2002 documentary about the April 2002 Venezuelan coup attempt which briefly deposed Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez. A television crew from Ireland’s national broadcaster, RTÉ happened to be recording a documentary about Chávez during the events of April 11, 2002. Shifting focus, they followed the events as they occurred. During their filming, the crew recorded images of the events that they say contradict explanations given by Chávez’s opposition, the private media, the US State Department, and then White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer. The documentary says that the coup was the result of a conspiracy between various old guard and anti-Chávez factions within Venezuela and the United States. – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Revo…
Venezuelan president Nicolás Maduro made news this week by breaking off relations with Panama following Panama’s proposal for the Organization of American States (OAS) to take up the situation in Venezuela. Panama’s move followed weeks of calls from members of the U.S. Congress, pundits and others to use the OAS against the Maduro government for supposed government repression of “peaceful” protesters.
In remarks yesterday, OAS Secretary General José Miguel Insulza criticized what he described as hypocrisy from both those who support and oppose such a move. Insulza stated:
here we see a swapping of roles: Those who just a few years ago brandished the Inter-American Democratic Charter to demand severe sanctions against the de facto government in Honduras are now saying that even mentioning a crisis that has already led to the deaths of a large number of people constitutes interference; while those who denounced (and still denounce) the steps we took when faced with an obvious coup d’état as an attack on a nation’s sovereignty –I’m referring again to Honduras-, now demand that we help them overthrow a government recently chosen in a democratic election.
It appears that Insulza is playing a role that he has played on numerous prior occasions – most recently in April when he refused to recognize the Venezuelan presidential elections, until South American pressure forced him (as well as the U.S. and the right-wing government of Spain) to accept democratic election results. This is unfortunate, but the manipulation of the OAS by Washington and a diminishing number of right-wing allies is the main reason that Latin American countries created the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) in 2011, to have a region-wide organization without the U.S. and Canada.
While it is important for officials such as Insulza to reaffirm the importance of Venezuela’s democratic processes and remind the OAS membership that Venezuela’s government was recently elected (and had its strong public support reaffirmed less than three months ago in local elections), other remarks equate extreme sectors of the Venezuelan opposition and the Venezuelan government, even though the government has won elections and the opposition has not:
Today, it is undeniable that there is a profound political crisis, characterized above all by a split and confrontation between most political and social actors into irreconcilable bands. When the opposition mobilizes, it does so on a massive scale, and poses strong demands; when the Government’s supporters take to the streets, their numbers and the fervor of their demands are also huge.
But for the last few weeks, it isn’t “massive” opposition protests that are occurring, but rather small protests designed to wreak havoc in a few neighborhoods throughout the country. In essence, Insulza and the U.S. administration are suggesting that when extremist groups demand the immediate departure of an elected president, and try to achieve their aim by barricading streets and engaging in violent acts, the government has an obligation to dialogue with them.
This is reminiscent of Insulza’s approach to the coup in Honduras in 2009, when he effectively raised up a repressive regime that destroyed democracy with a military coup to the same legitimacy as the elected government. Insulza’s characterization of the OAS role in responding to the Honduran coup is also misleading. In fact, the OAS did little to try to restore democracy to Honduras, and Insulza apparently did not speak out when the U.S. ultimately blocked a measure that would have required the ousted president Manuel Zelaya to be returned to office before new elections were to be held, even though this was a solution supported by most OAS members.
Insulza’s comments on Chile are also troubling:
Both sides are an indispensable part of a country that needs all its people as it forges its future. Seeking to “win” this battle is a sure path to a decades-long national split between the vanquished and the conquerors. History is replete with examples of when division and confrontation destroyed democracy and ushered in long bouts of dictatorship. That is what happened in my country and thousands died.
Those familiar with the history of Chile know that political polarization was not the main problem, but rather that the right wing was by led by fascists who did not respect democratic government and were willing to institute a violent dictatorship that killed, disappeared, tortured and imprisoned tens of thousands of people. (It is also relevant that the U.S. government fueled much of the unrest as well as economic sabotage after then-U.S. president Richard Nixon vowed to “make the economy scream.”) It is of course good to avoid unnecessary political polarization and pursue dialogue as a general principle. But Chile’s infamous military coup and dictatorship were not a result of a conflict between two opposing forces representing equally just claims; it was rich against poor, people who did not respect democratic elections versus those who did, people allied with an aggressive foreign power versus those who believed in national sovereignty.
Insulza also refers to OAS support for “democracy and political stability in Haiti”: “during the Haitian crisis, over a decade ago, we gladly accepted U.N. leadership in that country and still maintain our association with it, in support of democracy and political stability in Haiti.”
This also raises very serious questions about Insulza’s idea of democracy. The U.N. mission was deployed to Haiti following the 2004 U.S.-backed coup d’etat against the democratically-elected government of Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who also had faced a violent opposition (for years) with whom the international community repeatedly urged him to “negotiate;” while at the same time we now know that U.S. funders of the opposition were telling them not to reach any agreement, that Aristide would be overthrown. The U.N. has occupied Haiti almost ever since, while the most popular political party, Fanmi Lavalas has been arbitrarily excluded from elections and many of its leaders and members hunted down and killed, and others imprisoned on bogus charges.
As we have described in detail, the OAS has played a key role in overturning elections in Haiti twice: in 2000, when the OAS’ rejection – without justification – of the election of seven senators provided the pretext for a political “crisis” and U.S.-led efforts to undermine the Aristide government; and the OAS’ overturning of the first round of the 2010 presidential elections. (Former OAS insider Ricardo Seitenfus has recently provided more details on this sorry episode.)
Considering this background, and the disproportionate influence wielded by the U.S. at the OAS, it should be of little surprise that Venezuela would seek to have UNASUR take up the Venezuelan political situation, rather than the OAS, which it appears UNASUR might, next week.
In a statement before the OAS, U.S. Ambassador Carmen Lomellin described
what appears to be a pattern of security personnel using excessive force.
We are also concerned with increasingly stringent tactics being employed by the government in an effort to restrict the rights of Venezuelan citizens to peaceful protest.
However, violence in recent days has almost exclusively impacted those opposed to the protests or the barricades, which make getting around certain neighborhoods difficult.
If there is a “pattern” of “excessive force” and “increasingly stringent tactics” by the government, it is unclear what these are, considering that the road blockades continue, even after nine people have been killed either trying to get through, or remove, the barricades, and considering that National Guard officers are getting killed. It is hard to imagine such a situation taking place in the United States, with small groups of protesters blockading streets, not for hours, and not even for days, but for weeks, and those attempting to remove the barricades being attacked and sometimes even shot and killed. The Occupy protests just a few years ago were usually violently repressed, and these were mostly in parks and other green spaces – not blocking off streets in major cities. These were actually peaceful demonstrations. Nor was the police repression of the Occupy protests met with calls for intervention by the OAS, even after Iraq war veteran Scott Olsen was almost killed after being shot in the head with a canister by police in Oakland, CA.
The U.S. statement follows a pattern of official statements since Venezuela’s latest wave of protests began that heaps all blame for violence on the government while characterizing the protests only as peaceful (the nine people who have been killed while trying to pass through or remove barricades, or the pro-government demonstrators killed, are testament to a different reality).
While both Lomellin and Insulza (among many others) have stressed the importance of dialogue between the government and the opposition, little attention is paid to the Venezuelan government’s efforts to engage in such dialogue. Maduro invited opposition leaders to a meeting on February 24; opposition leader Henrique Capriles rejected the offer. Jorge Roig, the head of FEDECAMARAS (the main business federation) and Lorenzo Mendoza, head of major food and beverage company Empresas Polar did attend, however, with Roig saying “We have profound differences with your economic system and your political systems but democracy, thank God, lets us evaluate these differences.”
Insulza’s comments that “it is also essential that the principal party leaders and opposition leaders with the most backing are also parties to the dialogue” could be seen as criticism of Capriles’ refusal so far to speak with Maduro. As CEPR Co-Director Mark Weisbrot recently noted in Venezuela’s Últimas Noticias, by taking a radical posture and refusing to meet with Maduro despite having shook hands with Maduro just weeks before, Capriles has clearly sided with the more extreme elements of Venezuela’s opposition.
By Federico Fuentes | Green Left Weekly | March 5, 2014
Below, Australia Venezuela Solidarity Network activist Federico Fuentes, provides answers to common questions about recent events in Venezuela. Key facts are referenced, largely from media outlets that could not be identified as pro-government.
Is recent unrest in Venezuela due to government repression against peaceful protests?
No. This version of events, widely disseminated by the media, ignores the fact that security forces only acted after groups within the protests initiated violent actions. In the case of the first of the current round of protests that gained media attention, in Tachira on February 6, police only moved in after small groups of protesters attacked local governorship offices and home of the local governor.http://www.eluniversal.com/nacional-y-politica/140206/maduro-quieren-apl…
When protests took place in Merida the next day, security forces intervened only after armed protesters had carried out actions such as hijacking trucks carrying food and medicine.http://www.eluniversal.com/nacional-y-politica/140207/herido-estudiante-…
During protests in Caracas on February 12, which gained international media attention due to deaths on the day, there is clear evidence security forces only moved into action after a small group of protesters had them, destroyed the attorney-general’s office and burned five police trucks.http://www.elsoldemargarita.com.ve/posts/post/id:128117
None of this is to deny there were incidents of heavy-handed action by security forces, or to excuse the death of protesters. One fact the media has studious ignored is that 11 members of Venezuela’s security forces and three Bolivarian National Guard soldiers have been arrested and charged after evidence of wrongdoing.
In relation to the two deaths on February 12 (an opposition student and government supporter), eight SEBIN (intelligence) officers who violated strict orders to not confront protesters were arrested. The head of SEBIN has been replaced.http://www.ultimasnoticias.com.ve/noticias/actualidad/sucesos/ocho-funci…
The pattern is clear: small groups of protesters have consciously tried to incite violence and provoke security forces.
The pattern is all the more obvious when we look at the death toll.
As of March 5, there had been 19 deaths that could be directly attributed to the protests. Of these, three have been attributed to state security forces (including that of a government supporter). http://www.cepr.net/index.php/blogs/the-americas-blog/venezuela-who-are-…
In comparison, opposition protesters have shot death two National Guard soldiers and a brother of a national assembly deputy.
A further six have been killed as a result of the opposition road blockades (including two motorbike riders nearly decapitated by barbed wire strung across roadways by protesters).
At least 30 people have indirectly died due to the roadblocks blocking access to emergency medical treatment or other vital services.
It is important to recall that far-right opposition force have continuous used violence against pro-government supporters. In the wake of presidential elections in April last year, 11 people — all government supporters — were killed during days of violent protest. None received the media coverage we see today.
Are these protests in response to legitimate grievances?
Not even President Nicolas Maduro’s government denies Venezuela faces crucial challenges regarding crime and the economy. But it is clear these protests have been organised by right-wing forces who, unable to defeat socialist candidates in elections, are seeking to depose the government via violent means.
Just two months before the recent unrest began, pro-government candidates won 54% of the vote in nation-wide municipal elections recognised as legitimate by the opposition. http://www.americaeconomia.com/analisis-opinion/elecciones-municipales-e…
That is why key opposition leaders, such as Leopoldo Lopez from the Popular Will party, have said repeatedly that the only way to get rid of Maduro’s government is via the streets. http://www.eluniversal.com/nacional-y-politica/140124/dirigentes-invitan…
On February 2, four days before the student protests began in Tachira, Lopez and the opposition-aligned student federation president at the Central University of Venezuela held a public rally.
Lopez called for opposition supporters to take to the streets of Caracas on February 12, National Youth Day, by saying: “The problem is not just Maduro, it is the heads of all the public powers … all of the have to go”. http://www.laverdad.com/politica/45606-la-oposicion-retoma-las-calles-co…
With this in mind, student leaders aligned with Popular Will instigated protests on February 4 in Tachira. They provoked confrontations with police and used images of “repression” to build momentum for the February 12 rally.
Far from being spontaneous protests over social or economic issues, these protests represented a bid by opposition forces to by-pass the democratic process to bring down the elected government.
Who is Leopoldo Lopez?
Lopez is a former mayor of Chacao, a municipality that covers some of the wealthiest suburbs of Caracas and where most of the recent protests have taken place. As mayor, he actively supported the 2002 military coup that briefly ousted president Hugo Chavez and led the arrest of then-interior minister Ramon Rodriguez Chacin. http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2014/02/20/280207441/5-things-to-kno…
Lopez was found guilty of charges of corruption dating back to his time as an employee of the state oil company PDVSA, when he siphoned money towards starting up a new political party.
Despite this, it is clear Lopez and other opposition figures have received financial support from the US to help their campaign to get rid of first Chavez and now Maduro.
US embassy cables made public by WikiLeaks describe Lopez as “a divisive figure within the opposition … He is often described as arrogant, vindictive, and power-hungry …” http://www.cablegatesearch.net/cable.php?id=09CARACAS1408&q=leopoldo-lopez
Nevertheless, the cables reveal a concerted campaign by Washington to promote and maintain unity among opposition spokespeople, including Lopez. http://venezuelanalysis.com/analysis/10388
Embassy cables also reveal US government funding of opposition parties, including Lopez’s. Just this year, the US government earmarked a further US$5 million towards opposition groups. http://www.wikileaks.org/plusd/cables/04CARACAS2224_a.html
Does the Venezuela government control all the media?
No. More than 70% of the media in Venezuela is privately owned, with 25% being in community hands and only about 5% being controlled by the state. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-latin-america-19368807
Moreover, 40% of households have cable TV — giving access to Fox and CNN en Espanol.
Almost all private media have shown bias towards the opposition. A study of the three main private TV stations conducted by the Carter Centre during the 2013 presidential elections, found they dedicated 79% of their election coverage to opposition candidate Capriles.https://www.cartercenter.org/news/pr/venezuela-070313.html
These same media outlets have ran constant coverage of the recent protests and statements made by opposition leaders.http://www.cepr.net/index.php/blogs/the-americas-blog/does-venezuelan-te…
There have been many cases of media outlets deliberately misreporting what is occurring in Venezuela. One example is the continued misrepresentation of media ownership in Venezuela. http://www.fair.org/blog/2014/02/27/nyt-corrects-venezuela-tv-falsehood/
The more brazen example is the continued claim by media outlets in Venezuela and internationally (such as El Universal and the New York Times , to give two examples) that a young man was killed as a result of police actions in Tachira.
This is despite video evidence showing that he had fallen off a building. No correction has been issued by any of these outlets.http://venezuelanalysis.com/news/10410
But is the Maduro government a dictatorship? How is it possible to bring him down if not via street protests?
Maduro is democratically elected. The political movement he represents has won 17 out of 18 national elections since Chavez was first elected in 1998.
Despite some opposition claims, Venezuela’s electoral system has been described by former US president Jimmy Carter, whose Cater Center observes elections in many countries, as “the best in the world”. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fBwQ40TtCFA
Since October 2012 alone, Venezuelans have gone to the polls four times. Each time the election results have been verified by numerous international election observer teams.
Opposition forces claimed fraud after Maduro narrowly won elections last April, but no actual evidence of fraud was ever presented. A recount demonstrated the results were accurate. Moreover, opposition candidates made no complaints when the same voting system was used in the December municipal council elections.
What elections have repeatedly shown is that the “Chavista” movement remains the largest political force in the country.
It is precisely because the right-wing opposition has failed to win elections that they have turned towards violence, just as they did in 2002 with the failed coup against Chavez.
Protests to bring down an illegitimate government is one thing. Violent protests aimed at imposing a government against the will of the majority are another.
How serious is the economic crisis facing the country?
Few, least of all the Maduro government, deny Venezuela is facing some serious economic problems. However, they are nothing like what the private media portrays.
For example, despite problems with inflation and shortages, Venezuela registered a decline in its poverty rate (from 21.6% in 2012 to 19.6% last year) and unemployment rate (from 5.9% to 5.6%). http://www.ciudadccs.info/?p=521684
Last June, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization praised Venezuela for making great strides in lowering malnutrition. Venezuela’s daily rate of calories consumption per person is almost 60% above the FAO’s proposed minimum intake (3182 calories per day in Venezuela, as compared to 1800 calories). http://www.rlc.fao.org/es/paises/venezuela/noticias/venezuela-sera-recon…
Last year, inflation was a very high 56, compared with 23.4% average during the time of Chavez’s presidency (1999-2012). But inflation is not a new problem in Venezuela.
Media outlets have not noted that in the decade prior to Chavez’s elections, the average inflation rate was 52%, with peaks of 81% (1989) and 103% (1996). http://www.elmundo.com.ve/firmas/blagdimir-labrador/la-inflacion-en-vene…
These and many other figures indicate that the picture is far more complex than media portrayals suggest.
Rather than shed light on the situation, the media prefers to highlight selective facts and blame the government for problems. This enables the media to accomplish two things.
First, it conceals the real role that Venezuela’s rich elites are playing in provoking economic problems. In November last year, the Venezuelan government carried out an audit of thousands of private-owned stores and found almost all of them were involved in marking-up prices by 500%-10,000%.
Since then, the government has enacted a new law that would set a 15%-30% limit on profit margins. This law came into effect around the same time the recent unrest began.
Second, the media’s role is to reinforce the idea that any attempt to change the status quo will result in disaster.
From his first days in office, Chavez was vilified by the media and opposed by the elite. They rejected his proposal that the Venezuelan state should control the country’s oil riches and redistribute its wealth n order to more equitably.
Such policies led to a dramatic fall in poverty and contributed to record economic growth rates. It funded a huge expansion of free, accessible public services (health, education, etc) and community empowerment via funding for grassroots neighbourhood committees.
This is why the Maduro government continues to enjoy popular support — as shown in elections and large pro-government demonstrations.
This is also why the rich elites, and the media outlets they own, are continuously working to bring down the government. Part of this campaign involves discrediting the very idea that people’s needs could take priority over the market.
That is also why it’s not a question of defending a government versus protesters. It’s about defending a political movement of the poor against the violent reaction of the old elites.
Members of Congress and the Obama administration have consistently placed the blame for the violence stemming from protests on the Venezuelan government, while overlooking or ignoring violent incidents by opposition protesters, including the decapitation of motorcycle riders, the burning of government buildings and metro stations, attacks against state media companies, and the killing of individuals seeking to dismantle barricades, including a National Guard officer. Officials have referred instead to “systematic” human rights abuses and government repression, without citing evidence.
Based on these assertions, momentum is building to implement sanctions on members of the Venezuelan government. U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) told the press on Monday that, “There should be sanctions on individuals. … The administration is looking at those.” Wasserman Schultz, the Democratic National Committee chairwoman, cited a “high-level” State Department official that she had recently spoken to.
That the administration is considering sanctions comes on the heels of demands from members of congress that the Obama administration go further in its application of pressure on the Venezuelan government. After introducing legislation “supporting the people of Venezuela as they protest peacefully for democracy,” Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) stated that:
“But this resolution can only be the first step to hold Maduro and his fellow regime thugs accountable for their violent response and their abuses of the Venezuelan people’s liberties and human rights. I have already begun circulating a letter amongst my colleagues in the House, addressed to President Obama, asking him to take immediate actions against Maduro and other Venezuelan officials who are responsible for violations of their people’s human rights. We are calling for the President to enact immediate sanctions against these officials, under authorities granted to him under the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA), including denying them visas to enter the United States, blocking their property and freezing their assets in the U.S., as well as prohibiting them from making any financial transactions in the U.S.”
Ros-Lehtinen also plans to introduce a bill that would require the administration to take these steps. The moves from the House of Representatives have been echoed in the Senate, where the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez (D-NJ) and U.S. Senators Marco Rubio (R-FL), Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Ted Cruz (R-TX) have introduced a resolution calling for sanctions. Menendez stated:
“Now is the time to pursue a course of targeted sanctions by denying and revoking visas, and freezing the assets of Venezuelan officials complicit in the deaths of peaceful protestors. Human rights violators should be held accountable for the crimes they committed and their presence should not be welcome in our nation. Venezuelans today are denied basic rights, freedoms, and the ability to peacefully protest the dire economic circumstances caused by President Maduro and his government. We stand with the Venezuelan people and the brave opposition leaders in their pursuit to build a more hopeful Venezuela that embraces a bright future while discarding a failed past.”
Marco Rubio even made the case for sanctions on NBC News’ “Meet The Press,” telling host David Gregory that, “I would like to see specific U.S. sanctions against individuals in the Maduro government that are systematically participating in the violation of human rights and anti-democratic actions.” Florida Governor Rick Scott has also called for sanctions. Although neither the House nor the Senate have passed these resolutions calling for sanctions, Secretary of State John Kerry told reporters last week that, “with respect to Venezuela, Congress has urged sanctions.”
The call for sanctions has also been trumpeted by the press, with Miami Herald columnist Andres Oppenheimer saying that if Venezuela does not respond to “international diplomatic pressures,” then the Congress “should revoke the U.S. visas of Venezuelan government and military leaders.” Further, Otto Reich, the former U.S. Ambassador to Venezuela and Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs at the time of the U.S.-backed coup of 2002, wrote an opinion piece for the National Review titled “It’s Time for Sanctions in Venezuela.”
None of the members of congress nor any of the resolutions mention the fact that of the 18 tragic deaths in Venezuela since the protests began, many were not protestors, but individuals removing barricades and motorcyclists killed by wires strung across streets, or by crashing into barricades. In one case, a member of the Venezuelan National Guard was shot and killed. The Senate resolution makes no call for both sides to refrain from violence nor does it condemn the violent actions of some from the protest movement, however it does deplore “the use of excessive and unlawful force against peaceful demonstrators in Venezuela and the inexcusable use of violence…to intimidate the country’s political opposition.”
While, undoubtedly, excessive force has been used by members of the Venezuelan security forces, over 10 individuals have been arrested for these actions and further investigations are under way. According to the Attorney General (AG) of Venezuela, there are currently 27 investigations into violations of human rights. The AG, Luisa Ortega Diaz, stated that her office “will not tolerate violations of human rights under any circumstance and that any official turns out to be responsible will be sanctioned as established by the laws of Venezuela.” Far from censoring information or trying to hide the extent of the arrests or of those killed in the last few weeks, Diaz has provided regular updates to the press and has kept the public informed about the status of investigations.
Mérida – Opposition protests continue in Venezuela, while masses of holiday-goers have headed to the beach to escape the unrest.
Over the weekend opposition supporters continued the protests that have mainly taken place in middle and upper class areas of Venezuela’s cities.
However the government has argued that the large numbers of people travelling to the beach and other destinations over the long “carnival” weekend shows that the protesters are a “minority” and that life in most of the country continues as normal.
Protests began last month after hard-line opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez, who is currently under investigation for incitement to violence, called for supporters to take to the streets and force the “exit” of President Nicolas Maduro. Led by pro-opposition students, demonstrators have also mentioned insecurity, high inflation and shortages as reasons for discontent.
While some protests have been peaceful, others have descended into violence and rioting. Further, small groups of radical opposition activists have set up burning street barricades in parts of some of Venezuela’s cities, blocking traffic and creating a range of problems for the normal functioning of civic life.
Protests vs. holidays
The opposition fought to keep the momentum of protests going as the country entered a long weekend on Thursday, which will last until this coming Wednesday. On Sunday, thousands of opposition supporters marched through Caracas to underscore their discontent.
The mayors of several opposition controlled municipalities cancelled local carnival celebrations, rejecting the government’s call for normality.
“There’s no reason to celebrate here,” said Ramón Muchacho, mayor of the wealthy Chacao municipality of eastern Caracas.
Also on Sunday 41 people, including an Italian photographer, were released from detention. They were arrested on Friday during a confrontation between National Guard officers and molotov-cocktail wielding opposition hard-liners in the up-market Altamira area of Caracas.
There were fresh confrontations in Altamira today, with National Guard officers using tear gas to disperse opposition radicals armed with molotov cocktails, the local mayor reported.
Meanwhile the government has said that at least a million people have taken advantage of the long weekend to go on holiday.
“With this mobilisation [of tourists] that there has been this carnival, it’s being demonstrated to the country that the violent ones are a minority…[and] that they’re ever more isolated,” said tourism minister Andres Izarra today.
On the country’s beaches, many Venezuelans expressed their desire to escape from the unrest.
“They [the violent protests and street barricades] are absurd, we all have the right to free transit whatever our political opinions: they’re not doing anything with these barricades,” said Oscar Figuera, a beach-goer with his family, to private Venezuelan news outlet Noticias 24.
“I’m self employed, and I’ve not been able to go out to work and my children haven’t been able to go to school. There are other ways to protest,” Figuera stated.
Meanwhile some opposition supporters stayed on the streets, arguing that they didn’t want the holidays to dampen the protests. “Going on vacation is really like saying that [the government] is right, that everything is calm and everything is fine, when we don’t feel that way,” said Carlos Torres, an engineer, to the BBC in Caracas.
“We want the street to remain active,” said another protester, a student named Eduardo.”If the protests are peaceful then people get tired,” he explained.
Nevertheless President Maduro argued today that the great majority had decided to use the long weekend to celebrate the carnival holiday. “You [the opposition] believed that we were going to let you take away the children’s happiness. The people of Venezuela have triumphed. The people want peace,” he declared.
Also today, right-wing legislator Maria Corina Machado and Metropolitan Mayor of Caracas, Antonio Ledezma, led a march to the Venezuela office of the Organisation of American States (OAS). Describing the situation in Venezuela as “the assassination of a democracy”, they demanded that the OAS debate events in Venezuela and support the opposition with a “firm reaction”.
“If the OAS turns its back on Venezuela in these hours it won’t just be betraying Venezuela, it will be burying the OAS,” argued Machado, who participated in the short-lived 2002 coup against former president Hugo Chavez.
Antonio Ledezma reiterated his faction of the opposition’s rejection of Maduro’s National Peace Conference initiative, which had its first meeting last Wednesday with business, religious, and some opposition figures.
“Those aren’t meetings of peace, they’re meetings of violence where citizens aren’t respected and there isn’t a clear agenda of what is wanted to be achieved,” he argued.
Opposition leader and former presidential candidate Henrique Capriles didn’t attend today’s march. Instead the state governor launched an initiative called the “People’s Defence Command”, which he said seeks “to form a great social movement…to push for change”.
One of the objectives of the initiative is to “leave aside the political agenda of violence” and to campaign on “social problems” that can be used to reach out to the opposition’s non-traditional base of support.
While also rejecting Maduro’s offer of dialogue, Capriles has previously criticised the hard-line opposition’s tactics as containing an “empty agenda” and representing a political “dead end”.
According to press and authorities, 18 have been killed and 260 wounded since violent protests began last month. The latest victim is a National Guard officer, Giovanni Pantoja, who died last Friday. He was reportedly shot by a gunman in an “ambush” while he and his colleagues were trying to clear the remains of a street barricade from a road in Carabobo state.
Venezuela’s Ombudsman, Gabriela Ramírez, reported today that the state’s human rights body has received 42 denouncements of abuses by security forces. She said that the majority of these were for excess use of force at the point of arrest, but “not one for torture”.
President Maduro has called for the formation of a bi-partisan Truth Commission to investigate and attribute responsibility for “all” acts of recent violence, although some opposition figures have rejected this as being weighted in favour of the government. The opposition’s MUD coalition is preparing a report solely focused on alleged abuses by state security forces, to be presented to “international organisations”.
Many countries around the world are plagued by all kinds of armed rebellions, economic sanctions, civil wars, “democratic” coup d’états and/or wars of “regime change.” These include Ukraine, Venezuela, Syria, Thailand, Iran, Afghanistan, Iraq, Egypt, Yemen, Somalia and Lebanon. Even in the core capitalist countries the overwhelming majority of citizens are subjected to brutal wars of economic austerity.
While not new, social convulsions seem to have become more numerous in recent years. They have become especially more frequent since the mysterious 9-11 attacks on the World Trade Center in 2001 and the 2008 financial collapse in the United States, which soon led to similar financial implosions and economic crises in Europe and beyond.
Despite their many differences, these social turbulences share two common features. The first is that they are largely induced, nurtured and orchestrated from outside, that is, by the Unites States and its allies—of course, in collaboration with their class allies from inside. And the second is that, contrary to the long-established historical pattern of social revolutions, where the desperate and disenfranchised masses rebelled against the ruing elites, in most of the recent struggles it is the elites that have instigated insurgencies and civil wars against the masses. The two features are, of course, integrally intertwined: essentially reflecting the shared interests and collaborative schemes of the international plutocracies against the global 99%.
Fighting to Make Austerity Economics Universal
The official rationale (offered by the U.S. and its allies) that the goal of supporting anti-government opposition forces in places such as Syria, Ukraine and Venezuela is to spread democracy no longer holds any validity; it can easily be dismissed as a harebrained pretext to export neoliberalism and spread austerity economics. Abundant and irrefutable evidence shows that in places where the majority of citizens voted for and elected governments that were not to the liking of Western powers, these powers mobilized their local allies and hired all kinds of mercenary forces in order to overthrow the duly elected governments, thereby quashing the majority vote.
Such blatant interventions to overturn the elections that resulted from the majority vote include the promotion of the Orange Revolution in Ukraine (2004 and 2014), Rose Revolution in Georgia (2003), Cedar Revolution in Lebanon (2005), Tulip Revolution in Kyrgyzstan (2005) and the Green Revolution in Iran (2009). They also include the relentless agitation against the duly elected governments of the late Hugo Chavez and now his successor Nicolás Maduro in Venezuela, as well as the rejection (and effective annulment) of the duly elected Hamas government in Palestine.
So, the real driving forces behind wars of regime change need to be sought elsewhere; specifically, in the imperatives of expansion and accumulation of capital on a global level. Socialist, social-democratic, populist or nationalist leaders who do not embrace neoliberal economic policies, and who may be wary of having their markets wide open to unbridled foreign capital, would be targeted for replacement with pliant leaders, or client states. This is, of course, not a new explanation of economic imperialism; it is as old as the internationalization of trade and investment.
What is relatively new, and seems to be the main driving force behind the recent wars of regime change, is that, as the U.S. and other major capitalist powers have lately embarked on austerity economic policies at home they also expect and, indeed, demand that other countries follow suit. In other words, it is no longer enough for a country to open its markets to investment and trade with Western economic powers. It seems equally important to these powers that that country also dismantle its public welfare programs and implement austerity measures of neoliberalism.
For example, after resisting imperialist pressures for years, the late Libyan leader Muammar al-Gaddafi eventually relented in 1993, and granted major oil and other transnational corporations of Western powers lucrative investment and trade deals. Under pressure, he even dismantled his country’s nuclear technology altogether in the hope that this would please them to “leave him” alone, so to speak. None of the concessions he made, however, proved satisfactory to the U.S. and its allies, as his regime was violently overthrown in 2011and he was literally butchered by the thuggish gangs that were trained and armed by Western powers.
Why? Because the U.S. and its allies expected more; they wanted him to follow the economic guidelines of the “experts” of global finance, that is, of the U.S. and European economic “advisors,” of the International Monetary Fund and of the World Trade Organization—in short, to dismantle his country’s rather robust state welfare programs and to restructure its economy after the model of neoliberalism.
The criminal treatment of al-Gaddafi can help explain why imperialist powers have also been scheming to overthrow the populist/socialist regimes of the late Hugo Chavez and his successor in Venezuela, of the Castro brothers in Cuba, of Rafael Correa Delgado in Ecuador, of Bashar Al-assad in Syria and of Evo Morales in Bolivia. It also helps explain why they overthrew the popularly elected nationalist governments of Mohammad Mossadeq in Iran, of Jacobo Arbenz in Guatemala, of Kusno Sukarno in Indonesia, of Salvador Allende in Chile, of Sandinistas in Nicaragua, of Jean-Bertrand Aristide in Haiti and of Manuel Zelaya in Honduras.
The imperialist agenda of overthrowing al-Gaddafi and other “insubordinate” proponents of welfare state programs abroad is essentially part of the same evil agenda of dismantling such programs at home. While the form, the context and the means of destruction may be different, the thrust of the relentless attacks on the living conditions of the Libyan, Iranian, Venezuelan or Cuban peoples are essentially the same as the equally brutal attacks on the living conditions of the poor and working people in the US, UK, France and other degenerate capitalist countries. In a subtle way they are all part of an ongoing unilateral class warfare on a global scale. Whether they are carried out by military means and bombardments or through the apparently “non-violent” processes of judicial or legislative means does not make a substantial difference as far as their impact on people’s lives and livelihoods is concerned.
The powerful plutocratic establishment in the core capitalist countries does not seem to feel comfortable to dismantle New Deal economics, Social Democratic reforms and welfare state programs in these countries while people in smaller, less-developed countries such as (al-Gaddafi’s) Libya, Venezuela or Cuba enjoy strong, state-sponsored social safety net programs. Plutocracy’s intolerance of “regimented” economies stems from a fear that strong state-sponsored economic safely net programs elsewhere may serve as “bad” models that could be demanded by citizens in the core capitalist countries.
In a moment of honesty, former U.S. President Harry Truman is reported as having expressed (in 1947) the unstated mission of the United States to globalize its economic system in the following words: “The whole world should adopt the American system. The American system can survive in America only if it becomes a world system” .
In a similar fashion, Lord Cecil Rhodes, who conquered much of Africa for the British Empire, is reported to have suggested during the heydays of the Empire that the simplest way to achieve peace was for England to convert and add the rest of the world (except the United States, Germany and few other Western powers of the time) to its colonies.
The Mafia equivalent of Truman’s or Rhodes’ statements would be something like this: “You do it our way, or we break your leg.”
The mindset behind Truman’s blunt statement that the rest of the world “should adopt the American system” has indeed served as something akin to a sacred mission that has guided the foreign policy of the United States ever since it supplanted the British authority as the major world power.
It explains, for example, the real and the main reason behind the Cold War hostilities between the U.S. and its allies, on the one side, and the Soviet Union and its allies, on the other. While the “threat of communism” has been the official rationale for the start and escalation of those hostilities, there is convincing evidence that not only Joseph Stalin and his successors in the Soviet Union had no plans to wage war against the United States or its allies but that, in fact, they played a restraining role to contain independent revolutionary movements worldwide. “It is often forgotten,” points out Sidney Lens, “that for a few years after the war, he [Stalin] assumed an exceedingly moderate posture. . . . His nation had lost 25 million people in the war, was desperately in need of aid for rebuilding, and continued for a long time to nurture hopes of coexistence. Far from being revolutionary, Stalin in those years put the damper on revolution wherever he could” . To accommodate the United States and other Western powers in the hope of peaceful coexistence, Stalin often advised, and sometimes ordered, the pro-Moscow communist/leftist parties in Europe and elsewhere in the world to refrain from revolutionary policies that might jeopardize the hoped-for chances of coexistence.
The goal or mission of converting other economies to the U.S.-style capitalism also helps explain why the United States has engaged in so many military operations and engineered so many coup d’états and regime changes around the world. The Federation of American Scientists has recorded a list of U.S. foreign military engagements which shows that in the first decade after the collapse of the Berlin Wall (1989-99) the U.S. engaged in 134 such operations, the majority of which are altogether unknown to the American public .
Global financial elites change “unaccommodating” regimes not only in the less developed countries but also in the core capitalist countries. They accomplish this not so much by military means as by utilizing two very subtle but powerful means: (a) artificial, money-driven elections, peddled as “democracy in action”; and (b) powerful financial institutions and think tanks such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF), central banks and bond/credit rating agencies like Moody’s, Standard & Poor’s and Fitch Group. An unfavorable rating report by these agencies on the credit status of a country can create havoc on that country’s economic, financial and currency position in world markets, thereby dooming its government to collapse and replacement. This is how during the ongoing financial turbulence of recent years a number of governments have been changed in places like Greece and Italy—no need for the traditional or military style regime change, the “soft-power” financial coup d’état engineered by the IMF and/or rating agencies would serve the purpose even more effectively.
Class War on a Global Scale
As noted, all the schemes and wars of regime change, whether by the traditional military means or by the “soft” power of the global financial juggernaut, essentially represent one thing: a disguised class war on a global level, a relentless worldwide economic war by the one percent financial-economic oligarchy against the rest of the world population.
Class struggle in an economically-tiered society is of course not new. What is relatively new in the recent years’ war of the 1% against the 99% is its escalated pace, its widespread scale and its globally orchestrated character. While neoliberal austerity attacks on the living conditions of the public in the core capitalist countries began (formally) with the supply-side economics of President Ronald Reagan and Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher more than three decades ago, the brutality of such attacks have become much more severe in the context of the current financial/economic crisis, which began with the 2008 financial crash in the United States.
Taking advantage of the crash (as an economic shock therapy, as Naomi Klein put it), the financial oligarchy and their proxies in the governments of the core capitalist countries have been carrying out a systematic economic coup d’état against the people the ravages of which include the following:
• Transfer of tens of trillions of dollars from the public to the financial oligarchy through merciless austerity cuts;
• Extensive privatization of public assets and services, including irreplaceable historical monuments, priceless cultural landmarks, and vital social services such as healthcare, education and water supply;
• Substitution of corporate/banking welfare policies for people’s welfare programs;
• Allocation of the lion’s share of government’s monetary largesse (and of credit creation in general) to speculative investment instead of real investment;
• Systematic undermining of the retirement security of millions of workers (both white and blue collar) and civil servants;
• Ever more blatant control of economic and/or financial policies by the representatives of the financial oligarchy.
Combined, these policies have significantly aggravated the already lopsided income/wealth distribution in these countries. The massive cuts in social spending have resulted in an enormous transfer of economic resources from the bottom up. The transfer has, indeed, more than made up for the 2008 losses of the financial speculators. In the U.S., for example, the wealthiest one percent now own 40 percent of the entire country’s wealth; while the bottom 80 percent own only seven percent. Likewise, the richest one percent now take home 24 percent of the country’s total income, compared to only nine percent four decades ago .
This shows that, as pointed out earlier, while neoliberal attacks on the 99% in the core capitalist countries may not seem as violent as those raging, for example, in Venezuela, Syria or Ukraine, the financial impact of such attacks on the living conditions of the 99% is not any less devastating.
Plutocrats of the World Are United
Policies of regime change are usually designed and carried out as collaborative schemes by cross-border plutocracies, that is, by the financial oligarchies of the imperialist countries in partnership with their native counterparts in the less-developed countries.
In addition to constant behind-the-scenes strategizing, representatives of transnational capital and their proxies in capitalist governments also routinely meet at international conferences in order to synchronize their cross-border business and financial policies—a major focus of which in recent years has been to implement global austerity measures and entrench neoliberal policies worldwide. These include the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, the World Bank and IMF annual meetings, the Periodic G20 meetings, the Aspen Institute’s Ideas Festival, The Bilderberg Group annual geopolitics forum, and the Herb Allen’s Sun Valley gathering of media moguls—to name only a handful of the many such international policy gatherings.
Through its global strategies and operations, transnational capital has broken free from national constraints and commitments at home and successfully shifted the correlation of class forces and social alliances worldwide. Today’s elites of global capitalism “are becoming a trans-global community of peers who have more in common with one another than with their countrymen back home,” writes Chrystia Freeland, Global Editor of Reuters, who travels with the elites to many parts of the world. “Whether they maintain primary residences in New York or Hong Kong, Moscow or Mumbai, today’s super-rich are increasingly a nation unto themselves,” she adds .
Implications for Globalization from Below
What conclusions can the 99% draw from this? What can the working people and other grassroots do to protect their jobs, their sources of livelihood, their communities and their environment? What can communities of ordinary people do to undermine the strategies of the global 1% that block life-sustaining progressive social and economic reforms?
In the same fashion that, in their fight against the working people, the elites of the international capitalist class are not bound by territoriality or national boundaries, so does the working class need to coordinate its response internationally.
A logical, first step deterrent to transnational capital’s strategy of blackmailing labor and communities through threats such as destroying or exporting jobs by moving their business elsewhere would be to remove the lures that induce plant relocation, capital flight or outsourcing. Making labor costs of production comparable on an international level would be crucial for this purpose. This would entail taking the necessary steps toward the international establishment of wage and benefits, that is, of labor cost parity within the same company and the same trade, subject to (a) the cost of living, and (b) productivity in each country.
A strategy of this sort would replace the current downward competition between workers in various countries with coordinated bargaining and joint policies for mutual interests and problem-solving on a global level. While this may sound radical, it is not any more radical than what the transnational 1% is doing: coordinating their anti-99% strategies on a global scale. If at an earlier stage of capitalist development “workers of the world unite” seemed an outlandish dream of the leading labor champion Karl Marx, internationalization of capital, the abundance of material resources and developments in technology, which has greatly facilitated cross-border organizing and coordination of actions by the 99%, has now made that dream an urgent necessity.
As capital and labor are the cornerstones of capitalist production, their respective organizations and institutions evolve more or less apace, over time and space. Thus, when production was local, so was labor: carpenters, shoemakers, bricklayers, and other craftsmen organized primarily in their local communities. But as capitalist production became national, so did trade unions. Now that capitalist production has become global, labor organizations too need to become international in order to safeguard their and their communities’ rights against the profit-driven whims of the footloose and fancy-free transnational capital.
Many would argue that these are not propitious times to speak of radical alternatives to capitalism. The present state of the sociopolitical landscape of our societies appears to support such feelings of pessimism. The high levels of unemployment in most countries of the world and the resulting international labor rivalry, combined with the austerity offensive of neoliberalism on a global level, have thrown the working class and other grassroots on the defensive. The steady drift of the European socialist, Social Democratic, and labor parties/governments toward the U.S.–style market economies and the erosion of their traditional ideology, power, and prestige have led to workers’ confusion there. The collapse of the Soviet Union, however much some socialists have always distanced themselves from that system, haunts the specter of socialism, and is likely to do so for some time to come. These developments have understandably led to workers’ and other grassroots’ confusion and disorientation globally.
None of these, however, mean that there is no way out of the status quo. Capitalism is not only “destructive,” it is also “regenerative,” as Karl Marx put. As it captures world markets, universalizes the reign of capital, and disrupts the living conditions for many, it simultaneously sows the seeds of its own transformation. On the one hand, it creates common problems and shared concerns for the majority of the world population; on the other, it creates the material conditions and the technology that facilitate communication and cooperation among this majority of world citizens for joint actions and alternative solutions.
When the majority of world population, the global 99%, will come to the realization and determination to actually appropriate and utilize the existing technology and material resources for a better organization and management of the world economy, no one can tell. But the potential and the long term trajectory of global socioeconomic developments point in that direction. The distance between now and then, between our immediate frustrations and the superior but elusive civilization of our desire, can be traversed only if we take the necessary steps toward that end .
Ismael Hossein-zadeh is Professor Emeritus of Economics, Drake University, Des Moines, Iowa. He is the author of The Political Economy of U.S. Militarism (Palgrave – Macmillan 2007), the Soviet Non-capitalist Development: The Case of Nasser’s Egypt (Praeger Publishers 1989), and most recently, Beyond Mainstream Explanations of the Financial Crisis (forthcoming from Routledge, April 29, 2014).
As protests have been taking place in Venezuela the last couple of weeks, it is always good to check on the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), the US Empire’s “stealth” destabilizer. What has the NED been up to in Venezuela?
Before going into details, it is important to note what NED is and is not. First of all, it has NOTHING to do with the democracy we are taught in civics classes, concerning one person-one vote, with everyone affected having a say in the decision, etc. (This is commonly known as “popular” or grassroots democracy.) The NED opposes this kind of democracy.
The NED promotes top-down, elite, constrained (or “polyarchal”) democracy. This is the democracy where the elites get to decide the candidates or questions suitable to go before the people—and always limiting the choices to what the elites are comfortable with. Then, once the elites have made their decision, THEN the people are presented with the “choice” that the elites approve. And then NED prattles on with its nonsense about how it is “promoting democracy around the world.”
This is one of the most cynical uses of democracy there is. It’s notable even in what my friend Dave Lippmann calls “Washington Deceit.”
The other thing to note about NED is that it is NOT independent as it claims, ad nauseum. It was created by the US Congress, signed into US law by President Ronald Reagan (that staunch defender of democracy), and it operates from funds provided annually by the US Government.
However, its Board of Directors is drawn from among the elites in the US Government’s foreign policy making realm. Past Board members have included Henry Kissinger, Madeleine Albright, Zbigniew Brzezinski, Frank Carlucci, General Wesley K. Clark, and Paul Wolfowitz. Today’s board can be found at http://www.ned.org/about/board; most notable is Elliot Abrams of Reagan Administration fame.
In reality, NED is part of the US Empire’s tools, and “independent” only in the sense that no elected presidential administration can directly alter its composition or activities, even if it wanted to. It’s initial project director, Professor Allen Weinstein of Georgetown University, admitted in the Washington Post of September 22, 1991, that “a lot of what we do today was done covertly 25 years ago by the CIA.”
In other words, according to Professor William Robinson in his 1996 book, Promoting Polyarchy, NED is a product of US Government foreign policy shift from “earlier strategies to contain social and political mobilization through a focus on control of the state and governmental apparatus” to a process of “democracy promotion,” whereby “the United States and local elites thoroughly penetrate civil society, and from therein, assure control over popular mobilization and mass movements.” What this means, as I note in my 2010 book, AFL-CIO’s Secret War against Developing Country Workers: Solidarity or Sabotage?, “is that instead of waiting for a client government to be threatened by its people and then responding, US foreign policy shifted to intervening in the civil society of a country ‘of interest’ (as defined by US foreign policy goals) before popular mobilization could become significant, and by supporting certain groups and certain politicians, then channel any potential mobilization in the direction desired by the US Government.”
Obviously, this also means that these “civil society” organizations can be used offensively as well, against any government the US opposes. NED funding, for example, was used in all of the “color revolutions” in Eastern Europe and, I expect, currently in the Ukraine as well as elsewhere.
How do they operate? They have four “institutes” through which they work: the International Republican Institute (currently headed by US Senator John McCain), the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs (currently headed by former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright), the Center for International Private Enterprise (the international wing of the US Chamber of Commerce), and the American Center for International Labor Solidarity (ACILS), the foreign policy operation of the AFL-CIO, with Richard Trumka the head of its Board of Directors.
As I documented in my book, ACILS had been indirectly involved in the 2002 coup attempt in Venezuela by participating in meetings with leaders later involved in the coup beforehand, and then denying afterwards the involvement of the leaders of the right-wing labor organization (CTV) in the coup, leaders of an organization long affiliated with the AFL-CIO. We also know NED overall had been active in Venezuela since 1997.
The NED and its institutes continue to actively fund projects in Venezuela today. From the 2012 NED Annual Report (the latest available), we see they have provided $1,338,331 to organizations and projects in Venezuela that year alone: $120,125 for projects for “accountability”; $470,870 for “civic education”; $96,400 for “democratic ideas and values”; $105,000 for “freedom of information”; $92,265 for “human rights”; $216,063 for “political processes”; $34,962 for “rule of law”; $45,000 for “strengthening political institutions”; and $153,646 for Center for International Private Enterprise (CIPE).
Additionally, however, as found on the NED “Latin American and Caribbean” regional page, NED has granted $465,000 to ACILS to advance NED objectives of “freedom of association” in the region, with another $380,000 to take place in Venezuela and Colombia. This is in addition to another $645,000 to the International Republican Institute, and $750,000 to the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs.
The irony of these pious claims for “freedom of association,” etc., is that Venezuela has developed public participation to one of the highest levels in the world, and has one of the most free media in the world. Even with massive private TV media involvement in the 2002 coup, the government did not take away their right to broadcast afterward.
In other words, NED and its institutes are not active in Venezuela to help promote democracy, as they claim, but in fact, to act against popular democracy in an effort to restore the rule of the elite, top-down democracy. They want to take popular democracy away from those nasty Chavistas, and show who is boss in the US Empire. This author bets they fail.
Kim Scipes, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor of Sociology at Purdue University North Central in Westville, IN, and is author of AFL-CIO’s Secret War against Developing Country Workers: Solidarity or Sabotage?, and KMU: Building Genuine Trade Unionism in the Philippines, 1980-1994. He can be reached through his web site at http://faculty.pnc.edu/kscipes.
In light of the recent political demonstrations that have swept the country, Venezuela has received considerable attention from both the US State Department and mainstream media. In recent days, President Obama, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and several others have issued numerous statements regarding the protests. In the US major media, The New York Times has published articles nearly every day since the protests began. Extensive reporting can also be found in the Wall Street Journal, USA Today and The Washington Post.
It is worth comparing the extent of this coverage to protests of similar importance next door to Venezuela. In August of last year, Colombian farmers launched large-scale demonstrations in opposition to Colombian trade policies that are strongly supported by the U.S. government.
Unlike the protests in Venezuela, the Colombian protests received very little coverage from mainstream media, as CEPR pointed out at the time. The graph below compares the amount of coverage, in total number of articles published, given by four of the United States’ most influential newspapers to the protests and violence in Colombia and Venezuela. The difference ranges from more than two times to 14 times as many articles devoted to the Venezuelan protests as compared with Colombia, despite the fact that the period covered for Colombia is twice as long.
This is especially remarkable if we consider the high levels of repression carried out by the Colombian police and military in response to these protests. The International Office for Human Rights Action in Colombia described the violence as “unprovoked” and “indiscriminate” and attributes all of the violence to state forces.
The incidence of deaths in both Colombia and Venezuela[i], so far, is only slightly higher in Venezuela, with 13 deaths versus 12 deaths in Colombia.[ii] Yet there was very little coverage, and almost no criticism of the Colombian government as compared to the harsh attacks on the Venezuelan government in the U.S. media.
As mentioned earlier, US Secretary of State John Kerry and President Obama made public statements regarding the protests in Venezuela. Both demanded that students arrested in Venezuela be released, without regard as to whether any had been arrested for allegedly committing crimes such as arson and assault. There were no such statements from U.S. officials regarding the hundreds arrested in Colombia.
It is possible that both the huge differences in the amount of media coverage, and the responses to these two sets of protests by both the media and U.S. government officials has to do with the protesters and their aims, and the respective governments. The Colombian farmers were protesting against policies strongly supported by the U.S. government; they were also protesting against a government that the U.S. sees as a strategic ally, home to U.S. military bases and receiving billions of dollars in U.S. aid. The Venezuelan protesters are demanding the ouster of a government that the U.S. government has [spent] millions of dollars trying to get rid of, including U.S. support for the 2002 military coup against the government.
[i] The total amount of deaths reflects data from the most recent figures from Venezuela Transparencia, as of Monday, February 24 2014.
[ii] It is important to note that so far only six of the 13 deaths in Venezuela are confirmed to be opposition protesters.
Merida – A 34 year old man, Jimmy Vargas, died on Monday while he was involved in a violent street blockade. Some opposition leaders and media blamed the government, however video footage shows it was an accident. Two other people have died this week as a result of the blockades.
Vargas died at the Camino Real residential area, in San Cristobal, Tachira state. Footage, sent to CNN shows that it was an accident. However, CNN and other news agencies also broadcast repeatedly footage of Vargas’ mother blaming the National Guard and president Nicolas Maduro for the death.
Carmen Gonzalez, the mother, stated, “Maduro and those around him killed [my son], they are the ones who killed him, they killed him, they are the ones who gave the orders for him to be killed, they are killing all of Venezuela… and I’m going to go out and fight for my son, my son died fighting for his country, fighting for the freedom of his country…”
On social networks the story was spread that Vargas had been hit by a rubber bullet in his left eye, and other stories claimed a tear gas canister shot by the National Guard had hit him.
The newspaper El Nacional also blamed the government, headlining “Two deaths this Monday because of attacks by GNB [National Guard] and motorbike riders [government supporters] on protests”. Madurados.com headlined “Another tragedy! In rubber bullet attack by the GNB Jimmy Vargas dies in San Cristobal”.
Similarly, The New York Times included a ¼ page full-color photo of Jimmy Vargas on a stretcher, with the caption, “Carmen Gonzalez, 58, cried over the body of her son, who was killed Monday in clashes with the police.”
However Vargas’ doctor, Luis Diaz, reported that he had suffered severe traumatic brain injury (TBI) after falling from the second floor of a building, the newspaper Ultimas Noticias reported.
Vargas’ sister, Jindry, told NTN24 that her brother fell from the second floor the building after the National Guard fired rubber bullets and tear gas bombs at him, causing him to lose his balance. In the video Jimmy Vargas tried to climb down on to a balcony ledge and he lost his balance on the ledge, out of line of shot of the National Guard.
Further, the opposition mayor of San Cristobal, Daniel Cebellos, told the public that Vargas had been murdered. He tweeted on Monday night, “Since late night…the brutal attack of the GNB continues, more than 10 injuries (3 by bullet) and 1 youth of 34 years murdered”. He continued, “I call on the MUD [opposition coalition] that while they continue to kill our people in the streets there’s no peace for the government. The dialogue they propose is one big lie”.
Despite the evidence, Cebellos further tweeted this morning, “We are accompanying Jimmy Vargas and his family in this moment of grief. We reject the violence and repression.” Cebellos included a photo of Vargas’ funeral procession.
Tachira governor, Vielma Mora accused Cebellos of using a public funeral procession to “inflame” people “against the national government”.
“A citizen who, may he rest in peace, fell from the second floor, he was in guarimba (violent disturbances), it seems he lost his balance… do you know what the mayor of San Cristobal did with a few people? They paraded him through the city… like a war trophy”.
Meanwhile, there has been another death as a result of violent opposition blockades. El Carabobeño reported that a motorbike rider died last night after crashing into a barricade. Eduardo Anzola, 29, in Valencia, died instantly, the paper reported, after he didn’t see the barricade because of the darkness. Two other people have died as a result of crashing into barricades, in Caracas and Merida, and one other motorbike rider was killed when wire at a barricade cut his throat.
On Monday, Alba Ciudad and Panorama report that Antonio Valbuena, 32, died of a shot to the head, in Maracaibo. Valbuena was participating in a demonstration of motorbike riders, who were removing barricades so that their procession could get through. At one point, a witness said that a “man in a balaclava came out and began to shoot… one of the bullets hit Antonio in the head”.
Atlanta, February 26, 2014 – Since the days of President Woodrow Wilson – that is, for roughly 100 years – the USA has been on a self-styled crusade to “make the world safe for democracy.”
Colossal wars, hot and cold, were fought against German kaisers and fuhrers, Russian communists, and Third World nationalists. The American people were told they were “defending democracy.”
Americans slaughtered 3.5 million Vietnamese, and nearly another million Cambodians, to “defend democracy” in Southeast Asia.
They murdered millions of Iraqis through wars and sanctions to “defend democracy” in the Middle East.
According to André Vltchek and Noam Chomsky’s book On Western Terrorism, the US government has murdered between 55 and 60 million people since World War II in wars and interventions all over the world. If we believe the imperial propagandists, this American Holocaust has been one big defense of democracy.
But now, on the eve of the 100th anniversary of World War I, the US has embarked on a new crusade – to make the world UNSAFE for democracy.
In Ukraine, Venezuela, and Thailand, the US is spending billions of dollars to unconstitutionally eject democratically-elected governments. In Palestine, the US has been trying to overthrow the democratically-elected Hamas government ever since it came to power. In Egypt, the US – under Zionist pressure – recently overthrew the only genuinely democratic government in 5,000 years of recorded history. In Syria, the US insists that the people must not be given the opportunity to re-elect Assad, no matter how many international observers and safeguards ensure honest elections. And in Turkey, the US is undermining the democratically-elected Prime Minister Erdogan in favor of CIA puppet Fethullah Gulen.
Taking the long view, the US is working patiently to destroy democracy in Iran, Russia, and Latin America.
Why does the US government hate democracy?
Because the international bankers who own the US government and run the US empire cannot always buy enough votes to impose their will on every country. So democracy is fine – as long as voters elect the New World Order candidate. But if they vote for a candidate who doesn’t suit the oligarchs, get ready for a coup!
The banksters will overthrow any government that stands up to them – even in the USA. The “termination with extreme prejudice” of the presidency of John F. Kennedy sent a message to all future US presidents.
Mayer Rothschild famously said “Give me control of a nation’s money and I care not who makes its laws.” But that was an exaggeration. The New World Order banksters seek to overthrow democratically-elected governments all over the world precisely because they DO care who makes and enforces the laws.
The NWO banksters are destroying Ukraine as a geostrategic move against Russia, where Putin has reined in the Russian-Zionist oligarchs and put a major roadblock in the path of the banksters’ world government project. Yes, Ukrainian President Yanukovich won a free and fair democratic election. But democracy means nothing to the psychopathic pharaohs of finance and their Neocon hired guns.
The banksters (and the Western governments they control) are also trying to overthrow President Nicolas Maduro of Venezuela, who took office after the CIA assassinated Hugo Chavez. President Maduro overcame the banksters’ attempts to defeat him in last year’s elections; he is now the constitutional, democratically-elected President of Venezuela. But that hasn’t stopped the banksters from trying to overthrow him in a pseudo-populist coup.
In Thailand, the banksters and their local kleptocracy are trying to overthrow the democratically-elected government of Prime Minister Shinawatra. Apparently Shinawatra’s attempts to fund education, medical care, and infrastructure, and institute a minimum wage, offended the oligarchs.
In Ukraine, Venezuela, and Thailand, as in Syria and Egypt before them, the banksters are adding violence to their “color revolution” game plan for destroying democracy. This may seem incongruous, since the NWO intellectual hired gun Gene Sharp, the so-called “Machiavelli of non-violence,” designed the original color revolutions as purportedly peaceful and democratic uprisings.
But Sharp’s so-called color revolutions, beginning with Georgia’s Rose Revolution of 2003 and Ukraine’s Orange Revolution of 2004, were never genuine people’s revolutions. They were bankster takeover attempts from the beginning. George Soros would funnel Rothschild money to ambitious, power-hungry apparatchiks, who would inundate their target countries with propaganda and hire rent-a-mobs to dress in a particular color and make a spectacle of themselves in the public square, in hopes of duping naive young people into joining the “revolution” – whose real goal is always to install a NWO puppet leader.
But now the pretense of nonviolence and democracy has evaporated. The New World Order’s smiling Mickey Mouse mask has fallen away, revealing the bloodthirsty grin of satanic banksters bent on establishing an Orwellian one-world dictatorship.
In Syria, the “peaceful uprising” of March 2011 became a pretext for sending in heavily armed thugs and terrorists on a destabilization mission. In Egypt, the bankster-generated “uprising” last summer was a manufactured excuse for a violent coup d’état. In Thailand, Venezuela and Ukraine, the banksters are paying hooligans to stage violent protests, destroy public property, fight police, and incite mayhem – in hopes of violently overthrowing democratically-elected governments.
This is pure fascism.
Fascism is fake populism. Self-styled fascist “revolutionaries” are paid to dress up in colors or uniforms, goose-step around the public square, overthrow democratically-elected governments… and institute a veiled dictatorship of the rich, in which corporate and governmental power merge.
That is what Mussolini did in 1922. It is what Hitler did in 1933. And it is what the neoconservatives, and their bankster sponsors, are doing today… all over the world. The 9/11 Reichstag Fire, which turned the world’s sole superpower decisively toward total fascism, was the gunshot that set off the avalanche.
The end-game: A global fascist dictatorship that would make the Third Reich look like a walk in the park.
There is only one way to defeat these monsters. All great fortunes, beginning with the trillion-dollar treasure hordes of the Rothschilds and their friends, must be confiscated and returned to the public treasury. All of the big banks must be nationalized, and their operations must be made completely transparent. All major financial transactions must be taxed and closely regulated. And all of the biggest corporations, starting with those that own the mainstream media, must be broken into small pieces by anti-trust action.
This revolution – the overthrow of the global oligarchy – is the only revolution that matters.
On the night of February 22nd, a bizarre incident took place in the Venezuela media-sphere. At around 4:00 pm Venezuela time, a number of the country’s private media outlets posted a release from a protest group identified only as the “student movement.” The rhetoric and tone of the statement matches the positions often expressed by extreme rightwing factions within Venezuela’s opposition over the last 14 years. Venezuela, it alleges, is in the grip of Cuban communists:
Foreign forces have laid a military siege on Venezuela. Their mercenaries attack us in a vile and savage manner. Their goal is to enslave us and be the masters of our existence, dishonoring the flags that we have held up in the street and that we will defend with our lives.
We want our Freedom. To protect it it’s vital to defend the Sovereignty of the Nation, expelling the Cuban communists that are here usurping the government and the Armed Forces.
The release demands that “the usurper [Venezuelan president] Nicolas Maduro and all of his cabinet be deposed” and states that the protests will continue until this and other demands are met. The statement also calls for defensive action against state security:
The regime has declared war on any civilian who doesn’t accept its marxist ideology. Our call is for defense: to not allow the invaders profane your street, your avenue, your property. Prevent their access so that they don’t shoot up your neighborhood, don’t destroy your properties, don’t hurt your loved ones and, above all, so that they know that here there are battle-seasoned Venezuelans, who won’t allow themselves to be enslaved through the use of force.
The rhetoric found in this release is reminiscent of the language used by the promoters of the “guarimba” protests in 2004 which – similarly to many of the protests that have been occurring in Venezuela over the last two weeks – involved protesters blocking major roads and with bonfires and barricades and damaging public property. The explicit goal of the 2004 guarimba protests was to create enormous chaos in city streets thereby forcing the government to either step down or engage in mass repression. Or, in the words of Luis Alonso, the main promoter of the guarimba ten years ago:
THE ONLY objective of “THE GUARIMBA” (…) is to create anarchistic chaos on the national level with the help of all citizens and in the main cities of Venezuela, so as to force the CASTRO-COMMUNIST regime of Venezuela to order “PLAN AVILA [a military contingency plan to enforce public order that was used during the 1989 Caracazo protests and that left thousands dead].”
If mass repression occurred, the guarimberos believed that elements of the military opposed to the “Castro-communist” project would rebel and oust the government.
Needless to say, the terminology and goals of the students’ release probably doesn’t reflect the point of view of most Venezuelan opposition supporters and it certainly doesn’t reinforce the common portrayal of the young protesters as peaceful and reasonable.
But then, as if by magic, the original release of the unnamed “students’ movement” was removed from many sites and in a few cases replaced with a much less polemical text. Here is a link to the early version of an El Nacional article on the student movement release that contains the text of the original statement. Later that evening the editors quietly replaced the original statement with the second one, as you can see in this updated version of the same article. El Nacional, one of the largest newspapers in the country, and other outlets that made the switch, never informed their readers of having done so. Here’s a translation of a few key excerpts from the second release:
[Venezuela's] youth can’t stay silent in the face of the profound pain in all Venezuelans’ hearts resulting from the hate and division that is being sowed. Our consciences remain clear in protesting those who wish to establish violence, ignore the country’s most urgent problems and trample human rights.
The exacerbation of insecurity, the deterioration of the quality of life of Venezuelans, the economic crisis, the repression and criminalization of citizens’ protests cause us to raise our voices. We want reconciliation and respect for democratic principles and the Constitution.
(…) We dream of a Venezuela where inclusion, peace and prosperity are possible.
No more talk of “Cuban communists” that have taken over the government and army or of the need to remove the “usurper” Nicolás Maduro. Instead, we see a series of demands that, while based at times on highly questionable premises, appear to be more reasonable, e.g., “liberty for all of the detained young people, (…) the disarming of violent groups, (…) the end of media censorship [regarding the claim of censorship, I recommend reading Mark Weisbrot’s latest post on the Venezuelan media].”
However, one demand from the re-worked release is similar to the main demand of the original release: the second release calls for “the renovation and re-legitimizing of public powers.” Though this language may seem innocuous at full glance, the basic meaning is clear: those in power are not legitimate and should be removed. In the most charitable interpretation, this can be read as a call for immediate elections, despite the fact that Maduro was elected less than a year ago and that his popular legitimacy was reaffirmed in municipal elections last December in which pro-government parties won the total vote by a ten-point margin.
It is also interesting to note that, unlike most recent youth protest movements like the 2011-2013 Chilean movement, the 2012 Quebec student protests or even the U.S. Occupy Wall Street movement, the demands of the Venezuelan students who have taken to the streets focus neither on social justice issues nor on the government’s education policies. It is telling that the University of Chile Student Federation which was instrumental in ending the Pinochet dictatorship and played a key role in the 2011-2013 protests, released a statement which had the following to say about the Venezuelan student movement:
We reject any attempt at destabilization, hoarding of food and of coup-mongering that aims to bypass the sovereign decisions of the people of Venezuela (…) Similarly, we don’t feel represented by the actions of Venezuelan student sectors that have taken the side of the defense of the old order and are opposed to the path that the people have defined.
This article originally appeared in the Summer 2013 edition “Chavismo After Chávez: What Was Created? What Remains?”
Countries in the “developing world” have, since the end of formal colonialism, seen their ability to act autonomously systematically constrained by a variety of factors. These include, but are not limited to, macroeconomic policy conditions attached to World Bank and IMF loans, poor terms of trade with the Global North, lack of effective agency in international organizations, and the actions of multinational corporations operating in their territory.
Venezuela’s regionally oriented foreign policy during the Chávez era counteracted each of these dynamics, and in doing so opened up autonomous policy space for other states in Latin America and the Caribbean. The concrete achievements of a number of mechanisms, including counter-trading and credit provision within the PetroCaribe framework, and the recent establishment of a virtual regional currency, the SUCRE, all played a part in this process.
The first crucial action undertaken by Hugo Chávez as Venezuelan President in protecting regional economies was to vociferously oppose the proposed Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) at the third summit of the Americas, held in Quebec in 2000. The proposal represented the perfect consolidation of U.S. economic power, and was designed, in the words of General Colin Powell, to “guarantee control for North American businesses…over the entire hemisphere.”1 After Chávez voiced concerns, the Mercosur countries followed suit, stopping the FTAA conclusively at the subsequent Mar del Plata summit in 2005. If the FTAA had gone ahead, it would have resulted in the substantial economic subordination of Latin America to U.S. corporate interests. Agricultural sectors in particular would have suffered from an influx of low-cost subsidized U.S. products. In addition, areas of the public sphere that had previously avoided commoditization or privatization would have been fair game for trans-national corporations. Under the FTAA, Amanothep Zambrano, ALBA Executive Secretary, told me last August that states would not have been able to “lead any aspect of economic policy, and therefore their political capacity to solve social problems” would have been heavily constrained.
Their shared opposition to these proposals encouraged Cuba and Venezuela to form an alternative regional integration framework, the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA) in 2004. This quickly matured from a bilateral socio-centric cooperation agreement to a nascent regional bloc, or alliance, with the addition of Bolivia in 2006. Bolivia’s newly elected president, Evo Morales, brought with him the idea of a “Peoples Trade Treaty” (TCP), which extended the ALBA’s self-identified principles of solidarity, complementarity between economies, and respect for sovereignty, into a 23-point agreement that systematically opposed the tenets of orthodox free trade agreements. The TCP opened the possibility of pursuing economic policies outside of the market fundamentalist approach of the neoliberal era, for example by stating that people’s right to access healthcare should be prioritized above protecting pharmaceuticals’ corporate profitability. In the following three years, membership of the ALBA-TCP grew to nine countries encompassing much of Central and South America as well as the Caribbean.
During this time, the Venezuelan government also constructed PetroCaribe, a framework designed to facilitate the supply of its oil products to neighboring Caribbean states under preferential conditions, which at the time of writing had 18 members. Through these two channels the Venezuelan government has opened up autonomous policy space in the region, to some extent overcoming the constraints identified above. Venezuela has, largely through ALBA and PetroCaribe, become an important source of funding in the region. Oil supply agreements, signed between Venezuela and several members of both frameworks, permit countries to defer payment on set portions of their oil bill and use the capital obtained for government spending. Crucially this capital is obtained without the macroeconomic conditionality and policy prescriptions associated with World Bank or IMF loans. PetroCaribe agreements, for example, state that “member nations of the group are allowed to defer payment of 60% of their oil bills to Venezuela for 25 years, at 1% interest, in addition to a 90-day grace period on all payments, and a two year initial grace period on the credit facility.”2
This credit facility offers an alternative to IFI loans, while maintaining small Caribbean nations’ ability for autonomous decision making, which is considered critical in the post-colonial context. Specifically, credit provision has enabled Jamaica and Antigua to delay recourse to IMF loans, and put them in a better negotiating position so, I was told in August 2011 by Norman Girvan, former Secretary General of the Association of Caribbean States, “they were able to make an easier deal.” Venezuela, under the current administration, has also purchased billions of dollars’ worth of bonds issued by the Argentine government, enabling the country’s early exit from all of its IMF debts and associated policy prescriptions.
As a result of this mechanism, PetroCaribe funding to the Caribbean now exceeds both EU and U.S. aid by a wide margin, with only remittances from the Caribbean diaspora exceeding it in funding to the signatory states.3 For Dominica, Venezuela is now the “single largest creditor…surpassing traditional sources of credit such as regional development banks and the IMF.” Venezuela is owed 27.7% of the country’s total debt, which grew 12.6% in 2011 alone, to $8.8 billion.4 Such figures inevitably raise concerns that the agreement is increasing debt levels in the region and developing dependence on Venezuelan largesse. Barbados’s Prime Minister, Owen Arthur, has stated that his country would not join because he “would not permit the present generation of Barbadians to consume oil now to be paid for by succeeding generations of Barbadians.”5 However, the deferred portion of the bill does not constitute debt in the orthodox sense, as it is kept by the Caribbean partners and can be spent as capital towards any project deemed socio-productive, or saved to accrue interest to offset the bill, as has been the case in Guyana. The domestic opposition sees the PetroCaribe scheme as Chávez “giving away” oil irresponsibly. However, the amount is relatively small and sustainable. Supply to PetroCaribe members, including Cuba, peaked in 2009 at an average of 196.4 thousand barrels daily, which constituted only 7% of total Venezuelan oil exports that year, and operates under market prices in accordance with Venezuela’s OPEC membership.6
Due to a high level of dependence on imports, Venezuela has also been uniquely able to position itself as a regional alternative to North American and European markets. This dynamic has, again, been apparent within both ALBA-TCP and PetroCaribe. In 2008, the PetroCaribe framework was augmented with a “compensatory exchange mechanism” via which oil bills from Venezuela could be offset by the export of domestically produced goods and services. The Venezuelan market is particularly important for Caribbean countries who suffer from poor terms of trade with the North due to dependence on primary commodity exports, the continued use of tariff and non-tariff barriers by developed nations, and the erosion of colonial trade preferences. For example, up to 90% of Guyanese rice exports per annum were going to EU countries when, in 2000, the Overseas Territories (OCT) loophole was closed, resulting, I was told by the Guyanese Ambassador to Venezuela, in a “50-60%” drop in prices. When the compensation mechanism was announced, the then-president of Guyana, Jagdeo Bharrat, actively sought a better deal with Venezuela through the PetroCaribe framework. The resultant export of both rice and unprocessed paddy has seen Venezuela become the single largest importer of Guyanese rice, replacing Portugal.7
In the case of ALBA countries, a strategic reorientation towards intra-regional trade, and particularly export to Venezuela, has reduced dependence on the United States and subsequently its ability to constrain autonomous action. For example, when Bolivia expelled the U.S. ambassador in 2008 following his alleged involvement in separatist actions in the Santa Cruz Department, Washington retaliated by excluding Bolivia from the Andean Trade Promotion and Drug Eradication Agreement (ATPDEA). Bolivia lost its U.S. tariff advantages, which was a particularly painful blow to its textile industry. Chávez immediately offered them a market under “the same or better conditions” that Bolivia had enjoyed with the United States. As a result, says the Bolivian Ambassador to Venezuela, in 2010 Venezuela “imported almost 50 million dollars in textiles alone, or nearly double that which [Bolivia] used to export to the USA” annually.
The purchase agreement was supported by initiatives by both governments to facilitate small and medium sized businesses’ entry into the regional market. A fund was established in the Bank of ALBA to provide short-term interest-free credit to Venezuelan importers in order to purchase Bolivian textiles, paired with a fund in the Bolivian national development bank to provide small textile producers credit to purchase raw materials. This agreement therefore not only minimized the impact that U.S. market sanctions could have over autonomous decision making by the Bolivian government, but also created direct relations between regional producers and consumers.
These patterns are part of a wider renewed focus on South-South trade, both within the region and with extra-hemispheric partners. However, the United States remains the region’s single most important trading partner. The objective is not to be “anti-American,” rather to reduce the U.S. ability to exert controlling influence over its Latin American and Caribbean neighbors by creating alternatives to the dollar in international trade. One way in which this was achieved was through the PetroCaribe mechanism and similar counter-purchase agreements with other regional allies. As direct non-market transactions, they circumvented the use of the dollar, thereby avoiding its automatic privileging in international trade, and avoiding the transaction costs associated with its use.
This concept was extended by the ALBA’s virtual common currency, the Unified Regional System for Economic Compensation (SUCRE). The SUCRE is essentially a series of clearing accounts between Cuba, Bolivia, Venezuela, and Ecuador that allow the countries to trade freely without transaction costs. Accounts are balanced every six months with one hard currency transfer. The value of trade conducted via the SUCRE in its first year of operations, 2010, was just over $8 million. It grew exponentially, to almost 100 times that the following year ($172,905,344).8 Though the SUCRE’s value was originally set against the dollar ($1 to XSU1.25), and it is typically used as the convertible currency to make balancing payments, in the long term the intention is to no longer use the dollar at all. The direct and deliberate countering of U.S. economic hegemony that the SUCRE represents has been of particular importance to Ecuador, whose macroeconomic policy options have been constrained by a prior administration’s decision to dollarize the economy in 2001. In fact, the mechanism was largely designed by Ecuadoran economists, and of the $170 million traded in 2011, $140 million was for Venezuelan purchases from Ecuador (mainly tuna).9
As we have seen, Chávez’s time in office saw an unequivocal reassertion of the state as economic actor throughout the region. This dynamic was particularly felt in the crucial energy sector. In Venezuela, governmental control of the state oil industry was consolidated, while both Bolivia and Argentina nationalized hydrocarbons with investment and technical assistance from Petroleos de Venezuela (PDVSA), via agreements with YPFB and Enarsa, state owned gas and oil companies in Bolivia and Argentina respectively. Even in centrist or center-right Caribbean nations, Venezuelan investment has enabled state-owned oil companies and agencies to supply oil products directly to their population, “to effectively intervene in their markets to minimize retail prices” in the energy sector which had previously been “dominated by foreign companies.”10
Where state energy companies or agencies did not exist prior to PetroCaribe, they have been formed to facilitate the direct import of oil products from PDVSA. These can take the form of joint ventures with the PDVSA subsidiary PDV Caribe. Venezuelan credit and grants have also been used to fund improvements in energy infrastructure; that is namely the capacity of the member countries to store and refine oil, and in turn to generate and distribute energy. Central to this scheme has been investment in the Cienfuegos refinery in Cuba and at the Kingston refinery which now almost exclusively refines Venezuelan crude. The refinery is run by Petrojam Ltd, a mixed state enterprise in which Jamaica Oil Company owns a 51% stake and PDV Caribe 49%. This reassertion of state control over energy resources is seen as a fundamental facet of PetroCaribe’s “new oil geopolitics…at the services of our peoples not at the service of imperialism and big capital.”11
The right and power of multinationals to dictate domestic policy has been systematically undermined, both through a reassertion of the state as economic actor and in the tenets of the TCP which we briefly touched on earlier. This offers a stark contrast to the World Trade Organization’s policies such as Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPs), which consistently privilege corporate interests, and/or offer beneficial “loopholes” for developed nations. This has been possible through the creation of new regional forums in Latin America and the Caribbean, in which members’ interests are not subordinate to those of more powerful nations. For example, in the TCP, economic asymmetries between members are recognised and therefore tariff reductions do not have to be reciprocal, disregarding the “most favored nation” principle. In addition, ALBA has no supranationality; it is best described as a framework for cooperation rather than an integration body in the orthodox sense. All programs and agreements are optional, flexible, and voluntary, thereby protecting the national autonomy of members.
Though statist in its organization, ALBA facilitates continual dialogue through presidential and ministerial summits, which have also been attended by international observers. Non-member countries are also represented in the council for social movements, whose proponents include groups such as the Brazilian Landless Workers’ Movement. ALBA proved to be the first in a series of new regional spaces, catalysed by massive rejection of the FTAA proposal—a rejection led by Chávez—and culminating in the formation of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), which was put together as an alternative to the Organization of American States (OAS), and includes all the countries of the Americas except the United States and Canada. In this way, lessened economic dependence has resulted in increased diplomatic autonomy from the United States.
There are those who argue that Venezuelan projects in the region created new constraints, replaced one set of dependencies with another. But this is not the case. Though he was a catalyst for and investor in regional development, Chávez avoided constructing a position of power or privilege for Venezuela. This is evident in the lack of conditionality attached to credit mechanisms and the fact that the controlling stake of each mixed state enterprise was maintained by the partner country. Though oil wealth put Chávez in a unique position to invest in regional projects, these were not unilaterally devised or constructed; the TCP came from Bolivia, SUCRE is an Ecuadoran concept, and of course ALBA social programs were exported from Cuba. However, these ideas were made a reality by the capacity for rapid implementation that oil largesse afforded. Such apparently altruistic actions led many to question Chávez’s motives. It is important to point out that these frameworks and counter-purchase agreements have also helped reduce Venezuela’s dependence on the United States as a market and refining destination for oil. The volume of Venezuelan oil exported to the United States decreased from 1,500,000 barrels per day in 2008, to 1,166,000 bpd in 2011, a drop of 334,000 barrels per day. This can, in part, be attributed to the diversification of markets in Latin America (190 bpd to PetroCaribe, plus supply agreements with Argentina among others). This is in addition to securing crucial imports without financial outlay, specifically agricultural commodities, which are often then provided to the Venezuelan population at low cost through state owned agencies such as the supermarket chain Mercal.
Under the last ten years of Hugo Chávez’s Presidency, Venezuela’s foreign policies resulted in an opening up of autonomous policy space in Latin America and the Caribbean. What was begun in 2004 with the rejection of the proposed FTAA continued into the post-crisis conjuncture, when Chávez was instrumental in creating a new regional financial architecture to limit the power exerted by Washington-based IFIs. PetroCaribe credit provided funds for capital expenditure, without imposing macroeconomic conditionality. In addition, guaranteed oil supplies allowed the small and energy dependent nations that made up its membership to move beyond reactive policies and look to longer term socio-productive investment.
Venezuela’s concurrent strategy of sourcing imports from the region offered primary-commodity-dependent economies some opportunity to diversify their markets and baskets, with better terms of trade than offered by the United States or ex-colonial metropoles in Europe. Chávez also took the bite out of attempted control via market sanctions, as was clearly demonstrated in the Bolivian example.
These regional imports often took the form of non-market exchanges and counter-purchase agreements within PetroCaribe, ALBA, and beyond. Combined, they arguably represented a strategic de-linking from international trade and finance systems, specifically from the U.S. dollar. As such, these frameworks have lessened both the dependence on, and influence of, the United States in the region, protecting countries’ ability to act autonomously and not follow the dictates of Washington. Chávez effectively undermined U.S. economic power by offering alternatives to the hegemony of the dollar, with the SUCRE in particular offering a concerted challenge. Lessened economic dependence in turn allowed for greater diplomatic autonomy from Washington, demonstrated in its strategic exclusion from the newly formed CELAC. The various new regional initiatives provide space to build development strategies and devise economic policies, beyond the constraints of “market-friendly” logic. This allows for a reassertion of the state as an economic actor and service provider, within a culture of regional cooperation. Though the Venezuelan state is not operating outside of capitalism per se, from the initial rejection of the proposed Free Trade Area of the Americas in 2001 the Chávez government demonstrated that there are alternatives beyond the policy prescriptions of the neoliberal era, and what’s more, facilitated their use throughout the region to mutually beneficial ends.
1. Colin Powell cited in Katharine Ainger, “Trading Away the Americas,” New Internationalist, Issue 351, November 1, 2002, available at newint.org
2. “Venezuela: Two Countries Hold Out Against Cheap Loans and Barters,” Countertrade & Offset, 26:15 (2008)7
3. Sir Ronald Sanders, “The Chavez Effect: A life belt for the Caribbean,” Kaieteur news online, July 27, 2008, available at kaieteurnewsonline.com
4. Andrés Rojas Jiménez “Deuda dominicana con PDVSA aumentó durante 201,” El Nacional, February 16, 2012, available at elnacional.com
5. Wendell Mottley, Trinidad and Tobago’s Industrial Policy 1959-2008 Kingston. (Randle, 2008) 157.
6. This data, and all data not otherwise cited, elaborated from PDVSA annual reports, 2009-2011.
7. Guyana Rice Development Board, “Guyana Rice Development Board Annual Report 2010,” 2011.
8. Consejo Monetario Regional del SUCRE, “SUCRE Informe de Gestión 2011,” 2012.
10. Curtis Williams, “Venezuela Urged to Fast-track Petrocaribe Initiative,” Oil and Gas Journal, 102 (2004):26.
11. Hugo Chávez Frías, Petrocaribe, Towards A New Order in Our America, (Colecciones Discursos, Ministerio de Poder Popular para Comunicación.)
Stephanie Pearce is a doctoral candidate at the School of Politics & International Relations, Queen Mary College, University of London. Her research focuses on the role of countertrade in Venezuela’s “Bolivarian Revolution.”
Read the rest of NACLA’s Summer 2013 issue: “Chavismo After Chávez: What Was Created? What Remains?”