Murder by Sanctions

A statement by the National Committee of Solidarity

AS THE GLOBAL death toll from the coronavirus stretches deep into the hundreds of thousands — and while Donald Trump continues his daily grandstanding misleadership, political manipulation and piracy of critical medical supplies, false claims of miracle cures (in which he has personal financial interests), sabotaging his own public health experts, absurdities about “reopening the economy” by May 1, and retaliatory firing of officials who exposed his criminal extortion of Ukraine — other crises haven’t gone away. Quite the contrary.

Among many underpublicized issues are the crippling, constantly tightening U.S. punitive sanctions against “enemy” governments including in particular Iran, Venezuela and Cuba. These sanctions were murderous before the coronavirus outbreak, particularly in regard to public health. Under present conditions, such measures border on genocidal.

It appears that Cuba, which has been under U.S. imperialist blockages for close to six decades, is avoiding the worst impact. Cuba has actually sent doctors to assist some worse-hit countries. (Trump’s near-total U.S. ban on tourism to the island may have been a medical lucky break, although economically ruinous.)  But along with the collapse of oil prices, U.S. prohibitions of financial transactions are particularly catastrophic for Iran and Venezuela.

In the Iranian case, European promises to construct a bypass for commercial transactions in order to save the multi-party nuclear deal have fallen flat. It’s been an almost total, although largely predictable, failure of Europe’s ruling classes and governments to stand up against Washington’s dictates. Desperately needed medical supplies are simply unavailable, especially in rural Iran.

It can be argued that the Iranian regime was irresponsible, complacent and cynical in its early dismissal of the coronavirus disaster – particularly in the religious authorities’ refusal to close the shrines in Qom and mass gatherings there, which appears to have been an epicenter for the pandemic spread to Pakistan, Afghanistan and the Middle East.

But this says only that Iran’s rulers are (almost) as ignorant and bankrupt as Donald Trump himself – an impossibly difficult standard to match – and that some of its religious “leaders” are as criminal as those godly U.S. pastors who keep their megachurches open, and state governors who call churches “essential services” while forcing the closure of abortion clinics.

In the case of Venezuela, imperial criminality goes beyond even economic sanctions. Following the failure of last year’s abortive military putsch against the Nicolas Maduro government, the U.S. Department of Justice — a title George Orwell couldn’t have dreamed up — chose this moment to indict Maduro himself of drug trafficking.

Never mind, for example, the drug connections of the Honduran president and U.S. ally Juan Orlando Hernandez. The only purpose of the Maduro indictment can be to incite a second military coup attempt, with the incentive of a big reward for his extradition – which would provoke all-out civil war in a country already in a condition of medical and social near-collapse.

Imagine the refugee crisis in such a scenario. Isn’t that just what Venezuela and Latin America need at this moment of a spreading global pandemic for which many of their health services are desperately underprepared?

While the U.S. assault on Iran has a material geopolitical “logic” in terms of controlling oil supplies, Washington’s alliance with Saudi Arabia and other strategic state interests, the anti-Venezuela campaign appears to be driven mainly by rightwing ideology run amok. It’s not a conflict that most of U.S. capital particularly wants or needs.

Nothing about Venezuela (sadly) is a “threat” to U.S. power in its ruined condition. If anything, history teaches us that wars and threats of war driven primarily by ideology are even more dangerous than those based on naked state interest, which are bad enough.

It’s important here to call out the bipartisan U.S. complicity in Israel’s blockade of Gaza, which — long before coronavirus — has destroyed the medical infrastructure serving Gaza’s desperately crowded population.  While imposing brutal sanctions on other countries, Trump and much of the Congress are trying to criminalize the BDS (boycott/divestment/sanctions) campaign supporting Palestinian rights. The looming explosion of the virus in Gaza is an indictment of the so-called “international community” that deserves close attention in its own right.

In the present terrifying global circumstances, the deliberate destruction by sanctions of whole nations’ economies and health infrastructure is not only an attack against the peoples of those countries. It will have a horrific blowback effect on the entire international struggle against a deadly pandemic. The phrase “crime against humanity” has never been more apt.

Venezuela: Interview with Gonzalo Gomez

Eva María

February 15, 2019

Marea Socialista demonstration

Gonzalo Gómez is a Venezuelan revolutionary, member of the socialist organization Marea Socialista and co-founder of the independent left-wing website He was interviewed by Eva María, and the interview was translated by Alejandro Q.  This interview was first published by International Viewpoint on February 6, 2019.

Note from the interviewer and the editors of International Viewpoint: This interview was conducted on January 27 with Goméz, a leading voice of Venezuela’s Marea Socialista, which has consistently opposed U.S. imperialism, supported the gains made through the Bolivarian process, and criticized both Hugo Chávez’s and current President Nicolas Maduro’s concessions to national and international business interests, bureaucratic tendencies and anti-democratic maneuvers. On February 5, Goméz participated in a meeting with U.S.-backed opposition leader Juan Guaidó as a representative of the Citizens’ Platform in Defense of the Constitution. This platform is organized by leftist figures who oppose U.S. intervention and propose a popular referendum (Consulta Popular) to avoid a violent confrontation.

We understand the Platform’s goals and their hope to use publicity from this event to make their own views known. However, we feel compelled to state that we are concerned the meeting with Guaidó, a leader who is receiving direct support from imperialist governments in Europe, from reactionary heads of state in Brazil and Argentina, and from the Trump administration itself, runs the risk of allowing the Venezuelan right to portray itself as “talking to all sides” in a media war designed to pave the way to intervention.

ON JANUARY 23, Juan Guaidó, the president of the National Assembly, declared himself acting president of Venezuela and was immediately recognized by the United States, member countries of the Group of Lima and many other states. But for most of the world, this is the first time that we’ve heard of Guaidó. Who is he and what has been his role in Venezuelan politics?

Guaidó was an assemblyman for the right-wing opposition party Popular Will (VP), which is headed by its imprisoned leader Leopoldo López.

Guaidó had just been named president of the National Assembly as part of the power-sharing agreement among the largest parties in it. He participated in the opposition’s street mobilizations against Maduro in 2017, but aside from that, he had no great prominence, not even as a leading public figure in his party.

The Supreme Tribunal of Justice declared the National Assembly in contempt in 2015 when it refused to unseat Assembly members from the Amazonas state who had been charged with electoral fraud for buying votes.

This was something carried out by the ruling PSUV [United Socialist Party of Venezuela] to stop the new right-wing majority in the Assembly, but then the PSUV abandoned the Assembly itself and pushed for a National Constituent Assembly — on highly questionable conditions, by the standards of both democracy and the Constitution inaugurated under Hugo Chávez in 1999.

It was from this opposition-led National Assembly, declared to be in contempt, that Guaidó emerged as a figure. When he declared himself president, he announced that Maduro was a usurper and that the elections Maduro had won were illegitimate. He stated that he was assuming the presidency in a “provisional” manner to form a “transition government” that would then hold new elections.

However, the Assembly didn’t proclaim him the president. It was only after an immense anti-Maduro demonstration held on January 23 that Guaidó proclaimed himself president, without having been elected by the Venezuelan people or even chosen by the National Assembly.

SO WHO is the true president of Venezuela? Are the events of January 23 and after a coup d’état?

The president of Venezuela was elected in May 2018: it is Nicolás Maduro.

Even though the election took place under severe restrictions, with some political parties banned and state resources used to favor the PSUV, Marea Socialista called for participating in these elections, despite our criticisms, because we considered that voters should not give up our right to choose.

The conservative opposition called for abstaining from the vote, and the rate of abstention rose to over 70 percent.

Even though we voted, we believe that Maduro’s government has lost its legitimacy because of its anti-worker policies, its terrible corruption, its predatory extractivism that gives away our resources to foreign powers, its unconstitutional decisions and the repressive authoritarianism by which it governs.

It was elected under highly questionable conditions and has lost any claim to legitimacy with a whole number of serious violations to the Constitution. The vast majority of the working class has shown that they reject Maduro and his government — there have been many mass manifestations of this rejection.

Guaidó took advantage of this discontent to declare a rejection of Maduro’s government and put forward the Assembly’s proposals and policies.

Afterward, he called for the national mobilization on January 23, and, seeing the strength of the response and the immense anger against Maduro, seized the opportunity to proclaim himself president. He took the oath of office as “president” in front of this demonstration — once again, without any constitutionality to this actions.

Looming behind all this was Trump’s government, along with several right-wing governments in Latin America, organized in the so-called Group of Lima. After the declaration of the parallel government, the threats started up of intervention by the U.S. to impose it by force.

Therefore, the true government in Venezuela is Maduro’s, even though we consider it illegitimate and an oppressor of our people that has been destroying the Bolivarian Revolution. Maduro is not a self-proclaimed president supported by the U.S. He can only be replaced by the Venezuelan people, exercising its sovereignty and voting under acceptable and constitutional conditions.

So what is taking place does have the characteristics of an ongoing coup d’état, even if has not been carried out by the Venezuelan military, but instead through sanctions and threats from U.S. imperialism, in alliance with the most right-wing governments of Latin America and the European Union. These governments have not even gotten support from bodies like the Organization of American States and the United Nations.

U.S. intervention has taken the form of sanctions, confiscation of Venezuelan holdings abroad, blockades of particular goods and the strategic use of “humanitarian aid,” but also preparations for military escalation in case the political and economic pressures don’t yield results.

We know that Trump and the U.S. government are driven by imperialist, colonialist and capitalist interests — the geopolitical drive to dominate other peoples. We repeat our slogan: “The people no longer want Maduro, but no one chose Guaidó.” We are against foreign interventions and seek a solution accomplished democratically by the people.

In this conflict between an elected but illegitimate president and another who is neither elected nor legitimate, we call for dialogue to take place, but dialogue in the interests of popular sovereignty. Let us ask the people what they want.

Speaking for Marea Socialista and the Citizens’ Platform in Defense of the Constitution, we have proposed a call for a consultative referendum, under the terms of the Constitution’s Article 71, which specifies that “matters of national importance” can be put to a vote.

That referendum could be invoked in an agreement between the Maduro government and the Opposition National Assembly or by gathering the of 10 percent of voters. We are working in alliances with other political organizations and popular movements to make this happen, as we do not want anything being decided for us behind closed doors.

Let the people decide on their destiny — let them be consulted if the desire is for the government to regain legitimacy. Let general elections decide these questions. But we do not accept other governments or imperial forces imposing their will, nor the political elites within Venezuela who pretend to stand for democracy, but ride roughshod over it.

WHAT IS the difference between the large demonstrations of January 23 and previous phases of the opposition against Maduro? Could you elaborate on the different factors involved?

The year 2018 was marked by workers’ and community protests and a union resistance emerging in an increasingly notable way. These struggles centered on defending wages that have been destroyed by hyperinflation and the government’s anti-worker policies; defending collective bargaining agreements that the government began to undermine by lowering benefits; and opposing the repression of workers’ protests.

Public sector workers demonstrate for improved salaries and labor rights in November 2018

Venezuela Analysis/photo: JCV

Also, working-class communities came out into the streets in greater and greater numbers to protest shortages and the scarcity of utilities like water, natural gas and electricity, public transportation; and health services and medications.

The main difference between these protests last year those the year before is that the earlier ones were more connected to and driven by the opposition’s political demands, and they were mainly middle-class in character. These 2017 protests began as large mobilizations, but ended with episodes of street violence that were crushed by the government, using drastic repression.

This year’s protests started around questions of basic needs erupting in the barrios, which were then channeled towards the Open Assemblies and the January 23 demonstration, where Guaidó declared himself president, to the surprise of many of the demonstrators.

Workers’ struggles have begun expressing themselves around new Venezuelan workers’ organization, with activists and union leaders promoting and tying these struggles together from a class perspective, but with a diversity and plurality in their political alignments.

Some are linked to the opposition, others are “neither-nor,” and still others come from the current of dissident Chavismo that has developed as the PSUV trade union bureaucrats have become an instrument of the government, which is the main boss in the country.

The Bolivarian Socialist Workers Central Union, the largest trade union, is today an arm of the state apparatus that assists in posing anti-worker policies, either justifying them or dampening protests in order to help manage the rebelliousness of the working class against the destruction of its rights by the PSUV government and the military.

The situation with Guaidó puts this new surge of the union movement at risk. It was born of struggles from below, but a fight will be required to keep the movement independent of the different poles that would like to co-opt and dismember it.

HOW ARE the United States and its allies influencing the development of this political crisis?

Many Venezuelans look with some naïvete and sympathy for “support” against Maduro because they aren’t seeing all the implications of this support for the sovereignty and independence of the country, let alone the terrible risks it carries. Another part of the population incensed about the U.S. interference and is guided by nationalist feeling.

The Bolivarian and revolutionary sectors critical of Maduro that are against the government have held their positions, but they must necessarily place top priority on the struggle against imperialist intervention. The threat of intervention favors the Maduro government and hinders the development of peoples’ autonomous struggles against this right-wing government.

HOW WOULD you describe the alliance between Trump, the Latin American right wing represented by Bolsonaro and Duque and the Venezuelan Opposition?

For Trump, this is an opportunity to recolonize parts of Latin America in which the U.S. has lost influence. For Trump’s lackey governments, this is the chance to eat the crumbs from a feast for the U.S. that is provided by the pillaging of their own peoples.

Despite the reactionary character of Maduros’ bureaucracy, the U.S. won’t forgive its origins in the revolution led by Chávez. Nor can they forget how Chávez orchestrated the traditional bourgeoisie’s removal from power to directly administer the state in a country as important as Venezuela.

Several regional right-wing governments maintain historical and business links with the U.S. Washington resent the influence of emerging imperialist interests like China and Russia on a neighboring government. So we see the U.S. embarking to impose conditions, dominate its “backyard” and maintain the global balance of power it desires.

Picture of Brazilians demonstrating for Maduro a Venezuelan embassy

What do you think of the proposal advanced by Uruguay, Mexico and the Vatican for a negotiated solution to the crisis?

In the face of the dangers of a possible civil war or invasion, this proposal has positive aspects, as long as it doesn’t foster closed-door agreements between the political elites and as long as it respects the people’s right to choose their own government — a government that aims to restore healthy institutions and re-establish health and the provision of food supplies, along with a democratic political life and human rights.

What do you expect will happen in the next few weeks? What do you think should be the task of socialists in Venezuela at this time?

It’s very difficult to foresee because Trump and the US government are wielding a stick to create their own favorable conditions. If they don’t get the results they want with the stick, they may resort to directly destroying their opponent, which in this case is not just Maduro, but the entire country. We are hoping to avoid war through negotiations, thus escaping from even greater suffering. We demand a democratic and constitutional solution from which the people can reorient their course.

Nothing will be favorable for the people without intense participation and mobilization from workers’ and working-class communities in defense of their own interests, in autonomous, self-organized, and conscious ways. The people must aim to conquer their own power and hegemony in the service of the greater good.

A large part of the left in the U.S. is principally opposed to U.S. intervention — and rightly so — but it adopts an uncritical stance towards Maduro’s government. What would you like the international left to say and do to establish solidarity with the Venezuelan people?

International solidarity is necessary in the face of what the U.S. and its allies are carrying out against Venezuela. Solidarity from leftist, progressive, workers and intellectual organizations opposing interventionist policies is especially important. these groups know the high cost of intervention for peoples on the receiving end as well as the high cost born by the North American people themselves.

We ask for strong opposition to Trump’s intervention against Venezuelans, and we are convinced that this will also assist the struggle for freedom and against oppression imposed by the pro-war hawks within the United States.

We need an international campaign against U.S. imperialism and the imposition of illegitimate governments, and for the democratic rights of the Venezuelan people to decide the future of their own country through constitutional means and free elections. This solidarity must not tolerate intervention behind excuses like “humanitarian concerns.”

But this anti-intervention campaign cannot mean any support for Maduro’s government as such, since it is an oppressor of its people.

The opposition to intervention must be for the Venezuelan people to make their own decisions, based on sovereignty and freedom — not to help further consolidate a government that betrayed and dismantled the Bolivarian revolution in the name of a false “socialism.”

Under Maduro, a bureaucracy has become a “lumpen-bourgeoisie” and made itself comfortable in power by exploiting workers, delivering our sovereignty to transnational corporations and foreign powers, destroying our environment, and sacking public resources, all to enrich an elite of bosses.

Opposition to U.S. intervention must not extend to giving support to a despotic government and predatory castes. Let there be no confusion. The support we request is for democracy, sovereignty and dignity for the Venezuelan people.

The Fate of Latin America’s “Pink Tide”

A Review by Samuel Farber

The following review essay will appear in a forthcoming issue of Against the Current. In view of the unfolding massive crisis and imperialist intervention in Venezuela, we are posting it here as it offers highly relevant information on the background and development of the situation in Venezuela and the region. As a review, of course it represents the views of the author. Samuel Farber was born and raised in Cuba and is the author of many books and articles dealing with that country. His books include The Politics of Che Guevara: Theory and Practice (Haymarket Books) and Before Stalinism: The Rise and Fall of Soviet Democracy recently reprinted by Verso Books.

The Ebb and Flow of the Pink Tide. The Decline of the Left in Latin America
by Mike Gonzalez
London, U.K.: Pluto Press, 2019, 199 pages.

This is a welcome book by Mike Gonzalez, an historian and veteran contributor to International Socialism (Britain) and other publications, with a long record of writing about Latin America. Ambitious in scope, the book provides a valuable analytical synthesis of the left turn in Latin America, the so-called Pink Tide, its ascent and its decline, over the past two decades.

The author’s central focus is on Venezuela and Bolivia, the countries at the center of this turn, which for him is characterized by the adoption of an extractivist and developmentalist orientation as an alternative to neoliberalism. His analysis has important implications for understanding the dynamics of international capitalism and the limits of reformism.

It also brings to the fore the consequences for those sectors of the international left ignoring political realities, or even lying to paper over the failures and abuses of Pink Tide governments.

To contextualize this Pink Tide, Gonzalez describes neoliberalism’s main traits, which in Latin America, as in the rest of the world, have included the massive movement of capital to the financial sector, and reduction of the welfare state and of state regulation of economic activity under the pressure of growing debt and the policies of the IMF (International Monetary Fund).

As a result, in Latin America and elsewhere a great deal of the public assets on which the states counted for welfare and other economic and social purposes were privatized and the economy became widely open to foreign capital.

This led to powerful exporters, agribusiness, and especially soybean cultivation acquiring much greater economic weight and importance. Thus, Gonzalez reports, export agriculture and extractive industries attracted new external investment through the 1990s, from China in particular, at the expense of manufacturing and services. (12, 13)

One important feature of neoliberalism in Latin America was the transformation of the labor market that led to the loss of many labor rights and job permanence, leading in turn to the increase of part-time labor and the growth of the informal economy with the consequent big rise in poverty levels.

With the rise in countries like Mexico of the cheaper imports produced by highly mechanized U.S. agriculture, peasants had to abandon or were forced out of their lands leading to their displacement and migration either to the city or abroad, especially northward to the United States. (3)

Neoliberal economic policies, avers Gonzalez, also had a substantial political and cultural impact with the growth of the politically conservative Protestant evangelical groups, based on the communitarian and material assistance they provided to the people who had been abandoned by the state.

Along parallel lines was the growth of the NGOs (Non-Governmental Organizations), designed to compensate for the absence of state public agencies in providing welfare services which, as Gonzalez points out, have basically involved emergency responses rather than mechanisms for the dependable, continuous delivery of services and resources and do nothing to promote social and political structural change. (15)

Venezuela’s 1989 Caracazo uprising (

The Power of Resistance

It wasn’t long before resistance to neoliberalism developed in various Latin American countries, opening the way for the election of center left and left governments. The earliest mass explosion marking the resistance to the imposition of a program of IMF structural adjustment policies was the Venezuelan Caracazo, an urban uprising that began on February 23, 1989, resulting in the loss of hundreds of lives at the hands of the authorities.

That event marked the starting point of a process that eventually led to the rise of Hugo Chávez to power in 1998. The following year, in Ecuador, the indigenous organizations under the leadership of the Confederation of Indigenous Nations of Ecuador (CONAIE) rose up, in coordination with the trade unions, in the battle against the dollarization of the economy in 1999.

On January 1, 1994, the Zapatista insurrection and its occupation of San Cristóbal de las Casas, the capital of the Mexican state of Chiapas, exploded on that same day as the militant answer to the implementation of NAFTA, responding to the long history of land dispossession by the cattle interests in the Lancandon Forest and its likely growth under the terms of that agreement.

Six years later, in January 2000, the Cochabamba Water War broke out in Bolivia in protest against the privatization of water, a massive protest that shut down the city for several days and became part of the process that eventually led to the election of Evo Morales in 2005.

Hugo Chávez (Embassy of Venezuela, Minsk)

Focus on Venezuela

The Pink Tide in Venezuela came in with Hugo Chávez. It was based on his strategy of using oil — Venezuela being one of the world’s larger oil producing countries — then at its highest price, to finance the growth of a Welfare State through which to reduce poverty.

As Gonzalez recounts, the rise of Chávez originates in the political turmoil engendered by the Caracazo in 1989 that effectively ended the over 30 years-long pact that established the peaceful alternation in power between the Social Democratic (Acción Demócratica) and Social Christian (COPEI) parties.

While this agreement had provided for relative political stability, it maintained an unjust socio-economic status quo, a good deal of corruption, and significant repression of the groups and individuals who rebelled against it. It was when Carlos Andres Perez from Acción Demócratica, the president elected on an anti-austerity platform, betrayed his promises and accepted an IMF austerity program in 1989, that the Caracazo broke out.

Chávez, a military officer of humble background, had led a failed military coup in 1992 but was democratically elected president in 1998. Shortly after his election, Chávez called for a Constituent Assembly that in 1999 produced a democratic but socially moderate Constitution.

That document was characterized by Douglas Bravo, well known former guerrilla leader, as neoliberal in its economic planks for failing to include labor rights and or to challenge globalization and its impact on Venezuela, while promising to comply with the country’s international financial obligations. (37)

Chávez’s government became radicalized in response to two 2002 events. The first was a failed coup against him in April, supported not only by the primarily white middle class right wing with its growing street violence, but also by Fedecámaras, the employers’ organization, and by the leadership of the Venezuelan Workers Confederation, a bastion of the Acción Demócratica Party.

This short-lived coup, which was welcomed by Washington, was defeated by major mass action that came out in support of Chávez in great part due to his identification with the poorer and darker Venezuelans.

The coup attempt was followed by a strike in PDVSA, the Venezuelan oil giant, launched by the right on December of the same year. The strikers were the corporation’s white-collar employees, technicians and managers who, according to Gonzalez, also engaged in extensive actions of physical sabotage of the plant. The strike was quashed and three months later PVDSA, free of its striking managers and technicians, was able to resume production.

For Gonzalez, an important manifestation of Chávez’s radicalization was the extensive nationalization that his government undertook of strategic economic sectors, a substantial part of the economy. This included the banks, the oil industry, the generation and distribution of electricity, telecommunications, cement, extractive industries such as mining, steel and aluminum manufacture, all taken over in the 2006-2007 period.

It should be added though, that in contrast with other revolutionary governments like Cuba, Chávez’s nationalization was sui generis in the sense that his government bought, often at inflated prices, the capitalist enterprises instead of confiscating them.

Consejo comunal in Lara, Venezuela (Grace Livingston)

Attempts at Popular Power

The 2002 events also radicalized substantial sections of the population. Expressions of this were the emergence of forms of workers’ control in certain industries such as aluminum, and of cooperatives in other sectors. Popular grassroots organization, such as the “consejos comunales” and the “comunas,” emerged to administer a number of tasks at the community level.

The Chávez government initially supported many of these popular initiatives. One example was the Missions, created as the first stage of the participatory democracy promised by the 1999 Constitution. They were expected to function as organs to distribute government resources particularly in the areas of health, education and welfare based on direct and grassroots democratic participation to bypass the ossified structures of the pre-Chávez state bureaucracies.

As Gonzalez points out, however, these new institutions such as the Missions became organs of patronage, conduits for state investment and government decisions. (43) Chávez’s successor, Nicolás Maduro, announced the formation of new Missions, all of which would be placed under the control of a single new ministry. The community-based “consejos comunales” and the “comunas” followed a similar fate; all are administrative arms of the state with neither autonomy nor economic independence. (127-128)

As the Venezuelan Marxist social scientist Edgardo Lander has noted, these popular organizations generally do not include all the people living in a neighborhood, but only the supporters of Chávez (and Maduro), a conception that points towards clientelism rather than towards a grassroots, participatory democracy inclusive of all people and not just the adherents of a particular political point of view.

By 2007, the number of people in cooperatives had fallen dramatically, and attempts at developing forms of workers’ collective ownership and establishing workers’ control of factories dwindled down. In Alcasa, the aluminum factory originally under workers control, production devolved into a number of coops that became essentially small businesses.

For Gonzalez, Chávez’s insistence in maintaining control from above was particularly visible in the government itself: highly placed functionaries were replaced and appointed by Chávez with no publicly accountable mechanisms for hiring and firing. (43-44) The new appointees formed a new layer of young state functionaries who came from poor backgrounds, were unconditionally loyal to Chávez and his inner circle, and were trained and politically educated in Cuba.

For Gonzalez this underlines the substantial influence of the Cuban government in Venezuela in moving the PSUV — the United Socialist Party that Chavez formed after he came to power — towards the highly centralized and bureaucratic model of the Cuban Communist Party, and particularly in the areas of intelligence, policing and social control. (111, 115).

Yet Chávez’s government achieved an important reduction in poverty and was undoubtedly quite popular. He (along with Maduro) was nevertheless opposed by a heterogeneous political coalition disproportionately composed of the whiter and more economically prosperous sections of society and animated, to a considerable extent, by conservative, if not outright reactionary political impulses. The more right-wing sectors of the opposition have also been willing to resort to illegal methods of street warfare and even coups to obtain power.

For this reviewer, however, the regressive politics of this internal opposition does not negate, nor does it justify the authoritarian tendencies of Chávez’s (and Maduro’s) rule. Chávez’s re-election, for example, ran contrary to the long Latin American democratic and progressive tradition that goes back to the Mexican Revolution’s slogan of “sufragio efectivo, no reelección” (effective suffrage, no reelection).

More ominous was the fact that the Chavista-dominated legislature willingly gave up a substantial part of its responsibility and power by allowing Chávez to rule by decree even in non-emergency situations. Even worse was Maduro’s decision to bypass the democratically elected National Assembly in December 2015, because the opposition had just gained a majority in the elections in violation of the democratic rules that the government had committed itself to respect.

Maduro called instead for a Constituent Assembly. In violation of the Constitution approved under Chávez, there was no preceding referendum to approve the call for a new constitution. To assure his control over the Constituent Assembly, Maduro introduced the undemocratic corporatist provision to have one-third of the members chosen by seven social sectors he selected, which were favorable to the government, such as pensioners. Mike Gonzalez points out that this election excluded five million voters from participating and favored the rural areas where Chávez had done best in previous elections. (131)

Dueling rallies in Caracas, January 23, 2019 (REUTERS/Adriana Loureiro)

An Explosive Crisis

Maduro, certainly a less charismatic and politically talented leader than Chávez, was confronted soon after his accession to power in March, 2013 by a catastrophic economic crisis that led to an uncontrolled skyrocketing inflation, growing government debts, low monetary reserves, a serious scarcity of consumer goods and the departure of millions of Venezuelans for abroad — primarily for economic reasons, and to a lesser degree due to the lack of physical security in what has become one of the most violent countries in the world.

The crisis is surely connected with the precipitous fall of the price of oil — the cornerstone of Chávez’s developmental strategy — in the world market, although prices have recovered somewhat since the worst of the crisis.

In addition, Washington has been economically harassing the Venezuelan government at every turn, as in the series of sanctions that Donald Trump decreed against Venezuelan functionaries and the government. These include the freezing of U.S. assets of Venezuelan individuals, barring U.S. companies from buying debts or accounts receivable from any Venezuelan government institution, and adopting restrictive measures against Venezuelan international transactions in oil, gold and crypto currencies.

The political offensive organized by the so-called Lima Group composed of several, mostly conservative, governments in the western hemisphere that refuse to recognize Maduro’s new presidential term, is very worrisome too, particularly as it creates fertile ground for an internal coup in Venezuela with U.S. support.

Yet as Gonzalez points out, the current economic crisis is to a great extent the outgrowth of the seeds planted by Chávez’s chaotic and corrupt oil-dependent government involving elements of the traditional bourgeoisie and the boliburguesia that he created. Much of what Maduro’s government has described as an “economic war” inflicted by his opponents on Venezuela is thus the outcome of a variety of economic problems that are to a large extent self-inflicted.

As a major form of capital flight, Gonzalez points out to the many dollars that Chávez’s and Maduro’s governments provided for imports that ended up being banked in the United States, and were used for the private purposes of both the traditional bourgeoisie and Chávez’s boliburguesía in their exploitation of speculative opportunities that have been far more lucrative for them than productive investments. (117).

To that effect, Gonzalez cites the specific case mentioned by Venezuelan Marxist economist Manuel Sutherland involving the increase of meat imports by 17,000 percent between 2003 and 2013, while in the same period meat consumption fell by 22 percent. As with many other consumer items, it is likely that the meat was diverted to the Colombian market, where a lot of consumer good intended for Venezuelans end up in the search for illegal private profit.

Besides corruption there is the problem of economic chaos: Oil production has seriously declined due to a lack of investment in plant and infrastructure, particularly after a big fire at one of the plants, which some believed was caused by sabotage. Other state-owned industries, such as iron, steel and aluminum are paralyzed by the lack of spare parts for machinery, the absence of raw materials, and the failure to invest over time. (125)

In addition, there has been much waste as a great deal of capital has been invested in ill-conceived infrastructural projects, or, for example, in the sugar refinery in Barinas province that never opened, while leading Chavistas enrich themselves at state expense. (119)

In a desperate move to solve the growing economic crisis, Maduro has begun the large Arco Minero plan, an enormous extractivist project to attract foreign capital in an area equivalent to 12 percent of Venezuelan territory, which besides holding high quantities of minerals, oil and gas is the country’s principal source of fresh water. Chávez himself had years earlier rejected a similar proposal, on environmental grounds and in recognition of the right of the indigenous peoples in the area. (130)

To top it all, agriculture is doing very poorly due to a shortage of expensive fertilizer, lack of state investment, and neglect by the large landowners. (124) This is an all too typical situation among oil-dependent states that don’t develop other economic activities to compensate for periods of low prices in the inevitable cycles of the international oil market.

Evo Morales

The Case of Bolivia

The Pink Tide in Bolivia reached a peak with the 2005 election of Evo Morales as President with 54% of the vote. This was the result of the dramatic succession of large-scale massive struggles from below during the preceding decade, animated by a popular ideology described by Gonzalez as regional, nationalist, communal, and in many cases syndicalist. (73)

This wave of struggle came in response to the onslaught of a series of neoliberal policies introduced in Bolivia in the eighties and nineties that privatized much of the economy, including the selling off all publicly owned utility companies such as electricity, telephones, railways, and especially the Bolivian national oil company YPFB.

Initially there was little resistance to these changes for a number of reasons, including the fact that the power of the very influential miners’ union and COB, the trade union federation under its influence, had greatly declined with the dismantling of the mining industry and the migration of its social base to other parts of the country.

The vacuum was filled by the peasant federation CSTUSB (Unified Syndical Confederation of Rural Workers of Bolivia), much influenced by the politics of ethnic identity (54-55), which assumed the leadership of the resistance with the active participation of the new militant teachers and workers in small factories.

Their struggles were often successful, like the one against the privatization of water in the city of Cochabamba in 1999, which included indigenous and community organizations, market traders, coca farmers, organized workers, students and civil servants.

There was also the Gas War of 2003, caused by neoliberal President Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada’s decisions to export and hand over control of Bolivian gas to foreign multinationals, and to arrest an important community leader, which provoked a virtual insurrection centered in the city of El Alto (located near the capital of La Paz) and a call for a general strike.

Barricaded highways stopped all traffic into the capital and blockaded the airport located in El Alto. The Lozada government used tanks and helicopters against the mass protest. But the government began to fracture under the overwhelming popular pressure and was replaced by Carlos Mesa, who opted for a policy of compromise and concessions to appease the rebellion.

Evo Morales, the leader of the coca growers and of the broad-left party MAS (Movimiento al Socialismo) initially supported Mesa but withdrew his support in March 2005, as a second water war developed in El Alto over a new government contract to a private water company, and after Congress approved a new Hydrocarbons Law that stipulated low royalties and taxes, failing to meet the expectations of even the more conservative section of MAS.

Eventually, in the midst of a climate of popular mobilization, elections were held on December 18, 2005 and Evo was elected President with an absolute majority.

In contrast with the left wing of MAS that argued for the full nationalization of the oil and gas industries, Morales pushed for legislation that fell short of nationalization and instead gave the state more power over these industries in order to extract more income through increased prices, taxes and royalties. (78).

This policy, combined with the new government’s fairly orthodox fiscal, and monetary practices successfully produced significant economic growth and welfare services. The power of the indigenous groups was also expanded and the social mobility of the Bolivian Indians grew.

As Gonzalez points out, however, Morales’ extractivist and developmentalist strategy has recently run into a wall as a result of the decline since 2016 of oil and gas prices in the international market. As a result, imports have declined by 20 percent leading to a substantial decline in economic activity and consumption.

In addition, his indigenous and environmentalist platform has become burnished and lost credibility. His government’s decision to build a highway through the indigenous territory of the Isidore Sécure National Park (TIPNIS) provoked an important protest of Bolivian indigenous groups.

Morales is also confronting serious political problems: having lost his bid to run for a third time for the presidency of his country in a national referendum called by his government in 2016, the recently established Electoral Tribunal (clearly dominated by Evo Morales) overruled the results of the 2016 referendum to allow Evo to run for President again.

As Mike Gonzalez observes, in the context of the Bolivian process this is a betrayal of the revolutionary impulse and radical democratic practice of the movement that brought Evo to power. (90)


Mike Gonzalez criticizes the general failure of Pink Tide governments to divert part of the surplus from their export of commodities, especially when prices were high, into expanding alternative areas of production instead of having them totally channeled into consumption.

He notes that the same failed strategy continues even now that the expansion of mining and other extractive industries has slowed down with the decline of the Chinese economic boom in recent years. And while there has been a gradual increase in internal trading within Latin America, there has not been much interest on the part of those Pink Tide governments in economic integration to complement each others’ economies in a more effective way and independently of imperialism — possibly because they perceive such integration as a surrender of their national sovereignty.

In any case, Gonzalez concludes, the extractivist developmental strategy of the Pink Tide governments has essentially worked as a renegotiation of the neoliberal terms of their relationship with international capital and the imperialist powers, rather than to create a new economic rationality and order. (163-165)

Gonzalez laments much of the international left’s failure to afford positive criticism of this strategy, in order to learn useful lessons to change or to channel it into the construction of socialist economies that are democratic, and work. Instead, he sees an important part of the left intent on apologizing for the Pink Tide governments.

Gonzalez shows how the exaggerated claims made by the left on behalf of the Chávez and Maduro governments proved to be ill-founded and a serious misreading of what was happening in Venezuela. That is why he insists that “truth is the first guiding principle of any revolutionary theory.” (44)

This apologetic tendency has been equally disastrous in the case of corruption in Brazil, over which much of the left has upheld the images of Brazilian presidents Lula and Dilma Rousseff as activists of the original PT (Workers Party) arguing for a revolutionary transformation of Brazil untainted by Stalinism.

The PT in power, however, did not attempt any kind of fundamental social transformation. At most, PT governments established a system of individual payments for the poor, without having stemmed the sources and causes of their poverty, while making deals and protecting the interests of those in power.

The left, argues Gonzalez, must defend progressives and socialists against attacks from the right but not cover up their mistakes and corruption. There is no such thing as right or left wing corruption, he notes, but just corruption, and corruption may in fact be successfully used by the right to discredit the left, as in the election of the Brazilian far right elected president Jair Bolsonaro.

The main issue underlying corruption, Mike Gonzalez concludes, is the absence of transparency and accountability as measures of public office, which is always critical to democracy. (173-74)

Sorting through the lies about Venezuela

Pete Dolack

Challenging United States hegemony is never an easy course. A county need not be socialist — it is enough to either voice aspirations toward socialism, or merely demonstrate a pattern of not doing as Washington dictates.

So here we go again, this time with Venezuela. Ironically for a country that the corporate media insistently claims has been ruled by two “dictators” (remember that Hugo Chávez was routinely denounced in the same ways that Nicolás Maduro is today) it would be difficult to find a country with more opportunities for grassroots democracy and for everyday people to participate in the decisions that affect their lives and neighborhoods. There has been backtracking on some of this, and there are legitimate complaints about the top-down manner in which the ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) is run. The U.S. government is in no position to point fingers, however, given its history in Latin America and the widespread voter suppression that is a regular feature of U.S. elections.

Sorting through the lies about Venezuela

Supporters of the Venezuelan government demonstrate in 2017 (Rachael Boothroyd Rojas/Venezuelanalysis)

It is also preposterous to assert that “socialism has failed” in Venezuela, when 70 percent of the country’s economy is in private hands, the country is completely integrated into the world capitalist system and it is (overly) dependent on a commodity with a price that wildly fluctuates on capitalist markets. Venezuela is a capitalist country that does far more than most to ameliorate the conditions of capitalism and in which socialism remains an aspiration. If something has “failed,” it is capitalism. Leaving much of the economy in the hands of capitalists leaves them with the ability to sabotage an economy, a lesson learned in painful fashion during the 1980s in Sandinista Nicaragua.

Before delving into the significant problems of Venezuela, largely due to the economic war being waged against it by the U.S. government and the economic sabotage within by Venezuela’s industrialists and other business interests, it is worthwhile to briefly examine some of the democratic institutions that have been created since the Bolivarian Revolution took root in 1998.

Communal councils organize at neighborhood level

The base of the Venezuelan political system are the communal councils. Various political structures designed to organize people at the grassroots level have evolved into a system of communal councils, organized on a neighborhood level, which in turn build up to communes and communal cities. These are direct-democracy bodies that identify and solve the problems and deficiencies of their local areas with the direct support and funding of the national government. After decades of neglect by previous governments, there were no shortage of problems to tackle.

Like many institutions of the Bolivarian Revolution, these have roots in grassroots organizing that pre-date Hugo Chávez’s first election.

The Barrio Assembly of Caracas emerged in 1991 as something of a general assembly representing local groups, coming into being after demonstrations marking the first and second anniversaries of the “Caracazo” uprising were dispersed by soldiers firing on them from rooftops. (The “Caracazo” uprising was a massive revolt sparked by popular resistance to an austerity package dictated by the International Monetary Fund.) Later versions of these assemblies organized on the eve of the 2002 coup attempting to overthrow President Chávez; among these assemblies’ accomplishments were distributing 100,000 fliers calling for a march on the presidential palace to defend the government.

The communal councils are the base of an alternative government structure, one intended to bypass municipal and other local governments and to eventually replace them. This was an attempt to provide a concrete form to the concept of “constituent power,” the idea that people should be direct participants in the decisions to affect their lives and communities. Legislation passed in 2006 formally recognized the communal councils and the form quickly gained popularity — there were an estimated 30,000 in existence by 2009. These councils are formed in compact urban areas containing 200 to 400 households in cities and 20 or so in rural areas. All residents of the territory are eligible to participate. In turn, communal councils organize into larger communes, and communes into communal cities, to coordinate projects too large for a neighborhood or to organize projects necessarily on a larger scale, such as improving municipal services.

Communal councils are required to propose three projects that will contribute to development in the community; funding for approved projects will usually come from national-government bodies. An interesting development is that many (in the case of councils studied by researchers, a majority) who have taken active roles in the communal councils were not politically active before the 2002 failed coup. Generally, women outnumber men among the active participants, and it is often older women taking the lead. The culture of participation that the councils encourage and that the Bolivarian government is paying vastly more attention to solving social problems and the needs of the poor than prior governments has facilitated the organizing of women, and the new activity of women in turn is breaking down traditional macho attitudes. That pensions are now much stronger, proving material security, also enables participation. Health committees tackling problems of illness, access to contraception and motherhood are often where participation begins. Once involved, women sign up for training programs, with more women then men taking advantage of these.

Communes often organize enterprises to provide employment for local residents and to help supply needed basic goods. One example is the El Panal 2012 Commune in Caracas. El Panal operates several enterprises and a communal bank. One of the enterprises is a sugar-packaging plant, and there are also bakeries. El Panal activists are also creating links with neighboring communes in Caracas and in other parts of the country. Links are also being created with the countryside — a “Pueblo a Pueblo” initiative brings together urban communities and farmers to distribute food directly, eliminating intermediaries and speculators. El Panal also regularly organizes food fairs at which meats, vegetables and other basic foods can be bought at discounts, well below market prices.

Tackling social problems through missions

There are also the social programs known as “missions” that are based on the direct participation of the beneficiaries. Begun in 2003, there are more than two dozen missions that seek to solve a wide array of social problems. Given the corruption and inertia of the state bureaucracy, and the unwillingness of many professionals to provide services to poor neighborhoods, the missions were established to provide services directly while enabling participants to shape the programs. Much government money was poured into these programs, thanks to the then high price of oil, which in turn enabled the Chávez government to fund them.

Among the approximately two dozen missions are Alimentación, which incorporates the Mercal network that provides food at subsidized prices and a distribution system; Cultura, which seeks the decentralization and democratization of culture to ensure that all have access to it and stimulate community participation; Guaicaipuro, intended to guarantee the rights of Indigenous peoples as specified in the constitution; Madres del Barrio, designed to provide support to housewives in dire poverty and help their families overcome their poverty; Negra Hipólita, which assists children, adolescents and adults who are homeless; Piar, which seeks to help mining communities through dignifying living conditions and establishing environmental practices; and Zamora, intended to reorganize land, especially idle land that could be used for agriculture, in accordance with the constitution.

Venezuelan political scientist and historian Margarita López Maya summarized the breadth of the missions in a Socialist Register article:

“Missions (programs bypassing uncooperative or ineffective state agencies), such as Barrio Adentro (free 24 hours a day primary health care and disease prevention for low income groups), Mercal (state distribution of food at subsidized prices), Robinson 1 and 2 (literacy and primary education for adults), Ribas and Sucre (secondary and university education for those who had missed or not finished these), Vuelvan Caras (training for employment), and the Bolivarian schools, where a full day schedule has been restored, with two free meals and two snacks a day, plus free uniforms and textbooks: all these undoubtedly had a positive political impact. The government has also invested in the social economy, as in the “ruedas de negocios,” in which the creation of cooperatives is encouraged in order to supply goods and services to the state sector. The government has also created a system of micro-financing with the Women’s Bank, the Sovereign People’s Bank, and so on, which make small loans to lower income borrowers.”

Struggles for economic democracy

In the workplaces, there are experiments with co-management, cooperatives, socialist production units and workers’ councils. These forms have been contested — an ongoing multiple-sided struggle over what constitutes “workers’ control” of industry and what forms such control should take continues. Cooperative enterprises are enshrined in the constitution, and a 2001 law mandates that all members be included in decision-making and that an assembly of all members has final decision-making power over all topics. Temporary workers can be hired for a maximum of six months, after which they must be accepted as members. A state ministry was created to provide assistance to cooperatives and small businesses, including the facilitation of securing contracts from state companies.

There are difficulties here. One significant problem were instances of cooperatives being formed only in order to acquire the start-up capital provided by the government, or were small companies that converted to being cooperatives only on paper to take advantage of preferential priority for state contracts or to obtain subsidies. In response to these irregularities, the government began to require coops obtain a “certificate of fulfillment of responsibilities,” which includes financial audits and demonstration of work within their local community. Nonetheless, there are many examples of successful cooperative enterprises.

A continuing area of contestation are state-owned enterprises. Some argue for state ownership with employee participation, others argue for full autonomy of enterprises and the workers in them, and there are gradations in between. There are managements that don’t wish to cede decision-making authority to their workforce, and there are government officials, despite being part of the Bolivarian movement, who oppose workers’ control, sometimes because they believe in top-down control by the state. There are examples of state-owned companies in which management structures have changed multiple times as different factions temporarily gain control.

The push and pull of competing interests and tendencies is exemplified in the case of the state-owned aluminum smelter Alcasa, which had a well-functioning system of workers’ control under co-management that reversed its debt problems; then had a new director appointed who ignored the co-management structure, with an accompanying fall in productivity and return of corruption; and then a return to co-management when President Chávez named a new company president selected by the workers. Workers’ control was reinstated with new structures, and because of the precarious financial situation caused by the corruption of the middle period, workers began designing parts to be produced internally instead of buying them from suppliers as previously done. More difficulties arose when a dissident union aligned with the local state governor attempted to stop production, and although unsuccessful, caused a significant disruption. Yet another change in management by Chávez led to a renewed deterioration in co-management, and struggles at Alcasa continued.

Economic warfare at home and abroad

Shifting from a traditional capitalist economy toward a participatory economic democracy can’t be expected to be smooth sailing, especially when this attempt is being done in a country with subaltern status in the world capitalist system. President Chávez had to withstand three successive attempts to remove him — the 2002 coup, 2002-03 bosses’ lockout and the 2004 recall referendum. Five times he was elected president, never with less than 55 percent of the vote, and overall he won 16 of 17 elections and referendums in which his movement participated. The election system put in place by the Chávez government was declared by former U.S. President Jimmy Carter’s Carter Center to be “the best in the world.” None of this prevented the late president from being furiously denounced as a “dictator.”

Once he died, however, the attacks were stepped up by the revolution’s opponents, apparently believing that the loss of the leader would make the revolution vulnerable. In reality, the Bolivarian Revolution has always been a movement propelled by millions who will not readily give up the many gains they have achieved and which pushed the late president to go further. Venezuela has a long tradition of strong, organized movements, which predate the Bolivarian Revolution. Despite the difficulties of recent years and increasing popular disapproval of President Maduro, those movements do not want their gains to be reversed. During the Chávez years, unemployment and poverty were drastically reduced and people were able to participate in the political process for the first time.

So how much of Venezuela’s serious economic problems are the fault of the current president? Some of the blame can be laid at his doorstep, but mostly for his inability to act in timely fashion and allowing problems caused by outside forces to deepen. A serious mistake that has ran through the past 20 years is that no progress was made on reducing Venezuela’s heavy reliance on oil exports. When oil prices were high, the government was content to let the money flow and use it to fund social programs and finance a wide variety of projects. But the later crash in oil prices left the government vulnerable. By not diversifying the economy, much less is earned when the inevitable falls in price arrive and it becomes difficult to maintain consumption because so many consumer products must be imported.

The over-reliance on a single export commodity would be difficult to overcome by itself. But greatly compounding Venezuela’s problems are U.S. sanctions, a currency that became drastically overvalued, and an inflationary spiral resulting from that overvaluation that incentivized black markets and smuggling. Poor management on the part of the government of President Maduro has intensified the damage done by those factors. Although the Venezuelan government set an official exchange rate for its currency, the bolívar, the effective exchange rate was determined by international currency speculators and thus the value of the bolívar is not in the control of Caracas.

Speculators caused the value of the bolívar to be reduced by 97 percent in 2017, and further drastic reductions in the currency’s value continued well into 2018. The value or output of the Venezuelan economy hardly declined by anything remotely comparable, so there are other factors at work for such a drastic reduction in exchange value. But because the Maduro government did not adjust the official exchange rate when the bolívar came under attack, the spread between the official rate and the de facto rate widened to the point that vast opportunities for smuggling and black-market operations were created. That in turn caused shortages and hyperinflation.

These developments were a consequence of Venezuela’s integration into the world capitalist system and the country’s heavy reliance on imports. Food and consumer goods intended to be sold at discounts in state stores were diverted to the black market, where profiteers sold them at prices several times higher or smuggled them into Colombia for huge profits. Government officials have repeatedly discovered vast quantities of consumer goods hidden in warehouses by local capitalists who are artificially causing shortages.

Hardening financial sanctions

United States government sanctions on Venezuela prohibit any U.S. persons or banks from providing financing or purchasing any debt issued by the Venezuelan government or the state oil company PDVSA, the purpose of which is to make it more difficult for the government to raise funds internationally or to restructure debt.

These sanctions are effectively extra-territorial. A non-U.S. bank that seeks to handle a transaction in U.S. dollars (the currency most often used in international transactions) has to do so by clearing the transaction through a U.S. bank; a U.S. bank that cleared such a transaction would be in violation of the sanctions. The Obama administration intensified the U.S. financial war on Venezuela by absurdly declaring the latter a “national security threat” and the Trump administration has issued a succession of decrees tightening the screws.

The latest, issued on January 28, freezes all property and interests of PDVSA subject to U.S. jurisdiction — in other words, blocking Venezuela from any access to the profits generated by PDVSA’s U.S. subsidiary, Citgo, or any PDVSA activities in the United States. The Trump administration expects Venezuela to lose US$11 billion this year, The New York Times reports. That move is in addition to repeated calls by the Trump administration for an overthrow of the Venezuelan government, threats by President Trump to invade, and the Trump administration “recognizing” the opposition leader Juan Guaidó as president although Guaidó has never run for the position and is largely unknown to the Venezuelan public. An added insult is the appointment of death-squad cheerleader Elliot Abrams to “oversee” a “return to democracy,” an idea that would draw laughs if Abrams’ history in Latin America during the Reagan administration weren’t so deadly.

Successive U.S. administrations have subsidized opposition groups — an estimated US$100 million has been poured into Venezuela in an effort to subvert the elected government.

Alan MacLeod, a specialist in media studies, summarized the extra-territorial effect of U.S. sanctions:

The sanctions strongly discourage other countries from lending money to the country for fear of reprisal and also discourage any businesses from doing business there too. A study from the 2018 opposition Presidential candidate’s economics czar suggested the sanctions were responsible for a 50% drop in oil production. Furthermore, Trump’s sanctions prevent profits from Venezuela-owned CITGO from being sent back to Venezuela. Trump has also threatened banks with 30 years in jail if they co-operate with Caracas and has intimidated others into going along with them.”

President Maduro is repeatedly called a “dictator,” an epithet endless repeated across the corporate media. But when a portion of the opposition boycotts, can it be a surprise that the incumbent wins? The opposition actually asked the United Nations to not send observers, a sure sign that they expected to lose a fair election despite their claims that the election would be rigged. Nonetheless, a coalition of Canadian unions, church leaders and other officials declared the election to be “a transparent, secure, democratic and orderly electoral and voting process.”

Unfortunately, there is every reason to be concerned, given the hostility of U.S. governments and capitalists to any intent to become independent of the U.S. or to direct economic activity to benefit local people rather than maximizing the profits of U.S. multinational corporations. The United States has militarily invaded Latin American and Caribbean countries 96 times, including 48 times in the 20th century. That total constitutes only direct interventions and doesn’t include coups fomented by the U.S., such as Guatemala in 1954 and Chile in 1973. Guatemala was attempting nothing more “radical” than a land reform that would have forced United Fruit to sell idle land at United Fruit’s own under-valuation of the land (a self-assessment made by United Fruit to avoid paying a fair share of taxes). The U.S. overthrew the government and instituted what would become a 40-year nightmare of state-organized mass murder that ultimately cost 200,000 lives. The Chilean effort to build a humane economy was ended with the overthrow of Salvador Allende and the installation of Augusto Pinochet and his murderous regime that immiserated Chileans.

Dissimilar results can hardly be expected if the U.S. were to succeed in overthrowing the Venezuelan government and installing a right-wing government that would reverse the many gains of the past 20 years. Hands off Venezuela!

This article appeared on the Systemic Disorder website on January 30, 2019 here.