In March 2020, when the rest of the world was battling Covid-19, Donald Trump was upping the ante in the long-standing U.S. drive to overthrow the government of Venezuela. Pentagon officials admitted the president was trying to “redirect attention” from criticism of his handling of the pandemic.
The U.S. Department of Justice charged President Nicolás Maduro and other Venezuelan officials with narcoterrorism and international cocaine trafficking. Then the administration called for a “transitional government” excluding Maduro and sent a huge force to the waters off Venezuela. A similar mobilization was mounted in 1989 when the U.S. invaded Panama to remove Manuel Noriega from power. In May, an attempted opposition-backed invasion that included U.S. mercenaries was apprehended on Venezuela’s shore.
The U.S. often intervenes in other nations on behalf of its capitalists. In Latin America alone, between 1898 and today, it directly or covertly overthrew governments 43 times by one count, failing twice (Cuba in 1961, Venezuela in 2002). Regardless of pretext, the U.S. has no right to interfere in another country. Period.
To stand against such imperialist arrogance doesn’t require supporting Maduro. Many of the voters who elected him in 2013 now oppose him. They have registered their dissatisfaction and made it equally clear they reject U.S. intervention. What they need is active solidarity from workers in other countries, especially the U.S.
Imperial maneuvers. An inconvenient fact about the drug charges is that Venezuela is a minor route for cocaine trafficking to the U.S., according to the government’s own data. Only 16 percent of drugs from South America travel through the Caribbean, where Venezuela is located; 84 percent go through the Pacific Ocean.
Even if the charges against Maduro were true, drug-running by Trump allies is ignored. Honduran president Juan Orlando Hernández’ brother was convicted of “state sanctioned” narcotics trafficking in Manhattan federal court in 2019 and the former head of the national police was indicted in April 2020 for the same. Yet Hernández and Trump are buddies.
Trump claims to oppose Maduro’s dictatorial rule. But this condemnation rings hollow when U.S. allies include some of the most repressive regimes on Earth, from Israel and Saudi Arabia to the Philippines.
The real issue is that Venezuela has the largest known oil reserves in the world, and since Maduro’s predecessor Hugo Chavez partially nationalized the oil industry, U.S. companies’ profits have fallen. That is why G.W. Bush tried to depose Chavez in a 2002 right-wing coup. The attempt was foiled by a massive outpouring that forced the U.S. to back down.
The world economic crisis of capitalism has hit Venezuela hard. But ever-tightening U.S. sanctions have compounded the damage, which falls on working people, not government officials or the rich. (See story on page 3.) The U.S. armada may be intended to further blockade the country.
False socialism. Hugo Chávez came to power in 1999 in the wake of massive protests against the country’s elite, who made fabulous wealth while the people lived in want. But his “Socialism for the 21st century” amounted to capitalism, enshrined in his new Constitution, with a few public/private enterprises set up to fatten government coffers. For a time, high global oil prices allowed Chávez to fund social welfare measures alongside creating a new sector of capitalists supported by the military brass.
At the same time, Chavez put down strikes and plant takeovers, and jailed and murdered worker and indigenous activists. Maduro followed in his footsteps with jailings, torture and summary executions.
Most Stalinists and reformist socialists internationally took the regime’s proclaimed socialism at face value and have supported it blindly regardless of its real actions. This is a crime against working-class solidarity.
By the time Maduro assumed power at the death of Chavez in 2013, an international economic slowdown depressed world oil prices, which the government depended on for 90 percent of its revenue. Maduro won his first election by only 1.5 percent of the vote. He enforced severe neoliberal austerity to pay off Venezuela’s huge foreign debt, slashing social services and wages. He printed money wildly, causing hyperinflation. These policies caused severe shortages of food, medicine, and other essentials. Between 2015 and today, some 5 million people have fled the country, adding to a huge hemispheric refugee crisis.
Waves of protest have rocked Venezuela since Maduro’s first election. After losing control of the National Assembly in 2015 due to low voter turnout, Maduro moved to consolidate dictatorial powers in his hands. He declared a national emergency in 2017 and orchestrated a vote for a Constituent Assembly in order to enshrine his power. When protests broke out anew in 2019, Juan Guaidó, the speaker of the National Assembly, proclaimed himself president. He called for a rebellion against Maduro. This fizzled. Venezuelans opposed to Maduro liked Guaidó and his imperialist backers even less.
International solidarity is critical. Hugo Chavez and Maduro rose to power with the support of workers and the poor. These same forces stopped cold the U.S.-backed coup attempt of 2002. They have also risen up repeatedly against Maduro with mass demonstrations and labor actions. They are capable of dealing with him on their own terms.
But what they need most now is international solidarity to counter the threat of an imperialist invasion. The Trotskyist Partido Socialismo y Libertad of Venezuela calls on working class organizations internationally “to demonstrate their rejection of the military maneuvers and threats of Trump.”
FSP joins this appeal and stands in solidarity with the independent struggle of Venezuelan workers and their allies.