Venezuela: A country in Crisis
Brazil estimated that from 2015 to 2016 they received 77,000 Venezuelan refugees, and are now receiving 150 asylum applications a day. Inflation has reached around 1000% and the global oil price crash has badly damaged the country’s biggest industry. Over 120 people have been killed since violence erupted around the controversial constitutional referendum, according to UN reports. The opposition boycotted the vote and 4000 people were arrested. 1,000 people are still being held without charge. These reports are substantiated by trustworthy NGOs such as Amnesty International and the Human Rights Watchdog. Antonio Ledezma, the leader and founder of The Fearless People’s Alliance (Alianza Bravo Pueblo) and Leopoldo Lopez, who heads Justice First (Primero Justicia), are among those detained. Venezuela is a country in crisis.
It seems strange that, in the United Kingdom, Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn has been so slow to condemn Maduro’s government. Corbyn made a statement under mounting pressure that condemned violence ‘by any side.’ This jars with the media imposed narrative that places Maduro the dictator as entirely responsible for the trouble. The Economist vociferously confirm this false narrative, condemning ‘Mr Maduro’s empty claim that he faces ‘economic warfare’ from ‘imperial’ America.’ Corbyn’s comments, taken in this false framework, have facilitated spurious claims of his radicalism. This simplistic, biased narrative is bewildering in its ignorance. Maduro’s claims of imperialist American foreign policy are, at the very least, El presidente-d in Venezuela.
Abundance and Ideals.
Venezuela was the fourth largest oil producer in the world, in 1998, when Hugo Chavez shot to power on 58% of the vote. It was the first Venezuelan election to be ran by a non-partisan electoral commission and to welcome international observers. The Carter Centre and the European Union declared both elections free and fair. Chavez then set about implementing his democratically mandated programme of constitutional reform and socialism. The constitution made huge strides towards a more participatory democracy, enshrined human rights and outlawed discriminatory policy based on religion, race or gender. Venezuelans are currently trying to defend this very comprehensive and progressive document.
The new constitution meant new elections. The Venezuelan electorate re-elected Chavez with 60% following the ratification of the new constitution. He ran on the promise to reverse plans to privatise the PDVSA: Venezuela’s oil operation. This would have opened the path for American investors, with a huge market advantage in terms of capital, to syphon the profits of Venezuela’s rich earth. Chavez rejected this imperialism and instead restructured the PDVSA to spread oil wealth and reduce poverty. Huge investment in infrastructure brought about soaring levels of education, healthcare, life expectancy and social security. This is what socialism did.
The chaos; economic, political and military that would soon consume noughties Venezuela did not stem from socialism. It is highly problematic, and insidious, that politicians in America and the UK have conflated condemnations of socialism and authoritarianism. Ted Cruz typified this position in his most recent statement that opened; ‘The Maduro regime knows no limits. It has nationalized business.’ It only then goes on to list a number of Maduro’s genuine offences against democracy. Cruz belies America’s real priorities; the imposition of free-market capitalism on an ideologically opposed Venezuelan population not the protection of democracy. The current narrative is indicative of either terrifying ignorance of Venezuelan-American history or indicates continuing destabilisation with misleading news coverage.
It required the full weight of American economic sabotage to destabilize Venezuelan socialism. The coup in 2002 followed months of strikes in Caracas. The Western media machine seized on this to illustrate the widespread disavowal of Chavez’s government. The strike was not a grass roots movement. The wealthy business leaders in the PDVSA and INTESA, an American company on the way out under Chavez, changed the access codes to lock out workers. Disruption efforts concentrated on internal supplies to increase food and fuel shortages in order to encourage unrest.
Lopez and Ledezma have received little scrutiny in Western media despite their past. Many in Venezuela dispute the presentation of them as ‘defenders of democracy.’ America’s misleadingly named ‘Annual Democracy Award’ in 2016 went to Lopez, Ledezma and Tamara Suju. They applauded NED, and by extension congresses’ ‘dedication to Venezuelan Human Rights and Democracy,’ calling the event ‘an unmistakable affirmation of commitment to the mission of bringing democracy to Venezuela.’
The current political prisoners were members of the coalition that used illegal military force to overthrow the legitimate government and install Pedro Carmona as president. Lopez in fact led an opposition march to Milaflores, on an illegal route designed, to antagonise violence from, the NYPD trained, police force. The Caracas Metropolitan police were under the command of Pena when they opened fire on protestors. Only hours before Pena spoke alongside Ledezma at the opposition rally. All three men disappeared to Venevision headquarters to announce the coup, leaving before any of the pre-planned violence occurred.
Self-Legitimised American Intervention.
Carmona used his first television announcement to proclaim; “No oil will be sent to Cuba,” and then reinstated PDVSA officials and set to prepare for privatisation. Carmona, kidnapped and detained Chavez, immediately scrapped the constitution and disbanded congress, ruling through the executive. Very similar to the actions Maduro is taking yet the White House statement declared that “the Venezuelan people rose up to defend democracy in their country […] provoked into action as a result of systemic repression by the government of Hugo Chavez. [applauding] the bravery of […] members of the media, the church, the nation’s educators and school administrators, political party leaders, labour unions and the business sector.” They claimed no prior knowledge or support for the coup. However Senior Executive Branch transmissions show this to be clearly untrue. Recently declassified press guidelines given to American ambassadors show clear signs of a cover-up.
Interestingly the organisations and individuals applauded by America also form the list of recipients to NED and USAID grants previous to the coup. Over $800,000 was funneled, through the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and The United States (USAID), into opposition groups. America provided training camps covering every aspect of policy creation and campaigning to groups including The Alianza Bravo Pueblo and Primero Justicia. The grants were justified as ‘investing heavily in political party strengthening and civil society, ‘political’ education and [sinisterly] orientation.’ Philip Agee, ex-CIA official believes 75% of US embassy employees in Caracas were CIA operatives working to remove Hugo Chavez. Eva Golinger, a prominent Venezuelan lawyer, unearthed all of this in a thorough investigation using Freedom of Information Act to the US government. Since Golinger released The Chavez code, her narrative has been further evinced by the flow of declassified information.
Fake News Media Monopoly.
Five companies owned 90% of Venezuelan media in 2002. Programming both news coverage and all other broadcasting. The Cisneros, the largest of the media oligarchs, simultaneously halted their distribution operations, bringing further poverty to Venezuela’s poorest. Fernandez, a Venevision reporter spoke about the manipulation on panorama in 2003. Carmona’s recorded his coup video before the Caracas protester violence yet cited it as justification for the upcoming coup. Venevision, part of the Cisneros’ broad international portfolio provided the defining images of both national and international news. They claimed ‘Chavez supporters stationed on Puente Llaguno were firing on peaceful protestors.’
In truth, the majority of those killed were actually in the pro-Chavez camp. Violence erupted, after an internal shooting, in an anti-Chavez rally. The video purposefully avoided shots of both below the bridge, where anti-Chavez forces were firing back, and the rooftops above from which police snipers were picking off pro-Chavez protestors.
On April 13th, millions of Chavistas lined the streets. The scale of the demonstrations led the opposition to conduct a 2 day media blackout, airing nothing but Tom and Jerry cartoons and anti-Chavez propaganda. Carmona resigned under mounting pressure. Chavez returned to the presidency. America doubled their funding of the opposition.
After Chavez’s return to power unconstitutional-American-funded-opposition continued unabated. America began supporting a group called Sumate, who were demanding a recall referendum. The 1999 constitution guaranteed the right to hold a recall referendum on the provision of the signatures of 20% of the electorate. Sumate used PDVSA equipment to falsify one million signatures and were rejected on their first submission. On the second, they gathered enough signatures and Chavez conceded. Chavez, despite reports of opposition bribing the poor, would win the recall referendum vote with accreditation from the Carter centre and OAS observers. Despite The Independent publishing an article only four hours after polls opened suggesting ‘authoritarian dictator’ Chavez’s loss. People in Venezuela are unable to have faith in the veracity of their elections, national or international, news coverage. We must be similarly skeptical. Smartmatic, the company responsible for conducting Venezuelan elections, has not helped.
Antonio Mugica, the CEO of Smartmatic recently dismissed his own companies results as ‘tampered with,’ by Maduro’s government, in the recent controversial referendum. The Manila Times report however, that the owners of Smartmatic remain hidden behind a web of holding companies in the U.S, Brazil, Venezuela, Barabados, Panama, UK, Netherlands, U.A.E., Philippines, Eritrea, Taiwan. They currently hold headquarters in Boca Roton, Florida and ran the Utah Republican primaries (that returned Ted Cruz). They also presided over the election of Rodrigo Duertes, in the Philipines, responsible for gross human rights abuses and exhibiting a fascistic ideology. Six Smartmatic employees were charged with “illegal access, data interference and system interference,” in connection to Duertes election. Add to this that Mugica was also on the American payroll, and their training programmes, pre-2002. A thorough investigation of Smartmatic’s ties to foreign governments and private business interests is vital to a peaceful outcome in Venezuela.
Maduro is not Chavez.
Although we must be aware of the past we should never be beholden to it.
Constituent Assembly led by Chavez in 1999 lasted 4 months, transparent, inclusive, defined process w/limited power. Today, the opposite.
— Eva Golinger (@evagolinger) August 5, 2017
The referendum lays the ground for sweeping power grabs, nepotistic appointments and the dilution of power from the legislative and judiciary and reflects a frightening shift towards authoritarianism. Noam Chomsky, perhaps the most well respected anti-imperialist academic, recently denounced Maduro. He said ‘the corruption, the robbery and so on, has been extreme… Especially since Chavez’s death.’
The international response must recognise complexity, and history. We should condemn violence and demand transparency from ‘all sides’: the White House, Milaflores, Smartmatic and the opposition. It must also embody its rhetoric and support the democratic will of Venezuela not third-party interests. The chaos in Venezuela was caused by a toxic erosion of sovereignty, overpowered business elites, contempt for democratic mandates, compromised elections and mass media distortions of the truth. The UK and the US should be taking notes.