Venezuela and Libya: it is not an April 11 coup, it is a February 27 Caracazo

There has been a lot of discussion in Latin America about the events unfolding in Libya. This article explains the position of the IMT, which is one of support for the uprising of the Libyan people, while at the same time opposing any imperialist intervention. We also critically examine the position adopted by Hugo Chavez and Fidel Castro.

The governments of Venezuela and Cuba have correctly stood up in international institutions to oppose any imperialist intervention in Libya. They have criticised the hypocrisy of those countries who raise a hue and cry over human rights violations in Libya while at the same time having participated in murderous imperialist wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and supported the brutal repression of the Palestinian people by the state of Israel.

The Venezuelan ambassador to the UN, Jorge Valero, explained it this way:

“Who pays for the more than one million dead in Iraq? Who pays for the permanent massacre against the Palestinian people? Why is it that those responsible for these crimes of war, genocide and against humanity – who are known to all and publicly recognise their deed – are not taken to the International Court of Justice? What does the Security Council do faced with these horrible massacres that take place?”

Quite correctly, the Venezuelan representatives denounced the real aims of the intervention of imperialism in the region:

“Those who promote the use of military force against Libya, do not seek to defend human rights, but to establish a protectorate in order to violate them, as is always the case, in a country which is one of the most important sources of oil and energy in the Middle East”.

The people of Iraq are a testimony to this fact. Washington made up an excuse (so-called “weapons of mass destruction”) in order to attack Iraq so that they could reassert their power and regain direct control over crucial oil resources. The aim of the invasion was not to “establish democracy” and certainly there is very little democracy in Iraq now under the Maliki government. Thousands of Iraqis marched last month demanding electricity, water, jobs and bread and they were met with the brutal repression of government forces, leading to deaths, injuries, arrests and kidnappings. And yet no one is suggesting taking the government of Iraq to the International courts!

The United Nations is in fact a farce. It is a body that merely reflects the domination of US imperialism. When the US are able to get resolutions passed in order to justify their actions, they use the UN as a fig leaf. When, for whatever reason, they are not able to get their aims endorsed by the UN, they ignore the UN and carry them out regardless. And, finally, when resolutions are passed against their imperialist aims (for instance against the blockade on Cuba or condemning Israel’s oppression of the Palestinian people), they simply ignore them, and they are never enforced. In the recent case of the resolution on Israeli settlements on Palestinian Territory, the US used its veto to block resolution. So much for justice and human rights.

In the last few days there has been a lot of noise and some concrete actions on the part of imperialist nations regarding Libya. The US has now moved two amphibious warships, the USS Ponce and the USS Kearsarge, carrying helicopters and fighter jets, into the Mediterranean. Under the cover of so-called “humanitarian intervention”, imperialist powers (including the US, UK, France and Italy) amongst others, are discussing what action they can take to secure their own interests. European countries are mainly worried about the possible arrival of a mass of refugees on their shores. Another worry is control over oil resources and above all the impact of the revolutionary tide sweeping the Arab world on oil prices and the knock on effect this could have on the capitalist economy as a whole.

The most discussed option is a “no-fly zone”, which has been advocated amongst others by both Republican senator John McCain and Democratic senator John Kerry. For his own reasons, British Prime Minister David Cameron, has also made belligerent noises, attempting to puff up a role in world politics for Britain that it can no longer really play.

However, the truth is that even a limited intervention in the form of a no fly-zone would be risky and complicated to implement. US Defense Secretary Robert Gates complained that “there’s a lot of, frankly, loose talk about some of these military options.” He warned of the implications of such an action: “Let’s just call a spade a spade: a no-fly zone begins with an attack on Libya, to destroy the air defences. That’s the way you do a no-fly zone... It also requires more airplanes than you would find on a single aircraft carrier. So it is a big operation in a big country.”

The US military is already overstretched in Iraq and Afghanistan, as he stressed: “If we move additional assets, what are the consequences of that for Afghanistan, for the Persian Gulf?” he said. “And what other allies are prepared to work with us in some of these things?”

However, the main worry imperialist planners have regarding intervention in Libya is the backlash this would generate throughout the region. The masses are sick and tired of imperialism and the revolutionary wave which is sweeping the Arab world is directly aimed at US-sponsored regimes. Gates showed that the US ruling class is aware of this when he said: “We also have to think about, frankly, the use of the US military in another country in the Middle East.”

These considerations, of course, do not rule out imperialist intervention in Libya or anywhere else, if their vital interests come under threat. However, they do underline the fact that the US has been caught unawares by the present revolutionary wave and has been unable to intervene decisively to steer the course of events in their favour.

In the face of imperialism’s manoeuvres, and also the inconsistent manner in which they deal with the matter of “human rights” and “crimes against humanity”, Venezuela and Cuba are correct in exposing the hypocrisy of imperialism and agitating against any foreign powers intervening in Libya.

However, the case that is being made by both countries, and most prominently by Hugo Chavez and Fidel Castro, is undermined by the fact that they are perceived as being supportive of Gaddafi, instead of supporting the masses of the Libyan people who have risen up against his regime.

It is true that Venezuelan ambassador to the UN said in his speech that Venezuela “greets the Arab peoples who are in a process of peaceful and justice seeking rebellion, and looking for a better future through peaceful roads”. But at the same time Fidel Castro has argued that the problems faced by Libya are different to those faced by Tunisia and Egypt. He has added that while “there is no doubt that the faces of those protesting in Benghazi expressed real indignation”, there has been a “colossal campaign of lies, unleashed by the mass media, which led to great confusion on the part of the world’s public opinion”.

Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez has also said that he “refuses to condemn Gaddafi” who has been “a long-time friend of Venezuela” because apparently there is not enough information on the situation. He has used the example of April 11, 2002, when the world’s media accused Chavez of having ordered the army to fire on unarmed demonstrators in order to justify the coup against him. As we all know, it was later on proven that it had all been a set up, with hired snipers firing on opposition and revolutionary demonstrators alike.

However, in the case of Libya, the situation is completely different. In Venezuela what we had was a reactionary movement against a democratically elected government attempting to implement progressive reforms and standing up against imperialism. In Libya we have a popular uprising against an oppressive regime which had made all sorts of deals with imperialism.

To a certain extent, it can be understood why there is confusion in Venezuela about the real nature of what is really happening in Libya. The Venezuelan people no longer trust the capitalist media, completely discredited by the role they played in the coup in 2002. Furthermore, the Venezuelan counter-revolutionary opposition is attempting to jump on the bandwagon of the Arab revolution, saying that “the next dictator to fall will be Hugo Chavez”.

It is a matter of public record that the Venezuelan counter-revolutionary opposition receives funding, training and support of all kinds from Washington. On a number of occasions they have organized their forces on the streets to make it look as if Chavez were a tyrant facing popular opposition (in the run up to the April 11, 2002, coup, during the oil lock out in December 2002, during the guarimba in 2004, the student protests in defence of RCTV, etc). They will not hesitate in doing it again. However, what we are seeing in the Arab world is precisely the opposite: a series of revolutionary uprisings against US backed dictatorial regimes.

It is true that the Libyan regime of Gaddafi came to power at the head of a movement with large popular support against the rotten monarchy of Kind Idris in 1969. In the 1970s, influenced by the previous wave of the Arab revolution, and under the impact of the 1974 worldwide recession, the regime moved further to the left, expelling imperialism and making deep inroads against capitalist property. Basing itself on the oil wealth of the country and the small size of its population, it was able to implement many progressive reforms and substantially increase the standard of the living of the overwhelming majority of Libyans.

However, after the fall of the Soviet Union, the regime started making openings to imperialism. Already in 1993 laws guaranteeing foreign investment were passed. And it was after the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003 that Gaddafi decided to settle affairs with imperialism signing a number of deals for decommissioning its weapons of mass destruction, paying reparations to the victims of terrorist bombings, etc. The regime became a loyal partner of imperialism in the so-called “war on terror” and collaborated with the European Union in order to strengthen “fortress Europe” against the entry of sub-Saharan illegal immigrants.

This was accompanied by requesting entry into the WTO, creating Special Trade Zones, privatizing large parts of the economy, allowing back oil multinationals into the oil industry and eliminating subsidies on basic foodstuffs. The aim was to privatise 100% of the economy, according to Libyan officials. It was precisely the implementation of these policies that led to increased unemployment (between 20 and 30%), poverty and inequality, that played a key role in the current uprising.

In his latest article about the situation, Fidel Castro stresses the fact that, “it is an undeniable fact that the relations between the US and its NATO allies with Libya in the recent years were excellent,” adding that Libya “opened up strategic sectors as the production and distribution of oil to foreign investment” and that, “many state-owned companies were privatized. The IMF played its role in implementing these policies.” And as a result “Aznar was full of praise for Gaddafi, and he was followed by Blair, Berlusconi, Sarkozy, Zapatero, and even my friend the King of Spain, they all queued up under the mocking smile of the Libyan leader. They were pleased.” (Cuba Debate)

Illustration: CROIllustration: CRO In his recent interviews with the BBC and ABC news Gaddafi himself explained how he felt “betrayed” by the Western powers. After having supported them and followed their policies for a number of years now they are abandoning him. Even the rhetoric he uses demonstrates that. When accusing the rebels of being manipulated by Al Qaeda, he is using the same scare-mongering tactics that Ben Ali and above all Mubarak used earlier on, and in reality is asking the West for support against the common enemy. The real character of Gaddafi’s regime can be deduced from his position regarding the revolutionary uprising in Tunisia, where he came out firmly on the side of Western ally Ben Ali and criticized the Tunisian workers and youth for having overthrown him!

As for the truth of what is really happening in Libya, one does not need to listen to the Western media. Saif al Islam, Gaddafi’s son and right hand man, himself admitted to the use of the army against unarmed demonstrators in his speech on February 20:

“Of course there were many deaths, which angered many people in Benghazi, but why were there people killed? The army was under stress, it is not used to crowd control so they shot, but I called them. The army said that some protesters were drunk, others were on hallucinogens or drugs. The army has to defend its weapons. And the people were angry. So there were deaths, but in the end Libyans were killed.”

Gaddafi himself has admitted that “a few hundred were killed”, but put it down to Al Qaeda distributing drugs to the youth!!

The story reported by TeleSUR’s correspondent in Libya, Reed Lindsay (, confirms the reports coming from other sources: there were popular, peaceful and unarmed demonstrations and the army opened fire (see for instance this report: Telesur). In a report he sent from Brega on March 2 (Telesur), he described how there were soldiers that had joined the rebellion but also “citizens of all kinds, I have spoken to doctors, engineers, workers from the oil company, here they are all in rebellion, part of the uprising and armed” adding that “this rebellion started peacefully, two weeks ago, but now the people are armed to struggle until they achieve the overthrow of Gaddafi.” He also rejected the notion that there is a civil war in Libya: “We are not talking about a civil war here… this started as peaceful demonstrators being attacked by security forces using heavy gunfire.”(Union Radio)

As part of his reporting, Reed Lindsay, has also confirmed all the reports that show how the Libyan people who have risen up against Gaddafi are staunchly against foreign intervention. “They say that if the US troops arrive here, they will fight them in the same way they are fighting against the government of Gaddafi.”

The other important point that Lindsay has made in his reports is regarding the attitude of the people, both in Benghazi and Brega, towards Latin American governments, and particularly those of the ALBA countries. In Brega many people are asking “why the Venezuelan president and other Latin American presidents who are in favour of social justice and revolutionary change are supporting a dictator who is using the Army against his own people” he said (Union Radio). “They are asking the ALBA countries to break with Gaddafi and support the revolutionary struggle of the Libyan people” he reported from Benghazi. According to him, the people in Ajdabiya talk of a “common struggle with the peoples of Latin America” (Twitter. We are quoting from Reed Lindsay, because he cannot be accused of being an agent of imperialism or of distorting the news in order to justify an intervention by imperialism.

Even the other TeleSUR correspondent, Jordan Rodríguez, who is basically just reporting what Gaddafi and other officials are saying, without any comment, had problems when he attempted to report about clashes in neighbourhoods in Tripoli. His team was detained by police officers for four hours, beaten up, threatened with guns pointed at them and their footage was taken away (Telesur). This was the second time they had been arrested and it happened even though they were travelling in a Venezuelan diplomatic car.

Libyan rebels with a captured anti-aircraft gun. Photo: Al Jazeera EnglishLibyan rebels with a captured anti-aircraft gun. Photo: Al Jazeera English There is a very important point made in these reports. The Venezuelan revolution and particularly president Chavez are immensely popular in the Arab world, particularly after his very vocal opposition to Israel’s invasion of Lebanon. The masses in these countries see Hugo Chavez as the leader of an oil country who stands up to imperialism and uses the oil money in order to improve the living conditions of the people. This is in stark contrast to the rulers of their own countries, who are puppets of US imperialism, do not open their mouths against Israel’s aggressions and use the wealth of the country for their own personal enrichment. This is precisely one of the reasons behind the revolutionary uprising of the Arab masses. In an opinion poll conducted in 2009 in several Arab countries, the most popular leader was Hugo Chavez with 36% of support, well ahead of any others (pdf).

The only base of support on which the Venezuelan revolution can count are the masses of workers and youth in the Middle East and North Africa, and throughout the world, who feel sympathy and solidarity with the Bolivarian revolution because they would like a similar revolution to take place in their own countries. Hugo Chavez and the Bolivarian revolution should come out clearly in favour of the revolutionary wave sweeping the Arab world, because it is part of the world revolution of which Latin America was for some years the advanced guard. This includes giving support to the Libyan people rising up against Gaddafi, while at the same time opposing any imperialist intervention.

In his attempts to prevent foreign military intervention in Libya, Hugo Chavez has proposed an international mediation commission to go to Libya. Latest reports in the media indicate that while Gaddafi is said to have accepted this, his son Saif al-Islam has firmly rejected the proposal. "We have to say thank you, but we are able and capable enough to solve our issues by our own people". Venezuelans, he added, "are our friends, we respect them, we like them, but they are far away. They have no idea about Libya. Libya is in the Middle East and North Africa. Venezuela is in Central America." For Saif’s information, Venezuela is not in Central America, but now doubt his mind is concentrated on other matters.

On their part, the Libyan rebels have also rejected the mediation, saying they have not heard about it, but that it is too late for negotiations anyway, and that too many people have been killed by Gaddafi. If one understands the real essence of the situation in Libya, one of a government brutally putting down peaceful demonstrations of his own people, which then becomes a popular armed uprising with sections of the army and the police going over to the people, then one can understand why this proposal is wrong. It is as if in the last days of the Cuban revolution, when the revolutionary army was about to overthrow Batista, someone had said, “wait a second, let’s have international mediation so that there can be an understanding between Batista and the M26J movement.”

The only position a revolutionary can take in a situation like this is one of support for the revolutionary uprising of the Libyan people. If Hugo Chavez does not come out clearly in favour of the revolutionary masses of the Arab world then he would be making a serious mistake, one for which the Venezuelan revolution can pay dearly. Hugo Chavez is looking at the Libyan situation through Venezuelan lenses, making the wrong comparisons. The Libyan rebels cannot be compared to the Venezuelan opposition and the position that regime of Gaddafi finds itself in cannot in any way be compared to that facing Chavez.

We must be clear: what we are seeing in Libya and the rest of the Arab world is not an April 11, 2002 coup justified with media manipulation, but rather a February 27, 1989, a Caracazo-like uprising, in which the governments are using the Army against unarmed demonstrators. While opposing imperialist intervention, we must be clear what side we are on: that of the Libyan people against the Gaddafi regime.

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