The assault against the Bolivarian revolution has intensified in the recent days and weeks. Editorials and front pages in US and Spanish newspapers are screaming about hunger in Venezuela and demanding the removal of the “dictatorial regime”. Ongoing scarcity problems have led to instances of looting. The right-wing opposition is attempting to trigger a presidential recall referendum, but is also threatening violent action and appealing to foreign powers, including in some case for military intervention. What is really happening in Venezuela and how can these threats be faced?
On Friday May 13th, Venezuelan president Maduro extended the “Economic Emergency Decree” which had given him special powers in January, and further decreed a 60-day State of Emergency which includes sweeping powers to deal with foreign military threats and to deal with problems of food production and distribution.
As was to be expected, the world’s capitalist media joined in a chorus of denunciation, screaming about a “dictatorship”, while one of the main right-wing opposition leaders, Capriles Radonski made a public appeal to disobey the decree. The threats, however, are very real. It is worth giving a few examples. A month ago,an editorial in the Washington Post openly called for “political intervention” by Venezuela’s neighbours. At the weekend, former Colombian president Alvaro Uribe, at a “Concordia Summit” in Miami, made an open call for the Venezuelan Armed Forces to carry out a coup or, failing that, for foreign military intervention against “the tyranny”.
The Venezuelan right-wing opposition has made repeated appeals for the Organisation of American States to use its “Democratic Charter” to intervene against president Maduro. They feel emboldened by the successful removal of Dilma Rousseff in Brazil and want to go down the same road as soon as possible, by any means necessary, legal or illegal. Influential Venezuelan right-wing journalist and blogger Francisco Toro (editor of the Caracas Chronicles) has just written an article openly discussing the pros and cons of a coup, which he says would be within the constitution and “The Opposite of a Crime”.
Today, the Venezuelan government reported violation of the country’s airspace by US military aircraft.
In an attempt to capitalise on the severe economic problems the country is facing, the reactionary opposition has been busy trying to create a situation of chaos and violence which would justify a coup or foreign intervention to expedite the removal of president Nicolás Maduro. There have been incidents of violence in Zulia and Tachira. There are constant, mostly false, rumours of looting and rioting.
Imports dropped by 18.7% in 2015 due to collapsing oil prices, forcing Venezuelans to queue up for government-regulated goods or purchase on the highly inflated black market. (Jorge Silva/Reuters)
A very serious crisis
I have been involved in the defence of the Bolivarian revolution for more than 13 years now, visited the country often and written about it on a regular basis. None of what I have just described is really new. Since the very beginning, when Chavez was elected in 1998, and particularly since the enabling laws in December 2001, the Venezuelan oligarchy and imperialism have been engaged in a constant campaign of harassment, violence, destabilisation, coups, lies and slanders, diplomatic pressure, economic sabotage, you name it, they have done it.
This time, however, something is different. On all the previous occasions, the revolutionary will of the Bolivarian masses of workers, peasants and the poor, has defeated the counter-revolutionary attempts to put an end to the revolution. This was the case even against the coup in April 2002 and then the lockout and sabotage of the oil industry in December of the same year, before the revolution was able to grant any real improvements in living standards. Those came mainly after the government was able to get full control of the state-owned oil company in 2003.
For ten years, the revolution was able to grant widespread reforms and massively improve the living standards of the masses. This was accompanied by a process of political radicalisation in which the late president Chávez and the revolutionary masses pushed each other forward. Socialism was declared as the aim of the Bolivarian revolution, there were wide ranging experiences of workers’ control, factories were occupied and expropriated, companies were re-nationalised. Millions became active at all levels in an attempt to take their future into their own hands. The motor force of the revolution and its main source of strength which allowed it to thwart all the attempts of the oligarchy and imperialism were the revolutionary masses, active, politically aware and engaged at all levels.
Of course, this period was helped by high oil prices (which reached a peak of over $140 a barrel in 2008). The government could use a massive amount of money from oil revenues to fund social programs which benefited millions (in education, healthcare, food, housing, pensions, etc). The question of taking over the means of production was not immediately posed.
Capitalism cannot be regulated
Measures were taken which limited the normal functioning of the free market capitalist economy in order to defend the revolution against the sabotage of the ruling class. These included foreign exchange controls (to prevent the flight of capital) and price controls on basic food products (to defend the purchasing power of the poor).
Soon, the capitalists found a way around this. Foreign exchange controls became a swindle and resulted in a massive transfer of hard currency from oil revenues directly into the pockets of unscrupulous capitalists. How did that happen? The government instituted a subsidised foreign exchange rate which was to be used to import basic products (food and medical supplies) as well as parts for industry.
Instead, private capitalists applied for preferential dollars which they then syphoned into the black market (which developed as an inevitable side effect of currency controls) or to offshore bank accounts. Thus we witnessed the incredible situation where imports in volume decreased, while imports in value (in dollars) massively increased. Marxist economist Manuel Sutherland has worked out the figures for imports of pharmaceutical products:
The red column represents pharmaceutical imports in millions of Kg, the blue column represents their value in millions of US$. Source: http://www.rebelion.org
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