[News] Venezuela: a Threat to US Energy Hegemony?

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Thu May 18 11:44:59 EDT 2017


https://venezuelanalysis.com/analysis/13132


  Venezuela: a Threat to US Energy Hegemony?

By Raul Burbano- Common Frontiers, May 18th 2017
------------------------------------------------------------------------

Since the election of Hugo Chavez in 1999, Venezuela has achieved 
impressive gains in health care, education, and reduction in poverty, 
while at the same time wrestled economic and political control from the 
country’s elite. Today, soaring inflation, a shrinking economy and a 
hyper-politicized environment are contributing to unprecedented 
challenges economically and politically - threatening to undo some of 
the achievements of the past. These challenges can be attributed to many 
factors, some structural, such as an oil-dependent economy, and a 
complex monetary arrangement which has given rise to “bachaqueros 
<https://www.caracaschronicles.com/2016/05/13/bachaquero-buy-flip-hustler/>” 
who resell price-controlled items at hugely inflated prices  on  the 
black market. Other challenges are more politically driven - they stem 
from the existence of a hardline sector of the opposition aligned with 
U.S. interests who oppose the Socialist government's policies of 
resource nationalism and wealth redistribution.

The international media with its biased coverage of the conflict in 
Venezuela has failed to adequately report on violent actions against 
government supporters by extremist sectors of the opposition. It has 
however, diligently perpetuated the opposition narrative that the crisis 
in Venezuela is the sole responsibility of the Maduro  government, a 
dictatorship on the brink of collapse resorting to violence against 
peaceful protesters in a desperate bid to hold on to power.  These 
allegations have little merit, and are similar to accusations made 
against former president Hugo Chávez. The hardline opposition has never 
accepted the electoral legitimacy of the Bolivarian governments, and its 
violent demonstrations have had the full support and backing of the U.S. 
government. In 2014 alone, U.S government documents show that Obama's 
administration channelled $5M dollars to opposition groups to help 
“strengthen” and “protect” 
<https://www.state.gov/documents/organization/208290.pdf> democracy in 
Venezuela. The Trump administration, in turn, has provided unprecedented 
political support to jailed opposition leader,  Leopoldo López 
<https://twitter.com/realdonaldtrump/status/832016501657968640?lang=en> , 
who has been found guilty of public incitement to violence and 
association to commit a crime. There has been close coordination between 
opposition-led National Assembly leaders and White House national 
security advisor H.R. McMaster on how to address the political impasse 
in Venezuela.

The international media also puts the blame for the economic crisis 
facing Venezuela firmly on the government's shoulders. They fail to 
mention the role of business producers of goods who regularly hoard 
basic items to create shortages and public discontent. Some believe the 
economic war contributed to the PSUV’s defeat during the 2015 
parliamentary elections - due to the lack of black beans. Black beans 
are a staple of the Venezuelan diet and for some time before election 
day these had disappeared completely but the day after voting they were 
back on supermarket shelves.

Similar to the crisis that precipitated the short-lived 2002 coup 
against Chávez, leaders of the hardline opposition have made it clear 
that their goal is “regime change”. Henry Ramos Allup of the opposition 
Democratic Action party and former National Assembly president declared 
on the first day he assumed that position that they would remove Maduro 
from power within six months 
<http://www.latimes.com/world/mexico-americas/la-fg-venezuela-congress-20160105-story.html>. 
  The opposition referred to their march in October 2016 as the “Taking 
of Venezuela” (La Toma de Venezuela), an inflammatory title. During that 
march Jose Alejandro Molina Ramirez, a policeman, was killed by 
opposition gunfire and two others injured; which contradicts the 
opposition message that their marches are “peaceful”.

*Extremist Elements within the Opposition*

The opposition has failed to penetrate beyond its narrow base which is 
predominately wealthy and middle-class Venezuelans. Their political 
demands for early elections do little to address the needs of the 
working class poor who are being increasingly affected by the economic 
crisis. A recent survey by independent polling firm Hinterlaces 
indicates that 66% of the population 
<http://www.investigaction.net/en/venezuela-does-the-opposition-want-a-remake-of-the-coup-against-allende/> does 
not agree with the opposition focus on removing the president and feels 
it lacks any vision on how to solve the economic challenges facing the 
country.

Julio Borges, the president of the opposition controlled National 
Assembly, has openly called on the military to take action by becoming 
part of “the solution” and backing the opposition. He led the 2016, 
constitutionally illegal initiative to open a “political and criminal 
trial" 
<http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2016/10/venezuela-opposition-votes-put-maduro-trial-161025181844551.html> against 
the democratically elected president, Maduro. He has consistently 
appealed to the Organization of American States to intervene in the 
internal affairs 
<http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/venezuela-and-the-oas-the-logic-of-withdrawal_us_590389c8e4b084f59b49f8b5> of 
Venezuela, even though this is expressly forbidden by that 
organization's charter, Article 1.  of which states that: “The 
Organization of American States has no powers other than those expressly 
conferred upon it by this Charter, none of whose provisions authorizes 
it to intervene in matters that are within the internal jurisdiction of 
the Member States” .

In a bid to remove President Maduro, the opposition triggered a recall 
referendum which under the constitution allows for a recall of any 
elected official, including the president. Due to divisions within the 
opposition, they launched the signature drive too late in 2016 to have 
the recall vote in the same year which the opposition demanded.  They 
also submitted a large quantity of invalid signatures including 
signatures from over 11,000 deceased persons and those of more than 3000 
minors according to The National Electoral Council (CNE).

The hardline opposition inspired street protests have intensified in 
violence over the past few weeks, including deadly street barricades 
<http://www.venezuelasolidarity.co.uk/from-2014-violent-barricades-to-venezuelan-assembly-right-wing/> , 
setting of government food-storage building on fire with Molotov 
cocktails, 
<http://www.latinorebels.com/2017/04/27/venezuela-one-more-dies-in-demonstration-and-national-assembly-threatens-ombudsman/>  an 
attack on a maternity hospital in the El Valle neighbourhood, violent 
clashes <https://venezuelanalysis.com/news/13045> with state security 
forces, and attacks against government supporters 
<http://www.telesurtv.net/english/news/Socialist-Venezuela-Student-Leader-Killed-After-Backing-Maduro-20170506-0022.html>. 
  More than 42 people have been killed since April 4th many of them 
during violent opposition clashes with state security forces: eight 
people were electrocuted during a looting incident; five killed by state 
security forces; fifteen have died directly or indirectly as a result of 
the opposition protesters and the rest are still unaccounted for.

Recently, public workers at the Vice Presidency office and National 
Police Force along with others were targeted and their safety 
compromised when a group of far right hackers known as “Sons of Bitches” 
stole their personal data and made it public. This comes on the heels of 
the murder of two government workers shot dead by sniper fire while 
participating in pro government rallies, and the assassination of labour 
leader, Rexol Alexander Acevedo Navas 
<https://www.el-carabobeno.com/asesinado-tres-tiros-dirigente-sindical/>, 
member of United Socialist Party of Venezuela.

*A Strong Participatory Democracy*

The opposition has sought to paint Maduro as a “dictator” who fears 
general elections. Venezuela has one of the strongest and most active 
democracies in the region having carried out 20 elections in 17 years 
<https://venezuelanalysis.com/analysis/11760> (presidential, regional, 
municipal and referenda). It has a strong direct democracy that empowers 
grassroots groups through communes and communal councils. The councils 
can undertake community development projects as chosen by the community. 
Leaders must be elected by the community and decisions are made through 
popular assemblies. Currently, there are 46,566 registered communal 
councils in the country 
<https://www.greenleft.org.au/content/venezuela%E2%80%99s-communes-form-front-line-difficult-revolutionary-struggle>.

It was expected the country would hold regional elections in 2016 but 
the National Electoral Council (CNE) postponed them because of 
opposition demands to deal with the recall referendum. The opposition 
used the postponement to highlight yet another example of the lack of 
democracy in the country. Although President Maduro has called for 
regional elections <https://venezuelanalysis.com/news/13048>, opposition 
leaders have responded with continued street protests.

During the 2015 National Assembly electoral process, the opposition 
expressed fears of unfair and rigged elections. They were joined by the 
Secretary General of the Organization of American States, Luis Almagro 
who condemned Venezuela's electoral process as “unfair” and 
anti-democratic. Yet the opposition alliance managed to win a stunning 
victory taking a majority in the National Assembly.

The opposition is demanding that presidential elections be moved up 
which some consider a violation of the constitution.  A recent poll 
suggests that 65% 
<http://hinterlaces.com/65-esta-de-acuerdo-en-esperar-elecciones-presidenciales-de-2018/>of 
Venezuelans prefer to wait and have them in 2018 when they are scheduled 
to occur.

*National Assembly in Violation of the Constitution*

In January 2016, the opposition controlled National Assembly was held in 
contempt of the constitution by the Supreme Court of Justice (TSJ) over 
fraud charges involving opposition deputies from the state of Amazonas 
who were recorded illegally offering payment for votes. When the TSJ 
ordered the National Assembly to hold elections to replace the corrupt 
deputies, the legislative ignored the order and refused to remedy the 
situation.

The most recent political impasse between the country's two major 
institutions took place when the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the 
Venezuela’s state oil firm PDVSA, which was seeking to establish a joint 
venture with Russian oil company Rosneft to generate investment in the 
struggling economy. The opposition controlled National Assembly blocked 
<http://www.cnbc.com/2017/03/31/reuters-america-update-1-venezuela-court-move-may-facilitate-russian-investment-spook-other-oil-majors.html> the 
investment opportunity, while its president, Julio Borges, a leading 
opposition member of the Justice First party sent letters to investors 
and bankers, lobbying them <https://venezuelanalysis.com/news/13076> not 
to invest or extend credit to the government. The TSJ ruling stated that 
while the legislature continues to violate the constitution, it would 
stand in where necessary to ensure the “rule of law” or until the 
situation is resolved.

The decision generated intense debate among many in Venezuela. Some, 
like constitutional lawyer Hermann Escarra 
<http://www.telesurtv.net/opinion/Hermann-Escarra-El-Poder-Judicial-es-el-custodio-del-Estado-constitucional-de-derecho-20170331-0003.html> and 
Ombudsman Tarek William Saab denied the courts acted unconstitutionally 
but others like Attorney General Luisa Ortega Díaz strongly criticized 
the ruling. Although the ruling was immediately reversed, the opposition 
still called for street protests, many of which turned violent.

Coincidentally, concerns over Venezuela’s’ joint venture with the 
Russian state owned oil company aren’t unique to the Venezuelan 
opposition but also shared by the US administration. US senators Marco 
Rubio and Ben Cardin recently introduced legislation entitled “the 
Venezuela Humanitarian Assistance and Defense of Democratic Governance 
Act” to “help” the Venezuelan people overcome the crisis and prevent the 
merger with Rosneft. The administration sees the merger as a threat to 
their national energy security and fear the joint venture could allow 
Rosneft to gain “control of U.S. energy infrastructure 
<https://www.rubio.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/press-releases?id=257C91E2-807B-441B-B671-9CF5A8C72B1A>”. 
  Venezuela's state-owned oil company PDVSA, owns U.S. Oil Company Citgo 
based in Texas which has refineries, gas stations and infrastructure in 
the US. The legislation also earmarks $9.5 million for opposition groups 
working to “defend human rights” in Venezuela.

Opposition members of the National Assembly have begun to threaten 
Ombudsperson Saab unless he agrees to give them the green light to 
remove TSJ judges. The ombudsperson accused Freddy Guevara from the 
opposition Popular Will party of making “criminal threats” 
<http://www.latinorebels.com/2017/04/27/venezuela-one-more-dies-in-demonstration-and-national-assembly-threatens-ombudsman/> against 
his office.  Multiple offices of the national human rights watchdog have 
been attacked nationwide and the local Ombudsman’s office in Valencia 
was firebombed by “masked opposition militants 
<http://www.eluniversal.com/noticias/politica/tarek-william-saab-denuncio-quema-defensoria-valencia_650833>”. 


*Opposition Lacks Alternatives*

Despite the economic challenges facing many Venezuelans, this opposition 
coalition, the Democratic Roundtable, appears to be narrowly focused on 
removing Maduro from office and “making the economy scream 
<http://nsarchive.gwu.edu/NSAEBB/NSAEBB8/nsaebb8i.htm>”. Since taking 
control of the National Assembly, the coalition has put forward no real 
proposals to address the economic challenges facing the country. 
Instead, it appears they have used their legislative control to block 
economic initiatives intended to help the economy, preferring to create 
a climate of regulatory uncertainty to scare off potential investors. 
This could lead to the cutting off of access to foreign currency - 
undermining the economy further and forcing Venezuela to default on its 
international payments.

*On-Going Dialogue*

Last year the intergovernmental regional organization, the Union of 
South American Nations (UNASUR) undertook to lead an initiative for 
national dialogue. The opposition set preconditions for dialogue with 
the government. As a demonstration of good faith and in stark contrast 
to the media narrative that the Maduro government is dead set against 
negotiations, he agreed to some of the opposition demands. The 
government released opposition leader Carlos Melo and two other accused 
of planning terrorist acts.  The government agreed to the opposition’s 
demand for Vatican participation in the dialogue, and that the talks be 
held in Caracas rather than the island of Margarita.

After several meetings the Vatican sponsored peace talks came to an 
abrupt end when the opposition walked out - accusing the government of 
negotiating in bad faith. In an open letter, the opposition made it 
clear that the chapter for dialogue was closed and would not be 
re-opened again 
<http://www.infobae.com/america/america-latina/2017/01/26/el-comunicado-de-la-oposicion-venezolana-comunico-que-se-baja-definitivamente-del-dialogo-con-el-regimen-de-nicolas-maduro/>. 
They called on their supporters to intensify street protests.

Most recently, the Pope called on all sides to engage in dialogue and to 
reject violence. He also criticized the opposition as “divided 
<https://www.bloomberg.com/politics/articles/2017-04-30/pope-calls-for-venezuelan-negotiated-solution-to-curb-violence>” 
  citing their “resistance to dialogue”.

The opposition coalition has been divided on whether or not to engage in 
negotiations, more extreme elements see negotiations with the government 
as treason. María Corina Machado, a former National Assembly legislator 
and founder of the US funded NGO Súmate 
<https://venezuelanalysis.com/analysis/789> criticized  the  opposition 
coalition for its error in engaging in dialogue stating “dictatorships 
don’t hold dialogues 
<https://www.el-carabobeno.com/maria-corina-machado-dialogo-gobierno-suspenderse/>” 
and called for street mobilizations.

Maduro continues to call for the opposition to resume negotiations and 
welcomes the Pope’s offer to help mediate. The opposition has refused to 
engage, even after the government fulfilled another one of their demands 
for dialogue - calling for the CNE to set a date for regional elections.

*Constituent Assembly
*

In a bid to address the country’s political standoff, Maduro has invoked 
article 347 of the constitution calling for a National Constituent 
Assembly 
<https://eliasjauavzla.wordpress.com/2017/05/06/constituyente/> which 
will be responsible for re-drafting the 1999 constitution. The assembly 
will be composed of 500 directly elected delegates, half of which will 
be elected from among the country’s social movements.  Part of the goal 
seeks to institutionalize important aspects into the Magna Cara such as 
building a “post-petroleum” economy to address climate change and new 
expressions of local government.

Opposition leaders criticized the initiative, accusing the president of 
trying to outmanoeuvre them in the legislature. Despite the staunch 
criticism, the opposition had in the past advocated for a Constituent 
Assembly as a solution to resolve the country’s problems. Opposition 
leaders like Henrique Capriles, Leopoldo Lopez, Freddy Guevara and Maria 
Corina Machado, all signed a joint statement demanding a Constituent 
Assembly be called.

The majority of people in Venezuela want to move forward in a peaceful 
manner to resolve their differences while demanding respect for their 
sovereignty. However, extremist elements in the opposition have declared 
themselves in open rebellion against the democratically elected 
president, rejecting further negotiations and calling for street 
mobilizations. The International media and their unconditional support 
for the opposition is fueling the fire, telling half-truths and 
inadvertently condoning violence and exacerbating the conflict.

  By making Venezuela ungovernable the opposition coalition is betting 
on foreign interference to pressure the government to resign, thus 
allowing them to regain power - something they have failed to achieve 
democratically at the ballot box for the past 17 years.

/Raul Burbano is the program director of Common Frontiers 
<http://www.commonfrontiers.ca/aboutus.html>, a multi-sectoral working 
group which confronts, and proposes alternatives to, the social, 
environmental and economic effects of economic integration in the Americas./

-- 
Freedom Archives 522 Valencia Street San Francisco, CA 94110 415 
863.9977 www.freedomarchives.org
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