The Maduro Government in Venezuela is facing a developing right wing coup. Socialists are completely opposed to these reactionaries, but the bitter truth is that they have gifted the opportunity by the failure of the Maduro government to maintain or deepen the Bolivarian Revolution launched by Hugo Chavez.
MIKE GONZALEZ, leading writer on Latin America and author of a biography of Hugo Chavez, reports on the crisis in Venezuela.
When Hugo Chavez launched the first declared socialist project of the 21st century, it inspired a new optimism.
Here was a 21st century socialist who connected with the new anti-capitalist movements who seemed original and creative.
The Bolivarian Constitution in 1999, declared the new republic to be a “participatory democracy” in which the people were the subject.
Oil wealth would be used to raise the living standards of the majority instead of lining the pockets of the rich.
The rights of indigenous peoples would be respected.
The environment would be protected.
Oil profits would be used to end dependence on the world market and finance new kinds of social production.
This would be administered by new kind of state that replaced the corrupt machinery of patronage that had run Venezuela for over forty years.
It was these promises that won over the 62% of the electorate for Chavez as President in 2006.
The revolution reversed
Eleven years later Venezuela has changed radically, but not in the way Chavez promised.There are daily queues at supermarkets, streets full of tear gas, and a rising number of dead in street confrontations.
This is Venezuela under Nicolas Maduro, who succeeded to the presidency after Chavez’s death in 2013.
Today it is a country locked in crisis.
Inflation is approaching 800% and rising; it takes eight minimum wages to buy a basket of basic goods.
Public services are collapsing; hospitals are devoid of equipment and drugs and most medicines are unobtainable.
The infrastructure is crumbling as public investment dries up.
$600 billion has left the country to sit in bank accounts around the world.
Poverty levels which decreased from 60 to around 20 percent by 2012 have almost returned to earlier levels.
The average Venezuelan is reported to have lost around 8 kilos due to food shortages.
A tray of eggs costs a week’s wages.
In December 2015, as the crisis deepened, the right wing opposition won 63% of the vote for the National Assembly.
This was not the result of a massive shift to the right, but of the abstention of disillusioned Chavista voters.
Their message was clear; the crisis was biting and something had to be done.
The right wing majority in the Assembly were members of the bourgeoisie; none of tthem faced the daily struggle of the majority.
They had no programme or strategy to deal with the crisis.
Their only concern was to get back to power and they encouraged masked gunmen and paramilitaries in the streets.
After the election, Maduro took special powers. It was true that capital flight was huge, that the commercial bourgeoisie were hoarding and raising prices at will, that Washington was actively sabotaging the country but his government has failed to stop this.
The Fair Prices Ministry did nothing to address the situation; the new minister was a young relative of the president.
The much vaunted bags of basic goods at fair prices were distributed through the state party, the United Socialist Party (PSUV) to its supporters – and those who received them, were systematically overcharged.
It was one more source of corruption in a wholly corrupt administration.
$400 billion ‘disappeared’ from the Treasury in the previous decade according to the ex-minister of the economy, Jorge Giordani.
The Odebrecht case has revealed the huge scale of bribes which were repeated in every department.
Those rprofiting were on both sides of the political divide., As the violence in the streets has increased, so too has the level of state repression.
It is not clear how many of the dead and injured are its victims.
A socialist government would have expropriated companies who were disinvesting, would have jailed corrupt government officials and above all would have clamped down on the currency speculation that has swallowed huge amounts in a system which has enriched a small number of the Chavista ruling elite to an unimaginable degree.
But in reality there have been just two responses.
The first has been to militarise government.
Half the Cabinet are military as are most of the state governors.
A new military company housed in the Ministry of Defence, but unaccountable to government, has been put in charge of trading the country’s massive oil, gas and mineral reserves.
The second has been to offer those resources to multinational capital in a massive auction sale.
This is nothing less than putting the revolution in reverse.
The right wing opposition and the Chavistas are embedded in a power struggle for control of the profits from this re-entry into the global capitalist market.
As I write a Constituent Assembly is redrafting the Bolivarian Constitution.
Unlike the experience of 1999, there has been no open democratic debate about the proposals – none have been published.
The delegates have been hand-picked to applaud the government’s changes.
As these are emerging, tthe first casualty is participatory democracy, the second the right to recall public officials, the third – and most important –that the nation’s resources must be used for the benefit of the majority.
Power will now be increasingly concentrated in the hands of a tiny ruling group , and the PSUV will continue to be a career path for people willing to share in the new bonanza.
The new mining projects in the Orinoco Basin will poison and wreck the region but 150 multinationals will profit handsomely.
So too will Venezuela’s new establishment, . And all this in the name of socialism.
There is a rising anger at the grass roots; but there is also fear and disillusion.
But the collective memory will retain the hopes and promises of the Bolivarian revolution, and will come to understand how it was corrupted and undermined, from within and from without.
The international left can contribute to that rebuilding, and begin by being honest about what is happening in Venezuela today.