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By Simón Rodríguez Porras*
Without popular support and with growing divisions within chavismo, Maduro’s government has relied on the military for his violent attacks on the large wave of popular demonstrations that began on April 4. Two weeks of repression have resulted in nine dead and hundreds detained and wounded. But the demonstrations have not ceased to grow and on April 19 hundreds of thousands, in rejection of Maduro’s shift towards a dictatorship, took to the streets in all of the major cities. On the night of April 20 there was a generalized eruption in El Valle, a working-class neighbourhood in southern Caracas. Amid the riots and looting, eight people died electrocuted while trying to take food from a bakery.
Chavismo lost the broad popular support it enjoyed for many long years and now around 85% of the population oppose Maduro. The government claims to be the victim of a coup, but actually the military, which controls several ministries, has closed ranks in defense of the government. The rejection of Maduro on behalf of the majority of workers does not go hand in hand with pro-coup slogans or with the center-right opposition coalition’s liberal political program, that of the Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD). Rather it expresses the discontent of millions of people who are going through one of the worst economic and social crises in Venezuela’s history.
While presenting itself to the world as a «socialist» movement, Chavismo has had recourse to large inflationary measures. In order to pay more than 70 billion dollars towards foreign debt over the last three years, imports have been cut to a third, thus leading to food and medicine shortages. By printing money without a backup to cover the fiscal deficit, Maduro has drastically reduced wages in real terms. Inflation reached 600% in 2016 and the minimum wage was reduced to 30 dollars a month. This rabid adjustment plan has lead US commentators to dub chavismo «Wall Street’s favourite socialist revolution» (Washington Post, 4/12/17). In other words, behind the flags of a false socialism a savage capitalism has developed, destroying the social achievements of the early chavista government.
An increasingly authoritarian government
After losing the parliamentary elections in 2015, the government opted to suspend all elections indefinitely and revoked the electoral legal status of the majority of political parties. Since 2014, the government has also prevented union elections such as those of the United Federation of Petroleum Workers of Venezuela, (Futpv) whose general secretary is José Bodas of the Socialism and Liberty Party (PSL). At the end of March the Supreme Court of Justice (TSJ) authorized the president to reform the anti-terrorist law, the anti-corruption law, the penal code, the military justice code, and the hydrocarbons law, and to create joint ventures with transnational oil companies without parliamentary approval. The attorney general, Luisa Ortega Díaz, denounced the rulings of the Supreme Court as unconstitutional, showing a division in the government. Maduro ordered the TSJ to modify their ruling, which happened within a few hours, but the move had already sparked popular indignation. At this point the MUD, which had been negotiating with Maduro, with the Vatican as mediator, faced mounting social pressure to confront Maduro. They accused him of a «coup d’etat» and called demonstrations demanding general elections.
Are the demonstrations an imperialist maneuver? In order to justify the use of repressive measures, Maduro has called the hundreds of thousands of demonstrators «mercenaries of imperialism». It’s a symptom of the government’s desperation. Although the US has had diplomatic frictions with Maduro, especially in the Organisation of American States (OAS) where it presses for elections, so far it has not been in favour of suspending Venezuela from the multilateral body. Maduro, on the other hand, has attempted to approach Trump, calling him «friend» and «comrade». Venezuelan state oil company PDVSA donated $500,000 to Trump’s inauguration ceremony. We reject both US interference and Maduro’s servile attitude.
In its foreign policy, Chavismo has favored ties with China and Russia, it has supported regimes like Assad´s in Syria and Al Sisi in Egypt, and even has congratulated Turkish President Erdogan on the outcome of the recent constitutional referendum. But these alliances have not altered the condition of Venezuela as a semi-colony of the United States: Chevron is the main transnational in the oil industry, 12% of the national territory has been awarded to megamining companies like Barrick Gold, while Procter & Gamble, Halliburton, Schlumberger and Coca-Cola are still doing business and taking advantage of some of the cheapest labor in the world.
The left opposition
With the labour movement disintegrated and weakened after years of Chavista repression and co-optation, the working class has not been able to play an independent role in the current crisis. However, there is an emerging regrouping of left-wing opposition in the People in Struggle Platform (la Plataforma del Pueblo en Lucha), involving both left-wing Chavista groups and non-Chavista left-wing organizations such as the PSL, which has denounced the government’s anti-worker policies for years. This coalition has been demanding that the payment of the foreign debt be stopped and that those resources be used to carry out urgent imports of food and medicines to address the social crisis. It also raises the need to nationalize the oil industry, and for the oil revenue to be invested in the country’s industrialization and agrarian reform. In the next few days, trade union plenaries will be held to discuss independent action against the government.
* Simón Rodríguez Porras is a militant of the Socialism and Liberty Party (PSL), IUW-FI section, Venezuela.
Translation: Zoe Salanitro.