The Crisis In Venezuela

Earlier this year, American senator,
Marco Rubio, shared graphic images of
former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi ’s
rape and murder on Twitter. The lynching
of Gaddafi was a consequence of American intervention and regime change, as
well as anger over decades of brutal re-
pression under his reign. This tweet was
an open threat to Venezuelan leader Nico-
las Maduro whose Presidency has been
challenged by the President of the Na-
tional Assembly, Juan Guaido.

Guaido’s claim to the presidency, he
says , is based on an interpretation of Article 233 of the constitution, ironically
drafted by former President Chavez, who
picked Maduro to be his successor. Guaido, with the aid of Iran-Contra era war
criminal Elliot Abrams and far right Brazilian leader Bolsonaro, recently attempted to topple the Maduro government. His
attempt failed but the chaos remains. This
episode in Latin America highlights the
signifi cance of understanding how this
crisis arose, the history of anti-imperialist
movements, and attempts to build an alternative to hegemonic global capital.
From the discovery of its vast oil reserves, which are the largest in the world,
to the 1980’s, Venezuelan elites enjoyed
the highest standard of living in South
America. However, the country suffered
from persistent social inequalities and
extreme poverty. Racial and class hatred
were, and remain, strong. The 1980’s
oil glut had severe consequences for the
Venezuelan economy, which faced many
issues exacerbated by the austerity programs and state repression of the ruling
neoliberal oligarchy. Against this backdrop, Hugo Chavez attempted to seize
power in a coup in 1992. Although this
failed, it earned him a significant base
of support and in 1998 he was elected as
president of Venezuela.

The beginning of Chavez’ reign was tumultuous, with a rise in economic growth,
followed by a drop as a result of falling
oil prices. The situation was exacerbated
by an attempted American coup in 2002.
However, after the coup was subverted,
the Venezuelan economy grew substantially under the Chavez government,
largely driven by high oil prices. Inflation,
unemployment, and poverty all dropped
significantly between 1998 and 2013 and
the GDP per capita more than doubled.
However, despite major improvements,
Chavez never diversified the economy and
increased the country’s dependence on oil
revenue. He also lowered oil production
and gave significant amounts of oil away
for free or sold it below market value to
places such as Haiti. Chavez overspent on
social services and did not save enough
for future economic problems. Corruption was also a problem for the government; loyalists, rather than technocrats,
were given control of the expropriated
industries, and the regime was criticized
for authoritarian tendencies. However, it
should be noted that corruption and authoritarianism are common in developing
countries and were present in previous
Venezuelan administrations. Venezuela
also faced significant economic reprisals
from the United States and other Western
powers, in the form of coup attempts and
sanctions beginning in 2015. Whether
American sanctions and sabotage or government mismanagement is primarily to
blame is largely irrelevant. These factors
have both contributed to the crisis.

Guaido’s claim to the presidency is
highly contested. The recent elections
were likely fraudulent and the main opposition did not participate; however that
does not necessarily legitimate Guaido’s
claim. Chavez was also called a “dictator” by the press, when he was elected in
internationally monitored elections and
maintained strong popular support. Dubious democracy is far from foreign in the
region; in Brazil, Lula de Silva was barred
from running for offi ce, but the results of
those elections were not disputed. Guaido
supporters claim that he is a social democrat or centre-left politician; however
Venezuelanalysis asserts that every politician supported by Washington is declared
a moderate, no matter how extreme. Regardless, whether his rise to power would
be desirable is not the central question.
Maduro has not agreed to step down and
the military remains favourable to the current government. This makes a peaceful
transfer of power unlikely. Maduro and
his allies also refuse to hold another election as they are currently deeply unpopular. What then, remains?

American sanctions and threats of
military intervention must be adamantly
rejected. The history of US intervention
in Latin America should assure anyone
that the United States does not have the
best interests of the Venezuelan people at
heart. American regime change or intervention has lead to worsening situations in
Haiti, Yemen and elsewhere. The human
rights record of Columbia, Saudi Arabia,
and UAE are far worse than Venezuela.
The example brought up by Marco Rubio
is telling. Gaddafi was admittedly brutally
repressive, but he also transformed Libya
into the most prosperous nation in Africa
with the fi fth highest GDP per capita and
impressive literacy rates. The aftermath of
American military intervention has been
devastating for Libya, which now has burgeoning slave markets and is marked by
sectarian violence. This clearly illustrates
that the United States has no concern for
the people suffering but is rather deter-
mined to destroy any government opposed
to their neoliberal hegemony. Beyond the
question of unintended consequences, the
United States has no business interfering
in the affairs of a sovereign nation whose
citizenry- with a few exceptions- overwhelmingly rejects military intervention.
Military intervention would qualify as the
crime of aggression in international law.

The sanctions on Venezuela must also
be opposed as they directly harm the poorest Venezuelans the most. Journalist Abby
Martin asserted that sanctions are essentially an act of war, and the sanctions were
likened to “medieval sieges of towns” by
former UN special rapporteur Alfred de
Zayas. The sanctions and economic warfare by the US and other Western powers
have a severe impact on the economy and
are killing civilians, according to Alfred
de Zayas and the Center for Economic
and Policy Research, despite claims by
American media that they are “limited”
and political in scope. These sanctions
have greatly impacted the economy, costing billions in government revenue each
year– revenue which could buy food and
essential supplies. The economic warfare against Venezuela is reminiscent
of Nixon’s goal of “making the Chilean
economy scream” after socialist leader
Salvador Allende was elected in the 1970,
and before toppling the government and
imposing a fascist military dictatorship
ruled by Pinochet.

A negotiated settlement between the
government and opposition, as Mexico
and the Vatican have offered to mediate,
is the only way forward. To end the economic crisis, economic warfare must end.
The world must reject the logic of imperialism and military intervention, and
respect the sovereignty of an independent nation. Propaganda reminiscent of
previous American imperial wars in Iraq
and Vietnam is already being shamelessly
distributed by the media. The future of
Venezuela should be determined by Venezuelans.

Clashes Between Anti- Government Protestors and the Army in Caracas, May 1st (Via CNN)
How could this story have gone differently? Despite the disaster in Venezuela,
leftist governments across Latin America
have had major successes that deserve to
be recognized. According to the Washington Post, “under Lula, Brazil became
the world’s eighth-largest economy, more
than 20 million people rose out of acute
poverty” and the country’s living standards improved signifi cantly. Rafael Correa’s leftist government in Ecuador also
reduced the poverty levels, raised living
standards, and made the country more
egalitarian. El Salvador, Costa Rica, Uruguay, and Bolivia have all had significant economic growth and reductions in
poverty levels as well. Women’s rights,
workers rights, and the rights of sexual
minorities have been expanded in many
of these societies. These changes are remarkable. After five centuries of colonialism and capitalist exploitation, these
countries have moved towards more
egalitarian prosperity, democratization,
and regional integration. There have been
many problems, which persist. However,
the successes need to be recognized and

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