Why the counter revolution won in Venezuela - what does it mean for the future?

Maduro concedes defeat in assembly vote

by Tamara Pearson

On December 6, Venezuela held its 20th election in 17 years and one of its most difficult yet. With the [right-wing] opposition upping the ante in terms of media attacks and sabotage, 2.5 years of economic difficulties and since the passing of revolutionary leader Hugo Chavez, not to mention a recent right-wing victory in Argentina, the left and right around the world turned anxious eyes to Venezuela.

Ultimately, the Bolivarian revolution — the “Perfect Alliance” of the governing United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) and other supportive parties and organizations — lost at the polls with the right-wing, US-backed opposition winning at least 99 seats, and 19 still to be decided. Eighty-seven is necessary for a simple majority.

What does this electoral loss for the revolutionary forces mean

What does this electoral loss for the revolutionary forces mean politically, and given the current context in Venezuela, what will the consequences of it be, going forward?

Key factors

1) As usual, this year the disinformation by the opposition media has been intense. The opposition's main campaigning was through local and international media and social media, with very little street campaigning.

2) Many of those who do generally vote for the opposition do so because they want to vote against the government (and everything demonic and evil the private media has made it represent, "Castro-communism," where even droughts are the national government's fault) or for ambiguous "change" after 16 years of Chavismo, without being particularly concerned or aware of what that change is. Many of these people are of course upper class people who resent the empowerment of the poor that has come with the revolutionary process, but their ranks have been swollen by those frustrated by the last two years of serious difficulties.

3) Other key factors bringing people to the opposition include encouragement by the right-wing victory in Argentina, with a Trump-like figure due to swear-in as president on Dec. 10, and younger generations in Venezuela who now don't remember what it was like in Venezuela before Chavez was elected in 1998 (18-year-old voters would have been 3-years-old at the time).
4) But while the opposition has attracted some of the less politically aware social sectors to its anti-Chavismo discourse, the government has also lost some ground from conscientious and solid revolutionaries, partly due to its lack of a solid response to the opposition's "economic war". Although it's easier said than done to combat a rentier state, capitalist system, historical corruption, and big business's campaign of economic sabotage, Maduro has only announced things like national commissions to deal with the situation.

While people spend up to seven hours a week lining up for food, and while many of them understand that the government isn't directly responsible for the situation, the lack of a serious response and significant measures hasn't helped support for the government.

5) Further, while the government clearly sides with the poor, for multiple reasons including more right-wing attacks, it has becoming increasingly distanced from the organized grassroots. "The government would have more of a sense of urgency (in solving problems) if it was closer to the people in the street," Rachael Boothroyd Rojas, community activist and Venezuelanalysis journalist told teleSUR. That distance is relative to other times in the Bolivarian revolution, not to other governments around the world, who don't come close to the ties to the grassroots that the PSUV government has.

However, with the way the government communicates with the people, the way it gets information out and involves people in serious decision making—there has been a step back in recent times. This aspect of the Bolivarian revolution is perhaps the most important, so the significance of it and its impact on people shouldn't be underestimated.

Likely consequences

The consequences are serious, but do not necessarily mark the end of the revolution. Despite its financial resources and support from international powers and elites, the opposition has not been strategic or intelligent and won't be strategic with this new power.

Under Chavez and the revolution, they lost privileges and a lot of their initial measures will be about getting revenge: probably things like kicking out the Cuban doctors, making fun of the poor classes that have lost, continuing to not collect garbage, and enjoying the praise from the international media. They won't fix the economic problems, that's not their aim, and after all, they (the business elites and wealthy people with access to dollars) benefit from the crazy exchange rates and huge profits gained from hoarding.

Further, with this and the right-wing win in Argentina, the talk of the left losing Latin America will strengthen, the media as usual broadcasting how they wish things were rather than any sort of complex analysis. Nevertheless, two such losses will no doubt cause some regional demotivation among progressives and have a significant impact on Latin American integration bodies.

For PSUV politicians, there will hopefully be some reflection, and the government will now be in the difficult position of having to compromise with the opposition. Maduro and his ministers are still in power, but unable to allocate extra income (beyond the budget for 2016, passed on Dec. 1) or modify laws or approve bilateral and multilateral treaties.

After the referendum loss in 2007, Chavez moderated his discourse and policies for a while, and Maduro may be forced to do so even more. It's hard to know if in these circumstances, Maduro will turn to the grassroots for more support, or will distrust them even more after loosing some of their support, and if he will see the outcome as a need for reflection, or purely the consequence of opposition sabotage.

For grassroots Chavistas, the majority of whom who have never been involved in the revolution for the sake of financial resources, they will continue organizing, promoting their progressive projects, their community organizations, but under more difficult circumstances.

For the first time, they may not feel like the proud, governing majority in the country. On the other hand, an opposition with power is more the reason for strengthening organization. Having lost the luxury of taking victories for granted, the grassroots will likely become even more serious. With an emboldened opposition, they and their projects may also face verbal and physical attacks.

For the wavering voters, in the long term, having the opposition in power could be a bit of a reminder and reality check as they see that things get worse for the majority of people.

That the opposition has won its second out of 20 elections under Chavismo proves that all the U.S, European, opposition, and private media hype about how undemocratic Venezuela's electoral system is false. Of course, their reaction will be to claim that it was their "international pressure" that kept things in check.

Overall though, this loss, while it is a big step back for the progressive cause, it isn't the end of the line. The global struggle for a world that puts people and planet first, for a democratically controlled economy and so on, is a long term one with many ups and downs, defeats and victories.

Reprinted from Green Left Weekly.

First printed in TeleSur English

U.S. targets Venezuela using border dispute as pretext

U.S. continues in its quest to destabilize Venezuela militarily and economically

by Eric Draitser

The ongoing border dispute between the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela and its eastern neighbor Guyana is no simple disagreement over an arbitrary line on a map. Actually, it is a conflict of significant political and economic dimensions, one which will have deep and far-reaching geopolitical implications in the near and long term.

The area in question is known as Guayana Esequiba (Essequibo), a region with competing territorial claims going back more than a century to a time when British imperial interests dominated the contours of the political map of much of the world, including Latin America. Since 1966, when Guyana became a nominally independent country, this territory has been under dispute by the interested parties; Venezuela has claimed the territory as part of its sovereign authority going back to an odious 1899 decision in favor of Britain. However, that has not stopped Guyana from seeking to undermine the stability of the region by claiming de facto sovereignty over the whole of the territory, selling highly valued oil and gas exploration concessions to key North American corporate energy interests. These actions have led to an intensification of the conflict, forcing Venezuela to respond with diplomatic and political pressure.

But of course, as with all things pertaining to Venezuela on the international stage, there is a hidden agenda rooted in the imperial politics of Washington. In its attempt to stifle Venezuela’s political and economic development as an independent regional actor, the US is using its influence to destabilize the region. The goals are distinct, but intimately connected: enrich US energy corporations at the expense of Venezuela and, simultaneously, both position military assets and shape propaganda that paints Venezuela as an aggressor, thereby providing the pretext for US escalation. In this way, Washington is attempting to reassert by stealth the hegemony it once maintained with brute force.

The Economics and Politics of Esequiba

At the heart of this border dispute is energy and the billions of dollars in profits likely to be extracted from the offshore territory. According to the US Geological Survey (USGS), “The Guyana Suriname Basin [is] 2nd in the world for prospectivity among the world’s unexplored basins and 12th for oil among all the world’s basins – explored and unexplored.” The basin, which stretches from eastern Venezuela to the shores of northern Brazil, is one of the major prizes in the world for energy corporations and governments alike.

Indeed, the USGS estimates that roughly 15 billion barrels of undiscovered oil and 42 trillion cubic feet of gas reserves lie under the basin, just waiting to be extracted. Such staggering economic potential has made the territorial waters off Venezuela and Guyana highly sought after, especially since the contesting border claims make the legal obstacles to exploration far more surmountable as they allow companies to deal with a compliant government in Georgetown, rather than an independent one Caracas.

The unresolved conflict over territorial claims has not stopped the newly elected Guyanese government of David Granger from picking up where its predecessor left off, and supporting Exxon Mobil’s exploration drilling in the Stabroek Block, which lies in the heart of the disputed territory. The importance of the competing claims is further underscored by the fact that the very week of Granger’s election victory, Exxon Mobil reported a “significant oil discovery” in the very same area. Whether the announcement of the discovery was timed to coincide with the accession of Granger to the presidency, or it was mere coincidence, is somewhat secondary to the critical fact that this announcement infuses the dispute with a significant economic component; it is no longer merely about potential energy deposits, but actual energy extraction. This development provides an added imperative for the US to flex its muscles in this conflict.

And so it has. The US has recently officially thrown its weight firmly behind its political, economic, and military ally Guyana. However, beyond simply backing Guyana in a bilateral fashion, the US has wielded its influence in the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) organization to position the grouping to “stand firmly behind Guyana,” as Freundel Stuart, prime minister of Barbados and chairman of CARICOM stated earlier this month. Unlike ALBA and PetroCaribe, two regional groupings led by Venezuela that are not under the dominance of Washington, CARICOM is in many ways part of US power projection in the region.

Again, it is unlikely that the US and CARICOM positions in support of Guyana, announced within days of each other, and within eight weeks of a major discovery and all-important election, are mere happenstance. Instead, they are part of a broader campaign of political escalation designed to pressure Venezuela into either dropping its claims entirely or, at the very least, toning down its demands that its sovereignty and territorial integrity be acknowledged and respected.

But the escalation is not merely one of rhetoric. Rather, the US is turning up the heat both militarily and the realm of propaganda and public relations.

A New Front in the Destabilization of Venezuela

It is no secret that that the US has sought to undermine and destroy the Bolivarian revolution from almost the very moment of its birth with the ascendance of Hugo Chavez. While perhaps the most prominent example of such subversion came with the 2002 coup against the legal government of Venezuela – a failed regime change supported by Washington despite almost universal international condemnation – it is by no means the only attempt at destabilization. Since Chavez’s passing, the soft power subversion and sabotage of the government has only increased, from economic warfare to the funding and support of Venezuela’s opposition. It is within this context that the developments in the Venezuela-Guyana dispute must be understood.

Essentially, the conflict with Guyana is both an economic one, and a military/strategic one. While there is not a hot war between the two countries, the US has positioned its assets in such a way as to make that a very real possibility. Though downplaying the US role, Washington has been sending a clear message – one might say a veiled threat of force – to Caracas with some of its recent comments. The Charge D’Affaires of the US Embassy in Guyana recently stated that, “The US has a long-standing relationship with the Guyana Defence Force (GDF). We have engaged in a number of co-operative and developmental efforts over the years to provide training and expertise...and exchange experience in a wide variety of areas.” Such statements may seem relatively innocuous, but they are to be read as an acknowledgment of the military capacity of US power in the region, which in many ways sees Guyana as a de facto proxy.

Indeed, there is much evidence upon which to base such an assertion aside from just the words of US officials. Since 2010, the US Navy has had a cooperative relationship, including docking and training, with its Guyanese counterparts based in Port Georgetown. In addition, Guyana figures prominently in the Pentagon’s project in South America known as SOUTHCOM, with the country seen as an outpost for US military power projection against Venezuela.

Though much of this military cooperation and partnership is already known, there is a new danger for Venezuela, one that most political observers around the world have either missed or otherwise ignored: the accession of David Granger to power. While he has been heralded by western media as a reformer leading a multiracial, inclusive coalition, the overlooked fact is that Granger is a direct military product, if not asset, of the US and its allies.

As Guyana’s Government Information Agency (GINA) noted on its website, President Granger “attended the University of the West Indies, the University of Maryland and the National Defence University in the USA...He received his military training at the Mons Officer Cadet School and the School of Infantry in the United Kingdom, the Jungle Warfare Instruction Centre in Brazil, and the Army Command and Staff College in Nigeria.”

Students of the modern history of Latin America are all too familiar with this story: US and British trained military leader assumes control over strategically and geopolitically important country in the region, one that shares a border with a declared adversary of Washington. Though he may not be a product of the infamous School of the Americas, Granger’s pedigree, coupled with his declared focus on the “territorial integrity” of Guyana portends dangerous potential moves by his government, especially at a time of escalating tensions.

Of course, the US continues with its propaganda campaign against the Bolivarian Republic as well. From imposing sanctions against Venezuela for trumped up “human rights abuses,” to declaring the country “an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States” that constitutes a “national emergency,” Washington has clearly taken the decision to ratchet up tensions in 2015. The dispute with Guyana is clearly a new vector in this broader destabilization strategy.

And that is how the border conflict must be understood – a new front in an old war. Though there may be billions at stake for energy corporations, as well as military imperatives for the Pentagon, ultimately the dispute is geopolitical in nature. The Guayana Esequiba issue is, at its root, an issue of US hegemony and imperialism.
Eric Draitser is an independent geopolitical analyst based in New York City. He is the editor of StopImperialism.org and host of CounterPunch Radio. You can reach him at ericdraitser@gmail.com.

http://venezuelanalysis.com/Telesur Englis

Venezuela announces four-year human rights Plan

The very inclusive nation-wide consultation process in Venezuela on human rights has already commenced. The plan will be modified according to the feedback obtained from all the grassroots organizations.

July 16th 2015 - Vice President Jorge Arreaza said the new four year plan will deepen the government's efforts to promote human rights. Venezuela announced a four year plan to improve human rights, including institutional reform and better coordination with social movements.

Announced by Vice President Jorge Arreaza and Security Vice President Carmen Melendez, the 2015-2019 National Plan for Human Rights aims to consolidate Venezuela's progress in promoting human rights. “Human rights are indivisible,” Arreaza stated. According to Arreaza, the new human rights plan will focus on promoting a “culture of human rights.” The plan will also involve strengthening existing human rights institutions.

Arreaza praised the plan as a continuation of the vision of 19th century South American liberation fighter Simon Bolivar, arguing the initiative will be a historic step towards a more just society. He added that the plan is an expression of the governments’ philosophy of human rights, which includes a commitment to ensuring all Venezuelans have access to basic necessities like housing, work, food and healthcare.

"Here are the human rights, cultural, educational ... the right to work, the right to land," he said.

Arreaza also extended an invitation to social movements and nongovernmental human rights groups to work with institutions to better promote human rights.

In terms of concrete proposals, the plan seeks to establish a national human rights institute, make human rights a key theme in the education of teachers, strengthen higher education programs in human rights, raise consciousness regarding mother earth as a subject of human rights, among other goals.

The plan also extends the mandate of the newly created National Council for Human Rights, which was formed in 2014.

According to a statement from the government, the new four year plan is the result of extensive consultation between state officials in Caracas and representatives of the Union of South American Nations regional bloc, who visited Caracas in 2014. Among the key recommendations of the international representatives were a series of advisories aimed at promoting dialogue between the Venezuelan government and opposition groups.

Within this plans, Arreaza said, “Venezuela has accepted the valid recommendations." Ahead of the plan’s official launch, President Nicolas Maduro said the project was also formed through discussion with the public and human rights advocates. “It’s a plan that began several years ago … and a proposal submitted to public consultation (in a) socialist democracy,” he said.

The announcement of the four year plan comes as Venezuela passes the half-way point in its time as a member of the United Nations Human Rights Council. The South American nation was elected to take a seat at the council in 2012, marking the first time Venezuela has sat on the council – something Caracas says is emblematic of the progress it has made in promoting human rights.

At the time, Venezuela's representative to the U.N., Jorge Valero, said Venezuela had made major strides in human rights since the 1990s. “This is a demonstration of the strength of the (Bolivarian) revolution in the world, and the successful state policies to protect the human rights of all Venezuelans without exception,” Valero said at the time.

Before it is approved in its final form, the plan will be subject to extensive consultation, first by the general public via the web, then by Venezuelan human rights organizations of all political stripes, and finally by the President of the Republic.

International Acclaim

Also present at the plan’s launch were the internationally-renowned human rights champions, Rigoberta Menchu and Piedad Cordoba, who praised the initiative.

“The fact that Venezuela publically presents its human rights plan and calls all sectors to the discussion table represents an example of democracy for the world to follow,” affirmed Menchu, a Guatemalan indigenous leader who won the Nobel Peace prize in 1992 for work in demanding justice for the victims the genocidal, US-backed military regime.

“You are an example of hope and democracy, I believe that this plan should be an example for the world, because it is mainly based on the concept of emancipatory human rights,” declared Cordova, former Colombian senator who has played a key role in the peace process between the Colombian government and the FARC-EP.

“Everyone who defends the process of socialist revolution in Latin America and the world is committed to the truth, that Venezuela does not violate human rights but rather defends them,” she continued.

USA: Example of Human Rights


Challenges faced by Venezuela's democratic socialist government

Chavismo On The Horns Of A Dilemma: Populism And Pragmatism In Venezuela"

By Steve Ellner

The Chavistas' difficulties are not about personalities but concern the challenges that face any democratic socialist government.

Leftists in Venezuela put forward a number of different explanations for the pressing economic difficulties and growing discontent that beset the nation and increase the possibility of an opposition takeover of the National Assembly in this year’s elections. High on list of explanations is an unfavourable comparison between the charisma and political acumen of Hugo Chávez and the inferior leadership qualities of his successor, President Nicolás Maduro. (This same line of reasoning is often presented by members of the opposition, who – implicitly or explicitly – attribute Maduro’s deficiencies to his working class origins and background.) A second explanation is that corrupt government officials are responsible for the nation’s current economic bind, which includes acute shortages of basic goods and the onset of triple-digit inflation.

However, a rigorous analysis of the government’s current predicament must go beyond such personal factors, not least because the roots of the crisis date back to the outset of Chávez’s rule and not simply to policies implemented by Maduro since he assumed office in 2013. An examination of the fundamental underlying problems going back to Chávez’s election in 1998 can shed light on the low-intensity challenges and complex dynamics that any successful democratic socialist government will inevitably face. Sixteen years of Chavista rule separates the Venezuelan case from that of other socialist governments over the last hundred years, be they undemocratic regimes (the Soviet Union, Cuba, etc.), those that made concessions to the establishment in order to avoid the sharp polarization that characterizes Venezuela (e.g. the post-1945 British Labour Party), and those too short-lived to have been subject to the complex predicaments facing Venezuela (e.g. Chile under Allende). An analysis that goes beyond personalities is also essential to counter the demoralization stemming from the simplistic, if not fallacious, conclusion that the current Chavista leaders have “sold out” – a pessimism aggravated by the prospect of major setbacks facing the Chavistas in the near future.

Destabilization (guarimba) impacts economy
The starting point in understanding the Chavistas’ current dilemma is an appreciation of the intensity of the opposition’s destabilization campaign, which has included legal, semi-legal, and illegal activity, and the permanent refusal of the anti-Chavistas to recognize the legitimacy of the government. For over three months in the early part of last year, Venezuela was subject to a campaign of violence and disruption known as the guarimba. Since then ample evidence has demonstrated that the business sector is at least partly responsible for the shortages stemming from hoarding and contraband. Needless to say, all leftist governments face recalcitrant conservative oppositions.

But two factors distinguish the situation in Venezuela. In the first place, over an extended period of time opposition-induced disruptions with dire economic side effects in a democratic setting have had a wearying effect on the enthusiasm of government supporters. In the second place, and unlike during periods of open violence and civil war, pressure builds and it becomes increasingly incumbent upon the government to demonstrate that it is capable of guaranteeing economic production and stability, even though the economy remains in private hands. In the face of these weighty and ongoing challenges, the Chavista government has been caught on the horns of a dilemma. On the one hand, it has tended to opt for populist policies to avert the onset of fatigue and apathy among its supporters, while at the same time it has chosen to pursue pragmatic policies and alliances with often unreliable partners in order to maintain economic stability. Once both sets of policies are in place, it then becomes difficult for the government to switch paths in favour of more rational and practical approaches.

Chávez’s pragmatism was in evidence from very early on when he allied his government with a small group of businesspeople who refused to go along with the two-month “general strike” in 2002-2003 spearheaded by the main business organization, FEDECAMARAS, for which the dissidents reaped handsome political rewards. The episode marked the origins of an emerging bourgeoisie which received preferential treatment from the government, but which included opportunists whose sole motivation was self-enrichment. (The alliance was not unconditional, however, as Chávez ended up jailing some members of this group for several years as a result of a major banking crisis in 2009.)

Combining flexibility and confrontation
The Maduro government has continued this strategy of combining flexible and confrontational approaches in its relations with the private sector. On the one hand, Maduro last year sponsored a “peace dialogue” with FEDECAMARAS leaders at a time when the opposition was promoting the guarimba protests. The initiative implied concessions in the form of acceptance of the business demand that a fast track to handle cases of hoarding, contraband and price speculation be ruled out. On the other hand, Maduro accused FEDECAMARAS of having unleashed an “economic war” in the form of shortages of basic goods and, in late April of this year, announced that its firms would not be granted preferential dollars (at an exchange rate far lower than that on the open market) to pay for imports. The president argued that Venezuelan businesspeople already possessed $5 billion deposited abroad and asked “why don’t they bring the money here to invest?” He added: “our dollars are for the people – for housing, transportation and food.” Like Chávez, Maduro’s relations with the emerging bourgeoisie have also been strained. The government’s closest business ally, Miguel Pérez Abad, who serves as a liaison with the private sector, agrees with FEDECAMARAS that the currency exchange rate should be set by the open market and that prices of basic goods should approximate those on the international market – a position Maduro flatly rejects.

Strategic alliance
The discourse of Chávez and Maduro that calls for a “strategic alliance” with the private sector, taking in “productive businesspeople” who supposedly represent most of the members of their class, has been translated into concessions to business by the government. The Chavista leftist factions, such as the originally Trotskyist group Marea Socialist, are convinced that the “peace dialogue” with FEDECAMARAS has resulted in various policies and practices that fall heavily on the backs of the working class. Even the docile Wills Rangel, who heads the Central Bolivariana Socialista de Trabajadores, the Chavista labour federation, criticizes the government for failing to enforce the labour law of 2012 that was supposed to eliminate the practice of contracting out permanent positions by May 2015. In short, Chavista socialist rhetoric notwithstanding, the threats from an opposition that is both openly and covertly supported by Washington, as well as the church hierarchy, big business, much of the media, and the traditional labour leadership, have forced the government to backtrack on many of its promises and slow down the pace of change.

Populist policies
The implementation and maintenance of the government’s populist policies obey a similar logic. Some of the measures, adopted in response to the destabilization actions of the opposition, once in place have been hard to dismantle. A prime example is the system of controls on the exchange rate for foreign currency and prices of basic commodities. The measures were forced on the government by the general strike of 2002-2003, which created a major scarcity of goods and the prospects of uncontrollable inflation. Exchange controls kept down prices for goods consumed by the popular sectors, and worked fairly well until late 2012, when the unofficial or open market rate for the dollar skyrocketed.

Government's Response to growing economic disparities
Since then, the wide disparity between official and unofficial rates for basic commodities and for U.S. dollar has had dire consequences. Artificially low prices in the extreme have discouraged production, even in state companies. A black market has flourished along with contraband as a result of the scarcity of goods the prices of which are officially set at rock bottom. In addition, some businesses have requested and received preferential dollars for bogus imports, as was documented by Health Minister Henry Ventura in mid-May in the case of a number of pharmaceutical companies.

Any devaluation that substantially reduces the disparity between official and unofficial prices runs the risk of triggering rampant inflation. In the face of this dilemma, and with an opposition that is bent on regime change at any cost, the government has opted for a populist strategy that rules out painful decisions. While the non-privileged wait in lines, sometimes for four hours or more, to purchase basic goods at extremely low prices, the middle class buys the same products on the black market or in unmonitored commercial establishments at three or four times the official price.

Under normal circumstances a progressive government might be inclined to take steps over time to reduce such disparities, while stopping short of eliminating the controls. But a decision of that nature would hit the pockets of the popular classes and in so doing forfeit votes in the upcoming elections for the National Assembly. Much is at stake in these contests. In May, Jesús Torrealba, head of the main opposition coalition Mesa de Unidad Democrática (MUD), announced that with the control of the National Assembly, the MUD will be positioned to force Maduro out of office. [1]

The opposition voiced the same threat prior to the previous municipal elections of December 2013, which it called a “plebiscite” to determine Maduro’s fate, though the use of the term backfired as the Chavistas emerged victorious with an 11.5 percentage point margin. The Chavistas call the opposition’s strategy the “Paraguay option,” a reference to the Paraguayan congress’ ouster of progressive president Fernando Lugo in 2012. [2]

Economic precedents deter opposition
A similar dynamic explains other government actions and policies that were considered necessary responses to the subversive actions of the opposition but proved to be of dubious economic efficacy. Thus, for instance, in reaction to the general strike of 2002-2003 that paralyzed the petroleum industry, the government fired 17,000 striking employees of the state oil company PDVSA and replaced them with loyalists. But privileging loyalty over competence as a hiring practice can easily translate into clientelism in the public administration. Similarly, Chávez’s celebrated slogan “unity, unity, and more unity” in order to confront belligerent adversaries has served to discourage criticism and dissension within the Chavista movement. Populist logic also lies behind the tendency to relax controls over the allocation of resources to the popular sectors. Thus, for instance, the government eased the collateral requirements for loans to worker cooperatives taking in members of the marginalized sectors, which constitute the backbone of the Chavista movement. While flexibilisation was considered essential to stimulate interest among the poor, who are traditionally distrustful and apathetic, the political imperative of retaining their active support in the face of the enemy also factored into administrative decisions along these lines. [3] Another populist policy favoring the poor is the distribution of free or highly subsidized goods ranging from electrical appliances and computers to housing.

The expropriation of numerous companies that according to the government were responsible for shortages of basic goods and price speculation beginning in 2007 was another example of responses to the enemy with unanticipated consequences. The Venezuelan government has been bogged down in numerous demands for compensation of up to $1 billion or more brought before the World Bank’s arbitration panel. The resulting outflow of dollars is a far more important factor contributing to the government’s cash shortage to meet its commitments than are the foreign aid programs and other allegedly unnecessary expenses that are so harped upon by the opposition.

Ideological arguments justified all of the above actions and policies. Expropriations, for instance, were considered steps in the direction of socialism, and free goods for the underprivileged as examples of “socialist humanism” – another Chavista catchword. But the bottom line is that these measures taken when the Chavistas were on the defensive, although not necessarily ill-advised, have led to budgetary imbalances, excessive centralism, inefficiency, and corruption.

Taking advantage of openings to secure popular support
Leftists in Venezuela who call for a more rational and purist approach free of clientelism, centralism and concessions to both elites and non-elites tend to underestimate – perhaps naively so – the intensity and complexities of the political challenges facing the left in power. But does this mean that the government is at no point able to change course to correct for such deficiencies and deformations? Is the entire process of change path dependent? As I have argued in a recent article, during situations in which the Venezuelan government is on the defensive, as is currently the case, a middle course based on moderation may be necessary. [4] But the real opportunity to overcome pressing problems is presented immediately following victories, when the enemy is discredited and demoralized. One of the paramount lessons of the Chavista experience is that leftists need to take advantage of political triumphs in order to deepen the process of change and take decisions that in other contexts would be costly and utilized by the opposition to undermine stability. Chávez understood this rule and, with a few exceptions, put it into practice. The most prominent examples of missed opportunities and misplaced priorities along these lines are the following:

- Following the unsuccessful coup of April 2002 – led by FEDECAMARAS and supported by all government adversaries, including Washington, the parties of the opposition, the private media and the Church hierarchy – rather than seize the opportunity, Chávez attempted to placate opposition leaders by granting a series of unnecessary concessions which enabled them to position themselves into launching the general strike later that year.

- After having emerged victorious in the recall election of August 2004, Chávez raised the banner of 10 million votes for the presidential elections of December 2006 that represented 80 percent of the voting electorate. Such a target was unnecessary. Chávez’s hard-earned political capital could have been better invested by promoting an anti-bureaucratic drive, internal democratization, and an all-out war on corruption, as embodied in Chávez’s call for a “revolution in the revolution.”

- Following the 2006 presidential landslide victory with 63 percent of the vote, Chávez took full advantage of the election’s honeymoon effect by decreeing important expropriations, rejecting the renewal of concessions for the TV channel Radio Caracas on solid legal grounds, and launching his new party, the Partido Socialista Unido (PSUV). These moves were overshadowed by the call for a referendum on a proposed 69-article constitutional reform that set the terms for political debate throughout 2007 but was defeated at the polls. The proposal consisted of provisions that could have been incorporated in legislation and submitted to the Chavista-controlled National Assembly for approval.

- Following the December 2013 municipal elections which gave the Chavistas an overwhelming victory, President Maduro failed to immediately seize the opportunity provided by the electoral results, allowing the opposition to launch the guarimbatwo months later. - Following the defeat of the guarimba in May 2014 Maduro continued his call for a “peace dialogue” while again failing to take advantage of favourable circumstances.

Enemies of the revolution (supported by U.S. imperialism) undermine stability
Maduro has paid heavily for his failure to act decisively in the latter two cases. In both instances, the government was well-positioned to take bold moves to confront the shortage of basic goods and related problems. Maduro’s options included currency devaluation in order to check the disparity between official and unofficial exchange rates and the nationalization of foreign commerce, a proposal supported by the Communist Party (PCV) and Marea Socialista (which acts as a faction within the PSUV). In addition, the government could have revved up its campaign against the illegal acquisition of preferential dollars through imposing more severe measures against those in both public and private sectors accused of fraudulent transactions. Just as the problems the government currently faces were in large part thrust upon it when the opposition was on the offensive, moments in which the Chavistas had the upper hand represented golden opportunities to achieve viable solutions.

Revolutionary theorists have long observed that the weakening of institutions and classes that defend the old order is a sine qua non for revolution. Lenin, for instance, argued that divisions within the ruling class pave the way for the seizure of power by socialists. Gramsci affirmed that the loss of government legitimacy and the achievement of a new hegemony precede socio-economic structural transformation. Along the same lines, in Venezuela the clash among powerful economic groups and the resultant erosion of their strength contributed to Chávez’s rise to power and his ability to retain it. [5] Nevertheless, as this article points out, the enemies of Chavismo had enough power and resources to undermine stability to the extent that the government was forced to adopt expedients and other measures that eventually undermined the functioning of the state and the economy.

Challenges to socialist governments
These challenges undeniably have implications for all political movements in favour of far-reaching change. Two in particular stand out. First, the failure of anti-neoliberal and socialist governments to develop a viable alternative has to a great extent been the result of political factors with largely unanticipated consequences and do not necessarily demonstrate the inherent shortcomings of the new model. And second, even when the left in power achieves a relative degree of stability – more so than existed in Allende’s Chile – the political struggle will very much determine the outcome of the efforts to bring about authentic transformation.

Steve Ellner has taught at the Universidad de Oriente in Puerto La Cruz, Venezuela since 1977. His latest book is his edited volume Latin America’s Radical Left: Challenges and Complexities of Political Power in the Twenty-First Century (Rowman & Littlefield, 2014).

[1] Clodovaldo Hernández, “Una asamblea para derrocar a Maduro,” El Universal, May 9, 2015.
[2] Adán Chávez, personal interview with governor of Barinas. Barinas, September 6, 2014.
[3] Ellner, Rethinking Venezuelan Politics: Class, Conflict and the Chávez Phenomenon. Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner, 2008, p. 130.
[4] Ellner, “Maduro and the Market.” Red Pepper, April-May 2015, pp. 36-37.
[5] Nelson Ortiz, “Entrepeneurs: Profits without Power” in Jennifer L. McCoy and David J. Myers (eds.), The Unraveling of Representative Democracy in Venezuela. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2004, pp. 79-81, 85-88; Leslie C. Gates,Electing Chávez: The Business of Anti-Neoliberal Politics in Venezuela. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2010, pp. 111-131.

Venezuela confronts climate change

Venezuela Venezuelan Government Creates Ministry of Eco-socialism

Published 25 March 2015 The governments of the Bolivarian Revolution have taken concrete steps to confront the threat of climate change. On Tuesday, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro announced the creation of the Ministry of Eco-socialism and Water, which will be tasked with protecting the environment in the context of the construction of 21st century socialism.

President Maduro said the creation of the new ministry was in direct response to demands, made by environmental social movements, to take more dramatic action in the face of climate change. According to the Venezuelan head of state, the ministry will also be in charge of strengthening “the ecology of socialism of the 21st century.” The new body will supervise the implementation of the National Water Plan, designed to ensure public access to water, as well as the Tree Mission, which involves the community in reforestation efforts.

President Maduro made the announcement during his weekly television program where he was joined by Guillermo Barreto, who will head up the new ministry. Barreto previously served as vice-minister for environmental eco-socialism.

Despite being one of the world's largest produces of oil, Venezuela has made significant efforts to address climate change. In November, Venezuela hosted the summit of environmental activists in anticipation of the United Nations COP20 climate change conference, where delegates to the summit met directly with government ministers.

Venezuela's five-year national development plan — known as the “Plan for the Homeland” — calls for the “preservation of life on the planet and the salvation of the human race.”

This content was originally published by teleSUR at the following address:

Latin American countries rallied behind Venezuela condemning new U.S. sanctions

Obama’s executive order on Venezuela has drawn international condemnation.

“How is Venezuela a threat to the United States? Thousands of kilometers away, without strategic weapons and without the resources … to conspire against the U.S. constitutional order; the (White House) declaration has little credibility,” read a statement published in newspaper Granma.

Former Cuban President Fidel Castro has also praised Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro's “brilliant and valiant” response to what he described as “brutal” U.S. plans against Venezuela. The comments were made in a short letter to Maduro on Monday night.

Earlier in the day, Bolivia's President Evo Morales said the regional blocs CELAC and UNASUR should immediately hold an “emergency meeting,” arguing the U.S. sanctions pose a threat to “all of Latin America and the Caribbean.”

"We condemn, we repudiate, in the 21st Century we won’t accept this kind of intervention by the United States,” Morales said. “All of our solidarity and our support goes to President Maduro, and the revolutionary Bolivarian government and people of Venezuela.”

UNASUR's head and other regional leaders including Ecuador's President Rafael Correa have already slammed the White House's decision to impose more sanctions on Venezuela.

On Monday, President Barack Obama declared Venezuela an “unusual and extraordinary threat” to the United States.

Obama also issued sanctions on several high ranking Venezuelan government officials. The measures were issued under an executive order. In the past, the Obama administration has condemned Maduro for using executive orders to pass legislation.

“We believe the separation of powers and the presence of independent branches of government are essential elements of democracy," a White House spokesperson said in 2013, after Maduro used an executive order to pass legislation aimed at stabilizing consumer prices.


Celebrating ten years of the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA)

The presentation below is by Venezuelan born Dr. Maria Paez. It was given at the celebration of the Ten Year Anniversary of ALBA-TCP in Toronto on February 21, 2015. The event which drew over 70 was organized by the Canadian-Cuban Friendship Association and the Louis Riel Bolivarian Circle. Diplomatic representatives from Cuba and Venezuela gave greetings, and Five panelists spoke on the various aspect of ALBA which has made it a success and a model of cooperation. Music, poetry and refreshments added to the festivities of the occasion.

by Dr. Maria Paez

If we take a quick look at world history, the most significant alliances between countries have been made for the purposes of war. In recent history, the European Union was established with very laudable and lofty ideals…but its result was the strengthening the markets for corporations, not the welfare of the European people.

Two powerful institutions, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund were established for supposedly generous purposes of facilitating credit for developing nations. Sadly, in practice, their neoliberal policies resulted in not so generous consequences: in overwhelming national debts and imposition of austerity policies that impinged on the sovereignty of countries to decide their domestic affairs and brutally deteriorated the social services for their people. The European Union Bank has followed in the steps of the IMF and WB with respect to European nations that have the weaker economies, thus we have witnessed the staggering effects of their power on Spain, Greece, Italy, Portugal, and Ireland; as well even England and Germany’s populations have been affected: Some results have been:

* Socio-economic inequalities have been rising in the European Union, being higher today than in 1980. 23% of European (11.5 million people) are at risk of poverty or social exclusion. [1]

* In a recent report the Red Cross point to a massive rise in poverty in the European Union such that it is facing a catastrophic economic and social decline. It links this to the austerity measures that have snowballed poverty and unemployment. As poverty increased, social services have been reduced and there has been a 75% rise in suicides in Europe between 2009/10.[2]

* In Spain, where the unemployment rate is about 25% - one third of all unemployed in Europe. Suicides are at 7.6% per 100.000 people.[3]

* In Greece, suicides have increased by 40%, a 50-year high with one suicide per day a year between 2009/2010. Every 1% fall in government spending led to 0.43% rise in suicides among Greek men.[4]

* In England suicide rates have risen by 4% linked to the economic inequality crisis. [5]

* In the United States, poverty has increased every year in the past decade by 14% - that is 45 million people without counting the 12 million illegal immigrants. The bottom 90% Citizens there are poorer than in 1987.[6]

* There has been a 30% increase in suicides in a decade up from 13.7% Suicide is now the leading cause of death in the USA.[7]

That was the bad news. The good news is in Latin America

The Latin American region as a whole, and the [eleven] ALBA countries in particular are a beacon of hope and an example of social peace and well being for the world, an example of what real international solidarity looks like.

ALBA set out to help its member countries work together in harmony to be independent of the US empire by finding an alternative to corporate control of their economies. ALBA is a cohesive alternative vision of international trade and mutual help based on complementarity and solidarity, not domination or exploitation. It relies on an egalitarian relationship between the countries, respecting each country’s sovereignty, culture, and development paths, while focusing on trying to meet the real needs of the people.

ALBA has no equal in the world, yet it does not act in isolation, but hand in hand with other instruments of regional integrations: CELAC, UNASUR, MERCOSUR, Bank of the South.

The ALBA countries expressed clearly their objective stating:

“We agree to convert our countries, not into zones of free trade, but in zones free of hunger, illiteracy, misery and marginalization.” (12th ALBA Summit) Some of the achievements in this decade have been:

* Helping 70 million people out of predatory trade relationships imposed by the USA and the corporate elite

* Solidifying a Latin American block that is anti-imperialist and anti-neoliberal – its acting together internationally so as not to be victims of bullying and extortion

* Solidifying South-South trade and cooperation, with no strings attached

* In the last seven years, ALBA raised 11 million people out of poverty; in Bolivia, Ecuador, and Venezuela poverty was cut by half

* Eradication of illiteracy (with Cuban Yo Si Puedo method) increasing literacy to 96%

* Cutting infant mortality rates by half

* Training Latin American physicians in the free medical schools of Cuba and Venezuela

* Misión Milagro: has returned the miracle of eyesight to 3.5 million people

* Giving care to 1.3 million people with disabilities [8]

These objectives were met through several means

- Direct exchanges, such as for example, doctors for oil between Venezuela and Cuba

- Implementing their own currency, el SUCRE, which liberates them from having to get dollars. To date, there have been more than $700 million transactions with the Sucre between the ALBA countries

- ALBA BANK: unlike the WB, EB, IMF, loans do not come with strings attached. Loans and exchanges in ALBA recognize each country’s strengths, their unique path of development, allowing them to set their own development objectives in a more sustainable and equitable way than if they asked loans of the international organizations

- PETROCARIBE: Venezuela sells oil to the ALBA countries at market price but they pay only 50% up front, 25% over 20 years at 2% interest plus 25% is invested in joint poverty reductions programs

- The Grand Enterprises are joint government owned enterprises between countries in areas greatly needed: food security, environment, science and technology, Just Commerce, education, energy, industry, telecommunication, transportation. For example: ALBATEL, to establish radio stations in remote areas; ALBAMED to produce needed medicines; ALBACULTURE to protect Latin American cultural heritage; ALBA sports, to encourage and train youth towards sports

Another interesting aspect of ALBA is that it is committed to safeguarding the environment in as much as they can, helping each other to protect biodiversity and ecosystems and fight climate change. The have acted as a block and as such had a strong presence in the climate change summits. ALBA has unequivocably declared that “Nature is our home and is the system of which we form part, and therefore it has infinite value, but it does not have a price and is not for sale.”[9]

It is noticeable how increasingly spokespersons for the USA throw barbs against the ALBA countries. “It is a threat to the powerful to allow lesser states to have strong effective, and efficient governments, therefore they strive to keep them weak, dependent and compliant. “[10] ALBA is therefore, definitely in their crosshairs as it is a state-centred instrument that is linked to social movements, to counter weakness and dependency.

ALBA is an original project, although it has deep historical roots in the ideals of its liberators and indigenous leaders. It breaks the mold of previous relationships between nations and it is an alternative to the capitalist thrust to weaken welfare state infrastructure and increase privatization of public spheres.

The famed sociologist Eric Hobsbaum was aware of the threatening rise of the power of corporations and the erosion of the public sphere, which the only place where true democracy can flourish. He said that the future will depend on restoring public authorities that guard the public interest. And that is what the ALBA countries are doing: linking their governments and their social movements together to defend the public interest, their sovereignty and democracy helping each other to increase the happiness of their people.

There is recent talk in Europe about creating an association similar to ALBA in the southern European countries, and some are even speculating about “European Chavismo”[11]

The new leaders of Spain’ PODEMOS and Greece’s SYRIZA are both friends of the Bolivarian Revolution, and it will not be long when they also start looking to ALBA for a way toward genuine solidarity between nations. It is about time Europe cast aside their Eurocentrism, and looked South, to Latin America where there is a a new dawn for human development through genuine international solidarity and cooperation.

[1] Poverty in Europe, the Current situation, Inequality Watch, www.inequalityWatch.eu/spip.php?article99
[2] European Union economic crisis causing massive rise in poverty – Red Cross, www.rt.news/Europe-crisis-red-cross-981 Oct. 2013
[3] Spain’s Suicide rate at Record High: Report. PRessTV http://www.presstv.com/detail/2014/02/01/348672/spains-suicide-rate-at-record-high/
[4] European Economic Crisis Causing Massive Rise in Poverty- Red Cross,
[5] Rise in suicides by middle age men in England, The Guardian, http://www.theguardian.com/news/datablog/2015/feb/19/rise-in-middle-aged-men-committing-suicide-all-the-uk-data
[6] Stanfield Smith, Ten Years of ALBA’s Achievements Celebrated, Dec. 22, 2014, www.greenleft.org.au/node/57998
[7] www.rt.com/usa/us-suicides-crisi-cdc-report-761
US suicide rates surge, surpass road fatalities, May 3, 2013
[8] Maria Páez Victor, ALBA, Latin America’s groundbreaking alliance of solidarity and mutual Aid, rabble.com, 8 August 2013
[9] Maria Páez Victor, ALBA, Latin America’s groundbreaking alliance of solidarity and mutual Aid, rabble.com, 8 August 2013
[10] Maria Páez Victor, The Campaign Against Venezuela, 4th International Festival of Poetry of Resistance, 12 Oct. 2012
[11] Luciano Vasapollo, the Italian coordinator of the Network of Intellectuals and Artists in Defence of Humanity, declarations in La Habana, referred to a “Mediterranean ALBA” http://www.avn.info.ve/contenido/intelectual-vasapollo-crear-alba-mediterránea-ayudará-encarar-neoliberalismo-europeo; Humberto Gomez Garcia, Un fanatasma recorre Europa, el fantasma del cavismo, http://www.aporrea.org/internacionales/a202068.html Gianni Vattimo, El Chavismo Europeo, http://www.contrainfo.com/9499/gianni-vattimo-el-chavista-europeo/

Misinformation fed to the North American public

Venezuela Slips Past New York Times fact checkers

by Steve Ellner

A February 15, 2015, op-ed on Venezuela by Enrique Krauze seems to have slipped by the New York Times' fact checkers.

Krauze's thesis (a tired one, but very popular with Venezuelan and Cuban right-wingers in South Florida) is that Venezuela has not only followed "the Cuban model," but has recently outdone Cuba in moving Venezuela further along a socialist path even as Cuba enacts economic reforms. This idea is not merely an oversimplification--as it might appear to the casual observer of Latin American politics--but is largely misleading. To bolster his case, Krauze--a prominent Mexican writer and publisher--includes numerous false statements and errors, which should have been caught by the Times' factcheckers.

Venezuela does not follow Cuban model

Krauze begins by claiming that the Venezuelan government, first under President Hugo Chávez and then his successor Nicolás Maduro, has taken control over the media. Chávez "accumulated control over the organs of government and over much of the information media: radio, television and the press," we are told, and then Maduro "took over the rest of Venezuelan television."

A simple fact check shows this to be false. The majority of media outlets in Venezuela--including television--continue to be privately owned; further, the private TV audience dwarfs the number of viewers watching state TV. A 2010 study of Venezuelan television found that as of September 2010, Venezuelan state TV channels had just a 5.4 percent audience share. Of the other 94.6 percent of the audience, 61.4 percent were watching privately owned television channels, and 33.1 percent were watching paid TV.

A 2013 Carter Center report found that Venezuela's private TV outlets had about 74 percent of the audience share for coverage of "recent key newsworthy events."

The media landscape has changed little since. National opposition station Globovisión was sold in 2013, but to a private party; it was not "taken over" by the government. And opposition voices continue to appear on national TV outlets--even the ones that are often described as "pro-government"--free to make the harshest criticisms of the government and to encourage people to protest, as several prominent opposition figures did last year during the violent street blockades and demonstrations aimed at forcing Maduro to step down.

Media and freedom of the press

Globovisión, for example, aired interviews--following its change in ownership--with opposition leader María Corina Machado and Juan Guaido of Leopoldo López's Voluntad Popular party; during her interview, Machado argued that people have the right to overthrow the democratically elected government. And many other Venezuelan networks also frequently broadcast opposition voices.

In fact, the New York Times issued a correction last year after reporting that Globovisión was "the only television station that regularly broadcast voices critical of the government." It's a shame that the same standards for accuracy in the Times' news section apparently do not apply to the opinion page.

Krauze then says that Maduro "confronted" those "protesting students with arrests and gunfire," and that "many were killed" as, supposedly, Maduro "suppressed demonstrations by the opposition." A quick review of events last year--as covered by the New York Times, among others--reveals a wholly different story.

First, most of those killed were either pro-government or were bystanders. Many of those killed (at least 11, according to David Smilde of the Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights blog, who in turn cites the opposition paper El Universal)were National Guard officers, police or pro-government counter-protesters. A number of bystanders and motorists (at least 10) were also killed as a result of the protesters' violent tactics, which included stringing barbed wire across the streets in order to decapitate Chavista motorcyclists. (Two died this way.) Demonstrators fired on Guard and police officers, killing at least seven.

It is true that some security forces fired on demonstrators, killing at least three. Yet as over a dozen members of Congress noted in a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry, the Maduro government arrested some 20 security state agents in connection with these incidents. This was not a case of government-ordered crackdown on protests; if it were, the opposition's street blockades might have been cleared in days--instead, they remained for weeks--and motorists and cyclists might have been saved from decapitation, crashing into barricades, or getting shot when they got out of their stopped cars.

Having attempted to present the Venezuelan government as some sort of dictatorial regime where freedom of press and assembly are crushed, Krauze goes on to present a series of flawed statements about Venezuela's economic relationship with Cuba.

Flawed statements on economic relationship with Cuba

First, Krauze writes that "Venezuela absorbs 45 percent of Cuba's trade deficit." Official data on Venezuela/Cuba trade is opaque, so it is unclear where Krauze is getting his figure. In terms of its overall trade, Cuba does not have a trade deficit, but a small trade surplus ($697 million USD, according to the WTO). So this statement is false.

Krauze states, "Chávez-era economic agreements with Cuba were all highly favorable to the island nation." But that the agreements are favorable to Cuba does not preclude them from being favorable to Venezuela as well. They are complementary exchanges: Venezuela has a surfeit of oil yet lacks human capital in some sectors. It could be the case that what Venezuela receives is of a lesser value than what it sends, but unfortunately there is a paucity of information to prove this either way.

What is certain is that the services exported to Venezuela extend far beyond the services of 40,000 Cuban medical professionals. Venezuela sends hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans to Cuba for various operations (including Operación Milagro, which extends eye treatments to people in numerous Latin American countries at the joint cost of Venezuela and Cuba). Thousands of Venezuelans have been given scholarships, particularly for the study of medicine. Cuba also exports substantial quantities of pharmaceuticals to Venezuela. It also sends educators and other professionals.

In further arguing that Venezuela is somehow putting Cuba's interests before its own, Krauze claims, "The expenses for the Missions...involved Venezuelan payments of about $5.5 billion annually, of which the Cuban regime retained 95 percent, the rest going toward paying the doctors." But this ignores that Cuba provides other services to Venezuela. It also ignores the difficulties in comparing salaries with Cuba, given the vast subsidies for goods that exist in the Cuban economy. The salaries for medics on these foreign postings are vastly larger than normal public sector salaries in Cuba.

Krauze also writes that "thousands" of the Cuban doctors that Venezuela is paying for "have defected to other countries in recent years." Despite US government efforts to actively encourage such defections, which the New York Times has condemned, the overall defection rate of Cuban medics on overseas missions is less than 2 percent (as of 2011, using US figures on the number of defectors and Cuban figures for the number of medics on overseas missions). The amount of defections in Venezuela from 2006-11 was 824, which works out to a rate of about 1.1 percent--slightly less than the overall rate.

Krauze claims: "Oil was supplied at such low prices that Cuba could turn around and refine and export some of it at a profit." This makes something normal sound very conspiratorial--those two-faced Cubans, getting oil on the cheap from Venezuela then selling it out the back door! Actually, Venezuela has invested heavily in Cuba's downstream capabilities--renovating a moribund Soviet-era refinery in Cienfuegos, Cuba.

Venezuela's state-owned oil company, PDVSA, owns a 49 percent stake in the refinery and therefore shares in its proceeds. The aim of the investment project was to create a refinery that could help satisfy Cuba's domestic requirements but also turn Cuba into a hub for exports of refined products to the Caribbean. Thus it guarantees purchases of Venezuelan oil and allows Venezuela to better access Caribbean markets (i.e. it has a similar justification to Venezuela's ownership and investments in several US refineries).

Is Krauze writes, "Mr. Maduro's government insists that the crisis is an ‘economic war' conducted by the right and refuses to alter the nation's currency controls." Krauze may have missed the news last week, but the Times' fact-checkers shouldn't have: As reported by the Times, the Venezuelan government announced "an easing of the tightly controlled exchange rates that critics say have fed the nation's economic crisis."

About the economic war

Maduro's claim of "economic war"? While there's little doubt that most of Venezuela's economic woes stem from its problematic exchange rate regime, the government's recent documented busts of massive hoarding of essential items by private companies should not be dismissed out of hand, either.

Perhaps Krauze wouldn't have felt he needed to stretch the truth so far--and present so many inaccurate claims--if his thesis weren't so flawed. Chávez and Maduro have never claimed that they wanted to bring the Cuban model to Venezuela; this is a fantasy of the Venezuelan right. To the contrary, after announcing his plan for "Socialism for the 21st Century,"Chávez said, "Some are saying that we want to copy the Cuban model. No.... It would be a very serious mistake for Venezuela to copy a model like the Cuban, or any other."

For his part, Raúl Castro has also expressed support for Latin American countries pursuing their own respective economic and political choices: "Each [leader] is learning their own identity and finding their own identity within the continent. We aren't the godfathers and they aren't the heirs,"he told Oliver Stone in the 2010 documentary South of the Border.

Like or not: Venezuela is a democracy

The fact is, whether Krauze wants to admit it or not, Venezuela is a democracy, and the Maduro government was democratically elected--as were the Chavista municipal officials who won a majority of elections half a year after Maduro was elected, in a stunning defeat for the opposition. Krauze doesn't have to like the current Venezuelan government, but he shouldn't confuse it with an unelected one, as in Cuba.

Nor should he be so easily confused by the Venezuelan economic system--where th private sector enjoyed strong growth in the years after Chávez took office--versus the Cuban model of socialism. More worrying is that the New York Times opinion page would be so baffled by these important differences.

Steve Ellner has taught economic history at the Universidad de Oriente in Venezuela since 1977. His most recent book is his edited Latin America's Radical Left: Challenges and Complexities of Political Power in the Twenty-First Century(Rowman & Littlefield, 2014).

Canada's Irwin Cotler joins defence of Venezuelan terrorist

The Hypocrisy of Leopoldo Lopez’s New Lawyer, Irwin Cotler

Irwin Cotler is member of the Canadian Parliamentary Subcommittee on International Human Rights which declared itself in favour of the Venezuelan terrorist Leopoldo Lopez.

To these Members of Parliament, it is alright that 43 Venezuelans died because of Leopoldo Lopez' attempt to overthrow the democratic and legitimate government of Venezuela with outright street violence - violence that would not be tolerated in Canada.

Feb 9th 2015,
by TeleSUR/ Pablo Vivanco and Luis Granados

Venezuelan opposition figures were quick to gloat about their latest international ally. Irwin Cotler, a long-time Canadian member of parliament for the Liberal Party, reportedly signed on to become part of the legal team for former Venezuelan politician Leopoldo Lopez, who is currently jailed for his role in the deadly rioting that rocked Venezuela in early 2014.

Carlos Vecchio, a leading member of Lopez’s political party Popular Will, boasted that, “(Nelson) Mandela’s lawyer in considering going to Ramo Verde”, the jail where Lopez is being held. Quickly, the international press – who have been exceptionally busy of late printing any stories that puts the Venezuelan government in a bad light – picked up the story, also referring to the Canadian lawmaker as the lawyer for the famed South African liberation movement head.

Irwin Cotler was not Nelson Mandela's lawyer

Virtually no media picked up the declarations from South African leaders negating a connection between Cotler and Mandela.

"Irwin Cotler was not Nelson Mandela’s lawyer and does not represent the Government or the people of South Africa in any manner," the Ambassador of the Republic of South Africa to Venezuela Pandit Thaninga Shope-Linney said Thursday.

While these statement may make Cotler’s role in the struggle against South African apartheid hazy, his role in defending another country that has been accused of creating an apartheid system is clear.

Cotler, a vocal defender of Israeli apartheid

Cotler has long been one of the most vocal defenders of Israel in the Canadian Parliament and has deep connections to numerous Israel lobby organizations in Canada and the United States. The lawyer was one of three founders of the Liberal Parliamentarians for Israel group and was also the former president of the Canadian Jewish Congress which in recent decades has devoted an increasing amount of its focus towards Israel advocacy and painting pro-Palestinian activism as tantamount to anti-semitism.

In Parliament Hill, Cotler has been active in using his post to influence Canada’s foreign policy positions in favor of Israel. Cotler worked to undermine the credibility of United Nations Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict, otherwise known as the Goldstone Report – ironically drafted by a South African judge – which accused both the Israel Defense Forces and Hamas of war crimes in the 2009 attack on Gaza.

“You can’t have a situation where you have special sessions targeting Israel and the rest of the world has immunity,” Cotler said. “Within the U.N. system, there is a basis now to alter what is the source of the problem: the singling out of one member state for differential and discriminatory treatment under the existing legal framework.”

Israel kills over 2,000 but Cotler blames Hamas

More recently, following the devastating attack on Gaza that left more than 2,000 Palestinians dead and over 10,000 injured, Cotler placed the blame on Hamas.

“Hamas is a uniquely evil expression of genocidal anti-Semitism,” said Cotler.

While paying lip service to preventing further “tragedies,” Cotler went on to outline 15 recommendations – all of them geared towards placing further restrictions on Palestinians. Nowhere did the “human rights” lawyer even acknowledge the devastating blockade on Gaza, let alone the continued illegal building of settlements as a factor in the conditions that Palestinians face.

Cotler’s Israel advocacy is perhaps one of the reasons why he is looking to align with Venezuela’s opposition.

Under former President Hugo Chavez, Venezuela took unprecedented steps in support of Palestinian rights to statehood on the international stage, becoming one of the first country’s in Latin America to set up full diplomatic relations in 2009. Three years before, Venezuela also recalled its representatives from Israel in response to the Israeli invasion of Lebanon, which lead Chavez to call Israel a “terrorist state.”

Venezuela stands for Palestinian freedom

Indeed, Cotler is also an advisory board member of the board of U.N. Watch, which also has disproportionate focus on monitoring activity at the United Nations relating to Palestinian rights. Unsurprisingly, the organization – which also counts former members of the U.S. government in its board – has historically been opposed to the governments of the Bolivarian Revolution as evidenced by the group’s intense lobbying efforts against Venezuela's bid for a seat on the U.N. Security Council and the declarations from the head of U.N. Watch who upon the death of President Chavez, called the former leader a “symbol of evil.”

With these connections and track record, it is hard to consider Cotler a neutral observer in Venezuelan affairs.

Cotler’s credentials on human rights and civil liberties in his own country are doubtful.

Having served as Justice Minister during the Liberal government of Jean Chretien, Cotler was responsible for Bill C-36, Canada's Anti-Terrorism Act which was passed in the wake of the 9/11 attacks on New York in 2001. The law was condemned by a slew of lawyers, as well as civil and human rights organizations, and has been used to permit massive surveillance on activists since.

Even while in opposition, Cotler has been conspicuously silent during flagrant abuses of civil rights by authorities in Canada.

Cotler stands for violation of civil rights in Canada

In 2010 when Canada was hosted the G-20 Summit, the police arbitrarily arrested over 1,000 people in what the Ontario Ombusman Andre Marin referred to as "a time period where martial law was set in the city of Toronto, leading to the most massive compromise of civil liberties in Canadian history."

In addition to the mass arrests – which included accusations of physical and sexual assault on protesters by police – several activists were preemptively arrested after police infiltrated groups and discovered that they intended to cause property damage, e.g. breaking windows of banks, in Toronto. Two of the arrested were sentenced to jail time, even though their arrests did not even allow them to participate in any demonstrations.

Cotler and his Liberal Party did not condemn this mass violation of civil rights which took place in the country's largest city and in plain sight.

Two years later, as hundreds of thousands of Quebec post-secondary students went on strike to protest an increase in tuition fees, the government responded with heavy-handed police tactics on protesters, including attacks on restaurant patrons and several serious injuries of peaceful protestors.

The Quebec government later passed a law that specifically prohibited gatherings of more than 50 people. Bill 78 was condemned by students, trade unions, as well as the Quebec Human Rights Commission. However, the member of parliament from Quebec once again said nothing about this violation of civil rights in his home province.

Cotler drafts "anti-terrorism" intended to stifle free speech

In late 2014, Cotler announced he would not run again for a seat in Canada’s Parliament. With his new found free time, he would do well to stick to issues in Canada, especially in light of the Conservative government’s intention to build on the anti-terrorism act that he drafted, which many lawyers and civil liberties groups are saying will be disastrous for the people of Canada.

U.S. inspired coup attempt in Venezuela

Venezuela: Coup in Real Time

by Eva Gollinger

U.S. media is increasing its systematic negative coverage of Venezuela

There is a coup underway in Venezuela. The pieces are all falling into place like a bad CIA movie. At every turn a new traitor is revealed, a betrayal is born, full of promises to reveal the smoking gun that will justify the unjustifiable. Infiltrations are rampant, rumors spread like wildfire, and the panic mentality threatens to overcome logic. Headlines scream danger, crisis and imminent demise, while the usual suspects declare covert war on a people whose only crime is being gatekeeper to the largest pot of black gold in the world.

This week, as the New York Times showcased an editorial degrading and ridiculing Venezuelan President Maduro, labeling him “erratic and despotic” (“Mr. Maduro in his Labyrinth”, NYT January 26, 2015), another newspaper across the Atlantic headlined a hack piece accusing the President of Venezuela’s National Assembly, Diosdado Cabello, and the most powerful political figure in the country after Maduro, of being a narcotics kingpin (“The head of security of the number two Chavista defects to the U.S. and accuses him of drug trafficking”, ABC, January 27, 2015). The accusations stem from a former Venezuelan presidential guard officer, Leasmy Salazar, who served under President Chavez and was recruited by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), now becoming the new “golden child” in Washington’s war on Venezuela.

Two days later, the New York Times ran a front-page piece shaming the Venezuelan economy and oil industry, and predicting its downfall (“Oil Cash Waning, Venezuelan Shelves Lie Bare”, Jan. 29, 2015, NYT). Blaring omissions from the article include mention of the hundreds of tons of food and other consumer products that have been hoarded or sold as contraband by private distributors and businesses in order to create panic, discontent with the government and justify outrageous price hikes.

Sensationalist and misleading information

Simultaneously, an absurdly sensationalist and misleading headline ran in several U.S. papers, in print and online, linking Venezuela to nuclear weapons and a plan to bomb New York City (“U.S. Scientist Jailed for Trying to Help Venezuela Build Bombs”, Jan. 30, 2015, NPR). While the headline leads readers to believe Venezuela was directly involved in a terrorist plan against the U.S., the actual text of the article makes clear that no Venezuelans were involved at all. The whole charade was an entrapment set up by the FBI, whose officers posed as Venezuelan officials to capture a disgruntled nuclear physicist who once worked at Los Alamos.

U.S. harbours criminal, Antonio Rivero

That same day, State Department spokeswoman Jan Psaki condemned the alleged “criminalization of political dissent” in Venezuela, when asked by a reporter about fugitive Venezuelan general Antonio Rivero’s arrival in New York to plea for support from the United Nations Working Committee on Arbitrary Detention. Rivero fled an arrest warrant in Venezuela after his involvement in violent anti-government protests that lead to the deaths of over 40 people, mainly government supporters and state security forces, last February. His arrival in the U.S. coincided with Salazar’s, evidencing a coordinated effort to debilitate Venezuela’s Armed Forces by publicly showcasing two high profile military officers — both former Chavez loyalists — that have turned against their government and are seeking foreign intervention against their own country.

These examples are just a snapshot of increasing, systematic negative and distorted coverage of Venezuelan affairs in U.S. media, painting an exaggeratedly dismal picture of the country’s current situation and portraying the government as incompetent, dictatorial and criminal. While this type of coordinated media campaign against Venezuela is not new — media consistently portrayed former Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, elected president four times by overwhelming majorities, as a tyrannical dictator destroying the country — it is clearly intensifying at a rapid, and concerning, pace.

U.S. media campaign against Venezuela is not new

The New York Times has a shameful history when it comes to Venezuela. The Editorial Board blissfully applauded the violent coup d’etat in April 2002 that ousted President Chavez and resulted in the death of over 100 civilians. When Chavez was returned to power by his millions of supporters and loyal Armed Forces two days later, the Times didn’t recant it’s previous blunder, rather it arrogantly implored Chavez to “govern responsibly”, claiming he had brought the coup on himself. But the fact that the Times has now begun a persistent, direct campaign against the Venezuelan government with one-sided, distorted and clearly aggressive articles – editorials, blogs, opinion, and news – indicates that Washington has placed Venezuela on the regime change fast track.

The timing of Leamsy Salazar’s arrival in Washington as an alleged DEA collaborator, and his public exposure, is not coincidental. This February marks one year since anti-government protests violently tried to force President Maduro’s resignation. The leaders of the protests, Leopoldo López and María Corina Machado, have both been lauded by The New York Times and other “respected” outlets as “freedom fighters,” “true democrats,” and as the Times recently referred to Machado, “an inspiring challenger.” Even President Obama called for Lopez’s release from prison (he was detained for his role in the protest violence) during a speech last September at an event in the United Nations. These influential voices willfully omit Lopez’s and Machado’s involvement and leadership of violent, undemocratic and even criminal acts. Both were involved in the 2002 coup against Chavez. Both have illegally received foreign funding for political activities slated to overthrow their government, and both led the lethal protests against Maduro last year, publicly calling for his ouster through illegal means.

The utilization of a figure such as Salazar who was known to anyone close to Chavez as one of his loyal guards, as a force to discredit and attack the government and its leaders is an old-school intelligence tactic, and a very effective one. Infiltrate, recruit, and neutralize the adversary from within or by one of its own — a painful, shocking betrayal that creates distrust and fear amongst the ranks. While no evidence has surfaced to back Salazar’s outrageous claims against Diosdado Cabello, the headline makes for a sensational story and another mark against Venezuela in public opinion. It also caused a stir within the Venezuelan military and may result in further betrayals from officers who could support a coup against the government.

Venezuela is suffering from the sudden and dramatic plummet in oil prices. The country’s oil-dependent economy has severely contracted and the government is taking measures to reorganize the budget and guarantee access to basic services and goods, but people are still experiencing difficulties. Unlike the dismal portrayal in The New York Times, Venezuelans are not starving, homeless or suffering from mass unemployment, as countries such as Greece and Spain have experienced under austerity policies. Despite certain shortages — some caused by currency controls and others by intentional hoarding, sabotage or contraband — 95 percent of Venezuelans consume three meals per day, an amount that has doubled since the 1990s. The unemployment rate is under 6 percent and housing is subsidized by the state.

Nevertheless, making Venezuela’s economy scream is without a doubt a rapidly intensifying strategy executed by foreign interests and their Venezuelan counterparts, and it’s very effective. As shortages continue and access to dollars becomes increasingly difficult, chaos and panic ensue. This social discontent is capitalized on by U.S. agencies and anti-government forces in Venezuela pushing for regime change. A very similar strategy was used in Chile to overthrow socialist President Salvador Allende. First the economy was destroyed, then mass discontent grew and the military moved to oust Allende, backed by Washington at every stage. Lest we forget the result: a brutal dictatorship led by General Augusto Pinochet that tortured, assassinated, disappeared and forced into exile tens of thousands of people. Not exactly a model to replicate.

This year President Obama approved a special State Department fund of US $5 million to support anti-government groups in Venezuela. Additionally, the congressionally-funded National Endowment for Democracy is financing Venezuelan opposition groups with over US $1.2 million and aiding efforts to undermine Maduro’s government. There is little doubt that millions more for regime change in Venezuela are being funneled through other channels that are not subject to public scrutiny.

President Maduro has denounced these ongoing attacks against his government and has directly called on President Obama to cease efforts to harm Venezuela. Recently, all 33 Latin American and Caribbean nations, members of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), publicly expressed support for Maduro and condemned ongoing U.S. interference in Venezuela. Latin America firmly rejects any attempts to erode democracy in the region and will not stand for another U.S.-backed coup. It’s time Washington listen to the hemisphere and stop employing the same dirty tactics against its neighbors.