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Venezuela in the shadow of Trump

by Sean Ledwith

The current political crisis in Venezuela is threatening to escalate into a full-blown superpower confrontation. Trump’s outrageous support for an unelected so-called ‘Interim President’ over the actual elected President has taken the situation in the country onto a completely new level of risk. Trump‘s backing for Juan Guaido as President without any mandate from the Venezuelan people has met with a hostile reception from both the Russian and Chinese governments. Moscow and Beijing have issued explicit statements condemning Trump’s provocative action and reiterated their support for the embattled regime of Nicolas Maduro, which is facing a rising tide of civil unrest and economic dislocation.

Neocon threat

Maduro, as the inheritor of Hugo Chavez’s Bolivarian Revolution, has understandably been forging links with the other two superpowers as a means of trying to fortify the country against the ever-present threat of malign intervention from its giant neighbour to the north. Having been thwarted by its global rivals in Syria and Ukraine, the danger exists in the Venezuelan context that Trump and the neocon hawks around him may decide that this is the place to aggressively re-assert US hegemony. Last month, two Russian TU-16 bombers with nuclear strike capability paid a visit to the country as a gesture of Putin’s intention to back the Maduro regime.

US hypocrisy

We can instantly dismiss the US claim that undermining Maduro is motivated by the authoritarian nature of his regime and concern for the welfare of the Venezuelan people. Even the US Senate accepted that Prince Mohammad Bin Salman was probably responsible for the brutal slaying of journalist Jamal Khashoggi but that has not stopped Trump’s White House making excuses for the ruthless Saudi tyrant. Trump’s Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, declared his support for freedom in Caracas while on a visit to Egypt’s President Sisi – the man who came to power in 2013 at the head of a military coup that toppled the elected Muslim Brotherhood government and has imposed the total suppression of democratic rights. A US move against Maduro has been on the cards since the accession of the quasi-fascist Bolsanaro government in Brazil, South America’s most important economic and political power. Trump and his advisors will have been emboldened by the downfall of the Chavez-supporting Workers Party government in Brazil and its supplantation by Bolsonaro with his incendiary right-wing rhetoric. Last year, Brazilian and US armed forces carried out joint military exercises in the Amazon rainforest. They were joined by Columbian troops who have been actively involved in the suppression of trade unionists and indigenous peoples in that country. Maduro has probably sensed the political noose being tightened around his neck by the enemies of the Bolivarian Revolution for quite a time.

Trudeau’s mask slips

Predictably, UK Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt quickly fell into line with the usual compliance of the British ruling class to its US master-a timely reminder of the urgency for a Corbyn government that would adopt a genuinely independent foreign policy. Canadian Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, also promptly backed Trump’s flagrant violation of Venezuelan sovereignty. The latter is frequently presented as the poster boy of Western liberalism, but in this case his craven support for the demagogue in the White House is more likely motivated by the interests of the Canada-based Barrick gold mining corporation (the world’s biggest) which has $5 billion invested in the South American country. The potential for superpower conflict in this region is underlined by the fact that last year the Chinese government signed off the same amount as part of their investment in the same sector of the economy.

Maduro’s military

Inevitably, the unrest in the country has been cynically used by the US and its allies to provide a pretext for intervention to topple the Chavista regime. That does not mean, however, that Maduro’s government is blameless for the current implosion of the country’s social and economic infrastructure. Following the death of Chavez in 2013, the President has increasingly turned to the Venezuelan army to consolidate his hold on power in the wake the collapse of oil prices amid the impact of the global recession. The community-based systems of ‘Missions’ that his predecessor had utilised in an attempt to foster grassroots democracy has increasingly been bypassed. Half of Maduro’s cabinet members are now in the army.

Defending the legacy

The President has opened the door to foreign mining companies to begin exploiting the Arco Minero region, which has previously been protected at the request of environmental groups due to its rainforest-based ecosystems. Shady business links between Maduro’s ruling PSUV Party and the mining corporations has resulted in almost $500 billion disappearing from the national economy. Inflation has hit an eye-watering 1 million% and an estimated 60% of the population are in dire poverty. 3 million have fled abroad, many of them ironically trying to seek security in Trump’s America. The gains of the Chavez years are clearly under threat by external imperialism and crony state capitalism at home.

Nevertheless, the legacy of Chavez is indubitably one worth defending for the Venezuelan people. At one point, the country was ranked as the most equal society on the continent, alongside Uruguay. It consistently rose up the UN’s Human Development Index in terms of life expectancy, average length of education and GDP. Venezuela became a beacon for millions around the world looking for an alternative to the neoliberal hegemony. For all its imperfections, the remains of the Bolivarian Revolution are worth defending in the face of Trump’s attempt to export his toxic brand of right-wing politics south of the border.

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