Crisis in Venezuela

In the wake of President Maduro’s Constituent Assembly

Anti-U.S. sign at a Aug. 12, 2017 rally in Caracas, Venezuela. PHOTO: PSUV
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In August, the Committee for Revolutionary International Regroupment (CRIR) met in Mexico City to discuss key international issues with participants from Mexico, the U.S., Argentina, Costa Rica, and the Dominican Republic. The crisis in Venezuela was at the top of the list. This article represents FSP’s contribution. To learn more about CRIR, see the end of this article.

After an insurrectionary wave of popular rebellion that lasted from April to the end of July, President Nicolás Maduro has consolidated power through the election of a Constituent Assembly. Its job is to “transform the state, create a new legal framework and draft a new Constitution” that will presumably strengthen his regime.

The assembly is Maduro’s answer to the protests that resulted in thousands of injuries, hundreds of arrests and over 120 deaths. A deep economic crisis that included sky-high inflation and shortages of food, combined with widespread dissatisfaction over his cancellation of state and local elections and his efforts to disband the National Assembly, had ignited the protests.

In the months prior to going to the polls, a growing sector of the population, including some Chavistas, opposed Maduro’s insistence on calling elections for the Constituent Assembly. However, the July vote is a victory for Maduro over the protesters and the center-right, business dominated political opposition organized in Mesa de Unidad Democrática (MUD). For now, MUD is divided over which tactics to pursue and street protests have ended.

Trump responds. President Donald Trump’s reaction to the Constituent Assembly election reeked of imperialist arrogance and hypocrisy. He labeled the Maduro regime a dictatorship, slapped sanctions on the U.S. assets of Venezuelan officials and threatened military intervention.

For years the U.S. has been channeling millions of dollars to the anti-Chavista opposition. Trump, who didn’t even win the popular vote in his own country, was hardly in a position to pronounce the overthrow of democracy in Venezuela — but that didn’t stop him.

After imposing sanctions, he quickly backed away from blocking Venezuelan oil imports since this would shut down the world’s largest concentration of refineries along the Gulf Coast and create a spike in gas prices for U.S. consumers. Failing on every front, his military threats backfired and unified all of Venezuela’s neighbors against U.S. intervention, even those opposed to the Maduro regime.

The contradictions of Chavismo. From its inception, Hugo Chavez led a contradictory, unstable reform movement. Within the military it promoted the creation of a “progressive bourgeoisie” against a powerful oligarchic elite. Against imperialism, it denounced the World Bank, sided with OPEC, and formed ALBA, a Latin American trade bloc. To the Venezuelan people it promised democracy and freedom from want through socialism. During his rule, Chavez managed to balance among these three forces, using one against another while maintaining a capitalist state.

However, problems with this model of rule spiked when the worldwide economic crisis struck Venezuela. Global oil prices plummeted, producing massive hardship since oil sales then and now provide 90 percent of government revenues. This crisis weakened Maduro’s ability to deliver food, education and housing in order to contain the conflict between capitalists and workers.

In April 2013, Venezuelan voters expressed their dissatisfaction with Maduro by electing him by a paper thin 1.5 percent margin of victory over Henrique Capriles, the MUD candidate. In early 2014, shortages of food became severe and the country experienced weeks of street protests.

Crises mounted over the next two years. The government devised a series of currency exchange programs that favored Maduro’s business backers. These firms received dollars from government coffers at favorable rates to purchase consumer goods in the global market. These goods were supposed to go on sale at controlled prices, but massive corruption and the practice of hoarding, combined with selling merchandise on the black market, infuriated Venezuelans. So, as the sector of the capitalists loyal to the government gained influence and wealth, Maduro’s opponents grew.

Skyrocketing inflation added to the daily suffering of impoverished workers and the poor and protests grew with MUD playing a leading role.

Two factions of bourgeois nationalist rule. The battle between the Maduro regime and MUD is one between two opposing factions of the Venezuelan ruling class. MUD represents the oligarchic elite. Opposing MUD is the boliburguesía, a capitalist sector that rose to power with the establishment of Chavez’s Bolivarian Republic. It is now bolstered by the Maduro government, including the military.

With the decline in oil prices, these two factions engaged in an off-and-on again series of meetings between 2014 and 2017. They sought a negotiated solution to the crisis because neither wanted to cancel the foreign debt, nationalize the banks, or do away with state corruption. Nor did they want to change the class nature of the Venezuelan state and empower the working class, the peasants and the dispossessed poor. But as living conditions worsened, these negotiations broke down. Today, both sides are facing increased foreign pressure to resume talks.

For now, Maduro maintains power. The revolutionary upsurge has waned, the military is standing by him to protect their own economic interests and the Constituent Assembly is set to write a new constitution to guarantee the maintenance of capitalism and private property.

Maduro has already declared that he wants to orient Venezuela away from oil production to the extraction of other natural resources, starting in the mineral rich Orinoco region where 10 billion dollars of contracts have been signed with foreign companies. His aim is the same as all bourgeois nationalist regimes dependent on the investment of foreign capital: to impose conditions of labor peace to guarantee the generation of profits and a healthy return on foreign capital investments.

Hugo Chavez’s falsely named “21st century socialism” is clearly at a dead-end.

Stand with Venezuelans. Revolutionary socialists have a responsibility to do everything in our power to oppose U.S. intervention in Venezuela. At the same time, we must recognize the legitimate right of Venezuelans to oppose the corruption of Maduro’s government and the failed policies that have made life unbearable for the majority of the country’s population. We should demand that Maduro cancel the foreign debt and all interest payments and use the funds to immediately purchase food and medicine especially for women, children, adolescents and the elderly who suffer the most from the extreme conditions of deprivation.

We must speak the truth and say that only independent, working-class power in neighborhoods, workplaces and regional assemblies or soviets can begin to forge a secure future for the workers and oppressed in Venezuela.

• U.S. hands off Venezuela!

• For workers’ power in Venezuela!

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