The situation was bleak for Venezuela’s pro-poor Bolivarian Revolution in the first half of last year.
With a dire economic situation and a growing wave of violent opposition protests, President Nicolas Maduro turned the tables by convening a National Constituent Assembly (ANC) in July.
From that point, there has been a resurgence of Chavismo (as the Bolivarian movement is known after late socialist president Hugo Chavez). The ANC’s success was followed by resounding victories in regional and municipal elections. But with the April 22 presidential elections on the horizon, significant challenges remain to be solved while US imperialist pressure is ratcheting up.
The ANC delivered on what was perhaps its most important pledge – peace. The right-wing opposition attempt to boycott it completely backfired and the violent street protests subsided.
The replacement of the chief prosecutor saw a renewed effort in the battle against corruption, particularly in the state oil company PDVSA.
Nevertheless, there has been no tackling of the severe economic crisis. People have been clamouring for action against the economic war waged by the business sector as shortages worsen and prices skyrocket.
There have been episodes of looting, and workers in state companies have complained about the crumbling infrastructure and their rapidly declining working conditions and living standards.
But there have also been potentially positive developments. The ANC has passed a long overdue law granting legal status to workers’ councils. The creation of workers councils in workplaces could be a weapon against sabotage from capitalists.
Currency exchange controls have also been overhauled. The hope is that this will do away with what was a tremendously lucrative avenue for corruption and speculation.
From dialogue to coup
In this context of economic turmoil but political momentum, the Venezuelan government announced that an agreement for democratic coexistence with the opposition, negotiated in the Dominican Republic, was on the verge of being signed earlier this month.
The government delegation signed what they claimed – and mediators such as former Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero confirmed – was the final agreement, but the opposition Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD) delegation did not.
The Venezuelan opposition engaged in the dialogue only to refuse to sign the document at the 11th hour – perhaps after receiving instructions from the US administration.
At this point, it is not clear if the MUD will take part in the presidential elections.
The US strategy is clear enough. Backing the opposition in an election is not a priority. Given Chavismo’s surprising resilience and the opposition’s stumbling from one blunder to the next, this avenue does not offer enough of a chance of success. From the US point of view, it is safer to pre-emptively declare any election invalid.
With its European and Latin American lackeys not far behind, it will keep tightening the sanctions and financial blockade against Venezuela, possibly culminating in an oil embargo that would cripple Venezuela’s main income source.
The goal is to impose so much suffering on the Venezuelan people that the armed forces, or a section of it, would be compelled to take power in a coup. US leaders, from secretary of state Rex Tillerson to Senator Marco Rubio, have openly endorsed this.
The calls for a foreign invasion have grown louder in recent days, with constant military drills and recent troop movements in Brazil and Colombia. Such calls have nothing to do with “humanitarian concerns”. This prospect still remains unlikely and deeply unpopular, but things can change quickly.
Not enough socialism
Without diminishing the fact that Venezuela is the main obstacle to US hegemony in Latin America, we should be clear about what is at stake: a return to power of the capitalist class, electorally or otherwise, would have disastrous consequences for the poor and working class in Venezuela.
The economic crisis would be solved on the backs of the workers through huge cuts, layoffs and dismantling of social programs. All the opposition’s bottled rage from these past 20 years would be unleashed with a vengeance against all those looking like Chavistas.
However, this does not mean that everything will be solved if the threat of a coup subsides and Maduro gets re-elected. Nor does the fact that the US is hell-bent on removing Maduro mean that everything he does is a step towards socialism.
Despite all the progress and the rhetoric, capitalism is still very much in place in Venezuela.
The Venezuelan government has gone out of its way in the recent past to offer assurances to investors, national and foreign, that their investments will be lucrative in Venezuela and safe from the danger of nationalisation.
Another policy that continues is the handing out of dollars to private companies in the hope that they will do the honourable thing and import whatever they promised to.
The strategy of offering some concessions to capitalists and calling for dialogue has clearly not worked. It has been met with increasing hostility and crippling sanctions, while the capitalists have constantly sabotaged the distribution chain.
The efforts to stave off a coup and defeat the economic war go hand in hand. The state needs to assume control over imports, and nationalise the financial sector and all companies involved in the economic war, so that dollars are no longer squandered or shipped to tax havens.
But state control is not enough. There needs to be increased workers’ control over the economy, especially through the communes, to ensure that all resources are used in the interest of the people.
The mobilisation of the workers and the reinforcement of popular self-defence units are the best defence against a coup. For all the natural resources in Venezuela, its most powerful asset is still a mobilised people.
On this matter, it should be mentioned that there have been worrying episodes in recent times.
From the legal roadblocks imposed on commune leader Angel Prado's mayoral candidacy, to cases where security forces come down on the side of landowners in disputes where communes want to put unproductive land to work, or the arrest of critical trade unionists, there is a legitimate concern that the more radical elements of the Bolivarian Revolution are being stifled.
But it should go without saying that the duty of leftist and progressive movements around the world is to stand in solidarity with the Venezuelan poor and working class. This means, first and foremost, opposing imperial aggression, in the form of sanctions or worse.
Only after that is established is there room to discuss and be critical about the internal dynamics of the Bolivarian Revolution.
[Abridged from Venezuela Analysis.]