Venezuela in Context: The US-formed plot to overthrow the Bolivarian Revolution
Recently, Venezuela has been hit by waves of protests from the opposition over the legitimacy of Maduro’s presidency. Elected in 2018, President Nicolas Maduro took office on January 10th, 2019 to start his second 6-year term as president of Venezuela. In response, Juan Guaido, the head of the National Assembly declared himself the legitimate leader of Venezuela. Backed by the United States and other western powers, Guaido has attempted to start the brokering of relationships with the west with regards to Venezuela’s massive oil deposits. In response, Maduro cut off all diplomatic relations with the United States, and demanded that all US personnel leave Venezuela within 72 hours of the declaration, to which the US threatened military action in response. How did things get to this point?
These are the facts. The US government has opposed the Bolivarian Revolution since its onset, especially leading up to the 2002 coup, where coup members received direct support from the US government. Since 2015, the opposition has tried to use violence and terrorism to overthrow the Venezuelan government. The economic origins of this most recent crisis started in 2014. Saudi Arabia, a client state of the US, flooded the market with oil to the detriment of their own economy, driving down global prices of oil and conveniently wreaking the economies of Russia, Venezuela, Iran and other longstanding US adversaries. Because of these actions allegedly at the behest of the US, oil prices dropped from about $110 / barrelin June 2014 to about $30 / barrelby January 2016. There is precedence for these actions: Michael Reagan, the son of former US president Ronald Reagan claims that his father recognized that “selling oil was the source of the Kremlin’s wealth, [so he] got the Saudis to flood the market with cheap oil.”In a war for global hegemony and covert action, this brings up the troubling prospect of the plausibility that the US used similar tactics to destabilize Venezuela. And it does not even address thecurrency manipulation, sanctions, and other factors at play that also contributed to the crash of the Venezuelan economy.
In order to pressure the government, the opposition worked with regional allies including the United States, Brazil, and Colombia in order to achieve a change in government. There is significant evidence that the US government has been working to overthrow Venezuela for years, such as Hillary Clinton’s leaked emailsfrom Wikileaks. The tactics of violence by the opposition and economic pressure from the US, and condemnations from the Organization of American States (OAS), an organization described by the state department that “promotes US political and economic interests in the Western Hemisphere by countering the influence of anti-U.S. countries such as Venezuela”(page 180)also contributed. The opposition is guilty of inciting violence against the Chavismo people and government supporters in a variety of incidents centered around their guarimbas, centers of militant opposition violence against the Venezuelan government and its supporters. Some incidents include a situation in which the opposition attacked a police officerand pulled four of his teeth out, a retired national guardsman who was beaten to deathby members of the opposition, violent opposition mobs attacking a maternity clinic, opposition members burning storehouses full of food, then blaming the government for a subsequent starvation crisis occurring, and opposition members accusing an Afro-Venezuelan man of being a Chavismo, beating him, and eventually killing him by setting him on fire.
The biggest complaint from the opposition is that the government is undemocratic, but even this is based on a myriad of lies. The opposition claims that the government was consolidating power by taking away responsibilities from the National Assembly after the 2015 election. However, context is key: The opposition gained seats in the assembly, but attempted to swear in three other members who according to the Supreme Court (TSJ) did not win the elections (as that would have given the opposition a 2/3 majority and the power to overthrow the government). The National Assembly refused to abide by the rule of law, and the TSJ held them in contempt of courtfor refusing to abide by the rule of law. According to Venezuela’s constitution, the TSJ has the authority to “declare an unconstitutional default in the national, state or municipal legislature… and establish, if necessary, corrective measures”, making their actions legal. However since then, they reversed their decision, allowing the National Assembly to exist. It is ahistorical to portray this as an undemocratic decision by a government for enforcing the rule of law. In addition, if Maduro was a dictator, he could have abolished the National Assembly, yet, it is not within his power to abolish the body, so instead an election for the Constituent Assembly was called. The assembly acts as a body directly elected by the people to represent the will of the Venezuelan people. Currently, both bodies exist and function alongside each other, with Juan Guaido as the leader of the National Assembly. There are also fears by the opposition that Maduro intends to rule as a dictator, but that holds little water since there were elections for president in 2018 in which Maduro won 67.8% of the vote. Turnout was low at 46%, but by comparison to turnout for US standards; it is hardly a sign of illegitimacy. To put this in perspective, Maduro won a larger percentage of votes from eligible votersin 2018 (31%) than Trump did in 2016 (26%) and about the same percentage as Obama in his landslide 2008 election (31%).
Another piece of “evidence” individuals in opposition to Maduro like to tout is the corruption of allegedly packing the courts. However, there are two rebuttals to this: First, the courts themselves must be approved by a 2/3 vote in the National Assembly. If Maduro proposed judges for the Supreme Court, they could not have been appointed without approval of the national assembly. So can one describe the actions of Maduro selecting jurors and then those jurors winning the support of the National Assembly as packing the courts? Such a definition would weaken the meaning of the term and would effectively describe a situation applicable to any democratic country with the legislature and executive branches belonging to the same party. Secondly, the act of packing the courts is not necessarily an anti-democratic measure when the opposition coalition is actively working with foreign interests to militantly overthrow the government. In fact, packing the courts may be necessary to maintain the integrity and democratic structure of government institution. For example, in the United States in response to the nakedly partisan appointment of Justice Kavanaugh, leftists and even liberals began floating the idea of packing the courts to dilute the power of the justices who allegedly stole seats that President Obama should have appointed. This move is not necessarily anti-democratic and labeling it as such is an uninformed and overly simplistic analysis.
Another critique of Maduro centers on the failing of the Bolivarian Revolution to diversify its economy. Chavez and Maduro are criticized for not transforming the Venezuelan economy from dependency on oil to a variety of other factors. However Maduro assumed the presidency in 2013, but the prices in oil dropped a year later. How could Maduro be expected to revolutionize the economy in such sort time? Even if we examine the actions of Chavez, we can quickly see how this expectation is unrealistic at best, and disingenuous at worse. Chavez, through the support of the people of Venezuela became the leader in 1999 on the prospects of improving the lot of the average Venezuelan. Before Chavez, the neoliberal state of Venezuela produced horrific conditions for their (non-wealthy) citizens. Both Chavez and the revolution could have focused on immediately starting the long and expensive process of diversifying the economy for the unlikely event that oil prices would suddenly collapse some 15 years later, or they could have focused on providing relief for his people. Unfortunately capitalism’s failings often leave new socialist countries with similar difficult choices. It was paramount for the Bolivarian project to focus on improving the daily lives of its citizens. Can anyone fault the country for prioritizing the daily lives of its people by relaying on a (relatively) consistent supply of wealth that could be readily used?
In order to provide more legitimacy to the Venezuelan government, in 2017 elections for the Constituent Assembly were held to choose representatives to be a part of a referendum process that would improve upon the Venezuelan Constitution. The opposition tried to paint the referendum as a sham, but again this holds little water when anyone could run to be a representative in the referendum, and ironically, the opposition refused to even participate in the democratic process that allows the people to directly determine their constitution. In addition, whatever recommendations the referendum makes must be approved by a majority of Venezuelans, so to describe it as a non-democratic practice is disingenuous at best. This claim that this process is undemocratic is ironic especially since many of individuals that make up the opposition were involved in the 2002 Venezuelan coup that abolished the National Assembly and suspended the Constitutionon the first day of the coup.
A final indication of the “illegitimacy” of the Bolivarian project is the idea of a one party rule. According to critics, due to government repression, their actions have weakened democracy to the point where there is effectively rule by a single party. However, this is far from true. As stated above, instead of participating in the democratic process, some of the opposition openly called for a coupagainst the government, leading to their arrests or have relied on the militant guarimbas referenced above. When the opposition ran candidates in 2015, they won a significant number of seats, yet they tried to subvert the democratic process by violating Venezuela’s constitution as mentioned above. Currently, the opposition-dominated National Assembly is widely unpopular, reflecting the general unpopularity of the Venezuelan opposition.
But even if these characterizations of a single party rule were true, would the existence of a one party rule necessarily be undemocratic? The founding fathers detested the idea of political parties and envisioned the existence of a society in which there would be no political parties. Is having a single political party that anyone can participate in not effectively the same thing in terms of the level of democracy as not having any political parties? Even if this were the reality in Venezuela (and Venezuela has not banned other political parties from existing and running, with evidence in the above paragraphs), would banning parties trying to establish neoliberal capitalism necessarily be non-democratic? While this may seem like a foreign concept to most westerners, socialists view capitalism as an oppressive system based on exploiting people’s needs to survive in order to extract as much wealth as possible from the products of their labor. Would banning a party advocating for the “right” to mass exploitation of the majority of primarily black, brown, and indigenous individuals in favor of a rich white-passing ruling class be undemocratic, or just under a government dedicated to equality for all? On measures of both the theoretical and actual, the Venezuelan government is far from undemocratic.
In recent days, the Venezuelan opposition has lauded Juan Guaido as the “legitimate” leader of Venezuela, a leader hardly known by most Venezuelans and handpicked by the US government. Guaido is a political ally of Leopoldo Lopez, an opposition leader who played a major role in the US-backed 2002 coup against Hugo Chavez. Guaido is best known as the leader of the National Assembly, a deeply unpopular legislative institution that was previously held in contempt of court by Venezuela’s Supreme Court. Currently according to polling conducted by opposition-friendly sources, the National Assembly has a 70% disapproval ratingwith just a 25.3% approval rating. How can Maduro, who won a presidential election in 2018 be considered undemocratic, while Guaido, a relatively unknown leader of a widely unpopular institution who was handpicked by US officials is seen as the democratic choice?
None of this is to say that the Venezuelan government doesn’t have its faults; what government is ever completely blameless? But this is irrelevant within this moment in time and only works to distract from the fact that the US is actively trying to destroy the Bolivarian project. Why are we as a nation supporting a regressive, violent, and authoritarian opposition? Two reasons are obvious: Venezuela controls the largest oil reserves in the world, and the US is very interested in opening up oil reserves to the global market. And any successful socialist country threatens the capitalist system we have; if working class individuals see massive gains made by the working class in socialist countries; it puts pressure on our own system. It is our responsibilities as individuals in the west to support the Bolivarian Project, the working class people of Venezuela, and oppose the machinations of the United States and its regional allies.