What motives have led the United States to declare Venezuela an imminent danger to its national interest? The government of Mr Obama was the first to take this decision, Trump maintained it and Joe Biden’s new administration has just reiterated it.
Neither the size of its territory nor of its population, still less its military potential or other serious considerations, can explain the set of measures that Washington has launched against the Venezuelan government and which have caused the profound deterioration of daily life for millions of people there.
There have been all sorts of measures including direct support of various forms of terrorism with the complicity of the Colombian government.
The governments of Chávez and Maduro have not taken measures that can be considered socialist in the traditional sense of the term; there have been no significant expropriations that have not been compensated appropriately.
The excesses of public force against opposition protests (accepted and sanctioned by the authorities) have been trivial compared to the street terrorism (known as “guarimbas”) by groups armed, trained and funded from abroad and which recruit from among the underclass and low-level petty criminal fraternity.
There is no serious evidence of manipulation of the elections that in the last two decades have yielded – in general – victory to the forces of the government.
The so-called “Socialism of the 21st Century”, which has been Chávez’s and Maduro’s project, at least until now, seems more a legitimate desire to build an alternative social order than a “communist” objective.
In reality, the violent reaction of the United States to a popular and nationalist government (with aspirations towards a Caribbean-flavoured socialism) brings to mind the military coup organised by the United States against the progressive government of Jacobo Árbenz, who dared to meddle with the United Fruit Company’s land in Guatemala.
For many analysts such an intervention, clearly imperialist in style, was designed to forestall reform movements in the rest of the continent.
The anti-communist slogans against Árbenz were just propaganda, excuses to gain the support of the rest of the continent’s governments, who of course did not want reformist governments like that of Guatemala in their countries. The reforms there were not socialist anyway; in reality, they were compatible with a modern and, above all, democratic capitalism, at least from the bourgeois point of view.
All the indications are that in the case of Venezuela we are witnessing a similar process of preventative measures to stop an advance that would hit the Caracas oligarchy head-on and would show that it is possible for a country to reach a different position in the regional framework, beyond the traditional subjugation to Washington.
What worries the United States government is not so much the so-called socialism of the Caracas government but the possibility of allowing the establishment of another Cuba on the continent; that is to say, the possibility that it is demonstrated that a country can climb out of backwardness, poverty and the lack of real democracy if it tackles head-on the interests of a creole oligarchy lacking a national project, submissive to foreign powers, satisfied and indolent, isolated in its oasis of luxury and comfort in the middle of the desert of destitution of the masses; and of course, if a different relationship is built with Washington.
The United States is tremendously worried that a plan comes to fruition that demonstrates the possibility of reasonably exercising the national sovereignty without which there will always be subjugation to the demands of capitalism’s metropolitan nations.
If Venezuela manages to come out of the current challenge successfully (with very high costs in all senses) it would demonstrate that the hegemony of the United States on the continent has ended.
That would mean that those countries would be able to look for, in the current world setting, partners and friends that could replace the United States as the benchmark power (markets, technology, finance etc).
And they can do it to construct a socialism of their own (all socialisms are different since they depend on the specific conditions of each country) or to modernise their capitalist system and find a distinct place in the complex framework of the modern world market.
Both are challenges for the peoples of Venezuela and the continent in general.
As is obvious, that forceful affirmation of national sovereignty, that breaking from today’s situation of dependency on the United States, worries Washington greatly as it does not desire “another Cuba” in its neighbourhood.
If yesterday the Socialist Bloc offered Cuba the opportunity to replace its relationship with the United States and survive the endeavour, now China and Russia are the main alternatives to find markets for its products, technology and knowledge to stimulate its development and modernisation projects, credits to not depend on the current imperialist mechanisms that control the system of loans in the world, and of course the essential defence systems.
Getting at least part of the local bourgeoisie to back this nationalist and democratic alternative is one of Maduro’s internal challenges, no less than gaining the enthusiastic support of the popular majorities.
Multiplying relationships with the emerging powers in the world market in order not to depend completely on the West is the challenge in the external ambit.
For its part, the United States seems not to even recognise the reality of the changes in the region and, in particular, to accept that Venezuela is forging its own path.
Everything indicates that (at least for the moment) the policy of hostility and unrestrained aggression towards Venezuela “to prevent another Cuba” is being maintained.
It could be thought that in the case of Cuba, the socialist path that its revolution took was in no small way made easier by Washington’s aggressive and imperialist response to the agrarian reform measures that affected the large sugar-producing estates on the island. These measures were not truly socialist, nor were Árbenz’s in Guatemala.
In reality, both cases were much more moderate than the harsh agrarian reform measures the United States imposed on Japan after its defeat in the Second World War. So far, Caracas has come out well from the tussle with Washington, without doubt at a high price. But it has a good chance of gaining more ground since the internal ally of the imperialist strategy could not be more awkward or more unpopular.
Moreover, Caracas already has foreign allies that facilitate matters for it (China and Russia, above all). In addition, a factor exists that is not valued as much as it ought to be: national sentiment. Here, as in Cuba, that national sentiment, pride in the face of the crass foreign imposition, is an incalculable force for enduring the multiple sacrifices that are imposed on Venezuelans. Above all, people love their country a lot and detest others coming to decide for them. Washington appears neither to understand that nor to have learnt from the many wars that it conducts all over the place.