Venezuela: US backs counter-revolutionaries in campaign to oust Maduro

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Venezuela’s right wing has restated its principal aim, vowing to oust socialist President Nicolas Maduro by July and roll back 17 years of the Bolivarian revolutionary process. To do so would return the country to the rampant neoliberalism and crushing poverty that dominated at the end of the last century. Their campaign continues to be underwritten by US imperialism. Sam Mcgill reports.

On 8 March the opposition coalition, the Movement of Democratic Unity (MUD) published its ‘Roadmap for change’, a four-pronged campaign to overthrow Maduro and the socialist PSUV government. Jesus Torrealba, MUD’s executive secretary, declared: ‘We call on the entire Venezuelan people in order to force Maduro to resign as the President of the country’. The ‘Roadmap’ details plans to seek a constitutional amendment reducing the presidential term, launch a recall referendum, rewrite the constitution and mobilise on the streets. Meanwhile in March US President Obama restated his intent to destabilize the country, renewing a 2015 decree declaring Venezuela an ‘unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States’. The International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA) enables Obama to block transactions, freeze governmental assets and confiscate Venezuelan state property. Typically the IEEPA operates alongside increased covert and military interventions and media vilification. It has been used against Cuba, Iran, Syria and Russia. Following the electoral success of the right-wing opposition in December, when the MUD gained majority control over Venezuela’s National Assembly, US imperialism is ratcheting up support for the forces of counter-revolution.

The US announcement has provoked anger in Venezuela. Maduro made the point that ‘Unlike the US we have never killed innocent children nor bombed hospitals’. Regional bodies UNASUR and CELAC strongly rejected the decree, echoing last year’s continental backlash that forced Obama to publicly admit Venezuela did ‘not pose a threat’ to the United States. Cuba has reiterated its support for President Maduro, who made a state visit to Havana the week before Obama, and was awarded the Order of Jose Marti, one of the country’s highest honours.

Removing Maduro from office through legal channels poses significant challenges for the MUD. The opposition’s proposed constitutional amendment seeks to shorten the presidential term from six to four years, requiring new presidential elections this year. However, constitutional lawyers say this could only affect future presidential mandates. A recall referendum would require the support of 20% of the electorate – nearly four million signatures – which even opposition politicians recognise could take over 220 days to collect. If a referendum is not held before 1 January 2017, the constitution would require Venezuela’s socialist vice-president Jorge Arreaza to take over for the remainder of the presidential term, rather than triggering fresh elections. Convoking a constituent assembly to rewrite the constitution would also be a complex and lengthy process.

And so, impatient at legal and bureaucratic barriers to achieving their reactionary aims, some MUD politicians have made it clear that they are prepared to use unconstitutional means to unseat Maduro. Some have explicitly called for armed rebellion and the forced expulsion of the socialist government – a threat to rekindle the right-wing street violence of 2014 that left 43 dead. However, the first of the street protests demanding Maduro’s resignation attracted significantly fewer numbers than previous opposition marches and was dwarfed by a Chavista march as tens of thousands took to the streets against Obama’s decree.

Meanwhile the opposition-controlled National Assembly and socialist National Executive have been locked in stalemate. The Assembly passed a controversial amnesty law to release ‘political prisoners’. The new law would also see those convicted of ‘individual terrorism, trafficking small quantities of drugs, fraud, scamming and usury linked to private construction’ released, alongside those imprisoned for their role in the failed 2002 coup. The Executive maintains that the law violates the constitution and the human rights of victims and has petitioned the UN Human Rights Council to evaluate its legality. The Supreme Court has thwarted MUD’s attempts to remove 13 of its PSUV-appointed judges, and granting President Maduro extra powers to tackle the economic crisis. The Supreme Court maintains that the National Assembly only has the power to exert political control on government and public administration, not on the judiciary, electoral and public bodies. The National Assembly is demanding intervention from the Organisation of American States to enforce its decisions, but in the meantime is finding its right-wing parliamentary agenda blocked.

Using the economic emergency decree, Maduro has provided funding for small businesses to obtain materials and basic goods, cracked down on tax avoidance, increased the minimum wage, extended a system of workers’ food coupons and targeted subsidies for vulnerable families. The petrol subsidy has been reduced to provide extra funding for social missions, education and housing, and production is being boosted in strategic areas. In a move to bring inflation and the parallel market under control, Maduro has overhauled the currency exchange system into just two exchange rates, a protected rate for food, medicine and raw material imports alongside a floating exchange rate for all other transactions.

However these reforms still leave the majority of the non-oil economy in private hands and it remains to be seen if the adjustments to currency exchange will reduce inflation or have any effect in detering hoarding, smuggling and speculation. Oil earnings have dropped 97% from $3bn in January 2014 to $77m this January; inflation peaked at 140% last year. Having paid $1.5bn to international bondholders in February, Venezuela is due to pay an additional $8.1bn in debt by the end of 2016. Whilst a default is not on the cards and the state has $52 billion in external assets, Venezuela’s economy is still facing serious challenges.

Tackling inflation and scarcity is crucial to countering the impact of the protracted economic crisis on the Venezuelan working class, and sustaining its commitment to the Bolivarian Revolution. The crucial factor in thwarting any attempts to oust Maduro and the socialist government will be the balance of class forces on the streets. The Venezuelan working class and poor have repeatedly proved they will come out to defend the revolutionary process – the question is whether the Maduro government can continue to defend their interests.

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 250 April/May 2016

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