Venezuela is on the brink of a right-wing coup sponsored by the US.
The country’s president Nicolas Maduro has been challenged by the opposition leader Juan Guaido who named himself “interim president” during a rally last Wednesday.
Guaido has called for protests this weekend in an effort to undermine Maduro’s position. He demanded that Maduro call new elections within eight days of last Saturday—but Maduro refused.
The US and other Western powers have given Guaido firm backing.
“Either you stand with the forces of freedom, or you’re in league with Maduro and his mayhem,” US secretary of state Mike Pompeo told the United Nations last Saturday. Canada, Israel, Britain and others have come in behind the US.
British foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt has described a potential Guaido presidency as “a new start for the suffering of Venezuela”. Theresa May has backed him too. A Downing Street spokesperson said, “We fully support the democratically-elected national assembly, with Juan Guaido as its president.”
Britain, Germany, France and Spain have all backed Guaido’s calls for new elections.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s spokesperson said Maduro was “still president. We don’t want any interference.” Labour should condemn any imperialist intervention.
Guaido’s Popular Will party is affiliated to Labour. But its democratic image is thin at best.
A taste of Guaido’s political principles came after the election of far right Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro in October last year.
Guaido congratulated Bolsonaro’s “commitment to and for democracy [and] human rights”. Bolsonaro has purged left wing civil servants and has launched attacks on workers.
And Guaido has sought the support of the most reactionary figures in the region. According to an Associated Press report, “In mid-December, Guaido quietly travelled to Washington, Colombia and Brazil to brief officials on the opposition’s strategy of mass demonstrations.”
The report quoted a US source who claimed that “moderate factions” within Venezuela were marginalised in planning the demonstrations against Maduro.
The role of the Venezuelan army is critical. So far it has continued to back Maduro, largely because he has enriched senior military figures enormously. But there are signs that its support could waver.
Guaido has attempted to win over layers of the armed forces and the state.
Last week he announced an amnesty for soldiers who came over to his side. He has also been photographed entering the same building as Diosdado Cabello, leader of Maduro’s PSUV party
The US has recognised Carlos Alfredo Vecchio—Guaido’s man—as the Venezuelan envoy to the US. And a military attache to the Venezuelan embassy in the US—colonel Jose Luis Silva—has declared support for Guaido, and has been recognised by the US.
There are signs that Maduro’s grip on the state is weakening, but Guaido’s international backing is far stronger than his support within Venezuela. Resistance to the US must step up if it is to be fought off.
The US wants to force out Maduro but its success is not guaranteed
The bid to get rid of Maduro was not initially as successful as the coup-plotters hoped.
Imperial powers are vying for control of a decisive country in Latin America—and control of its vast oil resources, the largest in the world.
Three quarters of Venezuelan oil exports go to the US.
That the US has not been able to sweep a weakened Maduro aside is an indication of the limits of its own power.
Russia and China have given strong backing to Maduro, forcing the US to couch its attempts at engineering a coup in terms of “democracy”.
In the last century, although there might have been rhetoric about “freedom” a more direct and bloody approach would have been more likely.
Bloodthirsty US national security adviser John Bolton was limited to warning of retaliation if US diplomats were threatened with violence or intimidation.
Maduro has demanded they leave the country, but the US has refused. Establishment newspapers the New York Times and Washington Post have both warned against direct military intervention.
A mobilisation of the working class and the poor would be decisive in the fight against the right wing coup.
Such mobilisations defended former president Hugo Chavez in 2002 when a US-backed coup threatened to topple him.
But this is harder now because of Maduro’s attacks on the poor.
There is a deep anger at Maduro’s attacks. But this does not automatically transfer to support for the right.
According to a report by the Venezuelan Observatory of Social Conflict, 89 percent of the 12,715 anti-government demonstrations in 2018 “occurred based on demands for economic rights”.
The working class and the poor must come out to defend against the threat of a coup, and push for a better kind of society.
Ordinary people must protest and strike to make their voice heard, and to go beyond what Maduro offers.
Without this the fate of Venezuela will be decided between competing imperial powers.
Is Venezuela an example of a socialist society?
For years people across the world have looked to Venezuela as an example.
For the right, it’s an example of how socialism results in tyranny and chaos. Yet the right’s cheerleaders at the heart of the US state bear much of the responsibility for the chaos in Venezuela.
A United Nations rapporteur who visited the country in September of last year has said US economic sanctions could amount to “crimes against humanity”.
For many on the left Venezuela was an example of how social progress can be delivered by controlling the state.
But for revolutionary socialists it was the huge mobilisations of ordinary people in defence of Hugo Chavez in 2002 gave a flavour of how to change the world.
One argument from people such as Labour’s shadow chancellor John McDonnell is that Chavez’s government was a socialist project that Maduro broke from.
But Chavez left much of the wealth and power of the rich intact. He even privatised key state industries.
Chavez’s policies would not have guarded against the economic crisis gripping Venezuela. And the economic crisis is not only down to US sanctions, as Maduro likes to claim.
For over a decade he and his successor Maduro consistently sought to demobilise working class self?activity as part of their project of delivering socialism from above.
Yet working class organisation has not disappeared. On 22 January teachers struck nationally to demand pay rises.
Strikes and protests will be the way to defeat the US and Juan Guaido.
The US diplomat who gives the nod to bloody coups
Donald Trump has appointed Elliot Abrams to oversee the “transition to democracy” in Venezuela.
Abrams has been at the centre of the US foreign policy establishment for decades.
He has the deaths of thousands of people on his hands.
As Ronald Reagan’s assistant secretary of state for human rights and humanitarian affairs he covered up some of the US’s most horrific crimes. Some 500 people were massacred at El Mozote in El Salvador by the US-backed Salvadoran government in 1982. Abrams later described US policy in the country as a “fabulous achievement.”
He was one of those who “gave the nod” to the 2002 coup attempt in Venezuela to go ahead.
He has been convicted of withholding information from Congress over the Iran-Contra affair, which saw money allocated to fund right wing death squads in Nicaragua. He was central to the international effort to drum up cash for the Contra death squads.
Now Abrams is in charge of US policy in Venezuela.
With such a person at the wheel, there can be no doubt of the anti-democratic designs the US has on the country.