Socialist Alternative

Venezuela After the Coup Attempt – Which Way Forward?

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On April 30, Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó called for mass protests and also appealed to the military to overthrow President Nicolás Maduro. This became one of the most serious coup attempts in Venezuela since the beginning of the Bolivarian Revolution in the late 1990s.

Socialist Alternative completely opposes Trump’s threat of military intervention and sanctions in Venezuela.

Failed Coup

Only a few military personnel joined Guaidó as the day proceeded. There were mass protests showing strong popular support for Maduro, but there is also growing desperation due to extreme poverty and the collapse of the economy in Venezuela which translates into support for Guaidó’s opposition.

Maduro has declared that “the skirmish in Venezuela has been defeated” while Guaidó said that Maduro has no support among the military nor the people. In reality, the problems which brought the situation to a boiling point are far from being solved and the crisis is far from being over.

Since April 30, the Maduro government has detained the National Assembly Vice President and fired 55 armed forces officers for their role in the failed coup. Venezuela’s National Constituent Assembly has also revoked the parliamentary immunity of seven opposition deputies, opening the way for criminal prosecution. Leopoldo Lopez, a major opposition leader who escaped house arrest and participated in opposition rallies, is now hiding in the Spanish ambassador’s residence as there is a new arrest warrant against him.

U.S. Backing the Coup Leaders

As April 30 developed into chaotic clashes, U.S. secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, gave a revealing interview to Fox News where he stated that while the U.S. government would prefer a “peaceful” transition of power, a military option is on the table. As we’ve seen throughout history, the U.S. ruling class has not hesitated to support right-wing dictatorships or intervene militarily to advance their own interests, particularly in Latin America.

Inter-Imperialist Tensions

Russian and Chinese support for the Maduro government is based on their economic relationship. Venezuela, one of the largest oil exporters in the world, has relied on the two countries as prominent buyers and lenders. In March, China became the largest buyer of Venezuelan oil since the U.S. imposed sanctions on the national oil company, PDVSA.

Aside from that, China and Russia are also Venezuela’s largest creditors and are seeking to guarantee that their loans will be paid back. As Guaidó seems to stand on the side of U.S. imperialism, and might be unreliable when it comes to paying the debt, the Russian and Chinese governments are taking the side of Maduro against the Venezuelan opposition.

On the other hand, the U.S. government’s call for regime change is connected to their ongoing attempt to undermine Russian and Chinese global influence. For decades, U.S. companies and their local collaborators dominated Latin America and particularly oil-rich Venezuela, power that the U.S. government is now frantically aiming to re-assert. It is a panicked reaction to the U.S.’s  declining global power, especially in light of the ongoing trade conflict with China.

It is clear that despite their rhetoric about humanitarian concern or “restoration of democracy,” the real aim of the U.S. government is to advance its interests and the interests of the corporations it represents. Otherwise, Trump wouldn’t have imposed severe sanctions that, according to a new study by the Center for Economic and Policy Research, have caused 40,000 deaths in Venezuela. If the Venezuelan opposition cared about workers, they wouldn’t have prevented the regime from accessing its gold holdings – the majority of its foreign reserves. This has contributed to strangling the economy, and starving the population.

All Venezuelan accounts in the U.S. are now held in the hands of the opposition, which also means that any oil bought by the U.S. (top buyer of Venezuelan oil before March) would profit Guaidó’s opposition rather than the public. Francisco Rodriguez, a pro-capitalist Venezuelan economist, estimated that U.S. sanctions would cause the Venezuelan economy to shrink by an incredible 37% in this year.

Joe Biden, Chuck Schumer, and other key Democratic leaders openly support a Venezuelan regime change. For their part, “democratic socialist” representatives such as  Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio Cortez have failed to provide any serious alternative to the approach of Trump, as well as of that of the leadership of the Democrats. This is in part due to their own limitations of looking for solutions within the capitalist system. What is needed now to defeat the threat of U.S. imperialism and counterrevolution in Venezuela is a mass movement to break from the brutality of capitalism and harness Venezuela’s wealth in the interests of working people.

Left Populism

U.S. and Venezuelan capitalists are longing to restore naked corporate domination over the economy. It was this type of neo-liberal regime and the total catastrophe it represented for working people that led to a wave of struggle by workers and indigenous people across Latin America in the 1990s. During this period a number of left-wing populist governments came to power including that led by Hugo Chavez in Venezuela  based on the “Bolivarian Revolution.” Chavez spoke of bringing about “21st century socialism” and was enormously popular internationally.

Under mass pressure from below, those governments enacted a series of  important social and economic reforms. However,they were limited by their refusal to break with the for-profit system of capitalism and take key sectors of the economy into public ownership while appealing to the working class of the continent to join them in moving toward genuine socialism. This approach failed to solve the underlying realities that propelled their rise in the first place. The Chavez government relied on high oil prices in the 2000s to fund social programs. When the price of oil dropped they were unable to sustain these reforms. This shows the fundamental mistake of relying on the ups and downs of the global capitalist market.

After many further mistakes, Maduro, Chavez’s successor, is left relying on the military for his survival.  The country is now dominated by a repressive military bureaucratic caste. Despite the regime’s “socialist” rhetoric, the working class has been reduced to a support role, mainly just showing up for protests. The largest pro-Maduro trade union, the National Workers’ Union of Venezuela (Unión Nacional de Trabajadores de Venezuela, UNT) and the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (Partido Socialista Unido de Venezuela, PSUV) are not playing the role of organizing workers to take power. What is urgently necessary is to create a new socialist force that mobilizes working people against imperialism and the right wing while also opposing the rule of the Maduro caste and pointing toward the decisive measures necessary to solve the crisis.

It is very likely that Maduro will not be able to sustain his government under these conditions. A return to a right-wing government and the defeat of the Bolivarian Revolution would represent a massive setback for the workers and most oppressed. The new regime will aim to rollback as much as possible the gains won by workers and the poor. But beyond that, the right wing in Latin America and internationally will use this to paint anything that is left-wing or socialist as a failure. Socialists must explain the history and the real causes of the crisis in Venezuela.

Facing this new situation, Venezuelan workers will continue to look for ways to fight back against their oppression in any way possible. The immediate solution to this desperate crisis would require workers taking over the factories and farms as well as the banks and restarting the collapsed economy based on a democratically agreed plan. All foreign debt should be cancelled.

If the U.S. government opposes the current Venezuelan regime, they would oppose a democratic workers republic ten times more. A socialist Venezuela would have to make an appeal for workers in other countries to stand with it in struggle. It is for that reason that workers in the U.S., throughout Latin America, and around the world should call for lifting all sanctions on Venezuela and for an end to the saber rattling of U.S. imperialism. Instead they should join hands with Venezuelan workers in fighting for a new society based on collaboration, innovation, and solidarity: A socialist society.

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