Venezuela reaching overseas to help build stronger domestic economy

Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro was touring the world in January as troubles mounted at home. His political opposition was protesting inflation and shortages.  Foreign experts were predicting imminent financial collapse. Maduro’s leadership of Venezuela’s Bolivarian revolution and its socialist agenda appeared shaky.

The U.S government finances Maduro’s political opposition just as it did that of his predecessor, the charismatic Hugo Chavez. U.S. and European media have regularly denounced Venezuelan governments as repressive. U.S. intrusions accentuated after Maduro’s narrow electoral victory of April 2013. The United States instituted sanctions in late December, 2014. Alleged police violence in subduing anti-Maduro street protests earlier in the year became the pretext. U.S. media said nothing about demonstrations having taken place mostly in well-to-do urban neighborhoods or about the responsibility of rioters for most of the killings that occurred.

The nation’s economy is in trouble. In December, Venezuela’s Central Bank declared a recession and indicated inflation had been 63.6 percent over the previous 12 months. High demand for dollars, removal of which from the country is restricted, fuels a black market. Oil prices have fallen enough to cause difficulties in covering costs of production. With crude oil sales accounting for 95 percent of Venezuela’s export income, foreign exchange revenues are down 30 percent. Blackouts and shortages of basic consumer goods are common.

Maduro spokespersons blame private distributors for shortages, claiming they disrupt supply channels and hoard food and supplies. On Jan. 12, authorities seized a warehouse in Zulia state and found “[o]ver 1.5 million diapers; 360,000 kilos of detergent, 277 thousand units of soap, and 14,000 units of baby formula; [also] corn flour, black beans, rice, shampoo, and other items.” Outside stores with empty shelves, opposition protests were being prepared.

Yet President Maduro was away and traveling. In early January he traveled from China to Iran, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Algeria, and Russia – all oil-producing countries.

Maduro and his key ministers attended a meeting in Beijing attended by Chinese government leaders and representatives of almost all the CELAC nations (the Community of Latin American and Caribbean Nations, a grouping of all Western Hemisphere countries except the U.S and Canadza). Prior to Maduro’s arrival, his deputies had conferred with Chinese officials. Before leaving, Maduro was able to announce that China would be providing Venezuela with $20 billion in new investments, this after loaning $45 billion over the previous ten years. And, oil exports to China, presently half a million barrels of crude per day, would double over the next year.

So Venezuela, contending with the world’s dominant military and economic power, seems not to be isolated. After visits to Iran and Qatar, Maduro told a TeleSur reporter that, “We [of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, OPEC] will be taking corrective measures so that the petroleum market returns to the level where it should be.” He insisted, “We must not utilize petroleum as a cover for forcing countries to submit. That would be to return to wars and barbarism, and cannot be.”  Maduro also obtained a new credit line from banks in Qatar.

The drama of this story is noteworthy. Venezuelan analyst Jesús Rafael Gamarra Luna suggests it’s about history.  Venezuela is dealing “the last political blow that … defines in a pristine and clear way the beginning of a new epoch for humanity.” Specifically, “a strategic alliance was made with China that assures development of the Plan for the Homeland. A major international rearguard is being built for the development of socialism, of a world at peace. It gives Latin America and the Caribbean the best prospect for sustainable human development.” Not only is “the beginning of the end of Yankee imperialism” at hand, but we “are fashioning a new geometry of power, a new multipolar world [and] Commander Chavez planned it that way.”

Cuban journalist Hedelberto López Blanch adds that, “The times are past where a single country can promulgate international decisions unilaterally. [Alliances] have appeared that make this world more multi-polar,” among them “UNASUR, MERCOSUR, ALBA, CELAC, CARICOM, ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations), G-77, and the Euro-Asiatic Economic Union.”

International friends are useful. Revolutionary Cuba, for example, stays on course due in part to help over the years from the Soviet Union, Latin American countries, and nations voting in the UN General Assembly. Cautionary tales from Guatemala (1954), the Dominican Republic (1965), Chile (1973), and Haiti (2004) are relevant.  Presidents Jacobo Arbenz, Salvador Allende, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, and Dominican “Constitutionalist” rebel Francisco Caamaño were unprotected.  Alone, none could fend off U.S. intervention. Now, however, with linkages on the way, Venezuela’s emancipatory project has a chance of surviving.

Photo: President Maduro (right) meets with Chinese president Xi Jin-ping.  |  Andy Wong/AP


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.