impact on the whole of the population. In the current conditions of severe crisis that the country is going through, including a significant external sector deficit, the government has had tremendous difficulties in accessing international financial markets. As a consequences of the highest “country risk” in the Americas, it can only obtain new loans at very high interest rates. Today it lacks the resources to import the basic food and medicine required by the population. This blockade could lead to a country default and in any case will make access to external financing more restricted and expensive. The economic war that has been denounced by the Venezuelan government in the last few years has arrived with force.
The response of the Venezuelan government to this increased regional and international isolation has not been to seek to recover its legitimacy and increase democratic participation. On the contrary, it has opted for more state and party control,
International right wing parties, the main right wing global media (The Miami Herald, El Tiempo of Bogotá, El País in Madrid, CNN, Fox News, even supposedly liberal newspapers like the New York Times and the Washington Post or so-called responsible media like the BBC, as well as many governments in all of the Americas and the European Union have made the Venezuelan government world public enemy number one, at times competing with North Korea. They all claim to speak and act in the name of the defense of democracy in Venezuela threatened by an authoritarian government. The Venezuelan government has certainly taken a path that substantially distances it from the democratic constitution of 1999, but that in no way explains the hysteria of the so-called international community around Venezuela. Where were all these defenders of democracy when the Brazilian right wing overthrew the democratically elected government of Dilma Ruosseff? Why is there no outcry in this so called “international community” over the fact that in recent decades, according to the UN, more than 30 thousand people have disappeared in Mexico.2 How many headlines and sanctions are produced as a response to the systematic murderous war on drug users by the Rodrigo Duterte government in the Philippines? Why do the governments of the United States, the UK and Spain have such warm relations with the Saudi regime in spite of its totalitarian character and its genocidal attacks on the population of Yemen? Are massive and lucrative arms deals part of the explanation? The geopolitics of oil? Why don’t democratic concerns apply in the Arab World? Is Israeli apartheid compatible with democracy?
Venezuelan has become part of the new axis of evil (along with North Korea and Iran) for other reasons. The Bolivarian process was the most radical attempt to transcend capitalism in the XXI Century. This experience not only had a huge impact in the so-called turn to the left that occurred in most South American countries. The Venezuelan experience became a reference, a ray of hope, for people as far away as Palestine, India and the Philippines. Even though the current Venezuelan government has strayed from these imaginaries of profound societal transformation, in spite of its corruption and authoritarian tendencies, it is still seen by much of the left and many social movements worldwide as a subversive symbol or reference. From a global elites’ perspective, this needs to be exterminated. This has little to do with concerns about democracy. This self-proclaimed international community has been promoting regime change in Venezuela even if this might lead to a civil war. This has made an internal negotiation of the deep divisions in Venezuelan society less likely.
The “authoritarian threat” represented by the Maduro government has become a useful tool in the hands of Mariano Rajoy’s conservative government in Spain to attack Podemos, by the conservatives in the UK to put in doubt the democratic credentials of Jeremy Corbin, by Donald Trump to show his followers how tough he is and by the Mexican right in their attempt to describe Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who heads opinion polls for next year’s presidential election, as a radical leftist threat to the country.
Venezuela, with the largest reserves of hydrocarbons in the planet and extraordinary mineral and water resources, has become a central battleground for contemporary inter-imperial struggles. With the shift to the right and the geopolitical re-alignment with the United States of the governments of Argentina and Brazil, Venezuela became politically isolated. It remains as the main Latin American territory of the global geopolitical dispute between the United States defense of its backyard and China’s and Russia’s quest to turn the country into a bridgehead for its global projects in that continent.
Today for transnational corporations, the problem is not that a left wing or nationalist government limits their access to the country’s abundant energy and mineral wealth. The government has opened up the country for foreign investment in oil and minerals in extremely favorable conditions for these corporations, as has been the case in the Orinoco Oil Belt (Faja Petrolífera del Orinoco) and the Orinoco Mining Arch. Since this type of investment is not profitable in the short run, many foreign corporations are waiting to have more legal security in order to proceed with their announced investments. In spite of the fact that the Orinoco Mining Arch mega project has established extremely favorable conditions for foreign investors, several of these norms were approved by presidential decree and constitute a clear violation of the constitution and several environmental, indigenous and labor laws. These norms and the new contracts with global corporations have not been approved by the National Assembly as required by the constitution, so there is no guarantee that they will be recognized if there is a new government. According to many left wing critics, this is one of the main reasons why the Maduro government decided to convene a new Constituent Assembly: to provide the solid constitutional, legal framework and political stability required to attract these investments. A new law proposal for this very purpose has been introduced by Maduro a few days ago. This is not likely to be successful since, in the present conditions, the Constituent Assembly is not seen as legitimate by the majority of the Venezuelan population or by the “International Community”.
On the left side of things, international intellectuals, parties and social movements are not contributing to the creating the conditions for a non-violent way out of the present crisis. In the same Cold War framework that characterizes the dominant perspectives from the right, much of the international left continues to identify the Bolivarian process as a popular anti-imperialist struggle and tend to provide the Maduro government with unconditional solidarity. This in spite of the government’s ultra liberal policies of special economic zones to attract foreign investments; in spite of a deepening of the extractivist model that is the source of most of the country’s problems; in spite of its refusal to deal with its responsibility in climate change as a major oil producer; in spite of the fact that during the Bolivarian process there has been a consolidation of the country’s historical insertion in the capitalist colonial division of labor and nature; in spite of the fact that indigenous people continue to be severely impacted by neo-developmentalist policies in their ancestral territories; in spite of the increasingly anti-democratic, authoritarian and repressive tendencies that today characterize the Maduro government. This uncritical solidarity contributes to block the possibility of self-critical analysis of the problems of the Bolivarian process since it actively contributes to re-enforce and legitimize its most negative tendencies. Opinions have consequences. No matter what the Maduro government does, it is interpreted by some in the international left as a bright anti-imperialist move. As if by magic, the same policies that are loudly denounced if carried out by right wing or neoliberal governments, somehow become acceptable if carried out by “progressive” or “leftist” governments. Right wing extractivism is considered to be a pro-imperial policy that has severe socio environmental consequences, threatens indigenous and peasant communities and signifies a renunciation of national sovereignty in favor of transnational corporations. Resistance movements in these conditions are celebrated. On the other hand, the same policies when carried out by friendly governments somehow have a radically different meaning and resistance movements are accused of being part of an imperial anti popular agenda. With this Manichean approach to reality, there is no way to learn from experience. The reasons for each problem or failure always lie elsewhere.
All this does enormous harm to transformative anti-capitalist movements and projects around the world, as it feeds into right wing propaganda that defines anti-capitalist alternatives as, by nature, necessarily authoritarian and corrupt. It seems like the left has great difficulties in drawing lessons from the long term consequences of not being able to criticize the Soviet Union, in spite of its authoritarian, repressive nature, because it was confronting US imperialism.
Venezuela is today a critical battle ground, not only in geopolitical inter-imperialist confrontations, but also a privileged terrain in the confrontation of ideas, in alternative critical debates about how to advance in the direction of a democratic post-capitalist society that overcomes the patriarchy, anthropocentrism, racism, as well as the state of permanent war that characterize the world system today. A reflexive, critical debate of the Venezuelan political process is indispensable if this experience is to contribute to the construction of another possible world.