Why does Donald Trump want to overthrow Maduro’s government?

By Omar Vazquez Heredia
Photo credit: The Associated Press

Since the beginning of his mandate as US president, Donald Trump has tried to achieve an orderly and negotiated transition in Venezuela, which would imply ousting Nicolas Maduro through the disavowing of his authority by a significant sector of the Bolivarian National Armed Force (FANB). Depending on the level of negotiation with the chavista governmental bloc, this would lead either to a coup d’état with a public pronouncement, armed action of the military high command or a general election agreed upon the pressure exerted by the military high command. This would avoid an always-latent popular uprising due to the impoverished life conditions and the existing social rejection towards Maduro’s government, which would surpass the State and changes the current regressive correlation of forces for the popular classes.

In this direction, Trump deployed an abominable and grotesque interventionist policy crystalized in financial and oil sanctions in August 2017 and January 2019, respectively. Moreover, since last year, he has supported coup-oriented actions and the attempt to establish a parallel government by Juan Guaido, the circumstantial leader of the right opposition.

In the last few weeks, Trump’s government has intensified its policy in a context determined by a factor exogenous to Venezuela: Trump’s reelection could fail due to the negative effects of the coronavirus in the US economy and the disastrous management of this sanitary emergency. In this framework, he maneuvers to prevent loans to the Venezuelan State from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank (WB), putting a price to Maduro’s head and other chavista hierarchs for drug trafficking charges while remaining an ally of the uribista government in Colombia, proposing a transition plan with a national unity government comprised of both of the bourgeois factions in dispute, and putting warships in the Venezuelan coasts to allegedly combat drug trafficking.

Also, Trump intensifies the interventionist policy to take advantage of the current extreme economic fragility of the chavista governmental bloc, a consequence of the collapse of oil prices and family remittances resulting from the global economic recession sparked by the coronavirus. Venezuela’s international reserves amount only to US$ 6.6 billion dollars and with the price for Venezuelan oil at around US$ 15 per barrel, this affects even further oil extraction in the country as its extraction costs are above its exportation price. In that sense, financial resources are scarce to fund a sustained public order that rests in a repressive apparatus embodied in military institutionality, numerous police forces, and the community network of social containment CLAP, through which food at subsidized prices is distributed by the state.

The rhetoric of the Venezuelan State and the governmental party

Permanently, the Venezuelan state and the governmental party deploy a communicational campaign claiming that the US government wants to overthrow Maduro to appropriate Venezuelan oil and to put an end to the socialist project in Venezuela. Both affirmations are totally false.

In the course of the so-called Bolivarian Revolution, the State has maintained the presence of US transnational capital in the Venezuelan oil industry and the US remained the main destiny of exports of Venezuela’s oil. The oil service companies managing oilfields in Venezuela are, essentially, US transnational companies such as Halliburton, Schlumberger, Baker Hughes and Weatherford. Besides, Chevron has four mixed capital enterprises with PDVSA: Petropiar, Petroindependencia, Petroindependiente & Petroboscan; the first two in the Orinoco Oil Belt and the other two in the western Zulia state. The US market was the main receptor of Venezuelan oil up to January 2019, when Donald Trump decreed the oil sanctions. According to OPEC, in January 2019, the Venezuelan oil industry extracted 1,150,000 daily barrels, and the US imported 631,000 daily barrels of Venezuelan oil (data from the Energy Information Administration), 45.13% of the Venezuelan oil production. Therefore, the same month Donald Trump forbid the imports of Venezuelan oil, the US market acquired almost half of the exports of our country.

The US wants to maintain and surely broaden its privileged access to Venezuelan oil, with a government subordinated to its interests and foreign policy, but neither Chavez in his day nor Maduro now have been a real obstacle for the US transnational companies participating in the exploitation of Venezuelan oil. This does not deny that in 2001, with the decree of a new Organic Law on Hydrocarbons, Chavez’s government increased the amount charged for royalties and established state control of more than 50% of shares in enterprises in the primary activities in the oil industry, partially affecting the profit of transnational oil capital, but keeping their presence in the exploitation of Venezuelan oil.  

The other affirmation is even more absurd, as the chavista Venezuela never began a transition to socialism or to a government of the working class. From the beginning, Maduro’s government has applied an economic policy subordinated to the interests of transnational and local capital. Between 2013 and August 2018, it prioritized the payment of the foreign debt achieved through a unilateral contraction of the amount of foreign currency destined to imports while keeping an overvalued official exchange rate to subsidize the profits of private and governmental importers. Between PDVSA’s liabilities and the national government’s debt more than US$ 80 billion were paid, before falling in selective default in 2018.

This acute contraction of final consumer goods and productive supplies imports, accompanied by an increase in money production beyond the needs of commercial circulation to monetize the fiscal deficit, collapsed the internal supply offer and triggered inflation rates, destroying the purchasing power of working-class salaries.

This aggravated since August 2018, with the macroeconomic adjustment attempt called Recovery, growth and economic prosperity program. An anti-worker and anti-popular package of measures that have benefited the State and the capitalists with the reduction of state spending and business costs by diminishing labor rights, creating more profit opportunities through the de facto suppression of collective bargaining and the reduction of salary scales with the 2792 memorandum and the new salary scales, the suspension of minimum wage increases, conversion of salary into bonuses, the permanent mega-devaluation of the official exchange rate, the elimination of price controls and the exoneration of the income tax for transnational oil companies and imports taxes.

Why does Donald Trump want to overthrow Maduro?

The US is the main power of the capitalist world-system, but in the past few decades its very essential role in the process of expansion of world capital accumulation has affected its local economy and indebted its State. The US controls the world currency, the judicial system where many corporate contracts are subscribed and the most powerful military apparatus. In the world-economy it has transnational companies with the most advanced technology and the highest volume of capital and trade, the biggest financial system which has a central role for the circulation of capital flows and a refuge for value, as this is the key market for commercial realization. As the main power, the US fulfills the substitute role of a global State but always aiming at favoring its own interests. And, in geopolitical terms, it needs to reaffirm that position constantly.  

In that sense, the US cannot allow other capitalist powers such as Russia and, to a lesser degree, China to decide and administer the possible solution to the severe political and economic crisis of the bourgeois State and Venezuelan capitalism, with their ongoing foreign interventionism. The US must push for the Venezuelan state recovery of its institutional stability in order to bring the Venezuelan socioeconomic formation back to its role in the process of global accumulation: exporting large quantities of oil barrels to supply cheap energy and exporting capitals to the economic centers of the world-system.

Consequently, the US needs to impose a government subordinated to the unilateral lineaments of its foreign policy and the interests of its transnational capital, led by the current right opposition. Thus, it reaffirms its condition of main power of the world-system and obtains business opportunities for its transnational companies in the middle of the ongoing crisis of over accumulation experienced by global capitalism. With these same objectives, for years the US has aimed at defeating the chavista governmental bloc that, with Chavez and Maduro, has maintained an independent foreign policy, inserting in the Venezuelan economy transnational capitals from eastern countries such as Russia and China.

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