In the face of economic war

Commemoration of 57th anniversary fall of Pérez Jiménez dictatoship

by Lucas Koerner

Caracas, January 23, 2015 – Thousands took to the streets of the Venezuelan capital to commemorate the 57th anniversary of the toppling of the Pérez Jiménez dictatorship, as well as to voice their support for the government of President Nicolás Maduro in the face of economic war and political destabilization.

Setting out in the morning from Plaza Fabricio Ojeda in the historic 23 de Enero neighborhood, a combative barrio itself named after the date of Pérez Jiménez’s ousting, the march concluded in the Plaza O’Leary in El Calvario, where the President spoke and led a spirited rally, amidst a sea of red banners.

Shortages and the “economic war”

The march comes in the midst of severe inflation and widespread shortages of basic goods, which President Maduro has termed an “economic war” that is reportedly being waged against the Bolivarian government by elements of the opposition. The President accused distributors of hoarding everyday products and presented them with an ultimatum to cooperate or face “tough measures.”

In the face of this economic war, to which many attribute the reported drop in President Maduro’s approval ratings to 22%, Yulixa Jiménez, like thousands of others at Friday’s march, remains defiant.

“We as a revolutionary people are conscious of what the Right is doing to us, because it’s part of their fascist plan,” says the 20-year old student at the Bolivarian University of Venezuela. “We have to be conscious of what is happening, and we have to advance in the struggle to produce our own products and not depend so much on income from oil.”

Carlos Martínez, 30, of La Parroquía Sucre, similarly notes the gravity of the current political and economic situation: “The economic war is affecting us. This is a small group of bourgeois who control the economic market of the country. It’s a real monster we’re fighting. We want to make it so the people can produce our own resources and we don’t depend on the monopolies.”

Despite these immense challenges, many like Francine Montorola are nevertheless optimistic: “We are conscious that we are at war, but we’re going to come out victorious,” she said. “We know who our enemies are, and we are organizing ourselves and struggling to come out of this. These are difficult moments, but no one said people’s struggle was easy.

These responses to the economic war are met by freshly uncovered evidence of its depth and scope. While thousands marched through the streets on Friday, Caracas police discovered in Catia a cache of 33 tons of household products, including rice, diapers, dish soap, mayonnaise, tooth paste, deodorant, among other everyday items.

Commemorating the fall of the dictatorship and the martyrs of democracy

The 23rd of January is an historic date in which Venezuelans annually take to the streets to honor those fallen in the struggle against the Péres Jiménez dictatorship. However, for the thousands assembled in El Calvario on Friday, the 23rd of January is also a date which commemorates the more than 5000 revolutionaries assassinated by the governments that succeeded Pérez Jiménez during Venezuela’s 40-year long era of “pacted democracy,” known as the Fourth Republic, which only came to a close with Hugo Chávez’s election in 1998. A significant proportion of these political killings occurred during the 1989 rebellion by the popular classes against neoliberal austerity measures, known as the Caracazo, in which as many as 3,000 people were gunned down by the Venezuelan army.<

Nonetheless, for those attending Friday’s march, this commemoration is anything but merely historical, but, on the contrary, has real implications for the present conjuncture. For Antonia Díaz, 40, the stakes are high: “If we allow this revolution to be lost, the same people [in power] during those years [of dictatorship] will come after us, the people, of Chávez…We will defend this process to the death.”

According to PSUV (United Socialist Party of Venezuela) youth leader Brian Mirandés, 21, the danger of returning to this not-so-distant past of brutal state repression is hardly abstract:

“In the past, many comrades died as a consequence of the repression of the Fourth Republic, comrades disappeared, one of the closest [fallen comrades], that we have now is Robert Serra, with whom I had the opportunity to work alongside, who was assassinated by the Right, by Imperialism.”
In the eyes of the thousands attending Friday’s rally, Robert Serra, the youngest ever National Assembly deputy who was assassinated by Colombian paramilitaries in October at the age of 27, is a symbol both of hope and of what is at stake in the Bolivarian Revolution. President Maduro himself underscored Serra’s inspirational legacy when he proposed that the slain deputy’s mother, Zulay Aguirre, run for her son’s National Assembly seat in the elections this coming December.

Maduro denounces visit by rightwing ex-presidents

In his speech at Friday’s rally, President Nicolás Maduro denounced the visit by Sebastián Piñera, Andrés Pastrana, and Felipe Calderón, the ex-presidents of Chile, Colombia, and Mexico, respectively, who will be attending a forum organized by the Venezuelan opposition on Monday. The Venezuelan leader stated that these ex-presidents’ hands would be “forever stained in blood” in the event of a coup d'état in Venezuela.

The President underscored that the guests of the forum revealed the extreme rightwing character of the Venezuelan opposition, referencing Piñera’s role in the privatization of Chilean education and repression of the struggles by the indigenous Mapuche people as well as Calderón’s responsibility for the disastrous Mexican drug war and links to the drug cartels.

Who Will Stand With Venezuela?

International Solidarity and Survival

by W.T. Whitney, Jr.
January 19, 2015

Who in the world stands with a country when it is under the looming threat of a major U.S. government intervention? When Guatemala (1954), the Dominican Republic (1965), Chile (1973), and Haiti (2004) were in trouble, there was no one. Cuba was different; over the years, at different times, the Soviet Union, Latin American countries, and nations voting in the UN General Assembly all weighed in with support and solidarity. And Cuba’s socialist revolution survives.

Now the U. S. government targets Venezuela, its socialist government and national sovereignty. This time, however, the intended victim is not alone.

For the nearly 15 years of Venezuela’s Bolivarian revolution, the U.S government has lavished funds on forces opposing governments headed by President Hugo Chavez and his successor Nicolas Maduro. The U.S. media have uniformly condemned both administrations on grounds of repression. The two embassies have gone without ambassadors since 2010.

The U.S. government enacted sanctions against Venezuela in late December, 2014. Sponsors of the legislation alleged government resorted to violence in its response to street protests earlier in the year. Yet U.S. and European media said nothing about the demonstrations having taken place mostly in well-to-do, urban neighborhoods, nothing about protesters themselves having been responsible for almost all the killings carried out during the turmoil.

U.S. pressure mounts in the context of media hype advertising the Maduro government as vulnerable. And not without reason: the charismatic Chavez and his overwhelming election victories are gone; Maduro won the presidential election in April 2013 by only a slim margin. And Venezuela’s economy is in big trouble.

In December, Venezuela’s Central Bank declared the economy to be in recession, also that inflation for the previous 12 months had been 63.6 percent, one of the world’s highest rates. High demand for dollars, exit of which is restricted, is fueling a black market. Now oil prices having fallen to levels barely enough to cover production costs. Because crude oil sales account for 95 percent of Venezuela’s export income, the economy has recently experienced a 30 percent drop in foreign exchange revenue. Business reporters warn of a likely default on bonds coming due soon. Blackouts and shortages of basic consumer goods are common. The government attributes the shortages in large measure to hoarding by commercial interests opposed to Maduro.

China brings good news

There is good news, however. Government ministers journeyed to China in December to be followed by President Maduro in early January. They attended the first ever conference between high Chinese government leaders and representatives of almost all the CELAC nations (the Community of Latin American and Caribbean Nations).

Maduro told reporters that China would be providing his country with $20 billion in new investments, augmenting some $45 billion already loaned over the past ten years. Oil exports to China, presently half a million barrels of crude per day, will be doubling over the coming year.

Leaving China, Maduro went on to oil-producing nations in the Middle East. After visits to Iran and Qatar, he told a TeleSur reporter that, “We [of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries] will be taking corrective measures so that the petroleum market returns to the level where it should be.” He counselled that, “We must not utilize petroleum as a cover for forcing countries to submit. That would be to return to wars and barbarism, and cannot be.” Maduro obtained a new credit line from banks in Qatar.

To reply on numbers, statements, and news reports to show that Venezuela has allies hardly does justice to Venezuela’s role in a drama of history. But Venezuelan analyst Jesús Rafael Gamarra Luna has words equal to the task.

Venezuela and the beginning of the end of Yankee imperialism.

[Gamarra] titles his recent article, “Venezuela and the beginning of the end of Yankee imperialism.” Venezuela, he says, is dealing “the last political blow that ... defines in a pristine and clear way the beginning of a new epoch for humanity.”

Specifically, “a strategic alliance was made with China that assures development of the Plan for the Homeland. A major international rearguard is being built for the development of socialism, of a world at peace. It gives Latin America and the Caribbean the best prospect for sustainable human development, better by far than the United States and Europe.”

He describes a “definitive turn of Venezuelan, international, and Caribbean international politics that distances us from the development parameters the United States and Europe impose as the capitalist model. [Now] Venezuela is not alone … Commander Chavez planned it that way, to fashion a new geometry of power, a new multipolar world.”

Venezuela's emancipatory project continues

Cuban journalist Hedelberto López Blanch agrees, but is more restrained: “The times are past where a single country can promulgate international decisions unilaterally. That’s because in recent decades many groupings have appeared that make this world more multi-polar.” He mentions alliances like “UNASUR, MERCOSUR, ALBA, CELAC, CARICOM, ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations), G-77, and the Euro-Asiatic Economic Union.” They “impede the effects of these arbitrary measures.”

Presidents Jacobo Arbenz, Salvador Allende, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, and Dominican “Constitutionalist” rebel Francisco Caamaño paid the price of not having their backs covered in the way President Maduro is being protected now. So the prognosis may not be all bad for Venezuela’s emancipatory project to continue.
W.T. Whitney Jr. is a retired pediatrician and political journalist living in Maine.