This article was first published in the British daily, the Morning Star (March 26, 2004) in its Features section: True Labour - The voice of the majority, under the title Hands off Venezuela. We are publishing it to make it available to a wider international readership. It is important to highlight that the article is written by John McDonnell, chairman of the Socialist Campaign Group of Labour MPs. (March 30, 2004)
While the world's attention has been focused on the occupation of Iraq and the Israeli assault on Palestinians, there has been little reportage of the renewed and systematic programme by the Bush regime to extend US hegemony over south American states.
The central target of the Bush regime is the government of Hugo Chavez in Venezuela.
Venezuela is the fifth largest oil exporter in the world and yet, as a result of its history of US economic exploitation, up to 80 per cent of its population lives in poverty.
The operation of US neocolonialism in Venezuela has traditionally maintained a rich ruling elite who, in return, ensure the cheap flow of oil to northern America at the expense of the dire poverty of the majority of the population.
President Chavez was elected by a popular majority on a clear programme to tackle poverty and to empower the people by using the great oil wealth of his country in the interests of the people as a whole.
His government's programme of reforms has included an additional 1.5 million children in school getting three free meals a day, over one million adults obtaining literacy, 1.5 million more people gaining access to drinking water, the establishment of indigenous people's rights to land and bilingual education, the distribution of two million hectares of land to small farmers, the introduction of food subsidies and vouchers for pregnant women and after birth as well as a massive expansion of health care to working-class families.
The response of the US has been to support a reactionary right-wing opposition in a series of attempts to destabilise and remove the Chavez government from office.
First, in April 2002, they tried a straightforward coup in the style of the coup against Salvador Allende in Chile. This involved the kidnapping of the president and seizure of power by an US-backed puppet regime.
Within days, the mass popular street protests of the people ensured the return of Chavez and the toppling of the US-led junta.
Then came a so-called oil strike engineered by Chavez's right-wing opponents and aided by US agencies. This attempt to destabilise the country failed miserably in the face of the determination of the Chavez administration, actively supported by an overwhelming majority of the population.
More recently, the opposition has launched a petition under the Venezuelan constitution to force a recall referendum on the government.
Alongside this manoeuvre, the opposition has sought to push the country into chaos by mounting a series of orchestrated physical attacks, demonstrations and disturbances.
These provocations are aimed at portraying Venezuela as unstable and, therefore, in need of a right-wing regime or even military intervention by the US to restore order. Haiti was just one recent example of the implementation of this US strategy.
The referendum strategy of the opposition is descending into near farce as many of the 2.4 million signatures that it requires to trigger a recall referendum are being found to be forgeries.
The question now is what, when this latest tactic has failed, will the right-wing opposition and the Bush regime contemplate next? The various scenarios range from US-led covert economic sanctions and embargoes, another attempt at a coup and even the assassination of Chavez.
President Chavez's response to these threats has been robust. He has made it clear that, if US imperialism attempts to interfere in Venezuelan politics and seeks to remove a democratically elected government, not one drop of Venezuelan oil will flow into the US.
At present, 1.5 million barrels of oil are exported from Venezuela to the US every day. Chavez has signalled forcefully that any military intervention would be met with solid resistance.
The plight of Venezuela has been barely reported in the British and European media. While the British labour and trade union movement has had a long association with the struggles of the peoples of south America in Nicaragua, Chile, El Salvador and Colombia, there has been little solidarity action as yet with the progressive forces within Venezuela.
The organisation Global Women's Strike has worked closely with Venezuelan women's organisations and co-operated in organised consciousness-raising tours in the US.
In addition, this week, it organised a meeting at the House of Commons to launch an Early Day Motion condemning the US government's interference in Venezuela.
The solidarity group Hands off Venezuela Campaign has been founded and has launched an appeal against the increasing interference of US imperialism in the country in the run-up to the decision on whether a recall referendum will be convened.
The appeal statement says: "The United States government has no moral standing to give the Venezuelan government and people lessons in democracy" and goes on to demand that the US halts its interference in Venezuela.
This appeal statement has been signed by numerous progressive politicians and trade unionists from around the world including Tony Benn and NUJ general secretary Jeremy Dear.
It is time for all socialists, trade unionists, progressives and democrats to stand up for the right of the people of Venezuela to elect their own government and determine their own future.