Venezuela is in the midst of political, economic, and social crisis. Democratically elected president Nicolas Maduro has been the target of assassination attempts and multiple coup attempts led by opposition leaders and supported by the Trump administration. The Venezuelan economy has been suffering from high rates of inflation which have been exasperated by economic sabotage in the form of US led sanctions and blockades. These sanctions and blockades have made it increasingly difficult for Venezuela to acquire basic goods and medical supplies. Trump has made no secret his desire to remove President Maduro and even his plans to invade Venezuela. Trump and the mainstream media present President Maduro as a bloodthirsty dictator. Many people left, right, and center support this view with little question.
However, this is not the reality of the situation. I asked Dakota Lilly to address some of the most common misconceptions and fallacies about Venezuela, the Bolivarian Revolution, and President Maduro. Dakota Lilly is the Co-Founder of Students and Youth for a New America, which is an organization that “was founded to bring socialism to the working people of the United States.” The organization focuses on educating people “on their liberation and the exploitation of capitalism.” Dakota stated “it takes much inspiration from Chavismo, socialism of the 21ST century, the Cuban Revolution and others.” Dakota started our interview off by providing a bit of background and context around the crisis in Venezuela today.
History of the Bolivarian Revolution
“Hugo Chavez’s movement, the fifth republic movement, which he founded in the 90s, called to move beyond the governments of the 4th republic. It was not until the mid 2000’s that Chavez proclaimed his movement as socialistic. It was around 2005 when Chavez started speaking about socialism for the 21st century. During this period, Venezuela managed to eliminate adult illiteracy and received recognition from the United Nations for combating hunger. Chavez also provided free education and healthcare, doubled the amount of public universities; unemployment and inflation was kept low, price controls were set up, poverty was halved and extreme poverty was greatly reduced.”
“Chavez also utilized popular consultations for the rewriting of the constitution. The Bolivarian missions were wide ranging, including setting up housing, food, and security to aid the transition to socialism. Chavez was victorious in every single election he faced except for one which was the constitutional referendum. He changed the proposed reforms after he lost the election by a slim margin, but the edited referendum was passed. During the Chavez presidency, Venezuela also experienced economic growth. Internationally, Venezuela positioned themselves as pro Palestinian, and showed support for China. Also during this time most Latin American countries had left wing to center left governments, this was often referred to as the pink tide. Many countries along with Venezuela signed agreements to create the Banco Del Sur and many international political agreements designed to counter the IMF, World Bank and the G20. The goal was to realize Simon Bolivar’s vision of a Patria Grande. Patria Grande refers to the concept of a shared homeland for most if not all of Latin America and the Caribbean. Unfortunately this was much more of a shared reality 5 to 10 years ago, but several electoral setbacks put that on hold.”
“The coup against Chavez in 2002 was motivated mainly by economic and imperialistic factors. The United States and the CIA had their hands in it, but also the coup was coordinated with Venezuelan oligarchy and capitalists. The local oligarchy and capitalists were more than eager to see the ousting of Chavez. One of the factors that set off the local oligarchs was Chavez’s desire to reform the state owned oil company. Keep in mind that this coup happened before Chavez proclaimed himself a socialist. Even before Chavez’s real radicalization, they were already opposed to him. Of course as well all know in 2002 there was the attempted coup against Hugo Chavez by the United States. The interim president was Carmona, until low-level members of the military restored Chavez to power. The current coup against Nicolas Maduro, as well as the one in not only 2002 but throughout his presidency is strikingly similar to the 1954 coup against president Arbenz of Guatemala, and particularly the 1973 Allende coup in Chile.”
The Economy and Democracy in Venezuela
As Dakota stated, the contrasts between the 1954 coup in Guatemala and 1973 coup in Chile is chillingly stark. The legacy of US Imperialism is long and bloody; the United States has directly intervened in Latin America 56 times and currently has military bases in 4 countries in Latin America. The fact that once again the United States is actively pursuing a coup against a left leaning Latin American government should not come as a surprise. One could argue that Venezuela would deserve our support, especially from those of us aligned on the left, in their struggle for self-determination and on the grounds of anti-Imperialism. However, there are far too many misconceptions and distortions about Venezuela and president Maduro that get hurled around by the right wing and even the left. These misconceptions range from Maduro being a bloody dictator to everyone in Venezuela is starving and the country is on the brink of collapse. I asked Dakota to dispel some of these misconceptions and offer an alternative view on Venezuela and the state of their democracy.
“In terms of economics I’m not going to say inflation is not currently a problem, however, since Chavez was elected inflation has consistently been lower than in comparison to his predecessors. During Chavez inflation was never really a problem especially with the growth of wages. The inflation was not really a problem until around 2014, but the inflation rate is very manipulated, if you look at the course of the presidency of Chavez, right before electoral campaigns, there would be an upsurge of inflation and shortages, and the same with other economic indicators. The shortages and inflation are not a new phenomenon, there are articles on big conglomerates and companies which have let tons of food go unused in warehouses all around the country. There have been opposition protesters who set 40 tons of food on fire. There is a coordinated effort of sabotage, everyday they find warehouses of food, and there have been companies who have even buried chicks alive.”
“After Maduro won the election, the opposition parties known at the time as the MUD or the Democratic Unity Roundtable, called for the ‘Exit’ to force Maduro and his party out of office. Then in 2015 when the MUD won the parliamentary elections, they stated within six months the government will fall. That was their mission. Certain members of the opposition such as Henrique Capriles , Leopoldo Lopez and Freddy Guevara called for violent protests, Henrique Capriles said ‘the Venezuelan people must unleash their rage upon the streets of Venezuela.’ These protests led to the deaths of hundreds of people, mainly mind you deaths of civilians who were not involved at all or supporters of the government. There was the case of Orlando Figuera who was a dark skinned person, who was in a wealthy neighborhood in Caracas where there was an opposition protest, he was accused of being a Chavista, and the last words he heard before being burned to death was ‘This is what we do to Chavistas here.” There was also the case of an army officer who stole a helicopter and dropped grenades onto the Supreme Court building. If this kind of stuff happened in the United States there would be martial law, but that didn’t happen in Venezuela. Instead President Maduro called for a peaceful process, he called for a constitute assembly, which under the Venezuelan constitution he is given the authority to do so. Maduro said he wanted everyone to participate; he called on the opposition to participate.”
“The opposition of course did not participate, because they know the people of Venezuela are not behind them. They pick and chose when they participate because they want a guarantee that they will win. After the constitutional assembly was called, some of the opposition did participate in recent elections. But there is a very coordinated effort to label Maduro a dictator. I have never seen a dictator with the amount of elections that Maduro and Chavez both underwent. The amount of double standard that is applied is outrageous, look at Saudi Arabia and Israel. both United States allies, and neither one can be called democratic. Meanwhile Venezuela has some of the best elections in the world in terms of auditing, transparency and participation. To say Maduro is a dictator is simply a lie; to say Venezuela does not have democracy is a lie. The opposition, the US government, and the media have a problem when the public powers in Venezuela, the powers enshrined in the constitution when it is applied, because most of the time it is applied against the opposition because the opposition is in violation of the constitution. You cannot call for violent protests with impunity. But there are public powers in Venezuela and they operate according to the constitution.”
“I think Cuba and Venezuela are excellent examples of Democracy we should follow. Cuba has almost unanimous participation in their elections, and Venezuela had about 30% participation in municipal elections while almost no one participates in US municipal elections. Venezuela and Cuba are participatory democracies, people are expected to perform democracy as a way of life and participate.”
Dakota made the point abundantly clear that Venezuela is indeed a democracy, President Maduro was democratically elected, and the public institutions of Venezuela are functioning according to the constitution. This is not to say that there are not individual cases of corruption or problems within the political system, but what country does not suffer from these ills? The United States political system certainly leaves something to be desired when it comes to democracy. We can look at the fact that Trump actually lost the majority vote yet still won the presidency. The fact remains that Venezuela is indeed a democratic country yet is facing a crisis of democracy from violent opposition protests and foreign intervention. However, these facts are often ignored in the mainstream media. The media plays a heavy roll in shaping how an average person views the situation in Venezuela. Could it be that several extremely wealthy corporations who control the vast amount of media the public consumes could have something to gain by framing Maduro as a dictator and Venezuela as an apocalyptic hellscape? I asked Dakota to comment on why most mainstream media such as Fox News, CNN and the New York Times promote a negative narrative on Venezuela. Does race and class play a role in this negative media portrayal of Maduro and Venezuela? What impact does this portrayal have upon global politics?
“It is worth noting it is not just media outlets in the United States, but media in Europe in some Latin American countries are just as bad. In particular Spain is very big on reporting on Venezuela, while completely ignoring the disaster in their country. The media is always against these progressive or socialist governments, Even when Argentina was under a left government under the Kirchners, one of their opponents was one of the largest media conglomerates in the country. The hostility from the media comes from the threat of being a ‘good example’ that Venezuela, Bolivia, and Cuba pose. Let’s remember that in the United States, 6 companies control 90 percent of the media. it is pretty much their job to demonize these progressive left socialist governments. Even if you look at the coverage of the Gilet Jaune protests in France there is shockingly little coverage compared to Venezuela. When is the last time the media had anything to say about the disaster in Columbia where the infant mortality rate in some regions is extremely high? The media also fails to mention of the thousands of Venezuelans that left the country during the crisis, ten thousand have now returned home.”
“During the presidential election in Brazil, Bolsonaro called for his forces to beat back the forces of the left. He did point to Venezuela as an example that needed to be beat back. It is ironic that Bolsonaro points to Venezuela as a failure when they depend on Venezuela for oil and electricity because there is a section of Brazil that shares a border with Venezuela. Venezuela has been providing Brazil with electricity but has not been paid in months.”
“There is absolutely a racial and class element to the protests and treatment of Nicolas Maduro. Maduro was a bus driver and the leader of the bus driver union and that is something that is always thrown in his face. That is something that has been thrown in my face, people say ‘he’s a bus driver, how can you support a bus driver!’ Which is ridiculous because that is who should be in charge, working class people should have the power. It is offensive because it challenges the power the ruling class elites. There have been some protests which have been peaceful but many which have been violent due to the opposition’s behavior. Most of these protests have been located in upper middle class neighborhoods. There is a reason why they were not in working class neighborhoods or the barrios, that’s because the working class supports the government.”
Socialism doesn’t work, look at Venezuela!
As Dakota stated, we should keep in mind the threat that socialist and progressive countries pose to global capitalism hegemonic power. We can use simple comparisons between the media coverage of different movements, countries, and political figures to gain a better understanding. For example, the business press lauded the recent election of the fascist Bolsonaro as a man who may turn the country around, The Wall Street Journal went as far as to give their endorsement for his campaign. The Gillete Jaune protests has not led CNN or Fox News to advocate or suggest the idea that Emanuel Macron is a bloody dictator who should step down from power at once. We can also use historical examples: Hitler was once chosen as Time magazine’s person of the year. Now compare the coverage Maduro and Venezuela receive in the mainstream media. The comparison is deeply revealing of where the allegiance of corporate media lies. Another favorite talking point that media pundits and right wingers like to spew is that Venezuela is textbook example that socialism just does not work. If you try having a discussion about socialism online or with your conservative uncle you are sure to encounter the ‘But look at Venezuela’ argument. However, is Venezuela really a socialist country? Is socialism really to blame for their economic hardships? Or are there other factors at work? I asked Dakota to elaborate on the question of socialism in Venezuela.
“I believe Venezuela is transitioning to socialism, I think the transition process is very hard and takes a long time, especially when there are imperialist elements and the opposition is very violent. Even in 2002, there was an oil worker lockout because most oil workers were loyal to the former administration and refused to work for Chavez. Once Chavez put the Oil industry back into state hands, they went on strike and put the country to a halt. Despite constant opposition there were incredible gains made by Chavez, such as reduction of poverty and hunger. Illiteracy was also wiped out. Much like I think there has never been a communist society as defined by a classless, stateless and moneyless society, to say a country is socialist, what does that mean exactly? I think Venezuela is on its way to socialism, I think it should be a model, it is one of the few times there was not an armed revolution to take state power. I think the Bolivarian revolution should be a model for all socialists to follow, in terms of empowering the people, the reduction of poverty and millions of homes built for the people, which is all absolutely amazing. Some critics say this is just oil socialism, since it is financed by oil money. I would respond saying the oil industry was nationalized and is now being used for the good of the people, the commanding heights of the economy are in the hands of the people, they are in the hands of a revolutionary government which represents the people in a democratic socialist fashion. I would say that is socialism; socialism is using the surplus value and investing into the people. We should view Venezuela as on the road to socialism, but that process is very difficult considering the outside factors. As Fidel Castro once said, ‘revolution is not a bed of roses.’ In revolutions there are a lot of contradictions. Sometimes the revolution has to take some steps back, it is a never ending battle especially when the world is against you and the most powerful forces are hell-bent on destroying any progress that is made, which is true for every socialist country and socialist leaning country.”
In Defense of the Bolivarian Revolution
I completely agree with Dakota’s analysis. Those of us on the left should not turn our backs on Venezuela and deny that a revolution has been in process. Venezuela may not be an established socialist country, but it is currently undergoing a revolutionary process to achieve that goal. Socialism is a struggle, it is a constant fight that may encounter serious roadblocks and difficulties, and sometimes a revolution has to take a step back in order to take two steps forward. Also, it is crucial that we make note of the incredible gains made by the Bolivarian revolution, which is no small feat. Despite all the progress made for the working class, the ruling classes of Venezuela and the United States are doing their utmost to reverse progress and erase the threat of a good example. I closed my interview with Dakota by asking him why Venezuela should be supported. What is it that ordinary people more broadly and the left more specifically, fail to understand about the revolutionary struggle in Venezuela. Also, why is it important that we show solidarity with the struggle of the Bolivarian Revolution?
“I think the biggest misconception is that Venezuela is on the verge of collapse. I’ve read articles from the US that Venezuelans are eating zoo animals, which is simply not true. I want people to know that the Venezuelan people are resilient, institutions are still operating, if you call the police they will arrive. People are still going to work and school. It is a society that is facing tremendous obstacles, many of which have been put in their way by outside forces, but it is a society that continues to operate regardless of what the hegemonic media chooses to report on. I would urge those not on the left to support Venezuela and not intervention in Venezuela. I would also urge the left to support Venezuela because it is a process of socialism; it is a revolution that is happening in a different way than revolutions have happened in the past. However the social statistics of emancipatory process that have happened since Chavez are more than evident that a revolution is taking place. Recently we saw that Venezuela built 2.5 million modern homes distributed to the working class. We have seen Venezuela eradicate illiteracy and reduce poverty. These are fundamental social rights that so many people are denied because of the excesses of capitalism, the Bolivarian revolution got rid of that excess.”
“Yes, the revolution is going to have better days. During the Cuban Revolution, which is still ongoing, there was the ‘special period’ where things got extremely tough. During this time some Marxists and some on the left abandoned the cause of Cuba, which was the wrong thing to do. There is a segment of the left that is a bit opportunistic in who they support. I think it is fundamental point of being on the left to support Venezuela. I also think ordinary Americans should support the process in Venezuela because it serves as model for them to strive for. There were people in Venezuela who had never seen a doctor before, never had a job or received an education, and that changed when Chavez came to power. I think that is how millions ordinary Americans currently feel. In the US wages are down and unemployment is high, regardless of what the government tells you. Things are not going well for your average American, but they are going well for people at the top, which is very similar to how things were in Venezuela for a long time. It is crucial that people in the United States, whether they consider themselves on the left or not, support Venezuela because it shows what can be done. Venezuela serves as an example for the left to use in order to bring ordinary Americans to the left. I doubt many Venezuelans considered themselves communists, socialists, or progressives before the revolutionary process began. We can learn a lot from the Bolivarian revolution and the tactics of Chavez, which are important for us to employ.”
“Also, I would be incorrect if I did not point out that there us a certain element among the left with a very Eurocentric view. These people hold common misconceptions such as Venezuela is not revolutionary enough; it is not nationalizing business fast enough, even the minister of the Greek communist party accuses Bolivia of the same thing. This is colonialist way of thinking, that their way must be imposed on others. A Socialist revolution in Greece or France would look very different than in Venezuela, because the material conditions of those countries are different. I would implore leftists not to be so dogmatic or hard handed with their analysis. Venezuela is revolutionary and one just has to look at the results of the last 15 years and to see that is something worth defending and supporting. I will always be on the side of the Bolivarian revolution and I hope many people on the left and ordinary Americans will join me, and bring some of Venezuela’s revolutionary ideals to the United States and the rest of the world.”
Regretfully, I have to admit that I had several hesitations regarding Venezuela. I was reluctant to show support or solidarity with the Bolivarian Revolution and President Maduro. I bought the image that Maduro was pursuing an undemocratic course and certainly was no socialist. This view was due to my personal picture perfect idea of what socialism looks like and how it should function. Venezuela fell short of my ideal vision of socialism, as reality always does with ideal situations and outcomes. However, the problem was I was not using a materialist analysis; I failed to take into account the impact US imperialism and violent reactionary forces may have upon a revolutionary movement. I did not fully grasp what it takes to set into motion a revolutionary transformation of society. In this transformation there are going to be setbacks, roadblocks and difficult trials.
As I write this the situation in Venezuela is changing daily. Opposition leader Juan Guaido has declared himself president with full support from the Trump administration. Now more than ever Venezuela needs our support and solidarity. For those of us like myself, who live in the heart of US capitalism and benefit off of the historical and current process of Imperialist wealth and resource extraction from the developing world, it is easy to cast critiques upon the world. You may not agree with every action or policy Maduro or Chavez pursued, the Bolivarian revolution may not fit in your particular left tendency, which is understandable. But I strongly urge those on the left and beyond to show our revolutionary love and support for the anti-Capitalist and anti-Imperialist movements of Cuba, Bolivia, Venezuela, and those all around the world, which daily face the wrath of US hegemonic domination. It is imperative that we recognize and learn from the incredible social and economic achievements the Bolivarian revolution has accomplished and show solidarity during times of tribulations. In short, my message for the Imperialist and Capitalist forces is hands off Venezuela.
 https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/venezuela-supreme-court-attack-grenade-police-helicopter-maduro-oscar-perez-a7811426.html https://www.nytimes.com/2018/08/10/world/americas/venezuela-video-analysis.html
Additional Sources and Reading Materials
- Building The Commune Radical Democracy in Venezuela by George Ciccariello-Maher, available at Verso books
- The Revolution Will Not Be Televised-Chavez: Inside the Coup https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Id–ZFtjR5c
- 85% Venezuelans oppose violent protests https://venezuelanalysis.com/news/13226
- Pro-Chavista march https://www.greenleft.org.au/content/pro-government-marchers-flood-venezuela%E2%80%99s-capital-amid-right-wing-violence-coup-threats
- Why Can’t the US left get Venezuela Right https://www.counterpunch.org/2017/07/13/why-cant-the-u-s-left-get-venezuela-right-2/
- Marxist Economist Richard Wolff on Venezuela https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Ar_JkeNEgk https://www.foxbusiness.com/markets/falling-oil-prices-caused-venezuelan-crisis-not-socialism-marxist-economist https://www.rdwolff.com/briankendall/could_you_speak_about_the_situation_in_venezuela
- A Review of US Media Coverage on Venezuela https://venezuelanalysis.com/analysis/13329
- Achievements of Hugo Chavez https://www.counterpunch.org/2012/12/14/the-achievements-of-hugo-chavez/