Under Chavez—and thanks to oil prices that topped $100 a barrel—these layers were able to pursue their interests while still providing minimal social assistance programs that reduced poverty and provided housing, health care and improved education to the more oppressed sections of the population. Chavez’s death in 2013, however, was quickly followed by the plummeting of the price of oil, the commodity that accounts for 95 percent of the country’s export earnings. Since then, the economy has contracted by 27 percent, while the inflation rate, the highest in the world, is set to reach 720 percent this year, according to an estimate by the International Monetary Fund.
With vastly reduced export earnings, the government has slashed imports of foreign food, medicine and other basic necessities in order to divert dwindling reserves to meet foreign debt payments to international finance capital.
Venezuelan working people have borne the terrible burden of paying off Wall Street. Four out of five people now live in poverty, and masses are facing hunger. Recent surveys have found that nearly a third of the population now eats two or fewer meals a day—compared to 12.5 percent in 2015—and three out of four Venezuelans had lost on average 19 pounds last year.
In the face of the right-wing campaign to topple his government, on the one hand, and growing social unrest and class tensions, on the other, Maduro has turned increasingly to the military, which has always served as the principal pillar of the movement founded by Hugo Chavez, himself a former paratrooper colonel who led an unsuccessful coup in 1992.
Military officers now head up a third of the government’s ministries and make up half of the country’s governors. Key areas of the economy, including those where the most money is to be made off of corruption, have been placed under military control, including ports, food distribution and the control of foreign exchange.
Under a decree known as Plan Zamora, the Maduro government has essentially arrogated to itself the power to impose martial law, while bringing the police under the control of the Bolivarian National Guard (GNB). On Thursday it was announced that “70 vandals” arrested during a wave of looting in the state of Carabobo will be brought before military tribunals to face charges of looting and “rebellion.”
The right-wing opposition is appealing increasingly to the military to overthrow Maduro in a coup under the pretext of defending the constitution. Venezuelan right-wing opposition leader and former presidential candidate Henrique Capriles, who has demanded that the military “intervene,” claimed on his Twitter feed Friday that “85 officers of our FANB (Bolivarian National Armed Forces)” had been arrested for “having manifested their discontent.”
The New York Times, which openly supported the CIA-backed abortive coup against Chavez in 2002, published an opinion piece this week by a Venezuelan journalist, who assessed that “the possibility of a negotiated transition satisfactory to the opposition is negligible,” adding that “the alternative would be a military intervention to install a national unity government.”
Meanwhile, one of the biggest holders of Venezuelan bonds has made it clear that his firm is betting on and supporting “regime change.”
“Like most Venezuelans, we would welcome, and ultimately expect a change in regime,” Mike Conelius, who manages the $6.5 billion T. Rowe Price Emerging Markets Bond Fund, wrote investors in an email reported by Bloomberg News. The firm has posted huge profits as Venezuela has repeatedly made interest payments by slashing imports and the living conditions of masses of Venezuelan workers. It expects even richer dividends in the event of a coup against Maduro. “The cathartic moment of regime change will be quickly repriced in the market,” Conelius wrote.
Attempting to place US imperialism’s thumb more firmly on the scale, a bipartisan group of US Senators has urged President Donald Trump to intervene more aggressively against Venezuela. The Senators, who include Democrats like Hillary Clinton’s vice-presidential running mate Tim Kaine of Virginia, introduced on Wednesday the “Venezuela Humanitarian Assistance and Defense of Democratic Governance Act of 2017” to ratchet up sanctions against Venezuela and pressure on its government.
In particular, the legislation calls attention to investments by the Russian energy giant Rosneft in Citgo, the US-based subsidiary of Venezuela’s state-owned PDVSA petroleum company, describing the ties as a “significant risk to U.S. national security and energy security.”
The pursuit of a more aggressive policy against Venezuela, linked to the military buildup against Russia, would be entrusted in large measure to US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. He is the former CEO of ExxonMobil, whose predecessor company, Standard Oil, controlled Venezuelan oil production
this one from countercurrents