Bat­tle for Venezuela’s soul

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Op­po­si­tion’s ap­proach to pur­sue a mil­i­tary and po­lit­i­cal strat­egy, largely funded by the US, could ig­nite a civil war

Shannon Ebrahim is the For­eign Editor for In­de­pen­dent Me­dia

THE WAR against Chav­ismo in Venezuela has en­tered a dan­ger­ous new phase. Op­po­si­tion forces call it a “su­pe­rior phase” of vi­o­lent strug­gle on the streets, along with the si­mul­ta­ne­ous cre­ation of a par­al­lel govern­ment that will re­move the pow­ers of the pres­i­dent.

There are few peace­ful out­comes to such a strat­egy, and an in­creas­ing pos­si­bil­ity that the coun­try could de­scend into civil war.

On Sun­day, op­po­si­tion mem­bers an­nounced they were launch­ing a con­sul­ta­tive process on the ref­er­en­dum called by the govern­ment to change the con­sti­tu­tion. The op­po­si­tion de­clared it was do­ing so with­out the Na­tional Con­stituent Assem­bly’s ap­proval.

While the West­ern me­dia con­tin­ues to de­monise Pres­i­dent Ni­co­las Maduro and jus­tify the op­po­si­tion’s vi­o­lent acts, Chav­ismo pro­po­nents claim the in­ter­na­tional left has failed to show its sol­i­dar­ity. This can be ex­plained by the fact that the dom­i­nant nar­ra­tive in the West­ern me­dia de­picts Maduro as a dic­ta­tor for life, who sends po­lit­i­cal dis­si­dents to prison.

But this nar­ra­tive fails to men­tion the plethora of paramil­i­taries op­er­at­ing in Venezuela, or the gangs of crim­i­nals mo­ti­vated to de­stroy pub­lic in­sti­tu­tions. There are only those “re­sist­ing dic­ta­tor­ship”.

While it is true that Maduro has made se­ri­ous mis­takes in the han­dling of the eco­nomic and po­lit­i­cal sit­u­a­tion, he is also con­fronting an or­ches­trated campaign of regime change.

The op­po­si­tion’s ap­proach, which is pur­su­ing a mil­i­tary and po­lit­i­cal strat­egy, is largely con­cep­tu­alised in the US. The US has long iden­ti­fied the Venezue­lan govern­ment as one of its top six en­dur­ing tar­gets along with China, North Korea, Iraq, Iran and Rus­sia. This was ac­cord­ing to a 2007 US strate­gic doc­u­ment leaked by Ed­ward Snow­den in 2013, which also said Venezuela was seen as the US’s main ad­ver­sary in the West­ern hemi­sphere.

A Venezue­lan op­po­si­tion leader re­cently in­ter­viewed on BBC’s Hard Talk ad­mit­ted that the US was bankrolling the op­po­si­tion’s campaign against the govern­ment. Nu­mer­ous re­ports have sur­faced that the US bud­geted $49 mil­lion (R635m) to sup­port the ef­forts of the right wing in Venezuela since 2009.

The US has also pro­vided funds to the Or­gan­i­sa­tion of Amer­i­can States (OAS) to de­ploy teams to Venezuela and Bo­livia out of con­cern that “democ­racy is threat­ened by the grow­ing con­cept of par­tic­i­pa­tory democ­racy”. OAS sec­re­tary-gen­eral Luis Al­ma­gro led a campaign in April to oust Venezuela from the OAS, which led to Maduro an­nounc­ing Venezuela’s with­drawal from the group.

Chav­ismo’s “par­tic­i­pa­tory democ­racy”, first un­der Hugo Chavez and then Maduro, brought about a re­ver­sal of the sharp so­cial in­equal­i­ties in Venezue­lan so­ci­ety. Be­fore 1998, the poverty rate stood at 60%, but Chavez and Maduro’s poli­cies halved the poverty rate, bring­ing it down to 30%, de­spite the eco­nomic cri­sis caused by fall­ing oil prices. Health care and ed­u­ca­tion were also made avail­able to the poor.

To date, the op­po­si­tion has not pub­lished a con­crete plan on how it would gov­ern, but its lead­ers have stated pub­licly that it would im­ple­ment a neo-lib­eral eco­nomic pro­gramme, along the lines of Michel Te­mer in Brazil and Mauri­cio Macri in Ar­gentina.

If the op­po­si­tion did take power, it might suc­ceed in re­duc­ing in­fla­tion and al­le­vi­at­ing short­ages, but it would also prob­a­bly elim­i­nate sub­si­dies and so­cial pro­grammes for the poor. More im­por­tantly, it would roll back the pol­icy of sup­port­ing com­mu­nal coun­cils, which have been the cor­ner­stone of par­tic­i­pa­tory democ­racy.

Cur­ing the so­cial ills of Venezue­lan so­ci­ety is not the US’s con­cern, how­ever. Indi­rect con­trol of the mas­sive oil re­serves are. The prob­lem for the US is that suc­ces­sive rev­o­lu­tion­ary gov­ern­ments in Venezuela have eroded the po­lit­i­cal and eco­nomic hege­mony that the US had over Venezuela. The chal­lenge is to “take Venezuela back” and sub­or­di­nate its econ­omy to Amer­i­can in­ter­ests.

Hence the US has al­legedly pro­vided as­sis­tance to the op­po­si­tion to create Com­mit­tees for the Res­cue of Democ­racy across the coun­try. Also the train­ing of op­po­si­tion el­e­ments to un­der­take armed at­tacks on mil­i­tary bases in or­der to steal weapons and break down the armed forces.

Em­bold­ened by out­side sup­port, the op­po­si­tion has called on Venezuela’s armed forces to ig­nore the govern­ment’s or­ders and join the coup. Op­po­si­tion leader Julio Borges, who was elected as Na­tional Assem­bly pres­i­dent (in what the govern­ment con­sid­ers an il­le­gal vote) has claimed that an in­com­ing govern­ment would par­don sol­diers who join op­po­si­tion forces.

It would seem that the sit­u­a­tion has reached a point of no re­turn. The in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity’s re­sponse to the op­po­si­tion’s war talk will de­ter­mine whether it deep­ens its vi­o­lent strate­gies. The global south needs to con­sider whether it will sup­port regime-change ef­forts against a demo­crat­i­cally elected govern­ment of the left or ad­vo­cate rec­on­cil­i­a­tion.

DE­MONISED: Venezue­lan Pres­i­dent Ni­co­las Maduro at­tends a mil­i­tary pa­rade in Caracas, Venezuela on July 5. The writer says Maduro is con­fronting an or­ches­trated campaign of regime change.

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