Venezuela - Guaido’s putsch

Venezuela is in the midst of a continental battle. The resurgent right-wing in Latin America, led by the US State Department, is escalating the attack. Self-declared ‘interim president’ Juan Guaido is begging for US military intervention, grasping at straws following April’s failed military putsch. Trump has threatened that ‘all cards are on the table’ whilst Eric Prince, founder of the notorious Blackwater security firm, is lobbying to send 5,000 mercenaries. Unable to break the Venezuelan army from the Bolivarian revolution, Guaido has ordered his US ‘ambassador’, Carlos Vecchio, to cooperate with the US Southern Command. Spouting empty phrases about freedom and democracy, the US has declared war on what it calls the ‘troika of tyranny’, ‘the sordid cradle of communism’ in Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua. Alongside the illegal US blockade on Cuba and 2018’s crushing Nica Act, US economic sanctions are killing Venezuelans by the thousands, a fact deliberately ignored by Amnesty International and the international capitalist press as they clamour for regime change. Sam McGill reports.

As dawn broke on 30 April, Guaido announced he was in the final stages of over-throwing the demo-cratically-elected United Socialist Party president, Nicolas Maduro. The military putsch was a spectacular farce, the latest in a string of failures since Guaido unconstitutionally swore himself in as president on 23 January. Having freed his crony, Leopoldo Lopez, from house arrest, Guaido released a video flanked by soldiers, claiming to have taken the La Carlota airbase. Immediately the US war criminals sprang into action with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tweeting: ‘The US government fully supports the Venezuelan people in their quest for freedom and demo-cracy’. They were joined by Ecuador’s Lenin Moreno and the ultra-reactionary Lima group of 12 countries led by OAS president Luis Almagro. Antonio Tajani, president of the EU Parliament gushed over the ‘great news… a historic moment for the return to democracy and freedom in Venezuela’.

The bourgeois press went into twitter-overdrive; the BBC’s Barbara Plett-Usher and The Guardian’s Tom Phillips gave full-throated support to Guaido. Even arch anti-socialist Rory Carroll came out of the woodwork, spouting anti-working class vitriol, questioning whether Maduro, the ‘fumbling showman’ and ‘bus driver’ could ‘cling to the wheel’. By dusk, instead of roof-riding a car into Miraflores, Guaido was clinging on to the last shreds of hope for his pathetic coup attempt, his support rapidly dwindling. The fictitious military support evaporated as it emerged the coup-plotters had never entered the airbase; hundreds of soldiers abandoned the scene declaring they had been deceived into taking part in a fake ‘training exercise’. Lopez fled to the Spanish embassy while the opposition marchers barely made it out of their middle-class enclave in Altamira.

Once again, Guaido’s plans were thwarted by the Venezuelan working class who mobilised to face down the military putsch.  The overwhelming majority of the army stayed firm, pledging allegiance to the civic-military union, the Constitution and the legacy of late socialist leader, Hugo Chavez.  Chanting ‘No volveran! – they will not return to power’, tens of thousands of chavistas surrounded the Miraflores presidential palace, determined to defend the hard-won gains of the Bolivarian revolution. The following day, revolutionary international workers day marches dwarfed the opposition protests, the final nail in the coffin for this latest coup attempt.

Sanctions: a crime against humanity

Trump’s devastating economic sanc-tions amount to a near total blockade of Venezuela. The nation is cut off from international credit. PDVSA assets to the tune of $7bn are frozen in US accounts and the Bank of Eng–land illegally withholds $1.3bn of Venezuelan gold. A ban on the import of heavy crude oil diluent, naphtha, has resulted in oil production plummeting to under one million bpd. Restrictions on Venezuela’s use of international banks block shipments of food and medicines from Mexico and Colombia. Now the US is blacklisting shipping companies to stop them carrying oil exports from Venezuela, particularly hitting Cuba and Haiti and other key benefactors of the PetroCaribe subsidised oil scheme.

US National Security Advisor John Bolton has gleefully announced that 2019’s sanctions will cost the Venezuelan economy $11bn. A Centre for Economic Policy report by economists Mark Weisbrot and Jeffrey Sachs calculates that the sanctions have caused the deaths of at least 40,000 Venezuelans since 2017 with an additional 300,000 at risk ‘because of lack of access to medicines or treatment’. This includes 80,000 with HIV who cannot access antiretroviral treatment and four million with diabetes and hypertension who do not have regular access to insulin or cardiovascular medicine. The report concludes ‘These numbers…by themselves virtually guarantee that the current sanctions, which are much more severe than those implemented before this year, are a death sentence for tens of thousands of Venezuelans.’

Sanctions are a weapon of war and these casualties must be included in the death toll. Yet Amnesty International refuses to acknowledge this collective punishment. In its new report ‘Hunger for justice: crimes against humanity in Venezuela’, Amnesty only once mentions the sanctions in passing, failing to detail their fatal impact. Even the UN Security Council concedes that the sanctions ‘contribute to aggravating the economic crisis’. Instead, Amnesty sides with the US-funded Venezuelan opposition whose tactics include stringing wires across roads to decapitate motorcyclists, torching hospitals and nurseries, and lynching black Chavistas. Human rights matter only when they serve as a cover for imperialist intervention.

A force to be reckoned with

The imperialists and their bourgeois media consistently underestimate the Venezuelan working class, which for them barely exists. There were no live feeds showing the streets filled with red-clad revolutionaries on 30 April. How else do they explain the fact that Maduro is still in power despite four solid months of a sustained coup? The BBC references advisers from Cuba, finance from China, military support from Russia, but it is in fact the Venezuelan working class and poor who have mobilised to defend their Bolivarian revolution throughout. From 2002 when they poured down from the hillsides to defeat the attempted coup against Chavez, to the oil lock out when they restarted production and reclaimed PDVSA, to the mobilisations against the regular violent guarimba protests, this is where real power lies. The bourgeois press may be able to keep them off our screens, but it can’t keep them off the streets.

Maduro can count on the working class to defend the revolutionary process, but he cannot take this support for granted. The protracted siege on Ven-ezuela is taking its toll, demanding a constant show of unity despite extremely difficult economic conditions and growing rifts between elected politicians and the communes, communal councils and social movements that form the backbone of the Bolivarian revolution. The Constituent National Assembly, convened in 2017 to draw up a new Constitution via popular consultation, has made little progress and is instead forced to govern on a day-to-day basis due to the political deadlock with the National Assembly, declared in contempt of court since 2016 due to electoral irregularities. On 20 May, Maduro suggested parliamentary elections to the National Assembly could be brought forward from 2020, as a way of breaking the impasse, saying ‘Let’s see who gets the most votes. Let’s find a political, constitutional and democratic path forward.’

Meanwhile, the demands of last summer’s campesino march continue to be unmet, despite televised promises to defend land activists from landowner violence, grant land titles and promote co-operative food production. Representatives from the communes have denounced bureaucratic obstacles to their operation and the creeping privatisation of struggling state enterprises. Hash tags declaring ‘privatisation is betrayal’ trend in intense debates over how to raise national production. It is hard to see how the PSUV government can find a way out of the deep economic crisis without unleashing the human potential of the social and communal movement. The Bolivarian revolutionary masses remain a force to be reckoned with.

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 270 June/July 2019


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