By Francisco Dominguez – Aug 2, 2023
The first part in a series examining the last decade in Venezuela under the leadership of Nicolás Maduro and how the country resisted relentless imperialist attacks
This year marks 10 years since Nicolás Maduro was elected president of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela. During this period, the people of Venezuela faced some of the biggest challenges in its history, with attacks being lodged in the political, communications, and economic spheres by right-wing actors domestically and abroad, notably US authorities. As former US president Donald Trump boasted “When I left, Venezuela was ready to collapse. We would have taken it over; we would have gotten to all that oil; it would have been right next door.” Today, despite the US government’s best efforts, Venezuela continues to chart a different path in defense of Venezuela’s national sovereignty and its right to determine its own destiny.
Francisco Dominguez, secretary of the Venezuela Solidarity Campaign in the UK, chronicled this 10-year period in this series. Part one provides a succinct history of US imperialist aggression against Bolivarian Venezuela, tracing it back to the early days of Commander Hugo Chávez.
When, by a narrow margin, Nicolas Maduro was elected president of Venezuela in April 2013, the mainstream media, echoing the opposition’s routine false allegations, depicted his victory as fraud. Henrique Capriles, the right-wing candidate, refused to accept the result and called on supporters to give vent to their rage by staging protests, which turned extremely violent, leading to the death of 11 people.
Conservative currents internationally, especially in the US, thought that after Hugo Chávez’s premature death, Maduro’s presidency represented the Bolivarian Revolution’s last leg (The Economist, 14/12/2013, labeled it “Maduro’s hollow victory.”). In short, for the US, its European accomplices and Venezuelan proxies, this was the Bolivarian Revolution’s beginning of the end. Thinking the moment had arrived for a final push the opposition, at the behest of the U.S. State Department, embarked on an incessant wave of offensives aimed at the violent ousting of the Bolivarian government, the destruction of the Bolivarian constitution and the eradication of Chavismo from the face of Venezuela. One such episode in 2014, dominated by opposition street violence, lasted six months; another in 2017, also six months long, was even more violent, during which people were burned alive for being dark-colored, i.e. Chavistas.
Notwithstanding their length and violent nature, these attempts failed. The latter in 2017 was unleashed in the context of a growing economic crisis brought about by domestic economic sabotage and US unilateral coercive measures (aka sanctions). In March 2015, Obama had formalized a regime of US sanctions against Bolivarian Venezuela by declaring it “an unusual and extraordinary threat” to US national security. As against Allende in Chile, economic warfare deliberately brought about shortages of essential goods – especially food – three-digit levels of inflation, and general economic dislocation, all aimed at sowing maximum social discontent.
The consequence was a brutal attack on the standard of living of millions of Venezuelans, leading to a resounding victory at the December 2015 parliamentary elections for the opposition who came within an inch of winning two thirds of the National Assembly. The newly elected opposition president of parliament announced the removal of president Maduro “within six months.” The end looked definitely nigh and with the coming batch of US-led aggression it looked like inexorably leading to it.
With the election of Donald Trump the US massively intensified its multi-faceted warfare on the people of Venezuela. It involved a crippling economic, trade and financial blockade combined with dangerous militaristic adventures, including a terrorist attack with explosives and a mercenary incursion both aimed at the physical elimination of the civil and military leadership of the Bolivarian Revolution. By 2020, the wide-ranging US blockade had led to a 99 percent fall of oil revenues and to well over a hundred thousand unnecessary deaths. Since all these assaults failed, in despair, the US resorted to creating a parallel Venezuelan government leading to Juan Guaidó’s self-proclamation as ‘interim president’, a scheme that also failed.
Before the end of a very harsh and eventful decade (2013-23), in March 2022, a confident president Maduro – presiding over an economy set to grow in double digits – welcomed at the Miraflores presidential palace a hat-in-hand Biden delegation rather desperate for Venezuela’s oil, confirming the successful resistance by the Bolivarian government to imperial aggression.
In the upcoming series we chart (a) the cruel tests president Maduro and the people of Venezuela had to face during the intense US ‘regime change’ period of aggression from 2013 to 2023, and (b) how Venezuela under Maduro managed not only to survive the onslaught but kept Chavismo in power as the hegemonic political force it was under Hugo Chávez and playing a leading role in the struggle for socialism. No mean feat. The seeds planted by Hugo Chávez’s Bolivarian Revolution had laid deep roots, turning Venezuela into a beacon of anti-imperialist resistance against twenty-two years of US-led aggression.
US aggression against Bolivarian Venezuela
US aggression against Bolivarian Venezuela goes back to 1998, the year Hugo Chávez was elected as president. Between 1999 and 2003 US hostility took the form of a ‘blitzkrieg’: an internationally supported mobilization of an enraged civil society to swiftly oust the presidency of Hugo Chávez, depicted as an ‘abhorrent’ anomaly that needed to be thoroughly extirpated. Media demonization of Chávez, who had been inaugurated in February 1999, began as early as August that year prompted by his initiative to furnish Venezuela with a new constitution through an elected Constituent Assembly.
Chávez won the referendum in April 1999 for the Constituent Assembly with 92% of the vote (and 86% for the method of electing the assembly), with his supporters winning 125 of the 131 assembly seats. The new constitutional text was approved with 72% of the votes in a second referendum in December 1999. But while the people of Venezuela got busy refounding their broken society, the New York Times (NYT) penned an editorial warning Venezuelans to be “…wary of the methods Mr. Chávez is using. He is drawing power into his own hands, and misusing a special constitutional assembly meeting now in Caracas that is composed almost entirely of his supporters […] Mr. Chávez, a former paratroop commander who staged an unsuccessful military coup in 1992, has so far shown little respect for the compromises necessary in a democracy, which Venezuela has had for 40 years.”
Thus, the NYT and the US political establishment knew that the new Constitution had not only expropriated the old pro-US Venezuelan elite from their control of the levers of power but had also furnished the emerging Bolivarian Venezuela with an anti-neoliberal constitutional instrument. Enacting such a constitution in 1999 in a Latin America that, with the exception of a heavily isolated post-USSR Cuba, was a sea of neoliberalism is a testament to the Comandante’s political audacity. Furthermore, given the vital importance of oil revenues for Chávez’s program of social redemption, the Bolivarian Constitution identified the oil industry as a crucial state asset and stipulated that could not be privatized. Unavoidably, Venezuelan oil industry’s strategic significance for the US’s geopolitical dominance led to a confrontation between Washington and Caracas that would be exacerbated with the election of George W Bush in 2000.
By 2001 State Department officials held frequent meetings with opposition leaders, dissident military officers, business leaders, and many others. At the time the NYT quoted a US Defense official saying, “We were sending informal, subtle signs that we don’t like this guy [Chávez]”. Large amounts of money began to pour into Venezuela’s opposition outfits mainly through the National Endowment for Democracy and various other shady channels. The strategic battle between Bolivarianism and Monroism had begun in earnest and its most immediate manifestation was the April 2002 coup d’état.
Venezuela’s elite, fully aware they had the complicity and support of the United States, unleashed a ‘Chilean coup strategy’ of mass protests aimed at creating the political conditions to overthrow the government and enticing the military to stage a coup. As in Allende’s Chile, the elite mobilized middle class women, landowners, university students, the Catholic Church, business associations, right-wing political parties, journalists and the elite-owned media and dissident military officers. As a prelude, they managed to stage a ‘national stoppage’ in December 2001.
The April 2002 coup d’état was defeated by mass mobilization in just 47 hours. The ink in the world mainstream media’s printed celebrations had not yet dried when the people of Venezuela and majority sections of the army had rescued Chávez from detention and reinstated him to the presidency, making the coup-mongers run like rats from a sinking ship.
The coup defeat did not deter the US and Venezuela’s elite from their efforts to bring about chaos to oust Chávez. Counting on the support of the oil engineers and the traitorous CTV trade union federation, in 2003 the elite carried out a 68-day oil lockout of the state oil company (PDVSA) aimed at crushing the economy, leading to losses of over US$14 billion. However, with the defeat of the 2002 coup the elite lost its long-held control over the armed forces, while the defeat of the oil lockout allowed Chávez to take control over PDVSA, hitherto ‘a state within the state’.
Nevertheless, the subversion continued. On May 9, 2004 eighty-eight Colombian paramilitaries – several wearing Venezuelan military uniforms – were arrested in Caracas “while training for an assault on a military installation”. The training center was a farm estate owned by a Cuban exile, leader of the opposition coalition “Democratic Coordination”. A few hours later, 32 more were arrested outside Caracas. They planned to assault the Urban Security Command of the National Guard to capture weapons with the aim of arming 1,500 more paramilitaries to topple the government of Chávez, including his assassination. The Colombian and US governments, strongly suspected of being the masterminds, denied any involvement.
Later in 2004, Venezuela’s right-wing activated the recall referendum, a constitutional provision (unique in the world) that allows for a referendum against the president (or any other elected authority) to face a national vote halfway through their mandate that could force them out of office if the authority in question loses the vote. Openly supported by the US, the opposition turned the referendum campaign of ‘civil disobedience’ into another wave of violence, leading to the death of at least ten people. Chávez won a resounding victory, which the opposition again attributed to fraud, promising on August 15, 2004 they would produce the evidence. We are still waiting.
After decisively winning the 2006 presidential election (with 63% against 37% for the main opposition candidate), Chávez took the decision to deepen the Bolivarian process through a constitutional referendum, held in December 2007, which was defeated by a very thin margin. The opposition, enjoying huge external support, unleashed a nasty but effective campaign of lies falsely claiming the reform intended to eliminate private property, install Chávez as dictator-for-life and even that parents would lose their legal parental rights over their children to the state. This was supplemented by yet another violent campaign of civil disobedience carried out primarily by opposition university students: buses were burned, motorways blocked, and there were street confrontations with the police that the mainstream media depicted as authoritarian repression. It did the trick: many Chavista voters did not turn up to vote and the reform was rejected.
This was followed in 2008 by a coup attempt by disaffected military officers, including three generals who in September that year reportedly, planned to take over the presidential palace. Chávez denounced the plot as having the approval of the US government and took the decision to expel Patrick Duddy, US ambassador to Venezuela. Ever since, diplomatic relations between Caracas and Washington have been tense and tenuous.
With the US having failed so many times to dislodge Chávez from power, in 2008, the newly appointed State Secretary Hillary Clinton tried to get the US adopt an overtly military approach, with crucial support from ultra-right politician and staunchly pro-US Colombian President Álvaro Uribe. In 2009, Colombia signed the Defense Cooperation Agreement (DCA) which allowed the US to establish seven more military bases, ostensibly justified to strengthen ‘bilateral cooperation’ to fight against drug trafficking, terrorism and the like, but it was clear that a key target was Bolivarian Venezuela. A special pamphlet by the Venezuela Solidarity Campaign (VSC)  issued at the time concluded “…the DCA has been signed not in order to carry counter-narcotic operations but in order to hugely increase air mobility reach on the South American continent, with Venezuela, objectively, as the primary target.” Soon, Venezuela was facing aggressive militaristic provocations by US warplanes violating Venezuela’s airspace at least 14 times. Such provocations went on throughout 2010, 2011 and 2012. But to no avail: Venezuela was not intimidated and in October 2012 Hugo Chávez was re-elected president with a convincing 55 percent of the vote.
His victory was, tragically, short-lived. In June 2011, Chávez was operated on for a cancerous tumor, followed by chemotherapy. Then, throughout 2012 and 2013 he repeatedly went back to Cuba to undergo surgery to remove cancerous tumors followed by radiotherapy treatment, until that fateful March 5, 2013 when he died from cancer at the premature age of 58. The US and its accomplices breathed a sigh of relief and rubbed their hands with glee since they thought that with Chávez gone, the Bolivarian Revolution would also go with him. But they had another thing coming.
Overall, in this period (1999-2010) US strategy sought to generate either a chaotic civil war atmosphere or an actual civil war, hoping the induced instability would lead to the ousting of Chavismo or to conditions conducive to an external, US-led, military intervention. According to a report by PROVEA, a ‘non-governmental organization’ (NGO), between 1999 and 2010 there were 19,250 protests in Venezuela: 5,913 road blockings, 5,093 demos, 1,290 marches, 1,185 stoppages, 1,506 occupation of premises, plus 4,263 other forms of protests.
Such a volume and variety of protest required funding. There is a strong correlation between this golpista opposition hyperactivity and monies disbursed by the US through the National Endowment for Democracy (NED). Between 2002 and 2012, the NED injected more than US$100 million to fund ‘NGOs’ and opposition groups. More support was to follow.
 Bart Jones, The Hugo Chávez Story, The Bodley Head, 2008, p.386.
 A report by PROVEA, an opposition, US-funded ‘NGO’ registered that between 1999 and 2007 there were 11,157 different forms of protests against the Bolivarian government, that is, about 1400 per year on average (La Protesta Política en Venezuela (2001-2007, p.80).
 No to the US Militarization of Latin America, Venezuela Under Threat, Venezuela Solidarity Campaign, 2009.
 From 2011 but also in 2012, Latin America’s left wing leaders, Lula, Dilma, Cristina Kirchner, and Paraguay’s Fernando Lugo contracted cancer; raising strong suspicions that Chávez’s cancer could have been deliberated caused.
 Venezuela: Una década de protestas 2000-2010; that is an annual average of nearly two thousand.
 Eva Golinger, The Dirty Hand of the NED in Venezuela, Counterpunch, 25 April 2014, (https://www.counterpunch.org/2014/04/25/the-dirty-hand-of-the-national-endowment-for-democracy-in-venezuela/)
Francisco Dominguez, a former refugee from Chile in the UK, is Head of the Centre for Brazilian and Latin American Studies at Middlesex University, London, United Kingdom.
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