The government of Nicolás Maduro in Venezuela is in trouble. Destabilisation after the death of Hugo Chavez has fractured the government’s political base. An economic crisis due to low oil prices, and mobilisations by the political right, have brought the government to a state of collapse.
The following text is an extract from an interview with César Romero of Marea Socialista (MS), a socialist organisation, which last year left the government party, the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV). Though this group are some distance from us politically — we are more critical of the “Bolivarian revolution” — the interview gives some valuable insight.
Chávez proposed a new economic model consisting of a mixed economy, but one in alliance with the needs of the Venezuelan business class, a parasitic class since it relies on oil revenue. This deepened the country’s dependency on oil income. For businessmen, it’s always much cheaper to import than to invest because they then can obtain dollars much more easily. For Chávez [this] would encourage the business class to invest more in internal production. But this never happened.
Thus, we get to the alarming situation where 98 percent of our export income is from the oil fields, with 2 percent from everything else. This difference had never been so great. Chávez’s politics were very state-centered, and that greatly limited what he could do. The Venezuelan state is a capitalist institution, and for this reason, it always remained a clientelist and paternalist institution, not a revolutionary one.
With Maduro, there was a political change in relation to Chávez’s regime that accelerated after the “peace talks” of 2014 (negotiations between the government and key business leaders in 2014 that Maduro convened in response to a wave of protests and violence led by middle- and upper-class youth demanding his resignation). With Chávez out of the way, all of the historical sectors that had always benefited from oil wealth wanted more. And now the new bureaucracy wanted more, too.
This forced Maduro to make a decision: he either had to radicalize the process to preserve the support of its social base, or he had to make alliances with the dominant political and economic sectors to stay in power. Unfortunately, he opted for the latter. This resulted in a deepening crisis for the neediest, since the easiest way to maximize revenue is by cutting back on the social programs that had been achieved in prior years. New anti-popular measures were implemented: tax cuts for leading businesses, easier access to dollars, and the establishment of new Special Economic Zones in strategic regions, where companies don’t have to abide by labour laws or pay any taxes. And with plummeting oil prices, the government is accelerating the extraction of other natural resources, including mining, which seriously harms the enormous biodiversity of some of the oldest and richest lands in the country.
All of this led to a dramatic decline in Maduro’s popularity, to which the government is responding with authoritarian measures. This never happened with Chávez. The state is restricting the democratic rights of parties like ours. There is also more repression in poor neighborhoods, always with the pretext that the state has to fight drugs and crime.
The crisis has been going on for years, but things are now worse than ever. The main difference between Chávez’s government and Maduro’s is that with Chávez, when there was a crisis, workers never paid the consequences. With Maduro, it’s always the workers who suffer the most. Wages are deteriorating extremely rapidly. There is a lack of basic necessities, which is important because the government has reduced imports by as much as 30 percent from 2012 levels. Social conditions are very bad, and the sense of insecurity has increased dramatically. There are also signs of new diseases, the reappearance of extreme poverty. All public services are eroding. And to top it off, we are experiencing a drought, and 70 percent of our energy comes from hydro power.
When we entered the PSUV, there was a total of four or five million militants who participated in community assemblies of hundreds of people. But as time wore on, the PSUV became a party of the caste, and the vehicle by which the leadership negotiates and reaches agreement with the leading opposition figures and with the traditional right wing in Venezuela. The party has lost all its participatory and democratic character.
One of the main factors in the crisis [all over Latin America] is represented by Chávez’s death. In Latin America since 2000, there were two projects being contested: Chávez’s project, which sought Latin American integration to counter US and European imperialism, with victories such as the defeat of the FTAA, the exit of the Andean community, proposals such as the Bank of the South, etc. — and former Brazilian president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s project, one more linked with financial capital, the extraction of natural resources by transnational companies, and the creation of Mercosur.
Chávez was, of course, influenced by Lula’s ideas as well — that was one of the moments of retreat in Venezuela. But I’m talking about contesting projects, because Chávez served to mobilize the people of Latin America against imperialism. With his death, the crisis was accentuated because in his absence, a period of stalemate emerged, which coincided with the impact of the worldwide economic crisis hitting South America. There has been a huge drop in the price of commodities — not just oil — and that has brought an increase in debt servicing in Argentina and Brazil, the most important countries of Latin America economically.
So we see... the end of the progressive cycle known as the pink tide... electoral defeats for Evo Morales in Bolivia, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner in Argentina and Maduro here in Venezuela — plus we will see how things develop with Dilma Rousseff in Brazil. At the same time, new cycles of popular mobilization have arisen, mostly around environmental issues, racism, LGBT rights, etc.
These issues have an anticapitalist character because they are focused on the government. These struggles, however, exposes the weaknesses of the traditional left-wing parties that implemented progressive measures only halfway during the previous cycle. They had an opportunity to create an alternative to the politics of the right, and yet they didn’t do it. Nor are they going to do it. That’s what we, as the revolutionary left, have left to do. We have to create that alternative.
• Full interview here