Venezuela: imperialist pressure ramped up under guise of “humanitarian aid”

“You are risking your future and your lives,” said Trump to Venezuelan military officers in a war-mongering speech in Miami on 18 February. “You will find no safe harbor, no easy exit and no way out. You’ll lose everything,” he added, perhaps frustrated that there have been so far no significant cracks in the Venezuelan armed forces, a month after the beginning of the ongoing US coup attempt. 

Everything is now being ramped up for 23 February: the day US puppet Guaidó has set for “humanitarian aid” to enter the country.

A month after he proclaimed himself “president in charge”, Guaidó still has no real power at all. There has been no uprising in the army. Other than a couple of officers stationed in the US and one Air Force officer without command of troops, the Venezuelan armed forces remain loyal to president Maduro. Even the BBC has reverted to calling Guaidó “the leader of the opposition”. The president of the National Constituent Assembly, Diosdado Cabello, has been touring the country organising large, anti-imperialist rallies in the main cities. The most recent ones in Mérida (on the border with Colombia) and in Bolivar (the state which borders with Brazil).

The Wall Street Journal was forced to admit that Trump’s regime change in Venezuela is not going according to plan:

“Many among Venezuela’s opposition and its U.S. backers figured President Nicolás Maduro’s regime would crumble quickly after Washington threw its support behind a plan designed to sap his military support and spur his exit. It hasn’t happened that way.”

It then went on to quote a “former senior US official” who said that “The people who devised it in Caracas and sold it here [in Washington], sold it with the promise that if Guaidó made a move and [South American countries] and the U.S. came in behind, the military would flip and Maduro would go, they thought it was a 24-hour operation.”

Humanitarian aid: a cover for provocation

For this reason, and in order not to lose momentum, the coup plotters needed to be seen as taking a bold step, galvanising their forces and stepping up pressure on the army. The excuse being used is “humanitarian aid”, which is playing the same role “weapons of mass destruction” did in the run up to the Iraq invasion. The date has been set for 23 February.

Juan Guaidó has said, repeatedly, that there are 300,000 people on the verge of dying of starvation unless aid is allowed in. A straight lie. The economic crisis in Venezuela is very serious and has had a massive impact on the living standards of people, but Guaidó’s claim is completely fabricated, as were the “weapons of mass destruction” posing an “imminent threat” in the case of Iraq.

The US has graciously granted US$20 million in aid, after having seized US$7 billion in Venezuelan assets. The UK has joined in with a “generous” US$8 million, which pales into insignificance if you consider the Bank of England is withholding Venezuelan gold worth US$1.2bn.

In fact, anyone can see this has nothing to do with aid nor with any humanitarian concern. In the Colombian region of the Guajira, over 4000 children have died of malnourishment. In Haiti there is a serious humanitarian crisis and a corrupt government using the might of the state to quell a mass rebellion. There have been no calls from Washington for regime change in Colombia nor in Haiti, nor any mass media campaign about humanitarian aid either. Naturally, these two countries already have US-compliant regimes.

Three separate places have been identified as points of entry for “humanitarian” aid: one on the Brazilian border, another in the Dutch island of Curaçao (off the Venezuelan coast) and a third (the most important) in Cúcuta in Colombia. Tons of aid has been delivered by military aircraft. In the last week, the head of the US South Command has visited Colombia, Brazil and Curaçao, where he also offered provocative and threatening statements aimed at Venezuelan army officers. The Colombian president Duque, a key piece in the puzzle, was in Washington for talks. Republican Senator Marco Rubio, one of the political chiefs of the reactionary Miami Cuban exile mafia, is already in Cucuta to coordinate the operations. Right-wing Chilean president Piñera is also en route.

The Cuban government, which is the secondary target of the aggression against Venezuela, as Trump and other US officials have explained openly, issued a strongly worded statement in which it warned of US military transport aircraft that have been flying to several Caribbean islands.

Imperialist aggression

It is clear, therefore, that this is a very serious escalation in the imperialist provocations against Venezuela.

As part of the “humanitarian” cover for imperialist aggression, British millionaire Richard Branson has organised a “Venezuela Live Aid” concert right on the border. The Venezuelan opposition claims to have signed up tens of volunteers to bring in the aid. Guaidó has issued an ultimatum to the armed forces: “you have three days to abide the order of the President in charge and put yourselves on the side of the constitution”. He added: “on the 23rd we will go to the military barracks to demand the entry of humanitarian aid”:

The idea is to create some provocation on the border where “unarmed civilians” attempt to bring in the “humanitarian aid” and are stopped by “repression and violence” on the part of the “dictatorship’s armed forces”. US imperialism and its regional allies are piling up the pressure, calculating that this will push at least a section of the Venezuelan army to rebel and move to remove Maduro, or that Maduro will step down himself.

Further to the provocations on the border, in Costa Rica, the “ambassador” appointed by Guaidó and a group of thugs linked to the former governor of Guárico Manuitt, under the cover of darkness took over the Venezuelan embassy and are preventing access by the legitimate ambassador and diplomatic staff. The Venezuelan consulate in Guayaquil was also attacked.

Trump and other US officials have said that “all options are on the table”: the implication is that a US military invasion is not ruled out. Guaidó himself, in an act which cannot be described in any other way than treasonous, said in an interview with AP that he did not rule out “authorising foreign military intervention” in Venezuela.

This is probably not the first option contemplated by Washington. Direct military aggression against Venezuela would be costly, both in terms of lives and political consequences. Over 15 years after the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, the US has not yet been able to leave. An invasion of Venezuela would require large numbers of troops, who would certainly face fierce armed resistance. It would also have major consequences throughout Latin America, where there is a deep-rooted, anti-imperialist sentiment.

Most likely, US planners calculate that the combination of hard-hitting economic sanctions, diplomatic isolation and the pressure of the threat of military action will be enough to dislodge Maduro from power, one way or another. This is not ruled out, but it is still a struggle of living forces and the result is not decided in advance.

Trump playing with fire

Trump’s bravado is also partly aimed at the American public. He is looking at the forthcoming presidential elections and attempting to secure the support of the Republican right by making all the right noises about Venezuela and Cuba. In his speech in Miami, he stressed that socialism is a failed ideology “which we will never allow to reach the shores of America,” a remark which was clearly aimed at Sanders and the Democrats in general.

He is playing with fire. The key people dealing with Venezuela (Bolton, Cutz, Abrams, Rubio) are rabid anti-communists who would not hesitate in using all means at their disposal to crush the Bolivarian and Cuban revolutions, regardless of the consequences. While direct military intervention might not be the wisest choice for US imperialism from the point of view of a cold cost-benefit analysis, there are plenty who do not necessarily think this way in Trump regime.

Venezuela humanitarian aid Image HOVOne of the aims of US aggression is to crush the Bolivarian Revolution / Image: HOV

The situation is very serious. This imperialist aggression must be opposed with all forces at our disposal. Some on the left have attempted to take a “neither Maduro nor Guaidó” position. That is a completely false starting point. First of all, because this is not about Guaidó, but rather about Trump’s plans for and ambitions in Venezuela. During the struggle to oppose imperialist aggression in Iraq, all consistent anti-imperialists took a clear position, regardless of the fact that Saddam Hussein was a murderous dictator who had massacred his own people (as an ally of imperialism). The case here is even clearer. One of the aims of US aggression is precisely to crush the Bolivarian Revolution, or what remains of it. One does not need to support Maduro and his government in order to adopt an uncompromising stance of opposing imperialist aggression by the US and its puppet Guaidó.

If the US is successful in this coup attempt, not only any remaining gains of the revolution will be destroyed, but also the revolutionary organisations and cadres of workers, peasants and the poor will be mercilessly destroyed. Anyone who cannot see the implications of this does not deserve to call themselves left wing.

Neither Maduro nor Guaidó?

In fact, the practical consequences of this “neither, nor” position can be seen in one recent example. A group of former-Chavista ministers have set up the Platform for a Consultative Referendum. They represent nobody but themselves and long for a “democratic” and “constitutional” solution to the crisis. As if you could convince imperialism to stop imperialist aggression by waving a copy of the Constitution! On 5 February, this group had a meeting with Guaidó with the aim of putting his demands to him. As was to be expected, it was Guaidó who gained political capital out of it, by saying “see, even former Chavez ministers are against Maduro, we have points in common”:

Scandalously, also present at this meeting was Gonzalo Gómez, a leading member of Marea Socialista (a sympathising section of the so-called “Fourth International”). He justified his presence at the meeting by arguing that “we must do everything to prevent war”. Well, surely, no one wants war, but what we are dealing with here is open imperialist aggression and an attempted coup. Do you prevent it by going into dialogue with Trump’s local agent? Do you expect to convince him? Or do you call on workers and peasants to organise and arm themselves (politically and with weapons) to fight imperialism? It seems comrade Gonzalo chooses the first option.

Does this mean that we suspend criticism of the Maduro government? Not at all. All it means is that we need to pose the question in terms of what measures are required to really fight the imperialist coup plot.

The comrades of Lucha de Clases in Venezuela are doing precisely that. At their initiative, a series of revolutionary organisations in Caracas have organised a rally on Friday 22 February with the following slogans: “Prison for Guaidó and his accomplices! No more impunity for the coup plotters! Dissolution of coup-plotting National Assembly already! Arm the Bolivarian militias now! Confiscation of the imperialist transnationals and national monopolies involved in the coup! No more concessions to the parasitic bourgeoisie! Make capitalists pay for the crisis!”

The call has been taken up by a number of revolutionary organisations and collectives and has also been raised in workplaces and trade unions. Larger organisations like the PPT have not signed the statement but have promised to participate in the rally. The Communist Party and others in the People's Anti-Fascist and Anti-imperialist Front have issued a public statement pointing in the same direction, though they have not signed the 22 February appeal either.

Other sections of the chavista rank and file are also starting to move into action on their own. In the Apure region on the border with Colombia, the Bolivar Zamora Revolutionary Current has revived the Hugo Chavez People’s Defence Forces:

The central idea the comrades are putting forward is that a serious imperialist counter-revolutionary attempt like this can only be effectively combated with revolutionary measures, by striking blows against the multinationals and the local capitalists who are behind the plot and by relying on the revolutionary elan and enthusiasm of the working class and poor masses.

The position of the International Marxist Tendency is clear:

Hands off Venezuela!

Oppose the imperialist coup!

Expropriate the oligarchy and imperialism!

Arm the militias!