By Celina della Croce
Saturday, February 16. On a cold winter day, a small crowd gathered outside of the Northampton City Hall to denounce the US intervention in Venezuela. The rally followed a tumultuous month since Juan Guaidó declared himself president on January 23. Guaidó’s assertion that he was now Venezuela’s rightful president came after a phone conversation with US Vice-President Mike Pence the evening before, during which Pence assured Guiadó that he would receive the backing of the US if he declared himself president.
Guaidó alleges that the elections in May leading to President Nicolás Maduro’s re-election were illegitimate, and that he should instead be recognized as the country’s leader. It is worth noting, however, that Guaidó did not run in the presidential elections (nor is he proposing an electoral process now), that 81% of Venezuelans had never heard of Guaidó before last month’s events, and that Venezuela’s right-wing—including Guaidó’s Popular Will Party—boycotted the elections despite Maduro’s open invitation for international electoral observers to oversee the election process. Following what many have designated an attempted coup, the Trump administration has urged the “international community” to support Guaidó despite the lack of popular support, the clear breach in the country’s democratic process, and massive rallies across the country denouncing Guiadó and foreign intervention.
The intervention—hiding behind a pretext of humanitarianism—follows a long pattern of US economic policies and covert operations in Venezuela and in the region that seek to protect the economic interests of the US and Europe. The long history of imperialism in the region, and the stronghold of the US and Europe over the region’s resources, has been threatened by a push for economic independence asserted by left-wing leaders and popular movements. Venezuela—home to the world’s largest crude oil reserves—is no exception. Much is at stake in the protection of Venezuela’s democratic process, which stands out as a stronghold against the current rightward trend in the region, from Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro to Colombia’s Iván Duque. The threat of Venezuela is not just about oil, then. It is also about proposing an alternative world order that puts people before profit.
At Saturday’s rally, a series of speakers denounced the intervention and the clear role of the United States in manufacturing a candidate aligned with US interests. This time around, the makers of Venezuela’s coup have sought legitimacy through a series of misleading narratives, banking on humanitarianism as a pretext without asking why, exactly, there is a humanitarian crisis to begin with, replacing facts and history with tragedy porn and gut reactions. “If you’re paying attention to the mainstream media, you have probably noticed that the case for military intervention in Venezuela has been built under the pretext of humanitarian aid,” explains local activist Hector Figarella and opening speaker at the rally. “Things in Venezuela are not great—they are very hard for the average Venezuelan citizen.”
Figarella, among other speakers at Saturday’s rally, went on to explain that this hardship has been used by mainstream media, by the US government, and by the Venezuelan right-wing opposition to make a case for a coup. But what is conveniently left out of this narrative is what, exactly, is causing this hardship; that those who manufactured the crisis are the same carrying forward the coup. It leaves out the severe economic sanctions imposed by the US to strangle the Venezuelan economy, a tactic that brings to mind Nixon’s directive in 1970 to Kissinger to “make the economy scream” in Chile.
Nixon’s directive was part of a larger plan to destabilize the socialist government of Salvador Allende, which threatened to reclaim national resources, such as copper, that had long been held by transnational corporations, and instead use the country’s natural wealth for the good of the Chilean people. Similarly, since Chavez’s election in 1998, Venezuela’s oil industry has been used not only to fund social programs in Venezuela, but also across the world—profits that formerly went into the pockets of the national elite and transnational corporations. History has shown us what happened following the CIA’s economic destabilization campaign in Chile; the hardship created was used as a pretext to justify the military invasion in 1973 that led to President Allende’s death and the torture and disappearance of thousands of left-wing activists under the brutal regime of Augusto Pinochet. It was used not only to crush Chile’s socialist project for national sovereignty, but also as a laboratory for neoliberal policies that were then implemented throughout the region and throughout the world. The social cost of these policies and their leaders is horrific, with hundreds of thousands of civilians and activists tortured and disappeared by US-backed regimes. This history is one that should make us wary of the United States’ vow to protect democracy and human rights in Venezuela, at the very least. If the US-supported intervention in Venezuela is not about democracy, then what, exactly, is it about?
Trump and his cabinet have let their intentions slip. Most recently, on January 29 (six days after Guaidó’s self-declaration as president), national security advisor John Bolton declared that “We’re looking at the oil assets. That’s the single most important income stream to the government of Venezuela. … It will make a big difference to the United States economically if we could have American oil companies invest in and produce the oil capabilities in Venezuela.” If that is not enough to elucidate the intentions of the US, in 2017 Mike Pompeo—who at the time was the CIA director under Trump—declared that “We are very hopeful that there can be a transition in Venezuela …the CIA is doing its best to understand the dynamic there.” In 2013, Trump, who appointed both Bolton and Pompeo, tweeted: “I can’t believe we left Iraq without the oil.” It is not difficult, then, to draw the connection that—true to character—, the intentions of the United States are not about humanitarianism and democracy after all.
As Vijay Prashad, Director of Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research (where I am an employee) and speaker at the rally pointed out, “When Hurricane Katrina hit and when people were suffering in New Orleans, the Venezuelan government asked to send aid to the United States,” though the offer was rejected by the Bush administration. A few years later, following the 2008 financial crisis, Prashad continued, “when people didn’t have money to pay for heating, the Venezuelan government through CITGO provided cheap fuel to ordinary Americans.” Venezuela has used its natural wealth to provide aid to working people around the world and to fund social programs domestically, setting an example for what is possible if countries under the current grip of US imperialist policies set out to stop the bleeding of their resources and wealth into the coffers of the US and its allies and instead use their resources for the good of the majority of the people.
The success of Chávez and Maduro’s governments in reducing poverty and inequality pose a direct threat to the claims of the United States. During the fourteen years of Chávez’s presidency, the country experienced an average of 3.2% economic growth, increasing to 4.1% after Chavez took control of the state oil company, PDVSA, in 2004. The profits from the oil sector have been used to bolster social programs in areas such as housing, health, and education. According to Mark Weisbrot and Luis Sandoval of the Center for Economic and Policy Research and other sources, inequality has decreased substantially compared to the pre-Chávez era. It is true that Venezuela today is experiencing an economic crisis. But it is important to hold the current reality in context with the pre-Chávez neoliberal era—which failed to provide basic services to the Venezuelan people even without the staunch opposition of the US and its allies—and in the context of crushing economic sanctions and an economic war that has systematically denied the country access to credit and repeatedly staged a series of economic and political interventions.
The rally ended with a call to action, and a final statement to tear down the narrative that has been built to hide the reality behind Venezuela’s crisis: “If you don’t stand up against this war, history will judge you very poorly. You have to go out and talk to everybody you know. You have to make sure the lies being propagated by the CIA and the state department are not taken seriously. You have to make sure that people understand that humanitarianism is a pretext for war—it has nothing to do with helping people,” Prashad told the crowd. “You want to help the people of Venezuela? End the sanctions.”
To watch a complete livestream of the event, visit: https://www.facebook.com/PIoneerValleyGreenRainbowLocal/videos/770360266666280/?eid=ARC6zBA6f-YSnDE-M5garT4IdzsNnoQ2Tn79yURzVr44DsMBfGVbdBElRIv9DvsavIRandrYlN-FrJ8-
Celina della Croce is a coordinator at Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research as well as an organizer, activist, and advocate for social justice. Photo by Ahmet Tonak.