The Covid-19 pandemic is compounding what was already a social, political, and economic catastrophe in Venezuela. As of 22 May, the country has 944 reported cases, though I suspect the actual number is much higher.
Collective quarantine measures are strengthening the authoritarian grip of President Nicolás Maduro. Ecologically destructive mining in the “Arco Minero” of the Venezuela’s Amazonian region has left residents of the nearby settlements in sanitary conditions that exacerbate the spread of disease. So remote are these settlements that it is difficult to purchase adequate cleaning materials.
The miners’ nomadic condition also increases the risk of spreading the virus far. Additionally, thousands of the two million Venezuelans who fled to neighbouring Colombia in the hopes of rebuilding their lives are now returning because the Covid-19 lockdown has left them out of work.
The Venezuelan public health system is already under tremendous strain, with high levels of malnutrition, shortages in medication and diagnostic kits, suspension of regular vaccinations, and 85% of hospitals’ laboratories considered deficient or non-operational. The state has arrested medical workers who have spoken out about the terrible hospital conditions and lack of adequate materials.
One must also wonder how both the decreased oil production and the bankruptcy of the state oil company Petróleos de Venezuela (PDVSA) will increase Venezuela’s debts to Russia, China, and other countries propping up Maduro’s government in the interests of their own ruling classes.
It has long been difficult to be an anti-Chavista Venezuelan socialist. The international left frequently insists that we should mute or soften criticism of Venezuela’s ostensibly socialist government because it gives “ammunition” to Western imperialist powers and to the Venezuelan right. Left-wingers often place most of the blame for Venezuela’s hardship on US sanctions and dismiss reports of torture and extra-judicial killing as anti-socialist propaganda.
We in Workers’ Liberty view the Venezuelan regime as Bonapartist because it rests on an uneasy alliance between sections of the working class, the national bourgeoisie, and the military. The military enjoys a central role in state administration, including the social-welfarist programmes for which Maduro’s predecessor Hugo Chávez was lauded.
On 10 January 2019, Juan Guaidó declared himself President with the backing of numerous foreign governments, including the US, and the opposition-held National Assembly. Despite large, clashing protests in 2019, with at least one instance of some national guard units joining the pro-opposition demonstrators, Guaidó’s challenge has been unsuccessful, mainly because the Venezuelan top brass remains loyal to Maduro.
On 3 May 2020, Venezuelan security forces intercepted an armed operation by Venezuelan dissidents and the Florida-based private security firm Silvercorp USA in Venezuela’s Macuto Bay. The botched operation aimed to capture Maduro. It ended with eight people killed and a dozen arrested, including two US citizens. Since the incident, Guaidó appears to have further lost support.
Thankfully, Venezuelan Workers Solidarity, a new grouping of Venezuelan socialists residing in the US, has formed in opposition to both imperialist interference and the Maduro regime, and in support of independent socialist, feminist, and anti-extractivist organising in Venezuela. As they say in their Statement of Principles:
“Campism and neo-Stalinism have proliferated as they offer pacifying narratives that stall deeper engagement based on critical honesty, and a deeper accounting of mistakes, both ours and others’. We find much to learn from the activism of Syrians, Iranians and Hongkongers in confronting these phantoms in the Left. We look to participate in building independent socialist politics, here and internationally around the basic goal of self-emancipation of the working class.”
• Full Venezuelan Workers Solidarity Statement of Principles here.