Venezuelan Reflections on Peace in Colombia

Venezuela takes steps to make peace a reality

by Jeanette Charles

Oct 6 - Entire peoples and movements committed to peace, regional integration and solidarity across the Americas undeniably anticipated that Sunday’s plebiscite would reinforce the Peace Accords marking a new era for Colombia and the hemisphere.

However, the 37.28 percent of Colombians who participated in Sunday’s elections decided against the recently signed Peace Accords between the Santos government and the FARC with less than one percent margin of difference, approximately 70,000 votes. The decision ultimately halted what was days before a celebratory result of carefully facilitated negotiations over four years.

Venezuela's Historic Role to Consolidate a Path Toward Peace

Venezuela has served as one of the main promoters and active facilitators in the Colombian peace process. Venezuelan and Colombian history is as inseparable and interwoven as their future. Former President Hugo Chávez tirelessly advocated for peace in Colombia and by extension, the Americas.
As the peace accords were signed on September 27 in Cartagena, President Nicolás Maduro emphasized that Chavez “managed to build the confidence necessary to start negotiations which culminated in the signing of the peace agreement in Cartagena.” Likewise, the FARC’s top negotiator Timochenko as well as Colombian Senator Iván Cepeda for the Democratic Pole have both acknowledged and expressed gratitude for Venezuela’s role in the Colombian peace process.

Why is Venezuela so committed to peace in Colombia? Arguably, following Colombians themselves, Venezuelans have witnessed firsthand the brutal reality of their bordering nation’s civil war. Five decades of right wing sponsored violence has relentlessly responded to and served US anti-communist campaigns as well as US economic and political interests.

People paint murals in Columbia expressing desire for peace

Greater militarization by both state and non-state actors as well as neoliberal privatization are direct manifestations of the War on Drugs and Plan Colombia. As a direct result, Venezuela is home to more than five million displaced Colombians and countless more descendants.

Peace for Colombia and for Latin America as a whole remains an unfulfilled promise to the millions displaced disappeared and assassinated over five decades of violence. However, grassroots movements of the Community of Latin America and Caribbean States (CELAC), an integrationist platform born of former Venezuelan President Chávez’s legacy, have expressed time and time again an unwavering commitment to peace for Colombians and by extension Latin America and the Caribbean.

As such, Venezuelans understand more than anyone else that while Sunday’s elections were presented to a certain extent by the Colombian government and certainly by the Colombian elite as the people’s “final” say on peace, the elections actually imply and serve greater political as well as economic interests than those presented publicly at the negotiation table.

Additionally, as President Maduro emphasized, “War or peace in Colombia directly affects the life of our people.”

Venezuelan Grassroots Reactions to Sunday's Results

Venezuelans felt the emotional ripple effect of Colombia's electoral outcome and drew uncertainty from its political implications. From informal conversations with friends and colleagues to reading immediate reactions on social media, it became increasingly apparent how many Venezuelans considered the Colombian peace process an integral part of their own revolutionary process.

Venezuelans expressed their rage as well as disappointment with an electoral process seemingly set up to unfavor the Colombian people. Moreover, they voiced their doubts regarding Colombian politicians' real or absent intentions to work toward peace.

President Mauduro and President Santos talk peace

"What were their [the government's] real motives?" "was this all just a show meant to disarm the guerrillas?" "why were the elections necessary in the first place?" were among some of the questions spoken by Venezuelans following the elections. Never once, did I find someone who blamed the Colombian people despite an easy and simple way to assess the situation given how contemporary indicators to validate a democracy almost exlusively rest on elections regardless of historical participation or outcome.

Ahead of Sunday’s elections María Gabriela Del Pilar Blanco, a Venezuelan organizer from Higuerote, Miranda expressed her enthusiastic support for Colombia’s peace accords. “There are millions of Colombians in Venezuela. My organization works closely with many Colombians. We wholeheartedly support peace in Colombia, we ourselves are a peaceful people and promote peace internationally,” she said Sunday to a group of Central American immigrants in Los Angeles, California largely aligned with Salvadoran, Nicaraguan and Honduran resistance movements.

Once Blanco heard Sunday’s results, she pointedly questioned the disparity in voter turnout and questioned international oversight of “democracy” in Colombia. “I wonder about the international electoral observation that happened during Colombia’s elections on Sunday. When we have elections in Venezuela, hundreds of people come to observe from the U.N. to Unasur to solidarity groups. What have they said? What did they observe on Sunday’s elections?”

Hurricane Matthew prevented significant voting

According to Colombia Reports, more than 2000 electoral observers were dispatched to cover and document Sunday’s elections. The Electoral Observation Mission (MOE) reported that: “the rains caused by Hurricane Matthew prevented the potential votes of four million Colombians”, “only 61 percent of the tables had the polling jury assigned to them at the time of the opening of polling centers”, “five complaints of alleged fraud or corruption were received” and “one citizen carrying 17 voting cards for the plebiscite” among other observations.

Undoubtedly, had these observations been made during any election in Venezuela not to mention during any stage of the controversial recall referendum, corporate media and international powers at be would have immediately called for intervention and “justice”.

Pres. Raul Castro seals hand shaker between with Santos and FARC

Katherine Castrillo, Venezuela of Colombian descent and writer with grassroots Venezuelan publication Cultura Nuestra (Our Culture) expressed in her article, “Why Did NO Win in Colombia?” that we must scratch beyond the surface of Sunday’s decision. “It is useless and superficial to think that the Colombian people have only suffered from a war between the army, guerrillas and paramilitaries over the last 50 years,” she wrote.

Rather, Castrillo continued, “land theft, bipartisan hegemony, oligopolies, media monopoly, social control, criminalization of popular movements, U.S. military bases, the largest drug export industry, the majority rejection of state policies such as daily bread tainted the credibility of a bilateral ceasefire."

Yet, in regions such as Chocó, Cauca, Putumayo, Nariño and others most afflicted by the conflict, Colombians resoundingly supported YES. In these corners of Colombia, people were not fooled or dissuaded by any of the peace opposing forces Castrillo highlighted. With these communities, there is most certainly a chance to build peace with or without a legally binding document.

Colombians, perhaps discouraged by Sunday’s vote, should find solace and solidarity with the Venezuelan people resolved to end not just five decades but five centuries of colonially driven strife in the Americas.

Bolivarian Process Looks Ahead

Despite a crushing sense of defeat, the Bolivarian government and President Maduro have publicly voiced their support to uphold the accords and to accompany the Colombian people.

“We have been great accompaniers and promoters of the Peace Accords in Colombia,” conveyed President Maduro. “I am ready, President Santos, [and] to all the Colombian guerrilla forces, to continue supporting peace in Colombia with humility, perseverance and love,” he continued.

Maduro’s stressed the ways in which an electoral outcome does not represent a definitive NO. If anything, Venezuelans can understand the deep sense of disappointment after an unexpected electoral defeat especially following the opposition’s National Assembly win which was similarly a result of great abstention and right-wing propaganda.

“Colombia had an electoral slip-up, just as we did on December 6th, but just like this electoral hiccup, peace is irreversible,” Maduro framed. Similarly, he outed the position of Venezuela’s right-wing elite class for supporting war in Colombia, “we cannot understand those that want more war in Colombia.”

Rightfully so, the Colombian and Venezuelan right-wing elite have shamelessly benefitted from wreaking havoc and sponsoring war. For instance, Venezuelan people and the Bolivarian government alike have publicly denounced former President Alvaro Uribe for his ties to funding and training paramilitaries in Venezuela.

Peace talks negotiated in Cuba

Before Sunday's elections, Maduro expressed his expectations for what peace could mean for improved relations between Colombia and Venezuela. "I am sure that peace will bring to Colombia a new era of happiness and brotherly relations with Venezuela," he stated.

It is undeniable that the Colombian people have been tasked with inflating their tested morale and defining peace on their own terms.

Venezuelans, like other Latin American and Caribbean nations, will inevitably accompany whatever process will continue following this week’s decision. History has proven as much.

The majority poor, Black, Indigenous, women and youth in Colombia and Our America face an onslaught waged by an oligarchy resolved to dismantle the last two decades of integrationist efforts in order to reinstate U.S. dominance in the region. The stakes run high.

And while Colombia continues to forge a path toward peace, Venezuelans nearby take steps to accompany this purposeful journey to make peace a reality.

International solidarity needed for defence of Bolivarian revolution

Is Venezuela on the Verge of a Another Coup?
by Jeanetter Charles

Current events in Venezuela and the political opposition’s call for global protests against President Maduro conjure memories of the 2002 coup d’état - a moment marked by violence all too familiar for most Venezuelans. The opposition’s public call for national and international protests slated for September 1st accompanied by transportation strikes in some of the nation’s opposition strongholds along with rising inaccessibility to most basic staples also indicate strong possibilities for rampant guarimba violence reminiscent of the 2014 opposition demonstrations. So it would seem, a potential coup d’état is in progress.

Yet, what are the real possibilities? What are grassroots movements and others aligned with the Bolivarian process saying about the opposition’s upcoming demonstrations? What are the strategies in place? And, more importantly, how are the grassroots preparing to respond come September 1st?

2016 Opposition Protests and their Political Backdrop

This week’s protests center on the Venezuelan opposition’s insistent demand for a recall referendum to occur this year. This is not the first time Venezuela has faced a potential presidential impeachment. As teleSUR English’s Iain Bruce reports, “On August 15, 2004, the Venezuelan president, Hugo Chavez, faced his opponents in the first and only recall referendum against a sitting president in modern world history. The opposition parties were confident they would win. They assumed they would naturally recover the positions of power they had lost.” However, Venezuelan history proved otherwise and Chávez remained in office, securing a majority.

Since the people’s election of Chávez in 1998, the Bolivarian Revolution has marked a distinct transition away from an oligarchy that has historically siphoned oil and resources from the people devastating Venezuela’s majority poor nation. Over the last 17 years, Venezuela’s Bolivarian Process has made major strides in inclusionary rights, economic access and political consciousness raising domestically and on an international scale.
However, the opposition, actively supported by the United States, continues to strategize against the Bolivarian process which has radically transformed people’s material conditions and improved the majority poor’s livelihood.

On repeated occasions, the opposition has illegitimately pushed for the recall referendum to happen this year. Yet, National Electoral Council (CNE) President Tibisay Lucena publicly announced earlier this month that according to constitutionally established timelines, the recall referendum will not happenbefore January 2017. This is due to the opposition consciously beginning the process too late for all the steps to be completed this year.
Nonetheless, the opposition has found support of right-wing factions throughout the region such was the case earlier this month when 15 out of 35 OAS membersreleased a joint statement calling for the Venezuelan government to carry out what would be an unconstitutional referendum process before January 2017.

We’ve witnessed this same tactic over and over again. The battle to deligitimize Venezuela, allege that the country is breaching its constitution and highlight its challenges both economic and political are seemingly never-ending in the political arena and in corporate media. To a certain extent, the opposition has also successfully confused millions internationally about the diverse realities facing most Venezuelans.

The economic lead-up to this 2016 call for protests parallels the April 2002 coup. Just last week opposition legislator Freddy Guevara admitted that the opposition had used an "economic boycott" to force the government out. Moreover, he vowed that opposition would reach "Miraflores Palace" on September 1st, just as they did in 2002 when the opposition suddenly diverged from its pre-determined route and decided to march to Miraflores resulting in a direct confrontation between the right-wing opposition and Venezuelan popular forces.

Among the opposition's other tactics have included a campaign to prevent the country from assuming Mercosur’s pro tempore presidency. Minister of Foreign Affairs Delcy Rodríguez along with grassroots movements aligned with the Mercosur process have denounced the continued refusal to transfer power over to Venezuela without grounds.

While international reports may seemingly paint a picture of disaster across the Latin American left and especially of more progressive governments, the continued efforts to destabilize Venezuela indicate that US imperialism is re-positioning itself in the region and returning to relationships with historic right-wing allies.

With this said, the direct hand of the US government in these destabilization attempts against Venezuela remains evermore present. One can look to the sanctions that were renewed in April this year as a prime example.

Furthermore, Venezuelan Foreign Ministry’s North American agency released a statement this Monday that renounced the US State Department spokesperson John Kirby’s call to release former mayor of San Criśtobal, Táchira state, Daniel Ceballos from prisoner.

Ceballos was transferred to prison after spending time under house arrest for his role in the 2014 guarimbas. The Ministry of Justice asserted that this week's transfer was made after recent information surfaced of Ceballos’ potential escape plans to “coordinate acts of violence” this week.

"The brand and authorship of the coup being planned for September 1, 2016, in Venezuela, in collusion with the anti-democratic opposition and international right, has become clear...," read the statement. It continued, "[President Barack Obama's government] is seeking to destabilize Venezuela and the region in its final days to legitimize its imperial plans against peace and the development of the people."

Likewise, US prize winning opposition spokesperson Yon Goicoecha was also arrested this week for the alleged possession of explosives equipment.

Voices from the Bolivarian Process

While there is more than enough evidence to suggest a coup may indeed already be in the works for Venezuela in the near future, a wide range of opinions and actions characterize Venezuelan public opinion regarding the opposition’s latest call for protests.

For example, the government has taken steps to prevent violence such as prohibiting drones from entering into Venezuelan airspace for the next 120 days unless sanctioned by the Defense Ministry. Many private businesses are also closing their doors amidst security concerns.

Meanwhile, grassroots spaces such as community councils and local media outlets have called for marches in support of the Bolivarian Process starting Tuesday August 30th as well as reminding people to have non-confrontational behavior on September 1st to avoid any possible bloodshed.

For example, the Bicentennial Women’s Front convened “a great mobilization in defense of the revolution...we will demonstrate that we are the guardians of Chavez and the Revolution.”

In an exclusive with Venezuelanalysis, María Helena Ramírez, student organizer and resident of San Crístobal, Táchira state, stressed that during the September 1st demonstrations despite the opposition’s alleged call for “peace”, “some right wing spokespeople have remarked that ‘there will be deaths’ and ‘blood will run’ in public interviews.”

Ramírez also commented on the opposition’s strategic use of transportation highlighting that, “there will be buses leaving many regions of the country toward Caracas. This is a very interesting strategy given that Chavista social movements have mobilized across the country to march in the capital for years and the opposition historically has not.” The opposition most certainly counts on selling the impression internationally that their political position has a consolidated and unified base.

Likewise, in Táchira, Ramírez confirmed reports that there has been a transportation strike announced for nine days meant to interrupt and complicate citizens’ daily lives contributing to heightened levels of frustration and concern. Similarly, this last weekend when current opposition National Assembly leader Ramos Allup visited Táchira, people found tire road blocks in the same places that were strongholds for the 2014 guarimbas.

Ramírez suspects that, “what we are seeing is the beginning of an attack against Venezuela meant to push the people to the limit and carry out a coup.” However, Ramírez emphasized that the grassroots along with the Bolivarian government have committed to “protecting the people of Venezuela, especially in Caracas, and the Bolviarian Revolution.”

José Vicente Rangel, long time comrade of former President Hugo Chávez who also served as Minister during his administration, publicly expressed similar concerns over the September 1st marches in Venezuelan media - distinctively drawing parallels to the prelude of the 2002 coup. “In the time of a tense climate, this march could have very grave consequences. Any detail can be explosive and although the same promoters [of this march] insist that it will be civil in character, [our] experience proves otherwise,” Rangel suggests.

“As the march can occur in all normalcy, it can also repeat the brutal experience of April 11, 2002 march and other episodes of violence like the guarimbas, we must put forth with urgency: dialogue,” he continued, of which he stated 80 percent of Venezuela’s population favors.

“There are factions intent on creating a chaotic situation and provoking the rupture of constitutional and democratic order, as well as foreign interventionist adventures that would severely affect our national sovereignty. The opposition that exists in this country seems bent on disaster and total institutional rupture to facilitate [their] access to power; apparently all other options, except violence, are blocked,” Rangel stressed.
It is not without saying that President Maduro also conveyed similar concerns at a rally this weekend and denounced what he called a “an imperialist attack on all.” Maduro cited ongoing US interference and right-wing assaults against the governments of Brazil, Bolivia and Ecuador among other examples.

However, there are dissenting opinions. These reflections rest on the unforgotten ingenuity of the Venezuelan people to defy all odds and prevail against an avalanche of uncertainty.

In his recent publication “The Takeover of the Cities and Power (and the Desire to Take-Over)”, Venezuelan public intellectual and historian José Roberto Duque explains why he believes September 1st will be another unsuccessful opposition attempt to destabilize the nation.

Principally, Duque suggests that very few historical cases exist that show “rebellions” have led to drastic societal shifts and that these oppositions marches will not be among these examples.

“The only mobilizations of this historical time that have toppled governments or at the very least have shaken [them] include: 1) sudden and spontaneous [rebellions] (Venezuela, 1989); 2) [rebellions] directed, defined and inspired by genuine leaders (Venezuela, 1998); or 3) [rebellions] headed or financed by the international war machine (Libya, 2011),” he attests.

Additionally, Duque outlines that due to the opposition’s absent effort to build a consolidated base, combined with the Venezuelan Chavista population’s will to rectify the errors of the revolutionary process, while there may be a series of violent episodes across the country - nothing will mark a definitive “exit” to Maduro’s administration.

“Maybe blood will be spilt in some places, maybe they try and prolong for a few days the media sensation of a rebellion (the cameras and audiovisual production are ready, count on that),” Duque writes. However, he continues, “And perhaps from our side, from the side building this country, we will probably forget the arguments and demobilizing divides, and maybe we will remember in unison that the Revolution charges us with an important task, parallel or previous to all the others: avoid at all costs that the transnational corporation’s racist plague take ahold of the institutional management of the State.”

He concludes, “If this is the result, we will have obtained another political victory as others walk around announcing our decisive defeat.”
What about international solidarity?

While we’ve assessed an array of hypothesis regarding Venezuela’s future, time is the truest test. While one may argue that it would be foolish for the opposition to carry through a coup at this time, when they are relatively close to securing a recall referendum for early next year, we have seen how often the opposition is prone to bouts of sabotage and violence at the expense of people’s stability and lives.

However, in the process of writing this piece, what remains blaringly clear is the incredible need for international grassroots movements to re-engage with Venezuela and develop a renewed sense of commitment with the Bolivarian Process. Hypothesizing serves us little in the larger scheme of Venezuela’s future.

The growing divide between the Venezuelan grassroots and global left is not only discouraging but systematically intentional.

The international media barrage with all its exaggerations, misleading headlines and largely unfounded coverage has been critical to building one of the greatest imperialist and interventionist offensives in Latin America and the Caribbean. A similar case in this hemisphere may only be said for the historically racist isolation of Haiti and the distance between the global left and the popular movements carrying on more than 200 years of revolutionary process on the island.

As the impeachment process in Brazil against Dilma Rousseff is underway, it’s necessary to redraw our shared political lines to defend Venezuelan, Latin American and ultimately oppressed nations’ sovereignty and defeat capitalism’s steadfast determination to persevere no matter what.

What the world needs is for Venezuelans to face this trying time head on and win. A coup for Venezuela would mark what promises to be an already challenging era for our political generation as this chapter of great revolutionary fiesta winds down and we are charged with the real task of building other worlds different than our present.

Venezuelans already embarked on a path to achieve the nearly impossible. Seventeen years is not nearly enough to identify, create and consolidate viable economic alternatives as well as cultural and structural shifts in society. Seventeen years is not nearly enough to decolonize and undo over 500 years of imperialism, colonization and devastation.

International solidarity needs to be ready on September 1st to accompany the Venezuelan people and defend their revolutionary process.
Reprinted from

Venezuelan Opposition unlikely to secure recall referendum fefore year's end

Venezuela as an oppressive failed state is really very far from what's happening on the ground

Real News interview by Sharmini Peries with Steve Ellner

SHARMINI PERIES, TRNN: Welcome to the Real News Network. I'm Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore.

Earlier this week, Venezuela's national electoral council, known as the CNE, announced that the presidential recall referendum will be proceeding to the next phase, and outlined a timeline for the rest of the process. According to the electoral authority, the next step is to collect 20 percent of the registered voters' signatures in three days. This process can now take place in late October, meaning that if it is successful, a recall referendum won't happen until three months later in late January. According to Venezuela's constitution, if the recall happens after January 10 in the last two months of the president's term, this means that the vice president, someone whom the current president Maduro appointed, would take over as president.

Joining us now to discuss the situation in Venezuela is Steve Ellner. Steve has taught at the Universidad de Oriente in Puerto La Cruz in Venezuela since 1977. He's the author and editor of a number of books on Venezuela, and the most recent, Latin America's Radical Left: Challenges and Complexities of Political Power. He joins us today from Barcelona, Venezuela. Steve, so good to have you with us.

STEVE ELLNER: Good to be on the program.

PERIES: So finally the national electoral council outlined the timeline for the recall referendum, and dashed the opposition's hopes that it might still take place within the year in order to hold a presidential election before the last two years of the president's term. What has the opposition's reaction been to the CNE's declaration?

ELLNER: Well, the opposition claims that the procedure for the recall, the requirements for the 20 percent of the registered vote, vote signatures, that it is feasible to carry out the process in the course of this year. That it isn't necessary to wait until next year. And the difference is very important, because if the recall election is held after January 10, then if Maduro loses that recall, then he will step down and the vice president, Aristobulo Isturiz, will become president for the rest of the term, the two years that remains in the presidential term, so that the opposition will not have the option of being able to come to power in these next two years.

The Chavistas state that the opposition made a mistake, that they didn't concentrate on the effort, on the recall effort. They didn't collect the votes that they needed to initiate the process until three months after the beginning of the year, until late March. They waited because they themselves were divided. There were currents in the opposition that didn't want to have anything to do with the recall, and they favored other courses of action, so that as a result of divisions within the opposition and as a result of some errors in collecting those signatures, the 1 percent that they collected that initiated the process, as a result this whole process has been held up.

PERIES: Right. And government is also saying that the petition for the recall was submitted too late, and this petition also included countless forged signatures. What is your interpretation of what actually happened?

ELLNER: You know, you talk about Cabello, who's really the second key person in Chavista government, in Chavista command, stated the other day that the Chavistas don't want the recall to take place this year. That is their position. Of course, that really isn't any secret. It's obvious that they don't want it. And they have the right to insist on a close revision of the signatures that have been collected, because as you've mentioned, there are so many irregularities. For instance, there were over 10,000 signatures of deceased people.

There were several thousand signatures of people who are underage, and therefore cannot vote, and their signature does not count. There were a number of signatures of prisoners, when in fact there was no collection of signatures within the jail system in Venezuela.

So because of these mistakes on the part of the opposition, Diosdado Cabello stated, well, the Chavistas are just taking advantage of the situation. They are insisting on something that they have a right to insist on, and that is that these signatures be reviewed and that that in itself is slowing down the process. And as you mentioned, the opposition did wait too long in order to initiate the process. Instead of doing it at the beginning of the year, on January 1, they waited three months. And as a result, there just isn't enough time this year for that recall election to be held.

PERIES: And now on top of all the internal strife that's going on, 15 countries of the Organization of American States just issued a statement urging the Venezuelan authorities to organize the recall referendum as soon as possible, and it was signed by 15 countries, as I said, including the U.S., Canada, Colombia, Argentina, and Brazil, all countries that are leaning right, aligned with the United States. What do you make of this, and do you think the international pressure will make any difference with regard to what's happening in the internal electoral procedures in Venezuela? From what I understand the procedures are very clearly spelled out in terms of recall referendums.

ELLNER: Right. There's no question about it, that there is a fundamental change in the correlation of forces politically, ideologically speaking, in Latin America over the last year. Elections have been held in countries like Peru, Argentina. There have been what some people are calling a soft coup that just took place in Brazil, that took place in Paraguay a couple years ago, that also took place in Honduras. And that has really changed things in terms of Venezuela's position within the context.

You know, Chavez played a key role in promoting Latin American [unity], and that coincided with a period of [inaud.] for the [inaud.] countries, Argentina, Brazil, to Ecuador, Bolivia, et cetera. El Salvador is a third example. And as a result I keep promoting [inaud.] Latin American community outside of the OAS. Just Latin American nations. This was the case with [inaud.], it was the case with Unasur, which takes in just South America. And so that the OAS, which some claim has been, is dominated by the United States and always has been, was undermined.

Now the situation has changed, and what is somewhat ironic is that the countries whose legitimacy has been most questioned are the countries that are at the forefront of this effort to ostracize Venezuela. Specifically in the case of Mercosur. Venezuela should assume the provisional presidency of Mercosur, which is done on an occasional basis. And it's Paraguy that has really been objecting to that. But you know, the government of Paraguay came to power in what some consider to be a soft coup. The same thing with the case of Brazil. Argentina took a more moderate position, at least at first.

So there's no question about it, that Venezuela is finding itself somewhat isolated within Latin America, and the efforts that were made by Chavez to promote unity basically involving the more radical leftist governments, such as Brazil, such as [livia], Ecuador, in Venezuela, and the more moderate leftist governments such as Argentina under the Kirchners, and Brazil, and Paraguay, but also trying to rein in non-leftist governments like that of Colombia. And I know the situation's totally different. And this manifests itself every day in condemnations of Venezuela, resolutions pointing to violation of human rights in Venezuela, and I think that that really has to be analyzed.

PERIES: Steve, you're a longtime follower and you've been living in Venezuela and have been a part of sort of the political analysis of Venezuela for a long time now. When you think about what's happening now in the moment that Venezuela is in, President Chavez faced similar kinds of pressures prior to the coup that took place in Venezuela against him. And so if you, if you think about the continental pressure, the pressure in terms of the oil industry and havoc and so on that led to the coup against him, are conditions repeating itself here?

ELLNER: Well, I would say that to a certain extent there are similarities, in the sense that Venezuela was politically, ideologically isolated at the time in 2002. But you know, consider the fact that during the coup, the coup that took place for two days in April of 2002, the Latin American community, even though there wasn't any leftist presence in Latin America at the time, nevertheless condemned the coup. And if any country was isolated it was the United States. The United States with, as a result of the efforts of Otto Reich under the Bush administration, attempted to convince other Latin American countries to recognize the de facto government of Pedro Carmona. And the rest of Latin America, with just one or two exceptions, refused to do so.

So in a sense, the situation now for Maduro is even more difficult, because he's not getting the support. He's facing the hostility of countries that, of governments that have just come to power, and are committed to a right-wing agenda in terms of economic policy, and have been pretty hostile to the position of the Maduro government within the community of nations, within the community of Latin American nations.

PERIES: Right. And then of course the OAS issuing these kinds of statements also smacked of what happened just prior to the coup that took place against President Chavez. Finally, I want to ask you, Steve, one of the things that we keep seeing in the international media repeated again and again is about the crisis and the turmoil that Venezuela is going through in terms of the ability to feed its people and find basic goods and services, and with the fallen oil prices and government not having as much revenue as it did. It is having a difficult time providing some of the services and goods that was provided for the people in the prior era of the Chavista governments. How are you feeling the crunch, as they say, on the ground? I mean, you're living there. How is it to actually live there right now under these pressures?

ELLNER: Well, it's not easy. It's not easy. And what the media, what the U.S. media, states about the situation, the economic situation, in Venezuela certainly reflects what is happening. On the other hand, there are exaggerations. I would say that one of the things the media does is to juxtapose the economic difficulties, which are undeniable, and the political situation in terms of violation of human rights, which is highly exaggerated. That's another issue, which I won't go into.

But that is, you know, it--the statements that are coming out of the media leave the impression that you have a failed state in Venezuela. And that is, that is hardly the case. The government is not a failed state government. It's taking measures, they're not completely successful, but they've alleviated the situation to a certain extent. And in addition to that, the image of a failed state with regard to repression and that kind of thing is really very far from what's happening on the ground.

But with regard to the shortages, you have a dual-tier situation in which you have long lines, people wait on long lines for hours and hours to get goods, to purchase goods, at highly-subsidized prices. Now, it's the poor people for the most part that do that, and the middle class end up purchasing goods either in legal commercial establishments that sell goods higher than the regulated price, so the middle class pays more without having to wait in line, or they purchase the goods in the informal economy, whose prices are even higher.

So they have a triple-tier situation in which goods are available to a certain extent, but prices are not uniform.

PERIES: All right, Steve, I thank you so much for joining us today, and we'll be keeping an eye on this situation with the referendum, and I hope you can join us again. Thank you.

From the Real News Network:

In Venezuela’s difficult times the grassroots are stronger

by Tamara Pearson

It’s been three years now of food shortages, inflation, and queues in Venezuela, and the millions of people involved in community and movement organizing have been the most affected. But they’ve also defied right-wing and general expectations, and even perhaps the expectations of the Maduro government, and have become stronger and better organized as a result of the hardships.

‘We can feel the difference between the quality of life we had four years ago – when things had improved so much. Everything is extremely expensive. You go out to buy a kilo of rice, and four days later the price has gone up, and it’s hard to deal with because our salaries don’t go up every four days,’ Jose Loaiza told me. A worker in charge of sustainable development for the mountain town of Los Nevados for Merida’s Teleferico (cable car) and a member of an urban agriculture organization, La Minga, Loaiza was one of four people I interviewed to get a sense of how the grassroots have been affected by these difficult times – times that have been utterly sensationalised and lied about by the mainstream media.

Community members working in the La Columna community garden, Merida, Venezuela. by Tamara Pearson

‘When Chavez came to power, 80 per cent of people were poor. We drank milk once a fortnight and ate meat once a week. Most people didn’t have access to proteins,’ Joel Linares, a Caracas based community organizer who also works with rural workers’ councils, explained.

He described the current crisis as a result of politics, and ‘consumerism that isn’t working’ in an oil based, urban-centric economy where people don’t produce what they consume. Vegetables and fish are available, but they are expensive, and the basic goods that people are used to like rice, beans, and milk can only be obtained on the black market, or by queueing outside a supermarket from 4 am. But businesses seem to have no problem getting hold of those products, and it’s easy to get a pizza, coffee, or bread if you can afford it.

‘It’s not that these things don’t exist, but the mechanism of distribution is still controlled by the private sector,’ Rachael Boothroyd Rojas, a Caracas community council representative and journalist with said. And that is a private sector which has profited greatly from the crisis, and which has an interest is bringing down Chavismo.

A boom in urban agriculture

But the food situation has led to changes in how people get food, and in the types of food they consume. More people are growing their own food, and the traditional Venezuelan diet heavy on deep fried carbs is being challenged, with oil and cornflour hard to come by.

Loaiza described a community meeting he attended recently where people growing food on their windowsills and patios and in public parks came together to collectivize their experiences. ‘People have realised that they have to take advantage of what space they have. Before, no one used the green spaces in housing complexes, and now they are growing food there. Colonial culture forced habits of buying everything on us, and now we’re breaking with that,’ he said.

‘Five years ago I knew perhaps eight people doing urban agriculture, but now I know about 500 people,’ he said.

‘Our community garden is still active, even though it was affected by the drought,’ Eliodina Villareal, a communal council spokesperson in an opposition-dominated part of Merida, explained. Further, food exchange, with neighbours swapping goods like pasta for margarine, has become common.

‘People are starting to understand how food works. There is no way to move forward until communities become involved in food and production. And that means that the communal councils and communes are less abstract now,’ Boothroyd Rojas said.

Community members working in the La Columna community garden, Merida, Venezuela. Tamara Pearson

Where community organizations were previously focused on holding cultural events and fixing a road hole, for example, now many urban communes are trying to produce at least half their vegetables in urban gardens, and are buying the rest directly from rural producers.

The complexities of community organized food distribution

My own communal council, La Columna, covering four blocks of central Merida, has gone from meetings of five to 12 people in 2012, to around 90. Others testify that their community organization has been strengthened, that they are holding more and bigger meetings, and working more with other councils.

‘People are coming on their own accord, seeking support and organization to solve the situation. Through the government initiative, the CLAP (Local Committee of Supply and Production), we’ve sold bags of basic foods at very cheap prices. So people want to be included, but now the issue is how to meet the needs of all the families, and guaranteeing that they get the food, and not the bachaqueros (food speculators),’ Villareal said.

The CLAP are facing a range of obstacles. Organizers are leaving meetings to be in food queues, and they are exhausted with the work involved in obtaining basic resources like ink or paper for their communal work, or the days spent in organizing a truck for food. Food arrives to communities through the CLAP once a month, but Linares said that wasn’t often enough. Also, he said sometimes the CLAP face stigmatisation for not completely solving the food problems people are facing.

‘The people’s hunger is a battle weapon,’ Linares said, as he talked about the right-wing generated violence, combined with the politics of shortages, aimed at bringing about a sense of desperation. At the same time, people are having to combat corruption at various levels and are pushing for more control over production and distribution in order to guarantee efficiency of government. ‘A social and solidarity economy’ is the solution to such problems, and an alternative to wasteful consumerism, Linares argued.

When the communities get their food directly from farmers, they are attacking the insane speculation that happens through middlemen. ‘In our communal council we organized a vegetable market. We paid for the transport to bring the vegetables from the countryside. And it makes you wonder, if they sold us tomatoes at 450 bolivars ($.45) a kilo, and the people in the markets are selling them for thousands of bolivars, they must be making so much profit,’ Boothroyd Rojas said.

She described a further difficulty that some communities have faced, with the army sometimes stopping these food shipments. It has meant that some councils have had to use militia to protect their food from the army. The government appears to be losing complete control over its security forces, as they sense that the political forces have changed, with a right-wing parliament. ‘The right wing wants to revoke communal land rights, and some security forces are carrying out a dirty war in response to this dynamic,’ she explained.

Rural communities face some big hurdles too, but also have some advantages. Far from urban centres, it is even harder for them to access basic products, or to request funding. Loaiza said that with a return trip from Los Nevados to Merida costing 3,000 bolivars ($30.00), amounting to 20 per cent of a monthly wage, any paper work is difficult.

Members of the Merida communal council distributing food. Tamara Pearson

On the other hand, rural communities have been producing food for their own consumption for a long time. For those rural movements and groups who have also been organizing, their time to play an important role in Venezuela has come.

Better and worse human beings

‘To grow hurts, and Venezuelans are growing,’ Linares said. ‘The crisis has made us stronger,’ Loaiza argued. And even in Villareal’s opposition dominated area, there is empathy among neighbours ‘without political stripes being important’.

‘People are learning to be more solidarious, to be mindful of the elderly adults who live alone and need our support. We’re very motivated to keep fighting,’ she said.

But Loaiza also identified ‘two Venezuelas’. He described a ‘revolution that tries to get positive things out of everything and is dedicated to building’ and on the other hand, people who are gravely affected by the problems, but aren’t doing much about them and are affected by ‘anti-values’ such as individualism and selfishness. The first group, he explained, have spent years in collectives and ‘feel the solidarity’, so they don’t easily fall for the anti-values.

Eliodina Villareal (on the right) speaking at a communal council meeting. Tamara Pearson
Better and worse human beings

On the other hand, Boothroyd Rojas described the ruthlessness of people trying to make money out of the shortages. ‘There are a lot of scams. You feel under attack because every time you go to buy something, you are up against this battle. It makes people aggressive, and it’s exhausting. In 2012, for example, the empanadas were great, full to the brim with meat. And now people are charging for basically an empty empanada. You’re being scammed and people are making money – there’s no solidarity between the market sellers and the people.’
She also noted how tense it is, not just because of the food, but an overwhelmed health system. ‘The two hospitals I’ve been to aren’t like how the media portrays, with floors covered in blood, it’s not that bad, but going to crowded hospitals is stressful.’

Grassroots and the national government

The people I talked to differed in their analysis of the effectiveness of government initiatives in light of the food problems. Most people are frustrated with the national government’s response, but they have different ways of framing it. For some, the ‘economic war’ waged by the right-wing has made it difficult for the government to do much, while for others, the government has less connection now with the social movements and organizations and is too dependent on a stalling strategy.

‘The only solutions that are being developed at the moment is from the grassroots, but they are slow to have fruition as well,’ Boothroyd Rojas said. ‘I don’t think we can rely on theCLAP and the state for food, we need to change the structures that mean people are being charged too much, in a way that we would be protected if the opposition were to get into government, because they wouldn’t maintain any state involvement in food distribution.’

‘The government is responding to problem after problem, but the long term plans are coming from the communities. The CLAP are great, but the government isn’t organized enough to bring food to the whole country, and it’s very top down,’ she said. For example, the government stipulated that the CLAP must have a member from the Francisco de Miranda Front and from Inamujer, but those organizations aren’t present in all communities.

She said the grassroots don’t feel like they have much influence over the government or over the ‘course of things coming in the next few months’. Meanwhile, grassroots initiatives are also somewhat fragmented, with a lack of ‘national expression of people’s politics’, but there’s still a lot of room to make that happen.

Looking to the future

The current situation in Venezuela is unsustainable. ‘The future doesn’t look good,’ Villareal said. Communities are worried about what the right-wing could do in the national assembly, that it might eliminate the communal council and commune laws. However, even with a majority in the assembly, the right-wing is still acting like an opposition: more focused on delegitimising the ideas of Chavismo than on policy making.

'Less consumerism, more consciousness' reads the placard of a young protestor outside a supermarket queue. Tamara Pearson

‘It’s questionable if the right-wing even want a recall referendum to remove the sitting president, Nicolas Maduro, and if they really want to take power, as power means responsibility for sorting out this situation, and it would be clear they don’t really have any solutions,’ Boothroyd Rojas said.

‘But we are changing the way we consume, we’re learning to value what we have and to think and create, so we know that we’ll overcome this,’ Villareal concluded.
Reprint from New Internationalist Magazine

Tamara Pearson is a long time Latin America based journalist and the author of The Butterfly Prison

If Chávez were alive today, would the situation in Venezuela be different?

by Roger Harris

Counterpunch: U.S. policy since Hugo Chávez was elected president of Venezuela in 1998 has been regime change to return the oil-rich South American nation to the neo-liberal fold. After 17 years of Chávista polices, the U.S. wants nothing more than for [economically] poor Venezuelans to suffer as much as possible – to make their economy scream – so that the popular movement will grow dissatisfied with the socialist inclined leadership.

Current Situation in Venezuela

If imposition of misery in Venezuela can be counted as a U.S. policy victory, than the hegemon to the north has been supremely successful. Daily the likes of the New York Times and the Washington Post report on the “collapse” of Venezuela and call for outside intervention into the “humanitarian crisis.”

Chronic power outages, food and water shortages -

In a more objective reporting from Venezuela, Gabriel Hetland cautions “the crisis” in Venezuela is “deep but not cataclysmic, and mainstream U.S. media have consistently exaggerated the extent of it.” Hetland found mounting inflation, serious shortages of food and medicines, and growing popular discontent.

Hetland also noted that commerce is still thriving and in affluent areas the restaurants are booming and supermarket shelves are overflowing with consumer products. While public hospitals are having problems, private health care for the rich and free public clinics for the poor are functioning well. Overall, though, the poor are hard hit.

Would the situation have been any different had Chávez still been president of Venezuela?

Hugo Chávez became president of Venezuela in 1999 and inherited an oil-dependent economy characterized by reliance on agricultural imports and chronic inflation. Venezuela was also a highly class polarized society with high crime and poverty rates.

The Chávistas call their popular movement the Bolivarian Revolution. But if their movement is a “revolution,” it is at best an incomplete one. Compromises are necessary, which would not be required had both the state and the economy been under control of the revolutionaries. The Chávistas are not unaware of this inconsistency, when they explain that their “revolution” is really a “process.”

While the Chávistas controlled the executive and, until this year, the legislative branches of government, power has been highly contested elsewhere. After the US-backed failed 2002 coup, disloyal elements of the military were exposed and removed. The Chávistas set about reforming an inherited judiciary, penal system, and law enforcement apparatus, which were so thoroughly corrupt that firing dishonest police would only result in converting part-time criminals to full-time.

Bolivarian revolution is a "process"

But even more important for Venezuela, as for any other capitalist country, is that the commanding heights of the national economy are controlled by an owning class whose antipathy of social change is immense. This includes not only the manufacturing, service, and major agricultural sectors, but a privately owned and rabidly hostile mass media.

In addition, the Venezuelan economy is integrated with the world economy, which is dominated by institutions with a neo-liberal agenda of all power to capital. And over-arching all of this is the US government organizing, funding, and directing the domestic and international opposition to the Chávista project.

Therein lies the dilemma of the transition from capitalism to socialism. As vice president of Bolivia Álvaro García Linera famously commented, the conversion to socialism under such circumstances is like trying to overhaul the engine of your car while it is running.

Transition to Socialism

Chávez in his 14 years in office played an obligatory cat-and-mouse game with the owning class, sometimes confiscating particularly egregious corporations and sometimes looking aside or entering into partnerships with the more cooperative so-called boliburguesía. Chavez, it appears, was well aware of these Faustian bargains, but also understood that the configuration of class forces did not (yet) allow him to expropriate his class opponents wholesale.

In this realpolitik contest, a power struggle between the old order and a new one trying to emerge, Chávez had the benefit of economic resources in the form of rapidly rising commodity prices for oil. Oil revenues funded major social programs in health, education, and poverty reduction. Not only were the material conditions of the popular classes dramatically improved, but the Chávista political program instilled a persistent sense of social empowerment, especially among formerly excluded sectors of the population.

Meanwhile in the international arena, Chávez stimulated major initiatives for regional integration and cooperation in Latin America – UNASUR, CELAC, PetroCaribe, ALBA – providing institutions to resist US imperialism and to promote national development for its constituents.

Nicolás Maduro Succession

Afflicted with terminal cancer, Hugo Chávez picked Nicolás Maduro as his successor to lead the Bolivarian Revolution. Chávez died on March 5, 2013. Maduro found himself thrust into a role that he had not sought, filling the shoes of a truly huge world historical figure. A special election was called, and on April 14th Maduro officially became the 65th president of Venezuela.

During his time in office, Chávez was constantly under siege from the right-wing opposition, factions within Chávismo, left Trotskyists and anarchists, as well as internationally from the U.S. and its allies. Upon the succession, the unrelenting siege doubled down on Maduro.

Right-wing - Henrique Capriles - forments violence

Immediately after the official announcement of Maduro’s election victory, opposition candidate Henrique Capriles pronounced the election a “fraud” and called upon his followers to “show their rage.” What the right-wing opposition could not achieve through democratic elections, they have tried to achieve through extra-constitutional means. Violence has continued intermittently to the present, causing millions of dollars of damage to mostly public property such as health clinics and mass transportation as well as taking dozens of lives.

It came as no surprise to anyone that the opposition would refuse to recognize the election if their candidate lost and would use that as an excuse to foment violence to destabilize the Chávista government. I was in Caracas in the days leading up to the 2013 election and was told repeatedly by Chávistas that would happen.

The accusation of electoral fraud had no basis. Independent polls leading into the presidential election predicted a Maduro victory. Former U.S. president Jimmy Carter pronounced the Venezuelan electoral system the best in the world (while criticizing electoral practices in the U.S.). After the election, Capriles called for an investigation, and the investigation confirmed the election results.

But all this did not deter the U.S., which was not only helping to fund the right-wing opposition in Venezuela, but helping to organize it through its “democracy promotion” programs. The U.S. also refused to recognize the Maduro presidency deliberately adding fuel to the violent protests in Venezuela.

Maduro inherits problems from capitalist order and right-wing sabotage

It did not take any extraordinary prescience for me to write after Maduro assumed the Venezuelan presidency: “The problems of building 21st century socialism on a capitalist foundation include crime, inefficiency/shortages, and inflation/devaluation. These are the problems inherited from the existing capitalist order and exacerbated by the sabotage of the opposition. This is the time bomb that has been handed to Maduro.” Maduro inherited issues that had never been addressed or dealt with inconsistently, actual mistakes from the past, and other unfinished tasks.

Despite immense constraints, Maduro made initiatives that Chávez had yet to do. On currency control and subsidized gasoline prices – some argue too little too late – Maduro instituted reforms. On putting some teeth into curbing illegal activities of the opposition, the police and judiciary had Leopoldo Lopez arrested. Maduro also further promoted the communes, all the while seeing his role as continuing the Chávez legacy.

As Franco Vielma commented in 2014: “Expecting Maduro to eliminate corruption and bureaucrats with a stroke of the pen, is not only impossible but absurd. Expecting Maduro to not make missteps is equally so.”

End of the Oil Rentier Economy

In addition to an emboldened internal opposition sabotaging the Venezuelan economy and an aggressively hostile U.S., Maduro and by extension Venezuela has had to contend with an almost overwhelming external factor – the bottom fell out of the price of oil. Global oil prices slumped to low of $25 a barrel in January of this year. In the heyday of the boom, oil sold for $130 a barrel and petroleum accounted for about 93 percent of Venezuela’s exports.

As the Maduro government has recognized, the oil rentier economy is finished and Venezuela has to adjust. So, yes, Maduro has made mistakes; only those who don’t struggle avoid making mistakes. But the playing field for Maduro has been severely tilted to his disadvantage with domestic sabotage by an opposition funded in part by the U.S. and then the collapse of the oil economy.

Poster in anti-US rally in Caracas, Sat. Mar. 12, 2016 - Source AP

It is unlikely even Chávez would have done differently. Most of Maduro’s problems were inherited from Chávez who himself had not found solutions to, for example, endemic corruption and an entrenched, hostile bureaucracy. Nor did Chávez put sustained energy into diversifying Venezuela’s oil-dependent economy.

Maduro makes mistakes but would Chávez have done differently?

The New York Times recently hosted a four-way debate on solutions for Venezuela. Neo-conservative Roger Noriega argued for recovery of “free market economic policies” entailing the neo-liberal overhauling of the state-run oil company, central bank and other government entities in Venezuela. While a U.S. government official, Noriega co-authored the Helms-Burton law, tightening the illegal “embargo” (really a blockade) on Cuba, and was involved in the U.S.-backed coup in Haiti in 2000. As a private lobbyist, Noriega worked on behalf of the 2009 U.S.-backed coup in Honduras. Against such a track record, Noriega’s accusations that the Chávista project represents “undemocratic elements” ring hollow.

Harvard academic Ricardo Hausmann echoes the right-wing Venezuelan opposition and Noriega on the efficacy of turning the Venezuelan economy over to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank for a neo-liberal overhaul. Hausmann holds up the contemporary models of Greece and Ukraine (see “With friends like the IMF and EU, Ukraine doesn’t need enemies”) as the solution to Venezuela’s problems…without any sense of irony about the abysmal conditions in those two benighted countries suffering from outside interference. Hausmann, incidentally, was formerly an official in the corrupt Pérez administration in Venezuela.

On the other side of the Times debate, journalist Tamara Pearson and economist Mark Weisbrot, both sympathetic to the Venezuelan government, oppose imposition of neo-liberal austerity measures on the people of Venezuela under the auspices of the IMF and the World Bank.

Weisbrot comments, “A switch to a policy of non-intervention in Venezuela would be a sea change for Washington, and would set a healthy precedent.” Indeed, it is the Venezuelans themselves who will have to solve their own problems, some of which are serious and immediate. The responsibility of North Americans is to keep our governments from destabilizing and immiserating our neighbor to the south.

Roger D. Harris is on the State Central Committee of the Peace and Freedom Party in California.

Venezuela has a new plan to tackle food shortages

Maduro Creates New Supply Mission as Fresh Imports Arrive from Trinidad & Tobago

by Lucas Koerner

Philadelphia, July 12, 2016 – Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro announced Monday the creation of a new state distribution program for food and medicine tasked with addressing the nation’s chronic scarcities.

The Great Sovereign and Secure Supply Mission

Known as the Great Sovereign and Secure Supply Mission, the program is aimed at promoting agricultural, industrial, and pharmaceutical production in order win what the president has termed an “economic war” waged by transnational firms against the leftist government.

“If we want peace, let’s win the economic war, let’s win the non-conventional war,” he said during a council of ministers meeting broadcast on state television.

Minister of Defense in charge of Great Sovereign and Secure Supply Mission

Venezuela has been hard hit by a severe economic crisis triggered by the collapse of global crude prices – the country’s principal source of export earnings – which has led to soaring triple-digit inflation as well as acute shortages of food and medicine.

Maduro has blamed much of the crisis on economic destabilization by foreign transnationals, who he has accused of lining their pockets with state dollars yet refusing to invest in production and imports.

The new mission is intended to combat the country’s “criminal” black market economy believed to be driving inflation and will be headed by the presidential military command under Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino Lopez.

Six micro missions on school diet, hygiene, and medicines

Maduro further specified that the initiative will consist of six “micro-missions” dedicated to the production of seeds, animal protein, balanced food, cleaning and personal hygiene products, as well as the regionalizing of school meal menus and the supply of essential medicines.

In addition to promoting production and new mining activities, the Maduro government has also promised greater imports to offset the crisis’ impact on ordinary Venezuelans.

On Monday, the South American country received a much-anticipated shipment of 400 tons of food from Trinidad and Tobago as part of a US $26.9 million deal signed last month.

As a rentier oil exporting nation, Venezuela has for decades imported the majority of its foodstuffs, which has rendered the nation’s food supply network vulnerable to vicissitudes in the international crude market.

The assault on the Bolivarian revolution intensifies

A partisan of and long-time reporter on the Bolivarian process writes a significant piece.

by Jorge Martin

May 20th 2016 - The assault against the Bolivarian revolution has intensified in the recent days and weeks. Editorials and front pages in US and Spanish newspapers are screaming about hunger in Venezuela and demanding the removal of the “dictatorial regime”. Ongoing scarcity problems have led to instances of looting. The right-wing opposition is attempting to trigger a presidential recall referendum, but is also threatening violent action and appealing to foreign powers, including in some case for military intervention. What is really happening in Venezuela and how can these threats be faced?

On Friday May 13th, Venezuelan president Maduro extended the “Economic Emergency Decree” which had given him special powers in January, and further decreed a 60-day State of Emergency which includes sweeping powers to deal with foreign military threats and to deal with problems of food production and distribution.

As was to be expected, the world’s capitalist media joined in a chorus of denunciation, screaming about a “dictatorship”, while one of the main right-wing opposition leaders, Capriles Radonski made a public appeal to disobey the decree. The threats, however, are very real.

It is worth giving a few examples. A month ago,an editorial in the Washington Post openly called for “political intervention” by Venezuela’s neighbours. At the weekend, former Colombian president Alvaro Uribe, at a “Concordia Summit” in Miami, made an open call for the Venezuelan Armed Forces to carry out a coup or, failing that, for foreign military intervention against “the tyranny”.

The Venezuelan right-wing opposition has made repeated appeals for the Organisation of American States (OAS) to use its “Democratic Charter” to intervene against president Maduro. They feel emboldened by the successful removal of Dilma Rousseff in Brazil and want to go down the same road as soon as possible, by any means necessary, legal or illegal. Influential Venezuelan right-wing journalist and blogger Francisco Toro (editor of the Caracas Chronicles) has just written an article openly discussing the pros and cons of a coup, which he says would be within the constitution and “The Opposite of a Crime”.

Today, the Venezuelan government reported violation of the country’s airspace by US military aircraft.

In an attempt to capitalise on the severe economic problems the country is facing, the reactionary opposition has been busy trying to create a situation of chaos and violence which would justify a coup or foreign intervention to expedite the removal of president Nicolás Maduro. There have been incidents of violence in Zulia and Tachira. There are constant, mostly false, rumours of looting and rioting.

Serious crisis

I have been involved in the defence of the Bolivarian revolution for more than 13 years now, visited the country often and written about it on a regular basis. None of what I have just described is really new. Since the very beginning, when Chavez was elected in 1998, and particularly since the enabling laws in December 2001, the Venezuelan oligarchy and imperialism have been engaged in a constant campaign of harassment, violence, destabilisation, coups, lies and slanders, diplomatic pressure, economic sabotage, you name it, they have done it.

This time, however, something is different. On all the previous occasions, the revolutionary will of the Bolivarian masses of workers, peasants and the poor, has defeated the counter-revolutionary attempts to put an end to the revolution. This was the case even against the coup in April 2002 and then the lockout and sabotage of the oil industry in December of the same year, before the revolution was able to grant any real improvements in living standards. Those came mainly after the government was able to get full control of the state-owned oil company in 2003.

For ten years, the revolution was able to grant widespread reforms and massively improve the living standards of the masses. This was accompanied by a process of political radicalisation in which the late president Chávez and the revolutionary masses pushed each other forward. Socialism was declared as the aim of the Bolivarian revolution, there were wide ranging experiences of workers’ control, factories were occupied and expropriated, companies were re-nationalised. Millions became active at all levels in an attempt to take their future into their own hands. The motor force of the revolution and its main source of strength which allowed it to thwart all the attempts of the oligarchy and imperialism were the revolutionary masses, active, politically aware and engaged at all levels.

Of course, this period was helped by high oil prices (which reached a peak of over $140 a barrel in 2008). The government could use a massive amount of money from oil revenues to fund social programs which benefited millions (in education, healthcare, food, housing, pensions, etc). The question of taking over the means of production was not immediately posed.

Capitalism cannot be regulated

Measures were taken which limited the normal functioning of the free market capitalist economy in order to defend the revolution against the sabotage of the ruling class. These included foreign exchange controls (to prevent the flight of capital) and price controls on basic food products (to defend the purchasing power of the poor).

Soon, the capitalists found a way around this. Foreign exchange controls became a swindle and resulted in a massive transfer of hard currency from oil revenues directly into the pockets of unscrupulous capitalists. How did that happen? The government instituted a subsidised foreign exchange rate which was to be used to import basic products (food and medical supplies) as well as parts for industry.

Instead, private capitalists applied for preferential dollars which they then syphoned into the black market (which developed as an inevitable side effect of currency controls) or to offshore bank accounts. Thus we witnessed the incredible situation where imports in volume decreased, while imports in value (in dollars) massively increased. Marxist economist Manuel Sutherland has worked out the figures for imports of pharmaceutical products:


In 2003, Venezuela was importing pharmaceutical products at 1.96 US$ per Kg. By 2014 the price had reached 86.80 US$ per Kg. Imports had collapsed by 87% in volume, but increased nearly 6-fold in price! Similar figures can be produced for almost every sector of the economy in which private capitalists were receiving subsidised dollars to import goods.

A similar situation developed with price controls. The private sector, which still has almost monopoly control of food processing and distribution of many basic items, refused to produce anything covered by price controls. Thus, in order to bypass regulated prices for rice, for instance, they started producing flavoured or coloured varieties, which were not regulated.

This blocking of production on the part of the private capitalists forced the whole weight of producing and distributing basic food products onto the state. The state imported food from the world market, paid at world market prices with oil dollars, then sold it at heavily subsidised prices in state-run supermarket chains (PDVAL, MERCAL, Bicentenario).

For a period, while oil prices were high, this situation worked, more or less. Once oil prices went into freefall and the economy entered into a deep recession, the whole edifice came down like a house of cards. In 2014 Venezuelan oil was still 88 US$ a barrel. In 2015 it halved to $44. In January 2016 it had reached its lowest level for over 10 years, at $24.

Venezuelan money supply. Credit:

In order to continue to pay for the social programs (including subsidised food products), the state started to print massive amounts of money which was not backed up by anything. Between 1999 and 2015, the M2 measure of money supply increased by over 15,000%!

Inevitably, the combination of massive flight of capital, the associated development of a huge dollar black market, the massive expansion of the money supply at a time of economic recession (2014 -3.9; 2015 -5.7%) inevitably caused hyperinflation. In 2014 the annual inflation rate reached a record 68%, but in 2015 it was even higher at 180% according to the Venezuelan Central Bank. It has to be pointed out that inflation for food and non-alcoholic beverages was even higher than the average.

The black market exchange rate for the dollar jumped from 187 Bolivars per $ in January 2015 to over 1,000 Bolivars per dollar now (having reached a peak of 1,200 in February this year). This is the exchange rate at which most prices of products are now calculated.
Another effect of this massive economic dislocation is the rapid depletion of foreign reserves:

Foreign exchange reserves. Credit:

From US$24bn at the beginning of 2015, they have collapsed down to US$12.7bn now, according to the official figures of the Venezuelan Central Bank.

This dire situation has led to a sharp decrease in government imports of food and other basic products. Overall imports went down by 18.7% in 2015. This has created permanent scarcity of basic products in the state-owned supermarket chains selling them at regulated prices. In turn this has created a huge black market for these products. The root cause of the black market is scarcity, which is then aggravated by the existence of the black market itself. The massive difference created between the regulated prices (ever more scarce) and the black market, then acts as a huge magnet for products towards the latter. This is a comparison of the prices of some basic products as sold by bachaqueros (black marketeers) in the working class and poor neighborhood of Petare in Caracas in March: Credit: teleSUR

The government has decreed increases in the minimum wage, several times, over the last two years, from around 10,000 Bs in November 2015 to 15,000 now (to which we have to add 18,000 Bs of the cesta ticket (food supplement). Still, if you have to purchase most of your weekly basket of products in the black market, this is not enough. Since state imports of food have sharply gone down, scarcity of regulated products has increased and people are forced to get a bigger share of their shopping basket on the free and black market.

Scarcity has led to massive corruption at all levels, diverting products from the official state-run supply chain onto the black market. From the family that queues for hours and then re-sells some of what they’ve bought, to the state supermarket manager who diverts whole lorries full of products (in connivance with the national guard officers guarding the establishment), to criminal gangs who hire people to queue for hours and buy whatever subsidised products are available (threatening and paying off supermarket workers, national guards, supermarket managers, etc), to the nationwide director of the Bicentenario state supermarket chain who diverts ship-loads of products.

To this we have to add a thousand and one different ways in which the private sector breaks the price regulation regime. Maize flour is permanently scarce, butareperas are always well stocked. Chickens are almost impossible to purchase at regulated prices, but roast chicken joints never lack them. Wheat flour can’t be bought at the official price, and bakeries use lack of flour as an argument not to produce the normal loaf of bread (the price of which is regulated), but then they are mysteriously able to produce any other variety of bread, cakes and biscuits, which we have to assume are made with flour. What’s behind this mystery? The fact that private wholesale producers do supply these establishments, but of course not at regulated prices.

Any attempt to clamp down on this situation by using repressive measures against black marketeers, though necessary, is bound to fail. The root cause is not thebachaqueros big or small, but the actual inability of the government to fund the supply of the necessary amount of products to cover the whole demand combined with the unwillingness of the private sector to produce and sell products at the regulated prices fixed by the government.

One of the main reasons for this unsustainable economic dislocation is therefore, the “natural” rebellion of the capitalist producers against any attempt to regulate the normal workings of the “free market”. This is the real meaning of the “economic war” that the Bolivarian government has denounced for many years. Yes, there is, undoubtedly, an element of deliberate economic sabotage aimed at hitting the working masses in order to undermine their support for the revolution. But at the same time it is easy to understand that from the point of view of the capitalists, if they can get a profit margin of 100%, 1000% or even higher in the black market, they will not sell, nor produce regulated products on which they can make only a very modest gain or sometimes a loss.

What has failed in Venezuela is not “socialism” as the capitalist media likes to highlight in their propaganda campaign. It is precisely the opposite. What has clearly failed is the attempt to introduce regulations in order to make capitalism work, even if only partially, in the interest of working people. The conclusion is clear: capitalism cannot be regulated. The attempt has led to economic dislocation on a massive scale.

The government’s response: appeals to the private sector

The majority of Venezuelans are aware, to one degree or another, of the despicable role played by private companies, like Grupo Polar, in creating this situation of hoarding, racketeering, black market, speculation, etc. In my last visit to Venezuela I witnessed the following argument at a supermarket queue: “- Mujer A: “aquí tienen su patria bonita” - Mujer B: “a ver si creen que es el gobierno que produce la Harina PAN”” [Woman A, scornfully: “here’s your beautiful fatherland” (meaning: this is what chavismo has given you, queues) Woman B, sharply: “do you think it is the government that produces Harina PAN” (in fact it is Grupo Polar which has a monopoly control over the production of maize flour).] The problem is not that people do not realise that the private sector is sabotaging the economy.

The problem is that they cannot see the government as being able or willing to take the necessary measures to solve this situation.
To the problems of food scarcity and crime we have to add the severe drought affecting Venezuela as a by-product of El Niño which has meant problems in energy generation at the El Guiri hydroelectric dam. This has led to regular power outages in recent months. In April, the government decreed a 2-day working week in public institutions as a measure to reduce electricity consumption.

Even on this question we have to factor in a deliberate campaign of sabotage of the country’s power grid. There have been, for a number of years now, regular bomb attacks against power generating plants, power stations and substations in different parts of the country. They usually coincide with election campaigns and moments of heightened political tension and they have the aim of provoking power outages in order to spread a feeling of collapse, chaos, instability…

What has been the government’s response to these extreme problems?

Since at least 2014 there was an open recognition of the failure of the previous model of regulation of capitalism and the use of oil revenues to fund social programs. You could say that the turning point was the exit of the former finance minister Giordani from the government in July 2014. Since then, the dominant line in the economic policy of the government has been one of making even more concessions to the capitalists in the hope of winning back their trust so that they can collaborate with the government in order to turn the situation around. This has been expressed in a whole series of concrete measures which have been taken: the partial liberalisation of foreign exchange, partial lifting of the subsidy on the price of fuel, the establishment of Special Economic Zones in order to attract foreign direct investment, as well as the repatriation of capital held abroad by Venezuelan capitalists, the opening up of the Arco Minero (111,000 Sq Km of land) for mining exploitation, etc.

None of this has worked. The government holds regular talks with businessmen where concessions to their interests are agreed and appeals are made for them to invest. At the following round of talks, businesses demand even more concessions, but the economy remains in a state of deep crisis.

To be fair, the government’s concessions to the private sector are from time to time accompanied by threats of expropriation. These threats are never followed by actions. Thus on Friday, May 13, when president Maduro extended the Economic Emergency and decreed emergency powers for 60 days, he specifically warned that “any factory that a capitalist paralyses, we will take it over and hand it to the communal power”.

Less than 48 hours later, in an interview with Reuters, the vice-president in charge of the whole economic area of the government, Perez Abad, reassured international capital by “ruling out the take over of plants which are paralysed for lack of raw materials”. In the same interview he stressed Venezuela’s intention to continue to pay its foreign debt obligations, religiously, in full and on time. He added that this would mean a further reduction in imports for 2016.

Threats of expropriation made too often

In fact, although Maduro’s warning was highlighted by the international media, in Venezuela people did not take much notice. He has made the same threat of expropriation, specifically aimed at Grupo Polar, on so many times, that it is like the man who cried wolf. Whenever workers in the recent period have taken over factories which had been paralyzed by the bosses, they have been met with either an endless string of bureaucratic obstacles or direct repression on the part of the Bolivarian police. In most of the cases, even though laws introduced by Chavez are on the side of the workers and allow for expropriations and workers’ control, in reality the majority of labour inspectors are in the pockets of the bosses. Instead of expediting expropriation, they keep giving the owners extensions in order to pay wages and restart production, which results in the demoralisation of the workers in struggle.

Perez Abad is a chief representative of this policy of concessions to the capitalist class. He himself is a businessman and former president of one of the country’s employers’ federations. He became minister in charge of economic affairs of the government in February when he replaced Luis Salas, who was seen by the capitalists as a “radical”. Just before Maduro decreed an extension of economic emergency powers, Perez Abad had already announced a further increase in the prices of regulated products, after discussions with the capitalist affected.

More recently, in an attempt to deal with the question of scarcity, the government attempted to promote the formation of Local Provisioning and Production Committees. The idea is that the organised communities themselves will deal directly with the distribution of subsidised food products to the families. This is a step in the right direction, which could strengthen the role of rank and file organisations. However, the measure has only had a partial impact, so far. Also, it only deals with the question of final distribution, but not with the more important question of production and processing, which is where the crux of the problem lies.

Corruption impacts consciousness

I said before that something is different this time. What has changed from previous attempts of the counter-revolution to defeat the Bolivarian movement? The constant stress and strain of having to queue for hours to get basic products, the uncertainty created by scarcity and hyperinflation, the fact that this situation has been going on for over a year now and instead of getting better is getting worse, the realisation that while the masses are suffering there are those who call themselves “Bolivarian” in positions of power who are benefitting massively from corruption, the weariness brought on by having to battle against the bureaucracy within your own movement, etc., all of this has had an impact on the consciousness of an important layer of the masses who previously supported the revolution. This is the key reason for the defeat in the December 6 National Assembly elections which were won by the right-wing opposition for the first time in 18 years. At that time, the Bolivarian revolution lost about 2 million votes, allowing the opposition to win an overwhelming majority in the National Assembly.

That defeat created a situation of institutional deadlock. The right-wing dominated National Assembly has attempted to pass some reactionary laws (a scandalous Amnesty Law, the privatisation of housing), but these have been blocked either by the president or by the Supreme Court. Meanwhile, initiatives taken by the President are ruled out of order by the Assembly.

Currently, the opposition is attempting to trigger a presidential recall referendum (a democratic guarantee introduced by the Bolivarian revolution under Hugo Chávez). They need to get a certain number of signatures to trigger the process, and then, in an Electoral Council-supervised process, get 20% of the electoral census to sign for it (3.9 million). Then a referendum would be called in which the opposition would have to get more votes than Maduro received when he was elected in order to force his removal. If he is removed within this year, 2016, then the right-wing president of the National Assembly takes over until new presidential elections are held. But Maduro will attempt by all means to delay any recall referendum until 2017, because if he is removed at that time, the vice-president takes over for the remainder of his term (until 2019). This also shows how the leadership of the Bolivarian movement seems to view the struggle from a purely legal-institutional point of view.

Do the leaders know what to do

The oligarchy also feel emboldened by the electoral defeats in Argentina, Bolivia and the removal of Dilma in Brazil. Their side “is winning” and now they want to “overthrow the regime” in Venezuela. They cannot wait to go through the whole process of a recall referendum, and even less until the end of Maduro’s term.

The situation has reached its limits from the point of view of the patience of the masses. A week ago a comrade from Catia, a revolutionary stronghold in Caracas, described the situation thus: “Up until a few weeks ago you had to queue for 4, 6, 8 hours, but you could do your shopping for two or three weeks. Now there’s nothing. On Monday, me and my mum queued and could only get rice and pasta. The rest you have to get it in the black market at bachaquero prices. Wages are not enough to get by. The national guard is now outside the local supermarket with assault rifles manning the queues and they pushed it back a few hundred meters to dissuade people from looting.” There have already been small scale incidents of looting in Aragua and Guarenas.

In these conditions, there is the danger that any appeals made to the masses to mobilise against the threat of counter-revolution could fall on deaf ears. The masses have shown over and over again their willingness to struggle and push the revolution forward. But they are not at all convinced that their leaders know where to go, nor how to get there.

A military coup?

The combination of an institutional stalemate, a deep economic crisis, and a situation of violence in the streets which the opposition wishes to create, could also push a section of the army to intervene “in order to restore law and order”. Over the last few weeks there have been constant rumours of a coup in the making. On Tuesday, May 17, reactionary opposition leader Capriles, called on the army to rebel against the president “in order to uphold the constitution”. Capriles, of course, is no stranger to coups, having played a role in the short-lived reactionary coup of April 2002. The top command of the army has repeatedly stated publicly its loyalty to Bolivarianism. But everything has its limits.

This is a very dangerous juncture for the Bolivarian revolution. A military intervention, whatever form it would take, would be the prelude for a “transition” towards the oligarchy retaking control of state power. A section of the Bolivarian leaders, some of the corrupt, bureaucratic and reformist elements at the top, are already preparing to jump ship and would be quite ready to participate in some sort of transitional government of “national unity”, as long as they are guaranteed some sort of immunity.

At the same time as a layer of the masses is tired and worn out, there is also a layer of the advanced activists who are very angry and have been radicalised as a result of the election defeat in December. There was a movement from the bottom demanding the radicalisation of the revolution.
If the Bolivarian leadership were to take firm and decisive action to address the problem of scarcity, this would rekindle a wave of revolutionary enthusiasm. Such measures would be: a monopoly of foreign trade; expropriation of the food production and distribution chain under the democratic control of the workers, communities and small peasant producers; a default on the foreign debt; expropriation of the banks and big businesses; a national democratic plan of production to satisfy the needs of the majority. This program, if implemented, would immediately provoke an even bigger clash with the Venezuelan oligarchy and its imperialist masters, but at least it would have the benefit of solidifying and extending support for it amongst the masses which would see their problems finally addressed in a serious way.

A time for decisiveness

Let us be under no illusion. If the right wing were to achieve its aims of regaining full control of state power (by whatever means), Venezuela would not go back to “normal” capitalist democracy. No. The program of the ruling class in a country riddled by a massive economic and social crisis would be one of war on the working people. They would go on the offensive against all the social gains of the revolution. But they would also be faced with fierce resistance on the part of the masses and therefore they would attempt to crush the movement by force. Under those conditions a new Caracazo uprising would be on the cards.

Toby Valderrama and Antonio Aponte put it very sharply in a recent article: “The government must understand that economic war, foreign invasion, attacks by foreign spokespersons, be they [OAS secretary general] Almagro, be they [former Colombian president] Uribe, they all have the same name: capitalism! And they can only be fought with one weapon: socialism. It is not possible to fight them with capitalism, because that does not convince anyone and you cannot achieve victory. These are times of decisiveness, either you are revolutionary or you are capitalist, the ability of social-democracy of making fiery speeches and then acting as a firefighter to put them down is coming to an end.”

This is correct. As we have explained, the attempt to regulate capitalism has failed. There are only two ways out: either to go back to “normal” capitalism (that is, to make the workers pay the price for the crisis), or to go forward to socialism (that is to make the capitalists pay).
It it not too late. The hour is one of extreme danger. This can only be overcome by extreme measures and firmness. Enough with vacillations. Carry out the revolution to the end!

Source: In Defense of Marxism