[News] Venezuela and Disaster Capitalism

Anti-Imperialist News 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.[1] 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”.[2]

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”.[3]

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 
century socialism”.[4]

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”.[5] 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”.[6]

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”.[7] Contrary to all 
evidence, Diamanti stated that the government had violated the right to 
political demonstration and had launched a persecutory campaign in 
social networks.

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”.[8] /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”.[9] 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.[10] 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”. 
[11] 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”.[12] 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”.[13] 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”, [14] while on February 11 
it announced a “humanitarian crisis and the complete absence of any form 
of food security for the Venezuelan population”.[15] 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.[16] 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”. [17]

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 
any responsibility.

** * **

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
    utility assets”;

    – “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”.[18]

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./


[1]U.S. Department of the Treasury. Treasury Sanctions Venezuela’s 
State-Owned Oil Company Petroleos de Venezuela, S.A. January 28, 2019. 

[2]Ricardo Vaz. “Us Hits PDVSA with More Sanctions as UNSC Fails to Pass 
Resolution on Venezuela”. Venezuelanalysis, January 28, 2019. 

[3]Fox Business [Fox Business]. (January 24, 2019). John Bolton: I don't 
think Maduro has the military on his side [Video archive]. Retrieved 
from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8av-cPP1uPE

[4]Asamblea Nacional. “Acuerdo para la promoción del plan de rescate del 
país”. January 29, 2019. 

[5]Naomi Klein. /The Shock Doctrine/. Picador. 2007.

[6]In Alfonso Guerra’s estimation, there are dictatorships that are 
"least efficient", while Maduro "is of no use". El Diario, January 28, 

[7]Luis Alberto Facal. “Venezuela vive una crisis humanitaria según 
ONG”. Voz de América, March March 31, 2014. 

[8]“La crisis en Venezuela llega a los hospitales”. Voz de América, June 
16, 2014. 

[9]Álvaro Algarra. “Venezuela: Alertan posible crisis humanitaria”. Voz 
de América, February 24, 2015. 

[10]“Obama firma decreto contra Venezuela alegando que es una ‘amenaza 
inusual y extraordinaria a la seguridad nacional’”. Alba Ciudad, March 
9, 2015. 

[11]“Venezuela: Ratifican crisis humanitaria de salud”. Voz de América, 
March 11, 2015. 

[12]“Senado prepara audiencia sobre Venezuela”. Voz de América, March 
12, 2015. 

[13]"Cancelar Petrocaribe desataría crisis humanitaria". Voz de América, 
March 12, 2015. 

[14]Asamblea Nacional. “Acuerdo mediante el cual se declara crisis 
humanitaria en la salud de Venezuela, en vista de la grave escasez de 
medicamentos, insumos médicos y deterioro de la infraestructura 
sanitaria". January 26, 2016. 

[15]Asamblea Nacional. “Acuerdo mediante el cual se declara crisis 
humanitaria e inexistencia de seguridad alimentaria de la población 
venezolana”. February 11, 2016. 

[16]“Guerra farmacéutica y el plan de la "crisis humanitaria". Misión 
Verdad, January 23, 2016. 

[17]“Burguesía importadora usa declaratorias de emergencia para mantener 
flujo de divisas”.  Misión Verdad, February 15, 2016. 

[18]“Puntos clave del Plan País para la recuperación de Venezuela”. 
Banca y Negocios, December 26, 2018. 

[19]Asamblea Nacional. Anteproyecto de "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". January 9, 2019. 

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