Trump is ramping up his campaign to overthrow the Maduro government in Venezuela. He has imposed crippling sanctions and is even threatening military intervention, continuing a bloody two-century history of US imperialism asserting its “interests” in Latin America – in reality the interests of big business.
Ever since Hugo Chavez was democratically elected president of Venezuela in 1999 and talked about transforming Venezuela along “socialist” lines while implementing extensive social reforms, the US has been out to undermine or overthrow him and his successor, Nicolás Maduro.
The Trump administration has pulled together an unholy international alliance stretching from the Spanish “socialist” government to the far right leader of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro, to back Juan Guaido’s claim to be the real president of Venezuela. All of this is done in the name of “restoring democracy.”
But one cannot separate the US-led attempt to depose the Venezuelan government from the fact that Venezuela has the largest proven oil reserves in the world and that US imperialism is increasingly in competition with Chinese, and to a lesser degree, Russian imperialism in Latin America. Both China and Russia back Maduro.
While the Democrats claim to be resisting Trump, it is remarkable that they are prepared to put their faith in him and Bolsonaro to “save the people of Venezuela.” Their real position is that deposing Maduro is necessary for the interests of big business which they and the Republicans both defend.
Trump himself is undoubtedly looking for a quick and easy foreign policy victory. But an actual military intervention, which the majority of Venezuelans oppose, could lead to civil war and massive opposition across Latin America. The sanctions, while allegedly aimed at helping the Venezuelan people, will actually make the economic situation they face substantially worse. Genuine socialists oppose the sanctions, which are a modern form of siege warfare, and all threats of military intervention.
It is of course true that the ordinary people of Venezuela are suffering a devastating economic and humanitarian crisis, and a majority no longer have confidence in the Maduro administration. Something must change quickly.
Despite identifying as a socialist, Maduro has been unwilling to stand up to foreign and domestic capitalist forces by bringing the banks and large corporations into democratic public ownership. Maduro tried to maintain stability by placating corporations with lucrative government contracts and turning to China against the US, for massive loans. Increasingly, oil revenue was used to pay back loans from foreign banks rather than for the needs of the people. This directly led to worsening conditions.
Instead of uniting and empowering the working class and the poor to fight against the elite, Maduro has been using undemocratic and repressive measures to quell growing discontent in the working class. In reality, Venezuela is now run by an unaccountable and corrupt bureaucratic caste which has betrayed the promise of the “Bolivarian Revolution” led by Hugo Chavez. But Chavez himself failed to break with the capitalist class and this laid the basis for the present disaster.
This crisis, further exacerbated by Maduro’s policies, is used by the capitalist establishment – including Trump and leading Democrats – to point to the alleged dangers of socialism. Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer vigorously clapped when Trump said in his State of the Union speech, “we will never be a socialist country.” Comparisons with Venezuela are being used to smear “democratic socialists” like Bernie Sanders and AOC and their pro-working class demands.
But the history of Latin America, as well as the crisis faced by working people inside the US – increasing poverty and inequality while the billionaire class enriches itself, broken healthcare and infrastructure, the trillion-dollar student debt, and the environmental crisis – shows that capitalism is not the solution to the crisis in Venezuela.
To prevent Maduro’s bureaucratic regime being replaced by a vicious, right wing, neoliberal regime that would give US capitalism full access to the resources of Venezuela requires building a new political force that truly represents the interests of the working class and the poor in Venezuela.
Such a political force could win over the majority of Venezuelans on the basis of a genuine socialist and internationalist program of working people taking the banks and large corporations immediately into democratic public ownership, creating a massive public jobs program, defending democratic rights, and raising living standards. But such a victory could only be secured by calling on the working class all over Latin America and in North America for solidarity against global imperialism, capitalism and all the violence and suffering that comes with it.
By Calvin Priest