Under siege: Socialist Venezuela pushes back against U.S. and its allies
Venezuela’s Constituent Assembly sing the national anthem on the steps of the National Assembly in Caracas, Venezuela, Friday, Aug. 4. | Ariana Cubillos / AP

“The crisis in Venezuela today poses a direct threat to international peace and security. Venezuela is an increasingly violent narco-state that threatens the region, the hemisphere, and the world.” This is what U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley told the UN Security Council on November 13. Venezuela, China, Russia, Bolivia, and Egypt boycotted the U.S.-chaired session.

The week before, the U.S. government warned U.S. bondholders attending an upcoming meeting between Venezuela’s government and its creditors that they would be violating U.S. sanctions against President Nicolas Maduro’s socialist government. They risked imprisonment for decades and the leveling of big fines against their business entities. The Trump administration also added ten more Venezuelan government officials to a long list of others already facing U.S. sanctions.

Yet the Maduro government, custodian of Venezuela’s socialist project founded by the late President Hugo Chavez, is holding on, despite fearsome economic challenges and a mobilized rightwing political opposition fortified by a combative business class and U.S. support. Crucially, four months of violent, even murderous, nationwide street demonstrations earlier this year didn’t succeed in making Venezuela ungovernable.

Coming together as the “Great Patriotic Pole,” Maduro’s United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) and allies prevailed overwhelmingly in elections October 15, securing governorships in 18 of 23 states. Defeat prompted former presidential candidate Enrique Capriles to abandon the Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD) electoral coalition, the opposition’s political arm.

Polling in early November by the “Hinterlaces” organization showed that the October election results and anticipation of municipal elections set for December have “contributed to a climate of peace.”

On November 13, government officials met with 400 representatives of international creditors. As the meeting closed, the Maduro government indicated arrangements were in place to re-structure $3.5 billion worth of its $9 billion debt claimed by Russia. Nothing was said about rescheduling payments to China on obligations amounting to $23 billion, but a Chinese government spokesperson expressed confidence that Venezuela was “capable of adequately managing the debt problem.” While the meeting was in session, the credit-rating agency Standard & Poor’s declared Venezuela’s government to be in partial default on its obligations.

The government’s financial embarrassment and the serious inflation ravaging Venezuelan society stem in part from a worldwide fall in oil prices beginning in 2014. A recent 33 percent rise in oil prices and a corresponding increase in exports, mainly oil, may represent a silver lining for the country.

Currently, a National Constituent Assembly, installed on August 18, is legislating in place of Venezuela’s National Assembly, under right-wing control since early 2016. The Assembly has been considering six proposals from the Maduro government aimed at stabilizing the economy. It approved one of them on November 14, a bill that would, according to Venezuelanalysis.com, “stimulat[e] good practices in production, distribution, and commercialization” in the food distribution system and ensure “food sovereignty.”

Unfortunately, according to analyst Rachael Boothroyd-Rojas, the proposed new laws “do not include any concrete economic measures. In general they seek to ‘establish a policy of agreed prices,’ based on principles of ‘social peace.’”

In the wake of the government’s electoral victory in October, talks with representatives of the MUD opposition coalition will be resuming December 1 in the Dominican Republic. Negotiators held closed-door meetings on procedural matters under the eyes of former Spanish President José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero and the Dominican Foreign Minister. Two earlier attempts at talks failed.

Additionally, Maduro recently unveiled a plan to increase sugar production. Speaking to members of Workers’ Productive Councils and to sugar workers, Maduro indicated that, “All crop sectors, all productive areas of the country, must be submitted to a process of productive re-organization as you (workers) are doing with sugar.”

For Venezuela’s Bolivarian socialist movement, the struggle is uphill. The European Union is on the way to inflicting travel bans and freezing Venezuelan assets. Canada, alleging human rights violations by Venezuela’s government, has imposed sanctions. It also hosted a recent meeting of the “Lima Group” of nations whose object, according to TeleSur, is to isolate Venezuela. Meeting in Toronto were representatives of Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, and Peru.

U.S. machinations portend real danger. A report appearing on resumenlatinoamericano.org alleges that the CIA has taken several thousand young Venezuelan men under its wing in the Amazonian regions of Peru “in order to form paramilitary groups.” The report suggests that they soon will be returning to Venezuela to undermine Maduro’s government.

Additionally, the U.S. Southern Command in November assembled U.S., Brazilian, Peruvian, and Colombian troops in Tabatinga, a Brazilian town on the Amazon River. They were operating under the façade of collectively preparing for natural disasters. Actually, according to at least one critic, they were gearing up for regime change in Venezuela.

Meanwhile, Venezuela’s United Nations ambassador, Rafael Ramirez, denounced the United States for “abusing its prerogatives as a Security Council member and for violating the UN Charter to impose its “geopolitical agenda.” He reminded the world: “It remains paradoxical that the United States tries to present itself to the world as a defender of human rights when it applies the death penalty, discriminates against its minorities, mistreats and assaults immigrants, contemplates torture, has prisons like Guantanamo and a long history of wars and invasions.”


W. T. Whitney Jr.
W. T. Whitney Jr.

W.T. Whitney Jr. is a political journalist whose focus is on Latin America, health care, and anti-racism. A Cuba solidarity activist, he formerly worked as a pediatrician, lives in rural Maine.