Tensions between the governments of Venezuela and the United States have reached a fever pitch. Nicolas Maduro, the democratically-elected Venezuelan president, has remained obstinate in his stance that his country has become the target of U.S. imperialism. On January 23, Washington acolyte Juan Guaidó announced that he was “the interim president”–a measure in contravention of the Venezuelan Constitution. Millions of dollars flow from seized Venezuelan accounts into Guaidó’s dubious coup d’etat as the U.S. corporate media shrilly exalts in “the failure of socialism”. President Donald Trump and National Security Advisor John Bolton, meanwhile, issue ominous statements about taking control of Venezuelan oil companies in the wake of an unexplained power outage in Caracas.
It takes a particularly flawed and misconstruing political analysis to arrive at the idea that Venezuela’s current sufferings are self-imposed. Historical blindness, unfortunately, is one of the many compromising prerequisites of cheering on the imperialist project. Washington’s deceptive gesture of “humanitarian aid” conceals the fact that its brutal economic sanctions are exactly what have precipitated the Venezuelan crisis in the first place.
President Maduro has been in the crosshairs of Washington’s destabilization agenda since he was elected as Hugo Chávez’s successor in 2013. Not long after the election, a cadre of U.S. military attaches at the Embassy in Caracas were dismissed when it was discovered they were attempting to recruit Venezuelan military officials to overthrow Maduro’s populist government. Such underhanded methods of regime change are consistent with Washington’s Latin American policy going back to the days of Chilean president Salvador Allende.
For Venezuelans, the snake-tongued “double discourse” of imperialism is nothing new. This isn’t the first time Washington has tried to replace a democracy in Venezuela with a dictatorship while sententiously assuring its “international community” that it was doing the exact opposite. When the democratically-elected Chávez refused to support Bush’s War On Terror rampage in 2001, the former military general was smeared as a threat to the “free world”. The climate of opinion was enough to criminalize Chávez as a socialist of the worst order; soon the apparatus of intervention was set into motion.
Here, though–in what will always be a moment commemorated by Bolivarians throughout Latin America–Washington’s imperial arrogance proved to be its biggest stumbling-block. After a long build-up in tensions between the poor, working-class majority of Venezuela and the foreign political agents operating through a propped-up opposition, Chávez was kidnapped on April 11, 2002. The combined response of outrage from the Venezuelan public and its constitutional military was so decisive, however, that Chavez was released within 48 hours.
Imperialism had sorely underestimated the solidarity of Chávez’s revitalized Venezuela. Even the CIA is obliged to acknowledge the maligned president’s social victories:
“Social investment in Venezuela during the Chávez administration reduced poverty from nearly 50% in 1999 to about 27% in 2011, increased school enrollment, substantially decreased infant and child mortality, and improved access to potable water and sanitation through social investment.”
Chávez had garnered overwhelming popular support, not from subterfuge or propaganda, but rather his dedication to re-allocating national oil revenues to social welfare programs that benefited the working class. In the previous decades under the neo-liberal policies of the International Monetary Fund, those very surpluses went into the pockets of foreign companies and their pet Venezuelan oligarchs–all while infant mortality soared and literacy rates floundered.
As Mark Weisbrot has detailed in his book Failed: What The ‘Experts’ Got Wrong About The Global Economy, such corrosive economic conditions are taken right out of the neo-liberal playbook. Central banks are deregulated and given license to act in their own ruthless self-interest; public departments in energy, resources, agriculture and finance are privatized and turn a blind eye to common need; a small bourgeoisie class traitorously grows fat at the expense of its starving countrymen, with politicians dutifully engulfing the national consciousness in confusion.
Hugo Chávez was the figure, then, who had plucked Venezuela from the jaws of sociopolitical extinction. Fair or not, President Maduro must perform a similar ne plus ultra of political strategy if Venezuela is to even sustain its pulse for another month. As U.N. rapporteur Alfred de Zayas has related, the nation is being riddled with a barrage of Euro-American sanctions that are killing people through shortages in food and medicine. With the grim resolve of a mass murderer, Washington has frozen Venezuelan assets and persuaded financial institutions to close the nation’s accounts, putting its oil industry in an effective sleeper-hold.
It’s telling that the U.S. puppet Guaidó has openly stated that he will be “opening up Venezuela’s vast oil sector to private investment” if the current pronunciamiento proves successful. Although Venezuela is only the 33rd-largest nation, it holds the largest oil reserves in the world. There is never coincidence in imperial foreign policy. In sabotaging Venezuela’s social welfare economy, Washington seeks to restore oil profits to a small capitalist elite. Such a victory would be more than worth all the casualties of starvation piling up in the ranchos.
You can skip the perverse apologetics of those palace stenographers over at The New York Times and get the story straight from the horse’s mouth:
“The financial sanctions we have placed on the Venezuelan Government has forced it to begin becoming in default, both on sovereign and PDVSA, its oil company’s debt. And what we are seeing because of the bad choices of the Maduro regime is a total economic collapse in Venezuela. So our policy is working, our strategy is working and we’re going to keep it on the Venezuelans.”
That’s a statement made by a senior State Department official early last year. Oh, the temerity of those Venezuelans in pursuing a sovereign democracy outside the framework of Uncle Sam hegemony–such sins cannot pass without recrimination! Speaking of sins, the International Criminal Court would have its hands full if it were to ever start bringing U.S. officials–and their backers–to justice for such naked crimes against humanity.
In his Wretched of The Earth missive against modern colonialism, Fanon observed that even morality was used as an instrument of oppression. The same could be said for democracy today. When the State Department talks about “democracy”, it’s not exactly in the high Athenian sense. No, Washington’s dynamocracy bulldozes fair elections, public ownership and regional sovereignty to the ground, compacts the refuse into a cement-like substrate and erects an altar to the Roman gods of war on top.
Words don’t need to mean what you think they do–imperialism employs its own interpreters.
“Socialism” will be what is merrily scrawled across Venezuela’s gravestone, never mind the lethal dose of regime change administered openly for all to see. Socialism…as if we’re rescuing the withering Latin American masses from Stalin incarnate! On the contrary, socialism as a political philosophy has often formed the greatest critiques of centralized power; to conflate Bolivarian socialists with dictatorships branding themselves as such is to sidestep an opportunity to single out the dictatorship standing right in front of all of us.
In doing so, we subconsciously dislodge ourselves from our own social-democratic axis of thought, which is perhaps how we’ve become so absurdly employed in the act of fighting a democracy in the name of democracy at the present moment. When the Trump administration likely pulled the plug on the electrical grid of Caracas earlier this month, they only acted out metaphorically something that had happened in U.S. political opinion a long time ago. The Venezuelans aren’t the only ones in the dark.