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The Internationalist
February 2019

Trump Picks Puppet, Calls for Military Revolt, Threatens Invasion … and Democrats Applaud

For Revolutionary Workers Action
to Smash U.S. Coup in Venezuela!

Internationalist contingent at February 23 "No War in Venezuela" protest in New York City. Internationalists and Haitian activists chanted, “Haiti, Venezuela – Same struggle, same fight – Workers of the world unite!” (Internationalist photo)

Defend Venezuela Against Yankee Imperialism!

For Armed Workers Militias to Crush U.S. Stooge Guaidó and Rightist Plotters
For a Military Bloc with the Bolivarian Militias – No Confidence in Maduro

Not a Bourgeois Populist Military Regime But a Workers and Peasants Government
Forge a Trotskyist Party to Fight for International Socialist Revolution!

Down with Sanctions on Venezuela – For Revolutionary Defense of Cuba, China, North Korea and Vietnam Against Imperialism and Counterrevolution!

The article below was distributed as a leaflet at February 23 “No War on Venezuela” protests in New York and Oakland, California. For a report on a January 26 NYC demonstration against the coup in Venezuela, see the Internationalist Group/Revolutionary Internationalist Youth blog, Revolutionaries in the Class Struggle.

On January 23, the international (imperialist) media suddenly announced the “breaking news” that a certain Juan Guaidó, the head of the National Assembly legislature in Venezuela, had declared himself president of the country, claiming that the actual elected president, Nicolás Maduro, was illegitimate. Within minutes, U.S. president Donald Trump recognized the pretend-president, and in little more than an hour, right-wing governments in Latin America and Canada followed suit. Europe signed on to the operation a week later. In the U.S., top Democrats in Congress joined Republicans in praising Trump’s move. This is a naked imperialist coup d’état – and working people the world over must act to crush it.

However, to the chagrin of the coup plotters in Washington and their toadies in Caracas, the Maduro government did not fall. The military brass declared its loyalty and ridiculed the would-be “president-in-charge” appointed by Trump. Repeated calls on the Venezuelan military – by U.S. vice president Mike Pence, the secretary of state Mike Pompeo, the national security advisor John Bolton and Republican senator Marco Rubio – to topple the president (in the name of “democracy,” of course) went nowhere. In subsequent days there were large mobilizations (unreported in the imperialist media) in the capital and major cities around Venezuela denouncing the coup.

So in a dramatic escalation, on February 18 the commander in chief of U.S. imperialism went to Miami to deliver a sabre-rattling speech to the counterrevolutionary mafias of Cuban and Venezuelan exiles, denouncing the “tyrannical socialist government” of Venezuela which “nationalized private industries”; threatening to go after Nicaragua and Cuba; denouncing “those who would try to impose socialism on the United States”; and warning the Venezuelan military to break with the regime or else “you will find no safe harbor, no easy exit, and no way out. You will lose everything.” In case anyone missed it, he added: “We seek a peaceful transition of power, but all options are open.”

This blatant threat of a U.S. military invasion was tied to a warning not to block the delivery of “humanitarian aid” which the U.S. has been sending on military planes to stockpile across the border in Cúcuta, Colombia and in Brazil. Having received his orders, the next day the imperialist puppet Guaidó announced a deadline, that the military had four days, until Saturday, February 23, to make up its mind, as a caravan was going to the Colombian border to “receive” the “aid.” This sets the stage for a conflict with Venezuelan troops guarding the border. If there are civilian casualties, which is what the putschists intend, this would be denounced as a massacre and serve as the signal for a U.S./Colombian invasion.

Megabillionaire Richard Branson portrays himself as savior.

A deadly imperialist provocation is underway in Venezuela. If there are casualties, the responsibility lies entirely with the U.S. coup-mongers and their stooges, who are clearly looking for a casus belli – a phony “cause of war,” like “Remember the Alamo” in the 1848 U.S. war to seize half of Mexico, or “Remember the Maine” in the 1898 imperialist war to seize Puerto Rico, Cuba and Philippines as U.S. colonies. Since they can’t conjure up “weapons of mass destruction,” the ploy used to sell the U.S.’ 2003 invasion of Iraq, Trump & Co. want the visuals of dead bodies and troops stopping “humanitarian aid.” In the midst of this scenario, British multibillionaire Sir Richard Branson announced a “Venezuela Aid Live” rock concert at the border bridge in Cúcuta. An ad shows Branson holding the world in his hands. Maduro responded with plans for a concert on the Venezuelan side at another bridge.

As the situation careens toward a showdown, the Internationalist Group and League for the Fourth International call to defend Venezuela against the imperialist onslaught, whether by military attack or a U.S.-ordered coup. There should be no mistaking what the consequences would be if the imperialists and their puppets overthrow the populist “Bolivarian Revolution” proclaimed by Hugo Chávez. The local oligarchy and the Yankee imperialists have unrelentingly sought to bring it down for 20 years, including a failed coup against Chávez in 2002 and the attempted assassination of his successor Maduro in a drone attack last August. Though Venezuela is very much a capitalist country, and the bonapartist regime is bourgeois-nationalist, belying its socialist pretensions, its maverick foreign policy (above all the aid it provided Cuba) and defiant stance toward Uncle Sam have made it a target for imperialist aggression.

A takeover by the ultra-rightist forces using Guaidó as a figurehead, and the squalid bourgeois opposition (referred to as los escuálidos) with their visceral hatred of the “unwashed masses” of plebeian chavistas would surely lead to a bloody settling of accounts. There would be murders of members of the ruling party, the PSUV (United Socialist Party of Venezuela), quite likely a reign of terror in the hillside shantytown neighborhoods that were PSUV strongholds, hunting down militant trade-unionists and peasant leaders, and a brutal repression of leftists in general, including the many who have become critical of the capitalist policies of Maduro.

The pretender: Juan Guaidó swears himself in as U.S.-appointed fake president of Venezuela, January 23. (Federico Parra / AFP)

Success for this coup for “democracy” would include a draconian curtailment of democratic rights by turncoat generals who had switched sides. And the economic policies pursued by the golpistas (coup plotters) would make the austerity imposed by Maduro pale in comparison. Their Plan País (plan for the country), presented by Guaidó last month, calls to “reestablish market mechanisms and economic freedoms.” What that means is reducing to absolute penury the millions who have withstood privations because of subsidized food and medicine, and cheap fuel (whose price would be lifted to international levels).

Should Trump carry out his “military option,” which saner heads in Washington have counseled against, it could touch off a civil war in Venezuela. If careerist generals decide to go over to the coup plotters, it could lead to a bloodbath. In this grave situation, the Trotskyists of the LFI call for powerful workers action to smash the U.S. coup. In particular, this includes the formation of armed workers militias to crush Guaidó and the putschists remote-controlled from the White House. That would involve a military bloc with the Bolivarian militias against the coup-makers, but in order to unchain the enormous potential power of the working class, the force capable of decisively crushing the counterrevolutionaries, proletarian revolutionaries insist that it is vital to maintain political and organizational independence from the bourgeois government.

Striking workers of Polar Socialista union in June 2015 protest. During the 104-day strike, sicarios (gunmen) kidnapped union leader. The next year Polar enterprises fired over 10,000 workers. Unionists should take over the food and beverage monopoly and impose workers control.  (Photo: Polar Socialista)

Only a revolutionary struggle can defeat the imperialist takeover, the ruinous status quo is untenable. This means independently mobilizing to carry out transitional demands that attack the foundations of capitalist rule. Against hyperinflation, workers should impose a sliding scale of wages indexed to the cost of living. Employees should seize imperialist firms and domestic capitalist conglomerates, such as Banco Bradesco, the key to money-laundering by Venezuelan capitalists and the boliburguesía (“Bolivarian” bourgeoisie). Class-conscious unionists should impose workers control of industry to stop economic sabotage. Food supplies can be secured by taking over the Polar food and beverage monopoly and ensuring distribution through union-backed neighborhood committees to prevent hoarding.

Above all, while fighting against the coup, the working class must place no confidence in Maduro and the PSUV, whose policies of capitalist austerity (in part due to and certainly aggravated by criminal imperialist sanctions) led to the present desperate economic situation for the masses and thus have actually paved the way for the coup. For years, while many leftists politically supported Chávez – not so much with Maduro, though still invoking the threadbare “Bolivarian Revolution” – some consummate opportunists have sided with the putschists (while cynically claiming to oppose imperialism). Others declare a treacherous “neutrality” (“neither Maduro nor Guaidó”), which means tacitly going along with the golpe.

In contrast, the League for the Fourth International seeks to forge a revolutionary workers party on the program of Lenin and Trotsky, to fight for a workers and peasants government in Venezuela and international socialist revolution. This includes militant action to defend Cuba – the secondary target of Trump’s Venezuela gambit – and the other bureaucratically deformed workers states (China, North Korea, Vietnam). It means solidarity with the Haitian revolt, and fighting for independence for Puerto Rico in a socialist federation of the Caribbean, part of a socialist united states of Latin America. In the U.S., we call for workers strikes against an invasion of Venezuela.

Bipartisan Imperialist Coup Made in U.S.A.

Since naming Guaidó “president in charge” of Venezuela, serving as a kind of U.S. chargé d’affaires on January 23, the Trump administration has seized Venezuelan assets in the U.S. – mainly the Citgo oil company – and banned imports of oil from the Venezuelan state oil company, PDVSA, as well as prohibiting exports of refined fuel needed to dilute Venezuela’s heavy crude for transport. This will cut off much of the beleaguered country’s source of hard currency to pay for vitally needed imports of everything from food to medicine and machinery. The intended effect is to prepare the way for the imperialist takeover by strangling Venezuela economically, causing even more widespread food shortages, and to shut down its oil industry. Recall when U.S. sanctions on Iraq ordered by Democrat Bill Clinton caused the deaths of more than a million Iraqis, leading up to the 2003 invasion by Republican George Bush II (with the support of many Congressional Democrats).

How U.S. exports “democracy” to Latin America. Trump’s point man for organizing coup in Venezuela, Elliott Abrams, was in charge of covering up the December 1981 El Mozote massacre (right) in El Salvador for the Reagan administration. Almost 800 villagers were confirmed killed by the U.S.-trained Atlacatl Brigade, including numerous children.   (Photo: Susan Meiselas / Magnum Photos)

Trump’s asset seizure was followed up by putting Elliott Abrams in charge of the Venezuela operation. In the Reagan administration, Abrams was in charge of covering up the infamous massacre of peasants at El Mozote, El Salvador, where a U.S.-trained battalion slaughtered an entire village, children included. Later he was convicted for lying to the U.S. Congress about the secret Iran-contra deal to covertly supply weapons to the cutthroat army of counterrevolutionaries (“contras”) attacking the left-nationalist Sandinista government in Nicaragua. Now Abrams is supervising the coup in Venezuela, and is currently in Cúcuta, Colombia together with Cuban gusano senator Marco Rubio, overseeing the “emergency supplies” provocation Trump hopes to use as a pretext for war.

The Venezuelan government has charged that weapons for the coup plotters would be mixed in with the “humanitarian” cargo, which is one of the ways the U.S. armed the Nicaraguan contras. Meanwhile, U.S. special forces are reportedly arriving in Colombia, and a U.S. Navy strike force around the aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln is on pre-deployment exercises off Florida. Trump has been pushing for U.S. military action almost since he took office. The recent memoir by fired deputy FBI director Andrew McCabe, The Threat, recounted an August 2017 Oval Office meeting:

“Then the president talked about Venezuela. That’s the country we should be going to war with, he said. They have all that oil and they’re right on our back door.”

Last year, the Associated Press (4 July 2018) reported about the same meeting:

“President Donald Trump turned to his top aides and asked an unsettling question: With a fast unraveling Venezuela threatening regional security, why can’t the US just simply invade the troubled country?... [H]e pointed to what he considered past cases of successful gunboat diplomacy in the region, according to the official, like the invasions of Panama and Grenada in the 1980s.”

Tens of thousands at February 2 rally in Caracas against the rightist/imperialist coup attempt. (Photo: AP)

But Venezuela is not Grenada or Panama. The Bolivarian National Armed Forces have 350,000 troops between the Army and National Guard, and over 1.6 million members of the uniformed Bolivarian Militia, which quadrupled in size in the last year. They have given every indication that they would fight. While presently unarmed, militia members have undergone military training, and beginning in early February they carried out joint exercises with the army at military bases around the country. If the coup succeeds, the chavistas know they will be targeted. And by so openly proclaiming U.S. sponsorship of the attempted overthrow, Trump may have stoked nationalist resistance among the poor and working people who make up the militia ranks.

This is not your usual U.S.-backed coup d’état as has occurred so often in Latin America, most recently in Honduras in 2009, or the bloody Pinochet coup in Chile in 1973. There the local bourgeoisie took the initiative, with crucial backing from the Yankee imperialists. What is going on now is a straight-out U.S. imperialist operation, totally orchestrated by Washington. The puppet figure placed at the head, Guaidó, was a political nobody. He wasn’t even head of the National Assembly until the U.S. secreted him out of the country in December to present him to the new rightist-military government of Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil, death-squad president Ivan Duque in Colombia and U.S. officials in Washington.

Coup central: U.S. embassy in Caracas. Old Latin American leftist joke: “Why has there never been a coup d'état in the United States? Answer: Because there is no U.S. embassy in Washington.” (Photo: Meridith Kohut for The New York Times)

The scenario of having this marionette named president of the “National Assembly” and then proclaim himself president of the country was cooked up by the U.S. The Wall Street Journal (26 January) reported that Pence gave Guaidó the go-ahead in a phone call the night before. If the plot succeeds, the oil industry is to be handed over to U.S. multinationals, while the U.S. dollar will become the national currency. So instead of being a semi-colony of U.S. imperialism, as Venezuela has been throughout the last century along with most of Latin America, it would become a direct colony in all but name, with no more real independence than Haiti has today under the U.S. boot, or the West African countries whose currency is controlled by France.

Today the media are full of stories about food shortages and lack of medicines, but they don’t mention that these are in good part the result of the U.S.’ economic war on Venezuela. The United Nations special rapporteur Alfred de Zayas, who traveled to Venezuela in 2017, reported that: “The effects of sanctions imposed by Presidents Obama and Trump and unilateral measures by Canada and the European Union have directly and indirectly aggravated the shortages in medicines such as insulin and anti-retroviral drugs.” Now the U.S. has seized $7 billion of Venezuela’s assets, while the U.K. stole $1.2 billion of Venezuelan gold held there, and cynically offered a few million in “humanitarian aid”!

In the war on Bolivarian Venezuela, the Democrats have been on board from the start, and in the driver’s seat much of the time. While Trump has just declared a “national emergency” in order to build his wall along the Mexican border, it should be recalled that Democrat Barack Obama declared a national emergency in 2015 to clamp U.S. economic sanctions on the country. Those sanctions banned the transfer of billions of dollars in profits from the PDVSA’s U.S. subsidiary, Citgo, and made it impossible for Maduro to renegotiate Venezuela’s external debt. So as a capitalist government subject to the dictatorship of the market, despite its radical rhetoric, Venezuela kept paying billions to the imperialist banks while imports of food were sharply cut.

Even before Trump “recognized” his stooge Guaidó as puppet Venezuelan president, Democratic Congressional leaders, including senators Richard Durbin and Robert Menendez, were calling on the U.S. to do so. We have already noted how in the State of the Union speech to Congress, Democratic senator Kirsten Gillibrand and House speaker Nancy Pelosi applauded Trump’s bragging about his “bold move” to overthrow Maduro, and how even supposed “democratic socialist” Democrats like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Rashida Tlaib voted for $20 million to “promote democracy and the rule of law in Venezuela” (see “Imperialist Feminism and the Democrats,” The Internationalist, February 2019).

Democrats who have dared to buck the bipartisan consensus on Venezuela have been few and far between. One was Representative Ilhan Omar of Minnesota who, in a House hearing on February 14, grilled Trump’s point man on Venezuela Elliott Abrams, asking if he would “support an armed faction within Venezuela that engages in war crimes, crimes against humanity or genocide if you believed they were serving U.S. interests, as you did in Guatemala, El Salvador and Nicaragua.”

At February 14 Congressional hearing, Rep. Ilhan Omar grills Trump's Venezuela coup organizer Elliott Abrams about his role organizing death squads in Central America. (NBC News)

Shortly before that, Omar, one of the first Muslim women elected to Congress, was targeted by a vile hit job of false accusations of anti-Semitism for telling the truth about the American Israel Public Affairs Committee: that AIPAC, the self-proclaimed official Zionist lobby that quite literally buys support for Israel. (See, for example, the “Congressional Club” on the AIPAC web site). Top Democrats demanded that Omar apologize, and when she yielded, she was stabbed in the back by “AOC,” who praised her forced apology – thereby giving her stamp of approval to the grotesque equation of anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism. We say, Ilhan Omar had nothing to apologize for – and the Democratic Party has shown once again how it gags any opposition to imperialism.

Now there are a few belated protests in the U.S. against intervention in Venezuela, almost entirely focused on denouncing Trump. There may be some routine criticisms of the Democrats, but the small size of these demonstrations is testimony to the fact that, unlike protests over the wars on Iraq or Vietnam, they have very few Democratic Party politicians to put on the platforms of their antiwar “popular front” coalitions. From Fox News to the New York Times and the London Guardian, the craven “mainstream media” pump out a steady stream of lies. There is almost monolithic imperialist support for Trump’s assault on Venezuela, even from the most virulent “Russiagate” conspiracy mongers.

Fight Imperialist War with Class War!

Internationalists protest on Wall Street, February 23: “Smash Imperialism with International Socialist Revolution”. (Internationalist photo)

Yankee imperialism is on a rampage, and its pawns and allies are joining the onslaught. Even the few governments that have resisted going all the way with Trump, like Uruguay, or Mexico under populist president Andrés Manuel López Obrador, are promoting a “soft coup,” talking of non-intervention while calling on the Maduro government to engage in “dialogue” with the conspirators seeking to topple the Bolivarian regime. The fact is that in order to combat the assault on Venezuela, as well as the U.S. wars and coups from Afghanistan to Honduras, it is necessary to take on the imperialist system itself. This was the lesson of the massive Vietnam antiwar mobilizations, when Democratic “doves” quickly turned into war hawks over Israel and the Middle East.

Over Venezuela as well, revolutionaries call to fight imperialist war with class war. This is sharply counterposed to the policy of bourgeois populist nationalists like Maduro and Chávez, who vainly hoped to achieve “peaceful coexistence” with imperialism and domestic capital. Now we are seeing the bitter fruits of their failed quest. In order to smash the coup, it is necessary to mobilize the working class, independently of and against all capitalist parties and politicians.

The current assault on Venezuela is a dramatic confirmation of the validity of Leon Trotsky’s program of permanent revolution, which holds that in this era of decaying capitalism, even to achieve the gains of the bourgeois revolutions, including national independence, democracy and agrarian revolution, it is necessary for the working class, leading the peasantry and all the oppressed, to take power in a socialist revolution that extends to the imperialist heartland. From Venezuela to the U.S., the struggle to build a revolutionary internationalist vanguard on the Bolshevik program of Lenin and Trotsky is the task of the League for the Fourth International today. ■