London says 'hands off Venezuela'

January 30 meeting in London in solidarity with Venezuela.

Hundreds have mobilised to attend pickets and mass meetings in defence of Venezuela’s sovereignty and to demand an end to the British and US governments interference during a time of difficulty in Venezuela. Starting with a picket at the Prime Minister’s Office and continuing with two mass meetings of the progressive left, anti-war, student and labour movement, a week of protests ended with a picket of the BBC headquarters and a further action planned against the Bank of England who have illegally seized US$1.2 billion of Venezuela’s gold. The events highlighted that the attacks on Venezuela are of global importance and require international solidarity.

Attendees at a January 30 meeting called by Hands Off Venezuela heard from Alan Woods, a friend of former Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez and leader of the International Marxist Tendency, on why the Venezuelan revolution continues to hold such importance to the international left as the first revolution of the 21st Century. He spoke of his experiences in Venezuela noting, “It was the revolution which created democracy in Venezuela – for the peasants, workers, the poor. Chavez spoke of socialism and workers' control at a time when no other leader was”. Twenty years after the beginning of what many described as an unfinished revolution, the situation in the region has dramatically changed.

Speakers from the Venezuela Solidarity Campaign meeting noted that the interference from the US and British ruling class is happening at a time of increased political instability across the region. Long term anti-war and progressive author Tariq Ali outlined that right-wing forces are emboldened and looking to destroy both the actual legacy of the revolution, and the hope it represents, after the successful institutional coups in Paraguay, Honduras and Brazil. Tony Burke, Assistant General-Secretary of Unite Union, reiterated that the changes of leadership in Argentina and Brazil along with Colombia becoming a global partner of NATO, have shown intensified attacks on the progressive forces of Latin America, with the key exception of progressive victory in Mexico. Tellingly, it is Mexico who is leading the call regionally for dialogue in Venezuela.  With the US military scheduled to deliver 20 million dollars of “humanitarian aid” gathered from Brazil and Colombia, a move which the International Red Cross has criticised as politicising aid, the US shows no signs of slowing its destabilisation effort. The US, with the support of the UK, has seized assets worth 7 billion dollars knowing that the main source of cash inflow is US dollars from oil sold to US markets. UK Conservative Party Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt has called Guiado “the right person to take Venezuela forward” and called for new EU sanctions on the already suffering Venezuela.

Solidarity campaigners strongly condemned the BBC and mainstream media as leading an international disinformation campaign with Christine from the NEU comparing this with the media’s campaign against the Corbyn lead opposition party. While the BBC have presented Guido as having widespread popularity, refusing to show any images of pro-maduro marches until recently, Doug Nicol from the GFTU noted that the UK opposition remains split with large sections rejecting US interventions and sanctions. Nicols noted that while the mainstream media is running with the lie that Juan Guido was elected as president of the National Assembly, it was by agreement of rotating roster that he was occupying the position at the time of his declaration.

While the mainstream media continue their campaign of misinformation, the barely masked rhetoric of economic and humanitarian responsibility cloaks the illegality of denying self determination to a country that has democratically elected a leader not to their liking. With US and British governments squeezing the Venezuelan economy, solidarity campaigners acknowledged the serious economic difficulties facing the Venezuelan people but reiterated that any discussion must come from the position that Maduro is the legitimate president of Venezuela, receiving 31% of total eligible voters during the 2018 presidential election and 67% of votes cast, a higher percentage that almost all European leaders and higher than UK prime minister Theresa May (29%). Jeremy Hunt was widely ridiculed for accusing the government of ‘ballot box stuffing’ in an electronic voting system. Steve Hedley from the RMT visited Venezuela in 2017 and observed the electoral process noting that even though his visit was at a tumultuous time with sections of the opposition looting and rioting, the elections were free and fair with opposition involvement. Venezuela’s electoral system is wildly recognised as one of the most transparent in the world. Voters must produce ID, then have their thumbprint taken before casting their vote using an electronic system and receiving a receipt which is compared with the electronic vote. The votes are counted in front of all parties and audited publically on TV.

In contrast to the image presented of an autocratic regime incapable of accepting criticism, Rocío Manero, Venezuelan Ambassador to United Kingdom informed those at a Hands Off Venezuela meeting: “We have made mistakes, we are not asking for support for Maduro government, but rather support of international rule of law. What is at stake is the principles that guide relations amongst nations: non-intervention, self-determination. We want to be ourselves and solve our own issues”. 

Key leaders of the British Labour Party such as Jeremy Corbyn, John McDonnell and Dianne Abbott have condemned external interference, leading Tariq Ali to note that a clear way to show solidarity to Venezuela is to vote for Jeremy Corbyn. A speech by  Chris Williamson, Labour MP for Derby north, condemning the UK governments hypocrisy on Venezuela has been widely shared. Colin Burgon from Labour Friends of Progressive Latin America concluded the Venezuela Solidarity Campaign Meeting with a call to action quoting Martin Luther King “ In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”

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