By 29-January a photo from a press conference of US National Security Advisor John Bolton went viral, Mr Bolton had some yellow note sheets in his hand on which ‘5000 soldiers in Columbia’ was written. Speculation was high that US gathered or arranged 5000 soldiers in Columbia to invade Venezuela giving a final touch to the awaited coup d’état. Russian foreign minister retweeted that photo adding her concern for the US attempt – only a few days ago Russia and China vetoed the US proposal regarding displacing Maduro and recognising Guaidó in the UN Security Council. But on morning of 30-Jan Peruvian Foreign Minister Néstor Popolizio clarified the position of the Group of Lima, “As a Lima Group we have said that we do not support any military intervention in Venezuela”. The group will meet again next Monday at Ottawa. However, Peru made clear their choice of accepting Guaidó as the head of ‘transitional’ government in Venezuela. Parallel to this, we heard that there are about 400 Russian ‘specialists’ ex-militiamen in Caracas for Maduro’s help as and when necessary, and there was also a story of two Russian Nuclear capable aircrafts stationed somewhere near in a Caribbean island. On 27-Jan The head of the Southern Command of the United States, Admiral Craig Faller, as if like a ‘gentle persuasion’ said that they were ready to give Maduro (and perhaps also to the top-notches of the government and military) ‘safe passage’ to some asylum of their choice and impunity, as they have done in case of Noriega of Panama or Ferdinand Marcos of Philippines. (How dare they say like that!) But an estimation of ex-General, Commander of Marine Infantry of the USA, Mr Martin R Steel, published in Aporrea in the night of 29-Jan, indicates something dreadful. He said in case of War it will not be like the Gulf war, but, rather, the situation may be like Chechenia or Somalia.
31.01.2019: President Maduro announced, as we saw in Aporrea on 31-Jan at about 2:30 AM (for convenience we changed all date and time to Indian Standard Time and Date) that most modern weapons and machineries are arriving now from Russia, we are to keep us most updated in terms of military, artillery, anti-aircrafts etc. On the other hand, another news was published on 31-Jan at about 3:45 AM here, that governments of Uruguay and Mexico are inviting different parties of dispute and international organisations for a Dialogue on Venezuelan Crisis. Most probably the meeting will be held on 7-Feb at Montevideo.
From some pro-Chávez portals like Aporrea we were getting disturbing signals about Venezuela from early January. For example, an article by Heinz Dieterich which appeared on January 10 very early morning was headlined: Battle of Caracas; another of his article published on morning of 21-Jan was titled: Collapse of Socialist Dystopia of Maduro. On that same 21-Jan at evening we got an interview of Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza taken by Amy Goodman, “Is there a Coup in Progress” which and we heard of a small coup attempt by a few dozens of Venezuelan forces (starting at night, 2:30 AM their time) which could be averted quickly, and all rebels eventually surrendered.
It all started with Juan Guaidó being declared as President by the opposition controlled National Assembly on January 5 and then he declared himself as the President of Venezuela. He took oath to office on 23-Jan and soon the USA and its allies in Latin America and also Canada recognised him as the head of state. UK also gave recognition. The European Union is yet to pronounce their approval, but it is perhaps just a matter of time. Interestingly, the Bolivarian Intelligence Agency, under control of Maduro led government, arrested Guaidó on 17-Jan but was quickly released by Maduro’s intervention. Among the Group of Lima countries (a group established last year) Mexico did not give Guaidó recognition. Instead, Mexico and Uruguay offered to serve as mediator in the crisis.
Nicolas Maduro, elected president of Venezuela last May in an opposition-boycotted presidential election, agreed to a ‘dialogue’ arranged by mediators as a way out of the present crisis — and that dialogue was suggested by Mexico, now under the leadership of President AMLO (Andrés Manuel López Obrador), and Uruguay. But his agreement with the dialogue proposal is also like agreeing indirectly to the fact that there is a ‘dispute’ regarding the legitimacy of the President (Maduro) and National Constituent Assembly (election to which was held in Jul-2017 and boycotted by the opposition) on the one hand and the National Assembly or parliament on the other. (The National Assembly was elected on Dec-2015, in which the main opposition block got 56% votes and 64 seats, another 45 seats were gathered by other opposition parties, totalling more than 100 seats, which Guaidó represents, and Maduro’s block got about 41% votes and 50 seats). If the government led by Maduro was considered as undisputed and legitimate then any question of dialogue with the opposition, mediated by international third parties (Mexico and Uruguay), could not arise.
Twenty-eight people were killed in Venezuela between January 21 and 24. Venezuelan human rights organization SURGENTES examined who has been most affected by the spiral of violence. At least 38 percent of the protests were violent and 28.5 percent of them saw confrontations with security forces, with firearms and blunt objects used. In 42.8 percent of the cases, it is alleged that the action of state security forces was responsible for the killings. The Bolivarian National Police (in particular its special forces command, FAES) is the body most denounced, followed by the Bolivarian National Guard (GNB). This is as per a Venezuelanalysis.com report dated 26-Jan. “Almost all of these deaths occurred in poorer areas” the report said. [“The Invisibility of Protester Deaths in Poor Areas” By SURGENTES, Jan 26th 2019]
By the way, Heinz Dieterich’s assumption (on morning of 29-Jan in Aporrea) that Venezuelan army would abandon Maduro (or hand Maduro over to USA) seems farfetched or too much stretched. Dietrich did not pay any value to the army chief’s comment (on 28-Jan and available at Union Radio site) that army did not have any belief in the amnesty proposal given by Guaidó at the behest of the USA (the army said that the amnesty proposal is just an instrument of manipulation and nobody here in the Armed Forces has any faith on this, and wont swallow this: “es un instrumento de manipulación, aquí en la Fuerza Armada Nadie se cree eso, nadie come con eso”.) Although Guaidó made it clear that they are in touch with persons within the government and the armed forces and admitted that he met the head of the Constituent Assembly, Diasdado Cabello.
Nonetheless, on 29-Jan morning we got a ‘rousing’ message from Cabello: “When the first shot sounds, the people will go out in the street, take position with knee on the ground and rifles on their soldiers with open bayonets, to tell that invaders will not be allowed to set their foot in the fatherland”.
A question may arise: Why the USA and its local collaborators in Venezuela chose this particular juncture for intervention? Is it not adventurism? Has the USA forgot its humiliation in the coup d’état attempt of 2002 that failed miserably? USA has already been tightening their noose on Venezuela’s neck by one after another sanctions knowing the only valuable thing Venezuela has is petroleum. Moreover, the falling price of petroleum in wold market (an US manoeuvre?) served US purpose of attacking economically Venezuela, and also to some extent hurting Russia and Iran. But most of the ‘lefts’ often do not like to look beyond these imperialist machinations, and they get angry if any ‘fault’ with their models ‘twenty-first century socialism’ are discussed (unless criticisms are written by renowned persons). Professor Cira Pascual Marquina (Political Science Professor at the Universidad de Bolivariana de Venezuela in Caracas and staff writer for Venezuelanalysis.com) wrote an article (dated Jan 3) – ‘How to Get Venezuela’s Economy Going Again: A Conversation with Luis Enrique Gavazut’ (Gavazut is a renowned left economist). In that we can see how drastically Venezuela’s petroleum production is falling, about 40% in 3 years (a graph below displays production since Dec-2014)!
Figure – 1: Petroleum Production of PDVSA, an graph made from OPEC figures, taken here from Venezuelanalysis.com
A 2016 report in El Nacional reported that since 2009 almost 10000 technicians, engineers and operators left the state owned Petro-company PDVSA. In 2018 there were many reports of migration of experienced technicians. Several Venezuelan intellectuals accused the top management of the PDVSA, particularly the top state appointees. Let us recall what happened when after the failed coup attempt of 2002, the bosses of petroleum industry, backed by US, arranged die down of Petro production in Venezuela. Chavez issued an open call to the workers and all of the country to revive petroleum production and save revolution. There was efficient technicians and management team led and developed by pro-Chavez and Bolivarian famous energy engineer Rafael Ramírez (who later served as Venezuelan permanent representative at UN) and especially the workers, including retired workers too and technicians who came back to save Venezuelan Petroleum industry and perhaps within three months the industry crossed the previous production figure. (This exemplary move was one of the impetus behind the spontaneous demand of ‘workers control’ in industries there. Incidentally, Rafael Ramírez resigned following differences with Maduro and being instructed by Maduro to resign.)
Besides this debacle in petroleum industry there is a severe crisis in market. It is true that Venezuela in 95% dependent on petroleum still now, and some food is still needed to be imported. For example, 19% of all imports were food items in 2013. In 2017 we find a BBC report saying – “Venezuela used to produce 70% of its food – now we import 70% of the food,” says Ramon Bolotin, a director at Venezuela’s Confederation of Associations of Agricultural Producers. Severe shortage led to (or the opposition used it to fuel) ‘food-riots’. Add with this the awful inflation, perhaps it crossed 2.5 million percent at the beginning of this year! In the Chávez era inflation was always less (except in 2008 when it was 30.9%). But from 2013 Maduro era the story is different: 2013 – 57.4%, 2014 – 64.7%, 2015 – 159.7%, 2016 – 302.6%, 2017 – 2812.2% and 2018 – 2,500,000% !!!
Figure – 2: Inflation in Venezuela, 2008-2018. From – La Republica, 25-Jan 2019, “With Maduro in Power, the Venezuelan Economy Shrank by 44.3% in last 5 years”
The government is regularly doing upward-revise of wages. Black market is rampant. And government has practically no control over the market except ineffective subsidy and food-stamp mechanism. Even the pro-government Communist Party of Venezuela’s journal in December 2018 issue had the main front-page story – wages are not at all permitting a dignified life anymore. [Tribuna Popular: 6-19 Dec 2018. El Salario No Alcanza Para Vivir Con DIgnidad.] Before that, on 28-Nov the party “denounced the regressive salary policy and calls on the working class to join forces with the working people of the city and the countryside, for the defence of their conquests, and for a revolutionary solution to the crisis”.
Figure – 3: Fall in Real wages (plus Bonus) – the Blue line shows Real wages and bonus and the Red line shows inter-year variations. Got from “Hyperinflation, Industry, Cash and Salaries in Venezuela” 7-Sept 2018, Venezuelanalysis.com
In Aporrea we can see two ‘strange’ appeals – one by a Citizen’s Platform in Defence of Constitution and another by Seven Ex-Ministers of Chávez, some names are common in both.
- One appeal was published on 28-Jan 1PM (IST) which was signed by Héctor Navarro – ex minister energy electricity and education, Gustavo Márquez – ex- ambassador, Señora Oly Millán — economista and ex-minister, Edgardo Lander, — professor, sociologist, Santiago Arconada — water technologists and hydrologist, Señora Dr. Ana Elisa Osorio, — ex-minister, ecologist and member of PARLATINO (Latin-am parliament), and two communist leaders Juan García and Gonzalo Gómez. It says, “The Platform affirms that “the self-proclamation of the president of the National Assembly, Deputy Juan Guaidó, as the “interim” president of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, and his recognition by the government of Trump and his puppets of the so-called Grupo de Lima, is the start of a coup d’état”. Faced with this, they express deep concern about what could lead to a Civil War. To try to avoid that “tragic denouement” the PCDC proposes that the solution of the political crisis be channelled through dialogue between the National Assembly and the Government of Nicolás Maduro and that the Venezuelan people be consulted, so that it may decide in referendum binding consultancy, whether or not it wants to renew all public powers.”
- Another appeal was signed by seven ministers of Hugo Chávez government: Hugo Cabezas, Jorge Giordani, Héctor Navarro, Oly Millán, Gustavo Marquez, Ana Elisa Osorio and Ramón Rosales. It was dated 24-Jan 2019. It said, “with great firmness and conviction, we exhort the conflicting powers to build a route characterized by a fatherland agreement, an agreement with a vision of the future, a responsible agreement, which provides for the resignation of absolutely all powers, in orderly and in front of the people, in order to call, in peremptory time, a new general election process that relegate all powers, to advance a plan that addresses the humanitarian emergency and opens the way to a new Venezuela. Ultimately, it is about putting the decisions in the hands of the sovereign, as stated in our Constitution. Otherwise, the drift of the crisis will lead us inexorably to a civil war with international participation, the installation directly of fascism, with all that this implies for the present and future generations of Venezuelans, or the installation, based on compromises, of a government that does not represent the interests of Venezuelans.”
What President AMLO of Mexico and persons of Uruguay government suggest are yet to be seen. Anyway, things they point are towards an interim transitional government towards another fresh election.
However, latest reports available today suggest that the USA rejected the call of Mexico and Uruguay for a Dialogue. Although, European Union may support the dialogue initiative as majority of EU members are not ready to issue support for US backed Guaidó.
The author is an activist who writes on political and socioeconomic issues and also on environmental issues. Some of his articles are published in Frontier Weekly. He lives in West Bengal, India. Presently he is a research worker. He can be reached at [email protected]
[The primary version of this was published in the website Frontier Weekly on 31.01.2019]