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February 2019

LATIN AMERICA: IT'S NOT JUST ABOUT OVERTHROWING
MADURO IN VENEZUELA

What is happening in Latin America today is US attempts to reverse gains made by left-wing parties that swept to power by peoples' social movements in the 1990s inspired by Venezuela's Bolivarian revolution.

By Kalinga Seneviratne

Singapore The "Washington Consensus" on democracy today is not about respecting peoples' right to elect their leaders by popular vote, but how to buy these votes to promote US business interests.

Thus, the ongoing campaign to bring "regime change" in Venezuela is not about overthrowing Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, but overthrowing the Bolivarian development model and an alternative trading system introduced by Hugo Chavez after he came to power in 1999.

What is happening in Latin America today is US attempts to reverse gains made by left-wing parties that swept to power by peoples' social movements in the 1990s inspired by Venezuela's Bolivarian revolution.

Chavez's communes based participatory development model inspired a generation of young Latin Americans at the beginning of the 21st century, just like Fidel Castro's Cuban revolution inspired an earlier generation half a century earlier.

Throughout the 1970s and 1980s US foreign policy ruthlessly suppressed leftist movements in its backyard by supporting military dictatorships in Latin America. But, in the late 1990s and 2000s they made an impressive comeback through the ballot boxes.

The leftist drift began in 1999 with the election of charismatic former paratrooper Hugo Chavez as the president of Venezuela. Within six years it became an avalanche with leftist governments winning office through the ballot box in Brazil, Argentina, Ecuador, Uruguay, Paraguay, Bolivia and Chile.

One would expect those championing democracy around the world to cheerlead these governments, but that was not the case. Successive US administrations and their corporate media have been very hostile to these governments often accusing them of human rights violations, corruption and economic mismanagement, ignoring the fact that economic sanctions - both overt and covert - imposed by the West are the reasons for the latter.

When economic sanctions and an attempted coup against Chavez in 2002 did not work for people to turn against the government, the US openly started to fund opposition groups mainly through USAID and the National Endowment for Democracy.

In fact, the Obama administration increased funding for such interference in domestic politics of a sovereign country and made it openly official by including it in annual Foreign Operation Budget describing the millions they spend as "democracy promotion".

The US has interfered similarly in other Latin American countries to reverse the leftist gains that includes the impeachments of Fernando Lugo in Paraguay in June 2012 and Dilma Rousseff in Brazil in April 2016 after she received a massive 54 million votes to rule the country until 2018.

The courts, corruption allegations (relayed through campaigns by NGOs that the US funds) and legislative cross- overs are all part of these "soft coups". The attempts to overthrow President Maduro in Venezuela is another such "soft coup" attempt seemingly through constitutional means.

Chavez's "Bolivarian Revolution", the spark for mobilizing grassroots and the marginalized, reached receptive audiences in the region because people who saw no hope for them under the US-led neo-liberal economics model, were attracted to the idea of rejecting corporate-led globalization, and instead promoting grassroots political participation and economic self-sufficiency as the model for alleviating poverty and injustice.

The Bolivarian model was about building socialism from below up where people in the grassroots participated in the democratic process.

Working through Comunas (community organisations), the poor began to get access to education and in turn to employment, community infrastructure was built with peoples' participation and government funding, higher minimum wages were given and better pensions provided.

Since Venezuela is one of the world's biggest oil exporters and with high oil prices at the time, Bolivarian Revolution was well supported by people at the grassroots who voted pro-Chavistas to legislations in landslides in successive elections.

When Chavez launched his "Bolivarian Revolution" in 1999 about half the country was living under poverty and in hunger, but, by 2015 the situation had improved so much that UN's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) recognized the country as one that had almost eradicated hunger.

This was achieved through a "food sovereignty experiment" involving agrarian reform, food distribution programs and direct citizen participation in the food system, which was reported widely by alternative media networks.

By 2005 the model was even being exported to the US with "Bolivarian Circles" (grassroots self-help groups) springing up among the Hispanic communities in New York, Los Angeles and Boston.

Unfortunately, Chavez died of cancer in 2013 but his "Bolivarian Revolution" is being continued by his successor Maduro.

Ever since he took over, he has faced tremendous pressure from right-wing US-linked forces because Venezuela which is the world's fifth largest oil producer, is facing the pinch of reduced revenue from low oil prices and it is hitting the country's economy.

In addition, a tough sanctions regime imposed by the US is also hurting the economy badly.

It is the latter that is beginning to turn the pro-Chavanistas against the Maduro regime. Forbes estimated recently that inflation is running at 80,000% making Venezuela's currency bolivar worthless.

It was reported from Caracas this month (February), that there is a special element to recent protests, in that neighborhoods and sectors that until recently formed part of the Maduro government's social base, are beginning to show signs of turning against it, reflecting the anger felt by the poor in the face of the country's socioeconomic collapse.

Venezuelan President Maduro said in a recent interview with Telesur that the US just wants to seize Venezuela's oil and mineral resources and that is the reason behind backing the coup and intervention in his country, "because we have the largest oil reserves, we confirm that we have the largest reserves of gold in the world, we have the world's fourth-largest gas (reserves)".

Before Chavez came to power, the Venezuelan oil industry was controlled by US and British companies. Today China has a huge stake in Venezuela's oil and mineral sectors.

In 2007 the Chavez regime sold an Orimulsion plant producing 100,000 barrels of oil daily to China. The plant had been built with a Chinese loan.

In 2007 China-Venezuelan Joint Fund was created to make borrowing easier and today Venezuela owes China some $60 billion, which is paid back though shipment of crude oil to China. Since no dollars are involved in the trade this circumvents US sanctions.

In an interview with Fox News recently, US National Security advisor John Bolton hinted at US plans to take over Venezuelan oil assets. "We are looking at oil assets ... we are in negotiations with major US oil companies," he said.

US's concern for democracy in Venezuela is obviously another smoke screen to change regime in a country that is threatening to provide a development model that is alternative to neo-liberal economics.

The US has tried it in Cuba for over half a century and succeeded in Grenada in the 1980s. Today they have another motive to sabotage growing economic relationship between China and Venezuela (as well as other Latin American countries) that could provide a trading model to beat unjust US economic sanctions on countries. Third World Network Features.

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The above article is reproduced from InDepthNews (IDN), 11 February 2019.

When reproducing this feature, please credit Third World Network Features and (if applicable) the cooperating magazine or agency involved in the article, and give the byline. Please send us cuttings. And if reproduced on the internet, please send the web link where the article appears to twn@twnetwork.org.

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