Monday, July 22, 2019

Mass movement in Puerto Rico calls for the ouster of governor Ricardo Rosello

In Marshfield, Vermont, calling for the resignation of misogynist, anti-gay governor of Puerto Rico, Ricardo Rosello. Rosello is an ardent supporter of Puerto Rican statehood. The Chatgate scandal shows his true colors.

https://www.wbal.com/article/400090/127/chatgate-scandal-throws-puerto-ricos-governor-into-crisis

Saturday, July 13, 2019

THE MICHELLE BACHELET REPORT ON HUMAN RIGHTS IN VENEZUELA IS HARDLY IMPARTIAL

Michelle Bachelet’s report on human rights in Venezuela, which dismisses the nefarious effects of U.S. sanctions, “is fundamentally flawed and disappointing…a missed opportunity,” according to Alfred de Zayas, former secretary of the UN Human Rights Coundil. He adds that a "high commissioner is not independent and is subject to political pressures" The report calls on the Maduro government "to adopt structural economic reforms" (read: neoliberal formulas). 

Friday, June 21, 2019

LOS RETROCESOS DE LA IZQUIERDA LATINOAMERICANA: ¿QUE SIGNIFICAN?











La izquierda latinoamericana ha sufrido una serie de derrotas desde 2015, empezando con la elección de Macri en Argentina. Steve Ellner rechaza la tesis que esas derrotas señalan un “fin del ciclo” en el cual los avances serán borrados y olvidados. 

Entrevista al académico Steve Ellner, por Alan Freeman 
Publicado originalmente en inglés en Canadian Dimension, tomo 52, número 4 de abril de 2019
Traducción de Patricio Zamorano, Co-Director y Editor Senior de Español de COHA
Freeman: Los gobiernos latinoamericanos progresistas del siglo XXI, los llamados gobiernos de la “Marea Rosa”, han recibido fuertes golpes en el pasado reciente y han sido reemplazados por gobiernos conservadores y de derecha en Brasil, Argentina y Ecuador. ¿Qué dice la gente de derecha sobre los contratiempos de la izquierda?
Ellner: Los detractores del fenómeno de la Marea Rosa insinúan o declaran explícitamente que pronto se convertirá en una cosa del pasado sin ningún efecto duradero. La visión está respaldada por la narrativa del "dinosaurio" y la tesis del "fin de la historia" de Francis Fukuyama, junto con el argumento estándar de los derechistas de que el socialismo y las políticas asociadas con éste terminarán en el basurero de la historia. Estos escritores y activistas políticos, sin embargo, ignoran que el socialismo realmente no ha sido puesto a prueba porque ninguno de los países de la Marea Rosa ha sido socialista. El ochenta por ciento de la economía venezolana, por ejemplo, es propiedad del sector privado.
Algunos de los mismos analistas usan la metáfora del péndulo. La implicación es que la política en la región se caracteriza por un patrón cíclico en el que nada cambia realmente con el tiempo, incluso cuando los gobiernos se alternan entre los líderes de izquierda y de derecha (1). La metáfora del péndulo, sin embargo, va en contra de la teoría del "regionalismo post-hegemónico" en América Latina, que considera que la Marea Rosa inició una nueva fase que desplazó la hegemonía estadounidense basada en el neoliberalismo. Estos escritores agregan, sin embargo, que la Marea Rosa no ha dado origen a un único modelo bien definido (2). Aunque la teoría se formuló en la cúspide de desarrollo de la Marea Rosa, sus defensores continúan destacando su relevancia en la región.
Freeman: Entonces, no todos los analistas han dicho “adiós” al fenómeno de la Marea Rosa. ¿Cuáles son las posibilidades de que tendrá un impacto duradero?
Ellner: Hay varias indicaciones basadas en los acontecimientos pasados, de que el fenómeno de la Marea Rosa persistirá en el tiempo. Es importante tener en cuenta que los países de la Marea Rosa han tenido más poder de permanencia y que hubo un mayor grado de unidad y solidaridad entre ellos que en el caso de las oleadas progresistas y democráticas en América Latina en el pasado. Un ejemplo es el surgimiento de gobiernos progresistas hacia el final de la Segunda Guerra Mundial en Guatemala, Argentina y otros lugares. La lista de países de la Marea Rosa es mucho más larga: Venezuela, Brasil, Uruguay, Argentina, Bolivia, Ecuador, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras y Paraguay. Y con la elección de Andrés Manuel López Obrador, México puede ser agregado a la lista. Además, los líderes de la Marea Rosa generalmente han retenido el poder por periodos relativamente largos de tiempo.
Los gobiernos de la Marea Rosa jugaron un papel decisivo en la formación y consolidación de varias organizaciones regionales. Estas incluyen UNASUR, CELAC, ALBA y MERCOSUR, todo lo cual promovió la unidad e integración latinoamericana. Los líderes de la Marea Rosa desempeñaron un papel clave en el apoyo de las naciones que enfrentaron situaciones de crisis política, especialmente Venezuela en 2002-2003 y 2017-2018; Bolivia en 2006 y 2009, y Ecuador en 2010. Este sentido de unidad es particularmente llamativo porque la Marea Rosa incluyó a la izquierda moderada representada por el gobierno de Lula en Brasil y la izquierda más dura representada por Chávez, que históricamente no siempre han tenido relaciones amistosas.
Las perspectivas de futuro del movimiento de la Marea Rosa también tienen que ser consideradas en el contexto del debilitamiento histórico del sistema de partidos políticos tradicionales en gran parte de América Latina y el fracaso de las élites políticas emergentes “pro-establishment” para llenar el vacío resultante. Durante el período de la Marea Rosa, los partidos a favor del modelo tradicional (que habían sido elementos importantes en el sistema político de su nación durante un período de muchas décadas), se convirtieron en sombras de lo que eran antes. Este es el caso del Partido Radical en Argentina, el Partido Colorado en Uruguay, el COPEI en Venezuela, el MNR en Bolivia, el Partido Demócrata Cristiano de Chile y los Partidos Conservador y Liberal en Colombia.
Al mismo tiempo, el índice de aprobación de los presidentes que se opusieron contra la Marea Rosa ha sido extremadamente bajo, cayendo por debajo de la marca del 20 por ciento en el caso de Juan Manuel Santos en Colombia, Enrique Peña Nieto en México y Pedro Pablo Kuczynski en Perú. Ni siquiera hay que mencionar el caso de Michel Temer en Brasil, que fluctuó entre el 3 y el 4 por ciento de aprobación. El descrédito de los principales adversarios de los movimientos de la Marea Rosa aumenta la posibilidad de su eventual recuperación.
Freeman: ¿Qué pasa con el auge de los gobiernos de derecha en toda la región y en todo el mundo? ¿No amenazan las perspectivas de la Marea Rosa, al menos en el corto plazo?
Ellner: Sí. Pero en otros aspectos los factores internacionales favorecen las perspectivas de supervivencia de los movimientos de la Marea Rosa. Los gobiernos de la Marea Rosa fortalecieron los lazos con dos potencias mundiales, China y Rusia, mientras que la influencia de los Estados Unidos, que puso resistencia a los gobiernos latinoamericanos progresistas, se desvaneció. Los lazos económicos de Estados Unidos con América Latina disminuyeron, al igual que su prestigio, que se desplomó bajo el presidente Trump. Los gobiernos de la Marea Rosa han mantenido relaciones más estrechas con Rusia y China y más tensas con los EE.UU., que ha sido el caso de los gobiernos conservadores y de derecha. Los ejemplos incluyen a Argentina y Brasil. El ávido apoyo de Lula al BRICS (organización conformada por  Brasil, Rusia, China, India y Sudáfrica) contrasta con la actitud tibia de Temer hacia el mismo bloque y los comentarios hostiles durante la campaña presidencial de Jair Bolsonaro sobre China.
Freeman: ¿Qué puedes decir acerca de los críticos de los gobiernos de la Marea Rosa que están en la izquierda? Parece que hay un número creciente de ellos, o se han vuelto más vocales en los últimos años, o tal vez ambos factores…
Ellner: los investigadores académicos del fenómeno de la Marea Rosa que la critican desde una perspectiva izquierdista tienden a centrar su discusión en la continua o incluso mayor dependencia de la nación en la exportación de productos primarios, como el petróleo en el caso de Venezuela y la soja en el caso de Argentina. El modelo que ellos critican es denominado “neo-extractivismo”. Su argumento básico es que los gobiernos de la Marea Rosa no han podido alterar la posición de su nación en la economía global y su estado de dependencia (3). Por supuesto, su crítica a los gobiernos de la Marea Rosa por no implementar estrategias efectivas para romper la dependencia de los productos básicos a través de la estimulación de la producción local y la diversificación, es justa. Desafortunadamente. El capitalismo global basado en las multinacionales (es decir, los monopolios a nivel internacional), ha demostrado ser más tenaz y abarcador que en el período anterior a la era de la globalización, que se inició en los años ochenta. Los gobiernos de la Marea Rosa no han podido aflojar este poder dominante.

Sin embargo, por el hecho de basar su análisis en las estructuras económicas ligadas a la economía global, los analistas neo-extractivistas restan importancia a otros factores claves. Para muchos de ellos, el modelo extractivo es el punto de partida para su análisis de todos los fenómenos sociales, políticos y económicos.
El énfasis en la estructura económica en el marco de una crítica integral de la Marea Rosa tiene dos deficiencias importantes. Si usted lee lo que la mayoría de estos intelectuales dicen, no consiguen crear la conexión entre las acciones agresivas de adversarios poderosos que generan desestabilización económica y política, y las políticas y modelos que critican. La descontextualización lleva a conclusiones engañosas. La decisión, por ejemplo, de desarrollar estrategias extractivas y optar por un alto volumen de importaciones baratas, en vez de implementar una política de sustitución de importaciones para favorecer a las empresas nacionales, se debe entender en el contexto del apoyo del sector privado a los esfuerzos de desestabilización. La desestabilización se volvió particularmente violenta al inicio del gobierno de la Marea Rosa en Venezuela y Bolivia. De hecho, Chávez habría sido poco inteligente de haber proporcionado subsidios y crédito para fomentar la producción a la élite empresarial dominante que intentó derrocarlo en varias ocasiones (4).
El mismo conjunto de circunstancias explica la decisión de Chávez de priorizar los programas sociales sobre la diversificación económica, que es una propuesta a largo plazo. Los programas sociales produjeron dividendos inmediatos al asegurar el apoyo activo de los sectores populares que salieron a las calles en reacción al golpe del 11 de abril de 2002. Si Chávez le hubiera dado prioridad a la diversificación económica por encima de los objetivos sociales, el resultado tras el golpe de 2002 podría haber sido diferente (5).
En segundo lugar, muchos de estos críticos de la Marea Rosa basan su análisis en una perspectiva anti-sistémica, pero fallan al no darle un peso significativo a las dimensiones progresistas de las políticas que se han implementado. Los aspectos claves son los programas sociales que generan una sensación de empoderamiento entre los sectores populares, una política exterior nacionalista, la toma de control por parte del Estado de las industrias de sectores estratégicos de la economía, y la democracia participativa.
Freeman: No tienes que ser marxista para reconocer la importancia de la economía. ¿No es el énfasis en los factores económicos un punto fuerte en el análisis de estos analistas?
Ellner: No, si el enfoque en la incapacidad de los países de la Marea Rosa para salir de las garras de la economía global significa restar importancia a los cambios sociales y culturales. Algunos de los principales marxistas históricos han previsto el cambio en un sentido más amplio. Antonio Gramsci y Gorgy Lukács, por ejemplo, defendieron los conceptos de hegemonía y totalidad a través de los cuales la transformación sistémica es un proceso holístico que ocurre durante un período de tiempo, manifestándose particularmente en el frente cultural. El historiador E. P. Thompson escribió en términos similares sobre la transformación como una acumulación de experiencias que abarcan períodos de un siglo, a veces llenos de reveses políticos. Estos puntos de vista se prestan a una evaluación más positiva de los gobiernos de la Marea Rosa en base a una perspectiva a largo plazo.
Freeman: Entonces reconoces que los gobiernos de la Marea Rosa han tenido serios defectos, pero al mismo tiempo señalas aspectos positivos. ¿Cuáles son esos elementos positivos?
Ellner: Definitivamente hay pros y contras. En mi opinión, los críticos de la izquierda han tenido cierta razón en su discusión de los contras, pero han minimizado o ignorado completamente a los pros. El punto de partida lógico para la evaluación de los avances de los gobiernos de la Marea Rosa y sus implicaciones a largo plazo son los programas sociales. Los analistas neo-extractivistas generalmente ignoran la importancia de la transformación de los programas sociales de la Marea Rosa, incluso aunque reconozcan que su priorización y la estrategia centrada en el estatismo en general, representaron una ruptura con el pasado neoliberal.
Estos analistas señalan que los ingresos por la exportación de productos primarios financian los programas sociales. De esta manera, los programas sociales exitosos fortalecen la legitimidad de la economía extractivista, o por lo menos eso dice el argumento. Es decir, los programas sociales desvían la atención de los dañinos efectos económicos y ambientales de extractivismo. (6)
Estos mismos críticos de la Marea Rosa desde la izquierda fallan al no lograr equilibrar las críticas a los programas sociales con el reconocimiento de sus méritos de largo alcance. Específicamente, los programas sociales fomentan un sentido de eficacia, empoderamiento y participación entre los no privilegiados, en particular los sectores marginados de la población. Al mismo tiempo, sin embargo, en el caso de Venezuela, ha habido un exceso de bienes y servicios gratuitos o muy subsidiados, así como bonos que no se otorgan sobre la base de la productividad, la educación u otras causas justificables. Así que la dimensión social del gobierno tiene aspectos positivos y negativos.
Otra área con ventajas que los críticos de Maduro ignoran en gran parte es el modelo de participación democrática, que fue consagrada en las constituciones de Venezuela, Bolivia y Ecuador. Los referendos y las elecciones revocatorias a nivel nacional (un mecanismo que no tenemos en los Estados Unidos), se han celebrado en los tres países. Adicionalmente, la movilización como estrategia fue especialmente significativa en situaciones en las que el gobierno respondió a las amenazas provenientes de una oposición “desleal” al pedir a sus seguidores que salieran a las calles, en lugar de intentar llegar a acuerdos desde arriba con las cúpulas de las élites políticas. Desafortunadamente, el gobierno de Dilma Rousseff no utilizó esta estrategia en el momento de su destitución.
Los analistas de ambos lados del espectro político han criticado la concentración de poder en las manos del ejecutivo nacional, un fenómeno conocido como "hiper-presidencialismo". Además, en países como Venezuela, el partido político gobernante, el PSUV, está encabezado por ministros, congresistas, gobernadores y similares. Por lo tanto, carecen de un estatus semi-autónomo frente al Estado, lo que permitiría al partido monitorear e inspeccionar el aparato estatal con el fin de combatir el mal uso del poder y en especial la corrupción.
Freeman: ¿Hay otros aspectos con partes positivas y negativas?
Ellner: Los analistas neo-extractivistas subestiman la forma en que los países de la Marea Rosa modificaron modelos económicos pasados ​​enraizados en el sistema de la empresa privada. Los gobiernos de la Marea Rosa en diversos grados fueron más allá de las medidas regulatorias de tipo keynesiano al fortalecer la participación directa del Estado en sectores estratégicos de la economía. El control estatal de esos sectores ha sido una bandera de la izquierda en América Latina que se remonta al pasado. El sector privado y la oposición política se opusieron firmemente a estas medidas (Exxon y ConocoPhillips se retiraron de Venezuela y demandaron al país en una corte internacional). Los ejemplos incluyen medidas que proporcionaron al Estado una participación mayoritaria en la compañía petrolera argentina YPF y en la industria petrolera de Venezuela, junto con la expropiación de las industrias del cemento, la electricidad y el acero y numerosas otras compañías en esa nación; también la expropiación por parte del gobierno ecuatoriano de 195 empresas del grupo ISAIAS debido a sus tratos corruptos; y medidas tomadas en Bolivia que proporcionaron al Estado un importante papel en la toma de decisiones en el sector de hidrocarburos y otras industrias extractivas.
Posteriormente, algunas empresas estatales como PDVSA se vieron afectadas por la corrupción. Sin embargo, al igual que el hecho de que la mala gestión y la corrupción de la compañía petrolera mexicana PEMEX no restó valor a la importancia histórica de la nacionalización de la industria en 1938, estas medidas tienen valor en sí mismas, independientemente de los bajos niveles de eficiencia de algunas de las empresas estatales en los países de la Marea Rosa.
Freeman: ¿Hay alguna política que se haya puesto en práctica sin inconvenientes?
Ellner: El impulso nacionalista de la política exterior de los países de la Marea Rosa. A pesar de sus simpatías hacia la izquierda, los analistas neo-extractivistas tienden a pasar por alto estos logros. Los gobiernos de la Marea Rosa insistieron en la incorporación de Cuba en la comunidad hemisférica de naciones, endurecieron las posiciones de sus respectivas naciones a favor del reclamo por las Islas Malvinas de Argentina y apoyaron iniciativas que promovieron la unidad e integración de América Latina. Como parte de una reformulación de la política de Medio Oriente, los gobiernos de la Marea Rosa establecieron relaciones más estrechas con Irán y asumieron una posición pro-Palestina más asertiva.
El papel activista de los líderes de la Marea Rosa, especialmente Chávez, Lula y los Kirchner en favor de la unidad e integración latinoamericana, tampoco tiene aspectos negativos, al menos desde una perspectiva izquierdista. El objetivo era establecer un tipo de Unión Europea para América Latina. Chávez fue el primero en señalar en la Cumbre de las Américas en la ciudad de Quebec en abril de 2001 (donde fue el único líder latinoamericano en oponerse al Área de Libre Comercio de las Américas, el ALCA), que América Latina necesitaba primero lograr la unidad, después de lo cual podría negociar con los Estados Unidos desde una posición de igualdad en lugar de debilidad. Con la formación de organizaciones como UNASUR y CELAC, los líderes de la Marea Rosa rechazaron el "panamericanismo", que significa “unidad junto a los Estados Unidos y Canadá”, que históricamente ha sido un eufemismo para la hegemonía estadounidense en el hemisferio.
Freeman: Dada la gravedad de la situación económica, ¿no es comprensible que muchas personas han asumido una posición anti-Maduro?
Ellner: Quizás. Pero se necesita poner lo que está sucediendo en Venezuela en contexto. Un punto de partida lógico es una mirada a la agresividad y la hostilidad que se originan en la oposición venezolana. Ciertamente, la oposición a los líderes de la Marea Rosa fue más intensa que en tiempos normales. En muchos casos, los dirigentes de la oposición representaron una "oposición desleal", ya que al cuestionar las credenciales democráticas de la izquierda, desconocieron la legitimidad del gobierno, a veces con la intención de lograr un “cambio de régimen” a cualquier costo. Además, el cese de las inversiones por parte del sector privado generó escasez y desempleo. En el caso de Ecuador, la radicalización de la oposición fue respaldada por la facción financiera de la burguesía, cuyos intereses se vieron particularmente afectados por las políticas de Correa.
El caso más extremo fue Venezuela, donde la oposición a los gobiernos chavistas casi desde el principio fue inflexible y adoptó diversas formas: las huelgas generales apoyadas por las empresas (en realidad, “cierre patronal” sería un término más preciso), lo que llevó a un golpe de Estado en abril de 2002 y violencia callejera en 2003, 2007, 2013, 2014 y 2017; no reconocimiento de resultados electorales en 2004, 2005, 2013, 2017 y 2018; una "guerra económica" que consistió en una huelga general en 2002-2003, cese de las inversiones y la decisión de varias corporaciones multinacionales de Estados Unidos de cerrar operaciones en la nación; la campaña diplomática contra el gobierno venezolano por parte de Washington, la OEA y el Mercosur; las duras sanciones económicas impuestas por la administración de Trump y la amenaza de intervención militar; y la condena sistemática por parte de los grandes medios empresariales de comunicación nacionales y extranjeros, así como la jerarquía de la Iglesia.
Desafíos de esta naturaleza presionaron a los gobiernos progresistas a hacer concesiones y llevar a cabo ciertas políticas que a la larga socavaron la estabilidad económica y política, así como el logro de los objetivos planteados. Específicamente, los gobiernos reaccionaron mediante la implementación de estrategias pragmáticas para convencer o neutralizar a los miembros del sector privado y las iniciativas populistas, para satisfacer las necesidades a corto plazo de los miembros de los sectores populares y frenar a los disidentes. Estos conjuntos de políticas en muchos países de la Marea Rosa, aunque políticamente tuvieron éxito a corto plazo, a veces eran contraproducentes, en la forma de corrupción, despilfarro de recursos y lentitud económica.
Freeman: ¿No hay espacio para aquellos que defienden posiciones distintas, incluso contradictorias, dentro del movimiento de solidaridad?
Ellner: El debate de la izquierda sobre los aspectos positivos y negativos de la Marea Rosa afecta el movimiento de solidaridad que se opone a las sanciones financieras y la intervención extranjera, especialmente en el caso de Venezuela. Así está, por ejemplo, la posición de "una plaga sobre ambas casas", que prácticamente niega que el gobierno sea mejor que la oposición de derecha, y eso menoscaba la efectividad del trabajo de solidaridad a favor de Venezuela. A falta de una invasión militar de un país extranjero, es difícil convocar a las personas en torno a un gobierno cuyo desempeño se considera deplorable. En este sentido, la situación venezolana es diferente a la de Medio Oriente, donde la participación militar de los EE. UU. en forma de tropas en el terreno es en sí misma una razón poderosa para que los ciudadanos estadounidenses o los de cualquier país protesten, independientemente de su opinión sobre los talibanes, Saddam Hussein o Bashar al-Assad. Pero incluso en esos casos, la ausencia de una figura icónica como Ho Chi Minh, cuya imagen positiva fortaleció la determinación de muchos manifestantes en contra de la guerra de Vietnam, explica en parte la debilidad del actual movimiento anti-guerra en comparación con los años sesenta. Así que, el examen de las características específicas de los gobiernos de la Marea Rosa tiene repercusiones que van más allá de las salas de clases. 
Notas de pie de página

(1) Andres Oppenheimer, “Surprisingly, support for capitalism in Latin America on rise despite leftist leaders” Miami Herald, 27 de octubre de 2017. https://www.miamiherald.com/news/local/news-columns-blogs/andres-oppenheimer/article181097946.html

(2) Pía Riggirozzi y Diana Tussie, “The Rise of post-hegemonic regionalism in Latin America,” en Riggirozzi y Tussie (eds.), The Rise of Post-hegemonic Regionalism: The Case of Latin America. Dordrecht, Netherlands: Primavera, 2012, p. 10.
(3) Maristella Svampa, “Resource extractivism and alternatives: Latin American perspectives and development.” Journal Für Entwicklungspolitic 28, 2012, pp. 43-73.
(4) Steve Ellner, “Implications of Marxist State Theory and How they Play Out in Venezuela.” Historical Materialism 25, número 2, 2017.
(5) Steve Ellner, “Venezuela’s social-based democratic model: innovations and limitations.” Journal of Latin American Studies 43, número 3, 2011, pp. 421-422.
(6) Eduardo Gudynas, “Beyond varieties of development: disputes and alternatives.” Third World Quarterly 37, número 4, 2016, pp.722-724.
(7) Mike González, “Being Honest About Venezuela” Jacobin Magazine, 8 de julio, 2017.

Steve Ellner es un Editor Asociado de la revista académica Latin American Perspectives y profesor jubilado de la cátedra de historia económica de la Universidad de Oriente en Venezuela, desde 1977 hasta 2003. Entre sus numerosos libros sobre política e historia de América Latina está Latin America’s Pink Tide: Breakthroughs and Shortcomings, de la editorial Rowman y Littlefield (“La Marea Rosa de América Latina: avances y deficiencias”). Es un colaborador frecuente de NACLA: Informe sobre las Américas.






Sunday, June 16, 2019

Marta Harnecker, 1937-2019

Marta was an inspiration for many, many of us. I remember an old-time leftist telling me that he was suspicious of “newcomers” who are superrevolutionaries and supercommitted because their energy is so often not sustained. Well Marta dedicated her whole life to a noble cause. I am also impressed that her basic principles and goals did not change, but that the tactics and even strategy she advocated did, thus showing how critical she was of her own thinking. Not all Marxists have that ability to reflect on their own thinking and modify it without compromising what they believe in. Marta’s work was so empirically (all those interviews with activists) and theoretically strong.

Thursday, June 6, 2019

THE REPUBLICANS HAVE ALWAYS SLAMMED THE DEMOCRATS. HASN’T NANCY PELOSI HEARD OF TIT FOR TAT?













NANCY PELOSI: No matter how reprehensible one considers Bill Clinton’s actions to have been in the Monica Lewinsky case, they dwarf (what an understatement!) in comparison to the actions of Donald Trump. The Republicans impeached Clinton and then moved to remove him from office. Hasn’t Pelosi heard of tit for tat?

Similarly, Mitch McConnell, Republican leader of the Senate, has stated that if a Supreme Court vacancy occurs in 2020, the Republicans would fill it – the exact opposite of what the party did in 2016 with the argument that regardless of who President Obama chooses to fill the Court’s vacancy, let voters decided at the polls, thus leaving the Court with only 8 justices and without the possibility of breaking a tie. Why didn’t the Democrats mobilize the public against such an outrageous maneuver? And with such double standards, why don’t they call McConnell out for what he is: a hypocrite.

Why is the “consensus” mantra for Democratic centrists from Obama to Joe Biden always the same even though it proves to be so disastrous? The answer is simple. What the Democratic Party leadership most fears is that an emotional struggle would invigorate and activate the Democratic Party base and create a groundswell which would move U.S. politics in a leftist direction. Impeachment procedures would harden the position of the Democratic Party toward the Republicans and place on center stage those Democrats like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC) who defend principled positions and oppose the strategy of consensus with the Republican Party at all costs. 

A similar move to the left and polarization would have occurred had the recently elected President Obama in 2009 accused Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and company of crimes against humanity for the torture that they permitted, if not ordered, in the case of black site prisons throughout the world. Similarly, after the Democrats came back in 2006 and public opinion turned against Bush’s war in Iraq, Nancy Pelosi, then recently elected Speaker of the House, ruled out impeachment procedures against the President. 


In considering Pelosi’s position on impeachment, one has to imagine what people looking back on the Trump administration ten or more years from now will think. They will ask was there no moral outrage in the U.S. to what Trump has done and said? Why wasn’t there a complete repudiation of Trump and everything he stands for from U.S. citizens and the U.S. establishment?

What are the Democratic centrists afraid of? They foresee a scenario in which a mobilized public would give rise to a left-wing pole within or outside of the party. Moving the Democratic Party to the left would dry up funding from powerful economic groups amounting to hundreds of millions of dollars. And eventually it would pull the rug out from under the centrists. Another possible scenario is that the rift within the Democratic Party would reach the breaking point, giving rise to a third party on the left which would draw voters not from the Republican Party but from the Democrats. The Democrats have much more to lose from such a scenario than the Republicans.

All this is not idle speculation. Pelosi’s decision to oppose impeachment proceedings has a definite explanation and it has to do with the fear of the rise of a leftist pole, be it within the Democratic Party or from without (most likely the latter). Pelosi didn’t get to where she is without being shrewd and calculating. And the fact is that these scenarios are not possibilities for the long-term future. The rise of Bernie Sanders and AOC represents a major threat to the Democratic Party centrists. Regardless of the ideological mindset of U.S. voters, the issues that the Sanders-AOC bloc raises have for a long time represented their beliefs and aspirations. And there is every indication that the end result of the rise of Sanders and AOC will be the emergence of a new left party which would put an end to the U.S.’s two-party system. The fact that Bernie Sanders won Democratic Party primaries in 2016 in states where independents can vote in primaries is telling. AOC, for her part, lacks influence in the leadership of the Democratic Party, but she speaks to the aspirations of ordinary U.S. voters both in and out of the party. To sum up, the issue playing out within the Democratic Party regarding Trump’s impeachment has far-reaching implications, which Nancy Pelosi is fully aware of.


Wednesday, June 5, 2019

CUTTING THROUGH THE WASHINGTON-PROMOTED NARRATIVE ON THE CAUSES OF THE VENEZUELAN CRISIS

Explanations For the Current Crisis in Venezuela: A Clash of Paradigms and Narratives
by Steve Ellner


Published in "Global Labour Journal" May, 2019 volume 10, no. 2

Various developments at the outset of Nicolás Maduro’s presidency set the stage for what has been called a “humanitarian crisis”, consisting of hyperinflation, a sharp decline in national income, massive emigration, and acute political conflict and disorder. When Hugo Chávez went off to Cuba for the last time to seek cancer treatment in late 2012, Maduro as vice-president took charge of the government. During those months of political uncertainty, the exchange-control system that guided the nation’s imports became largely non-functional as the black-market price for the dollar began to spiral out of control. The resultant inflation reached an estimated 150 000 per cent by 2018 and cut into purchasing power as wages failed to catch up. A second early development that signalled acute conflict and instability was the refusal of the opposition and the United States government to recognise Maduro’s triumph in the presidential elections following Chávez’s death in March 2013. The increasingly hostile position of both these actors toward the Venezuelan government culminated in 2019 with the formation, in defiance of Maduro, of a parallel government headed by National Assembly president Juan Guaidó and its immediate recognition by Washington.

Another problematic characteristic of the Maduro presidency that manifested itself at the start was his tendency to refrain from taking difficult but necessary measures and acting boldly and decisively to face pressing problems. Thus Maduro failed to act on charges, formulated by former insiders in 2014, that the nation had been bilked of twenty billion dollars through the manipulation of the exchange-control system, even though the president recognised the possible veracity of the accusation. Indeed, the increasing disparity between the official price that the government charged those whose request for dollars from the state was approved (in accordance with the exchange-control system) and the black-market price for dollars lent itself to corruption. As the disparity increased, so did the damage caused by Maduro’s failure to modify or scrap the exchange-control system. In addition, in response to severe economic and political difficulties in mid-2014, Maduro promised a cabinet shakeup (what he called el gran sacudón), creating great expectations. Not only did he put off making the announcement for over a month, but he retained most of the key members of his administration.

Finally, little over a year after Maduro assumed the presidency, international oil prices plummeted while Venezuela’s oil output also declined significantly. Subsequently, oil prices began to recover but failed to come close to their pre-2014 levels, while production continued to decrease, partly as a result of US sanctions imposed on the state oil company, PDVSA.

These developments – involving foreign intervention, leadership capacity, international oil prices and the exchange-control system – have given rise to diverse opinions regarding the root cause of the Venezuelan crisis. Different theories put the blame on different actors – either Maduro and those surrounding him, or the Venezuelan opposition and the US government, or Washington alone. The fact that each of these problems dates back to the beginning of the Maduro government, if not before, confuses the effort to determine which one came first and could thus be considered the pivotal factor.

Five major explanations have been put forward: the unrelenting hostility of internal and external adversaries, leading to international sanctions and threats of military action; the plummeting of international oil prices, aggravated by the government’s failure to diversify production and sever dependency on petroleum; mistaken policies that discouraged private investments; the mismanagement and incompetence of the Maduro government; and socialism’s inherent contradictions and unsustainability.

I argue in this essay that the answer to the question of what was the root cause of the current crisis is as follows: almost all the above, in that four of the five explanations contain important elements of truth. These four plausible explanations (excluding the implausible one that attributes Venezuela’s difficulties to socialism’s lack of viability) are not theories but factors that have together contributed to the crisis. No methodology can determine with precision the relative importance of each of them. Furthermore, the four reinforce one another. Consequently, one may, at least tentatively, assign equal weight to the four and in doing so dismiss the usefulness of attempting to single out one as the paramount cause. While one factor may be more important than others, they all contributed to the crisis in major ways and thus the effort to determine the relative weight of each one appears to be of limited value.

Moreover, the effort to identify one root cause often passes over the complexity of the problems currently confronting Venezuela. Each of the five above-mentioned theories – defended by politicians, political activists, journalists, think tanks and academics – is underpinned by distinct paradigms and sets of assumptions that often leave little room for the appreciation of complexity. The singling out of one overriding factor is also simplistic and misleading because, as stated above, the major factors are interrelated and reinforce one another, thus requiring an analysis based on contextualisation. The following essay will examine these shortcomings as well as the broad political implications of the various explanations. 


The Five Explanations for the Crisis

Different ideologically-charged opinions over the root cause of the Venezuelan crisis revolve in large part around chronological order. Anti-Maduro analysts and opposition leaders, for instance, argue that US-imposed sanctions against the Venezuelan government, as well as the decline in international oil prices in mid-2014, could not be held responsible for the nation’s economic collapse because these factors followed rather than preceded the outset of the crisis. Accordingly, Juan Guaidó criticised UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet for warning about the harm caused by US-imposed sanctions, saying, “It is evident she lacks information about when the sanctions began”; he then chastised her for not being better informed (Matheus, 2019). Along the same lines, two-time opposition presidential candidate Henrique Capriles claimed that the crisis began prior to the fall of oil prices but for a long time was “ignored, repressed and covered” up by the government (Ellner, 2019a). The anti-Chavistas conclude that Maduro and his followers have scapegoated Washington and international oil prices for problems that are of their own making. Those more sympathetic to the Venezuelan government contest the accuracy of this sequence. Thus the issue of what came first is significant and open to debate. 

Hostile actions of domestic and foreign adversaries

In August 2017, the Trump administration announced economic sanctions against Venezuela, which prohibited the purchase of bonds issued by the government or PDVSA and forbade the nation’s US-based company CITGO from repatriating profits. Because the executive order was explicitly designed to render significant damage to the Venezuelan economy, the date was widely seen as the initiation of what the Chavistas call the “economic war” against Venezuela. Those who ascribe the Venezuelan crisis to government incompetence and/or mistaken policies discard the importance of the sanctions on the grounds that the crisis was already underway when the Trump administration first implemented them.

Nevertheless, pinpointing the beginning of US-supported efforts that undermined economic stability in Venezuela is problematic. President Obama’s executive order in 2015 declared Venezuela “an unusual and extraordinary threat” to US national security. The broadly-worded order created a list of those Venezuelans whose assets are blocked or visas restricted due to, among other charges, involvement “in actions or policies undermining democratic processes or institutions” (Congressional Research Service, 2019). Obama’s order was not as dramatic and explicit as that of Trump and thus received less attention and did not become the focus of debate, nor did it trigger the formation of an important pro-Venezuela solidarity movement at the international level. Some analysts and political activists viewed the sanctions as innocuous or, in the words of Guaidó, not directed at the nation but “at corrupt functionaries and violators of human rights” (Matheus, 2019). Nevertheless, Obama’s executive order sent a signal to the private sector. After the order was implemented, various large US firms including Ford and Kimberly Clark closed factories and pulled out of Venezuela, in the process heavily impacting the economy. Furthermore, the sanctions against Venezuela and Venezuelans, albeit on a more modest scale, dated back to the administration of George W. Bush (Congressional Research Service, 2019). Bush’s sanctions banned the sale of spare parts to the Venezuelan air force’s flagship fighter jets, the F-16s.

Much depends on how the issue of hostility against the Chavista government is framed. It makes a difference whether what is under examination is an “economic war” or whether it takes into account other forms of hostility with economic repercussions, and whether the focus is on US-initiated actions or also includes those of the domestic opposition supported by Washington. Some of the economic problems currently afflicting Venezuela resulted from regime-change efforts by a “disloyal opposition” – that is, an opposition that refused to recognise the government’s legitimacy. Thus, for instance, the system of exchange controls, which has been largely responsible for the nation’s high inflation rate and its steady increase since 2012, was implemented after a two-month general strike spearheaded by the Venezuelan Chamber of Commerce (FEDECAMARAS) in 2002–2003 threatened to trigger capital flight. Continuing fear of capital flight driven by a hostile private sector intent on regime change is one reason why the system was not subsequently discontinued or modified in fundamental ways.

Oil dependence and international oil prices

Academics, political commentators and political actors are divided over whether the sharp decline in oil prices played a major role in setting off the Venezuelan crisis. Over the decades, writers on Venezuela, influenced by dependency and world systems theories, consistently pointed out that the volatility of oil prices played havoc with economic and political stability, an argument applied to the current situation by analysts of different political persuasions (López Maya, 2016: 330). Venezuela under Maduro, like elsewhere in the Global South, has been hurt not only by low oil prices but also by sharp market fluctuations. Government commitments and popular expectations were heightened during the boom period but generated frustration and anger when prices later fell, thus contributing to the nation’s political turmoil and crisis (Bergquist, 1986; Ellner, 2019a). In this sense, Maduro was at a considerable disadvantage in comparison to Chávez.

The harshest critics of Chavismo deny the importance of oil prices as a cause of the Venezuelan crisis and instead blame Maduro for the nation’s economic difficulties. Moisés Naím, former Development Minister under the neo-liberal government of Carlos Andrés Pérez and subsequently editor of Foreign Policy, and Venezuelan specialist Javier Corrales argue that (in the words of Naím and economist Francisco Toro) “all the world’s petrostates suffered a serious income shock in 2014 as a result of plummeting oil prices [but] only Venezuela could not withstand the pressure” (Naím and Toro, 2018a: 128; Corrales, 2017: 31). Nevertheless, while Venezuela was the OPEC nation most adversely affected by the sharp downturn in oil prices, it was also the only one (along with Iran) subject to international sanctions.

Writers belonging to the school of “neo-extractivism” criticise Chávez and Maduro and other pro-leftist “Pink Tide” governments for having failed to sever dependence on basic commodity exports and to anticipate price declines, such as occurred after the 2008 stock crash that led to Venezuela’s economic crisis (Lander, 2012: 79–86). Scholars across the political spectrum have generally accepted this observation. However, while most neo-extractivism scholars centre their analysis on the harmful impact of extractivism, and pass over the Pink Tide’s possible redeeming features (Ellner, 2019b: 15–17), writers sympathetic to the Chavista government recognise its failure to reduce the hold of the nation’s rentier economy but also point to positive features. Thus they present a balanced view of government strategy that inadvertently contributed to the nation’s pressing economic problems, and in doing so underline the complexity of the Venezuelan crisis and its multiple causes (Katz, 2015: 32–33). Greg Wilpert (2012: 159, 2015), for instance, has written that although Chávez and Maduro failed to use oil revenue to overcome dependence, with “the social economy the … government is planting the seeds of a transformative alternative”. James Petras and Henry Veltmeyer for their part hold the Pink Tide governments, including that of Venezuela, responsible for their vulnerability to the volatility of global markets. Nevertheless, they consider Venezuela a special case and credit it for promoting the “socialization of production” and “substantive changes” in contrast to Bolivia and other Pink Tide countries (Petras and Veltmeyer, 2014: 11, 39; Petras, 2019). 

Mistaken policies and strategies

Some political analysts single out unfriendly government policies toward domestic and foreign capital and resultant disinvestment as the principal cause of the crisis. According to this position, Venezuela went the furthest of any of the Pink Tide governments in expropriating numerous companies and (under Maduro) placing a cap of 30 per cent on profits. These policies explain why the nation was hardest hit by the economic downturn in the second decade of the century.

The contextualisation of this factor and the chronology of events related to economic polices help rule out the explanation that the socialist character of the government was the cause of the crisis. The resistance to the Chávez government by FEDECAMARAS and other peak employer organisations preceded Chávez’s proclamation of socialism as a national goal in 2005 and the mass expropriations following his third presidential election in 2006. In fact, FEDECAMARAS opposed Chávez’s first presidential candidacy in 1998 and went on to spearhead the April 2002 coup as well as the 2002–2003 general strike (which, in effect, was a lock-out). The radicalisation of FEDECAMARAS’ position was an immediate reaction to legislation passed in late 2001 consisting of agrarian reform and measures applied to the oil industry, which reflected an economic nationalism that undid the neo-liberal “Oil Opening” (Apertura Petrolera) of the 1990s (Ellner, 2008: 114). This sequence of events explains why the argument that anti-business policies were the main cause of the crisis conflicts with the “socialism doesn’t work” explanation (to be discussed below).

The disinvestment resulting from policies considered “anti-business” may be tied to another factor discussed in this article in the section titled “Hostile Actions of Domestic and Foreign Adversaries”. There are two possible dynamics at play related to disinvestment. Domestic and foreign capital may have disinvested as a result of market considerations – that is, because projected profits were perceived to be insufficient to justify continued operations. The second possibility is that investment decisions were politically motivated as the private sector sought to pressure the government into modifying policies, or to generate economic instability leading to regime change. US policy toward Venezuela, beginning with President George W. Bush labelling it a hostile state and culminating with the international campaign unleashed by Trump, played into the second dynamic, consisting of a consciously devised political strategy. Both dynamics undoubtedly played a role (Ellner, 2017), thus confirming the central thesis of this article regarding the interconnectedness of the basic factors contributing to the Venezuelan crisis.

Another policy that is alleged to have contributed to the economic crisis is Venezuela’s foreign policy, which antagonised the United States. Jorge Castañeda (2008: 238–239) has argued that Venezuela paid a heavy price for Chávez’s anti-Americanism in that it jeopardised his nation’s oil exports to its principal market, a claim that has also been made against Maduro. However, Castañeda and others who condemn Chávez’s hostile declarations toward Washington fail to contextualise US–Venezuelan relations (see also Muravchik, 2019: 33). The contextualisation of the tensions between the two nations is useful in that it helps determine whether Chávez’s and Maduro’s denunciations of the US were pure demagoguery, as these writers allege, or were basically reactive. In spite of his fiery rhetoric, in the leadup to the 1998 presidential elections and his first several years in office, Chávez generally showed moderation in his interaction with the US. Even shortly after the Washington-supported coup in April 2002 and then the creation of the “Office of Transition Initiatives” operating out of the US embassy in Caracas, Chavez was discrete in his references to the US government (Harnecker, 2005: 134; Ellner, 2008: 199). The first sign of open hostility between the two nations was the decision of the Bush administration to recall its ambassador in Caracas and its questioning of Chávez’s democratic credentials in response to his cautiously-worded criticism of US bombings in Afghanistan in late 2001.

Leadership capacity, incompetence and misrule

Many of those vehemently opposed to Maduro single out government incompetence as the main factor behind the crisis in all its dimensions. When Venezuela was hit with severe electricity shortages in early 2019, opposition leaders and Washington spokespeople, including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, alleged that the problem was due to incompetence and not sabotage as the Venezuelan government claimed. They pointed out that power outages had become common (albeit not of the same lengthy duration) years prior to the implementation of sanctions and that more recently many of the technicians who worked for the state electricity company had emigrated (Duber and Castro, 2019: A-7; Sheridan and Zuñiga, 2019: A-1). Journalist and NGO participant Mary Anastasia O’Grady as well as the left-leaning Catholic publication Commonweal emphasised the Chavistas’ incompetence in explaining other pressing problems, such as poverty and the distortions caused by the exchange control system, including hyper-inflation (O’Grady, 2016: A-19; Commonweal, 2019: 5; The Economist, 2019: 47).

  Anti-Chavistas who attributed Venezuela’s crisis to government incompetence pointed to various aspects of Chavista rule in order to back their claim. In the first place, President Chávez fired all 18 000 PDVSA employees who participated in the 2002–2003 general strike to topple the government, most of whom were technical and professional personnel. After production was restored, the Chavista leaders drew the conclusion that loyalty and political considerations were more important than technical skill in running the industry (Ellner, 2008: 159–160). In the second place, the constant shuffling by Presidents Chávez and Maduro of their cabinet and selection of members who were not specialists in the field left the impression that political criteria were prioritised over technical ones. In addition, the list of nearly one hundred top Chavistas whom the US government (as well as Canada and the European Union) sanctioned on grounds of illicit and unethical behaviour contributed to the notion that the Chavistas were unqualified to rule. Finally, anti-Chavistas at all levels sometimes pointed to Maduro’s class origin (as well as that of Chávez) as a bus driver as evidence that he lacked the necessary skills to run the country (Salazar Huneeus, 2017).

Chronology and context need to be brought into the discussion of leadership skills, as is the case with the three other factors behind the nation’s crisis. As referred to above, Maduro inherited an exchange-control system that had gotten out of control during the months of a veritable power vacuum following Chavez’s absence from the country prior to his death in 2013. Another contextual consideration is the sharpness of the contrast in oil prices after 2014 compared with the steady increases of the Chávez years, thus generating discontent among Venezuelans whose living standards deteriorated significantly and reinforcing the view that Maduro was incompetent.

Nevertheless, it is undeniable that Maduro's decision-making capacity did not match that of Chávez. The latter, for instance, acted immediately and decisively to face a financial crisis occurring in 2009 by jailing various top members of the private sector who were closely associated with his government and were held responsible for the calamity. At the same time, he nationalised various poorly managed banks that were on the verge of collapse and merged them into the newly created Banco Bicentenario. In contrast, Maduro waited until mid-2017 to take visible measures against corruption by choosing Tarek William Saab as attorney general, who ordered the arrest of numerous top PDVSA executives accused of corruption. By then, however, the problem was of greater proportions and much more difficult to confront given the nation’s political climate. An additional aspect of leadership deficiency was Maduro’s failure to explain with detailed evidence the effects and multiple dimensions of the  “economic war” on Venezuela and his overreliance on shibboleths and slogans; this stood in sharp contrast to Chávez’s communication skills, which were recognised even by his adversaries.

Those who consider government incompetence as the root explanation for the crisis often link it with the implementation of ill-advised policies, in particular ones that were hostile toward the private sector, such as expropriations. Naím and Toro (2018b), for instance, claim that “Maduro plainly has no clue how to reverse any of the multiple crises he has set off”. Their basic argument is that the Venezuelan problem consists of “sheer incompetence”. and by way of example they claim that the government appointed “Chávez cronies” who lacked the expertise to administer “one expropriated company after another” (Naím and Toro, 2018a: 130, 133). At the same time, those who emphasise incompetence typically view “socialist ideology” as a mere “veneer” (Kumanaev, 2018: C-1). Naím and Toro (2018a: 128) point out that the Venezuelan economic crisis cannot be attributed to socialism because the economies of other Pink Tide countries were also critically affected, even though not all of them were committed to socialist goals.

The “socialism doesn’t work” narrative

The anti-socialist narrative on Venezuela was articulated by President Trump during his 2017 UN General Assembly address when he stated: “The problem in Venezuela is not that socialism has been poorly implemented, but that socialism has been faithfully implemented” (Aleem, 2017).  When Trump repeated the claim in his 2019 State of the Union address, it was obviously designed to be used as a major talking point for his 2020 presidential bid. Undoubtedly, Trump’s intention was not to single out the small socialist wing of the Democratic Party headed by Bernie Sanders. According to the narrative, the entire Democratic leadership is committed to the implementation of socialist policies that threaten to lead to economic disaster, just as they did in Venezuela.

Think-tank pundits and other analysts on the right of the political spectrum also ascribe Venezuela’s economic woes to socialism and, like President Trump, conflate reformist policies of an economic nature with socialist ones. Some criticise the mainstream media for downplaying or ignoring Venezuela’s socialist character by referring to it as a “welfare state” and the government as “populist” (Rossell, 2015) One analyst writing in Commentary maintained that socialism in all its varieties had proved to be a failure with the collapse of the Soviet Union, a lesson that “seems to have been widely absorbed” until “Chavismo brought it all back” (Muravchik, 2019: 36). Another writing in The New American stated that until “average Venezuelans … come to realize that socialism is at the root of their problems … they will just keep replacing one left-wing government with another” (Tennant, 2017: 39). However, the thesis that points to socialism as the true culprit ignores the fact that between 70 and 80 per cent of the Venezuelan economy is in private hands.

In their analysis of the Venezuelan crisis, some of these writers, notably influenced by Friedrich Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom, equate Venezuelan socialism and state intervention in the economy with authoritarianism. William Poole (2017: 22) of the Cato Institute, an academic closely tied to private and state financial institutions, wrote in specific reference to Venezuela that, “despite Hayek’s analysis and warnings…, socialism is indeed alive today in the less developed world, especially in South America”. This argument is woven into the analysis of Venezuela’s “humanitarian crisis” that posits extreme political repression as one of its facets and views the breakdown of democracy and the nation’s economic debacle as intricately related. In accordance with this line of thinking, specific aspects of the government’s economic policy, including price controls, the ceiling placed on the rate of profit, and measures that allegedly intimidate the private sector are labelled “authoritarian” (Corrales, 2016: 81–82). 

Political Polarisation and Explanations for the Crisis: The Venezuelan Solidarity and Labour Movements

Venezuelan politics is highly polarised at the national level. Pro-Chavista leaders point to the implementation of international sanctions and (though to a lesser extent) low oil prices as responsible for the current crisis. Pro-opposition writers and political figures claim that the crisis is due either to the socialist model that is being followed or erroneous policies or incompetent leadership, and in some cases a combination of the latter two. Public opinion surveys, such as those of the pro-opposition Datanalisis, indicate a lesser degree of polarisation among the majority of Venezuelans, who condemn the sanctions, strongly criticise government policies and leadership, and have a negative view of the opposition (Woody, 2017; Venepress, 2018).

In addition, Venezuela was characterised during the Chavista years by sharp social polarisation. The opposition’s social base of support was the middle and upper-middle classes, while the Chavistas relied on significant backing from the popular sectors. This dichotomy was put in evidence during the confrontational anti-Maduro protests that broke out in 2014, 2017 and 2019 (as well as during the Chávez years). In each case, the protests were concentrated in the more affluent municipalities and communities but for the most part failed to spread to the popular neighbourhoods. In contrast, the Chavistas in the case of Caracas usually marched from the city’s low-income western half to the downtown area.

From the very outset of Chávez’s government, the Venezuelan labour movement was highly polarised between pro- and anti-Chavista trade unionists. The anti-Chavista Confederación de Trabajadores de Venezuela (CTV), led by traditional labour leaders, played a major role in the attempt to oust Chávez in April 2002 and the abortive general strike in 2002–2003, resulting in the loss of most of its following. The CTV, aware that its alliance with FEDECAMARAS had cut into its worker following, has attributed the crisis to Maduro’s policies in general, without either condemning or supporting measures considered hostile to business interests (El Nacional, 2019). Labour leaders of the two split-offs from the Chavista workers’ movement – the pro-Trotskyist Corriente Clasista, Unitaria, Revolucionaria y Autónoma (C-CURA) and the Unión Nacional de Trabajadores (UNETE) – are now in the opposition camp and blame “reactionary” government policies, many favouring the business sector, for the crisis (Chirino, 2018).

Critical sectors of the Chavista labour movement supported Maduro’s re-election in 2018 and recognise his government’s legitimacy, but put forth their own narrative regarding the nation’s economic crisis and its causes. By far the most visible and active component in this category is the peasant movement grouped in several organisations that participated in the “Admirable Campaign” in mid-2018, a 400-kilometre march to present a petition to President Maduro in person. The leaders of the march recognised the impact of international sanctions on the Venezuelan economy but also blamed the crisis on recent government agrarian policy and state bureaucrats tied to latifundistas and domestic and foreign agribusiness interests. Spokespeople for the group pointed out that peasant production accounted for 70 per cent of the nation’s agricultural output and thus should be prioritised as part of the strategy to overcome the crisis (Correo del Orinoco, 2018).

The issue of the causes of the Venezuelan crisis, its complexity and the need to contextualise important events, and to distinguish between what is known as certain and what cannot be easily confirmed, is also at the heart of a dilemma facing the international solidarity movement opposed to sanctions. The movement has had to choose between two different strategies, each with its own narrative regarding the crisis. The first centres its arguments on the illegality of sanctions not authorised by the UN and the fact that historically they have never produced desired results and have always aggravated the suffering of the general population. This position condemns the sanctions without examining other possible causes for the crisis. The approach has the advantage of avoiding knotty issues related to internal politics and of being able to present simple, concise arguments. The second approach questions the validity of the charges against the Maduro government used to justify the imposition of sanctions and military intervention. These solidarity activists counter the anti-Maduro narrative that attributes the Venezuelan crisis to socialist policies or the incompetence of policy-makers, arguments that are often decontextualised (Felicien, Schiavoni and Romero, 2018: 17). The second approach is a harder sell than the first given the complexity of the problem of decontextualisation and other issues discussed in this article. The approach, however, has the advantage of winning over those who consider that international sanctions and other forms of foreign intervention may be justified in certain circumstances. In short, the analysis of root causes of the Venezuelan crisis, put forward by scholars, journalists, political commentators and activists, has a major impact on political strategies both within the nation and at the international level.

Concluding Remarks

The recognition of the importance of all four of the above-mentioned factors in explaining Venezuela’s current crisis goes a long way toward countering the narratives of various political actors. Most importantly, the narrative that serves to justify attempts at regime change places the blame solely on government incompetence and badly conceived policies, while discarding the relevance of international sanctions and oil prices. The logic of this line of thinking is as follows: Since the major international sanctions and the downturn in oil prices followed the outbreak of the crisis, they cannot be blamed for having created it; the Maduro government is solely responsible for the nation’s pressing economic problems, and its ouster is thus a sine qua non for overcoming them. The argument, however, focuses exclusively on the sanctions implemented by Trump and ignores Washington’s support for Venezuela’s “disloyal” opposition dating back to the early years of Chávez’s rule.

At the same time, recognition of leadership shortcomings as an important contributing factor undermines the pro-Chavista narrative, which emphasises one factor over all others, namely the damage caused by international sanctions. Maduro and other Chavista leaders acknowledge that mistakes have been made, although they fail to specify what they were. The gravity of the failure to act decisively in such cases as the twenty-million-dollar corruption scandal and the exchange-control system fiasco suggests leadership deficiency. The problem, however, also needs to be contextualised. The intensity of existing political tensions diminishes the likelihood that the Chavistas will question the government’s leadership capacity. Aspects of the nation’s political environment – the existence of a “disloyal” opposition and the actions and military threats from abroad – mitigate against the possibility that government supporters initiate a process of introspection and self-criticism, and that rival Chavista leaders who share the movement’s goals emerge from within Chavismo. 

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BIOGRAPHICAL NOTE

Steve Ellner is currently an Associate Managing Editor of Latin American Perspectives. He is a retired professor from the Universidad de Oriente in Venezuela where he taught economic history and political science from 1977 to 2003. Among his more than a dozen books on Latin American politics and history is his soon-to-be released edited Latin America’s Pink Tide: Breakthroughs and Shortcomings (Rowman & Littlefield). He has published on the op-ed pages of the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times. [Email: sellner74@gmail.com]