Chavistas march against imperialism: what is the next step in Trump's coup?

Even though the ongoing imperialist coup in Venezuela has not yet succeeded, the impression one gets is that there is an inexorable march forward in its implementation, which is pushed mainly from forces abroad rather than from within Venezuela itself. The next step in the plan is the use of “humanitarian aid” as a provocation on the border with Colombia.

There are now plenty of newspaper reports that detail the way this coup plot was hatched in the US, with the collaboration of Marco Rubio and top Trump administration officials. The planning had already been put in place under the Obama administration, let us not forget that it was he who signed the Executive Order declaring Venezuela a “threat” to US national security, which was the basis for sanctions. All further sanctions implemented by Trump have been implemented within the remit of that EO.

Plans accelerated last spring when the hawks replaced the “moderates” in the Trump regime. Mike Pompeo took over from Tillerson, and Bolton from McMaster. Marco Rubio and Diaz-Balart, the political chiefs of the Cuban exile mafia in Florida and powerful figures within the Republican party had been pushing Trump from day one. Now they realised they could have their way.

The coup plot

Already, in August 2017, Trump contemplated a military option for Venezuela, but was rebuffed by his advisors, amongst them Tillerson. Once they were removed, the road was clear. Also, countries in the region fell in line with these plans, with the election of right-wing Macri in Argentina, Duque (an agent of Uribe) in Colombia and finally Bolsonaro in Brazil.

For this gang of wolves, the issue is not even about Venezuela itself but about what Bolton described as the “triad of tyranny”: Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua. At a rally with reactionary Venezuelans in Florida on 2 February, Mike Pence backed the point in a speech, peppered with Biblical references, in which he promised to bring "freedom" to Venezuela and then continue to Nicaragua and Cuba.

In December 2018, the last details of the plan were put together and Guaidó travelled to Washington for instructions. At that time, he was not even president of the National Assembly, but everything had already been decided in advance by the White House. Offering confirmation of this plan, newspaper reports have now detailed “frantic calls” from the US to Latin American countries and diplomatic pressure on Spain ahead of Guaidó’s self-proclamation. America’s allies were told he was going to become president and they had to recognise him. As was to be expected, when asked to jump they all said: “how high?”

To create further props for the coup plan, Washington decided it needed to recruit a few “liberal” and “social-democratic” faces to cover their nakedly imperialist ambitions. Canada’s Trudeau and Spain’s Sanchez were happy to oblige. An editorial in the FT made the point openly:

“In a region with a long history of US intervention, it is important that pressure on the Maduro regime is not perceived as simply another example of imperialism, or that the crisis is reduced to a great power struggle between the US and Russia, both of which have big interests in oil, Venezuela’s chief and virtually only export. The role of Canada and the bulk of Latin American countries is central to countering knee-jerk assumptions that the US alone is orchestrating moves to oust Mr Maduro.”

The Trump regime has a plan: “regime change” in Venezuela, and is slowly but surely implementing it. That’s all that matters to them. Popular support or lack thereof in Venezuela does not really determine their course of action, though it might alter small details of the plan.

A tale of two marches

On Saturday, 2 February, there were large marches in Venezuela, which were useful to gauge the balance of forces as far as mass support for and against the coup is concerned.

In Caracas, the chavista march was clearly larger, occupying most of Bolivar Av., and was composed mostly of people from the militias, and activists from the community councils and the working-class neighbourhoods.

A proportion of them came from outside Caracas. This is the hardcore of support for the Bolivarian Revolution (including many who are critical of the government’s policies). We are talking of hundreds of thousands, to millions of people (six million voted for Maduro in May 2018) who are “patria o muerte”: prepared to die fighting an imperialist intervention. This chavista march was barely mentioned in the international media. The BBC’s correspondent then defended itself by saying they “couldn’t attend” the chavista march:

In fact, they did not want to attend, as it would have destroyed the story that “Maduro has lost all support from the population”, and it is a maxim of bourgeois journalism to never let the facts get in the way of a good story.

The opposition march in Las Mercedes was large, but clearly smaller. Significantly, they showed on stage the flags of all the countries supporting self-appointed president Guaidó, including those of the US and Israel. The presence of US flags and symbols was a common feature throughout opposition marches, which took place not only in Caracas but also in all main cities in the country. Overall, the opposition mobilised more people, but in Caracas, the chavista march was larger. Those at the opposition demos are mainly people from the middle-class and upper-class areas in the big cities. Their whole approach to political struggle now is to rely on foreign intervention to tip the balance of power their way, having been repeatedly defeated in insurrectionary attempts over the last five years. That’s the meaning of US flags, Statues of Liberty and “Marines welcome” signs.

At the opposition march in Caracas, Guaidó announced what is the next step of the plan: to use the cover of "humanitarian aid" to create a provocation at the border. The announcement was backed by Bolton and Pence:

Anyone who thinks the US or the Venezuelan opposition care about the conditions of people in Venezuela or the plight of migrants is completely deluded. The Trump regime wants to build a wall to prevent migrants from entering the US and those who managed are detained in cages, children separated from their parents in the cruellest way. The Venezuelan opposition during the 2017 attempted insurrection burned a young chavista man to death for the crime of looking poor and being dark skinned. The issue of “humanitarian aid” is being used as a convenient excuse for intervention: the real situation exaggerated and lies are being told deliberately, in the same way we were told about “weapons of mass destruction” in relation to Iraq, and about “imminent genocide in Tripoli” ahead of the bombing of Libya.

Three "aid" centres are going to be established: one in Brazil, a second in a currently-unnamed Caribbean island, and the third in Cucuta, Colombia. The latter is the most important one at this stage. The US will deliver "aid" there in the next few days: a week or ten days at most. Then there will be an attempt to "deliver" this aid across the border. This is designed to create a military confrontation.

We need to understand that Cucuta is the capital city of paramilitarism in Colombia, which in turn has close links with the state apparatus and the current Duque government, as well as landowners and capitalists on the Venezuelan side of the border, involved in smuggling and other illegal activities.

There are also so-called "rebel soldiers" in Colombia, which can be used for this purpose. Some of them are probably far-right former Venezuelan soldiers, others are more likely to be Colombian paramilitaries in disguise.

The US and its Venezuelan puppets have said openly that they will seek a confrontation with the Venezuelan military at the border "to see if they prevent aid from coming in or if they defy Maduro's orders". This is a very dangerous adventure as, in practice, it amounts to an attempt to invade Venezuela under the cover of humanitarian aid, and could very easily lead to an armed clash. That is what they seek: an incident that paints Maduro in bad light and justifies military intervention.

The stakes are very high.

Also on Saturday, a serving general in the Air Force came out in support of Guaidó. This is the highest-ranking serving officer to have mutinied to so far, but he had no troops under his command. The Venezuelan ambassador in Iraq also defected.

As I have explained before, the loyalty of the army high command is mostly linked to their control of the state-owned companies. That means the offer of an amnesty on the part of the coup plotters is not particularly attractive to them. However, if economic sanctions get too unbearable and they see a chance of Maduro being overthrown, it is not ruled out that a section of the army might decide that it would rather enter the scene and take over control of a "transitional" process than be left out completely and lose all its power and wealth.

European imperialism backs the US

On Monday, 4 February, 19 EU countries issued a joint statement, noting they "acknowledge and support Mr. Juan Guaidó, President of the democratically elected National Assembly, as President ad interim of Venezuela, in order for him to call for free, fair and democratic presidential elections."

At the meeting of EU FM last Thursday, they couldn't reach a consensus (Greece, Italy and a few others opposed or abstained), so today they issued an ad-hoc statement. This is the result of the outrageous, eight-day deadline for Maduro to call for elections, issued by the Spanish PM Sanchez.

Sanchez's conduct has been particularly scandalous in this whole affair (as Maduro correctly pointed out in the interview he gave to Salvador, on La Sexta TV on Sunday night). After railing against Trump as a "leader of the far right we must combat" two years ago, he has now aligned himself fully with Trump's coup in Venezuela.

Many of the European countries involved in issuing this arrogant deadline are monarchies, where the head of state has never been elected. Sanchez has now locked a rescue ship belonging to ONG Open Arms in the Barcelona harbour, preventing it from doing its job of saving the lives of refugees trying to reach the shores of fortress Europe. How can he claim concern for Venezuelan “refugees”!? How can he claim to be acting out of “humanitarian” motivations!? This is pure hypocrisy. He defends the interests of Spanish multinationals, obeys the orders from Trump and attempts to stave off pressure from the right-wing and far-right parties in Spain for electoral purposes.

Pedro Sánchez en Mérida Image psoe extremaduraThe Spanish PM, Pedro Sanchez's conduct has been particularly scandalous in this whole affair / Image: psoe extremadura

Both Podemos and IU have opposed Sanchez’s stance. The Communist Party, a key component of IU, has gone further and declared that they are breaking all contact with Sanchez. If this extends to IU then it could mean the end of the Sanchez government.

The joint EU countries’ recognition for Guaidó has also created conflict in other countries. Italy has refused to sign, despite Salvini's militancy against Maduro. The M5S was against. In Austria, the Foreign Minister (from the far-right FPO) was against, but finally, PM Kurz (OVP conservative) issued a statement backing Guaidó in very clear terms.

The position of Russia seems to be shifting slightly. Instead of insisting on the legitimacy of Maduro, now the emphasis is on negotiations with the opposition:

“We still believe that the only way out of this crisis is for the government and opposition to sit down for negotiations, otherwise we’ll just have the same regime change that the west has done many times before,” Lavrov said, according to Interfax.

La Jornada

Meanwhile, Maduro has called for signatories to an open letter to Trump, rejecting military intervention and for peace. While a campaign like this can be a useful tool to mobilise people, it is hopelessly weak as a strategy to stop the ongoing coup.

The next days will be crucial. As sanctions on PDVSA start to impact government revenues in Venezuela and slowly bring the economy to a halt, pressure on the border will intensify. The aim is clear: to either push Maduro to resign or to force the Army to intervene to make him resign.

The split front page picture published by La Jornada sums up the conflict very well. On the right a picture from an opposition rally, openly calling for US marines to invade, on the left a picture from the chavista march in Caracas showing a sign, which the comrades from the Lucha de Clases - Venezuela carried, saying “Yankee Go Home”. There are clearly two sides in this struggle. We know which side we are on.