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ON A recent visit to Caracas, Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel characterised Venezuela as “the world’s primary anti-imperialist bastion.” This, coming from a Cuban, is a striking description.
Despite political power having rested in the hands of progressive leaders for 20 years, the primary and unresolved contradiction facing Venezuela is between national sovereignty and imperialist power as exerted both internationally and inside Venezuela itself.
The government’s ability to satisfy domestic needs has not been good and dissatisfaction increases. Yet it is the government’s efforts to swing this contradiction in favour of Venezuela’s people that continues to hold together the diverse progressive alliance of Chavista forces.
This year multinational corporations, global financial capital, warmongering industrialists and particularly oil and other natural resource tycoons have intensified efforts to resolve it in a different manner, in favour of neoliberal control over the country’s resources and eliminating this anti-imperialist “bastion.”
In January the hitherto little-known hard-right politician Juan Guaido illegally proclaimed himself “interim president.” This audacious yet clearly calculated move from the US-trained politician led to a series of violent efforts to overthrow the democratically elected Maduro government. All failed.
February saw Guaido crash and burn in his efforts to violate national territorial sovereignty by forcing USAid trucks across the Colombia-Venezuela border under the pretence of humanitarian aid. In March Guaido likewise failed to incite the Venezuelan military to rebellion by promising amnesty and Green Card access to the US.
April saw a failed coup. The 36-year-old appeared with a handful of soldiers and a dawn message urging the country to rise up against the democratic constitutional order. After it became apparent that the military were not willing to heed his call, and a sizeable Chavista mobilisation blocked his path to the presidential palace, Guaido’s allies fled for refuge in foreign embassies.
Damning corruption accusations against Guaido’s team, widespread discontent over his failure to fulfil promises to his support base and divisions over his backing for foreign military intervention helped nail the inexperienced politician’s coffin in May, June and July. There have been reports of severe reprimands from his masters in the White House.
As a result the Pentagon decided to take matters into its own hands by tightening the noose around the Venezuelan economy and the recently announced trade embargo.
Emulating failed embargoes against Cuba, Syria, North Korea and Iran, this embargo bans all dealings with the Venezuelan state and private firms or individuals which have “materially assisted (…) or supported” the government. It also imposes secondary sanctions on firms from other countries who trade with Venezuela.
This measure, alongside previous oil, financial, banking, import and gold sanctions, has been condemned as illegal and “a human rights violation” by numerous international bodies including the UN.
The embargo claims to avoid hitting the Venezuelan private sector and the food and medicine industries. However, given the Venezuelan state’s direct supervision and control of these sectors, such exemptions are implausible.
Even given doubts about Washington’s ability to enforce the secondary sanctions in the context of Trump’s global trade wars, the impact of this embargo will be devastating.
Venezuela continues to be import-dependent, especially in the food, medicine and ironically fuel sectors and the impact of this embargo on international trade is already being felt. Shortages will inevitably increase removing recent gains secured by the government in breaking down inflation-generating monopolies and black market control.
It is estimated that the weaker sanctions imposed between 2015 and 2017 resulted in excess deaths of 40,000. This is a figure we can expect to rise.
As the battle rages to protect Venezuela’s sovereignty and resolve the contradiction between imperialism and national independence, internal contradictions within the country’s transformation continue.
These include those between immediate investment needs and long term rebuilding, between resource extraction and ecological protection and reformism and revolution within the governing United Socialist Party (PSUV). Pro-worker rhetoric combined with reprivatisation has confused Maduro’s support base and threatens the popular alliances formed in earlier struggles.
The most visible example of this confusion is the failure by the government to comply with 17 of the 18 clauses of the alliance signed between the Communist Party (PCV) and PSUV in 2018 and upon which the PCV’s backing of Maduro for president rested.
More generally, patience is wearing thin in the non-PSUV left. There has so far been little response to calls for a revolutionary way out of the crisis and growing concern at negotiations with the opposition, unease over a social-democratic shift in the PSUV and the failure to respond to demands for legal action against Juan Guaido.
Workers’ living standards continue to drop with hard-won collective contracts being ignored and wage-price disparities increasing. Privatisations of state sectors and the suppression of legitimate labour protests fuel discontent amongst workers.
Rural workers, or peasants, who have been the backbone of support for Chavismo in recent years and play a vital role in production-based efforts to rebuild the economy, have also become increasingly critical despite their support for the government. Landlord-sponsored assassinations of peasant leaders, a failure to issue land deeds and corruption in public distribution networks persist, despite clear instructions from Maduro last year for his team to eradicate such problems.
There is as a result growing popular consciousness of the opposing class interests of the upper-middle level professional politicians of the ruling party where reformist and counterrevolutionary positions are increasingly taking hold. These sectors seem happy to defy Maduro’s orders, limiting advances and rolling back popular victories in order to guarantee personal interests or local power bases at the expense of building socialism.
In this complex internal situation, the renewed imperialist offensive against Caracas gives President Maduro vital breathing space.
Efforts to construct the widest possible unity to fight the embargo, as well as the possibility of a military intervention, relegate these unresolved contradictions to a secondary level. Critical pressure from the left against Maduro’s government is momentarily eased.
That said, it must be recognised that, if the contradiction between imperialism and Venezuela’s national independence moves in favour of imperialism, this will weaken any attempt from the left to resolve the plethora of internal contradictions in favour of socialism. It is for this reason that Venezuela needs all the anti-imperialist solidarity it can get.
Paul Dobson is a Venezuela-based journalist, regional coordinator of the Committee for International Solidarity and Struggle for Peace (COSI), member of the Communist Party of Britain and of the International Department of the PCV.
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