Not cracking up in Caracas

In August 2019, the SSP sent Bill Bonnar to visit the Venezuelan capital, Caracas. Here is his report

The picture of Caracas which appears in most of the media proved to be deeply misleading. This was of a city racked by political violence, crime and a government clinging to power through the brutal use of the army. What I witnessed was a city and its people going about its normal business. I saw no obvious conflicts or particularly repressive army presence. At a meeting with officials from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, it was explained that most of what appeared in the western media was simply propaganda put out by the right-wing opposition and the United States. Instead they invited me to travel across the city both with guides and on my own and report on what I witnessed.

My first impression was that the Bolivarian Revolution remains strong with significant levels of support. It appears a heady mixture of revolutionary socialism, Venezuelan nationalism and social Catholicism; encapsulated in the form of former leader, Hugo Chavez, whose presence is everywhere. His successor, Nicola Madoro is described in the West as a dictator but this is simply not true. He is the elected President of an elected government; a government which has won 23 out of the last 25 regional, national and presidential elections. He also appears to be part of a strong collective leadership.

The right-wing opposition has little or no presence within the capital; it is overwhelmingly located in the wealthy white suburbs stretching along the Caribbean coast. It struggles to influence events in Caracas because it is not in the capital. Early on a picture of the opposition emerged. Overwhelming white and middle class, it called for the ‘restoration of democracy’ although it lacked any real democratic credentials. It has never recognised any PSUV election victory, has been calling for the overthrow of the elected government since 1999, has glorified in some of the past right-wing dictatorships which ruled Venezuela and is completely in the pay of the United States. Its aim is clear – to turn the clock back to the point immediately before the Bolivarian Revolution when it treated the country as its own personal property and when the government was composed of people exactly like it.

Support for the government remains strong. You see it in the numbers of people wearing PSUV emblems, in the political activity in the city and in the large numbers of Venezuelan flags been flown; a strident symbol of Venezuelan resistance closely associated with the government. I saw no evidence of any kind of widespread resistance to the government in the city; in stark contrast to the kinds of stories regularly told in the western media. The army, in the form of the National Guard, has a strong presence and is strongly linked to the PSUV. All the military commanders appear to be leading political figures in their own right and project a very definite image as defenders of Venezuelan sovereignty and the Bolivarian Revolution. It is interesting to watch a pro-government mass rally on television; addressed by a leading army general who uses words like socialism, imperialism and solidarity.

One obvious example of government support was the National Petition against American Aggression; NO MAS TRUMP. Launched on the first day I arrived, I proudly signed it on behalf of the Scottish Socialist Party. In the main squares and streets large numbers of stalls had been set up for people to sign, queues quickly gathering and within a week it had totalled 7m signatures and counting.

Any visitor to Caracas will be immediately struck by the extent of the current economic crisis. It is obvious from the crumbling infrastructure, the half empty shops and the queues outside banks. While the origins of this crisis are in the collapse of world oil prices and before that the international banking crisis, what is driving it now are draconian American sanctions and domestic economic sabotage and speculation from the country’s still predominant private sector. There is a war being waged against the Venezuelan people. It is not a war fought by guns and invading foreign troops. It’s an economic war and it remains the principle weapon of the opposition and their American backers. The aim is to make the Venezuelan people so desperate that they will support any kind of change just to get back to some normality. Students of Latin American history will instantly recognise a strategy of de-stabilisation. It was applied to Chile in the seventies and Nicaragua in the eighties and is being applied to Venezuela today.

Yet the impression I had was the government was riding out the economic storm. It was beginning to bring the currency under control, deal with hyper-inflation and through increasing links with China and Russia was significantly undermining the sanctions. It is a government which appears strong, resolute and confident about the future. With the opposition apparently in complete disarray and the American Government scratching its head with what to do next, the Venezuelan Government remains firmly in control and is setting the agenda.

What struck me more than anything else was the way the Venezuelan Government frame its struggle in terms of national self-determination and sovereignty. Venezuela first emerged through a campaign against Spanish colonialism and for independence and in modern times against US aggression. From one small country fighting to achieve its own sovereignty to one fighting to defend its existing sovereignty, it is a struggle we in Scotland should be proud to identify with.

Bill Bonnar is the International Secretary of the Scottish Socialist Party and a member of the Scottish Left Review editorial committee.