Venezuela, Oil and the struggle for Democratic Socialism in the 21st Century
In 1998, Hugo Chavez was elected Venezuelan President with an approval of 56%. His electoral success came about because if elected he promised to immediately instigate land reform and to put the countries oil revenues back into public services like education and health care. Since his Presidential victory Chavez has made good on his promises. The government under his leadership has:
a) built 657 new schools, created four universities, hired 36,000 teachers and given the opportunity for a formal education to three million new people
b) distributed 5.5 million acres of land to 116,000 families organized in cooperatives
c) traded oil to Cuba in exchange for 13,000 doctors in an effort to expand health care to 1.2 million more people
These are just some of the many things President Chavez has done in order to combat poverty in Venezuela. Unfortunately for Venezuelans these social programs aimed at giving the 15 million previously neglected people a decent standard of living comes into direct conflict with national and international business interests.
Before the election of Chavez, Venezuela was just another waypoint for the United States to get below market-value oil without having to give anything significant back. According to the Energy Information Administration of the US governmental department, in 1997, approximately 17.4% (1.773 million barrels a day) of all American oil imports came from Venezuela, making it the largest and most reliable oil source for the US in the world. This also accounts for over half of all Venezuelan oil exports.
By Chavez's second year in power in 2000, Venezuela dropped from being the largest oil exporter to the United States to being their 3rd largest, sending over approximately 400,000 less barrels a day. Chavez, by actually enforcing OPEC quotas through decreasing oil production while maintaining the same level of profitability meant financial benefits for Venezuela at the expense of cheap oil prices. This was not a conscious effort by the Chavez government to undermine the United States but a means for Venezuela to redistribute oil revenue into social spending. In addition to this and putting heavier regulations on the public oil sector, Chavez raised taxation on the private oil sector to an average of 25% from the previous average of
7% as well as giving the state oil company, the PDVSA, a 51% stake in all new private oil developments. Once again, all the extra revenue generated by the Venezuelan State went back into social spending instead of private business subsidies. Under previous US-friendly governments this would have been unheard-of.
The wealth had always been in Venezuela, and now, under a more planned out economy, it was genuinely being used to benefit the whole of Venezuelan society instead of just acting as corporate welfare or private sector investment. All of these accomplishments were done through legal means and without violating the sovereignty of any other countries. Regardless of this, Chavez became the victim of imperialist manoeuvring and domestic sabotage.
It is no secret that in April 2002 a coup was orchestrated by the CIA to be carried out by the Venezuelan business congress and right-wing elements within the Venezuelan military. Chavez was kidnapped and many of his cabinet ministers were put under arrest. The head of the business congress, Pedro Carmona, was named President, the Constitutional Assembly was dissolved and the Supreme Court was virtually fired. The next day, the New York Times and Washington Post ran articles claiming that popular mass anti-government protests forced Chavez from power. No mention of a coup was made.
Meanwhile, private media outlets, which make up 90% of all Venezuelan media, were hailing the coup as a "triumph for democracy" and the "defeat of the dictator". The majority of the Venezuelan populace had no idea what was going on because the one state-owned television station and all state run radio was 'mysteriously' cut. Long story short, within a couple of days the word spread throughout Venezuela and millions marched on the Presidential palace in opposition to the new illegitimate government. At that moment, palace guards sympathetic to Chavez stormed the palace and placed under arrest any members of the new government who had not yet fled. By the end of the day Chavez was returned safely and sworn back in as President.
The political intrigue did not end there. Less than 8 months later a lockout was organized by anti-Chavez high-level government bureaucrats to shut down the national oil company, the PDVSA. The concept was that if the economy was sabotaged Chavez would be forced from power. What the lockout organizers didn't take into account was just how much the workers supported Chavez -- so much so, that they actually broke the lockout and ran the facilities themselves, without management, to keep the economy alive.
The list goes on.
Later still in August 2004 a national referendum was held on Chavez's Presidency. The Carter Center, who helped monitor the vote, reported that over 90% of the eligible voting public voted, of which approximately 60% were in favour of keeping Chavez in power. This was yet another example of how the people of Venezuela have never failed to defend Chavez with their mass support whenever he has come under attack, legal or otherwise.
Despite his continual victories over local capitalists and US imperialism, the struggle is far from over for the President and people of Venezuela. The CIA is still, to this day, going on record making completely unfounded claims that Chavez is a threat to stability in South America and that Chavez is "aiding and abiding" terrorists and the drug trade in Columbia. The US state department has even invented a new set of terms just for Chavez by referring to his government as an "elected dictatorship" or an "authoritarian democracy".
Anyone following the political situation in Venezuela should not be tricked by the unfounded rhetoric of the United States. Interested parties should also be aware that the anti-Chavez forces will not rest until he is defeated by whatever means necessary; the US conducted assassination of the democratically elected leftist President of Chile, Allende, in 1973 is just an example of how far the US has been willing to go in the past to enforce their agenda. It is for this reason as well as others that supporters of the reforms being made in Venezuela must be diligent in helping build international solidarity to support Chavez and the Venezuelan people against foreign intervention and to make any extreme actions on the part of the United States government an impossibility.
The New Democratic Youth of Canada is doing its part by endorsing the "Hands off Venezuela!" campaign, which is organized in almost 50 countries. The campaign is endorsed by Chavez himself and is so far operating in Vancouver, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Peterborough, Waterloo, Toronto and Montreal. The campaign aims to educate people on the history of Venezuela and the current political situation. Raising awareness on the plight of Venezuela acts as a means to expose the not-so-hidden agenda of the US, the corruption of the Venezuelan oligarchy as well as provides a forum by which to promote the legitimacy of the struggle for participatory democracy in Venezuela.
Against imperialist intervention in Venezuela! For the defence of the Bolivarian Revolution in Venezuela! For the victory of democratic socialism in Latin America!