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Venezuela remains proud

The usual US oil adventurism would face almost universal opposition, though many oppose President Maduro

ON FEBRUARY 26th Mick Wallace and I attended a rally addressed by Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro. It closed an International People’s Assembly which had taken place in Caracas that week, with over 450 community and trade union delegates from all over the world.

Fresh from the Government’s defeat of Opposition attempts to break through the border with Colombia to deliver ‘humanitarian aid’, on February 23rd, Maduro showed that, when the debris of a truck burnt out on the Colombian side was examined, the humanitarian aid contained little of what Venezuelans need. This follows in the worst traditions of interventionism in the affairs of South America but was hardly surprising when the supposed value of the ‘aid’ was $20m, an amount less than the estimated daily $30m loss to the Venezuelan economy as a result of the sanctions started by Obama and intensified by Trump.

He talked of a recent vox pop carried out in Spain where nobody knew the President of Portugal or France, but everyone knew the President of Venezuela. He joked that as his ancestors came from Spain and he has a right to Spanish citizenship he was thinking of contesting the upcoming Spanish elections due to the unpopularity of the Government there!

And Maduro has a point. The EU countries that lined up to recognise the US-anointed puppet Juan Guido have some neck and would do better to pay attention to the unpopularity of their own Governments rather than facilitate the latest coup effort in Venezuela.

During our week-long stay in Caracas we talked to many people… some supported the Government, some didn’t. Some called themselves Chavistas but didn’t like Maduro. Some said they couldn’t care less about the government but would not allow the country’s sovereignty to be undermined. We found that many people don’t like Maduro, but they like the opposition less! You’d struggle to find anyone who supports Juan Guido. It is very clear that he does not have the backing of even the right-wing opposition and will never come to power In Venezuela unless as a US dictator. That Simon Conveney telephoned him to tell him he had the support of Ireland, without any basis in Venezuelan or international law, is truly shocking. His Popular Will party is the smallest of the opposition groups, has largely abandoned normal politics, boycotted the recent elections, instead attempting to organise external intervention and a ratcheting up of the sanctions that have been deemed “crimes against humanity” by UN Special Rapporteur Alfred de Zayas.

Certainly there is no doubt about it, life is very difficult for many Venezuelans. Three years ago you could live comfortably on $100 a month. People in modest jobs would have the latest mobile phones. Now the shortage of dollars and hyperinflation has seen the value of the Bolívar fall from around 730 to the dollar in January to 3,300 now. Access to cash is restricted, with Venezuelans only able to withdraw 500-1500 Bolívars (half a dollar) from ATM machines. Average wages have fallen to about $10 a month. People manage by supplementing their income in other ways. Electricity, water, public transport and a lot of accommodation is free. You can fill your car with petrol for less than 10 cents. The Caracas underground was once the jewel of South America and while it has not expanded as planned it still carries over three million people a day on a very efficient system. Despite the low oil production, millions of poorer families continue to receive a monthly box of essential provisions and a top-up on their salary. The government housing missions have built 2.5 million social housing units since 2015 and continue to build. Maybe the Irish Government could learn a few lessons.

We were there for the carnival. Hundreds of thousands flocked to the festivals, pageants alive with palpitating music or went to the beach, festooned in balloons. It suggested a population totally relaxed and a million miles from the western presentation of a country under the grip of dictatorship. Moreover, this was in the city centre and barrio districts. in the affluent East Caracas with its gated communities, shaded SUVs and jeeps, designer shops and exclusive restaurants a certain luxury still prevails.

That said, it can be difficult to get medicines and queues for subsidised food are not uncommon. Children told us of teachers leaving because they can’t make ends meet, and higher wages are being offered to them in Colombia. We saw families leaving at the airport. Primarily these people are quitting because the economy is being strangled. Some blame the government, some don’t, and most certainly are very aware of South American history and will not support external interventionism. They are aware that recent electricity shut-downs are at best a result of the undermining of vital infrastructure as a result of the stranglehold being put on the economy, or at worst deliberate sabotage to undermine support for the government, causing enormous hardship to citizens.

Undoubtedly the problems in Venezuela have been exacerbated by the Government’s failure to break the over-reliance on oil and to develop alternative indigenous agriculture and industry. It has also failed to deal with corruption. There are many to the left of the Government who are critical of the failures to develop the communes. In many areas people are just by-passing the government, growing their own food, redeveloping ancient herbal medicine and looking after themselves. We met young men, members of the local people’s militias who train militarily and had been on the Colombian border when the skirmishes over the misnamed ‘humanitarian aid’ were organised. There are between one and two million of these forces. They will not stand by, and have clearly stated they are prepared to defend the country if the army cannot, or will not.

This is a very dangerous situation. Military intervention must be avoided, but equally the sanctions are war by another means. They are strangling the economy, robbing assets rightfully belonging to the Venezuelan people, seeking to press US hands back on Venezuelan oil. This must be opposed. It is a revisiting of Nixon’s doctrine in Chile of “make the economy scream”. You don’t have to be a radical to agree that the Venezuelan people should be left to decide their own future, elect their own leaders and be facilitated in dialogue to tackle the many problems that exist.

It’s more than sickening to hear Western Governments including our own, enthuse about the failure of Maduro to call an election while Fianna Fáil continues to prop up Fine Gael so denying one here. They don’t talk about dictators in Saudia Arabia where Saudi Princes can cut up journalists and don’t have any elections at all! They happily work with Israel while Israeli forces target unarmed civilians in Gaza. They are silent when Egypt’s Sisi announces he will stay on as President until 2032.

The US importing democracy is just a cover to while it eyes up the biggest oil reserves in the World, a pretext to teach a lesson to a people that dared to challenge neo-liberalism. The US has made no secret about fact that Nicaragua and Cuba will be next.

In the 1960s alone the US helped to overthrow 11 democratically elected Latin American governments and replace them with dictators. In the 1980s under the guiding hand of Eliot Abrams they armed oppositions, facilitated ruthless death squads wreaking terror, murdering and disappearing tens of thousands. Today’s coup attempts are just the latest phase in an age-old strategy. The Irish Government and the EU would do well to remember that if we ignore international law, we have nothing.

Solidarity and support has to replace interference and interventionism to secure a future for millions in Venezuela, Latin America and around the globe. We need to redouble our efforts to ensure that dialogue is facilitated with all of the different sides represented, promoting a peaceful solution that respects international law.