By Yanis Iqbal
The Bolivarian-socialist project in Venezuela is in a critical conjuncture. External imperialist aggressions – spearheaded by the US – are continuously growing in their magnitude. Importers of Venezuelan crude including India’s Reliance Industries Ltd, Spain’s Repsol SA and Italy’s Eni SpA have skipped oil purchases in October 2020. The three companies took a combined 9.7 million barrels in September 2020, accounting for more than half of that month’s exports.
Their decision to steer clear of Venezuelan oil is a direct result of a hostile atmosphere created against the Latin American country. The US administration is moving to set an October deadline for winding down all trade of Venezuelan oil, including swaps and payments of pending debt with crude. Till now, exemptions to US sanctions allowed a handful of European and Asian customers to continue taking Venezuelan oil under specific authorizations granted in 2019 by the US Treasury for transactions that do not involve cash payments to Maduro’s administration. With the further stiffening of sanctions, the collapse of Venezuela’s entire economic base would accelerate, leading to the tightening of the imperialist noose around common citizens.
Washington war-mongers are least bothered about the grave impacts of sanctions on Venezuela and are in fact, rejoicing about the destructive capacity of sanctions. In September 2020, Elliot Abrams, US Special Representative for Iran and Venezuela, said that Washington “will not hesitate to apply the full force of U.S. sanctions” on Maduro’s socialist administration. He further praised US sanctions as “increasingly effective” in economically suffocating the Venezuelan government, adding that Washington “appreciates the cooperation” of oil corporations. With people like Abrams in charge of USA’s foreign policy towards Venezuela, it is not hard to conceive that the American empire’s imperialist offensive will keep on accelerating.
USA’s hybrid warfare against Venezuela – consisting of Executive Orders, oil and trade embargoes, official designations from the United States Department of Treasury and unconventional military activities – is intensifying as the latter’s December 2020 parliamentary elections near. The Venezuelan opposition (which is already unpopular among Venezuelans due to its unashamed support for sanctions and military intervention) is rife with internal divisions and it is unlikely whether an American stooge would get to replace the Chavista administration. One of the main divisions in the opposition is between those who are calling for the boycott of the upcoming elections (self-declared president Juan Guaidó and a group of opposition parties) and those who are considering participating in the parliamentary elections (Henrique Capriles, Iván Stalin González and Henri Falcón).
There are also divisions among the sector calling for boycotts, as is the case between Guaidó and María Corina Machado, the latter questioning the role played by the former throughout 2019 when his coup strategy against the Chavista president Nicolas Maduro failed. In another indication of the fragmented nature of the Guido-headed faction, the Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo López, who had been staying at the Spanish embassy since the failed coup he attempted in April 2019, fled Venezuela on 25 October, 2020. Descending from one of Venezuela’s wealthiest families, Lopez played a leading role in the 2014 violent street protests which left 43 people dead.
In order to perpetuate a condition of suspended catastrophe and use it to target Maduro, the US is using a tactic of multiform aggression. On 22 September, 2020, USA sanctioned five leaders of local opposition parties in an attempt to pressure them to pull out of the election in December. According to the US Department of Treasury, the politicians from the Venezuelan opposition “have acted as part of a broader scheme to manipulate parliamentary elections taking place in December 2020 by placing control of Venezuela’s opposition parties in the hands of politicians affiliated with Nicolas Maduro’s regime, undermining any credible opposition challenge to that regime.” In this statement, we can comprehend the desperation with which Washington strategists have been stung. Unable to topple Maduro’s government with the help of the coup-mongering faction of the internal opposition, they are now attempting to sabotage the non-abstentionist bloc which – through its act of electoral participation – will recognize Maduro’s administration and erode the state of disequilibrium promoted by USA.
In an October 2020 report authored by Joseph M. Humire, – a writer for the Atlantic Council (a think tank that has participated in every political and military crime of US imperialism over the past half-century) who served in the US Marine Corps during its full-blown war on Iraq and Middle East – the discursive component of USA’s multi-faceted assault on Venezuela is put on full display. The report discusses the so-called “Maduro-Hezbollah Nexus” and attempts to prepare an ideological background for the sustained strangulation of Venezuela. In an exceedingly hawkish tone, the report states: “Hezbollah has helped the Maduro regime become the central hub for the convergence of transnational organized crime and international terrorism in the Western Hemisphere…In order to neutralize the threat, the United States must engage in a counter-threat network approach that equally attacks convergence points throughout the world from which Iran, Hezbollah, and the Maduro regime benefit.” Here, we can see the attempts made by imperialists to justify USA’s aggressions against Venezuela by using the traditional narrative of “War on Terror”. With the help of this narrative, the American empire would get the opportunity to ideologically adorn its hybrid war against Venezuela in the trumpery of a counter-terror operation aiming at the supposed restoration of democracy at gunpoint.
America’s Strong-arm Tactics
In April 2002, the US imperialists cooperated with the Venezuelan oligarchy in a failed coup against socialist president Hugo Chavez. The 48-hour President Pedro Carmona – a national business leader – had promptly issued a decree doing away with 49 pieces of social legislation, suspending the Supreme Court, the Chavez National Assembly, dismissing governors, etc. Chávez soon returned following a powerful struggle waged by working class citizens and soldiers who were loyal to him. In the post-coup period, the opposition initially paralyzed the economy with a strike, and thereafter sought to remove Chávez through a recall referendum. The referendum occurred, but Chávez prevailed and later won the 2006 presidential elections.
The recall referendum and 2006 presidential elections in Venezuela were not entirely free from imperialist influence. During those times, strategized attempts were made by USA to perforate Chavez’s socialist hegemony. In a diplomatic cable, Ambassador Brownfield described US Agency for International Development (USAID)’s Office for Transition Initiatives (OTI) country‐wide strategy “to guide embassy activities in Venezuela for the period … specifically, from the referendum to the 2006 presidential elections,” which included “1) Strengthening Democratic Institutions, 2) Penetrating Chavez’ Political Base, 3) Dividing Chavismo, 4) Protecting Vital US business, and 5) Isolating Chavez internationally”. In the current period, one is witnessing the replication of such a strategy as the US tries to reverse the gains made by the working class under the Chavista administration through hybrid warfare strategies.
On 19 September, 2020, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro said that authorities had detained Matthew John Heath, a former United States Marine and CIA operative, in the northwestern state of Falcon. The detainee is a former marine who served as a communications operator in a “secret CIA base” in Iraq for ten years between 2006 and 2016, where he was hired by private security firm MVM. MVM was founded by a former US Secret Service agent and continues to work with the US. Heath was attempting to sabotage the Amuay and Cardon refineries in the west of the country and was carrying a submachine gun, a grenade launcher, four blocks of C4 explosives, a satellite phone, and stacks of US dollars. Referring to the sabotage plan, Maduro said, “They [American officials] have given the CIA the green light to come with direct agents to [conduct] covert and terrorist operations against oil, electricity, military, electoral targets, and other dirty covert actions like those used by the CIA”.
All the belligerent acts against Venezuela are singularly motivated by one major factor: imperialism. In September 2020, the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) published a report where it pompously talked about the “transition” of Venezuela from Maduro. Throughout the report, “transition” is meant to be synonymous with the US-led reconstruction of Venezuela. To give an example, the CFR report states: “Although it is up to the Venezuelan transitional government to manage its relations with U.S. competitors, a constructive relationship between the transitional government and the United States and other democracies through generous security and development assistance would ensure a basis for democratic reforms.” In other words, the transitional government would subordinate itself to the ordinances of the American empire and subserviently accept the principles of free market fundamentalism in the name of democracy.
The dreams of a neatly arranged capitalist order in Venezuela are constantly thwarted by the Venezuelan masses who always rise to the occasion to defend their right to live with dignity. The present-day sentiments of Venezuela’s subaltern classes are perfectly captured by the following poem which Mao Zedong wrote a month after he launched the Cultural Revolution:
“Green pines point fiercely at the clear blue sky,
dead leaves drift away upon the stream.
A clap of thunder shakes the world,
bright banners are paraded through the streets…
The nation’s people yearns for action.”