Venezuela, by most estimates, has the world’s largest proven reserves of petroleum on the planet. Such immense oil wealth should mean that it has one of the highest standards of living on the planet and the capacity to transition toward a green economy. That would be the ideal, but is far from reality in Venezuela. The country has experienced mass inflation, shortages of food and medicine, and a breakdown in public safety that cause much suffering for the working-class of Venezuela. How did this unfortunate situation develop and what can be done to help Venezuela?
In the world capitalist economy, Venezuela is what we can call a semi-peripheral state: mostly dependent on the exportation of primary products such as petroleum, agricultural products, and commodities to the core capitalist powers who exploit Venezuela’s position for their own benefit. The discovery of oil in the Lake Maracaibo basin during WWI ushered in the potential for lasting prosperity and development for the people. Venezuela for most of the 20th century had periods of democracy and military rule, with good times and bad times dependent on the price of oil and the fluctuations of the world capitalist economy.
Hugo Chavez was democratically elected president of Venezuela in 1998 and immediately developed a program based on socialist principles. Chavez enacted programs that promoted land and wealth redistribution, and more generous social welfare programs regarding education, health care, and poverty. Chavez and his party changed the constitution via elections and put the country on a path toward democratic socialism. The Carter Center even said that the 2000 presidential election reflected the will of the Venezuelan people. The forces of capital, of course, despised Hugo Chavez and the Bolivarian Revolution. A coup d’état was attempted in April 2002 by reactionary forces in the military with strong evidence of being backed by the George W. Bush administration and big oil. Though Chavez was removed from office for a few days, protests and soldiers loyal to the revolution staged a countercoup and Chavez was rightfully restored to the presidency.
Though some claim that Chavez was an anti-democratic strongman, the constitution he backed had provisions for a recall election of the president via petition. Those signatures were gathered, and a recall election was held on August 15, 2004. Chavez was reaffirmed as president when a record turnout produced a no vote of 59 percent in elections regarded by many outside observers from the Organization of American States as fair.
Chavez continued his program of socialist democracy and won reelection multiple times via popular support for constitutional amendments allowing him to run for reelection. He continued programs to redistribute wealth, expand health care and education, and provide for greater economic democracy while being a harsh critic of US imperialist foreign policies. In solidarity with the Cuban people, Chavez had a program with Cuba that exchanged oil for Cuban doctors and teachers to serve the people. Unfortunately, Chavez became ill with cancer and died in 2013 and his vice president Nicolás Maduro became president in 2013. Maduro won a special election in 2013 and a highly disputed presidential election in 2018.
Whatever Maduro’s faults, there is no excuse for the current US policy and actions. In 2019, the US government sponsored another failed coup d’état to force a removal of Maduro and place his opponent Juan Guaidó in power. In addition, the US has imposed starvation and deprivation on the Venezuelan people through cruel sanctions in the hopes of spurring regime change. From Clinton to Trump, US policy against Venezuela has consistently opposed the Bolivarian Revolution and the decision to use the country’s immense oil wealth to help the people. Of course, a transition to a green economy is necessary globally. The US should support policies which allow oil revenue to be used to meet the material needs of the people while also supporting the development of an economy in Venezuela not dependent on oil revenue. The US must put an end to sanctions and instead promote free exchanges of capital, technology, and education. DSA has called for an end to sanctions against Venezuela and no invasion or support for coups in Venezuela.
Read DSA’s statements on Venezuela:
– John H.
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