People in the United States are being hit with an avalanche of propaganda about Venezuela and the government of President Nicolás Maduro. This happens in the run up to every U.S. war. The tactic is to psychologically prepare people to accept the coming aggression by connecting it to a noble cause. The information war always precedes the real war.
The ANSWER Coalition has issued an anti-war call to action — based on opposition to the U.S.-backed coup, sanctions and war — which allows people with varying opinions of the Venezuelan government to find the necessary points of unity to take action together. The PSL agrees that this is the correct approach for building the movement. With that said, we think it is critical to challenge the mass media’s depiction of the Venezuelan government.
That demonization is constant — led by Donald Trump, Mike Pence, John Bolton and Marco Rubio and then echoed by the “opposition” like Nancy Pelosi, Joe Biden, CNN and the New York Times. It is repeated so often that it has an impact even on progressive people who are against a new war. In opposing a coup or intervention, many will quickly add “of course I don’t support Maduro” who is “dictatorial,” “corrupt,” and “undemocratic” or “has mismanaged the economy.” But is this really true, or is it just propaganda of the war-makers themselves?
Is Maduro a ‘dictator’?
If President Maduro is a dictator, why has he allowed large demonstrations to take place on a regular basis calling for his ouster, promoted by huge private media corporations? Does a dictatorship allow 11 opposition parties to take part in elections, as happened in the most recent vote the country held last December?
Even the U.S.-backed coup leader Juan Guaidó, who pronounced himself president and every day calls for the military to mutiny and for a hostile foreign power to intervene, is free to travel around the capital city giving speeches and holding meetings as part of his campaign to overthrow the government.
Is the electoral system fraudulent?
Venezuela has had 24 elections since Chavez was first elected in 1998. International observer missions have long verified the electoral system as free, fair and top-notch. The right-wing opposition even won some of these elections and didn’t claim fraud then! The system is unchanged since then. The claim of electoral fraud has not been backed by evidence; it has been made precisely because the opposition could not find a way to dislodge the governing socialist party and President Maduro.
What about the images of violence on the streets?
Opposition protests large and small take place all the time in Venezuela without incident. Following Maduro’s first election in 2013, right-wing forces initiated a series of riots called “guarimbas” in 2014 that claimed 43 lives. The majority of the 43 people killed were bystanders or others who were targeted by the rioters, including nine members of the police or national guard. They set up barricades and barbed wire to close off intersections and whole neighborhoods, and commit horrific violence against those who stood in their way.
Elvis Rafael Durán was one of their victims. His father Luis recalled two years after his death, “On [my son’s] way home he crashed into a barbed wire that was hanging across the boulevard and he was decapitated. … If these people hadn’t called for these violent acts, none of this would have happened. My son would not have lost his life.” In 2014, an opposition demonstration marched on a government agency that provides free housing to the poor and attempted to burn down the building, which included a nursery filled with children!
The opposition revived these tactics in 2017 with renewed brutality and with their extreme white supremacy on full display. One of their victims was a young Afro-Venezuelan named Orlando Figuera, who was stabbed multiple times, then doused with gasoline and burned alive.
The riots were aimed at escalating the conflict with Venezuela’s government to give the image of instability or provoke the sort of repression which could usher in an international intervention. Any government would punish the perpetrators of such violence. One opposition “freedom fighter” celebrated by U.S. politicians like Marco Rubio was Oscar Perez, who was killed in a shootout while being arrested. His crime? He had hijacked a helicopter and dropped grenades on the Venezuelan Supreme Court.
Despite all this, the government has cracked down on police excesses. After violent anti-government protests in late 2016, for example, seven police officers were arrested and charged with “violations of fundamental rights.” In 2014, a police officer was charged with the murder of an opposition protester despite the fact that he was surrounded and being pelted with rocks. Maduro’s interior minister defended the officer’s arrest, saying, “We will be relentless in the application of justice and the law.”
Are opposition leaders being arrested?
The right-wing leaders who were arrested and jailed, like Leopoldo Lopez, Freddy Guevara and David Smolansky, were those who organized and encouraged this violent movement. They were not arrested because of their beliefs. This is who the U.S. considers “political prisoners.” Opposition parties and leaders, drawing on huge sums from the country’s upper class and U.S. agencies, continue to organize and agitate openly. One such opposition leader Henri Falcon ran in the 2018 presidential election and received 2 million votes (just under 20 percent). He accepted his defeat to Maduro.
What about the removal of opposition parties?
Some of the opposition parties that boycotted the last few elections have been de-listed by the government. That is true, but hardly a scandal. In most states in the United States too, a third party is only on the ballot if it reaches a certain threshold in votes in the last election, and if it fails to do so it has to start from scratch.
Did Maduro ‘ruin the economy’?
The country is in the midst of a serious economic crisis. But laying the blame on Maduro ignores both the causes of the crisis and the government’s response.
The main reason for the economic problems is the historic collapse of the price of oil that began in 2014. For the last 100 years, Venezuela has depended on oil almost exclusively to fund its national budget and acquire foreign currency earnings. The Bolivarian Revolution has led to enormous social progress since Hugo Chavez’s election in 1998, but it has not yet been able to overcome this legacy of foreign domination, a difficult task that few countries have been able to accomplish.
The price of oil reached a peak of more than $105 per barrel in June 2014 and then fell dramatically to under $35 in February 2016.
This has been greatly exacerbated by U.S. sanctions against the industry that has now turned into a full-blown blockade, which Trump’s National Security Adviser John Bolton estimates will cost Venezuela about $30 million a day. At the urging of the United States in late 2017, Belgian financial services firm Euroclear froze $1.65 billion of Venezuelan public funds — including $450 million of cash! — that the government was attempting to use to purchase food and medicine. In January, the Bank of England essentially plundered $1.2 billion worth of Venezuelan gold that the government had deposited with them, announcing that they would only allow the coup leader Guaidó to access the assets. This is pure colonial looting.
Is the economic crisis because of socialism?
While the Bolivarian Revolution and Venezuelan government have declared that their project is to build socialism and have made major strides in that direction, the vast majority of the economy is still in the hands of capitalists. The private sector controls 50 percent of production and distribution of food, 80 percent of personal hygiene items, 70 percent of pharmaceutical items, and 80 percent of clothes and shoes.
Venezuela exists in a global order dominated by hostile capitalist classes, to whom it has to sell its exports, such as oil, and from whom it has to import goods as wide-ranging as food to technology and spare parts. Even the state-owned and nationalized enterprises have to operate by the rules of those foreign corporations, banks and creditors. All this creates a large toolkit for the forces of capitalism — not socialism — to sabotage, extort and undermine Venezuela’s economic development.
What about the inflation?
In 2003, Hugo Chávez instituted currency exchange controls to keep the Venezuelan elite from taking their money out of the country and its banks, exchanging it for dollars, which would leave the country broke and collapse its currency. Only certain amounts of currency could be exchanged for dollars and it had to go through government approved institutions.
This led to an underground exchange of currency that widened over time. When oil prices collapsed, the government could have done what the governments of the rich do: cut off all social programs, sell off government assets to private investors, and let the poor fend for themselves and starve. Instead, the government continued to finance these programs and import food and medicine with its dwindling foreign currency reserves. The government tried to issue debt to investors to stabilize its finances, like so many others do, but U.S. sanctions and a pullout by international capital limited this. In response, the Maduro government printed more money to import needed food and technology (for the people). This increased inflationary pressures, however.
There is also considerable evidence that suggests the U.S. Federal Reserve devalued Venezuelan currency at various moments for political reasons. Meanwhile, privately run websites like DolarToday, publishes wildly inflated estimates of the “true” value of the Venezuelan currency relative to the U.S. dollar. DolarToday is run by Gustavo Díaz, a former Venezuelan military officer who participated in the failed 2002 coup. This constitutes a form of psychological warfare constantly throwing workers and businesses into doubt about the real value of their wages and products. With each exchange rate spike, stores increased their prices, but, fearing future instability, did not then lower prices in equal measure when the exchange rate declined. This too accelerated inflation.
Meanwhile, private distributors and importers hoarded goods to inflate their costs and deepen the social crisis. State-subsidized and price-controlled goods (such as gasoline) have been pilfered into the underground market and resold at huge profits at the Colombian border. For instance, one raid conducted by security forces in 2015 uncovered a stockpile of 176,000 liters of gasoline, 1,260 liters of vehicle oil, 2,000 cases of beer, two tons of sugar, three tons of rice, a half ton of cooking oil and nearly 15 tons of other essential food goods.
Altogether these factors created a crisis of confidence in the currency as a whole. Mistakes and mismanagement are of course part of the problem — as the government has always declared — but at its core Venezuela has been punished by international capitalism for continuing to prioritize the needs of the poor throughout this economic downturn and against the sanctions.
Is the government letting people starve?
No. Six million families now benefit from a new initiative called Local Committees for Supply and Production that directly distributes packages of essential food and other consumer goods on a regular basis to those who are most affected by inflation.
The Venezuelan government has repeatedly raised the minimum wage to try and make up for inflationary pressures. Other steps include making the metro transportation system of Caracas, although already affordable, completely free so people can go to work and school unimpeded by finances.
Are all the country’s resources being stolen by the Venezuelan leadership, as the U.S. government claims?
There is of course bureaucratic corruption in Venezuela, as the government readily admits, and as there is in many countries. But in the face of this crisis, the Venezuelan government has focused on defending the living standards of poor and working people. In 2016, during the collapse of oil prices, the Venezuelan government allocated 73 percent of its budget to social programs.
In 2017, Maduro announced a new program aimed at guaranteeing jobs to young people called Chamba Juvenil. Nearly 200,000 youths enrolled in the program. Venezuelan youth, especially those historically excluded from higher education because of poverty, now enjoy free education and real opportunity, thanks to 45 public universities and colleges that have been created in 20 years of the Bolivarian Revolution.
Perhaps the Maduro government’s most impressive social program is the Grand Housing Mission Venezuela, an initiative to give free or nearly free homes to every Venezuelan who is in need of dignified housing. At the beginning of this year, the Housing Mission reached a new milestone: 2.5 million new homes constructed and distributed to the people. Taking an average family size of four, this means one-third of Venezuela’s 30 million people benefiting from the program. Imagine the U.S. government — which is far richer — providing homes to 100 million poor people!
What about the medical shortages?
Venezuela’s constitution guarantees the right to medical care, and more than 20,000 Cuban doctors and nurses provide free care to the population. With Cuban-Venezuelan cooperation, thousands of Venezuelans have been trained to become the new generation of doctors.
But these health gains have been threatened by U.S. sanctions and even right-wing violence targeting these facilities and doctors. In 2018, Venezuela’s purchase order of five major medical shipments was blocked by U.S. banks under government order. The year’s vaccination program for children was delayed for five months, and the country’s 60,000-plus diabetics were denied insulin, again because of U.S. sanctions.
Why is the Maduro government blocking ‘humanitarian aid’?
The United Nations and Red Cross have both declared that the “aid” at the Colombian border does not meet the definition of humanitarian, which has to be neutral, apolitical and requested by the receiving country. Why would Venezuela allow the very countries that have looted its resources and treasury to now pretend to be for “humanitarian aid”? It rightly views this as political theater to try and humiliate the government in the media and provoke it into a military conflict.
Venezuela has not rejected aid from its international friends. Venezuelan Health Minister Carlos Alvarado announced last week the arrival of 933 tons of medicines and medical supplies from China, Cuba, and the Pan American Health Organization. Earlier this week, President Maduro announced that 300 tons of Russian aid is scheduled to arrive soon. This is more than 10 times the amount being “offered” by USAID, whose director has been giving militant speeches calling for regime change in Venezuela.
There is no need to bow before the lies about Venezuela from Trump, Bolton or Senator Marco Rubio. There is a reason that the Maduro government continues to enjoy its widest support among the country’s poor and working class, even though they have been hit hardest by the economic crisis. Millions see that the government and United Socialist Party has consistently tried to make society more just, equal, participatory and independent — and that is precisely why U.S. imperialism and the country’s oligarchy are trying to strangle it.