Chavista demonstration in Caracas, February 2019. Photo: Ahmad Kaballo Chavista demonstration in Caracas, February 2019. Photo: Ahmad Kaballo

US interest in Venezuela has nothing to do with humanitarianism and everything to do with defeating an ideological foe and stealing its resources, argues Kara Bryan.

Washington’s onset of humanitarian hysteria over Venezuela stretches even the most vivid of imaginations. To the United States, Nicolas Maduro represents the biggest ideological threat in Latin America. Accordingly, an orchestrated and well-funded propaganda campaign is underway to justify regime change. This tried and tested tactic is employed whenever a leader refuses to get into bed with the US, whenever the US dollar is dropped, or whenever the US wishes to plunder the natural resources of a sovereign nation. Or, if they’re really unlucky, as in Venezuela’s case, all three.

This tactic has been employed with full effect against Saddam Hussein in Iraq, Muammar Gaddafi in Libya and Basar Al-Assad in Syria, with the complicity of the mainstream media, the UK government, and the European Union. But it spectacularly failed with Hugo Chavez in Venezuela.

Hugo Chavez was sworn in as President of Venezuela in February 1999, with a mass movement behind him.  He introduced social reforms as part of the ‘Bolivarian Revolution,’ implementing a modest programme of reform and nationalisation, giving the poor access to healthcare, education, food and housing for the first time. Identifying as a Marxist, Chavez aligned himself with the governments of Fidel Castro in Cuba, Evo Morales in Bolivia, Rafael Correa in Ecuador and Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua. ‘Chavismo’ was a key element in the pink tide sweeping across Latin America. He boldly declared war on imperialism; standing up to the ruling elite and giving a voice to Venezuela’s poor. He fought neo-liberal free trade agreements that prioritised corporate interests over social welfare and oversaw a dramatic decline in unemployment.

Venezuela was, and still is, a deeply divided country. Home to both the very rich and the very poor. It was once said that ‘there are more Cadillac owners in Caracus than there are in Chicago.’ The ruling elite were horrified by Chavez’s reforms and in 2002, the US instigated a coup d’état. When Chavez was kidnapped by opposition forces, largely funded by the US, the Venezuelan people were told that their beloved president had resigned.  When they learned he was being held captive, they came down from the barrios to rescue their leader, prompting the Venezuelan military to take action against the opposition. Chavez’s presidency was restored just 48 hours later.

In many respects, Venezuela is now paying the price for not sufficiently challenging big capital under Chavez. In reality, Chavez’s ‘revolution’ produced mixed results and failed to take control of the means of production. Investments in state-run industries and co-operatives produced little return and consequently, the Venezuelan economy became increasingly reliant on oil revenue.

Chavez’s presidency ended with his death from cancer in 2013. His appointed successor, Nicolas Maduro took the reins.  The economic collapse that ensued was intensified by the fall in oil prices and was catastrophically mishandled by the Maduro government leading to hyperinflation. A catalogue of mismanagement and corruption within the administration itself, lost Maduro much of Chavez’s support base. But the Maduro administration is only partly responsible for the crisis in Venezuela.  There has been substantial interference from Washington in the form of economic sanctions, with the complicity and co-operation of some of the largest and most powerful corporations in the country, many of which are funding the opposition.

Seventeen years after the coup against Chavez, Part II is fully operational. If successful, Nicolas Maduro will be the 68th sovereign leader to be overthrown by the United States. US strategy has been emboldened by the election of right-wing populist Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil.  Bolsonaro has been a vocal critic of Maduro and is a natural ally of the war hawks and neoliberals in Washington. His economic programme has already handed out millions in subsidies to big business and he has made it clear that he is open to a permanent US military presence in Brazil. The US has reacted to the news of Bolsonaro’s election with unrestrained glee and the news that he has pledged to follow the United States’ lead, by moving the Brazilian embassy to Jerusalem, deepening ties with Israel, will have delighted the Trump administration. The fact is Bolsonaro is exactly what the US is looking to install in Venezuela.  Someone who would close the final curtain on Chavismo. Someone who would help the oligarchy get richer selling the nation’s resources to transnational corporations.

Someone like US-backed newcomer Juan Guaido, who swore himself in as ‘president’ of Venezuela at an opposition rally last month. Much like the interim government during the 48-hour coup in 2002, who, in their first administrative act privatised Venezuela’s oil, Guaido has already appointed new oil ‘executives’ pleasing his neoliberal overlords in Washington. The obvious problem for Venezuelans, apart from the fact that the ‘newcomer’ is so new that 81% of the population has never heard of him, is that he did not secure a majority in the Venezuelan elections. Because he didn’t run. Most of the Venezuelan opposition boycotted the election because they are too fragmented to win democratically. Instead they declared the election illegitimate. They incited street violence, attacking schools and hospitals and anyone who dared ally themselves with the Maduro government. Only two opposition leaders stood against Maduro. They both lost. Maduro gained 68% of the popular vote. Hardly a landslide for a ‘rigged’ election. Former president Jimmy Carter said that, of the ninety-two elections the Carter Center has monitored, the election process in Venezuela, “is the best in the world.” By contrast, the US, he said, “is one of the worst.”

As tensions between the US and Venezuela escalate, Bolsonaro pledged to “restore democracy” in Venezuela. Encouraging resistance, he said he believes “a solution is coming soon.” Meanwhile, Donald Trump has refused to rule out military action in Venezuela and has confirmed that “all options are on the table.” It is fairly obvious, not least from National security advisor, John Bolton’s accidental disclosure of a confidential note which read, ‘5,000 troops to Colombia,’ that the planned solution is a US-led military invasion under the guise of humanitarian intervention. It has already been reported that US arms are finding their way into the country and in the last few days, Guaido has led an ‘aid convoy’ on the Colombian border (accompanied by US Special Envoy to Venezuela, Elliot Abrams of Iran-Contra fame.) Venezuelan officials said that they have uncovered 19 assault weapons on board a US plane which had flown into Valencia from Miami, claiming the plane had made forty clandestine round trips since the beginning of January.

The mass starvation narrative being perpetuated by war-hungry neoliberals in Washington and parroted by the western media is bogus. It is a pretext for regime change, but if a demographic is suffering at the hands of US sanctions, it is Venezuela’s poor. If the US were in any way concerned with humanitarian relief, they would lift the sanctions which have already lost £6billion in Venezuelan revenue since 2017. The purpose of the sanctions is, as Henry Kissinger once put it to “make the economy scream.” Which was exactly the intention of the Bank of England in refusing to return Venezuela’s gold. The reasons for the hysteria are clear.  Venezuela presents an ideological threat to the US and last year they dropped the US dollar, meaning that all future transactions on the Venezuelan exchange will be in euros and of course, they also happen to be home to the largest oil reserve on the planet. 

Despite what the mainstream media would have us believe, Chavismo is still very much alive on the streets of Caracas. The Venezuelan poor still largely support President Maduro, not out of a sense of misguided loyalty to the late Chavez, but because he is anti-imperialist. They remember the attempted coup in 2002 and know all too well what the United States interest in their country is. They also know the economic support Guaido hopes to obtain from the IMF won’t go into rebuilding Venezuela’s economy, but into the very corporate pockets that stand to gain from unseating Maduro. Guaido would do well to remember who he is getting into bed with. It hasn’t worked out so well for previous US stooges once they have served their purpose and ceased to be useful. Whatever Maduro’s shortcomings, it is for the people of Venezuela to decide, not for the American Empire to ‘intervene’ and acquire yet another country’s wealth by nefarious endeavour.

Kara Bryan

Kara Bryan is a writer and activist and regular contributor to the Counterfire website. She is a member of Counterfire and Stop the War