Mike Treen on platform of May Day rally in Caracas, Venezuela, in 2006
By Mike Treen, National Director, Unite Union
(Reprinted from The Daily Blog)
The international labour movement together with all supporters of peace and social justice around the globe need to mobilise in solidarity with government and people of Venezuela.
The declaration by the President of the United States that Venezuela is an “unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States” can seem simply absurd on the face of it but it constitutes the first step towards open warfare and “regime change” as official policy.
Just such a declaration by US President Reagan in 1985 set the stage for the imposition of economic sanctions – including an economic embargo – to remove an elected government. The sanctions were followed by funding for a terrorist paramilitary war that combined with the embargo destroyed the economy and led to the electoral defeat of the governing Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) in 1990. The FSLN returned to power in 2007 and have increased their support to record levels.
The threat posed by Venezuela is the threat of a good example. The process known as the “Bolivarian Revolution” began with the election of Hugo Chavez as President in 1998. Until his death from cancer in March 2013 he led a mass process to redistribute wealth, radically increase access to health care and education, expand popular power, and challenge US domination and exploitation in the region.
Just such a threat led to the imposition of sanctions combined with military threats and attacks for half a century against Cuba. But of even more significance is that in Venezuela it is the threat of a socialist and anti-imperialist government sitting on top of what are considered the world's largest supplies of oil.
Where they can the US government continues to sponsor regime change in Latin America by constitutional or extra-legal means to remove governments they see as a threat to the economic or political interests. That has been true whether the Democrats or Republicans sit in the White House.
In Venezuela the US was deeply implicated in the military coup against President Hugo Chavez in 2002. The US State Department admitted that the US had “provided training, institution building and other support to individuals and organizations understood to be actively involved in the brief ouster” of President Hugo Chávez and his government. Hilary Clinton conceded the US was also implicated in the 2009 coup in Honduras and the US had its paws all over the removal of Paruguay's president in 2012.
Nicolas Maduro, then Foreign Minister and now President of Venezuela, speaking to a May Day Rally in 2006.
Since the failed coup in Venezuela in 2002 the US has been actively involved with financing and politically supporting every campaign by the Nicaragua opposition to create the political conditions for another coup against Chavez and his elected successor Nicolas Maduro, and their joint goal of creating a “socialism for the 21st Century”. An orchestrated series of violent protests last year led to the loss of 43 lives on both sides. Over the last few weeks the Venezuelan government has released recordings of opposition leaders discussing coup preparations, including a former deputy minister of the interior reading a recording of what is clearly a post-coup statement to be released, and confessions from some military officers involved in coup plans.
In the region the US is completely isolated. No one believes that this has anything to do with an alleged threat to democracy for Venezuelan's. Since Chavez was first elected the nation had had literally dozens of the freest and fairest electoral processes in Latin America – or the world for that matter. Much of the media, including most newspapers and television stations are privately-owned and usually deeply hostile to the government. The radically more democratic constitution adopted in 1999 also allows for recall votes, a procedure used by the opposition in unsuccessful attempts to remove Chavez.
Declaring Venezuela a threat when silence prevails over the 100,000 people in Mexico who have lost their lives in the past decade in the futile war on drugs forced on their country by the US is absurd. Most recently 43 students were slaughtered by corrupt local authorities. Decapitation has been an instrument of terror for years. Neighbouring Colombia is also the home of death squads that routinley murder unionists and journalists. There is no need to bring in the example of Saudi Arabia for the stench of hypocrisy to be overwhelming.
All of the regional organisations of Latin American nations have condemned the US sanctions. Especially strong have been the ALBA nations which brings together the more radical left wing governments. Since being formed by Cuba and Venezuela a decade ago it now includes Antigua and Barbuda, Bolivia, Dominica, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Saint Lucia as well as St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Suriname and Haiti are also slated to become members. The alliance has been able to gain from combining Venezuela's oil wealth with Cuba's huge resources in “human capital” - doctors, technicians educators to create an alliance based on peace, solidarity and popular sovereignty.
Maduro pointed out that Obama's executive order coincided with a failed coup attempt in Venezuela last month, which had links to US citizens and the US State Department and White House. “After we dismantled the coup attempt … [the US] decided to personally fulfill the task of ousting my government,” Maduro said.
Maduro slammed Washington for hypocrisy, pointing out that the US is a far bigger threat to the world, saying: “You are the real threat, who trained and created Osama Bin Laden … you are the people who created al-Qaida.” Bin Laden was trained by the CIA during the late 1970s to fight the Soviet army in Afghanistan. He said that it was a double standard that the US president is focused on the human rights of Venezuelans, saying: “Defend the human rights of the Black US citizens being killed in US cities every day, Mr Obama.”
He pointed out the historical parallels in Latin American history of similar attacks by US administrations against left-wing governments. The rhetoric being used against Venezuela was, Maduro said, like that “used against Salvador Allende in Chile”, whose socialist government was overthrown in a 1973 US backed coup. He added it was also like that “against Jacobo Arbenz in Guatemala” in 1954 when the US helped oust Arbenz's progressive government. The common discourse to justify overthrowing these elected left-wing governments, Maduro said, was accusations they had violating people's rights. Maduro also emphasised that the economic sabotage Venezuela is facing from private businesses repeats the same tactic used against Allende in Chile.
President Nicolas Maduro has responded by asking the Venezuelan congress to give him temporary emergency powers to combat imperialist aggression. I had to opportunity to hear Maduro speak to a May Day rally in Caracas in 2003. At the time he was foreign minister. He was a militant socialist and trade union leader before being elected to on the Chavista ticket to the national assembly in 2000. His speech was a powerful repudiation of imperialist aggression and defense of the revolutionary pro-worker policies of the government. He did not strike me as the kind of person to bend the knee before the dictates of the empire. Expect another page of the revolutionary process to be written.
My expectation is that there will be a further radicalisation of the revolutionary process as the government takes the steps necessary to defend themselves and the revolution from attacks.
Despite the economic difficulties the revolution faces, in part caused by a dramatic fall in oil prices, and an economic war to provoke shortages, a new poll released by International Consulting Services, featured several results that suggest Chavismo — the political project pushed by late Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez — continues to be the preferred political option for the country.
The poll, carried out on the eve of the second anniversary of the death of Chavez's death on March 5, found 62% of Venezuelans consider themselves Chavistas — “partisans … of the ideals” of the late Venezuelan leader. In other results, about 57% of Venezuelans have confidence that the Chavista government of President Nicolas Maduro will improve the economy. Despite the economic problems with many basic goods remaining scarce, only a quarter of Venezuelans regard scarcities as the country's biggest problem.
Still, there are serious social contradictions in the political and economic model left behind by Chávez that needs to be confronted and overcome. Andrés Antillano, a professor of criminology at the Universidad Central de Venezuela, has made some thoughtful comments what is happening in venezuela's in response to the latest threats on what needs to be done
Under Chavismo, we went from a deregulated economy, in the hands of the private sector, to state capitalism sustained by the appropriation and redistribution of oil revenues to the underprivileged. Notwithstanding the profound social and egalitarian nature of the policies implemented during this period…what we see in Venezuela today are signs of the exhaustion of the rentier and statist economic model.
At the same time, we have witnessed shortages and the dismantling of the productive apparatus. In this context, the ruling classes and their political organs, the parties of the right, seek to restore their power. In the economic sphere they demand liberalization and the monopoly of oil revenues. Politically, the ruling class seeks to overthrow the Bolivarian project and impose a neoliberal government to serve their interests.
The Bolivarian project is at a crossroads. The exhaustion of both the rentier model and the development model of state capitalism demands that it either take a neoliberal turn by deregulating the economy, in which the wealth of the nation would return to the wealthy, or—taking advantage of the disillusionment with the rentier model—advance towards a post-capitalist model in which productive capacities are socialized in the hands of the people.
Workers declare their support for socialism on May Day, 2006 in Caracas
Venezuela: Chavez's legacy lives in social gains
(Below, Lee Brown writes on the legacy of Chavez. It first appeared at TeleSUR English.)
When Hugo Chavez won his first election as Venezuela’s president in 1998, it was against a backdrop of a deep economic and social crisis.
Venezuela's economic performance was one of the worst in the world. Its economy per head had been falling for 25 consecutive years. Living standards had been driven down. Just a few years before Chavez came to office, more than 40% lived in extreme poverty.
This was despite the vast oil wealth that the country possessed. In the late 1950s, Venezuela's income per person was on a par with Britain.
That era came crashing down thanks to misrule and, later, the implementation of neoliberal policies by the country's political elite, which failed the Venezuelan people. As a result, Venezuela’s income per head was lower in 1998 than it had been in 1960, in real terms.
Popular revolts against this decline were brutally repressed. In one incident alone — the Caracazo rebellion in February 1989 against neoliberal policies — up to 3000 died and the constitution was suspended.
Chavez's “Bolivarian Revolution” — named after Latin American independence hero Simon Bolivar — began to reverse these decades of failure. After the state oil company was taken under full government control, in the aftermath of a coup attempt and failed oil strike in 2002-2003, the social improvements accelerated.
Arguably the most impressive achievements of the era of progressive change that began with Chavez's election are poverty-reduction programs, which have seen startling results.
When Chavez arrived in office in 1998, Venezuelan poverty levels were at 44%. The revolution has reduced this substantially to 27% today. Extreme poverty has declined from 20% to 5.4%, according to recently released figures.
Inequality has also been tackled. Using the internationally recognised measurement, the Gini coefficient, where zero represents perfect equality, inequality fell from 0.48 at the time of Chavez's election to 0.38 today.
Free-market extremism devastated the living standards of the Venezuelan people. One example is the widespread hunger that afflicted the oil-rich nation. In 1998, 21% of the population suffered from undernourishment, according to the Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations’ definition. Today, that figure is just 2%.
Likewise, the number of underweight children at the end of the pre-Chavez period was 5.3%, a figure halved by 2012. Today 95.4% of Venezuelans eat three times per day according to the National Institute of Statistics.
Social programs providing subsidised food, free meals, and free school dinners have played a key role in eradicating hunger and child malnutrition. Access to drinking water has significantly improved too, from 80% in 1998 to 96% today.
From 1983 to 1998, just 37% of the state budget went to social investment. In the 15 years since Chavez started the Bolivarian revolution, that figure has shot up to 61%.
As a result, Venezuela has risen substantially in the UN's Human Development Index.
Increased social investment led to huge improvements in education. For example, illiteracy was eradicated and Venezuela now has one of the world's highest proportion of people attending university.
Health care was also a major beneficiary of this investment. More than 80% of Venezuelans have accessed the nation's now-free public health system, with about 700 million consultations via the more than 10,000 new free health centres.
As a result, infant mortality in revolutionary Venezuela has dropped by a third. This effort is estimated to have saved hundreds of thousands of lives.
The reversal of a 25-year economic decline has seen employment opportunities flourish. Unemployment was 14.5% in 1998, a figure which, today, has been cut by two thirds, with more than 4 million jobs created since 1999. Employment in the formal sector has risen considerably to 60%.
Many more people are able to enjoy a dignified life in retirement. The number of people accessing a state pension has risen from 387,000 pre-Chavez, to more than 2.5 million today.
All this progressive change has been backed in election after election. Since Chavez took office in 1999, Venezuela has held 18 national elections, with the coalition of supporters of the Bolivarian revolution winning all but one.
That is more elections than were held during the previous 40 years of Venezuelan democracy, after the fall of the dictatorship in 1958.