How come we’re not at war with Venezuela? They have all that oil”.
I was in Caracas Venezuela on April 30th, the day of the failed coup. There were eight of us, five from NYC, one Vermonter and one Canadian, along with the leader of our group, a Venezuelan with whom I had traveled to Venezuela once before, in 2012 when Hugo Chavez was still alive.
Chavez was elected to power in 1999 leading what is known as the Bolivarian Revolution. Less than three years later, a 2002 U.S. backed coup failed to overthrow him.
I witnessed back then Chavez’s wide base of support, and the reasons for it: a new constitution guaranteeing as human rights health, education, housing and social welfare, and the laws and projects designed to make those rights a reality.
The results were impressive: one million new low-cost housing units, a dramatic drop in the poverty rate, infant mortality rate down from 19.1 per thousand in 1999 to 10 per thousand by 2012.
Health Care was made free for all Venezuelans, reflected by an increase in life expectancy. Working hours were reduced to 6 hours a day and 36 hours per week, without loss of pay while the minimum wage became the highest minimum wage in Latin America. In December 2005, UNESCO said that Venezuela had eradicated illiteracy. The malnutrition rate fell from 21% in 1998 to less than 3% in 2012.
The national management of the oil industry in 2003 put Venezuela in control over its most valuable natural resource, and used it to fund many of the social reform programs. Venezuela has the world’s largest oil reserves which the U.S. has coveted ever since and admittedly seeks to control as John Bolton made clear on Fox News:
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”
So the Chavez’s presidency marked a new day of empowerment for Venezuela’s poor and working-class people, overwhelmingly people of color. And there was always a sector of the population, mainly the very wealthy mainly white upper class who hated Chavez and his openly socialist policies.
So I went again this April because I wanted to see for myself if it was possible the impressions we are now given by the mainstream corporate media were true– was Venezuela really on the verge of civil war?
Had the Venezuelan people turned against the Bolivarian revolution and President Maduro who was elected to office after Chavez’s death in 2013 and re-elected in 2018? Did the U.S. supported opposition really have widespread mass support?
THE APRIL 30TH FAILED COUP
Back in January, a politician virtually unknown to Venezuelans named Juan Guiado, long mentored by U.S. regime change specialists, announced himself as the president of Venezuela after receiving a phone call from U.S. Vice President Pence.
Guiado, who was the head of the National Assembly, an unelected post, vowed that President Maduro would be gone by Mayday. While blackouts of electricity rolled across Venezuela, Trump and Secretary of State Pompeo threatened U.S. military intervention if Maduro didn’t step down.
We were in Venezuela from April 26th to May 5th. On April 30th, the morning of the failed coup, we knew something was up as we ate breakfast in our hotel’s restaurant which had on open-air terrace. I saw a woman banging on a pan standing on a balcony in the apartment house next door to the hotel, yelling out to others to join her and denouncing Maduro. No one else joined her. She went back in.
We heard what could have been firecrackers or gunfire. But when we looked out on to the street, business seemed no different than any of the previous three mornings we were there–people on their way to work, students to school, motorbikes and cars on the streets.
By the time we left in our van for a housing conference at the Hotel ALBA celebrating the construction of two and a half million new low cost housing units, we learned that there was a coup attempt, yet we had seen no sign of a military or police presence on the streets as one might expect if there was a major threat to the government.
If you were in Caracas that day, outside of the upper-class neighborhood where the attempt was made, you would never know there was a coup attempt. During a lunch break in the conference, we were able to watch TV coverage on the attempted coup from both CNN and Telesur, A Venezuelan news outlet.
Right in the lobby of the hotel, our group quickly wrote a statement denouncing the Trump administration’s efforts to overthrow the government and we were interviewed by Venezuelan government television, which was featured in the news throughout the day.
Our statement said in part,
We are a group of US and Canadian citizens gathered to denounce the US government’s illegal and immoral actions against the people of Venezuela. We also oppose the US sanctions which are not only illegal but are already causing immense suffering, especially through the denial of much-needed medicines and adequate nutrition…”
While we soon learned that the coup had failed, it was not until later that we heard the incredibly farcical details of what transpired. Some might remember U.S Secretary of State Pompeo claiming the day before that Maduro was escaping to Cuba.
In fact, Guaido had been led – actually duped – into believing that high-level military officials were going to defect and join him outside the airport that morning, along with large numbers of soldiers. But almost all the soldiers who showed up – after being lied to that they were going to receive promotions – quickly ran back to the base when it was clear they had been tricked into appearing to defect!
Within a short time, the same Venezuelan Defense Minister that Guaido had expected to defect to his side went on national television surrounded by his generals to say that the military was standing strong with Maduro and that no coup had taken place.
An estimated 2,000 Guaido supporters did gather on an overpass to watch the highway below, where 200 or so violent protesters were firing on the military and throwing Molotov cocktails near the airbase – as tens of thousands of Maduro supporters flocked to the presidential palace to defend it.
Guiado then went into hiding but not before calling for the “mother of all marches” for the next day’s Mayday celebrations. His “mother of all marches” pulled out at best 3-4,000 less than 1% of the estimated 400,000 our group marched with at the Maduro May Day rally, one of the largest pro-government mobilizations since the days of Chavez.
It was quite striking even for a long-time activist like myself to witness the blatant lies and propaganda that saturate our media. It was like two different worlds, as CNN, the NY Times and mainstream media reported that a coup was underway in Venezuela.
The New York Times reported, “A predawn takeover of a military base in the heart of the capital,” – and that Guaidó had made a video appeal for an uprising from the “liberated” airbase – except they never got on the base.
In another outrageous example, there’s a film clip that’s been aired of two military vehicles running into opposition protesters. What’s not shown is what happened next, as the vehicles were surrounded by soldiers, with the occupants forced at gunpoint to get out and lie down on the ground!
The truth is that the vehicles were driven by defecting soldiers who rammed into their own protesters to make it look like it was the government violently suppressing dissent. The drivers of the vehicle were arrested shortly after by the military as the rest of the news video clearly showed.
This is not the foolish country of yesteryear. This country has awoken, and that’s one of the biggest changes that has taken place here in these 13 years, a cultural change”
Hugo Chavez, 2012
So this trip did dispel for me any of the widespread notions spread here 24/7 by the mainstream U.S. corporate media that Maduro and the Bolivarian revolution have lost popular support and that Venezuela is a country on the verge of a civil war.
While the US sanctions, along with plummeting oil prices have created serious challenges to Maduro, popular support and enthusiasm for the Bolivarian revolution and the elected government remains.
Has Venezuela become a dictatorship? Not if judged by the 2-3 major newspapers I bought every day that were anti-Maduro (as were the daily anti-Chavez papers I bought on my 2012 trip), nor with rallies called by the U.S. backed coupsters openly inciting violence and calling for the overthrow of the government.
There is, in fact, a “loyal opposition” that ran against Maduro in the 2018 election, the leader of which, Henri Falcon, received 32 % of the vote, and who was actually threatened with sanctions by the U.S. for participating in the election! And it deserves mention that I saw marchers at the Maduro Mayday rally evidently feeling comfortable enough to be wearing Falcon t-shirts. Even Maria Machado, a well known staunch Guaido supporter has stated that Maduro is not a dictator.
The American people have been propagandized to believe that Trump is trying to overthrow Maduro out of humanitarian concern for an economic crisis caused by Maduro’s incompetence in handling the collapse of oil prices over the last five years and to “restore democracy”; a laughable rationale in light of the history: the U.S. has been trying to overthrow the Bolivarian revolution since that 2002 failed attempt against Chavez, and then there is the long history of U.S. coups and invasions of Latin America and around the world.
From the 1954 Guatemala coup, the failed 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba, U.S. invasions of the Dominican Republic in 1965, the overthrow of Allende in 1973 in Chile, Grenada 1983, Panama in 1989, the removal of Aristide in Haiti in 2004, the Honduras coup in 2009 and many others.
Any government that refuses to be under the thumb of the U.S. is a target for overthrow.
While there is debate over how much Maduro’s economic policies have played a role, it’s not the fall in oil prices that have put Venezuela in crisis and threaten to destroy all the gains over the last 20 years – it’s the sanctions where the U.S. uses its world-wide economic power to prohibit countries from doing business with Venezuela.
Along with the U.S. engineered electricity blackouts, and the failed coup attempts, sanctions have also frozen and even confiscated billions of dollars of Venezuelan assets in banks around the world, blocked payments for Venezuelan oil and other outright instances of what can only be called piracy.
Sanctions are just as deadly as bombs and bullets, an economic terrorism whose rationale is explicitly to escalate the suffering of the civilian population to get them to turn against their government. A recent study estimated 40,000 deaths caused by blockading the shipment of medical supplies like insulin, HIV medications and other life-supporting supplies, such as an emergency food program.
But all this has failed in their goal of driving the population into blaming and overthrowing the Maduro government; instead as Chavez put it, this is an awakened country that largely understands the main role the U.S. has played in fomenting a crisis. From what I saw, Trump has actually united many of those opposed to and critical of Maduro to join in opposition to U.S. sanctions and military intervention, as Falcon and others have done.
While the threat of direct U.S. military intervention is ever-present, our trip also brought home how it is too easy for liberals like Bernie Sanders, AOC and others to oppose military intervention and avoid taking a stand against the sanctions. Among Democratic Party candidates running for the presidency, only Tulsi Gabbard has opposed the sanctions.
It is also essential to establish that one does not have to defend Maduro in order to oppose this latest U.S. imperialist adventure and understand that the U.S. has ABSOLUTELY NO RIGHT to sabotage the Venezuelan economy and impose murderous sanctions to strangle the population into submission. This didn’t start with Maduro and it is just the latest in the long list of U.S. coups and overthrows in Latin America and around the world.
SO WHAT CAN WE DO?
As we head towards the 2020 election, the issue of Trump’s policies toward Venezuela–as well as Iran–should be front and center in the debates, yet the Democratic party and the mainstream corporate media seem to have a tacit agreement to say as little as possible on these two imminent threats of more U.S. aggression. And a number of Democrats and liberal media– Joe Biden, Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer, Amy Klobuchar, Kirsten Gillibrand, the New York Times, The Washington Post, Rachel Maddow and PBS commentators are among those leading liberal figures actually in support of Trump’s right to impose regime change on another people’s country.
It’s hard to see how this protracted siege of Venezuela will resolve itself, but the Venezuelan people are far from a demoralized population; rather they’ve been mobilized to resist with the formation of a people’s militia of 2 million, training with the military and national guard. An infrastructure of resistance has been created that would make it more than difficult for any U.S installed neo-liberal puppet regime to rule. It could just turn into a people’s war, Trump’s Vietnam, for the president who ran claiming he was going to end “all these foolish wars”.
As U.S. citizens it is our responsibility to demand that our elected officials stop the threat of war and end the sanctions on Venezuela. We have a particular responsibility to oppose our government’s actions. Write letters to the editor, sign petitions, call your elected officials, take part in rallies and demonstrations and challenge in however you can the “official story” we’re fed by the corporate mass media. And I urge anyone interested to go to Venezuela and see for yourself what is going on. Another trip–highly affordable– led by William Camarada, the Venezuelan who led the 2 trips I was on is planning another trip in August.
For more information, contact [email protected] or [email protected] or call 502 415 1080
Keith Brooks is a long time anti-war and labor/community activist, retired NYC alternative high school teacher, and a member of DSA and Brooklyn For Peace.
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