[News] Venezuela and Disaster Capitalism
news at freedomarchives.org
Wed Feb 13 11:51:06 EST 2019
Venezuela and Disaster Capitalism
By Reinaldo Iturriza – February 12, 2019
On Monday, January 28, the Department of the Treasury of the United
States announced it was placing a “block” on all of Petróleos de
Venezuela’s (PDVSA) assets under US jurisdiction, prohibiting its
citizens from engaging in any type of transaction with the Venezuelan
state-owned oil company. Secretary Steve Mnuchin added that “if the
people of Venezuela want to continue to sell us oil”, we will only
accept it on the condition that our money goes to “blocked accounts”,
which would later be made available for the “transition government”.
According to National Security Advisor John Bolton, the sanctions
imposed on PDVSA would provoke a loss of some 11 billion dollars in
exports for 2019, and a freeze on 7 billion dollars in assets.
On January 24th, Bolton declared on FOX Business, “It will make a big
difference to the United States economically if we could have American
oil companies invest in and produce the oil capabilities in Venezuela”.
Just three minutes before effectively confessing the true intentions of
US imperialism, Bolton asserted that Chávez and Maduro had “impoverished
Venezuela. We now have between three and four million refugees who have
fled the country, something unprecedented in the history of the Western
Hemisphere. Maduro and Hugo Chávez before him systematically looted the
oil resources of the country. There is no capital investment, and income
is declining. Society is literally collapsing in Venezuela”. These
factors, Bolton continued, provide the justification for the Trump
Administration’s recognition of Juan Guaidó as “Interim President”.
A few hours after sanctions were publicly announced, on January 29, the
Venezuelan National Assembly approved an “Agreement for the Promotion of
a National Rescue Plan”, which upheld that Venezuela was experiencing a
“social and economic collapse” that had produced a “humanitarian
emergency”, consequence of the policies of the “regime of Nicolás
Maduro”, which has installed a “totalitarian economic and political
model for domination and social control”, otherwise known as “21st
Behold, a concise summary of the way in which foreign and local agents
put in practice what Naomi Klein defined as “disaster capitalism” in her
formidable /Shock Doctrine /– a useful framework for understanding what
is happening in Venezuela, at a time when forces are conspiring to
severely – if possible, irreparably – affect our ability to interpret
our own present.
With “disaster capitalism”, Klein refers to “orchestrated raids on the
public sphere in the wake of catastrophic events, combined with the
treatment of disasters as exciting market opportunities”. It took
place first in Chile under the Pinochet dictatorship, but also in New
Orleans following Hurricane Katrina; in Sri Lanka after the 2004
tsunami; in Iraq after the US invasion of 2003; in the US after the
attacks of September 11, 2001; in China after Tiananmen; in 1993 under
Yeltsin’s Russia, and so on. In each case, Klein explains, the attacks
were led by fanatical neoliberals who were relentless in their
application of austerity policies.
This is exactly what is taking place in Venezuela, compounded by the
fact that the shock is largely induced by the local Venezuelan elite
acting in lockstep with US imperialism, each drawing on the support of
their respective social base. Fundamentally composed of middle and upper
classes, the class component of the shock recalls the history of
Salvador Allende’s government. In both cases, democratic governments
with a socialist orientation, elected by popular vote, are
systematically put under siege, their respective economies asphyxiated
in order to create the conditions for a violent solution that would
“neutralize” the popular classes inclined to support revolutionary change.
In a recent declaration by Alfonso Guerra, the Spanish ex-president
claimed that Nicolás Maduro was comparable to the Pinochet government –
an assertion all the more obscene for the reasons outlined above.
According to Guerra, “Venezuela is suffering under a dictatorship that,
on top of everything else, is incompetent; dictatorships often undermine
liberty, but at least they act efficiently in the economic sphere”. He
then added: “There is a difference between the horrible Pinochet
dictatorship and that of Maduro: in the first, the economy did not
collapse, and in the second it did”.
The current “disaster” of the Venezuelan economy is not the work of
“21st century socialism”, as the National Assembly would have it, nor
the “incompetence” of the government; instead, it is fundamentally the
handiwork of local and global capitalist powers, combined with the
political difficulties the Bolivarian Revolution faces in its attempts
to manage the conflict in favor the popular majority. Venezuela is today
suffering a textbook case of “disaster capitalism”.
** * **
In the dominant narrative, the situation in Venezuela has been
interpreted as an “emergency”, but above all as a “humanitarian crisis”.
It will remain for a later date to fully understand the historical
conditions that have enabled the use of the “humanitarian” concept.
However, taking as a reference point articles published in a US
propaganda organ such as /Voice of America/ [Voz de América], it is
possible to trace the concept’s usage back to 2014. Curiously, it first
appears in connection with the right to freedom of expression. On March
31 of that year, in the midst of the second wave of anti-Chavista
violence directed against the Maduro government, Rodrigo Diamanti, an
economist from the Catholic University Andrés Bello and president of the
NGO “A World Without Censorship” [Un mundo sin mordaza], declared that
the “political crisis in Venezuela, combined with the economic and
social crisis, is fueling a humanitarian crisis”. Contrary to all
evidence, Diamanti stated that the government had violated the right to
political demonstration and had launched a persecutory campaign in
Throughout 2014, the “humanitarian” discourse was employed in relation
to the situation in the health sector. This time it was José Manuel
Olivares, “a medical resident at the university hospital of Caracas and
specialist in oncological radiotherapy”, who spoke out against the
“humanitarian crisis that the country is currently suffering”. /Voice
of America/ failed to inform that Olivares was then a militant with the
rightwing party Primero Justicia. In fact, he is currently a deputy in
the National Assembly, elected by the state of Vargas in the 2015
parliamentary elections, as was Deputy Juan Guaidó.
By 2015 the term had become a permanent fixture. On February 24, the
think tank “International Crisis Group” issued a report in which it
warned that Venezuela “would be facing a humanitarian crisis if measures
were not taken to solve the country’s problems”. A couple weeks
later, on March 9, the Obama Administration declared Venezuela an
“unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign
policy of the United States”, imposing sanctions on seven officials
allegedly involved in human rights violations. In an article dated
to March 11, José Manuel Oliveras spoke in the name of an NGO known as
“Doctors for Health” [Médicos por la Salud], again asserting that the
country was experiencing a “a humanitarian health crisis”.
 Republican Marco Rubio weighed in with his own declaration the next
day: “while individual economic sanctions against infractions of human
rights, announced earlier this week, has focused on the catastrophe that
Nicolás Maduro and his regime have inflicted on the Venezuelans, there
must be more action and attention paid to the humanitarian and economic
crisis that threatens regional security”. That same day, the
Secretary of State John Kerry “assured that if Venezuela were to cease
its oil assistance to neighboring countries, a humanitarian crisis could
be unleashed”. From that moment onward, the anti-Chavista voices
would employ the term with increasing frequency.
By 2016, with the National Assembly under opposition control, that
institution became a sounding board for the same kind of discourse: on
January 26 it issued a statement on “the humanitarian crisis in health
in Venezuela, due to the scarcity of medications, medical supplies and
the deterioration of health infrastructure”,  while on February 11
it announced a “humanitarian crisis and the complete absence of any form
of food security for the Venezuelan population”. On January 23, the
team at Misión Verdad published a report providing information that
showed the fallacy behind the “cartelized discourses sustaining the
‘lack of dollars’ as a fundamental cause for the restriction of
medication, which is produced oligopolistically” by a handful of
pharmaceutical corporations based in the country. On February 15,
journalist Victor Hugo Majano warned: “the National Assembly’s
declaration of a dietary and pharmaceutical emergency is meant to force
the government into maintaining flows of foreign currency that are in
turn used to finance imports, typically by the commercial layer of the
bourgeoisie and transnational corporations that are dedicated to the
commercialization of consumer goods”. 
Even having only sketched a tentative relation between the available
facts, and given the historical conditions in which this type of
discourse emerges and the type of language it uses, not to mention its
principal motives, it seems clear that when there is talk of a
“humanitarian crisis” in Venezuela it comes in the form of a
self-fulfilling prophecy. Those who speak a “humanitarian” language,
more than warning against what could happen, are anticipating a reality
that they themselves are deeply invested in seeing materialized. Apart
from that, they are posing the problem as the exclusive responsibility
of the government, from which can only follow a single solution:
“humanitarian intervention”. This is critical to understand: there is no
“crisis” without “intervention”.
Another effect is the progressive degradation of political language: the
“humanitarianization” of discourse is the most recent expression of an
attempt to dehumanize Chavismo. It is inherent to anti-Chavismo. The
“hordes” from the first years of the Bolivarian Revolution are then made
out to be criminal accomplices of a genocidal dictator, i.e. Nicolás
Maduro, who furthermore is a “usurper”, like the equally “illegitimate”
Hugo Chávez. The virulence of the recent attacks against Chavismo,
regarded as a despicable and vile phenomenon subject to legitimate
extermination, does not answer to any “humanitarian crisis”: it is the
same virulence as twenty years earlier, fomented by the brutality that
is today expressed in Venezuela’s “disaster capitalism”.
The “humanitarianization” of political discourse is the intricate plot
upon which the Trump Administration looks to legitimize their attack on
the PDVSA: it is “justified” on the grounds that, as John Bolton stated
on Fox Business on January 24, the government in question is “genocidal”
and “corrupt”. So what is the trick? The trick is that this discursive
plot serves to muddy the waters: anyone who should question the
humanitarian discourse has simply failed to “recognize” or, worse,
“justified” the crisis and corruption. By the same sleight of hand, the
main parties responsible for the “catastrophe” are the ones exempt from
** * **
The “humanitarian crisis” is a business opportunity, as Bolton
acknowledged in his /Fox Business/ interview. The same “opportunities”
are also on display in the plans being promoted by the National Assembly.
On December 19, 2018, a proposal was put before the National Assembly:
the “Plan for the Country, the Day After” [Plan País, el día después].
The “Plan” offers a roadmap for what is to be expected during the
“democratic transition”. According to /Banking and Business/ [Banca y
Negocios], the plan outlines:
– “the reactivation of the productive apparatus […] by accessing the
finances of multilateral banking”, read the International Monetary Fund;
– “removal of all controls, regulations and bureaucratic obstacles,
and punitive measures”;
– “international investment within a regulatory framework that
creates confidence and effective protection of private property”;
– “opening for private investment in public enterprises”;
– “ approval of a new Hydrocarbon Law that […] would allow for
private capital to act as a majority shareholder in oil projects”;
– “the private sector will be responsible […] for the operation of
– “efficiency in order to reduce the size of the state”.
On social matters, the proposal aims to “supply and provide continuous
access to primary goods and services, with special focus on the sectors
of health, education and nutrition for the most vulnerable, encouraging
quality employment and protection of family income”.
On January 8, 2019, a bill proposal was circulated in the National
Assembly with the title “Statute Governing the Transition to Democracy
and the Reestablishment of the Validity of the Constitution of the
Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela” [Ley de Estatuto que rige la
transición a la democracia y el restablecimiento de la vigencia de la
Constitución de la República Bolivariana de Venezuela]. Article 21 of
the bill reads: “the National Assembly will issue the laws necessary to
deal with the complex humanitarian emergency and promote the recovery of
the Venezuelan economy, in conformity with the Agreement of Plan País
approved on December 18, 2018”.
The same article goes on to list the objectives it will accomplish:
“rapid economic recuperation through extraordinary international
financial assistance provided by multilateral organisms” (paragraph 1);
“centralized control, arbitrary measures for expropriation and other
similar measures will all be abolished, including currency control. To
that end, the centralized model for economic control will be replaced by
a model based on liberty and the market, founded on the right enjoyed by
each Venezuelan to work under the guarantees based on property and
freedom of enterprise” (paragraph 2); “public utilities will be subject
to a process of restructuring that assures efficient and transparent
management, including through public-private arrangements” (paragraph
Clearly, “Plan País” and the “Transition” bill proposal are both rife
with neoliberal measures: deregulation, massive privatization (including
PDVSA), restructuring of the state, etc. And as for social concerns,
given that the issue at hand is nothing less than a “humanitarian
crisis”, and that the magnitude of such a crisis would logically occupy
a central place in any “democratic transition plan”, the proposed social
measures are little more than a scaled-back version of the policies
implemented throughout the Bolivarian Revolution.
Such is the deceptive nature of Venezuela’s “disaster capitalists”: they
promise to return the country to the years of Chávez, which in their
thinking was destroyed by the very same “21st century socialism”;
however they also intend to apply the same neoliberal policies of the
80s and 90s, which fueled the first rebellions of the Venezuelan people.
/*Reinaldo Iturriza*, (Puerto Ordaz, Bolívar, Venezuela, November 30,
1973), is a Venezuelan politician, sociologist and writer. He was the
Minister of Popular Power for Culture of Venezuela from September 2014
to January 2016./
/The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not
necessarily reflect those of the Venezuelanalysis editorial staff./
U.S. Department of the Treasury. Treasury Sanctions Venezuela’s
State-Owned Oil Company Petroleos de Venezuela, S.A. January 28, 2019.
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In Alfonso Guerra’s estimation, there are dictatorships that are
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transición a la democracia y el restablecimiento de la vigencia de la
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