WAMM member Sarah Martin recounts what she experienced as an eyewitness and provides her impressions while on a U.S. delegation to Caracas in March.
By Sarah Martin Women Against Military Madness Newsletter
Vol. 37 No. 2 Spring 2019
It is a critical time for all peace-and justice-loving people to stand up to the systematic U.S. aggression against Venezuela.
There were 13 of us in our delegation, which was organized by the U.S. Peace Council and Black Alliance for Peace and hosted by Comite de Solidaridad Internacional (COSI), the international solidarity committee. We were antiwar activists from the U.S. and Canada representing United National Antiwar Coalition (UNAC), the International Action Center, Veterans for Peace, Women’s International League Peace and Freedom (WILPF), the Canadian Peace Council, and Women Against Military Madness (me). We were accompanied by two journalists from Popular Resistance, as well as the Canadian journalist Eva Bartlett, who has done such good, needed reporting from Syria.
Our intention was to see the effects of the U.S. economic and political war on Venezuela, to see how the people are dealing with it, and bring a message of solidarity against war and intervention. We came at a historic, dangerous, and very important time – a time of ramped-up U.S. aggression against the people and government of Venezuela.
This latest chapter to destabilize Venezuela and bring it under U.S. domination has been going on since 1998, when Hugo Chavez was swept into power in a landslide election after decades of struggle building progressive movements. Venezuelans threw out the government which had only benefited wealthy elites while leaving the vast majority of Venezuelans in abject poverty. A new constitution was written based on equality and human rights and the establishment of a government to lift the lives of all the people.
U.S. power could not tolerate the idea that Venezuela would have the audacity to exercise self-determination and sovereignty over its huge reserves of oil and its gold deposits. Destroying Chavism was/is critical to the U.S. maintaining control of the region. (Chavism is a belief in a populist political system based on social programs, independence, sovereignty, and equality as it was instituted by Hugo Chavez and based on the ideals of the Bolivarian Revolution, named in honor of Simon Bolivar, who liberated Venezuela from colonial power.) The hegemon to the north finds it unacceptable that Venezuela is on the road to becoming an independent, socialist state.
Since 1998, accomplishments in Venezuela have been enormous and important in eradicating poverty and illiteracy, establishing a Cuban-style health care system with clinics on every few blocks, and providing public education, transportation, and housing. There have been great gains in civil rights of historically oppressed sectors of Venezuelan society, like women, Afro-Indigenous people, and the LGBTQ community. Labor laws are among the most progressive in the world.
These things have been accomplished in spite of everything U.S. imperialists have thrown at Venezuela in what is really a 20-year ongoing war on the country. One of the first attacks was the 2002 coup attempt against the Chavez government which failed because he had the support of the military and because people filled the streets.
Bush, Obama, and Trump all imposed sanctions on Venezuela. Today the sanctions are considered worse than on Cuba or Iran with the noose tightening every day. The U.S. uses all manner of financial weapons to wage economic warfare and to steal billions of dollars in assets from Venezuela. Make no mistake, this economic war is taking a toll because Venezuela is unable to use its wealth. But the people and government continue to resist and try to find their way around the problems created.
While we were in Caracas, an investigative report was released revealing that the attempted drone assassination of Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro last summer was planned by the U.S. and Colombia. Since Trump appointed the vicious architects of wars in Central America ¾ National Security Advisor John Bolton and Eliot Abrams as special envoy to Venezuela ¾ the aggression by the U.S. has escalated. A couple of months ago Juan Guaidó, a politician from a small right-wing party, who was trained and backed by the U.S., declared himself president on totally bogus grounds. It is ridiculous but dangerous. The unrealistic goal was that the military would defect and turn on Maduro. With a few sorry exceptions this has not happened and the 200,000 members of the military, the national guard, the police, and one million members of the neighborhood groups stand firmly ready to defend their country and president.
This coup attempt has been endorsed by the LIMA group of 50 countries including the EU and the right-wing governments of South America. But, although the U.S. says all options are on the table, the LIMA group has said no to intervention. The countries of South America know a U.S. military intervention would be a disaster. There are strong popular movements in these countries, and it is politically untenable for governments to let such thing to happen.
Our delegation was scheduled to be in Venezuela from March 10-15. But that changed. I and several others had tickets on American Airlines. On the day I was to fly out of Miami, the airline stopped flying into Caracas because supposedly the pilots said it was too dangerous due to all the unrest. The warnings were part of an orchestrated fear campaign. Ironically, danger actually came from the U.S. embassy, which was found to be working with the opposition to overthrow the Venezuelan government and trying to bribe generals to defect; as a result, U.S. embassy diplomats were forced to leave Venezuela, and the U.S. State Department issued a statement that citizens are on their own, so we had to scramble for tickets. We obtained them on Copa Airlines, one of the several flying into Caracas.
We arrived when the country was in the middle of an almost total blackout, a U.S.-engineered attack on the center of the electrical system at the Guri hydroelectric dam. There were three parts to the attack: a cyber attack on the computer, “the Brain”; an electromagnetic assault on the power lines, and, once the system was up and running again, fires in two substations.
We were in Caracas, a city of six million. Of course, as a result, in many ways life came to a grinding halt without electricity. There was no running water and the metro stopped. Buses were kept running but the lines were very long. Elevators and cable cars did not function. ATM machines didn’t work. Maduro called off school and work. It took seven days to restore full power.
During those days the government and local community councils and colectivos distributed water and food. (Colectivos are organizations of people in local areas who received government grants to develop a variety of programs of their own based on their interests and needs. They have been collectively maligned as violent by Western media.) Neighbors grilled food. Priority was given to hospitals and schools. One of our young hosts who lives with her family got out board games, including a Trump version of Monopoly.
The attempt at a destabilization scheme didn’t work. People were calm, worked together, and helped each other. There was no looting. The plot failed because the government dealt with the effects of the blackout and repaired the system as soon as possible, and also because the people are highly organized and are about helping each other. They also understood the attack for what it was and the importance of not playing into it.
Our delegation visited several government ministries and communities and saw projects to create sustainability. Food supplies were being developed with fishing, raising rabbits, and vegetables in urban gardens. Priorities are given to schools and hospitals. Another very important way food is provided to people is with the CLAP (Local Communities for Production and Supply) boxes that contain essentials.
However, the sanctions have made distribution difficult because supplies like tires for trucks are not available.
Chavez revolutionized the healthcare system, and as people had access to medicine and care, life expectancy climbed to 74. But the extreme sanctions are taking their toll and availability of medicines has fallen drastically. In 2018, there was a 86 percent shortage of essential medicines¾especially those needed for leading causes of illness such as heart disease and cancer, and dialysis.
There is a strong desire to achieve pharmaceutical sovereignty. U.S. sanctions makes this very difficult. Hard currency from oil sales is needed to build pharmaceutical labs, and the Venezuelan government cannot get its money; its gold reserves were frozen by the British government, and the Bank of London can’t release them. The good news is that China, India, and Cuba are helping to build vaccination labs. Five automated drug warehouses are projected to distribute hypoglycemic, antihypertensive, and analgesic meds among others to the neighborhood clinics throughout the country. Maduro has announced a new program called Pharmaceutical Engine which will produce drugs with substitute ingredients with the help of Cuba, Russia, India, China, and now a world health organization. A plan to fix drug prices as well as subsidies for the poor is being developed.
Our delegation had the opportunity to visit communities. We went to Catia, a barrio in the western part of Caracas, which has a population of just over one million people. Before Chavez, it was desperately poor. It wasn’t even on the map, because there were no public services. Now the community has been transformed and is vibrant with housing, schools, clinics, and many community gardens and greenhouses. Last year the community grew 17 tons of produce. We saw a new facility in a reclaimed oil company building which is beginning to raise rabbits. All the residents we spoke to are proud of their barrio and accomplishments and have a deep commitment to the Bolivarian Revolution. Catia is pro-government and pro-Maduro.
It’s hard to say which was the most informative meeting, but our time with the Minister of the Electoral Commission, which runs all the elections and referendums in the country, had to be near the top. The right to vote is in the constitution. For 20 years the minister, a dynamic woman who comes out of the women’s movement, has been developing what is internationally recognized as one of the fairest, freest, most transparent and secure electoral system in the world with incredible safeguards every step of the process. Monitors, including former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, say that it’s virtually impossible to have voter fraud. Only 3.8 percent of voters aren’t registered. Compare this to the U.S. system which works to disenfranchise voters. Because of the political times and the aggressiveness of some of the far right opposition, the minister and her staff face ongoing threats, but they continue their work.
When we met with President Maduro, he talked about the history of Venezuela and the U.S. He said that for 200 years, there has been a struggle between the Bolivarian Revolution, which stands for independence from colonialism, and the Monroe Doctrine, which maintains that the U.S. should control the Western Hemisphere. And now he views a struggle for the future of humanity as between capitalism and socialism. He said that he would like to talk to Trump, but Venezuela will never give up its independence and sovereignty. Venezuela’s foreign minister, Jorge Arreaza, spoke with John Bolton in the U.S., but that didn’t go so well. Before he left the U.S., Arreaza texted a photo back to his country of a No War on Venezuela rally on Wall Street.
For two weeks, in Caracas, hundreds of people have assembled outside the presidential palace to protect it and the president. The assembly was well organized with unions, community councils, and all kind of community groups taking shifts. Members of our delegation met oil workers.
We saw a pro-government, pro-Bolivarian Revolution march. The count was at least 100,000 people representing many sectors of the country: unions, ecological groups, pensioners, LGBT, disabled people, women and student neighborhood colectivos. There was a sea of red shirts, caps, and banners and Venezuela flags, representing Bolivarism and Chavism, as far as the eye could see either way. People were joyful, singing, dancing, chanting. This was the first march since the blackout and people were celebrating the electricity being back on and how the imperialist plot had failed.
A couple of people from our delegation went to the opposition rally. They reported that it was very small. They talked to a few members of the opposition, whose main complaints were that they can’t buy stuff like they used to, they had no opportunity in Venezuela, and they wanted to go to the U.S. and get rich.
In the U.S. on March 30, people from around the country rallied and marched in Washington, D.C., and in cities around the U.S., including Minneapolis, to say Hands Off Venezuela and no to NATO. There is a direct connection between Venezuela and NATO. Venezuela’s neighbor, Colombia, is now a partner member of NATO, although it is far from the North Atlantic, and when Brazil’s right-wing president, Jair Bolsonaro, was in town, Trump raised the possibility of NATO membership for Brazil. But Venezuelans are resilient. They resist domination from the north and are continuing to build a self-sufficient economy. They have the will to preserve their independence.
At the same time, in the U.S. we must resist our government officials’ intervention in South America.
The original source of this article is Women Against Military Madness, womenagainstmilitarymadness.org Further distribution is encouraged with this attribution.
Further Resources: Venezuela
List researched and compiled by WAMM Newsletter staff
Venezuela Analysis venezuelanalysis.com
Orinco Tribune orincotribune.com
“A Crime Against Humanity on Venezuela: Impacts of the economic blockade and the unilateral coercive measures”. Gobiemo Boliveriano de Venezuela. tinyurl.com/y6acbgyp
“Report of the Independent Expert on the promotion of a democratic and equitable international order on his mission to the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela and Ecuador”. Alfred de Zayas, former senior lawyer, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights; current int’l law professor, Geneva School of Diplomacy/International Relations. tinyurl.com/y4deze5d
“An Ocean of Lies on Venezuela: Abby Martin & [former] UN Rapporteur Expose Coup”
The Empire Files. February 22, 2019. Alfred de Zayas interview. tinyurl.com/y4etqwcc
“The Origins of Venezuela’s Economic Crisis.” Greg Wilpert. The Real News Network. April 2, 2019. TRNN producer, Quito, Ecuador; activist, founder, Venezuelanalysis.com, supportive of Chávez’s Bolivarian Revolution tinyurl.com/y6rhac8y
Steve Ellner on Venezuela. Professor, economic history, Universidad de Oriente in Puerto La Cruz, Venezuela since 1977. Progressive Media. November 12, 2018. tinyurl.com/y2xv5cuy
“BBC Reporter Corrects U.S. Media on Venezuela with Greg Palast”. Investigative reporter interview on tar sands, Venezuela oil connection. The Jimmy Dore Show. tinyurl.com/yxfuob5s
Radio Program and Transcript
“From Oil Proxy to the Bolivarian Movement and Sabotage.” Interview: Michel Chossudovsky, professor emeritus, economics, University of Ottawa; president/director, Centre for Research on Globalization. Conducted historic poverty study in Venezuela; current warning re: negotiations with coup faction. Guns and Butter. February 6, 2019. tinyurl.com/y4kqf3lo
“The Making of Juan Guaido: How the U.S. Regime Change Laboratory Created Venezuela’s Coup Leader”. Dan Cohen and Max Blumenthal. January 29, 2019. The Grayzone. thegrayzone. tinyurl.com/yywkuz66
“U.S. Regime Change Blueprint Proposed Venezuelan Electricity Blackouts as ‘Watershed Event’ for ‘Galvanizing Public Unrest’”. Max Blumenthal, investigative reporter. March 15, 2019. Telesur, tinyurl.com/y55qlpkb
“Trump Threatens Nuclear War if Russia Protects Venezuela”. Eric Zuesse, investigative historian. The Greanville Post. March 29, 2019. tinyurl.com/y5yynlff
Center for Economic and Policy Research: America’s Blog. Mark Weisbrodt, economic analyst. cepr.net/blogs/the-americas-blogSteve Ellner, professor of economic history, Universidad de Oriente in Puerto La Cruz, Venezuela since 1977. steveellnersblog.blogspot.com
Historical Context of the U.S. in Latin America
Essay: “’America First’ in Latin America’” by Gary Prevost (2018). Women Against Military Madness Newsletter, Fall II, 2018: tinyurl.com/y3q4c5r4
Empire’s Workshop: Latin America, the United States, and the Rise of the New Imperialism. by Greg Grandin. 2016 Henry Holt & Co., plus “Afterword: The Obama Doctrine 2010.”
Open Veins of Latin America by Eduardo Galeano. Broad historical context. Monthly Review Press. 1971 (interesting fact: When Hugo Chavez was the president of Venezuela he gave a copy to President Obama)
The original source of this article is Women Against Military Madness, womenagainstmilitarymadness.org Further distribution is encouraged with this attribution.