On March 9, 2019, Eva Maria, Venezuelan socialist writer and activist spoke to a meeting of the Alliance of Middle Eastern Socialists. Below is the text of her presentation:
First of all, thank you so much for inviting me to this call. It is my honor to talk with comrades from the Middle East. Having these types of conversations among socialists internationally makes me hopeful about a way forward out of this mess that many of our countries find themselves in.
Now to my presentation.
The first thing to say is that Venezuela is in a deep crisis. This seems like common sense but it’s worth repeating because we have a media war going on. The right-wing media, both in Venezuela and abroad, talk about this humanitarian crisis which Venezuela is going through, and exploit it to match U.S. and allies’ interests in the region. The left-wing media, on the other hand, although much less prominent in most countries, has gone out of its way to convince people that the crisis is either not real or not as bad, and that if there is indeed any crisis going on it’s all due to U.S. imperialism.
So, let’s get the facts right. Venezuela is going through the deepest political, social and economic crisis in its modern history. Inflation has reached the 1 million mark, and essential goods and medicines are missing from the supermarkets and hospitals. The homicide rate has now gone up to 86 per 100,000 inhabitants, and maternal mortality rates have skyrocketed in the last 4 years.
As a result, an estimated 3 million Venezuelans have left the country, 2 million of whom have left after the acceleration of the crisis in 2015. The majority of these are not right wing people with houses in Miami and Spain like Maduro would like us to believe. These are people who are crossing to neighboring countries like Colombia, Brazil, Perú, Ecuador and even going all the way down to Argentina and Chile.
So that’s the first point. The crisis is real and we cannot afford to ignore it.
The second thing to say is that anything that the governments of the US, Brazil or Colombia decide to get involved in, will end in disaster. This, to me, especially from the vantage point I have of being in the US, is clear. Every time the US talks about human rights, we raise our eyebrows and organize against it because we know how this lie plays out. The US and its allies, being that it’s the most powerful country in the world, have as their only interest to stay as the dominant world power. To do this they are in a constant state of economic and military war with other countries to control as much of the world’s natural resources as they can. They do this with other countries but they also do this with their own people, as the war against black and brown people in this country is proof. The idea that a known murderer like Elliot Abrams would actually care about people in Venezuela would be laughable if it weren’t because it’s extremely dangerous.
As it might be familiar for our comrades in the Middle East, the only aim of the recent moves to provide humanitarian aid is to topple the government of Venezuela, bury the nationalist Bolivarian project and remake the region into one that is once again more economically subordinated to the prerogatives of U.S. capitalism.
We are at a time of imperial rivalries. The US is no longer the only country vying for power. They have to compete against the rising influence of China and Russia, which in the last 20 years have increased their investments in Latin America’s commodities.
The false banner of humanitarian aid is just another step toward gaining back and expanding control of the region at an opportune time of crisis. This, of course, to the detriment of the people of Venezuela.
As international socialists, it is imperative that we put this critique at the forefront of our analyses on what’s going on in Venezuela.
But as socialists who stand for a true socialism from below, we also need to work with honesty when we talk about the reasons for the current state of affairs in Venezuela.
On January 23, an enormous mass of Venezuelans came out into the streets to oppose the government of Nicolás Maduro and the seemingly never-ending crisis associated with his rule. These were people from all social sectors, not just the rich as was the case in the early opposition to Hugo Chavez in the 2000s.
On this day, previously unknown political leader Juan Guaidó proclaimed himself Interim President of Venezuela and was immediately recognized by the governments of the US, the Lima Group (mostly a group of right-wing leaning countries in Latin America) and the European Union.
The crisis has been going on for many years, but direct support from the US as a solution seemed very unlikely until recently, when the region has shifted to the right after toppling a decade of center and left-wing governments.
The election of El Duque in Colombia and an open fascist, Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil (both neighboring countries of Venezuela and direct recipients of the massive migration crisis) has left the Venezuelan government with few allies in the region – which has in turn opened the gates for the US to reinforce its interventionist agenda with much broader support.
In the meantime, Maduro continues to deny his role in the crisis and his dramatic and obvious loss of popular support. At this time, his government still has the support of most of the military, although there have been some major desertions and talk about whether or not loyalty might break given his unpopularity and relative isolation.
His ability to remain in power, devoid of the popular base he and his predecessor once had, and devoid of the political support of the formerly- favorable governments in the region, seems to be largely dependent on this unstable loyalty factor.
In lieu of these events in the past month, the left internationally has rightfully started to pay attention because of the urgency of opposing US intervention. This is not only in response to the rightful prediction of possible bloodshed and misery that this outcome would bring to Venezuelans, but also in response to the overall international campaign against “socialism” that has developed using the Venezuelan disaster as the example not to follow.
It is one of our major and most daunting tasks as international socialists, to unequivocally oppose this association of socialism with the Venezuelan crisis.
But what a lot of these analyses on the left miss is that the roots of this crisis and the dramatic decline in support for the Bolivarian government are due in large part to the policies of the very same government that is supposed to lead the country to a Socialism propelled by popular power.
This government, although verbally committed to a vision of radical democracy from below is, in fact, authoritarian, hyper-corrupt, and not worthy of the support of genuine socialists determined to build a left that can finally win.
I don’t have a lot of time to go into depth about the inner-workings of the economic catastrophe and the political crisis, but I’ll try to summarize some of the main conclusions that some Venezuelan socialists, including myself, have come to.
The first conclusion is that the economic policies implemented by Chávez were exciting and did lead to major poverty relief, but they weren’t socialist measures as much as he’d like to say they were, and they were, at their heart, unstable.
A set of economic policies were established that have decreased national sovereignty over production, augmented the levels of state and businesses’ corruption, and taken the country to a breaking point of unprecedented characteristics.
Chávez promoted further integration between the State and national oil production, which started in 2003, when a commodity boom driven by high demand from emerging markets like India and China opened up new economic possibilities in Latin America.
The governments of the Bolivarian revolution capitalized in this period by using the highly profitable oil resources to create a “distributionist” model where direct assistance was provided to the population.
According to the Center for Economic Policy Research, during this time unemployment dropped from 14.5 percent to 7.8 percent between 2003 and 2011. Poverty dropped by nearly 50 percent over this period, while extreme poverty dropped by over 70 percent. By 2012, public spending by the Venezuelan government as a percentage of GDP reached 51 percent, the highest in Latin America.
The gains were undeniable — but these were largely possible due to the populist-style management of the oil boom and not to a socialist transformation of society.
Since it was cheaper to import all the essential goods than to invest in local production, the government deprioritized all other areas of production it had nationalized, and instead relied in the profits made by the state-owned oil company to import all necessary goods.
This put Venezuela in a very precarious position economically, but the levels of social spending needed to keep the government relevant remained equally ambitious. When the State saw the price of oil per barrel drop from $120 to $9, to only rise partially and nowhere near its peak in the following years, it put the entire distributionist model to bring about socialism into question.
The instability of the global market under capitalism, when combined with national and international right-wing tactics to sabotage any progressive measures, gave rise to this unprecedented catastrophe of a crisis that has also led to a devastating and imprecise political conjuncture.
The second conclusion is that the Bolivarian governments moved away from their idea and practice of relying on radical democracy from very early on and increasingly relied on authoritarian measures instead to keep promoting their own version of a “socialist” and “anti-imperialist” government. One of the key components of inspiration for the socialist left worldwide when looking at the Bolivarian project was its experimentation around bottom-up organizing and the expansion of democracy at all levels. But this was unfortunately short-lived, adding to the desperation that some Venezuelans feel now about the limited scenarios for positive change without some sort of foreign intervention.
Similarly, the government has not been socialist nor has it been anti-imperialist. It has actively turned to socially conservative as well as environmentally destructive measures to deal with the crisis, as it’s clear with the drastic cut in imports (at the same time that local production has collapsed) and the expansion of mining in what is known as one of the richest and most biodiverse regions in the world: el arco minero. This project is not only widely condemned for environmental purposes, but also due to the violation of human rights against the indigenous populations living there.
It’s also not anti-imperialist if we consider anti-imperialism to be the fight against the domination of some states over others in an ongoing capitalist world war. The increase in investments from China, Russia and now even Turkey in Venezuela come at an economic and political cost.
Maduro argues that there is such a thing as “good” governments and corporations to make deals with and bad ones. He claims that China is involved in Venezuela’s economy as a socialist ally with no political intentions of any kind.
But if we understand socialism as a project of liberation for all oppressed and exploited people, we can agree that China is not a socialist country, and their governments’ interests in Venezuela are not disinterested, but far from it. They know very well how important it is to have infinite access to oil reserves.
I say all of this because I believe it’s important to reckon with what this government of Maduro is and is not, regardless of the high expectations the left worldwide has had and still has around the Bolivarian revolution. I myself was a proud chavista for many years, always hopeful that the right decisions from the top could help the exciting socialist momentum from below. But like me, many others have lost hope in the government and are now placing our hopes in the will of the people of Venezuela to turn things around.
It’s important to raise these criticisms honestly because Maduro’s support has now plummeted, and the majority of Venezuelans want something new. Given that the options on how to fight for a new political leadership are so limited while Maduro is in power, people are drawing all sorts of contradictory positions every day.
For socialists outside of Venezuela, our most important task is to raise the flag against US imperialism and show with our many historical examples what a military intervention would mean not only for Venezuela, but also for the whole region of Latin America. That is step number one and the most essential one for us to focus on, especially in the United States.
But I would also add that we need to be honest about assessing the character of the Bolivarian government and not confuse solidarity with the Venezuelan people, with solidarity with the Maduro government. The campist position in favor of Maduro’s government as socialist and anti-imperialist only serves to dismiss Venezuelans’ grievances against a state that is failing to provide basic needs every day.
That is not the solidarity that will win a generation of people to socialism as a project for liberation among all oppressed and exploited peoples around the world. We have plenty of positive examples of Venezuelans self-organizing at the workplace, councils, neighborhoods, etc. Let’s take those and show them that we stand by them against foreign intervention, and against any government that doesn’t serve them.
March 9, 2019