The U.S. Hand Behind Anti-government Protests in Venezuela

May 26, 2014 | Revolution Newspaper |


For months now, there have been waves of anti-government protests in Venezuela. Now there are signs that the U.S. is stepping up its designs in Venezuela, demanding that the Venezuelan government meet the demands of these reactionary protests that the U.S. itself has encouraged and fanned.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry went to Mexico City toward the end of May and spoke about the recent collapse of talks between the Venezuelan government and pro-U.S. opposition forces. Kerry put all the blame on the government of President Nicolas Maduro for the collapse, saying there had been a "total failure" by the government to negotiate in good faith. Kerry said the U.S. Congress is preparing to enact new sanctions against Venezuela, and in fact the day before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved legislation to freeze some Venezuelan assets in the U.S. and impose restrictions on travel between the two countries. Such U.S. threats could possibly serve as a signal for renewed attempts by pro-U.S. forces in Venezuela to topple a government that has long been a thorn in the side of the U.S.

Reactionary Protests, Repression

Beginning in February 2014, there has been a wave of anti-government protests in Venezuela. This began as outpourings of students in western Venezuelan states demanding greater security from violent assaults, which then spread throughout the country, including to Caracas, Venezuela's capital. These involved hundreds of thousands of people, mainly from Venezuela's middle class and wealthy. Leading right-wing politicians threw their support behind the protests and helped spread them. One of these leading reactionaries, Leopoldo López, called the protests "La Salida"—the exit—because he wants them to lead to the overthrow of the Maduro government.

The Venezuelan government has cracked down on these protests and there have been dozens of people killed on both sides. Hundreds of protesters have been arrested. On April 10, "peace talks" began between representatives of Maduro's government and leading politicians backing the protests, overseen by the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) and the Vatican. But the often violent protests continued. Over Easter weekend streets were shut down in the wealthy Caracas district of Chacao, a bus was burned in the Andean city of San Cristóbal, and in Merida, police fired rubber bullets at protesters blocking a main road to the city.

These anti-government protests have caused great confusion in Venezuela and internationally. There are progressive people who think that Venezuela is a revolutionary society, even socialist. But in fact, it is not. It is a society that remains subordinate to imperialism, profit, and exploitation. And then there are many people who are drawn to supporting the protesters because "the people are out in the streets." When he accepted his Oscar in March, actor Jared Leto said, "To all of the dreamers out there around the world watching this tonight, in places like the Ukraine and Venezuela, I want to say, 'we are here.'" Cher and Madonna have tweeted their support for the protests and contempt for Maduro to their millions of followers.

Views like these are not only wrong, they are harmful, whatever the intentions of those who hold them may be. When people are protesting out in the street, it's not enough to just say, "Oh, it's a good thing that people are rising up against the government." You have to ask yourself, "What are they protesting about?" What are the forces involved and do they represent the interests of the masses of people? Just look at something like the Tea Party in the U.S.—they get out there and have big rallies and carry signs and talk about being against big government, etc. But they are completely reactionary. And what about numbers? Just getting a lot of people out in the streets doesn't guarantee that this is about something good either. Again, look at the reactionary anti-abortion movement that has repeatedly rallied thousands of people behind their anti-woman program. History is full of such examples in countries across the world.

It is crucial to dig beneath the surface, to understand the real interests and forces that are clashing, the dynamics that are driving these confrontations. The stakes in correctly understanding this are great, for the people of Venezuela, and the entire world.

The "Anti-Chavistas"

The U.S. media portray these protests as spontaneous "democratic outpourings." But in fact they have been sustained and given political direction and content by powerful right-wing forces in Venezuela. And U.S. government agencies working through Venezuelan banks, political parties and organizations, and other entities have helped fan public opinion against the regime.

For more than a decade, the Venezuelan government has been a thorn in the side of U.S. imperialism. In the early 2000s the government of Hugo Chávez imposed restrictions on U.S. and other imperialist oil companies that had long profited from Venezuela's oil resources. Chávez's government adopted a foreign policy that included close relations with Cuba and cooperation with countries like Iran and Libya that the U.S. has targeted. Chávez demanded a larger share of oil earnings for Venezuela and called on other governments to put limits on revenues going to foreign oil companies. The Chávez government also wanted to become a model for other South American countries and establish deeper commercial and political ties with Latin American countries to create a kind of regional bloc. These policies angered the U.S. imperialists who have never relented in trying to destabilize and overturn the Chávez government. Such efforts continued after Nicolas Maduro, a close ally of Chávez, was elected president after Chávez's death in 2013. And now, the U.S. has found new freedom to step up these attempts to undermine the Venezuelan government.

Changing circumstances internationally and within Venezuela in recent years have provided U.S. imperialism with renewed opportunity to squeeze Venezuela. As Revolution wrote in "March 2014. The Crisis in Venezuela: Points of Orientation," the model of development promoted by Chávez and Maduro is "based on the expectation of ever-growing oil revenues to support social programs for the poor and to buy 'social peace' from the middle classes by allowing high levels of consumer imports, cheap gasoline, etc." But this oil-based program is running into difficulties.

Sources of Economic Difficulty

The U.S. is a crucial (and is still the single largest) market for Venezuelan oil. But Venezuelan oil sales to the U.S. have been falling dramatically—Bloomberg News reported in January that they are at the lowest point in the last 28 years. This is so for a number of reasons, including increased U.S. domestic production through fracking and other forms of oil exploration and drilling. The Venezuelan government has tried to offset this loss of oil sales to the U.S. by selling more oil to China. However, "Venezuela is losing out by selling crude to China," according to an oil industry consultant quoted in Bloomberg News who monitors the international market. The reason for this is that China insists on paying a lower price for Venezuelan oil than does the U.S. in order to cover higher transport costs. Also, much of the oil going to China is used to pay back loans that China has been extending to Venezuela in recent years.

Venezuela has unsuccessfully tried to increase oil production as a way to increase earnings. Meanwhile, Venezuela is racking up more debt to pay for food imports. These and other factors have left the Venezuelan government with significantly fewer resources to allocate to its social programs. Economic and social tensions from all this is a big part of the dynamic propelling discontent and turmoil in Venezuela. And the death of the charismatic Chávez signaled an opportunity for U.S. imperialism and Venezuelan reactionaries to move aggressively for a change in the country's government.

There are skyrocketing consumer prices and food shortages, high unemployment and rampant crime. Some sections of the middle classes have seen a sudden decline in their traditional living standards. The pro-U.S. forces in Venezuela are taking advantage of discontent from all this and making bolder moves against the regime. And U.S. imperialism is maneuvering in all this to advance its strategic interests.

The U.S. Connection

An umbrella confederation of several dozen anti-Chávez/Maduro organizations called the "Table for Democratic Unity" (and known by its Spanish acronym, MUD) was formed in 2008 to bring together various political trends opposed to Hugo Chávez. The forces in MUD have different and sometimes conflicting aims. But the leading core in MUD wants to get rid of not only Maduro's presidency, but also the programs and the direction of the Chávez/Maduro years.

Very prominent within MUD have been the Popular Will Party, lead by Leopoldo López, and Súmate, headed by Maria Machado. Both of these organizations, primarily based among the wealthiest sections of Venezuelan society, have been funded and shaped by their patrons in the U.S. government. In addition to providing funds, the U.S. has also helped to hone, focus, and organize the opposition. Professor George Ciccariello-Maher of Drexel University said, "Chávez came to power, the traditional parties of Venezuela collapsed, and both the domestic opposition and the U.S. government needed to create some other vehicle through which to oppose the Chávez government, and this party that Leopoldo López came to power through is one of those ... vehicles. So this is where he's coming from."

U.S. backing of powerful, wealthy anti-government forces in Venezuela has been going on since Chávez was elected president in 1998. A State Department memo made public by WikiLeaks revealed a five-point program the U.S. had to undermine Chávez and prop up opposition to him.

In 2002 leading figures in the Venezuelan military launched a coup d'etat that successfully removed Chávez from power—but only for two days. The U.S. immediately welcomed Chávez's illegal ouster from the presidency. A statement released by the White House in the first hours after Chávez's (temporary) removal read, "though details are still unclear, undemocratic actions committed and encouraged by the Chávez administration provoked yesterday's crisis in Venezuela.... The results of these provocations are: Chávez resigned the presidency."

Two of the key civilian figures in the 2002 anti-Chávez coup were Leopoldo López and Maria Machado.

Chávez continued as president, winning several re-elections, until he died in 2013. He survived several more attempts to topple or weaken his government, including two major strikes aimed at paralyzing the country and a massive petition drive to remove him from the presidency. Then came the student protests in February 2014 that provided an opening for the U.S. connected anti-Chavista reactionaries to launch renewed attempts at toppling the Venezuelan government.

U.S. Funds

For years much of the U.S funding aimed at promoting anti-government forces in Venezuela came through the "National Endowment for Democracy" (NED), an entity created by the U.S. Congress and completely funded by the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).

A lot of this NED funding has been used to finance aggressive anti-Chávez/anti-Maduro media campaigns in Venezuela and in the international media, including in South America. U.S. money has flowed to journalists, TV and radio stations, newspapers, advertising firms, etc., and is filtered and disbursed through banks headed by reactionary Venezuelans, such as the Banco Venezolano de Crédito. Further, this campaign has intensified in concert with the recent protests.

U.S. funds for anti-government efforts in Venezuela have also come from USAID. Investigative writer Gary Leech wrote that "Between 2006 and 2010, USAID spent some $15 million in Venezuela with a significant portion of the money used to fund university programs and workshops for youth, no doubt with the objective of pulling them slowly away from Chavismo. The prominent role of university students in the current protests suggests that the U.S. strategy has paid off." (Counterpunch, March 14, 2014)

After the Venezuelan legislature banned foreign funding for political activity in 2011, the U.S. began to funnel money through the U.S. embassy in Caracas. The embassy received a 50 percent increase in funding in 2012 despite the fact that the U.S. has had no ambassador to Venezuela in years, and no increase in staffing.

The U.S. State Department specified that tens of millions of dollars it sent to the Organization of American States in 2012 be used to "deploy special 'democracy practitioner' teams to states where democracy faces threats from the growing presence of alternate concepts such as the 'participatory democracy' advocated by Venezuela and Bolivia."

The full extent and nature of U.S. support for Venezuelan reactionaries seeking to undermine the Maduro government may never be known. In late April, Barack Obama wrote a letter to a Venezuelan immigrant living in Miami. He told her that he is "deeply troubled by the continued repression of protesters in Venezuela, and in addition to working behind the scenes with our international partners, I have called on the Venezuelan government to release detainees, stop criminalizing dissent, and stop using government backed groups to sow violence."

Relentless Aggression, Great Stakes

U.S. domination in Latin America—which it so arrogantly considers its "backyard"—has been enforced with almost two centuries of coups, invasions, assassinations, military occupations, and genocidal wars.

Venezuela's history and position in this imperialist web has largely been determined by its enormous oil reserves. Reliance on oil production and export in a network of imperialist domination and economic relations has distorted Venezuela for over 50 years. For decades Venezuela has been one of the world's leading producers of oil, and one of the primary sources of exports to the U.S.

The situation in Venezuela remains unsettled and rippling with explosive contention and confrontations. The immediate factors that sparked the protests and outpourings have not been resolved. The suffering of the masses of people remains deep, and Venezuela remains subordinate to the domination and dynamics of global imperialism.

What happens in Venezuela is of great consequence, not only to the people of Venezuela and Latin America, but also to people across the entire world. Recent history and current events in Venezuela demonstrate that what is urgently needed in Venezuela, as in oppressed Third World countries across the globe, is a real revolution—a revolution that unleashes the conscious energy of millions of people for radical change. What is needed is a revolution that breaks the grip of imperialism on the country and that ruptures out of the vicious web of imperialist domination, and embarks on the road towards communism, towards the emancipation of humanity.

A previous issue of Revolution stated that such a revolution requires "a two-fold break. There must be a radical break with the political economy of imperialism. And there must be a radical social revolution, a radical break with traditional relations and ideas. This was neither the program nor outlook of Hugo Chávez. Venezuela remained dependent for revenues on the world oil economy, which is dominated by imperialism. It remained dependent on the world market, which is dominated by imperialist agri-business, for its food. Under Chávez, there was improvement in literacy and health care, but there was no fundamental change in the class and social structure of society. Agriculture is still dominated by an oligarchy of rich landowners. In the cities, the poor remain locked into slums. Women remain subordinated and degraded. Abortion is banned in Venezuela." ("On Hugo Chávez: Four Points of Orientation," March 6, 2013)

As tensions in Venezuela continue and threats by the U.S. mount, people—especially people in the U.S.—must resist being whipped around by developments and how they are spun by the U.S. media, or by the number of people mobilized at any point by one side or the other. People must refuse to be played by the rulers of this country into aligning with them. Instead, people must recognize the reality that U.S. imperialism has historically and up to today been the main dominator of Latin America. And they must act on that understanding: the U.S. has no right to lay a single finger on Venezuela.


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