Amid economic crisis and civil unrest in Venezuela, the New York Times reported on 8 September 2018 that the Trump administration has been in secret talks with Venezuelan military officers to stage a coup against President Nicolás Maduro.
This follows Trump’s indications in August last year of a ‘military option’ for Venezuela.
Given the long and bloody history of US-backed coups in Latin America, this news is very alarming. As supporters of self-determination and consistent democracy, socialists should vehemently oppose any move towards a right-wing military coup supported by an imperialist power. Such a coup would inflict even more suffering upon the Venezuelan people than they have endured throughout this period of crisis, and bring the country under a deeply reactionary regime.
That said, we should be under no illusions about the nature of Maduro’s government or of the Chavista project more broadly. Workers’ Liberty has never accepted Chavismo as socialist or in transition to socialism. Instead, many of us regard it as a kind of Bonapartism because of the way it maintains an uneasy alliance between sections of the working class, the national bourgeoisie, and the military, with the latter playing a central role in administering the state.
This civic-military alliance has been fundamental to Chavismo since its inception, with Hugo Chávez himself having enjoyed a long career as an army officer. Nor has the military’s centrality diminished under Maduro: according to one estimate, 11 of the 23 state governors in Venezuela were current or retired military officers by August 2017. In other words, Venezuela is already in a significant sense controlled by the military: it is now only a question of which faction.
The Venezuela crisis has seen an estimated 2.3 million Venezuelans flee their homeland in recent years, the bulk of whom have sought refuge in neighbouring Colombia, with many thousands venturing further still to Chile, Ecuador, and Peru.
They have done so to escape hyperinflation, mass hunger, and major shortages in hospitals across the country.
While internal opposition to Maduro from large swathes of the Venezuelan bourgeoisie and constant external pressure from the US have certainly exacerbated Venezuela’s troubles, much of the country’s devastation directly stems from the fact that its entire economy is built around a single resource: oil. Such a mono-economy was virtually guaranteed to face catastrophe when oil prices plummeted: a danger that neither Chávez nor Maduro took any meaningful steps to avoid.
In short, while we must defend Venezuela’s political independence and internal democracy from both military plotters at home and imperialist powers abroad, we should not pretend that Maduro is blameless in this crisis or that his regime is a workers’ government. Only an independently organised working class can save Venezuela from militaristic authoritarianism and foreign intervention alike.
While the left opposition in Venezuela is weak and disparate, it is our duty to reach out to them and learn how we can aid them in their struggle.