Venezuelan Opposition unlikely to secure recall referendum fefore year's end

Venezuela as an oppressive failed state is really very far from what's happening on the ground

Real News interview by Sharmini Peries with Steve Ellner

SHARMINI PERIES, TRNN: Welcome to the Real News Network. I'm Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore.

Earlier this week, Venezuela's national electoral council, known as the CNE, announced that the presidential recall referendum will be proceeding to the next phase, and outlined a timeline for the rest of the process. According to the electoral authority, the next step is to collect 20 percent of the registered voters' signatures in three days. This process can now take place in late October, meaning that if it is successful, a recall referendum won't happen until three months later in late January. According to Venezuela's constitution, if the recall happens after January 10 in the last two months of the president's term, this means that the vice president, someone whom the current president Maduro appointed, would take over as president.

Joining us now to discuss the situation in Venezuela is Steve Ellner. Steve has taught at the Universidad de Oriente in Puerto La Cruz in Venezuela since 1977. He's the author and editor of a number of books on Venezuela, and the most recent, Latin America's Radical Left: Challenges and Complexities of Political Power. He joins us today from Barcelona, Venezuela. Steve, so good to have you with us.

STEVE ELLNER: Good to be on the program.

PERIES: So finally the national electoral council outlined the timeline for the recall referendum, and dashed the opposition's hopes that it might still take place within the year in order to hold a presidential election before the last two years of the president's term. What has the opposition's reaction been to the CNE's declaration?

ELLNER: Well, the opposition claims that the procedure for the recall, the requirements for the 20 percent of the registered vote, vote signatures, that it is feasible to carry out the process in the course of this year. That it isn't necessary to wait until next year. And the difference is very important, because if the recall election is held after January 10, then if Maduro loses that recall, then he will step down and the vice president, Aristobulo Isturiz, will become president for the rest of the term, the two years that remains in the presidential term, so that the opposition will not have the option of being able to come to power in these next two years.

The Chavistas state that the opposition made a mistake, that they didn't concentrate on the effort, on the recall effort. They didn't collect the votes that they needed to initiate the process until three months after the beginning of the year, until late March. They waited because they themselves were divided. There were currents in the opposition that didn't want to have anything to do with the recall, and they favored other courses of action, so that as a result of divisions within the opposition and as a result of some errors in collecting those signatures, the 1 percent that they collected that initiated the process, as a result this whole process has been held up.

PERIES: Right. And government is also saying that the petition for the recall was submitted too late, and this petition also included countless forged signatures. What is your interpretation of what actually happened?



ELLNER: You know, you talk about Cabello, who's really the second key person in Chavista government, in Chavista command, stated the other day that the Chavistas don't want the recall to take place this year. That is their position. Of course, that really isn't any secret. It's obvious that they don't want it. And they have the right to insist on a close revision of the signatures that have been collected, because as you've mentioned, there are so many irregularities. For instance, there were over 10,000 signatures of deceased people.

There were several thousand signatures of people who are underage, and therefore cannot vote, and their signature does not count. There were a number of signatures of prisoners, when in fact there was no collection of signatures within the jail system in Venezuela.

So because of these mistakes on the part of the opposition, Diosdado Cabello stated, well, the Chavistas are just taking advantage of the situation. They are insisting on something that they have a right to insist on, and that is that these signatures be reviewed and that that in itself is slowing down the process. And as you mentioned, the opposition did wait too long in order to initiate the process. Instead of doing it at the beginning of the year, on January 1, they waited three months. And as a result, there just isn't enough time this year for that recall election to be held.



PERIES: And now on top of all the internal strife that's going on, 15 countries of the Organization of American States just issued a statement urging the Venezuelan authorities to organize the recall referendum as soon as possible, and it was signed by 15 countries, as I said, including the U.S., Canada, Colombia, Argentina, and Brazil, all countries that are leaning right, aligned with the United States. What do you make of this, and do you think the international pressure will make any difference with regard to what's happening in the internal electoral procedures in Venezuela? From what I understand the procedures are very clearly spelled out in terms of recall referendums.

ELLNER: Right. There's no question about it, that there is a fundamental change in the correlation of forces politically, ideologically speaking, in Latin America over the last year. Elections have been held in countries like Peru, Argentina. There have been what some people are calling a soft coup that just took place in Brazil, that took place in Paraguay a couple years ago, that also took place in Honduras. And that has really changed things in terms of Venezuela's position within the context.

You know, Chavez played a key role in promoting Latin American [unity], and that coincided with a period of [inaud.] for the [inaud.] countries, Argentina, Brazil, to Ecuador, Bolivia, et cetera. El Salvador is a third example. And as a result I keep promoting [inaud.] Latin American community outside of the OAS. Just Latin American nations. This was the case with [inaud.], it was the case with Unasur, which takes in just South America. And so that the OAS, which some claim has been, is dominated by the United States and always has been, was undermined.

Now the situation has changed, and what is somewhat ironic is that the countries whose legitimacy has been most questioned are the countries that are at the forefront of this effort to ostracize Venezuela. Specifically in the case of Mercosur. Venezuela should assume the provisional presidency of Mercosur, which is done on an occasional basis. And it's Paraguy that has really been objecting to that. But you know, the government of Paraguay came to power in what some consider to be a soft coup. The same thing with the case of Brazil. Argentina took a more moderate position, at least at first.

So there's no question about it, that Venezuela is finding itself somewhat isolated within Latin America, and the efforts that were made by Chavez to promote unity basically involving the more radical leftist governments, such as Brazil, such as [livia], Ecuador, in Venezuela, and the more moderate leftist governments such as Argentina under the Kirchners, and Brazil, and Paraguay, but also trying to rein in non-leftist governments like that of Colombia. And I know the situation's totally different. And this manifests itself every day in condemnations of Venezuela, resolutions pointing to violation of human rights in Venezuela, and I think that that really has to be analyzed.

PERIES: Steve, you're a longtime follower and you've been living in Venezuela and have been a part of sort of the political analysis of Venezuela for a long time now. When you think about what's happening now in the moment that Venezuela is in, President Chavez faced similar kinds of pressures prior to the coup that took place in Venezuela against him. And so if you, if you think about the continental pressure, the pressure in terms of the oil industry and havoc and so on that led to the coup against him, are conditions repeating itself here?

ELLNER: Well, I would say that to a certain extent there are similarities, in the sense that Venezuela was politically, ideologically isolated at the time in 2002. But you know, consider the fact that during the coup, the coup that took place for two days in April of 2002, the Latin American community, even though there wasn't any leftist presence in Latin America at the time, nevertheless condemned the coup. And if any country was isolated it was the United States. The United States with, as a result of the efforts of Otto Reich under the Bush administration, attempted to convince other Latin American countries to recognize the de facto government of Pedro Carmona. And the rest of Latin America, with just one or two exceptions, refused to do so.

So in a sense, the situation now for Maduro is even more difficult, because he's not getting the support. He's facing the hostility of countries that, of governments that have just come to power, and are committed to a right-wing agenda in terms of economic policy, and have been pretty hostile to the position of the Maduro government within the community of nations, within the community of Latin American nations.

PERIES: Right. And then of course the OAS issuing these kinds of statements also smacked of what happened just prior to the coup that took place against President Chavez. Finally, I want to ask you, Steve, one of the things that we keep seeing in the international media repeated again and again is about the crisis and the turmoil that Venezuela is going through in terms of the ability to feed its people and find basic goods and services, and with the fallen oil prices and government not having as much revenue as it did. It is having a difficult time providing some of the services and goods that was provided for the people in the prior era of the Chavista governments. How are you feeling the crunch, as they say, on the ground? I mean, you're living there. How is it to actually live there right now under these pressures?



ELLNER: Well, it's not easy. It's not easy. And what the media, what the U.S. media, states about the situation, the economic situation, in Venezuela certainly reflects what is happening. On the other hand, there are exaggerations. I would say that one of the things the media does is to juxtapose the economic difficulties, which are undeniable, and the political situation in terms of violation of human rights, which is highly exaggerated. That's another issue, which I won't go into.

But that is, you know, it--the statements that are coming out of the media leave the impression that you have a failed state in Venezuela. And that is, that is hardly the case. The government is not a failed state government. It's taking measures, they're not completely successful, but they've alleviated the situation to a certain extent. And in addition to that, the image of a failed state with regard to repression and that kind of thing is really very far from what's happening on the ground.

But with regard to the shortages, you have a dual-tier situation in which you have long lines, people wait on long lines for hours and hours to get goods, to purchase goods, at highly-subsidized prices. Now, it's the poor people for the most part that do that, and the middle class end up purchasing goods either in legal commercial establishments that sell goods higher than the regulated price, so the middle class pays more without having to wait in line, or they purchase the goods in the informal economy, whose prices are even higher.

So they have a triple-tier situation in which goods are available to a certain extent, but prices are not uniform.

PERIES: All right, Steve, I thank you so much for joining us today, and we'll be keeping an eye on this situation with the referendum, and I hope you can join us again. Thank you.

From the Real News Network: http://therealnews.com/t2/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=31&Itemid=74&jumival=16991

In Venezuela’s difficult times the grassroots are stronger

by Tamara Pearson

It’s been three years now of food shortages, inflation, and queues in Venezuela, and the millions of people involved in community and movement organizing have been the most affected. But they’ve also defied right-wing and general expectations, and even perhaps the expectations of the Maduro government, and have become stronger and better organized as a result of the hardships.

‘We can feel the difference between the quality of life we had four years ago – when things had improved so much. Everything is extremely expensive. You go out to buy a kilo of rice, and four days later the price has gone up, and it’s hard to deal with because our salaries don’t go up every four days,’ Jose Loaiza told me. A worker in charge of sustainable development for the mountain town of Los Nevados for Merida’s Teleferico (cable car) and a member of an urban agriculture organization, La Minga, Loaiza was one of four people I interviewed to get a sense of how the grassroots have been affected by these difficult times – times that have been utterly sensationalised and lied about by the mainstream media.

Community members working in the La Columna community garden, Merida, Venezuela. by Tamara Pearson

‘When Chavez came to power, 80 per cent of people were poor. We drank milk once a fortnight and ate meat once a week. Most people didn’t have access to proteins,’ Joel Linares, a Caracas based community organizer who also works with rural workers’ councils, explained.

He described the current crisis as a result of politics, and ‘consumerism that isn’t working’ in an oil based, urban-centric economy where people don’t produce what they consume. Vegetables and fish are available, but they are expensive, and the basic goods that people are used to like rice, beans, and milk can only be obtained on the black market, or by queueing outside a supermarket from 4 am. But businesses seem to have no problem getting hold of those products, and it’s easy to get a pizza, coffee, or bread if you can afford it.

‘It’s not that these things don’t exist, but the mechanism of distribution is still controlled by the private sector,’ Rachael Boothroyd Rojas, a Caracas community council representative and journalist with Venezuelanalysis.com said. And that is a private sector which has profited greatly from the crisis, and which has an interest is bringing down Chavismo.

A boom in urban agriculture

But the food situation has led to changes in how people get food, and in the types of food they consume. More people are growing their own food, and the traditional Venezuelan diet heavy on deep fried carbs is being challenged, with oil and cornflour hard to come by.

Loaiza described a community meeting he attended recently where people growing food on their windowsills and patios and in public parks came together to collectivize their experiences. ‘People have realised that they have to take advantage of what space they have. Before, no one used the green spaces in housing complexes, and now they are growing food there. Colonial culture forced habits of buying everything on us, and now we’re breaking with that,’ he said.

‘Five years ago I knew perhaps eight people doing urban agriculture, but now I know about 500 people,’ he said.

‘Our community garden is still active, even though it was affected by the drought,’ Eliodina Villareal, a communal council spokesperson in an opposition-dominated part of Merida, explained. Further, food exchange, with neighbours swapping goods like pasta for margarine, has become common.


‘People are starting to understand how food works. There is no way to move forward until communities become involved in food and production. And that means that the communal councils and communes are less abstract now,’ Boothroyd Rojas said.




Community members working in the La Columna community garden, Merida, Venezuela. Tamara Pearson

Where community organizations were previously focused on holding cultural events and fixing a road hole, for example, now many urban communes are trying to produce at least half their vegetables in urban gardens, and are buying the rest directly from rural producers.

The complexities of community organized food distribution

My own communal council, La Columna, covering four blocks of central Merida, has gone from meetings of five to 12 people in 2012, to around 90. Others testify that their community organization has been strengthened, that they are holding more and bigger meetings, and working more with other councils.

‘People are coming on their own accord, seeking support and organization to solve the situation. Through the government initiative, the CLAP (Local Committee of Supply and Production), we’ve sold bags of basic foods at very cheap prices. So people want to be included, but now the issue is how to meet the needs of all the families, and guaranteeing that they get the food, and not the bachaqueros (food speculators),’ Villareal said.

The CLAP are facing a range of obstacles. Organizers are leaving meetings to be in food queues, and they are exhausted with the work involved in obtaining basic resources like ink or paper for their communal work, or the days spent in organizing a truck for food. Food arrives to communities through the CLAP once a month, but Linares said that wasn’t often enough. Also, he said sometimes the CLAP face stigmatisation for not completely solving the food problems people are facing.

‘The people’s hunger is a battle weapon,’ Linares said, as he talked about the right-wing generated violence, combined with the politics of shortages, aimed at bringing about a sense of desperation. At the same time, people are having to combat corruption at various levels and are pushing for more control over production and distribution in order to guarantee efficiency of government. ‘A social and solidarity economy’ is the solution to such problems, and an alternative to wasteful consumerism, Linares argued.

When the communities get their food directly from farmers, they are attacking the insane speculation that happens through middlemen. ‘In our communal council we organized a vegetable market. We paid for the transport to bring the vegetables from the countryside. And it makes you wonder, if they sold us tomatoes at 450 bolivars ($.45) a kilo, and the people in the markets are selling them for thousands of bolivars, they must be making so much profit,’ Boothroyd Rojas said.

She described a further difficulty that some communities have faced, with the army sometimes stopping these food shipments. It has meant that some councils have had to use militia to protect their food from the army. The government appears to be losing complete control over its security forces, as they sense that the political forces have changed, with a right-wing parliament. ‘The right wing wants to revoke communal land rights, and some security forces are carrying out a dirty war in response to this dynamic,’ she explained.

Rural communities face some big hurdles too, but also have some advantages. Far from urban centres, it is even harder for them to access basic products, or to request funding. Loaiza said that with a return trip from Los Nevados to Merida costing 3,000 bolivars ($30.00), amounting to 20 per cent of a monthly wage, any paper work is difficult.

Members of the Merida communal council distributing food. Tamara Pearson

On the other hand, rural communities have been producing food for their own consumption for a long time. For those rural movements and groups who have also been organizing, their time to play an important role in Venezuela has come.

Better and worse human beings

‘To grow hurts, and Venezuelans are growing,’ Linares said. ‘The crisis has made us stronger,’ Loaiza argued. And even in Villareal’s opposition dominated area, there is empathy among neighbours ‘without political stripes being important’.

‘People are learning to be more solidarious, to be mindful of the elderly adults who live alone and need our support. We’re very motivated to keep fighting,’ she said.

But Loaiza also identified ‘two Venezuelas’. He described a ‘revolution that tries to get positive things out of everything and is dedicated to building’ and on the other hand, people who are gravely affected by the problems, but aren’t doing much about them and are affected by ‘anti-values’ such as individualism and selfishness. The first group, he explained, have spent years in collectives and ‘feel the solidarity’, so they don’t easily fall for the anti-values.

Eliodina Villareal (on the right) speaking at a communal council meeting. Tamara Pearson
Better and worse human beings

On the other hand, Boothroyd Rojas described the ruthlessness of people trying to make money out of the shortages. ‘There are a lot of scams. You feel under attack because every time you go to buy something, you are up against this battle. It makes people aggressive, and it’s exhausting. In 2012, for example, the empanadas were great, full to the brim with meat. And now people are charging for basically an empty empanada. You’re being scammed and people are making money – there’s no solidarity between the market sellers and the people.’
She also noted how tense it is, not just because of the food, but an overwhelmed health system. ‘The two hospitals I’ve been to aren’t like how the media portrays, with floors covered in blood, it’s not that bad, but going to crowded hospitals is stressful.’

Grassroots and the national government

The people I talked to differed in their analysis of the effectiveness of government initiatives in light of the food problems. Most people are frustrated with the national government’s response, but they have different ways of framing it. For some, the ‘economic war’ waged by the right-wing has made it difficult for the government to do much, while for others, the government has less connection now with the social movements and organizations and is too dependent on a stalling strategy.

‘The only solutions that are being developed at the moment is from the grassroots, but they are slow to have fruition as well,’ Boothroyd Rojas said. ‘I don’t think we can rely on theCLAP and the state for food, we need to change the structures that mean people are being charged too much, in a way that we would be protected if the opposition were to get into government, because they wouldn’t maintain any state involvement in food distribution.’

‘The government is responding to problem after problem, but the long term plans are coming from the communities. The CLAP are great, but the government isn’t organized enough to bring food to the whole country, and it’s very top down,’ she said. For example, the government stipulated that the CLAP must have a member from the Francisco de Miranda Front and from Inamujer, but those organizations aren’t present in all communities.

She said the grassroots don’t feel like they have much influence over the government or over the ‘course of things coming in the next few months’. Meanwhile, grassroots initiatives are also somewhat fragmented, with a lack of ‘national expression of people’s politics’, but there’s still a lot of room to make that happen.

Looking to the future

The current situation in Venezuela is unsustainable. ‘The future doesn’t look good,’ Villareal said. Communities are worried about what the right-wing could do in the national assembly, that it might eliminate the communal council and commune laws. However, even with a majority in the assembly, the right-wing is still acting like an opposition: more focused on delegitimising the ideas of Chavismo than on policy making.

'Less consumerism, more consciousness' reads the placard of a young protestor outside a supermarket queue. Tamara Pearson

‘It’s questionable if the right-wing even want a recall referendum to remove the sitting president, Nicolas Maduro, and if they really want to take power, as power means responsibility for sorting out this situation, and it would be clear they don’t really have any solutions,’ Boothroyd Rojas said.

‘But we are changing the way we consume, we’re learning to value what we have and to think and create, so we know that we’ll overcome this,’ Villareal concluded.
Reprint from New Internationalist Magazine

Tamara Pearson is a long time Latin America based journalist and the author of The Butterfly Prison

If Chávez were alive today, would the situation in Venezuela be different?

by Roger Harris

Counterpunch: U.S. policy since Hugo Chávez was elected president of Venezuela in 1998 has been regime change to return the oil-rich South American nation to the neo-liberal fold. After 17 years of Chávista polices, the U.S. wants nothing more than for [economically] poor Venezuelans to suffer as much as possible – to make their economy scream – so that the popular movement will grow dissatisfied with the socialist inclined leadership.

Current Situation in Venezuela

If imposition of misery in Venezuela can be counted as a U.S. policy victory, than the hegemon to the north has been supremely successful. Daily the likes of the New York Times and the Washington Post report on the “collapse” of Venezuela and call for outside intervention into the “humanitarian crisis.”


Chronic power outages, food and water shortages - blackrepublican.blogspot.com

In a more objective reporting from Venezuela, Gabriel Hetland cautions “the crisis” in Venezuela is “deep but not cataclysmic, and mainstream U.S. media have consistently exaggerated the extent of it.” Hetland found mounting inflation, serious shortages of food and medicines, and growing popular discontent.

Hetland also noted that commerce is still thriving and in affluent areas the restaurants are booming and supermarket shelves are overflowing with consumer products. While public hospitals are having problems, private health care for the rich and free public clinics for the poor are functioning well. Overall, though, the poor are hard hit.

Would the situation have been any different had Chávez still been president of Venezuela?

Hugo Chávez became president of Venezuela in 1999 and inherited an oil-dependent economy characterized by reliance on agricultural imports and chronic inflation. Venezuela was also a highly class polarized society with high crime and poverty rates.

The Chávistas call their popular movement the Bolivarian Revolution. But if their movement is a “revolution,” it is at best an incomplete one. Compromises are necessary, which would not be required had both the state and the economy been under control of the revolutionaries. The Chávistas are not unaware of this inconsistency, when they explain that their “revolution” is really a “process.”

While the Chávistas controlled the executive and, until this year, the legislative branches of government, power has been highly contested elsewhere. After the US-backed failed 2002 coup, disloyal elements of the military were exposed and removed. The Chávistas set about reforming an inherited judiciary, penal system, and law enforcement apparatus, which were so thoroughly corrupt that firing dishonest police would only result in converting part-time criminals to full-time.

Bolivarian revolution is a "process"

But even more important for Venezuela, as for any other capitalist country, is that the commanding heights of the national economy are controlled by an owning class whose antipathy of social change is immense. This includes not only the manufacturing, service, and major agricultural sectors, but a privately owned and rabidly hostile mass media.


news.yahoo.com

In addition, the Venezuelan economy is integrated with the world economy, which is dominated by institutions with a neo-liberal agenda of all power to capital. And over-arching all of this is the US government organizing, funding, and directing the domestic and international opposition to the Chávista project.

Therein lies the dilemma of the transition from capitalism to socialism. As vice president of Bolivia Álvaro García Linera famously commented, the conversion to socialism under such circumstances is like trying to overhaul the engine of your car while it is running.

Transition to Socialism

Chávez in his 14 years in office played an obligatory cat-and-mouse game with the owning class, sometimes confiscating particularly egregious corporations and sometimes looking aside or entering into partnerships with the more cooperative so-called boliburguesía. Chavez, it appears, was well aware of these Faustian bargains, but also understood that the configuration of class forces did not (yet) allow him to expropriate his class opponents wholesale.

In this realpolitik contest, a power struggle between the old order and a new one trying to emerge, Chávez had the benefit of economic resources in the form of rapidly rising commodity prices for oil. Oil revenues funded major social programs in health, education, and poverty reduction. Not only were the material conditions of the popular classes dramatically improved, but the Chávista political program instilled a persistent sense of social empowerment, especially among formerly excluded sectors of the population.

Meanwhile in the international arena, Chávez stimulated major initiatives for regional integration and cooperation in Latin America – UNASUR, CELAC, PetroCaribe, ALBA – providing institutions to resist US imperialism and to promote national development for its constituents.

Nicolás Maduro Succession

Afflicted with terminal cancer, Hugo Chávez picked Nicolás Maduro as his successor to lead the Bolivarian Revolution. Chávez died on March 5, 2013. Maduro found himself thrust into a role that he had not sought, filling the shoes of a truly huge world historical figure. A special election was called, and on April 14th Maduro officially became the 65th president of Venezuela.



During his time in office, Chávez was constantly under siege from the right-wing opposition, factions within Chávismo, left Trotskyists and anarchists, as well as internationally from the U.S. and its allies. Upon the succession, the unrelenting siege doubled down on Maduro.

Right-wing - Henrique Capriles - forments violence

Immediately after the official announcement of Maduro’s election victory, opposition candidate Henrique Capriles pronounced the election a “fraud” and called upon his followers to “show their rage.” What the right-wing opposition could not achieve through democratic elections, they have tried to achieve through extra-constitutional means. Violence has continued intermittently to the present, causing millions of dollars of damage to mostly public property such as health clinics and mass transportation as well as taking dozens of lives.

It came as no surprise to anyone that the opposition would refuse to recognize the election if their candidate lost and would use that as an excuse to foment violence to destabilize the Chávista government. I was in Caracas in the days leading up to the 2013 election and was told repeatedly by Chávistas that would happen.

The accusation of electoral fraud had no basis. Independent polls leading into the presidential election predicted a Maduro victory. Former U.S. president Jimmy Carter pronounced the Venezuelan electoral system the best in the world (while criticizing electoral practices in the U.S.). After the election, Capriles called for an investigation, and the investigation confirmed the election results.

But all this did not deter the U.S., which was not only helping to fund the right-wing opposition in Venezuela, but helping to organize it through its “democracy promotion” programs. The U.S. also refused to recognize the Maduro presidency deliberately adding fuel to the violent protests in Venezuela.

Maduro inherits problems from capitalist order and right-wing sabotage

It did not take any extraordinary prescience for me to write after Maduro assumed the Venezuelan presidency: “The problems of building 21st century socialism on a capitalist foundation include crime, inefficiency/shortages, and inflation/devaluation. These are the problems inherited from the existing capitalist order and exacerbated by the sabotage of the opposition. This is the time bomb that has been handed to Maduro.” Maduro inherited issues that had never been addressed or dealt with inconsistently, actual mistakes from the past, and other unfinished tasks.

Despite immense constraints, Maduro made initiatives that Chávez had yet to do. On currency control and subsidized gasoline prices – some argue too little too late – Maduro instituted reforms. On putting some teeth into curbing illegal activities of the opposition, the police and judiciary had Leopoldo Lopez arrested. Maduro also further promoted the communes, all the while seeing his role as continuing the Chávez legacy.

As Franco Vielma commented in 2014: “Expecting Maduro to eliminate corruption and bureaucrats with a stroke of the pen, is not only impossible but absurd. Expecting Maduro to not make missteps is equally so.”

End of the Oil Rentier Economy

In addition to an emboldened internal opposition sabotaging the Venezuelan economy and an aggressively hostile U.S., Maduro and by extension Venezuela has had to contend with an almost overwhelming external factor – the bottom fell out of the price of oil. Global oil prices slumped to low of $25 a barrel in January of this year. In the heyday of the boom, oil sold for $130 a barrel and petroleum accounted for about 93 percent of Venezuela’s exports.

As the Maduro government has recognized, the oil rentier economy is finished and Venezuela has to adjust. So, yes, Maduro has made mistakes; only those who don’t struggle avoid making mistakes. But the playing field for Maduro has been severely tilted to his disadvantage with domestic sabotage by an opposition funded in part by the U.S. and then the collapse of the oil economy.


Poster in anti-US rally in Caracas, Sat. Mar. 12, 2016 - Source AP

It is unlikely even Chávez would have done differently. Most of Maduro’s problems were inherited from Chávez who himself had not found solutions to, for example, endemic corruption and an entrenched, hostile bureaucracy. Nor did Chávez put sustained energy into diversifying Venezuela’s oil-dependent economy.

Maduro makes mistakes but would Chávez have done differently?

The New York Times recently hosted a four-way debate on solutions for Venezuela. Neo-conservative Roger Noriega argued for recovery of “free market economic policies” entailing the neo-liberal overhauling of the state-run oil company, central bank and other government entities in Venezuela. While a U.S. government official, Noriega co-authored the Helms-Burton law, tightening the illegal “embargo” (really a blockade) on Cuba, and was involved in the U.S.-backed coup in Haiti in 2000. As a private lobbyist, Noriega worked on behalf of the 2009 U.S.-backed coup in Honduras. Against such a track record, Noriega’s accusations that the Chávista project represents “undemocratic elements” ring hollow.

Harvard academic Ricardo Hausmann echoes the right-wing Venezuelan opposition and Noriega on the efficacy of turning the Venezuelan economy over to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank for a neo-liberal overhaul. Hausmann holds up the contemporary models of Greece and Ukraine (see “With friends like the IMF and EU, Ukraine doesn’t need enemies”) as the solution to Venezuela’s problems…without any sense of irony about the abysmal conditions in those two benighted countries suffering from outside interference. Hausmann, incidentally, was formerly an official in the corrupt Pérez administration in Venezuela.

On the other side of the Times debate, journalist Tamara Pearson and economist Mark Weisbrot, both sympathetic to the Venezuelan government, oppose imposition of neo-liberal austerity measures on the people of Venezuela under the auspices of the IMF and the World Bank.

Weisbrot comments, “A switch to a policy of non-intervention in Venezuela would be a sea change for Washington, and would set a healthy precedent.” Indeed, it is the Venezuelans themselves who will have to solve their own problems, some of which are serious and immediate. The responsibility of North Americans is to keep our governments from destabilizing and immiserating our neighbor to the south.

Roger D. Harris is on the State Central Committee of the Peace and Freedom Party in California.

Venezuela has a new plan to tackle food shortages

Maduro Creates New Supply Mission as Fresh Imports Arrive from Trinidad & Tobago

by Lucas Koerner


Philadelphia, July 12, 2016 – Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro announced Monday the creation of a new state distribution program for food and medicine tasked with addressing the nation’s chronic scarcities.

The Great Sovereign and Secure Supply Mission

Known as the Great Sovereign and Secure Supply Mission, the program is aimed at promoting agricultural, industrial, and pharmaceutical production in order win what the president has termed an “economic war” waged by transnational firms against the leftist government.

“If we want peace, let’s win the economic war, let’s win the non-conventional war,” he said during a council of ministers meeting broadcast on state television.

Minister of Defense in charge of Great Sovereign and Secure Supply Mission

Venezuela has been hard hit by a severe economic crisis triggered by the collapse of global crude prices – the country’s principal source of export earnings – which has led to soaring triple-digit inflation as well as acute shortages of food and medicine.

Maduro has blamed much of the crisis on economic destabilization by foreign transnationals, who he has accused of lining their pockets with state dollars yet refusing to invest in production and imports.

The new mission is intended to combat the country’s “criminal” black market economy believed to be driving inflation and will be headed by the presidential military command under Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino Lopez.

Six micro missions on school diet, hygiene, and medicines

Maduro further specified that the initiative will consist of six “micro-missions” dedicated to the production of seeds, animal protein, balanced food, cleaning and personal hygiene products, as well as the regionalizing of school meal menus and the supply of essential medicines.

In addition to promoting production and new mining activities, the Maduro government has also promised greater imports to offset the crisis’ impact on ordinary Venezuelans.


On Monday, the South American country received a much-anticipated shipment of 400 tons of food from Trinidad and Tobago as part of a US $26.9 million deal signed last month.

As a rentier oil exporting nation, Venezuela has for decades imported the majority of its foodstuffs, which has rendered the nation’s food supply network vulnerable to vicissitudes in the international crude market.

Venezuelanalysis.com