People Power: The United States and its "assets" in the New Zealand news media, would like us to believe that all those protesting against Maduro’s inept handling of the unceasing political and economic crises by which he has been beset are unanimously for the self-declared "Iterim President", Juan Guaido. They are not. Many are seeking new elections and new leaders. But, they are not seeking a restoration of elite power. Nor will they countenance an American invasion of their homeland.
VENEZUELA DESERVES DEMOCRACY, but that is not what Venezuela is going to get. What it will get – as the whole world is currently witnessing – is a brutal assault on its people by the world’s most powerful nation. Venezuela is being threatened with economic strangulation, civil war and, should these stratagems prove ineffective in dislodging the government of President Nicolas Maduro, a full-scale military invasion led by the United States itself.
That such an invasion would constitute a flagrant violation of the United Nations’ Charter will count for nought. The world stood by and did nothing in 2003 when the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia violated the UN charter by invading Iraq – a country whose armed forces had not committed the slightest act of aggression against the belligerent powers, or any other UN member state.
The New Zealand Government, regardless of its private misgivings, will remain silent and inactive as the Venezuelan people are tortured into submission by the United States and its allies. To follow any other course of action would attract the attention of the very forces who have fastened Venezuela to the rack. Not wishing to be hit with US sanctions; unwilling to risk the seizure New Zealand’s overseas assets; Jacinda Ardern and Winston Peters will keep their mouths shut and their heads down.
If they’re lucky. Because a shameful silence is about the best we can hope for from the Coalition Government. If we are unlucky, the murderous thugs who are currently managing the subjugation of Venezuela will decide that New Zealand keeping its head down is insufficiently supportive of US policy. In these circumstances, Jacinda and Winston will be required to publicly endorse the Trump Administration’s excesses. Lest silence be misinterpreted by the rest of the world as disapproval or, God forbid! – defiance.
Regardless of Washington’s ultimate directive to its “very, very, very good friends” in New Zealand, the Coalition Government will be beset by a chorus of right-wing voices demanding that New Zealand recognise immediately the self-proclaimed “Interim President”, Juan Guaido, as Venezuela’s legitimate head-of-state. This pressure from the Right will only intensify as, one after the other, the USA’s closest allies abandon Maduro in favour of Guaido. That recognising this puppet politician will make New Zealand complicit in a US-backed coup d’état will in no way deter the Right from testing the Coalition Government’s “commitment to democracy”.
To facilitate just such an outcome, the Right has, for several weeks, been waging a co-ordinated campaign against the current Venezuelan Government, along with the “Bolivarian Revolution” championed by Maduro’s charismatic predecessor, Hugo Chavez. Right-wing commentators, led by Liam Hehir, have characterised the economic crisis brought on by the collapse of world oil prices; intensified by the economic sabotage perpetrated by Venezuela’s capitalist class; and aided immeasurably by the constricting effects of US sanctions and asset seizures; as evidence of the inevitable fate of any nation foolish enough to embrace socialism.
In eerie anticipation of the United States Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo’s, invitation for governments to “pick a side”, in this looming fight, Hehir has publicly demanded that all those left-wing commentators (myself included) who have, in the past, proclaimed their support for and/or admiration of Hugo Chavez and his Bolivarian Revolution, must immediately recant their criminal folly and join with the Right in demonizing Maduro, Chavez, Bolivarian Socialism, and all its works.
Hehir does not appear to be the least bit ashamed of his embrace of the very worst tactics of 1950s McCarthyism. One almost expects him to demand of all those unwilling to endorse the overthrow of a sovereign government: “Are you now, or have you ever been, a member of the Communist Party?”
Significantly, Hehir is either ignorant of, or unwilling to acknowledge, the fact that the private sector’s share of the Venezuelan economy has actually grown under Maduro’s presidency, not shrunk. Or, that the nationalisation of Venezuela’s oil industry took place more than 40 years ago – long before Chavez and Maduro were ever elected to the Venezuelan presidency.
The straightforward facts of Venezuela’s economy: that it has always relied in an extremely narrow range of commodity exports (coffee, oil) for its national income, and that it has consistently failed to make itself less dependent on imported necessities – especially food – by diversifying and/or industrialising its economy – are omitted. Hehir is simply not interested in informing his readers that severe economic crises – sparked by sudden collapses in key commodity prices – have been a regular feature of Venezuela’s economic history.
Maduro’s failures – and there are many – are attributable less to his socialist beliefs than to his own, and his predecessor’s, failure to use the massive economic surpluses, racked up when oil was fetching almost twice as much on the international markets as it is currently, to diversify Venezuela’s economy. That they were more concerned to lift the living standards of the poorest Venezuelans as quickly as possible, while understandable, was also – given the country’s history – unforgiveable.
Both Chavez and Maduro should have understood that economic crises experienced under right-wing governments are regarded very differently by the United States than economic crises which strike when left-wing and/or anti-American governments are in power. In the case of the former, the nation’s troubles are merely the result of impersonal market forces. In the latter’s case, however, economic crisis is presented as incontestable proof of socialism’s failure. And, if the economic and social elites can magnify the hardship and suffering of those on whose behalf the left-wing government has been acting, then why wouldn’t they? Especially when the US Government is so willing to help them out with money and advice. “Make the economy scream”, said President Richard Nixon’s advisers – back in the early 1970s, when the US was faced with another democratically elected left-wing government in South America. It worked then – it’s working now.
It’s what I find so hard to forgive about the position taken by Hehir and his right-wing colleagues. That they are aligning themselves with those who are most to blame for the travails of the Venezuelan people. The Bolivarian Revolution, itself, grew out of the popular resistance inspired by the vicious austerity measures which the poorest of the Venezuelan poor were expected to bear in order to rescue the economy form yet another commodity-price collapse back in the 1990s.
Hehir has nothing to say about the coup mounted against Chavez by Venezuela’s economic and social elites in 2002, after the wretched inhabitants of the capital city’s slums had had the temerity to vote him into power. Or how the education Chavez’s Bolivarian Revolution had given them in their constitutional rights as citizens propelled the poor onto the streets in their thousands to rescue their president – and their democracy.
Hehir and his ilk would like us to believe that all those protesting against Maduro’s inept handling of the unceasing political and economic crises by which he has been beset are unanimously for Guaido and his American puppet-masters. They are not. Many are seeking new elections and new leaders. But, they are not seeking a restoration of elite power. Nor will they countenance an American invasion of their homeland.
Those who await with such eagerness the tramp of military boots on the streets of Caracas are partisans of coup, counter-revolution, and the violent repression of the poorest citizens of Venezuela. The Right is, therefore, ranging itself alongside the most ruthless and selfish elements of Venezuelan society. Elements whose democratic rights have, for more than a decade, been upheld by the very government they are pledged to destroy: with democracy, if possible; without it, if necessary. Hehir lambasts Chavez and Maduro as the Lenin and Stalin of socialist Venezuela. It’s a puerile accusation. Had Chavez been a genuine Leninist, and Maduro an unashamed Stalinist, then the streets of Caracas would have run red with bourgeois blood.
And yet, unaccountably, the Venezuelan elites have survived: to plot in safety, and protest in their tens-of-thousands. Demanding, like the Chilean elites before them, that the military intervene ruthlessly on their behalf. Confident, in equal measure, that the Americans will not let them down, and that the rivers of blood flowing through the streets of Caracas will not be theirs.
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Tuesday, 5 February 2019.