Venezuela: Stop this Coup!

By Mike Phipps, author For the Many…: Preparing Labour For Power (OR Books, 2018)

You do not have to be an ardent fan of the Maduro government to condemn President Trump’s recognition of a leader of the opposition as Venezuela’s legitimate leader. This is nothing short of a violation of Venezuela’s national sovereignty by a power that has a long history of destabilising governments in the hemisphere.

The US declaration was a long-prepared provocation against Venezuela and coincided with Juan Guaidó, the head of the country’s national assembly, swearing himself in as the country’s new president. The internationally orchestrated nature of this coup was underlined by the speedy endorsement of the US line by Brazil, Colombia and Paraguay and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s address to delegates of the Organisation of American States to drum up further support.

“All options are on the table” is the line of the Trump Administration: tougher sanctions and implicitly military intervention are threatened. The US declaration not only acts as a mechanism to further destabilise Venezuela – it accelerates a perspective of civil war in the country.

There is much scope for debate about the Maduro regime’s commitment – or lack of it – to genuine pluralist democracy in Venezuela and how far the economic and political problems the country faces are of his own making. It should not be forgotten, however, that the economy was in a state of total collapse and great hardship beset the country when Hugo Chávez first became President twenty years ago. Unlike his predecessor, Chávez waged war on poverty and directed a significant part of Venezuelan oil revenues into projects designed to lift people out of penury. But the price paid to pursue these social reforms was steep. High levels of corruption to keep the military on side were accompanied by an increasingly repressive stance towards all opposition. Things grew worse under Maduro, with the repression of opposition parties and allegations of widespread election rigging.

Whether as a result of mismanagement or external sanctions, inflation is today running at 80,000 per cent and over three million citizens have fled the country. Venezuela needs economic and political help, but Trump’s initiative will instead plunge ordinary Venezuelans into deeper crisis.

In response to the Trump provocation, Bernie Sanders tweeted: “The United States should support the rule of law, fair elections and self-determination for the Venezuelan people. We must condemn the use of violence against unarmed protesters and the suppression of dissent.

“But we must learn the lessons of the past and not be in the business of regime change or supporting coups—as we have in Chile, Guatemala, Brazil & the DR [Dominican Republic]. The US has a long history of inappropriately intervening in Latin American nations; we must not go down that road again.”

The idea that a powerful country like the US can simply recognise an opposition leader as the president of a distant country is frankly preposterous. Why not de-recognise the government of China, whose authoritarianism and lack of democracy is far more established than that of Venezuela? And in retaliation, should not western democracies de-recognise the illegitimate regime of Donald Trump, who became president despite losing by three million votes to his opponent?

Whatever our criticisms of its current government, the left must stand firm in defence of Venezuelan sovereignty – and the sovereignty of all the countries of Latin America. This includes Brazil and other states so quick to jump to the US’s bidding, which themselves are undermining their own sovereignty by selling off land and forests to multinational companies, without reference to the indigenous peoples living there.

End US interference in Latin America!

Defend the sovereignty of Venezuela!

Sign the petition to show solidarity with the people of Venezuela here.