The current political struggle in Venezuela has just entered a crucial phase, with the pressure on the embattled Maduro government becoming intense. Key European nations gave Maduro until this weekend to call new elections, or they would recognise challenger Juan Guaidó as the legitimate leader.
US Secretary of State John Bolton said Maduro and other leaders had to choose between retirement “on a beach, far from Venezuela” and Guantanamo Bay. An air force major-general defected from military support for Maduro and posted a video declaring that the rank-and-file military was opposed to the regime — but he was one figure, and not a key commander. Now Guaidó’s forces are lobbying China to switch their support away from Maduro.
Donald Trump has not ruled out the possibility of military intervention. That — by US or surrounding client-state troops — would be a godsend to Maduro, uniting large sections of the populace against the foreigners. Without that, the Bolivarian government’s position is looking increasingly shaky.
So far, the coup has gone absolutely according to script. For nostalgia buffs, it’s a good old fashioned south-of-de-border intervention, ticking off all the items on the list. Vice President Mike Pence calls Guaidó to let him know he has US support, before Maduro’s January 10 inauguration. Check.
Guaidó announces that he is in fact president, as a leader in the sidelined National Assembly, and that Maduro’s role is unconstitutional. Check.
The UK, Australia and other lapdogs come to the party (bravo New Zealand, for not). Check.
Venezuelan banking assets are frozen across the world, and offered to Guaidó. Check.
John Bolton appears with a legal pad in hand, with “5000 troops to Colombia” scrawled across it, obviously staged. Venezuela’s state-owned oil company is blockaded, and US officials openly muse on TV about what a great carve-up Venezuela’s oil reserves would be. Check check check.
Of course it all goes back further than that. As assiduous digging by Dan Cohen and Max Blumenthal has shown — much of it using the Wikileaks Stratfor and other files — Juan Guaidó is part of a generation of activists trained by CANVAS, a roving US-funded body, responsible for “colour” revolutions that tend to align with US interests. The CIA shopfront the National Endowment for Democracy helped create the Popular Will Party that Guaidó represents.
After failing to topple Chavez and then Maduro electorally, Popular Will turned to violence, becoming part of the Guarimba movement, responsible for assassinations of police and military, as well as bombings and other random outrages. Their leader Leopoldo Lopez is in prison charged with involvement in 13 killings; his imprisonment has been constructed by the global right as a “repression of democracy”.
So far the regime change forces aren’t pushing to simply install Guaidó; they want fresh elections, at which tens, perhaps hundreds of millions of dollars would be pumped into opposition parties from abroad. The Maduro government says that the opposition boycotted the last election, knowing it wouldn’t prevail, and excluded parties that had been associated with violent movements. The stories being pumped into the mainstream media about crackdowns etc may well have some truth to them — the Maduro government has become repressive in certain aspects — but they may also be pure propaganda products of the ‘babies being ripped out of oxygen tents stuff’.
Once Popular Will manage to get themselves installed in power, the great shock doctrine sell-off — of Venezuela’s publicly-owned industries, and extraction rights for its oil — will begin, together with violent retribution against Chavistas. The GDP might well recover; the poor, deprived of the numerous subsidies they still receive under the current government, will get no benefit from it.
That said, regime change is not proving quite as straightforward as the US might have hoped. The continued backing of China, the solidarity of the military, and residual support for Maduro among significant sections of the populace — wholly unreported by both public and private media in the global North — has created a stalemate. It is hard to see Maduro and his government; but it may be able to fight to a compromise, which appears to be what many Venezualans want — and exactly what Guaidó’s Popular Will Party does not.
The “pink [ie socialist] wave” in South America, is almost done. It has substantial achievements across the continent, and there are a lot of lessons to learn from it, some of them pretty melancholy. But South America has always been counter-cyclical. As the right regains power, themselves ticking every box — crush the poor, crush unions, reimpose explicit churchy patriarchy, trash the environment — the US, UK and Europe are tending leftward.
The hope would be that regimes such as Bolsonaro’s in Brazil and, if it happens, Guaidó’s in Venezuela, will quickly expose themselves as agents of repression and capital, and things will rebound rapidly. The right have no answers for the problems that face us now as nations, and as a planet. They once represented an alternative; now they sell fantasy. But it’s not over yet. Try to skin a banana republic, in our era, and you might end up on your arse before you know it.