Last Monday, President Obama announced a new wave of economic sanctions against Venezuela on the grounds that it is an “extraordinary threat to national security.” The executive order is nominally aimed at seven top Venezuelan state officials, whose U.S.-held assets are to be frozen and their entry into the country prohibited. Though clearly not as damaging as the sanctions imposed on Iran or the economic strangling of Iraq in the ‘90s that triggered a massive humanitarian disaster1, it’s important to remember that sanctions are an economic form of warfare. The new executive order comes after an earlier round of sanctions passed at the end of last year, part of an overall strategy of isolating and delegitimizing the rebellious Latin American government. Who says the Monroe Doctrine is dead?
The idea that American policy is motivated by pious concern for human rights is a joke. Hands off Venezuela!, the solidarity organization headed by the International Marxist Tendency pointed this out in a recent statement carried by the IMT’s American affiliate2:
“Throughout its history the USA has been involved in countless interventions in foreign countries in order to depose governments they did not like and to support and defend brutal dictatorships. More recently, in Latin America Washington has been involved in successful and failed coups in Bolivia (2008), Honduras (2009), and Paraguay (2012).
In Colombia and Mexico, the government of the United States has no problem in supporting governments which are responsible for horrific violations of human rights, corruption, linked to drug cartels, etc. No Executive Orders in these cases. They are not considered “a threat to national security.
How can President Obama even talk about human rights and democratic institutions when barely six weeks ago he headed a high level delegation to Saudi Arabia to attend the funeral of this country’s ruthless despot and described him as “one of our closest allies”?
How can the President of the US describe Venezuela as an “extraordinary threat to US national security” when the United States was directly involved in the coup which overthrew the democratically elected government of President Hugo Chávez in April 2002? The US has not ceased to fund and support opposition groups in Venezuela that have been involved in attempts to remove by force the democratically elected government of the country. Washington has not ceased in its constant interference against the democratic will of the Venezuelan people. Who is a threat to whom?”
In truth, the Venezuelan government – though it’s no workers’ state or socialist republic, contrary to what some of its more naive leftist supporters may think or wish was true – is more democratic than the United States, in the sense that there is more political space for the working class to flex its muscles. This isn’t to say that the government headed by Maduro (and Hugo Chavez before him) is a stranger to repression. But the state didn’t brutally repress the 2014 protests. The affluent, mostly middle class student protesters cried “totalitarianism” in a country where most media is privately-owned and supporting the opposition, which is given free rein to agitate and organize economic sabotage3. Most violent actions were committed by the protesters, not state forces, while the foreign capitalist media widely circulated outright lies about the situation without a second thought.4
Overall though, Venezuela today is in some ways like a third-world incarnation of social democracy; think British Labour circa 1945 or Sweden in its social democratic heyday. Venezuela’s poor masses have benefited significantly from oil-financed programs redistributing wealth from the top of society to the bottom as the country has “eradicated illiteracy, massively extended free health care and education, substantially reduced poverty and unemployment [and] built affordable housing for hundreds of thousands of families.”2
A welfare state and some grassroots consultatory councils aren’t socialism, but the gains won by the workers would be thrown back significantly if U.S. regime change efforts succeed, either by economic pressures that increase instability or directly via a sponsored coup d’etat. Unfortunately, objective economic conditions and the bureaucratic-reformist character of the governing United Socialist Party of Venezuela favor the growth of reactionary sentiment in the petty-bourgeoisie and the bureaucratized state apparatus. In the Chavista camp, Bonapartist / caudillo or “strongman” tendencies are being strengthened with the Venezuelan legislature’s passing of an “Enabling Law” giving President Maduro broad authority to manage the situation. Rule by decree is inimical to the kind of collective politics that advance working class interests.
Naturally, socialists oppose these acts of aggression (and their ideological facilitator in the major media distortions) on anti-imperialist grounds, which means opposing the political establishment that commits them. Sadly there are sections of the socialist left that want to have it both ways.
Take the Communist Party USA as a case study. A March 12 article5 on People’s World by Emile Schepers says all the right things about the reasons for U.S. aggression, but spectacularly fails to draw the basic conclusion that an effective anti-imperialist politics in this country can’t be built without independence from the imperialist politicians themselves. After all, since the Obama administration and the majority-Republican Congress are working essentially hand-in-glove when it comes to Venezuela, doesn’t this weaken the CPUSA line that the Democratic Party is needed as part of a “broad people’s alliance” acting as a bulwark against “ultra-right” aggression?
Comrade Schepers even admits that Washington’s tensions with Venezuela stem in part from the latter’s support for trade blocs like Mercosur that rival the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) quietly championed by the President – and those free trade deals don’t exactly have a sterling pro-worker reputation, whether in North or South America.
But all the right-on observations in the world have no teeth while they’re tied to a perspective of loyalty to an imperialist party.