Has Maduro made it easier for his enemies?

February 12, 2019

Sofia Arias contributes a comment to the discussion of the struggle in Venezuela.

I WOULD like to thank Elizabeth Dean and Seth Uzman (“Protesting the main enemy”) for contributing to this important debate on how we can stand in solidarity with Venezuelans. I support many of the suggestions of concrete organizing actions and campaigns to lift the sanctions and oppose intervention.

However, I want to register my concern and profound disagreement with an argument that asks us to suspend any criticism of Maduro.

It seems to me that there are two likely outcomes to the current crisis. Over 50 countries have now recognized Juan Guaidó as the interim president of Venezuela, but the U.S. cannot carry out a successful coup without a decisive split in the Venezuelan military. But for John Bolton, Elliott Abrams, Juan Guaidó and the European Union, the campaign of international isolation looks like it’s succeeding on this front.

Two weeks ago, 27 national guardsmen were arrested for trying to launch an uprising, and there are daily reports being fed to the press of the vacillation of the lower and middle ranks of the armed forces. Last week, the first high-ranking general in the air force defected and recognized Guaidó as president. This week, an active-duty colonel also defected.

Image from SocialistWorker.org

U.S. sanctions on military-controlled gold exports make it harder for the generals not to eventually accept the offer from the right-wing opposition in the Democratic Unity Roundtable of an amnesty if they turn against Maduro.

So it is likely that: 1) a significant section of the generals will split decisively, recognize Guaidó and push Maduro out; or 2) in the interests of achieving maximum unity among the generals, they will take over in the name of safeguarding the nation and the revolution, and push Maduro out anyway, simply postponing the eventual transition to a Guaidó government.

The situation is dismal, and we owe our solidarity to everyone fighting these awful prospects.

It should be noted that, far from a gauge of healthy revolutionary activity, 7 percent of the country’s population, mostly working class, has already migrated in the last two years alone. This does give us a picture of the tragic material decline of confidence in the Bolivarian process among working-class Venezuelans.

So we must ask: To what extent has Maduro’s expansion of the role of the military in all facets of Venezuelan society made it easier for the international forces arrayed against him now to succeed?

To what extent has the expansion of the military’s role — in food distribution, extractivist trade projects with foreign capital, and the repression of independent left-wing forces — made it possible for the generals to see defection as the natural way out of this crisis?

IT SEEMS to me that we have to actually criticize Maduro for transforming the role of the Venezuelan armed forces and consolidating its independence over and above the authority and control held by the grassroots.

It is the military under Maduro that has issued licenses and opened up mega-mining projects for China, Russia, Canada, South Africa and Australia to move in. It is Maduro’s military that has transformed Indigenous territories, like the once-protected areas of the Orinoco mining belt, into export processing zones, under military rule, with no labor rights or Indigenous sovereignty.

And because of its expansion and oversight of this plunder, how the military sees the Venezuelan people has inevitably been transformed: from left nationalist junior officers and fresh-faced young soldiers who defended their country in the name of socialism after the attempted coup in 2002, and who led left-wing solidarity delegations with pride, to soldiers accustomed to clearing out Indigenous lands, controlling food distribution in unequal ways and moving in to suspend elections and raid offices.

It seems to me — admittedly from very far away — that if we genuinely want to be in solidarity with the Bolivarian revolution at this time, despite other criticisms and differences, then we have to stand against the military overreach that Maduro created that allowed the generals to identify their interests with the multinationals they did business with, and that will inevitably allow them to turn on him, restore order and move to restore good relations with the U.S. and the new right-wing regimes in Latin America.

Seen in this light, it appears to me to be a dangerous misstep in the other direction for socialists in Marea Socialista to have met with Juan Guaidó in order to call for negotiations and new elections.

A call for elections in and of itself could still plausibly be carried out from a position of the left without entering into direct talks with the right wing.

In this case, the aim of elections would not simply be a referendum about Maduro, but a way to create space for independent rank-and-file Chavista leaders to run against Maduro’s repressive grip on the basis of: 1) loyalty to the Bolivarian revolution, its communal councils and Indigenous organizations, and taxing the wealthy, when Venezuela maintains one of the lowest income tax rates for the rich in all of Latin America; and 2) opposition to the right wing’s violence and attempts to hijack and roll back the gains of Venezuela’s workers and campesinos.

Where do revolutionary campesino leaders like Angel Prado — whose own electoral victory was undermined by the ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela — stand? And how will they defend themselves and their communal organizations? It seems to me that this is the first line of defense for a united front against the coup.

The decision to meet with Guaidó, though, appears to prevent that possibility from taking off. It seems to me to be especially dangerous because it lets the independent left become associated with golpistas bent on making the economy scream, and because it allows the Venezuelan right to absorb and eliminate any challenge to it outside of Maduro.

The Platform’s criticisms of Maduro’s deals with foreign capital are rendered hollow if its authors then meet with Guaidó, who has openly declared that he will open up Venezuela’s oil to foreign investors. Vacillating impoverished rank-and-file soldiers will see a choice between remaining loyal to Maduro and arresting the left or moving behind Guaidó and disciplining the left.

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