Venezuelan Left fights back

Emile Schepers

On Friday, August 25, President Trump announced the imposition of tough new sanctions on the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, as punishment for the establishment of a new National Constituent Assembly in that country. But the Constituent Assembly is not taking Trump’s latest attacks lying down, but rather is forging ahead with a full program of reforms on the heels of military threats against the South American country.
Threats against Venezuela by the United States are not new. President Obama had already declared Venezuela to be an unusual threat to U.S. security and interests, using language required to make the imposition of sanctions legal. However, the composition and politics of the Trump administration have greatly increased the anti-Venezuela mood.
The high concentration in the U.S. political establishment, in the Trump cabinet and among Trump’s closest advisors and personal cronies — of people with axes to grind against Venezuela — has increased the danger.
There had been sanctions imposed against Venezuela before, but up to now they had been focused on specific individuals in the Venezuelan government such as President Nicolas Maduro, and so have had very limited impact. But the new sanctions, explicitly imposed as punishment for the election of the National Constituent Assembly permitted by the Venezuelan constitution of 1999, are much more serious. They are designed to prevent the Venezuelan government or the Venezuelan state petroleum company, PDVSA, from raising funds by new issues of sovereign bonds. Venezuela is in a very difficult situation right now, and has been forced to pay high interest on loans it gets from overseas; the sanctions are designed to make this nearly impossible and thus choke the Venezuelan economy.
There are two curious exceptions to the sanctions. One is that there is no move to shut down the many CITGO gas stations in the United States, although CITGO is owned by the Venezuelan national petroleum company. However, CITGO will not be allowed to repatriate any of its earnings to Venezuela from now on.
Another exception is Goldman Sachs, one of the world’s largest finance capital operations. Some in the Trump administration and in the right wing Venezuelan operation had wanted Goldman Sachs to be forbidden from dealing with Venezuela on sovereign bond issues; however for now this is to be permitted for this specific company. The mystery is cleared up when one remembers the oversize representation of Goldman Sachs people in the Trump administration, starting with Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin.
In Caracas, the Venezuelan capital, the elected members of the Constituent Assembly have plunged into a vigorous work schedule. And near the top of their agenda is shaping responses to the new threats from the Trump administration, while looking at many kinds of reforms that have been demanded by grassroots groups in Venezuela for years.
The second largest political party in the ruling coalition is the PCV, the Communist Party of Venezuela. The PCV has been staunchly supportive of the Maduro government, but also has been critical of specific policies, especially in the economic field. The PCV strongly supports the National Constituent Assembly, wherein it has a presence, and before the Assembly elections had proposed a series of reform measures, which it is now pushing for in the Assembly and in the nation.
The PCV points out the key economic problem that Venezuela has faced, starting with the beginning of its oil boom in the 1920s. It is excessively dependent on selling crude oil in international markets, and on importing all kinds of essential goods, including food and medicine, many of which Venezuela could produce domestically. Also, although the enemies of the Venezuelan government blame the current crisis of unsustainable inflation, scarcities and resulting social and political instability on “failed socialism,” in fact Venezuela is not and has never been a socialist state.
Also, perversely, the improvement of the living standards of the Venezuelan people under the Bolivarian government has worsened the problem of overdependence on imports, for the simple reason that people now have more money to buy imported goods than they did before.
A particularly dangerous part of the current dilemma is that Venezuela’s foreign exchange reserves have been dropping sharply. The Maduro government is unwilling to go to the extreme of saving money by reversing the social improvements undertaken by Chavez, thereby instituting a neo-liberal regime in which the country’s problems would be resolved on the backs of workers, small farmers and the poor. So it has been trying to keep its head above water by going to international lending sources for more aid, which, given the situation, can only be obtained on worse and worse terms, at higher and higher interest rates, or by mortgaging state assets to raise money to pay the nation’s bills.
The PCV is calling for a higher prioritization of the diversification of the productive dimension of the economy, so that Venezuela will no longer be dependent on the oil exports and thus at the mercy of changes in prices on the international markets. Diversifying the economy can also reduce the dependence of the country on foreign imports, which also would undermine the machinations both of the Venezuelan right and of imperialism. For example, there is no reason for Venezuela to be importing a huge proportion of its food, when it has a climate, soil and human resources that could break this dependency.
Though the PCV is committed to working with and through the National Constituent Assembly, it does not see the body as being wholly left-wing in orientation. Nor is it identical with the national mobilization of the Venezuelan people that will be essential to accomplish these things and stave off either collapse or an armed U.S. intervention. So it calls for a continued mobilization of the whole of the people to make sure the potential of the Constituent Assembly to create economic, political and social reforms is fully realized. (IPA)

Tuesday, 19 September, 2017