“Let us unite and we shall be invincible” Simon Bolivar
There is a crisis in Venezuela, but the crisis is not so much what we are seeing on the traditional news networks. The crisis is even worse. It is in fact subtle or some might even argue not so subtle an attempt at violent regime change right at our door steps. We tend to think of this kind of regime change in the Middle East or Africa, but it has been happening right here in the Americas. The removal by the military of Manuel Zelaya, President of Honduras in 2009 after being elected in 2006. The impeachment and removal from office of the President of Paraguay Fernando Lugo in 2012 after being elected in 2008. The Impeachment proceedings and suspension of Dilma Rousseff President of Brazil in April 2016, having been elected in 2011. Those are three democratically elected Presidents in Latin American who have been removed from office. The one thing they had in common, was their belief in an alternative Americas where the people and sovereign nations of the Latin America and the Caribbean can choose an alternative economic and political path. Is it that we are choosing to ignore that fact?
The target was always Venezuela, but the masses, the poor, the ordinary working people continued to support the Bolivarian Revolution. The use of mass media to paint the last 18 years of Bolivarian Revolution as some sought of dictatorship is completely factually unfounded. In fact under the Revolution the Venezuelan people have had 16 elections since 1999, and Former US President Jimmy Carter declared that the Venezuelan electoral system “is the best in the world”. I myself was an international observer at the December 2015 elections and saw proceedings first hand. In terms of President Nicolas Maduro, he was elected in the 2013 Presidential elections attaining some 7.5 million votes. The election of President Maduro was quite a blow to the elites in Venezuela, coming from a working class background as a bus driver then trade union leader, he was an affront to them. The elites up until the election of Hugo Chavez in 1998 have always dominated the political landscape in Venezuela. We should never forget the Caracazo Massacre in 1989 where thousands of people were killed by security forces. This is how the elites used to govern Venezuela.
Under the Bolivarian Revolution, infant mortality fell by 49%, life expectancy increased from 72.2 to 74.3, child malnutrition reduced by 40%, the poverty rate decreased from 42.8% to 26.5% , increased minimum wages 32 times and significantly Venezuela jumped from 83 in 2000 to 73 in 2011 on the UNDP Human Development Index. These are just a fraction of examples. These achievements can never be underestimated in terms of addressing the issue of poverty. What is difficult for the global neoliberal system to come to terms with, is how a country taking an alternative path was able to make major gains in improving the quality of lives of ordinary people. This will of course force other countries to begin to question the existing neoliberal models as what began to happen in countries like Brazil, Bolivia, Ecuador, Uruguay, Nicaragua, and others. Those who hold fast to a neoliberal agenda are of the view that this had to be stopped and thought what perfect opportunity arose with the passing of Hugo Chavez.
The opposition, which is really a coalition of many right-wing interest groups and parties, having won the parliamentary elections which President Maduro has acknowledged, instead of trying to work with the democratically elected President is attempting to trigger a presidential recall referendum, threatening violent actions and have gone so far as to call for military intervention in Venezuela. There can be no dispute that Venezuela is in economic crisis, which is only obvious like any other hydrocarbon based economy. It meant a fall of national income of 70%. In other words in 2016 income from petroleum sales was just about $77 million, a drop from $3.317 billion in January 2010, a decline of 4,200%. So of course this will mean extreme difficulty for the government and the people. This is exacerbated by the severe drought which is creating problems in energy generation at the El Guiri hydro-electric dam, which is the source of Venezeula’s 70% of power.
However, what we are seeing is an attempt to use that crisis to create a an atmosphere of chaos, panic and violence to justify either a coup or foreign intervention. Imagine an editorial in the Washington Post openly called for “political intervention” by neighboring countries. The opposition has even been appealing to the Organization of American States (OAS) to use the “Democratic Charter” to intervene against the democratically elected president. In fact just a few days ago, the Secretary General of the OAS, Luis Amalgro sent a threatening, inappropriate and hostile letter to President Nicolas Maduro. The government of Ecuador has since responded rejecting the comments. Reactionary elements in Venezuela, including editor of the Caracas Chronicle went so far as to write an article on May 16 openly debating the pros and cons of a coup. Let us also remember that in March 2015 President Obama with absolutely no basis declared via executive order that Venezuela is “an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security of the United States”. He did not define how or why this ‘threat’ is ‘unusual’ or ‘extraordinary’.
It is in these contexts that on 15 May 2016 President Maduro issued Extraordinary Sate Decreee and State of Emergency to respond to the economic crisis, the attempt to destabilize the democratically elected government of President Maduro. The decree authorises several things but I want to focus on the emergency economic measures to bring some form of relief to ordinary Venezuelans who are the victims of the economic war perpetrated by economic elites like Grupo Polar. The decree authorizes the adoption of measures against contraband, monopolization, usury, boycotts, fraudulent price changes etc. It guarantees the marketing and distribution of food, with the intervention of the FANB (Bolivarian National Armed Forces) and the Local Popular Supply Committee (CLAPs). It also authorizes the adoption of measures of the sale of regulated products in order for these products to reach the entire population.
Contrary to the popular press and even the opposition here in Trinidad and Tobago that there will be some kind of humanitarian or refugee criss, the real crisis and threat is a possible coup d’etat, possible foreign intervention leading to the the removal of a democratically elected president and the coming to power of a right-wing anti-caribbean government. The opposition in Venezuela has plainly and openly stated that they would end Petro-Caribe which has benefited our Caribbean brothers and sisters in Antigua and Barbuda, Bahamas, Belize, Cuba, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, Haiti, Jamaica, Dominican Republic, St. Kitts and Nevis, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Saint Lucia, and Suriname.
In addition, we run the risk of an extremely hostile neighbor liken to the pre-Chavez days where our sovereignty was threatened by the Guardio Nacional. Over the last few years and continued under President Maduro we have been engaging in important bilateral discussions with our neighbor with regards to oil and gas resources. These negotiations have been peaceful and productive and are expected to bare fruit which will be to the benefit of the people of Trinidad and Tobago. These relations and agreements can be scuttled if the opposition in Venezuela was to come to power. This is the real threat to Trinidad and Tobago, not so called ‘refugees’.
The Bolivarian Revolution represents the working class, the poor, the ordinary hard working men and women of Venezuela and will continue to remain a symbol of working class self-realization throughout the Americas. The Bolivarian Revolution and the Venezuelan masses will, in the end, overcome these difficult times and triumphantly march on.
“Democracy is impossible in a capitalist system. Capitalism is the realm of injustice and a tyranny of the richest against the poorest” Hugo Chavez
Chief Education and Research Officer