The battle for Venezuela’s soul

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro attends a military parade in Caracas. The writer says Maduro is confronting an orchestrated campaign of regime change.

The war against Chavismo in Venezuela has entered a dangerous new phase. Opposition forces call it a “superior phase” of violent struggle on the streets, along with the simultaneous creation of a parallel government that will remove the powers of the president.There are few peaceful outcomes to such a strategy, and an increasing possibility that the country could descend into civil war.

On Sunday, opposition members announced they were launching a consultative process on the referendum called by the government to change the constitution. The opposition declared it was doing so without the National Constituent Assembly’s approval.

While the Western media continues to demonise President Nicolas Maduro and justify the opposition’s violent acts, Chavismo proponents claim the international left has failed to show its solidarity. This can be explained by the fact that the dominant narrative in the Western media depicts Maduro as a dictator for life, who sends political dissidents to prison.

But this narrative fails to mention the plethora of paramilitaries operating in Venezuela, or the gangs of criminals motivated to destroy public institutions. There are only those “resisting dictatorship”.

While it is true that Maduro has made serious mistakes in the handling of the economic and political situation, he is also confronting an orchestrated campaign of regime change.

The opposition’s approach, which is pursuing a military and political strategy, is largely conceptualised in the US. The US has long identified the Venezuelan government as one of its top six enduring targets along with China, North Korea, Iraq, Iran and Russia. This was according to a 2007 US strategic document leaked by Edward Snowden in 2013, which also said Venezuela was seen as the US’s main adversary in the Western hemisphere.

A Venezuelan opposition leader recently interviewed on BBC’s Hard Talk admitted that the US was bankrolling the opposition’s campaign against the government. Numerous reports have surfaced that the US budgeted $49million (R635m) to support the efforts of the right wing in Venezuela since 2009.

The US has also provided funds to the Organisation of American States (OAS) to deploy teams to Venezuela and Bolivia out of concern that “democracy is threatened by the growing concept of participatory democracy”. OAS secretary-general Luis Almagro led a campaign in April to oust Venezuela from the OAS, which led to Maduro announcing Venezuela’s withdrawal from the group.

Chavismo’s “participatory democracy”, first under Hugo Chavez and then Maduro, brought about a reversal of the sharp social inequalities in Venezuelan society. Before 1998, the poverty rate stood at 60%, but Chavez and Maduro’s policies halved the poverty rate, bringing it down to 30%, despite the economic crisis caused by falling oil prices. Health care and education were also made available to the poor.

To date, the opposition has not published a concrete plan on how it would govern, but its leaders have stated publicly that it would implement a neo-liberal economic programme, along the lines of Michel Temer in Brazil and Mauricio Macri in Argentina.

If the opposition did take power, it might succeed in reducing inflation and alleviating shortages, but it would also probably eliminate subsidies and social programmes for the poor. More importantly, it would roll back the policy of supporting communal councils, which have been the cornerstone of participatory democracy.

Curing the social ills of Venezuelan society is not the US’s concern, however. Indirect control of the massive oil reserves are. The problem for the US is that successive revolutionary governments in Venezuela have eroded the political and economic hegemony that the US had over Venezuela. The challenge is to “take Venezuela back” and subordinate its economy to American interests.

Hence the US has allegedly provided assistance to the opposition to create Committees for the Rescue of Democracy across the country. Also the training of opposition elements to undertake armed attacks on military bases in order to steal weapons and break down the armed forces.

Emboldened by outside support, the opposition has called on Venezuela’s armed forces to ignore the government’s orders and join the coup. Opposition leader Julio Borges, who was elected as National Assembly president (in what the government considers an illegal vote) has claimed that an incoming government would pardon soldiers who join opposition forces.

It would seem that the situation has reached a point of no return. The international community’s response to the opposition’s war talk will determine whether it deepens its violent strategies. The global south needs to consider whether it will support regime-change efforts against a democratically elected government of the left or advocate reconciliation.

* Ebrahim is Independent Media’s Group Foreign Editor