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Instability confronting Bolivarian Venezuela and the road ahead

Analysis by David Hoskins |
May 17, 2016
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Washington, DC - On May 14 Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro declared a constitutional state of emergency in that country. CNN reports indicate that there have been marches in support of the government’s push for a “state of constitutional exception and economic emergency” to last until July.

Widespread reporting in the establishment media indicates that the Venezuelan people are currently in the midst of confronting a serious set of economic and political challenges. Even if such reports are sometimes exaggerated for propaganda purposes against the Venezuelan government, a picture is emerging of a country dealing with shortages in many basic food and consumer items, increasing power blackouts and inflation.

The instability many Venezuelans feel under the weight of such conditions is compounded by a drive for a recall referendum on President Maduro, who opposition forces in Venezuela blame for a deteriorating economy. This is a charge that Maduro’s government and his supporters strongly refute. If anything, they point to the right-wing opposition taking control of the National Assembly following the 2015 elections as an important factor contributing to the current instability.

Yet, the establishment press in the U.S. encourages the narrative that Venezuela’s economic woes are the result of mismanagement by President Maduro and the Bolivarian government. This blame is reinforced with headlines like “Venezuela’s crisis: President Maduro must put the Venezuelan people ahead of political expediency” in the Houston Chronicle to the Atlantic’s “Venezuela is falling apart: Scenes from daily life in the failing state.” Similar themes are reiterated daily across the rest of the establishment media in print, radio, television and online.

The truth is, however, that the economic and political instability in Venezuela is the result of something far more nefarious than incompetence on the part of the country’s current government. Rather, it is the intended consequence of a deliberate campaign of sabotage against Venezuela’s economy and government by that country’s right-wing capitalist oligarchy with the support, sometimes open and sometimes hidden, of U.S. imperialism.

But in order to adequately explain why a capitalist oligarchy would destroy its own country’s economy, it is important to review a little bit of Venezuela’s recent history.

Venezuela’s Bolivarian Revolution brings a decade of struggle and progress

In 1998, former President Hugo Chavez was elected for the first time. His election was a repudiation of the economic and political control of Venezuela’s ruling oligarchy. It also corresponded with the full emergence of a modern Bolivarian Revolution, which is national democratic in character and backed by the Venezuelan masses to increase economic sovereignty, overcome the legacy of imperialist exploitation, and ensure that the Black, Indigenous and Mestizo (people who, like Maduro himself and Chavez before him, are of at least partial European and partial Indigenous ancestry) majority of Venezuelans no longer live under the yoke of a mostly white, European-descended oligarchy.

In the process, the Bolivarian Revolution has brought more than a decade of measurable progress to the Venezuelan people. According to a report by the Center for Economic and Policy Research, the Bolivarian Revolution nearly halved Venezuela’s poverty rate - from 61% in 1997 to 32% by the end of 2011. Extreme poverty declined by two-thirds from 30% to 9% over this same period.

The Bolivarian Revolution has also enabled the country’s homeless to seize vacant buildings and convert them into homes even as the progressive government in that country has built hundreds of thousands of public housing units, often on unproductive land technically ‘owned’ by Venezuela’s elite. Since 2011, Venezuela’s housing mission has built more than 1 million new homes, according to reports from Xinhua News Agency and Telesur. President Maduro has vowed to expand the housing mission’s capacity and provide low-cost housing to 40%of Venezuelans by the end of the decade. This does not account for other gains made, including expanded health care access that has been provided in collaboration with socialist Cuba.

But if the Bolivarian Revolution has proven its ability to accomplish so much for the masses of Venezuela in such a short period of time, why is it currently confronting economic and political instability?

National oligarchy and U.S. imperialism work to undermine Bolivarian Revolution

The main factor contributing to Venezuela’s current instability is a capitalist oligarchy working in collaboration with U.S. imperialism to sabotage and defeat the Bolivarian Revolution. This is not a new occurrence.

According to the Centre for Research on Globalization, the economic and political elite that ruled Venezuela for the 40 years prior to the election of Chavez have been unhappy with the progress of the Bolivarian Revolution, particularly with the renationalization of the oil industry, redistribution of oil profits, and other key reforms.

In 2002, the conflict between the Bolivarian government and the oligarchy’s drive to maintain its privileges spilled out into the open in a big way. The industry bosses in Fedecamaras (the national association of business), the imperialist-aligned Confederation of Workers of Venezuela (CTV), and a section of the military hatched the first of many coup plots and briefly ousted Chavez.

The ouster came after the bosses had enforced a business lockout in order to create an atmosphere of economic instability. On April 14 of that year, just two days after the initial coup, Chavez was returned to office on the wings of a popular uprising against the coup government led by Pedro Carmona, a member of the Caracas business elite.

A 2004 New York Times report shows that the CIA was intimately aware of the details of the coup plot, but withheld most information from Venezuela’s government. The report goes on to confirm that the Bush administration blamed Chavez for his own ouster and denied knowing anything about the attempted coup after its execution. A 2002 report in the Guardian newspaper serves as a reminder that the U.S. immediately endorsed the Carmona government for the 48 hours it held power before the popular uprising restored Chavez to office.

It is worth noting that the CTV union federation is viewed by many Venezuelan workers as corrupt. The CTV’s support of the anti-Bolivarian 2002 coup was likely reinforced by its ties to the AFL-CIO’s ironically named ‘Solidarity Center.’ The Solidarity Center operates as a State Department front and uses its influence with international labor unions to push U.S. foreign policy around the world.

In fact, the Solidarity Center’s own 2011 annual report lists organizations such as the National Endowment for Democracy, U.S. Agency for International Department, and U.S. Department of State as financial supporters. According to the 2011 report, 94% of the Solidarity Center’s funding came from federal awards. Less than 2% came from unions.

Rank-and-file trade unionists across the U.S. have long demanded that the AFL-CIO dismantle the Solidarity Center. A key source of outrage for these progressive trade unionists is the Solidarity Center’s ties to the State Department and its willingness to interfere with progressive governments such as that in Venezuela.

U.S., right-wing oligarchy intensify sabotage after failed coup

The economic and political sabotage against the Bolivarian Revolution has not been confined to the events of 2002. Ever since the mass uprising reinstalled Chavez to the presidency, Venezuela’s oligarchy has worked hand-in-glove with U.S. imperialism to stall, thwart, reverse and overthrow Venezuela’s Bolivarian government- then under the leadership of President Chavez and today under that of President Maduro.

The Council on Hemispheric Affairs has pointed to research indicating that in Venezuela a “scarcity of basic consumer goods spikes around important elections, as businesses seek to pressure voters” into voting against their own interests and against the Bolivarian Revolution.

In 2004, having failed to oust him by force two years earlier, Venezuela’s oligarchy forced a referendum to recall Chavez from office. According to BBC News, Chavez won the recall election with 58% of the vote, and his opponents rejected the outcome and alleged fraud even though international observers confirmed that there had been a fair election. Unable to oust him by force or recall him at the ballot box, the right-wing opposition attempted to undermine the legitimacy of the entire formal democratic process — a process the oligarchy itself had set up — by boycotting the National Assembly elections in 2005.

Providing every detail of the economic and political sabotage carried out against the Bolivarian Revolution would be more fitting for a book than a single article. Suffice it to say there has been a lot, even recently. A 2013 Telegraph report indicates that President Maduro presented photographs of cut conductor cables as evidence of government claims that an earlier electricity blackout had been the result of saboteurs hoping to influence the outcome of that year’s municipal elections. In 2014, CNN reported that Venezuela had arrested three air force generals accused of plotting a coup to overthrow Maduro.

Fast forward to today and we see that Venezuela may be at a crossroads. With a state of emergency declared, with economic and political instability continuing to roil the country, and with the forces of oligarchy in full and open mobilization after the right-wing opposition’s taking of the 2015 National Assembly elections for the first time in 16 years, the path that the Bolivarian Revolution and its supporters in the Maduro government take next could be determinative.

Cuba or Chile – which way forward for Venezuela?

The Bolivarian Revolution in Venezuela has been a national democratic revolution. At the same time, it has often exposed a socialist orientation, is firmly allied with socialist Cuba, and is led in large part by the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), the largest Bolivarian party in the country, with strong support from the Communist Party of Venezuela (PCV), an independent Marxist-Leninist party with a strong working-class base.

Yet the Bolivarian Revolution has not yet transitioned from the phase of national democratic revolution to that a socialist revolution and much of the economy is in the hands of the oligarchy. A socialist revolution would eliminate all of the right-wing oligarchy’s claims to political power, take firm hold of the commanding heights of the economy and establish a new political system based upon power of the working class and its allies.

There are strong indications that President Maduro knows what needs to be done. According to BBC News, during a weekend rally in Caracas, Maduro said, “We must take all measures to recover productive capacity which is being paralyzed by the bourgeoisie. Anyone who wants to halt [production] to sabotage the country should get out, and those who do must be handcuffed…We’re going to tell imperialism and the international right that the people are present, with their farm instruments in one hand and a gun in the other…to defend this sacred land.”

While the decision to push toward a socialist revolution is not without risk, the history of Latin American national democratic struggles shows that the decision not to is at least as risky.

The divergent outcomes of the revolutionary struggles in Cuba and Chile provide useful case studies for understanding the dilemma eventually presented to all such struggles: move toward socialism or face the likelihood of political overthrow and reaction at the hands of a right-wing oligarchy allied with U.S. imperialism.

Cuba, under the leadership of Marxist-Leninists, took the road of socialist revolution and Chile did not.

Today, Cuba is a politically stable country that can point to myriad social gains for its people. Cuba has a child mortality rate that is lower than in the U.S., one of the lowest rates of deaths from infectious diseases in the western hemisphere, and a 100% full adult literacy rate - the highest in the western hemisphere. As a strong ally of Venezuela, Cuba has certainly shared the lessons of its own historical experiences.

The story of Chile is very different. Much like Venezuela today, right-wing forces in Chile allied with U.S. imperialism took actions to undermine the economy in order to destabilize the elected government of socialist President Salvador Allende. Declassified CIA documents reveal that President Nixon ordered U.S. intelligence to make Chile’s economy “scream” in order to create instability and pave the way for a coup that would restore Chile’s powerful business elite to power.

And that is exactly what happened.

On Sept. 11, 1973, Chile’s armed forces overthrew the elected Marxist government of President Allende. General Augusto Pinochet succeeded Allende and established a brutal military dictatorship that served the interests of the business elite and terrorized socialists, communists, trade unionists, student groups and other progressive social forces in Chilean society for the next 17 years. Chile is still recovering from the scars of this mark on its history.

Cuba had tried to warn Allende that he would have to push the revolution forward and use force to defend it. Fidel Castro even went so far as to give Allende an AK-47 automatic rifle as a gift when advising him about the dangers of the Chilean bourgeoisie.

If the current instability in Venezuela is as serious as it looks on paper, the Bolivarian Revolution in that country may be coming to a fork in the road. The workers, the oppressed, and other progressive forces of the world hope that it can and will take the path of socialist Cuba. No matter what happens, these same forces, including Freedom Road Socialist Organization in the U.S., stand in solidarity with the Venezuelan people and their Bolivarian Revolution against the machinations of the right-wing oligarchy and U.S. imperialism.