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Mainstream, VOL LVII No 8 New Delhi February 9, 2019

Solidarity with Venezuela in a Changing World

Sunday 10 February 2019

by Archishman Raju

The American writer, James Baldwin, once remarked: “History, as nearly no one seems to know, is not merely something to be read. And it does not refer merely, or even principally, to the past. On the contrary, the great force of history comes from the fact that we carry it within us, are unconsciously controlled by it in many ways, and history is literally present in all that we do.”. The situation in front of us in Venezuela is a reminder of a history that we have seen repeated so many times to be almost weary of it. Nobody who has been paying any attention to the past several centuries could imagine that what the US wants in Venezuela is democracy. This word, with noble possibilities, has been converted into such a farce by the Western nations that today the only meaning they attach to it is the unbridled accumulation of wealth. Surely, we must have reached a point where the former Director of the CIA and the current US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, must at least twitch when he uses it?

In this particular case, the facts are such that were the situation not so serious, it would be almost comical. Luis Almagro, the head of the Organisation of American States based in Washington D.C., recognised a previously unknown figure, Juan Guaido, as the President of Venezuela before he even recognised himself. This was quickly followed by recognition from the United States and the European Union. The EU reportedly said that the voice of the Venezuelan people cannot be ignored. But “who”, as Baldwin once said, “for the above-named are the people?”. Perhaps the EU should instead think carefully of the people in France wearing yellow vests who were out in the streets, to be met by the defenders of democracy with military tanks. It is not clear what is more stunning: the hypocrisy with which White men and women (the West, or the North in polite language) claim to be perfect or the number of people who believe it.

What is the cause of the economic crisis in Venezuela? Why are millions of Venezuelans fleeing the country? What about the pictures of empty shelves in grocery stores? The answers to these questions are, as usual, not easy and ultimately a matter for Venezuela to resolve through internal debate. When published in the New York Times or Washington Post, however, these questions serve a singular purpose—to prepare for American intervention and distract from the real questions that a ‘free’ media in America should address: Why does the United States have illegal economic sanctions on Venezuela? What are the interests of American oil companies in the country with the world’s largest oil reserves? Why does the National Security Advisor of the President of the United States, John Bolton, refer to the Monroe doctrine (which asserted in 1823 that the US controlled the hemisphere)? Or, god forbid, we might ask why the richest nation in the world has so many people living in extreme poverty? Naturally, on these questions, there is either deafening silence or vacuous assertions from the aforementioned sources.

There are particular details of the Venezuelan case which must, and will be discussed. They include the fact that Venezuela is oil and mineral-rich, or more importantly that they nationalised their oil; that there is a visible class divide in the pro-government (poorer and browner) and anti-government (richer and whiter) protesters in the photos coming from Venezuela and that Venezuela has performed an experiment with democratising their economy, education and culture called 21st century socialism. The reduced oil prices and the sanctions have been crippling to the Venezuelan economy. This is why, the newly-appointed Venezuelan head of the OPEC spoke of moving off the dollar.

And yet, perhaps Venezuela’s case has a much larger significance because it is at the centre of a bigger drama unfolding on the world stage. The drama is this: we are entering a new stage in history where the American empire is becoming unsustainable. This has led to a spectacular political crisis in America (certainly one that calls for intervention). This is leading to a world where both the cultural and economic power of America no longer remains unchallenged—some speak of an emerging multi-polar world. The economist, Paul Krugman, in the New York Times, compares the situation in America to the fall of the Roman Empire. The economic might of the US is primarily enforced through violence and control of the dollar. China, which holds the world’s largest foreign exchange reserves, but is quietly planning to move off the dollar, presents the economic challenge. The cultural challenge is more diffused but the declining importance of the American media is evidenced by the fact that their own President tells us to distrust them. They keep barraging us with news of the Russian enemy but nobody can quite understand (and they can’t seem to explain) what Russia has actually done. It is no surprise then that Russia, China, Iran and Turkey are among the countries that support the constitutionally elected President of Venezuela, Nicholas Maduro. By talking of de-dollarisation, Venezuela is repeating the crime for which Muammar Gaddafi in Libya was quietly assassinated. The Indian Government has so far only said that it is “closely following the situation”. This is in contrast to their once open condemnation of imperialism. The broader question for the Government of India is this—will it choose to get closer to a decaying empire, or if it will recognise the changing times and look beyond narrow geopolitical conflicts with its neighbours to further South-South economic and political cooperation?

The decline of empires is often very violent, as Indians know, perhaps better than anyone else. At this time, it is important to revive an old struggle, for peace and solidarity. When the Americans were attacking the Vietnamese, the majority of the world stood up in solidarity with the latter. Venezuela is not yet facing such a full-scale onslaught but an international solidarity movement is sorely lacking today. We must work to revive it, and must show our solidarity with Venezuela and their elected leader, President Maduro. This is a matter of principle which could have huge consequences in the world that is to come.

Archishman Raju is a Research Fellow in Physics and Biology at the Rockefeller University. He is a member of the Saturday Free School in Philadelphia.

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