Archive | Venezuela

Venezuela Expresses Concern Over Colombia-NATO Cooperation

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By Jeanette Charles | Venezuelanalysis 

La Ceiba – The Venezuelan Ministry of Foreign Relations released an official statement Monday expressing its concern over Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos’ announcement that Colombia and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) are set to further military cooperation. Venezuela’s Bolivarian government recognizes the agreement as a threat against regional peace emphasizing Latin American institutions such as the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States’ (CELAC) commitment to peace of which Colombia is a member.

Santos celebrated the recently approved agreement and publicly reminisced how the process began nine years ago when he served as Defense Minister under former Colombian President Alvaro Uribe’s administration.

TELESUR reports that the agreement between the South American nation and Northern hemispheric military organization is based upon pre-existing cooperation tackling organized crime. In 2013, Colombia signed a cooperation memorandum with NATO in Brussels, Belgium the first of its kind for the military organization with a Latin American nation.

The 2013 memorandum was signed by former Colombian Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzón and NATO Vice-Secretary General Alexander Vershbow. Pinzón expressed then that the agreement sought to “access knowledge, experience, good practices in peace missions, humanitarian missions, human rights, military justice, transformation processes and improvement of the defense and security sector, in addition to help in the fight against drug trafficking.”

Venezuelan Foreign Relations Minister Delcy Rodríguez expressed her nation’s concern Monday via social media platform Twitter where she published the Bolivarian government’s official statement.

“The Venezuelan Government is strongly opposed to the attempt to introduce external factors with nuclear capability in our region, whose past and recent actions claim a policy of war, violate bilateral and regional agreements of which Colombia is a member (UNASUR, CELAC) and through which Latin America and the Caribbean have been declared a Peace Zone,” read the statement.

For the Bolivarian government, Santos’ announcement also “distorts the principles of Bandung that gave rise to the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), which expressly prohibits member states from forming military alliances.”

Additionally, “the Bolivarian Government of Venezuela, for the sake of union and integration of the Patria Grande, urges the Colombian government to not generate elements of destabilization and war in South America and vows to attend to our Liberators’ historic call for peace and unity.”

NATO was founded in 1949 and has been most recently criticized for waging wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya. Twenty-eight member states constitute the multi-governmental military organization.

News of Santos’ decision to build a stronger alliance with NATO comes after several tumultuous months for the Colombian people following the devastating results of the Peace Accords plebiscite.

In recent weeks, the Colombian government and Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) reached consensus on revised peace accords which suggest potential opportunities for peace in the South American nation.

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Venezuelan Supreme Court Orders New Inquiry into Disappeared During Fourth Republic

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By Lucas Koerner | Venezuelanalysis 

Caracas – Venezuela’s Supreme Court (TSJ) issued a ruling Tuesday ordering the country’s the public prosecution to reopen investigations into the case of a law student disappeared in 1966.

Andres Pasquier Suarez, a law student at the Central University of Venezuela, was detained by Venezuela’s national guard on October 10, 1966 and subsequently handed over to the now defunct Armed Forces Information Service.

According to military records, the youth was transferred two days later to the Urica Anti-Guerrilla Camp from which he never returned.

A Maracaibo military tribunal charged with investigating the incident declared the case closed on March 15, 1968, finding that “no crime has been committed in any moment”.

Writing on behalf of the high court, TSJ President Gladys Gutierrez struck down the prior ruling as “contrary to the elemental principles of law and justice”, concluding that the military court had failed to conduct an impartial investigation of the disappearance.

The justice ordered the public prosecutor’s office to reopen the investigation and identify those responsible as mandated under article 19 of Venezuela’s Law to Prosecute Crimes, Disappearances, Tortures, and Other Human Rights Violations for Political Reasons during the Period 1958-1999.

Over the last 17 years, numerous inquiries have brought to light the magnitude of human rights violations committed under Venezuela’s pacted, two-party system known as the Fourth Republic.

This past July, the country’s official Truth and Justice Commission revealed that it had registered a total of 11,043 cases of torture, assassinations, and political disappearances between 1958 and 1998.

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Venezuela Opposition Cries Foul After Recall Suspended, Calls for Coup Against Maduro

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teleSUR 

The ominous calls came as courts temporarily froze the referendum process to investigate thousands of fraudulent signatures submitted in the first phase.

Leader’s from Venezuela’s opposition appeared to call for a coup against President Nicolas Maduro, after the country’s Supreme Court ruled that the presidential recall referendum would be temporarily suspended due to fraud committed in the first phase of the process.

Opposition leader Henrique Capriles said Friday that President Maduro is “in disobedience of the constitution” and called on both the National Assembly and Armed Forces to “make a decision” and have people “respect the constitution.”

The former Venezuelan presidential candidate also said Maduro had vacated his position as president, prompting fears that a coup might be looming.

“Maduro did not only leave the country, he left his position,” Capriles said during Friday’s press conference.

“Maduro declared himself in disobedience, he does not respect the Constitution, and today he left the country, and will leave everything.”

Maduro left Venezuela for various OPEC and non-OPEC countries Thursday to help establish a stable price for oil, which has negatively affected the South American country’s economy.

Capriles, head of Justice First and one of the leaders of the opposition MUD coalition, also called on the nation’s armed forces to intervene.

“Hopefully the armed forces will have people respect the constitution,” he said.

The MUD leader also demanded the government repeal the decision to suspend the signature collection process for the recall referendum and called on opposition members to “take the streets of Venezuela.” Toward the end of his speech, Capriles denied he wanted a coup to oust Maduro and said he does not want to incite violence.

“We don’t want a coup in the country,” said Capriles, “A coup has (already) happened to the people and we have to restore constitutional order.“

Henry Ramos Allup, the president of the National Assembly, also spoke during the press conference and said the National Assembly he leads supports all the decisions and the message promoted by Capriles.

Ramos Allup also called on the Venezuelan Armed Forces “to analyze the abuses to the constitution” allegedly carried out by the government. He also said they were offering a constitutional way out for Maduro through the recall referendum in order to prevent “a violent way out” in the future.

The legislator said a delegation from the assembly will travel to the Organization of American States, or OAS, to demand the OAS apply the so-called Democratic Charter against his country, something the opposition has been requesting for months.

“Venezuelans have always been stronger than its leaders,” he said, before he cast doubt on Maduro’s nationality, suggesting he may actually be Colombian—a common allegation that has no basis.

The National Electoral Council, or CNE, said the decision to postpone the recall referendum process came after the MUD committed the criminal offense of presenting more than 600,000, about 30 percent, of signatures deemed irregular. Among the invalid signatures were almost 11,000 from deceased Venezuelans.

The Supreme Court also declared invalid all acts of the National Assembly after it swore in three legislators who had previously been suspended over irregularities when they were elected.

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Venezuela Police Officer Shot, Killed During Right-Wing Protest

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teleSUR 

A Venezuelan policeman died after being shot during an opposition protest late Wednesday in the province of Miranda, Minister of the Interior and Justice Nestor Reverol said, adding there were two other officers injured.

Reverol stated that the officer was shot after the police tried to disperse an opposition march to preserve public order on the Panamerican highway in San Antonio de los Altos, adding that two suspects were in custody.

“There are two people detained for questioning, and an order will be issued to begin investigations to clarify this murder,” said Reverol.

The wounded officers were taken to a private clinic, where Jose Alejandro Molina Ramirez died, shot in the abdomen and arm. Medouza Dany Daniel Briceno was shot in one hand, Davis Jose Laya Ayala was hit in one arm and Miguel Antonio Cuevas Pirela had a wound on his face from a blunt object, but all were out of danger, the doctors informed.

Reverol said the right-wing opposition was responsible for the death of officer Molina. He also confirmed that four policemen were injured in Zulia state during the protests.

“The officer killed is Jose Alejandro Molina Ramirez who was shot in the abdomen and arm.”

The right wing had called for a “Taking of Venezuela” march Wednesday, provoking clashes that led to more than a hundred injuries.

Despite some factions of the opposition agreeing to talks with the government, some of the splintered right wing have refused dialogue and instead called for a national strike on Friday and a more provocative march to the Miraflores presidential palace on Nov. 3.

Miranda’s governor is right-wing leader Henrique Capriles, who denied that opposition forces had agreed to talks with the socialist government Tuesday and has been instrumental in calling for street demonstrations and the ouster of President Nicolas Maduro.

“This needs to keep growing so that the government understands once and for all that we’re doing this for real,” said two-time presidential loser Capriles.

The National Assembly, that is in contempt of the constitution, voted Tuesday to start an impeachment process against Maduro, even though any actions it takes have been declared nulled by the Supreme Court in the country.

Crowds at the protests where the officer was shot chanted “This government is going to fall!”

Clashes also broke out in the western town of San Cristobal that was an epicenter of violence during 2014 anti-Maduro protests that left at least 40 people dead.

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Venezuelan Government Releases Five Opposition Activists in Goodwill Gesture

NOVANEWS
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By Rachael Boothroyd-Rojas 

Caracas – Venezuela’s national government has agreed to release five jailed opposition activists in a goodwill gesture as part of its official talks with the country’s opposition.

The liberation of the prisoners is the first concrete agreement to emerge from the Vatican-mediated dialogue, initiated Sunday with representatives of four opposition parties.

On Monday evening, opposition mayor Carlos Ocariz took to social media to announce the negotiated release, confirming the freed prisoners as Andrés Moreno, Marco Trejo, Carlos Melo, Ángel Coromoto Rodríguez, and Andrés Leon– all arrested for their participation in violent protests or for the incitement of political violence.

As former security chief to opposition National Assembly President Ramos Allup, Ángel Coromoto Rodríguez, was arrested in May for allegedly bankrolling anti-police violence during opposition protests, while Melo was detained on August 31 for the possession of explosives. Similarly Moreno and Trejo were both arrested in late September after creating a video calling for the rebellion of the armed forces.

The longest-serving inmate amongst the group is Andres Leon, who was arrested during the deadly 2014 street violence known as the “guarimbas”. He was granted house-arrest on health grounds in June last year.

“Not enough”

The announcement comes just three days ahead of an anti-government march on the Miraflores Presidential Palace, called by the opposition for this coming Thursday.

Opposition leaders had previously hinted that they would be willing to consider calling off the demonstration depending on the progress of the talks, which they say are contingent on the release of their activists from jail.

Nonetheless, the government’s gesture appears to have done little to dissuade the MUD leadership from going forward with the controversial march– despite the violence unleashed by their supporters during protests last week.

“The release of the political prisoners is important, but not sufficient,” MUD Secretary Jesus Chuo Torrealba told reporters.

On Tuesday morning, the MUD opposition coalition also retweeted a message from legislator Freddy Guevara insisting that Thursday’s march would “still go ahead”. Guevara is a lawmaker for the ultra-right Popular Will party, which is currently boycotting the talks.

The coalition has been deeply divided over the decision to partake in official negotiations with the government, with proponents describing the top-level talks as just “one more terrain of struggle” amongst many.

Meanwhile, the government has hailed the move as a sign of its willingness to negotiate with the opposition in a bid to ease tensions in the politically polarised country.

“We, who have been permanently waiting for opposition sectors to (commit to) dialogue, salute the fact that it has finally taken place,” Venezuela’s foreign minister, Delcy Rodriguez, told press at the United Nations Human Rights Council on Tuesday.

The opposition has stated that it will not negotiate on its demands for a presidential recall referendum this year or on the release of all of its activists from jail, regardless of their crime. The MUD has yet to release an official statement confirming the status of Thursday’s march.

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‘Venezuela opposition unable to overthrow Maduro’

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Press TV 

Venezuela’s opposition-led National Assembly has voted for impeaching President Nicolas Maduro accusing him for violating democracy. The anti-government vote came after the Supreme Court blocked the parliament’s plan to hold a referendum to try and recall President Maduro. The Venezuelan socialist government has dismissed the move as meaningless.

Lajos Szaszdi, a Latin America expert, told Press TV that President Maduro has the support of the Supreme Court, the security forces and people, as a result of which the National Assembly would not be able to remove President Maduro from power.

The executive branch of the government “has the upper hand” in the division of power in Venezuela; therefore, President Maduro will be able to survive attacks by the opposition, Szaszdi said.

The analyst went on to say that the president of Venezuela has control over police, security and military forces and “of course, there is a broad base of supporters,” and “there is no danger for his hold on power.”

The Supreme Court will not accept any anti-government resolution issued by the National Assembly of Venezuela until the parliament invalidates three opposition lawmakers who are being accused of having bought votes in the last general elections, he added.

“The opposition is desperate,” Szaszdi argued, adding that the opposition is trying to resort to “extreme measures,” but people, the armed forces and the Supreme Court would support President Maduro.

The desperation of the opposition has increased after the National Electoral Council put a stop to the opposition-driven plebiscite against Maduro when four state courts called the signature-gathering process fraudulent.

The Venezuela’s government, which is facing economic difficulties and all-out pressure from the opposition legislators, has said the country is the victim of an international plot against Socialism, led by the United States.

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Selective Assassinations of Chavistas by paramilitaries, renegade police and criminal gangs continue

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By Arturo Rosales 

The assassination of followers of the late President Chavez continues to increase at a steady pace. From 2013 – when President Maduro was democratically elected – to the present, many local political leaders, public servants, journalists, bodyguards of left wing politicians, military personnel and operatives of the Bolivarian Intelligence Service (SEBIN) have been unfortunate enough to fall into the opposition’s murderous claws.

The ultra-right wing opposition that currently has control of the National Assembly continues with its aim of resurrecting the Fourth Republic in Venezuela. With opposition figures such as the governor of Miranda state, Capriles Radonski, telling his supporters “to take their anger to the streets” and Voluntad Popular’s Leopoldo Lopez whose plan called “The Exit” sparked violent street protests by paid thugs from February to June 2014 costing 43 lives, we can see that unconstitutional political means to gain power are at play here.

Added to these actions by the ultra right wing are assassinations of body guards of revolutionary leaders that are simulated as a robbery or violent street crime, then the right wing media plays its part by putting it all down to “insecurity” caused by an inept government.

Paramilitaries &Policemen

The links established between fascist leaders in Venezuela such as Leopoldo Lopez and ex-Metropolitan Mayor Antonio Ledezma with ex-Colombian President and enemy of Bolivarianism, Alvaro Uribe, since 2009 have resulted in political, economic and media support for the paramilitary gangs that have been infiltrating Venezuela since about 2005. These gangs expanded into the country from the western Colombo-Venezuelan border and reached the center of the country, including Caracas, in a few short years.

Political and legal support was lent by right wing parties such as Voluntas Popular and Alianza Bravo Pueblo. Economic support came from drug trafficking, contraband and a small sector of business; and finally support by electronic media that are financed from abroad such as La Patilla, NTN24 (both financed from Colombia) and Sumarium owned by the Vecchio-Lopez families. (Carlos Vecchio is now exiled in the US and Leopoldo Lopez is serving 14 years in jail). There were also other minor support groups from other political parties of the right such as UNT, Accion Democratica and Primero Justicia.

With the paramilitaries in place, there were various objectives: the political demobilization and demoralization of militant Chavistas in the popular areas (barrios); and take out of circulation valuable revolutionary cadres either by making them disappear or eliminating them physically. The right wing media would then step in and report on these events with the purpose of destroying the memory and reputation of the murdered comrades.

The aim of practicing this kind of politics is to create indignation, fear and anger in the population that lives in the shadow of such insecurity. For this reason each brutal homicide is dealt with immediately and sensationally by the opposition media. The idea is to have some sensational aspect of any given case covered on a daily basis to maintain the fear factor.

Let us not forget that since 2013 the whole population has been subject to the effects of a fourth generation war – a combination of selective assassinations as described above and an economic war making life increasingly difficult. Foods were hoarded, hidden or smuggled to Colombia creating shortages of basic goods and the resulting huge lines as people stood to buy food.

This, the fear factor plus frustration at not being able to buy basic subsidized goods plus induced galloping inflation, was all blamed on an inept President and his ministerial team, day-in day-out, by the local and international media who all combined to encourage voters to either abstain or switch to supporting the opposition. The latter had promised to “make the lines vanish” if they won control of the National Assembly on December 6 last year. They did win but the lines got worse … and according to the media this is still the fault of the government even though 86% of food distribution is in the hands of the private sector.

Of course, the “make the lines vanish” electoral promise was conveniently never mentioned again by the private media.

To achieve the goal of sensationalizing homicides and sowing fear and discord in the population, the opposition media has a team of “info-mercenaries” who in many cases have contacts with corrupt ranks of the security forces and therefore have access to the gory details before any investigation has even started. Such “inside” or “advance” information is illegal under Venezuelan law. There are also journalists that act in concert with the armed gangs especially in the case of “hits” against security personnel, as there is a higher economic incentive if the details are published in the media.

After the recent intervention of the police headquarters in the opposition-run municipality of Chacao in Caracas, it was discovered that this police force had been behind several high profile killings such as that of retired General Felix Velasquez and revolutionary journalist Ricardo Duran.

Obviously the Mayor of Chacao who is the Commander-in-Chief of this police force did not know anything about the activities in his own police headquarters. The opposition is never involved in these murders even though the police forces they control are never above suspicion. At present 4 policemen are awaiting trial for the assassination of General Velasquez and 14 more for the killing of Duran.

Wider Strategy

On repeated occasions President Maduro has stated that these assassinations “form part of a non-conventional war that is being waged against the country – and not just now but for many years. Criminal violence emerges when the right wing does not achieve its objectives”.

There follows a list of the revolutionaries and public servants murdered in contract killings due to the politics of violence of the ultra right wing:

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In addition to these politically motivated and contract killings by paramilitaries, police and paid thugs in the streets, there are at least 15 professional bodyguards of high-level Chavistas who have been assassinated from 2013–2016.

All the cases mentioned have proven to be contract killings and have been resolved or are under investigation.

It is worth highlighting the fact that no international human rights organization or any NGO affiliated to the US or Spain – countries that are supposedly democratic and believe in the freedom of expression – have taken any interest or made declarations condemning the persecution and assassination of Chavistas. All they have done is attack the government of President Maduro insinuating that it is he who is violating human rights!

Thus, we have a twisted situation where cases of murdered Chavistas are glossed over and no mention of the violation of their human rights is ever made. And on the other hand, the darling of the international right wing, Leopoldo Lopez, is allegedly having his human rights violated because his iPod was removed from his jail cell.

This is the late Eduardo Galeano’s Upside Down World!

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Washington’s Intent is Economic Destabilization and “Regime Change” In Venezuela

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Venezuela’s oil-dependent economy suffers greatly from low crude oil prices and US economic warfare – waged to destabilize the country, create enormous hardships, mobilize majority opposition to President Nicolas Maduro’s leadership, and end nearly 18 years of economic and social progress. The collapse in the price of crude oil was the result of a carefully designed speculative operation. 

Neocons in Washington want control over Venezuela’s vast oil reserves, among the world’s largest. With full US support and encouragement, the right wing opposition which controls the National Assembly want Maduros ousted – its latest tactic by recall referendum as constitutionally permitted.

On October 18, Venezuela’s Supreme Court ruled valid signatures of 20% of voters in each of the nation’s 24 states must be collected to proceed with a process against Maduro.

“(F)ailure…will render the call for the presidential recall referendum as nullified,” the High Court said in its ruling.

On October 21, Venezuela’s National Electoral Council (CNE) suspended the referendum until further notice, following Supreme Court allegations of fraud. Over 30% of signatures collected had irregularities – including listing over 10,000 deceased persons.

A previous article explained how Venezuela’s recall referendum works. Article 72 of Venezuela’s Constitution states “(a)ll magistrates and other offices (including the president) filled by popular vote are subject to revocation.”

“Once half (their) term of office…has elapsed, 20% of (registered) voters (by petition may call for) a referendum to revoke such official’s mandate.”

“When a number of voters equal to or greater than the number of those who elected the official vote in favor of revocation (provided the total is 20% or more of registered voters), the official’s mandate shall be deemed revoked…”

Signatures collected must be verified for authenticity before proceeding further with the recall process. If achieved, it’ll be organized within 90 days. Removing Maduro requires support from more than the 50.6% of voters supporting his 2013 election.

Timing is important. If held by January 10, 2017, a new election will be called if Maduro loses. If things go against him after this date, Vice President Aristobulo Isturiz will serve as president until January 2019, when his term expires.

In response to CNE’s suspending the recall process, the factions controlling the National Assembly barely stopped short of urging coup d’etat action to remove Maduro forcefully.

Last Sunday, they said they’ll impeach him for “violating democracy.” The body has no legal standing after ignoring the Supreme Court’s October 18 ruling.

United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) leader Hector Rodriguez mocked them, saying parties violating the “rules of the game come and talk about democracy…There will be no recall referendum in 2016 because of fraudulent signatures collected.”

Violent demonstrations may follow, similar to what occurred in 2014 – perhaps another US coup attempt.

On October 24, WaPo editors disgracefully headlined “How to derail Venezuela’s new dictatorship.” What followed was a disgraceful litany of misinformation, exaggeration and Big Lies.

WaPo: Maduro “made clear (he and his government are) prepared to shred what remained of the country’s constitutional order…(They) stripped the opposition-controlled national assembly of its powers, imprisoned several top leaders and tried to slow” the recall process.

Fact: Maduro and Venezuela’s CNE observe the letter of constitutional law. No opposition powers were “stripped.” Their imprisoned officials plotted to remove Maduro by coup d’etat.

Collecting fraudulent signatures “slow(ed)” the recall process, not administration officials.

WaPo: Opposition National Assembly members “issued a declaration saying Mr. Maduro had staged a coup. That is accurate – and it ought to provoke a consequential reaction from the United States and Venezuela’s Latin American neighbors.”

Fact: No Maduro “coup” occurred, nor is one in prospect. WaPo calling for “consequential” action sounds ominously like urging Washington to oust him forcefully.

WaPo: “The recall referendum the opposition was pursuing offered a democratic way out of what has become one of the worst political and humanitarian crises in Latin America’s modern history.”

Fact: US dirty tricks and economic manipulation leading to disruptions in the distribution of food, bear much responsibility for hard times in Venezuela. Real problems exist. Hunger isn’t one of them. WaPo lied claiming “(t)he vast majority of low-income families say they are having trouble obtaining food.”

Venezuelans changed their dietary practices because of the scarcity of commonly eaten foods, at times consuming less than earlier. Profiteers hoarding and diverting foodstuffs for resale are responsible, along with high inflation resulting economic manipulation.

WaPo: “(T)he United States should be coordinating tough international action.”

Fact: Neocon WaPo editors want Maduro toppled and replaced. Do they mean by coup d’etat by calling for “tough international action?”

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Venezuela: Maduro takes control

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Proletarian issue 73 (August 2016)
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As the corporate media churns out sensational headlines about food shortages, the Venezuelan government stands by its word and starts to take control of production and distribution.

 

The corporate media are currently in overdrive with stories of shortages of goods as a result of economic failure in Venezuela. The reality is that there are shortages but these are a consequence of sabotage by private companies, alongside a three-year drought, which has also effected hydroelectric energy production.

However, these shortages are being taken seriously by the government, under the leadership of President Nicolás Maduro and the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), which has launched the ‘great sovereign and safe supply mission’ and is taking control of factories that are being closed by imperialism and the local bourgeoisie.

Great sovereign and safe supply mission

The mission, under the command of defence minister Vladimir Padrino López, is focused on the food, pharmaceutical and industrial sectors, and is aimed at tackling shortages in these vital areas. The programme further aims to develop more efficient local production as well as a new system of distribution for basic products.

The moves come in response to the sabotage and manifest failure of largely private controlled supply chains operating from production to distribution, with 93 percent of the distribution networks across the country being until now in private ownership. In an announcement on 11 July, President Maduro explained that private ownership is “pulverising” the supply system and identified this as the root cause of the shortages that Venezuelans have been enduring.

This is a bold and positive stand by the revolutionary government. It has already met with opposition, as was to be expected, from private companies and the corporate media alike. However, as was pointed out by President Maduro in a television broadcast, the brutal media campaign against the defence minister is a sign that the mission is proceeding well.

Following the launch of the scheme, 105 production agro-alimentary plants have joined, 77 of which belong to the private sector and 28 to the public sector. Maduro noted: “This is not a minor thing, these are plants that have full productive capacity to meet the needs of our people … the goal is to have more than 600 agro-productive units.” (Maduro: 105 agro-alimentary productive plants have joined the Great Mission Sovereign Supply, RNV, 19 July 2016)

True to his word

In the last issue of Proletarian we quoted Maduro at a rally in May this year where he announced: “I’m ready to hand over to the Communal Power any factory stopped by any rich person in this country … Whoever doesn’t want to work should leave and those who do are welcome; we will go united. This country needs all of its economic structure to be functioning.

“A stopped factory (is) a factory turned over to the people; the moment to do it has come. I’m ready to do it, to radicalise the revolution.” (Maduro orders shuttered factories seized and given to workers, Telesur, 15 May 2016)

Recent events have shown that these were not simply rhetorical statements. As soon as the factory of US monopoly Kimberly-Clark Corporation stopped production in early July, firing 971 workers and closing its gates, the government seized it and handed it over to the workers. Venezuela’s 2012 Labour Law prohibits mass firings without consultation with the government and firms that have illegally stopped production are liable for reopening under workers’ control.

On state television, Maduro announced: “Forty-eight hours ago, without notice, a US company called Kimberly-Clark, violating national laws and the constitution, fired almost 1,000 workers from its production plant, closed the door and left the country.

“Kimberly is now in the hands of the workers – producing, working, and we are going to invest the necessary resources in order to consolidate [the plant].” (Venezuela backs workers’ takeover of Kimberley-Clark as Citibank moves to close BCV account by Lucas Koerner, Venezuela Analysis, 13 July 2016)

The executives of Kimberley-Clark are not being let off either, with the Venezuelan government intending to request a red notice from Interpol (described by the US Attorney’s Manual as the “closest instrument to an international arrest warrant in use today”). During a televised address on 18 July, Mr Maduro announced: “The ones who must go to jail will go to jail, wherever they are, because we will ask for a red notice” for their arrest and imprisonment following the illegal closure. (Venezuela’s Maduro threatens to jail Kimberly-Clark executives with Interpol, UPI, 19 July 2016)

Kimberley-Clark produced millions of nappies, sanitary pads, toilet rolls and other healthcare products every month. Following the workers’ takeover, the warehouses were found to be full of the very raw materials that the company had claimed to be unable to obtain. Venezuela’s labour ministry has confirmed that the factory is operating at full capacity and these essential items are once again in circulation. (See Venezuela: seized factory was well stocked but wasn’t producing, Telesur, 16 July 2016)

Economic sabotage and financial blockade

Kimberly-Clark claimed in a press statement that it had acted appropriately in suspending operations and that its decision to leave Venezuela was due to difficulties accessing both raw materials and US dollars for imports.

In response to these claims, President Maduro’s government has pointed to the vast quantities of US dollars these firms have received from the Venezuelan state in exchange for production or imports. Indeed, a recent investigation by Telesur revealed that the private sector may have siphoned off up to $259bn from the state between 2003 and 2013.

The investigation found that by taking advantage of different exchange rates, which are part of the government’s programme of subsidising essential goods, and also through failing to import or produce the goods they have claimed for, these companies have increased their holdings of US dollars in foreign banks, while reducing the goods on the shelves, thereby exacerbating the shortages experienced by workers whilst lining their own pockets. (Venezuela private sector siphoned off $259bn in public funds, Telesur, 19 June 2016)

After taking control of the factory, the workers were able to reactivate the company’s computer systems, which government sources say yielded evidence of false accounting on a massive scale and showed that the company’s entire output had been going to Colombia rather than to the under-supplied Venezuelan market.

Along with the closure of the Kimberley-Clark factory, other multinational firms, including Bridgestone, General Mills and Procter & Gamble, have also scaled back operations in Venezuela, giving similar justifications about access to raw materials and US dollars.

To add to the pressure on the government, US-based Citibank has announced it will be closing the foreign currency accounts it holds for Venezuela’s Central Bank (BCV), which are used by the Venezuelan government for a range of international transactions. Mr Maduro has quite rightly labelled this move as yet another aspect of the financial blockade that US imperialism is trying to impose on the country.

President Maduro reinforced the determination of the Venezuelan people and their government to stand strong in the face of these attacks: “Do you think they’re going to stop us by putting in place a financial blockade? No, ladies and gentlemen, nobody stops Venezuela! With Citibank or without it, we are moving forward.” (See Maduro says Citibank to close Venzuela’s currency accounts by Andres Schipani, Financial Times, 12 July 2016)

Victory to the Bolivarian revolution! Hands off Venezuela!

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BRICS fantasies and unintended revelations

BRICS

As the leaders of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa meet this weekend for a summit in India, one consistency is observable from all the BRICS elites: A stream of anti-imperialist chatter even when the intent is to assimilate into imperialism. The BRICS’ real agenda is sub-imperialism: five countries’ feet joining those of the US and EU, firmly astride the throats of the world’s poorest people.

GOA, INDIA – A Brazilian leader’s faux pas spoke volumes about the Brazil-Russia-India-China-South Africa (BRICS) heads of state summit in Goa, at a well-protected beach resort this weekend. In Brasilia last month, foreign minister (and occasional presidential candidate) José Serra told an interviewer that the BRICS included Argentina. And as he stumbled while spelling out the acronym, Serra also had to be prompted to recall that South Africa is a member (because in English it is the “S” in BRICS, but in Portuguese the country is “Africa do Sul”).

Well-known journalist Luis Nassif disgustedly concluded that the politician – who has a doctorate in economics from Cornell University and was implicated in various corruption scandals, including favours western oil companies against Brazil’s own Petrobras – is “neurologically damaged.”

With men like Serra and his president Michel Temer (also corrupt and widely despised) at the helm, so too is the BRICS bloc damaged goods. Former Goldman Sachs investment strategist Jim O’Neill recently offered faint praise, that “some of the BRICS are kind of doing basically what I thought they would do” though he conceded that Brazil, Russia and South Africa suffer the “commodities curse.”

BRICS as a project is now being written off, unfairly I think (given its sub-imperial accomplishments), because of divergent economic interests and zany geopolitical circumstances.

The latter inconsistencies start with anti-Washington regimes in Beijing (with sabre rattling over a few rocks in the South China Sea) and Moscow (whose sabres are sticking out of victims in eastern Ukraine and Syria, not to mention allegations of Russian-hacked emails repeatedly wounding Hillary Clinton). These defensive gestures are justified given the prolific record of malevolent destruction meted out by Washington, especially since the Bush-Obama regime began in 2001.

Yet not only does BRICS also contain Temer’s right-wing coup ‘government’ in Brasilia with its strong pro-imperial bias, but also the far-right Hindi nationalist government in New Delhi. As Brazilian commentator Pepe Escobar recently explained to Russia Today, “The cozying up to the Pentagon happens just a few months after Prime Minister Narendra Modi – who had been denied a US visa for nearly a decade – addressed a joint meeting of Congress in a blaze of glory, declaring that India and the US are natural allies.”

Meanwhile in between, Pretoria politicians, as usual, are talking left while walking right. Indeed after the dust of ideological confusion settles, at least one consistency is observable from all the BRICS elites: a stream of anti-imperialist chatter even when the intent is to assimilate into imperialism.

Last week, for example, African National Congress general secretary Gwede Mantashe pronounced, “South Africa will continue to call for the transformation of the Bretton Woods Institutions and oligopolistic credit ratings industry.”

He is worried because in December, it is widely anticipated that Standard&Poors, Fitch and Moody’s will deliver Pretoria a junk-bond rating and with it a run on the currency. Indeed the run just restarted following this week’s surreal accusations by the national prosecutor that finance minister Pravin Gordhan committed fraud by helping a friend secure a $75 000 early pension – a gambit seen as a crude excuse for the crony capitalist faction of the ANC to insist Jacob Zuma fire Gordhan, who is mainly backed by neoliberals and big business but also by democrats worried about the slide into a corrupt dictatorship.

Calling for ‘transformation’ of the erratic New York rating agencies is absolutely valid, yet the real problem is what lies behind them: international financiers who now have Pretoria under the thumb of foreign debt.

That debt load recently hit a historic record of 44% of GDP, and to repay interest while permitting massive corporate profit outflows, will mean yet more borrowing from Western – or BRICS – lenders. South Africa’s energy parastatal Eskom is in the process of negotiating a $5 billion loan from China, for example, so it can argue the case for self-financing a nuclear programme, likely to be acquired from Russia or China. Will a new BRICS credit rating agency be a solution, or will it be just an excuse to put future generations of South Africans deeper into a debt that must be repaid, not with rands (which can be printed) but with hard currency ($ or yuan)?

Hatred of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) is also easy to articulate from Brazil. As BRICS New Development Bank (NDB) vice president Paulo Nogueira Batista remarked last week, “The Washington institutions fundamentally reflect the point of view, the interest, the ideology of the North Atlantic powers, the Europeans on one hand the Americans on the other.”

But here the BRICS are at their most self-delusional and self-destructive, for they have had the chance to change the Bretton Woods Institutions in two ways: contesting their leadership and changing their voting power. The past months are revealing on both counts.

First, no doubt that both World Bank President Jim Kim and IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde need to be replaced. They won’t be, though, because the BRICS failed to put up a fight. In 2011 Lagarde was contested by a Mexican and in 2012 Kim fought a Colombian and Nigerian – but with divergent BRICS’ country backing, so neither stood a chance.

In 2016, both were allowed to retain their posts, even though former French Finance Minister Lagarde is subject to an upcoming corruption trial based on her €400 million largesse to a generous party donor, Adidas founder Bernard Tapie; and even though Kim is described by University of Pennsylvania political scientist Devesh Kapur as

among the worst presidents in World Bank history. His administration has been marked by authoritarianism and capriciousness, and he has forced out senior managers at unprecedented rates, sometimes requiring the Bank to reach quiet settlements with those affected. In four years, the president’s office has had five chiefs-of-staff, and several of the Bank’s senior women have left, hinting at a capricious leadership culture.”

His critics on the left (from where Kim entered politics) are just as forthright, especially when it comes to his support for damaging mega-hydro projects and disastrous roll-back of social and environmental standards.

If ever there was a case for the BRICS making a stand against the imperialist multilateral banking tradition – that a European leads the IMF and a US citizen leads the World Bank – this was the year. But as Kapur remarked, the World Bank’s recipe for irrelevance was partly cooked up within the BRICS kitchen because “in the World Bank Group’s official leadership, the first three people listed after the president – hailing from Brazil, China, and India, respectively – are carefully distributed by nationality.”

The same kind of sub-imperialist assimilation was on display when the IMF included the Chinese yuan in its basket of currencies last November and a month later when voting power was rearranged, giving China an increase of 37%, Brazil 23%, India 11%, and Russia 8% – but at the expense of Nigeria (which lost 41%), Libya (39%), Morocco (27%), Gabon (26%), Algeria (26%), Namibia (26%) and even South Africa (21%).

On top of that, last month the World Bank and NDB officials signed a deal for

co-financing of projects; facilitation of knowledge exchange… advisory services; and facilitating secondments and staff exchanges… We greatly appreciate timely support offered by the World Bank Group throughout our establishment process, and look forward to advancing and deepening our co-operation.”

So, will the Bretton Woods Institutions save the BRICS NDB and Contingent Reserve Arrangement from irrelevance – especially since the latter BRICS agency explicitly relies upon the IMF for policing structural adjustment loans?

Tough questions about the bloc’s coherence are being asked; e.g. in South Africa, Megan van Wyngaardt of Creamer Media recently enquired, “With each BRICS country facing challenges, could it disband?” Institute for Global Dialogue researcher Francis Kornegay replied, “BRICS is increasingly taking the form of RICs” due to the Brazilian and South African crises.

In contrast, a group of several hundred activists from India have gathered for two days prior to the summit in a more optimistic mode. The ‘People’s Forum on BRICS’ aims “to connect local voices and concerns of Goa to the global scenario and critically engage with BRICS in this endeavour… to share analysis, struggle notes and build solidarity in the struggle for a more just and equitable society.”

Especially in the wake of a massive national strike day last month by more than 150 million Indian workers opposed to Modi’s neoliberalism, such a society appears nowhere on the BRICS’ leaders radar screen, aside from rhetoric.

BRICS leaders are protected from this rabble by Modi’s proto-fascistic police state. And to top off the Taj Exotica 7-star resort’s aesthetics, sand sculptures have been constructed for the leaders’ delight: the Taj Mahal, the Great Wall of China, Russia’s Saint Basil Cathedral, Rio de Janeiro’s Christ the Redeemer statue and, representing South Africa, it is the Afrikaans Language monument near Stellenbosch.

What?! All these memorial structures have dubious origins in patriarchy and the religious oppression of the poor. But it was 40 years ago this year that the final leg of the anti-apartheid struggle kicked off in Soweto, as students poured into the street (much as they are this week against the apartheid-economics of high university tuition fees). Their immediate grievance was being forced to learn Afrikaans.

The language monument contains a telling inscription by Nicolaas Petrus van Wyk Louw – “Afrikaans stands with one leg in Africa and with the other in the west” –  that somehow also speaks to the BRICS’ real agenda, sub-imperialism: five countries’ feet joining those of the US and EU, firmly astride the throats of the world’s poorest people.

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