US policy toward Venezuela is a microcosm of its larger strategy
toward Latin America. The intent is to reverse the region’s independent
foreign policy and to restore US dominance; to curtail the
diversification of trading and investment partners and re-center
economic relations to the US; to replace regional integration pacts with
US centered economic integration schemes; and to privatize firms partly
or wholly nationalized.
to military coups in Venezuela is a strategy designed to impose a client
regime. This is a replay of US strategy during the 1964-1983 period.
In those two decades US strategists successfully collaborated with
business-military elites to overthrow nationalist and socialist
governments, privatize public enterprises and reverse, social, labor and
welfare policies. The client regimes implemented neo-liberal policies
and supported US centered “integration”. The entire spectrum of
representative institutions, political parties, trade unions and civil
society organizations were banned and replaced by imperial funded NGO’s,
state controlled parties and trade unions. With this perspective in
mind the US has returned to all out “regime change” in Venezuela as the
first step to a continent-wide transformation to reassert political,
economic and social dominance.
resort to political violence, all out media warfare, economic sabotage
and military coups in Venezuela is an attempt to discover the
effectiveness of these tactics under favorable conditions, including a
deepening economic recession, double digit inflation, declining living
standards and weakening political support, as a dress rehearsal for
other countries in the region
Washington’s earlier resort to a “regime change” strategy in Venezuela,
Bolivia, Argentina and Ecuador failed because objective circumstances
were unfavorable. Between 2003 to 2012 the national-populist or
center-left regimes were increasing political support, their economies
were growing, incomes and consumption were improving and pro-US regimes
and clients had earlier collapsed under the weight of a systemic
crises. Moreover, the negative consequences of military coups were
fresh in peoples’ minds. Today Washington’s strategists believe that
Venezuela is the easiest and most important target because of its
structural vulnerabilities and because Caracas is the linchpin to Latin
American integration and welfare populism.
to Washington’s domino theory, Cuba will be more susceptible to pressure
if it is cut-off from Venezuela’s subsidized oil-for-medical services
agreement. Ecuador and Bolivia will be vulnerable. Regional
integration will be diluted or replaced by US directed trade
agreements. Argentina’s drift to the right will be accelerated. The US
military presence will be enlarged beyond Colombia, Peru, Paraguay and
Central America. Radical anti-imperialist ideology will be replaced by a
revised form of “pan-Americanism”, a euphemism for imperial primacy.
concentrated and prolonged US war against Venezuela and the resort to
extremist tactics and groups can only be accounted for by what US
strategists perceive as the large scale (continent-wide) long-term
interests at stake.
proceed by discussing and analyzing the US fifteen year war (2000-2015)
against Venezuela, now reaching a climax. We will then turn to
examining the past and current strengths and weakness of Venezuela’s
democratic, anti-imperialist government.
Prolonged Political Warfare: Multiple Forms of Attack in Changing Political Conjunctures
The US war
against Venezuela started shortly after President Chavez’s election in
1999. His convoking of a constitutional assembly and referendum and the
subsequent inclusion of a strong component of popular participatory and
nationalist clauses “rang bells” in Washington. The presence of a
large contingent of former guerrillas, Marxists and Leftists in the
Chavez electoral campaign and regime, was the signal for Washington to
develop a strategy of regrouping traditional business and political
clients to pressure and limit changes.
to 9/11/01, Washington launched its global military offensive,
projecting power via the so-called “war on terror”. Washington’s quest
to reassert dominance in the Americas included demands that Venezuela
fall into line and back Washington’s global military offensive.
President Chavez refused and set an example of independent politics for
the nationalist-populist movements and emerging center-left regimes in
Latin America. President Chavez told President Bush “you don’t fight
terror with terror”.
response, by November 2001 Washington strategists shifted from a policy
of pressure to contain change to a strategy of all-out warfare
to overthrow the Chavez regime via a business-military coup in (April
backed coup was defeated in less than 72 hours. Chavez was restored to
power by an alliance of loyalist military forces backed by a spontaneous
million person march. Washington lost important assets among the
military and business elite, who fled into exile or were jailed.
December 2002 to February 2003, The White House backed an executive
lockout in the strategic oil industry, supported by corrupt trade union
officials aligned with Washington and the AFL-CIO. After three months
the lockout was defeated through an alliance of loyalist trade
unionists, mass organizations and overseas petrol producing countries.
The US lost strategic assets in the oil industry as over 15,000
executives, managers and workers were fired and replaced by nationalist
loyalists. The oil industry was renationalized – its earnings were put
at the service of social welfare.
assets essential to violent warfare, Washington promoted a strategy of
electoral politics – organizing a referendum in 2004 which was won by
Chavez and a boycott of the 2005 congressional elections, which failed
and led to an overwhelming majority for the pro Chavez forces.
failed to secure regime change via internal violent and electoral
warfare, Washington, having suffered a serious loss of internal assets,
turned outside by organizing para-military death squads and the
Colombian military to engage in cross border conflicts in alliance with
the far right regime of Alvaro Uribe. Colombia’s military incursions
led Venezuela to break economic ties, costing influential Colombian
agro-business exporters ad manufacturers’ losses exceeding $8 billion
dollars . . . Uribe backed off and signed a non-aggression accord with
Chavez, undermining the US “proxy war” strategy.
revised its tactics, returning to electoral and street fighting
tactics. Between 2008-2011/12 Washington channeled millions of dollars
to finance electoral party politicians, NGO’s, mass media outlets
(newspapers, television and radio) and direct action saboteurs of public
energy, electricity and power stations.
“internal” political offensive had limited success – a coalition of
warring rightwing political groups elected a minority of officials thus
regaining an institutional presence. A Chavez backed overtly socialist
referendum was defeated (by less than 1%). NGO’s gained influence in
the universities and in some popular neighborhoods exploiting the
corruption and ineptness of local Chavez elected officials.
But the US
strategy failed to dislodge or weaken the Chavez led regime for several
reasons. Venezuela’s economy was riding the prolonged commodity boom.
Oil prices were soaring above $100 a barrel, financing free health,
education, housing, fuel and food subsidy programs, undercutting the
so-called “grass-roots” agitation of US funded NGO’s.
subsidies of imports and lax regulation of dollar reserves secured
support even among the capitalists and loosened their support for the
violent opposition. Sectors of the middle class voted for Chavez as a
ticket to the consumer society.
President Chavez’s charismatic appeal, promotion and support of popular
neighborhood groups counter-acted the ill-effects of corrupt and inept
local “Chavista” officials who otherwise played into the hands of US
intervention in Venezuela alienated not only the center-left but the
entire political spectrum in Latin America, isolating Washington. This
was especially evident by the universal condemnation of the US backed
military coup in Honduras in 2009.
the US could not counter Venezuela’s subsidized oil sales to Caribbean
and Central American regimes. Petrocaribe strengthened Venezuela and
weakened US dominance in Washington’s historical “backyard”.
electoral strategy of the US depended on fomenting an economic crises –
and given the favorable world prices for oil on the world market (it
failed). As a result Washington depended on non-market strategies to
disrupt the socio-economic links between mass consumers and the Chavez
encouraged sabotage of the power and electrical grid. It encouraged
hoarding and price gouging by commercial capitalists (supermarket
owners). It encouraged smugglers to purchase thousands of tons of
subsidized consumer goods and sell them across the border in Colombia.
In other words, the US combined its electoral strategy with violent sabotage and illegal economic disruption.
strategy was intensified with the onset of the economic crises following
the financial crash of 2009, the decline of commodity prices and the
death of President Hugo Chavez.
The US and
its mass media megaphones went all-out to defend the protagonists and
practioners of illegal violent actions – branding arrested saboteurs,
assassins, street fighters, assailants of public institutions as
“political prisoners”. Washington and its media branded the government,
as “authoritarian” for protecting the constitution. It accused the
independent judiciary as biased. The police and military were labelled
as “repressive” for arresting fire bombers of schools, transport and
crime or criminal behavior by opposition politicos was exempt from
Washington’s scrofulous screeds about defending “human rights”.
and collapse of oil prices greatly enhanced the opportunities for the US
and its Venezuelan collaborator’s campaign to weaken the government.
Venezuela’s dependence on President Chavez, as the singular
transformative figure, suffered a serious blow with his death.
Personalistic leadership weakened organic mass organization.
relaunched a multi-pronged offensive to undermine and overthrow the
newly elected Nicolas Maduro regime. Washington, at first, promoted the
‘via electoral’ as the route to regime change, funding opposition
leader Henrique Capriles.
Capriles’ electoral defeat, Washington resorted to an intense
post-electoral propaganda campaign to de-legitimize the voting outcome.
It promoted street violence and sabotage of the electrical grid. For
over a year the Obama regime refused to recognize the electoral outcome,
accepted and recognized throughout Latin America and the world. In the
subsequent Congressional, gubernatorial and municipal elections the US
backed candidates suffered resounding defeats. President Nicolas
Maduro’s United Socialist Party of Venezuela won three quarters of the
governorships and retained a solid two-thirds majority in Congress.
in 2013 the US escalated its “extra-parliamentary” offensive – massive
hoarding of consumer goods by wholesale distributors and retail
supermarkets led to acute shortages, long lines, long waits and empty
black market speculation of the currency, wholesale smuggling of
shipments of consumer goods across the border to Colombia (facilitated
by opposition officials governing in border-states and corrupt National
Guard commanders) exacerbated shortages.
strategists sought to drive a political wedge between the consumer
driven middle and lower classes and the Maduro government. Over time
they succeeded in fomenting discontent among the lower middle class and
directing it against the government and not at the big business elite
and US financed opposition politicians, NGO’s and parties.
2014 emboldened by growing discontent the US moved rapidly toward a
decisive confrontation… Washington backed the most violent extra
parliamentary opposition. Led by Leopoldo Lopez, it openly called for a
coup and launched a nationwide assault on public buildings, authorities
and pro-democracy activists. As a result 43 people were killed and 870
injured – mostly government supporters and military and police
officials – and hundreds of millions of dollars of damage was inflicted
on schools, hospitals and state supermarkets.
months, the uprising was finally put down and the street barricades were
dismantled--- as even rightwing businesspeople suffered losses as their
revenues diminished and there was no chance for victory.
proclaimed the jailed terrorists leaders as “political prisoners”-- a
line parroted by al the mass media and the bogus Human Rights Watch.
The Obama regime sought to secure the release of its armed thugs to
prepare for the next round of violent confrontation.
accelerated the pace of planning, organizing and executing the next coup
throughout 2014. Taking advantage of the Maduro regime’s lax or
non-existent enforcement of laws forbidding ‘foreign funding of
political organizations, the US via NED and its “front groups” poured
tens of millions, into NGOs, political parties, leaders and active and
retired military officials willing and able to pursue “regime change”
via a coup.
year following the violent uprising of 2014, on February 14, 2015, the
US backed a civilian-military coup. The coup was thwarted by military
intelligence and denunciations by lower level loyalist soldiers.
Two power grabs in a year is a clear indication that Washington is accelerating its move to establish a client regime.
these policies especially dangerous, is not simply their proximity, but
the context in which they occur and the recruits who Washington is
coup of 2002, which occurred at a time of an improving economy, the most
recent one takes place in the context of declining economic
indicators. Earlier the masses turned out to support the new
constitution, declining inflation, the introduction of new social
legislation and improving income. The most recent coup takes place with
incomes declining, a devaluation which reduces purchasing power, rising
inflation (62%) and plummeting oil prices.
the US has once again gained converts in the military as was the case in
the 2002 coup but absent in the 2014. Three generals, three colonels, 9
lieutenants and a captain signed on to the coup and it can be surmised
that they were in contact with others. The deteriorating loyalties in
the military are not simply a product of US bribery. It is also a
reflection of the socio-economic decline of sectors of the middle class
to which middle level officers belong by family ties and social
to the earlier coup (of 2002) then President Chavez called for the
formation of popular militias, National Reserve and a rural defense
force to ‘complement’ the armed forces. Some 300,000 militia volunteers
were registered. But like many radical ideas, little came of it.
As the US
moves to activate its ‘military option’, Venezuela must consider
activating and linking these militias to mass popular community based
organizations, trade unions and peasant movements.
The US has
developed a strategic concept for seizing power by proxy. A war of
attrition built upon exploiting the social consequences of the fall of
oil revenues, shortages of basic commodities and the growing fissures in
the military and state institutions.
Washington has embraced the strategy of 2002, combining multiple forms
of attack including economic destabilization, electoral politics,
sabotage and military penetration. All are directed toward a military –
civilian coalition seizing power.
Facing the US Offensive: The Strengths and Weaknesses of the Maduro Government
strength of the Chavista government of President Maduro is the legacy of
nearly 15 years of progressive legislation, including rising incomes,
grass roots community based democracy, the affirmation of racial, class
and national dignity and independence. Despite the real hardships of
the past 3 years, forty percent of the electorate, mostly the urban and
rural poor, remains as a solid core of support of the democratic
process, the President and his efforts to reverse the decline and return
the country to prosperity.
Up to now
the Maduro government has successfully rebuffed and defeated the
offensive by US proxies. President Maduro won electorally, and more
recently has pacified the coupsters by adopting firmer security measures
and more technically efficient intelligence. Equally important he has
demanded that the US reduce its embassy operatives from 100 to 17, equal
to Venezuela’s staff in Washington. Many embassy personnel were engaged
in meetings with Venezuelan organizers of violent activity and in
efforts to subvert military officials.
security measures and administrative improvements, as important and
necessary as they are, reflect short-range solutions. The deeper and
more fundamental issues relate to the structural weakness of the
Venezuelan economy and state.
foremost, Venezuela cannot continue running on a petrol based ‘rentier
economy’ especially one that still depends on the US market.
‘consumer socialism’ totally depends on oil revenues and high oil
prices to finance the importation of foodstuffs and other essential
of ‘national defense’ against the imperial offensive requires a far
higher level of ‘self-sufficiency’, a greater degree of local production
and decentralized control.
next to US intervention and destabilization, the greatest threat to the
democratic regime is the government’s executive, managerial and elected
officials who have misallocated billions in investment funds, failed to
effectively carry out programs and who largely improvise according to
day to day considerations, It is essential that Maduro advances the
strategic priorities ensuring basic popular interests.
and the Maduro governments outlined general guidelines that were passed
off as a strategic plan. But neither financial resources, nor state
personnel were systematically ordered to implement them. Instead the
government responded or better still reacted, defensively, to the
immediate threats of the opposition induced shortages and oil revenue
shortfalls. They chose the easy route of securing loans from China by
mortgaging future oil exports. They also took out commercial loans –
borrowed at the highest rates in the world (18%)!
commodity boom requires a decisive break with the petrol economy . . .
continuing costly debt financing staves off the day of reckoning, which
is fast approaching.
coups and political warfare are with us and will not fade away even as
Washington loses battles. The jailing of individual plotters is not
enough. They are expendable …Washington can buy others.
government faces a national emergency which requires a society-wide
mobilization to launch a war-economy capable of producing and delivering
class specific commodities to meet popular needs.
February 12, 2015, coup dubbed, Plan Jericho, was funded by the US NGO,
the National Endowment for Democracy and its subsidiaries, the
International Republican Institute and the National Democratic Institute
and Freedom House. The coup organizers led by former Venezuelan
Congresswomen Maria Corina Machado, (a White House invitee) was designated to
head up the post-coup dictatorship.
As a matter
of survival the Maduro government must clamp down and prosecute all
self-styled ‘NGO’ which are recipients of overseas funding and serve as
conduits for US backed coups and destabilization activity.
the Obama regime will seek to protect its proxy financing and howl about
‘growing authoritarianism’. That is predictable. But the Venezuelan
governments’ duty is to protect the constitutional order, and defend the
security of its citizens. It must move decisively to prosecute not
only the recipients of US funds but the entire US political network,
organizations and collaborators as terrorists.
can take a page out of the US legal code which provides for 5 year
prison sentences for “nationals” who receive overseas funds and fail
to register as foreign agents. More to the point, the Obama regime has
prosecuted organized groups suspected of conspiring to commit violent
acts to lifetime prison sentences. He has justified extra judicial
assassinations (via drones) of US “terrorist suspects”.
Maduro need not go to the extremes of the Obama regime. But he should
recognize that the policy of “denunciation, arrest and release” is
totally out of line with international norms regarding the fight against
terrorism in Venezuela.
What the US
has in mind is not merely a ‘palace coup’ in which the democratic
incumbents are ousted and replaced by US clients. Washington wants to
go far beyond a change in personnel, beyond a friendly regime amenable
to providing unconditional backing to the US foreign policy agenda.
A coup and
post-coup regime is only the first step toward a systematic and
comprehensive reversal of the socio-economic and political
transformations of the past 16 years!
list will be the crushing of the mass popular community organizations
which will oppose the coup. This will be accompanied by a mass purge, of
all representative institutions, the constitutionalist armed forces,
police and nationalist officials in charge of the oil industry and other
major public welfare programs in education, health, housing and low cost
retail food outlets, will be dismantled or suffer major budget cuts.
industry and dozens of other publically owned enterprises and banks will
be privatized and denationalized. US MNC will be the main
beneficiaries. The agrarian land reform will be reversed: recipients
will be evicted and the land returned to the landed oligarchs.
many of the Venezuelan working class and rural poor will be adversely
affected and given the combatative spirit which permeates popular
culture, the implementation of the US backed neo-liberal agenda will
require prolonged, large-scale repression. This means, tens of
thousands of killings, arrests and incarceration.
coup- masters and their Venezuelan proxies will unleash all their
pent-up hostility against what they will deem the blood purge necessary
to punish, in Henry Kissinger’s infamous phrase, “an irresponsible
people” who dared to affirm their dignity and independence.
The US backing of violence in the run-up to the February 2015 coup will be escalated in the run-up to the inevitable next coup.
Contemporary US imperial wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria and Libya and
past US backed bloody military coups installing neo-liberal regimes in
Brazil, Chile, Argentina, Bolivia and Uruguay a few decades past,
demonstrate that Washington places no limits on how many tens of
thousands of lives are destroyed, how many millions are uprooted, if it
is ‘necessary’ to secure imperial dominance.
There is no
doubt that the Venezuelan economy is on shaky foundations; that
officials have yet to devise and implement a coherent strategy to exit
the crises. But it is of decisive importance to remember that even in
these times of intensifying imperial warfare, basic freedoms and social
justice inform the framework of government and popular representation.
Now is the time, and time is running short, for the Maduro government to
mobilize all the mass organizations, popular militias and loyal
military officials to administer a decisive political defeat to the US
proxies and then to proceed forward to socializing the economy. It must
take the opportunity of turning the US orchestrated offensives into a
historic defeat. It must convert the drive to restore neo-liberal
privilege into the graveyard of rentier capitalism.
political confrontations between US imperial regimes and leftwing Latin
American governments, in the case of Venezuela the US has suffered
numerous major defeats with regard to domestic and foreign policy, over
the past 15 years.
US-Venezuelan Conflicts: Internal Policies and their Results
- In 2001 the
US demanded Venezuela support its “war on terrorism, its global quest
for domination via war. President Chavez refused to back it, arguing
successfully that “you cannot fight terror with terror”, and winning
- In April
12, 2002, the US organized and backed a military-business coup which was
defeated by a mass uprising backed by constitutionalist armed forces.
US lost key assets in the military, trade union bureaucracy and business
- In December
2002 – February 2003, the US backed a CEO directed lockout designed to
shut-down the oil industry and overthrow the Chavez government that was
defeated, as workers and engineers took charge and overseas oil partners
supplied petroleum. The US lost assets in the oil industry.
- In 2004, a
referendum to oust Chavez, funded by the US and organized by NED funded
NGOs was defeated. US electoral assets were demoralized.
- In 2006 a
US backed boycott of Congressional elections was defeated. The
electorate turned out in force. US congressional assets lost their
institutional power base and influence.
- In 2006 Chavez is re-elected for a second time. The US-backed candidate is badly beaten.
- In 2007 a US backed coalition squeak out a 1% margin of victory, defeating constitutional amendments, socializing the economy.
- In 2009 President Chavez wins a referendum on constitutional amendments including the abolition of term limits.
- In 2012 Chavez wins re-election for the fourth time defeating a US financed opposition candidate.
- In 2013 Chavez’s selected candidate Maduro wins the Presidency defeating Obama’s anointed candidate.
- Pro-Chavez parties win resounding Congressional majorities in all elections between 1999 – 2010.
Repeated electoral defeats convinced Washington’s political strategists to rely on violent, unconstitutional roads to power.
anti-capitalist domestic social reforms and ideology were one of two key
motivating factors in Washington’s prolonged political war against
Venezuela. Equally important was Chavez and Maduro’s foreign policy
which included Venezuela’s leading role in opposing US centered regional
integration organizations like ALCA, regional political organizations
like the OAS and its military missions.
promoted Latin American centered integration organizations which
excluded the US. They included Petro-Caribe, a Venezuelan sponsored
trade and investment organization that benefited Caribbean and Central
(Union of South American Nations) a regional political organization
which displaced the US dominated OAS and included 33 Latin American and
Venezuela joined MERCOSUR, a “free trade” organization, which included Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay.
leading role in promoting five organizations promoting Latin American
and Caribbean integration – excluding the US and Canada – was seen as a
mortal threat to Washington’s political dominance of Latin American
politics and markets.
large scale, long-term political and economic ties with Cuba undermined
the US economic blockade and reinforced Cuba’s links with and support by
the rest of Latin America.
Venezuela opposed the US backed coup against Haiti’s reformist President Bertram Aristide.
opposition to the US invasions of Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and (later)
Libya and its increased investment and trade ties with Iran in
opposition to US sanctions, set US plans of a global empire on a
collision course with Venezuela’s embrace of a global anti-imperialist
to secure passage of a US centered Latin American Free Trade Treaty and
incapacity to secure across the broad support in Latin America for its
Middle East wars and Iran sanctions was largely the result of Venezuelan
not be an exaggeration to say that Venezuela’s foreign policy successes
in countering US imperialist policies, especially with regard to Latin
American integration, is the main reason that Washington has persisted
in its long-term, large scale effort to overthrow the Venezuelan
escalation of its global military interventions under Obama and its
increasing belligerency toward the multiplication of independent Latin
American regional organizations, coincides with the intensification of
its violent destabilization campaign in Venezuela.
the growth of Latin American trade and investment ties with China – with
$250 billion in the pipeline over the next ten years – pioneered by
Venezuela, Washington fears the loss of the 600 million Latin American
US political offensive against Venezuela is a reaction to over 15 years
of political defeats including failed coups, resounding electoral
defeats, the loss of strategic political assets and above all decisive
set-backs in its attempts to impose US centered integration schemes.
ever, US imperial strategists today are going all-out to subvert
Venezuela’s anti-imperialist government, because they sense with the
decline of oil revenue and export earnings, double digit inflation and
consumer shortages, they can divide and subvert sectors of the armed
forces, mobilize violent street mobs via their mercenary street fighters,
secure the backing of elected opposition officials and seize power.
What is at stake in the US–Venezuelan conflict is the future of Latin
American independence and the US Empire.
READ THE BIO AND MORE ARTICLES BY
JAMES PETRAS ON AXIS OF LOGIC
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