By Orlando Chirino (Partido Socialismo y Libertad)
Originally published in Laclase.info. Picture: Aporrea.org
A delegation from Democratic Socialists of America visited Venezuela to attend the Bicentennial Congress of the Peoples, organized by the Venezuelan government. It met with Nicolas Maduro himself, publicly expressing support for the Venezuelan government and what they consider to be an experience of socialist construction, particularly in their guided visit to communes in Caracas and Barcelona.
This has generated debates within the organization about internationalism and the Venezuelan situation. We agree that it is crucial for the US left to oppose economic sanctions and the interference of US imperialism against countries that go out of its orbit, as in the case of Venezuela. But, at the same time, we warn that in order to do this there’s no need to support the Venezuelan government, and that to do so in the current social and political situation in Venezuela means departing from internationalism in practice, and placing fidelity to a capitalist government above class solidarity.
For the vast majority of the Venezuelan people and workers, the military parades, the inaugurations of monuments, or the government’s international event on the occasion of the two hundred years of the Battle of Carabobo that sealed the independence of Venezuela from the Spanish empire, did not have any special significance. They are part of the empty rituals of a government that for at least the past six years has lost legitimacy in the eyes of the majorities that once had illusions in Chavismo.
For the 80 or 90% of the people who barely survive on miserable wages, amidst the collapse of public services such as water, electricity, domestic gas, transportation, and gasoline supply, witnessing the government waste resources in weapons, military parades, or receiving foreign delegations in luxury hotels, is outrageous but not surprising.
It’s been many years of brutal attacks against the rights of working people. Since 2017, the minimum wage has been less than five dollars a month–today it is only 3 dollars. That same year, the government brutally repressed the protests that took place, with a toll of more than 160 dead, with thousands injured and detained. Starting in 2019, the Memorandum 2792 eliminated the rights to strike and to collective bargaining over work conditions. Dozens of workers, students, popular and human rights activists have been fired or imprisoned for mobilizing demanding public services, participating in strikes, defending their rights or denouncing government corruption. We are currently campaigning for the release of Rodney Álvarez, Eudis Girot, Argenis Chirinos, Aryenis Torrealba, among others.
This persecution of the labor movement, community activists, and sectors of the left did not begin with Maduro. We must remember the murders of our comrades Richard Gallardo, Luis Hernández, Carlos Requena and Jerry Díaz, leaders of the National Union of Workers in Aragua state and of our union tendency C-CURA, in 2008 under the Chavez government. But it’s notorious that the repressive climate has seriously worsened as the Maduro government has lost its social base amid hyperinflation and the social and economic catastrophe that has deepened since 2013, the year from which the government started implementing a brutal economic adjustment characterized by the contraction of imports to pay the foreign debt.
While DSA delegates were visiting Barcelona, in that same city the Bolivarian National Intelligence Service was looking for worker Edisson Hernández, for demanding vaccination and fighting in defense of public health and the rights of workers in public hospitals.
Although we regret that the DSA delegation that visited Venezuela has lost the opportunity to meet with worker activists, feminists, the LGBT community, indigenous activists, peasants and youth from the popular sectors and the independent left, we believe that an opportunity opens up for debating international politics and its importance for the US left, and in this context reconsider what a policy of internationalist solidarity with the Venezuelan people should be.
A political organization, in this case DSA, that has a commitment to the fight for the improvement of working and living conditions in the US, cannot endorse the conditions of semi-slavery to which workers earning starvation wages are subjected, suffering severe calamities as a result of the destruction of public services, without water, without gas, with continuous electrical failures, without gasoline, as a consequence of the destruction of refineries, a product of corruption. Without a national vaccination plan against COVID-19 (Venezuela is one of the countries in Latin America where fewest vaccines have been administered).
This social catastrophe suffered by the workers and the Venezuelan people occurs within the framework of the systematic violation of democratic freedoms, which worsened with the pandemic, as the government took advantage of the restrictions imposed by the quarantine to repress and further restrict democratic freedoms; with popular and student activists, workers and union leaders persecuted by the government, while transnational companies such as Chevron, Weatherford, Schlumberger and Halliburton, related to Dick Cheney, are partners of the government, exploiting oil workers, with miserable wages and violate permanent clauses of the collective bargaining agreements.
The dictatorial Chavista government of Maduro has nothing to do with socialism. On the contrary, it perpetuates capitalist exploitation in a country where private companies, banks and transnational oil, telecommunications, mining and other sectors extract a gigantic surplus value by paying wages of 3 to 5 dollars. All within the framework of the application of a severe economic adjustment that is now complemented by the approval of the so-called anti-blockade law and the law of special economic zones, which would involve the privatization of companies and assigning geographic areas with tax and tariff benefits. With these laws, the Maduro government offers the country’s wealth to foreign investment and transnational companies, showing its true face of false socialism.
An organization that denounces racism and police brutality in its country cannot support a government that murders and imprisons indigenous people for trying to protect their territories from mining depredation, as occurs in the so-called Orinoco Mining Arc or in the Perija mountain range in Zulia state, an area where the Yukpa chief Sabino Romero was assassinated, or who kills thousands of young people every year in the neighborhoods in police operations. Currently in Caracas there are scenes of war between members of organized crime gangs and the police forces. The growth of gangs in the barrios is the consequence of the fact that, far from advancing towards socialism as the government proclaims, marginalization, social inequality, police and judicial corruption persist, as well as a prison system characterized by the most brutal conditions of overcrowding and unsanitary conditions, all characteristics of Venezuelan capitalism that have not stopped deteriorating, as a consequence of which we have one of the highest rates of violent crime and police executions in the world.
We fight in Venezuela for many of the things that the majority of DSA members support: living wages, the right to unionize, the right to strike, the right to abortion, the right to same sex marriage and non-discrimination, the right of peasants to land and of indigenous peoples to self-government and territorial autonomy, against the imperialist plunder of our resources, for oil 100% state-owned without joint ventures or transnationals, against sanctions and interference by the US, the European Union and Great Britain, struggling for the construction of socialism with workers’ and popular democracy.
In recent years we have seen with enthusiasm the anti-racist, environmental and feminist struggles of the youth and the left in the US. We have not stopped advocating for political prisoners such as Mumia Abu Jamal or Leonard Peltier. When Chavez praised Obama at the beginning of his government or Maduro donated money for Trump’s inauguration, we distanced ourselves from those repudiable actions.
Beyond the particularities of each country, there is something that Venezuelan revolutionaries share with those of countries such as Iran, Syria, Belarus, Russia, China, Burma or Nicaragua. In Venezuela we are fighting against an anti-worker and anti-popular capitalist government, authoritarian, conservative, repressive, that hides the repression and the anti-worker and anti-popular adjustment that it applies, under a “socialist” pseudo-discourse, and as it’s not aligned with the US, it’s perceived by some as “Anti-imperialist”, and supported by sectors of the US and European left. This scheme repeats the typical mistakes of the cold war in the 20th century. The true internationalist must always support the struggles of workers and peoples for their liberation, beyond national borders. We are ready to open exchanges with DSA and with other organizations on the US left in this direction.