THE WAVE OF THE SO-CALLED ‘pink’ tide that washed the shores of Latin America in response to the post-1970s neo-liberal straitjacket of privatisation, low tariffs, reduced social spending, weakened labour laws and increased social inequality, has receded - in Brazil, Argentina, Ecuador, Uruguay, Chile and Paraguay. Only Evo Morales in Bolivia and Maduro in Venezuela remain.
It is inconceivable that the US, with its dense military and political networks and deep financial pockets, has been a passive agent in this shift towards the right in a region which it has long regarded as its backyard. It has been firmly ensconced in Colombia both economically and militarily for decades where the right wing has consolidated under Duque. It condoned the removal of President Manuel Zelaya in Honduras in 2009 by American-trained generals and the subsequent murders of thousands of indigenous activists, peasant leaders, trade unionists, journalists, environmentalists, judges, opposition political candidates and human rights activists.
In Venezuela, Hugo Chavez came to power in the wake of the great 1989 uprising by the poor against the IMF-brokered austerity that was suppressed by the military killing over a thousand people. Chavez, a career military officer, led a revolt against corruption in 1992, only to be jailed, but this catapulted him to hero status.
Released in 1994, he won the presidency in 1998 by a landslide. In his first years in power, Chavez had to deal with the reaction of the elite supported by the US. In 2002, he survived a coup attempt and later numerous assassination plots to triumph and achieve great success electorally.
From 2005 to his final election in 2012, the social gains were spectacular: greater employment, more and better housing, better nutrition, better medical care, higher life expectancy and increased literacy through better education. Over his 14 year rule, Chavez improved the lot of the poor through redistributing part of the oil revenue.
Under Maduro, Chavez’s successor, oil prices collapsed from US$88 a barrel in 2014 to $24 in January 2016. Additionally, there was pressure from the US when Obama declared Venezuela a “national security threat” and imposed sanctions, later intensified by Trump, precipitating a severe economic crisis.
Over the last five years, Venezuela’s per capita income shrank by 40%, a decline that parallels war-torn countries like Iraq and Syria. Whereas it earned $100bn in oil revenues in 2012, by 2017 this fell to $32bn, a decline of two thirds. In August 2018 Alfred de Zayas, the first UN rapporteur to visit Venezuela for 21 years, criticised the US for engaging in “economic warfare” against Venezuela which he said was hurting the economy and killing Venezuelans. According to him, the US sanctions on the country are illegal and could amount to “crimes against humanity” under international law.
Economic measures taken by the Maduro government were not effective and led to a black market and corruption. Facing such a serious crisis, the government became more authoritarian.
The financial strangulation over three years prepared the ground for toppling Maduro who faced an intractable war of attrition with the opposition from 2014 onwards and with violence including three assassination attempts. When the opposition won the National Assembly elections in March 2016, its challenge to the President led to the Supreme Court repeatedly annulling its laws.
The Maduro government called a referendum to elect a constituent assembly which the opposition boycotted. The presidential election of May 2018, boycotted by the main opposition, saw Maduro win the election with 68% on a low turnout of 46% against some minor opposition figures.
The domestic opposition, the US and Lima Group of mostly right-leaning Latin American governments did not recognise the results.
A cascade of well co-ordinated actions was launched by the US government and the opposition - sanctions on its oil companies and withholding its gold reserves in the UK. John Bolton targeted Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua as a “troika of tyranny”. On 23rd January, Juan Guaidó, the president of the National Assembly, declared himself President and was immediately recognised by Trump, US allies in Latin America, the UK and European powers.
Vice-president Pence incited the Venezuelan population to go out in the streets against Maduro. An intense public relations campaign followed in support of Guaidó, someone that 80% of Venezuelans had never heard of. He is the product of more than a decade of assiduous grooming by the US government’s agencies as part of a cadre of right wing student activists.
The appointment of Elliot Abrams as US special envoy to Venezuela bodes ill for the country. Elliot was the architect of the ‘dirty war’ in Central America where death squads murdered at least 250,000 people in Nicaragua, El Salvador and Guatemala, overwhelmingly unarmed civilians.
The US intervention in the name of democracy must be opposed and resisted without reservations. We need to defend the rights of the Venezuelan people to sovereignty and self-determination.