Tuesday,24 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1297, (26 May - 1 June 2016)
Tuesday,24 October, 2017
Issue 1297, (26 May - 1 June 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Venezuela’s imbroglio

Venezuelan President Nicholas Maduro is blaming plotters backed by the United States for the country’s current political crisis, writes Gamal Nkrumah

Al-Ahram Weekly

It would be difficult to find a more dynamic and well-rounded democratic political creature than Venezuelan President Nicholas Maduro, who has this week blamed plotters backed by the United States for the political crisis currently afflicting his country.

 “Similar questions were posed to [former president of Chile Salvador] Allende as to me. Allende was told that he blamed everything on a conspiracy, on the economic crisis, that he blamed the high inflation that sabotaged him on the United States, and that he was frequently accusing the little lambs of Nixon and Kissinger of a coup. But everything became known later on,” Maduro said.

The “pink tide” of elected left-wing governments in Latin America has come under intense fire both from the United States and from right-wing opposition parties in a continent once derisively described as “America’s backyard” due to its historical dominance of Latin America and the Caribbean. Some of this opposition at least now hopes to overthrow the Venezuelan regime.

The Latin American nations may not be the poorest in the world, and certainly not Venezuela, but the continent has been among the world’s most unequal, with a small elite, invariably white, controlling much of the continent’s wealth and backed by Washington.

Several leftist leaders in Latin America have been toppled in recent years. Last week, Brazil’s Dilma Rousseff was impeached, and the Venezuelan right-wing is hoping that it will soon be Maduro’s turn to step down. Maduro himself has not downplayed the possibility of a violent overthrow since he sees parallels between the late Chilean leader Salvador Allende and himself. 

Venezuela is on a fault line of social and economic inequality. Maduro’s detractors contend that he dismissed the 2014 protests in the country, which left 43 people dead, as a “revolt of the rich”. Some members of the current Venezuelan People’s Assembly, the country’s parliament, do not share Maduro’s enthusiasm for socialism, raising the question of whether the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) will sponsor a military coup as it did in September 1973 against Allende.

Blackouts and looting have become widespread in Venezuela, along with other social ills. A murderous group of right-wing opposition forces is fast gathering strength. It will be a long and painful task for Maduro to resist. “I can tell you that I never aspired to be president. I always honour something that [former Venezuelan president Hugo] Chávez told us: that while we are in these posts, we must be clothed in humility and understand that we are here to protect the men and women in the streets,” Maduro has said.

Much more should be done to confront the right-wing opposition in Venezuela. In the space of just a generation the country has undergone dramatic change, and Venezuela’s state of emergency is the result of a misaligned generation that does not understand that there is a darker side to the picture the country presents. The more this generation becomes embedded in the middle class, the more it becomes obsessed by social status, obliterating the legacy of Chávez.

What is most disturbing is the degree to which US lifestyles are being marketed to the country’s youth as part of the “American Dream”. For the poor and people of colour in Venezuela that dream is a nightmare. As a result, Maduro must speak up against the dangerous right-wing ideology of the Venezuelan middle class. Troops have been deployed around the capital Caracas, the Venezuelan government says, to meet the threat of invasion from the United States.

Due to US sanctions, and according to World Bank calculations, Venezuela supposedly suffers from the world’s highest inflation rate, variously estimated at between 180 and 450 per cent. But contrary to international media propaganda, Venezuela was never a one-party state. The ruling United Socialist Party (PSUV) is preeminent, but it has never been the only political party in the country. As of 2014, the PSUV was described as “fracturing” and “weakening” due to the loss of Chávez. “We are not perfect, but we do have democracy,” Chávez boasted.

“I think the United States should be concerned about the poverty in its own country, the people without health insurance. The United States should stop being the empire and be concerned about other countries. You’ve got to be more worried about your own people,” Chávez was quoted as saying. “I am convinced that the path to a new, better world is not capitalism, but socialism,” the late Venezuelan leader said.

The most convincing method of facing the challenge of the right-wing is to ensure the Venezuelan military’s support for Maduro and to enlist the support of left-wing politicians, including Elías Jaua, the most left-leaning of the major figures who survived Chávez, and Diosdado Cabello Rondón, a member of the National Assembly and a former speaker of the country’s legislature.

Cabello, number two in Venezuela’s ruling Socialist Party, is currently under investigation, which has come as the US authorities, including federal prosecutors and the Drug Enforcement Administration are investigating Venezuelan officials for suspected narcotics trafficking. In the Wall Street Journal on 18 May, an article headlined “Venezuelan Officials Suspected of Turning Country into Global Cocaine Hub” reported that Cabello was a leading target in the investigations.

US prosecutors have charged a number of Venezuelan officials with trafficking cocaine, and Maduro insists as a result that it is evident that Washington intends to invade or to cause political and social chaos in the country. The 53-year-old president’s challenge is to refute such fallacies. Cabello says the media has inaccurately projected him as a narcotics trafficker, and this is how Washington wants the world to see Venezuela.

In contrast to Chávez, Maduro does not come from a military background. Yet, he has consistently sought to keep the army top brass on his side, even if some Venezuelan military leaders, such as general Miguel Rodriguez Torres, an ex-minister of the interior, espouses a politics that is shy of socialism and devoid of anti-imperialism.

Maduro has long pacified, rather than eliminated, his political rivals. Among the most potentially important are pollster Óscar Schemel, jurist Hermann Escarrá, and former banker Alejandro Andrade. The disparate components of the ruling party need to consolidate the fight against American imperialism. The Venezuelan Popular Unity Party, a left-wing party is politically aligned with the ruling PSUV, and the People’s Electoral Movement merged with it in 2007.

Venezuelan writers Moisés Naím and Francisco Toro in an article entitled “Venezuela is Falling Apart” in the US magazine The Atlantic said that what their oil-rich nation was today experiencing was “monstrously unique,” a criticism typical of the pro-American Venezuelan elite. “It’s nothing less than the collapse of a large, wealthy, seemingly modern, seemingly democratic nation just a few hours’ flight from the United States,” they claimed.

Ranking 186th out of 189 countries in the World Bank’s Doing Business Index, today only Libya, Eritrea and South Sudan are further down the list. “While Venezuelans were dying for lack of simple, inexpensive pills, their radical socialist government was spending tens of millions a year to keep a native son, Pastor Maldonado, competing on the Formula 1 global auto-racing circuit,” Naim and Toro contended.

“In the last two years Venezuela has experienced the kind of implosion that hardly ever occurs in a middle-income country outside of war,” claimed the two anti-Maduro Venezuelan writers. They added that babies and the elderly were dying because of a “lack of simple, inexpensive medicines and equipment in hospitals.” Such systematic lambasting in the American media in particular and the Western media in general has become commonplace these days.

In Venezuela, the masses have become increasingly demobilised, and Maduro is trying to reverse the trend. Allied leftist parties such as the Patria Para Todos (PPT) and the Communist Party of Venezuela are also struggling for the rights of the people to be realised. Their aspirations cannot be fulfilled in a totalitarian system, or in anything less than a social democracy. The PTT, for example, has re-affirmed its support for Chávez, and despite the Western criticisms today Maduro is not the wrong hero for Venezuela.

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