The Biden administration this week rejected Nicolas Maduro’s call for the lifting of unilateral US sanctions and the pursuit of what the Venezuelan president has called a “win-win” policy for the benefit of transnational banks and US oil companies. .
A State Department spokesperson told the Bloomberg news agency that there would be no change in US policy as long as the Maduro government continued its “repressive and corrupt practices” and until it negotiated a deal with the American puppet and the Self-proclaimed “interim president” Juan Guaidó to “restore democracy” and organize “free and fair elections”.
It should be noted that Washington has not issued any such statement demanding an end to the “crackdown and corrupt practices” of the narco state led by President Ivan Duque in neighboring Colombia as he assassinates, disappears and torture of demonstrators. Instead, he sent his top military commander in the region, U.S. SOUTHCOM chief Admiral Craig Faller, to the country this week in a gesture of solidarity with Bogota’s murderous military apparatus.
The Biden administration has maintained both a “state of national emergency” initiated by the Obama administration in 2015, calling Venezuela an “unusual and extraordinary threat to US national security and foreign policy.” and the growing “maximum pressure” regime of sanctions imposed by the Trump administration from 2017. These include a de facto blockade of Venezuela’s oil exports and a ban on the country’s access to US financial markets.
The US economic and financial blockade dramatically worsened the worst depression in Venezuela’s history, condemning millions of workers to poverty and hunger, while triggering a massive emigration of over 5 million Venezuelans abroad.
The country’s economy is estimated to have shrunk by 80% since 2012, while the real wages of Venezuelan workers have been decimated by an inflation rate that now averages 25% per month. Oil production, the country’s main source of income, stands at 500,000 barrels per day, up slightly from the low of 310,000 last year, but a fraction of the 2.5 million barrels produced before the collapse in oil prices and the imposition of US sanctions.
The Biden administration, like its predecessor, intends to use hunger and disease as weapons in its campaign for regime change and the imposition of a reliable American puppet in Venezuela, the country with the greatest the world’s oil reserves.
While Washington routinely claims that its illegal sanctions exempt humanitarian supplies, the reality is that the threat of secondary sanctions against financial institutions doing business with the Venezuelan government has made funding for purchases of vital food and medical supplies virtually impossible. . A 2019 study by the Center for Economic and Policy Research think-tank estimated 40,000 more deaths from the U.S. sanctions regime, a toll that has undoubtedly increased sharply since then.
The deadly impact of Washington’s sanctions is now posed even harder by the growing spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. According to government figures, Venezuela has suffered 265,000 cases of COVID-19 and more than 3,000 deaths, with the number of infections having doubled since February and the number of deaths having doubled in the past three months.
Hospital records, however, indicate that the actual number of infections and deaths is four times higher than official figures, and the growing number of COVID-19 cases has brought the impoverished country’s health system to the brink of l ‘collapse.
“We are currently at the peak of the second wave and it was 25% larger and 40% longer than the first wave,” said Julio Castro, Venezuelan doctor and infectious disease expert. BMJ (formerly the British medical journal).
Only 0.5 percent of Venezuelans have been fully immunized and only 1.5 percent have received a single dose so far.
The Venezuelan government protested earlier this month that its attempt to receive vaccines from the WHO-affiliated COVAX international vaccine program was blocked after a final installment of a $ 120 million payment to the agency had been blocked due to US sanctions.
“The financial system, which is also behind the American lobby, has the power to block resources that can be used to immunize the people of Venezuela,” Venezuela’s vice president Delcy Rodriguez said.
The Maduro government had attempted to induce “interim president” Guaidó to use some of Venezuela’s hundreds of millions of dollars in frozen assets abroad over which it apparently controls to purchase vaccines. However, the puppet, like his master, is apparently content to exploit deaths from COVID-19 as yet another weapon in the war for regime change. Having no significant base of support in Venezuela, and with its attempts to instigate a military coup and organize a failed mercenary invasion, its options are limited.
The Venezuelan government’s response to the country’s increasingly desperate crisis has been to advocate for a rapprochement with US imperialism and to tailor its policies to the interests of both foreign capital and the national bourgeoisie.
This reactionary strategy found its most naked expression in an interview Maduro gave earlier this month to Bloomberg at the presidential palace of Miraflores in Caracas. He insisted that his goal was to “regularize” US-Venezuelan relations in order to pave the way for an influx of foreign direct investment.
“Venezuela will become the land of opportunity,” he said. “I call on American investors, don’t get left behind.” He went on to say that foreign capital was aware of the potential for profit. “The financial sector, the bondholders, with whom we had an impeccable relationship, know that it is possible to invest in Venezuela and to have a ‘win-win’. The oil industry, which has invested in Venezuela and still maintains investments, knows this.
As Maduro made various gestures of accommodation towards US imperialism – freeing six CITGO leaders, including five Americans, from prison to house arrest and giving the right-wing opposition five seats on the national electoral council – he admitted that since Biden, “there has been no signal. Nothing.”
He then complained that the sanctions were “irrational”. He said Bloomberg: “If Venezuela cannot produce oil and sell it, cannot produce and sell its gold, cannot produce its bauxite and sell it, cannot produce iron, etc., and cannot earn money. income on the international market, where will he be able to get what he needs to pay the holders of the Venezuelan debt?
The fact that paying off foreign bondholders and bankers is the main motivation for lifting sanctions is telling in a country plagued by power outages, water shortages, outages of all essential services and where two thirds of the population live in poverty.
In Venezuela, the Maduro government introduced what amounts to an IMF-type “structural adjustment program” which includes the reduction of state subsidies, the removal of price controls, the elimination of import restrictions. and the effective dollarization of the economy.
According to government documents cited by Bloomberg, private companies accounted for 92% of food and raw material imports in 2020, down from just 25% a year earlier, a graphic indication of the government ceding control to big business interests.
Meanwhile, the Maduro government passed a series of legislative measures designed to attract foreign direct investment and pave the way for the privatization of state-owned enterprises, up to and including state-owned oil company PDVSA. An “anti-lockdown law” enacted last year offering tax and labor incentives to “stimulate and promote” the private sector, has been followed by a law on foreign investment and now a law on special economic zones, which is in the process of being approved by the National Assembly
The purpose of these laws is to auction Venezuela’s resources to foreign transnational corporations who are urged to exploit the country and its workforce with a host of incentives, including a 10-year moratorium on taxes, suspension of import-export rights, the guarantee of the repatriation of invested capital and the commitment that foreign companies will be fully compensated for any loss suffered as a result of government actions.
The measures are supported by the two key constituencies of Maduro, the military command and the so-called boliburguesia, the layer of capitalists who grew rich from speculation and corrupt ties to the state, even as the rest of the population faced misery. These layers are concerned with consolidating their control and expanding their wealth by renewing ties with US imperialism.
Social inequalities have reached unprecedented levels, the Venezuelan Central Bank reporting that in 2017, only 18% of gross domestic product went to the country’s 13 million workers, while a good half was pocketed directly by its capitalists . This yawning gap has only widened since. The result was an increase in popular protests and class struggle, which the government encountered with repression and arrests.
The right-wing evolution of the Maduro government has put an end to the illusions promoted by the pseudo-left in “21st century socialism”, praised in the first place by Hugo Chávez, as well as the similar nationalist and “anti-imperialist” claims of other representatives of the so-called pink tide in Latin America.
The bitter experience of the working class in Venezuela, Brazil, Ecuador and elsewhere on the continent has demonstrated that it is impossible to combat imperialist aggression and capitalist exploitation without the politically independent mobilization of the working class. against all sections of the bourgeoisie on the basis of a program of socialist internationalism.