Maria Paez Victor: Venezuela’s Political and Economic Advances

THE PROGRESS OF VENEZUELA
(transcript of webinar) 
María Páez Victor
 
What is progress for a country?
There is a marked tendency to consider progress as economic progress, and to consider economic progress in terms of GDP. This is a basic capitalist approach.

 But in Latin America we have an indigenous idea of what is progress, what is good for a people, a country; we have called it Buen Vivir and, also Vivir Bien and Eco-socialism follows in its wake. These approaches all have in common the view that the good life, the desired destiny of a people, the human development of a population cannot be defined by economic indicators alone, especially not by GDP. What is important is what we do with whatever products, surplus, services, wealth, we have collectively and how they are shared by all.

Neo-liberal economics, imposed for decades in Latin America by the United States, the IMF, and the World Bank, brought nothing but unmitigated poverty and inequality for the majority and splendid wealth for elites and foreign corporations.

Venezuela was an example: in 1999, the year Hugo Chávez won the presidential elections, despite its oil riches and the ubiquitous presence of corporate USA in the country, between 50% and 70% of the people were living poverty, a third in extreme poverty.

The Bolivarian Revolution started by President Chávez was particularly hated by the United States empire because it dared declare that the natural resources of the country belonged to the people not the corporations and that Venezuela was a sovereign country and would decide its own future by the ballots of its people, not by Washington, Ottawa, or London.  

Another reason was that it was a revolution with means. Oil revenues allowed the Bolivarian Revolution to make concrete strides in improving the life of its people. The real progress was the enhancement of the living conditions of Venezuelans that pushed the country 7 places in the UN Human Development Index by:
–        Elimination of illiteracy; education and training at all levels
–        Dramatic decrease in poverty and inequality
–        Based on the principle that health is a human right: medical services accessible and free  
–        Public housing, which has reached more than 3 million housing
–        Anti-poverty programs (misiones) dealing with a whole range of public necessities
–        Land reform, increased food security
–        A new constitution that put an end to neo-liberal elite privilege
–        A thriving participatory democracy that has had 29 elections in 22 years, with a pristine electoral system Jimmy Carter considered the best in the world.
–        And, the bedrock of the participatory democracy are the communal councils and communes, the backbone of the Bolivarian Revolution.

The US War on Venezuela after Chavez’ Death

When President Chávez tragically died, the United States thought the time was ripe to destroy the Bolivarian Revolution once and for all, overthrow Maduro who surely would be a weak leader, and kill the goose that lays the oil eggs that allows the economy to function. So Washington targeted Venezuela with a hybrid war aimed most pointedly at the economy. The economic war has been the most effective weapon of this amoral empire that has brought misery to the country: to destroy PDVSA – the oil industry- to destroy its currency, the bolivar, to isolate Venezuela from all international financial and commercial markets. To starve the people of food and medicines to get their surrender.

It has been very hard seven years of cruelty, persecution, harassment, blockade, sabotage, terrorist attacks, invasion attempts, assassination and coup attempts, and boycott. Venezuela has been hit with over 500 coercive unilateral measures that are wrongly called sanctions. Only the United Nations can legally impose sanctions, but Washington, acting as the world tsar, takes it upon itself to sanction whatever country it wants. And the sheepish nations of Canada and Europe have meekly obeyed the bully, especially as it pertains to a smaller, less powerful country which they feel they can kick around with impunity. There is a lot of racism and neo-colonialism about this.

A most serious geopolitical ramification of Washington’s war against Venezuela is the trashing of the international rule of law. The USA and its allies have violated the foundations of international peace: the United Nations’ Charter, the International Criminal Court of Justice and the Geneva Convention. They have violated them all, and it seems up to now, with impunity. This is a genuine threat to countries that are less powerful in the world and emboldens neo-colonialism.

During the two world wars, diplomats of both sides were respected. Today, the United States, gangster like, has kidnapped Venezuelan diplomat Alex Saab as he was procuring food and medicine for Venezuela. Saab was whisked away as his plane refueled in a third country. Just think: the nation of Roosevelt, Kennedy, Eisenhower, is now a nation that openly uses kidnapping, robbery, secret illicit wars, and assassinations, as if it were normal statesmanship.
 
Venezuela was turned into a piñata, looted in every way the USA and allies could which is extraordinary outside of outright military war.  
–        40 international banks have stolen Venezuelan assets worth over $6 billion.
–        Washington has appropriated properties and accounts including its CITGO oil company
–        Britain has stolen 31 tons of Venezuelan gold kept in the vaults of the Bank of England, on the basis that Nicolás Maduro is not the president of the country!  

All in all, Venezuela has been deprived of $350 billion – that is enough to pay for Venezuela’s social services for 26 years; it is 25 times the amount used to rebuild Europe after World War II. [in 2021 dollars the Marshall Plan still would have cost $150 billion].

And to add insult to injury, Washington handed over at least $470 million of Venezuelan funds to the puppet Juan Guaido, an obscure minor politician who, without any election and only the USA backing, proclaimed himself the real president of Venezuela. The United States has created this Frankenstein monster and his band of criminals who have robbed the nation, made pacts with Colombian narcotraffic gangs and with invading mercenaries, supported urban terrorism, and have called for the military invasion of their own country. Within Venezuela Guido is a despised laughingstock that even his own opposition followers have disowned.

Progress under President Maduro

However, in spite of it all, the hybrid war and its sanctions have failed to overthrow the legitimate government of Venezuela. The people rallied around its president and government against these foreign attacks, and President Maduro is more solidly placed politically than ever, as the defender of the nation.   

As well, a superhuman effort has been made to increase food security with more agricultural production, helped by rural communal councils, now Venezuela producing about 70% of its food. With the workers’ engagement, another immense effort has been made to diversify the economy, not just rely on oil or imports, and the country now produces infrastructure needs such as even drones and planes.

This is not to dismiss the damage done, but due to the solid progress that Venezuela had made previously it has been able to withstand the blows with:
·  a literate, educated population
·  a good network of free health and social services
·  a population engaged in collectives, communal councils and communes that take part in governance
·  enthusiasm for exercising the right to vote (29 times in 22 years),
·  and what that great pedagogical genius of Brazil, Paulo Freire called “concientización,” creating political consciousness in the population, that includes critical thought and awareness of the barriers and oppressive measures that hinder peoples’ Buen Vivir, their life circumstances.

 And times have changed!
The United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (CEPAL), estimates a positive growth for Venezuela of 3% in 2022 and some international banks are forecasting growth of 5 and 6%.

In the month of December 2020, inflation – that is the increase in prices- was 77.5%. The annual inflation for that entire year then was at 2,000%. One year later, in December of 2021, the monthly inflation dropped to 7.6%. No more hyperinflation!
In 2021 oil production increased by 33% over 2020. PDVSA (the Venezuelan oil company) is now producing 1 million barrels of oil daily as well as diesel and gasoline.  It has now begun exporting diluted crude oil which had not been possible because the USA’s sanctions prevented the country from buying the diluents it needs for Venezuela’s heavy oil. This is now possible with the agreements with Iran. Now in 2022 there is already an increase in production by 160,000 barrels daily, double what it produced exactly a year before.

So what has happened to turn the economy around?
There are 4 elements for this turn of events:
1.   President Maduro oversees a war economy
2.   International solidarity
3.   Rise in international oil prices
4.   The steadfastness of the Venezuelan people
 Let us look at these one by one.


  1.   President Maduro now oversees a war economy
President Nicolás Maduro has organized a war economy by passing an Anti-Blockade Legislation. That is, he is conducting economic affairs as a country at war would, because that is exactly Venezuela’s position.  

Washington wages a hybrid war against Venezuela, an undeclared war, masking to the world the violence and harm it is doing with platitudes and lies counting on the supine mainstream media to distribute their words. Because it is undeclared war it can say there is no war, and thus not comply with the international norms about waging war and even the US Congress’ norms about war. In declaring Venezuela a danger to the United States national security, the president can make many aggressive decisions simply by decree.

So as far the USA is concerned there is no war, only “sanctions” – which kill just as lethally as bullets do. These sanctions are equivalent to medieval sieges that surrounded cities to starve its citizens into surrender. In one year alone (2017-18), US economists Weisbrot and Sachs estimated 40,000 Venezuelans died because the country could not buy medicines, and the United Nations Human Rights Rapporteur Dr. Alfred De Zayas estimated that up to now, 100,000 Venezuelans have died for lack of medicines. Washington’s illegal sanctions are crimes against humanity and violate international law.

But it happens that President Maduro and his economic team have turned out to be excellent geopolitical chess players and have found viable avenues to lead their country towards the light at the end of the tunnel.

Defining Venezuela as a war economy has meant that the government has the right to secretly implement measures to combat the illegal sanctions and circumvent the barriers to producing, buying and selling in the open market, thus protecting its investors from public scrutiny and the eyes of the empire.  

      2.  Real International solidarity.
Solidarity is a cornerstone principle of Socialism and of Christianity and many other religions, of Humanism, and of any and all international peace initiatives.

Venezuela has been fortunate. It has counted on the sterling international solidarity of Cuba, Russia, China, Turkey and Iran, and many other non-aligned countries that have brought food, medicines and infrastructure needs to Venezuela, at great danger to themselves.  

In terms of petroleum, an agreement with Iran’s oil company made possible the refurbishing of its oil industry, with the supply of needed parts, of reconfiguring an industry that had been built mostly with US technology. Iran – another nation that is sanctioned by the USA – helped with its technical expertise and by bringing diluents and gasoline. And Iran helped modify its production and marketing strategies. Russia has also invested in the Venezuelan oil industry, and China has helped by buying Venezuela’s oil despite US threats.

During a horrific world pandemic, Washington used disease as a weapon as it tried to block Venezuela from receiving vaccines. Cuba, Russia, and China demonstrated their genuine solidarity and stepped up to supply vaccines and medical equipment and today more than 90% of Venezuelans are vaccinated. With the help of Cuba, Venezuela will soon start producing the Cuban vaccine Abdala.

      3.  Rise in oil prices.
There is no other product in the market that is trickier, more complex to predict than the rise and fall of oil prices, which is subject, not just to demand and supply, but also to all kinds of manipulations by the powerful countries and OPEC. The economic slowdown due to the pandemic was also an influence.

In a classic case of cutting off your nose to spite your face, by stomping on Venezuela’s oil industry, the United States has now experienced oil and gasoline shortages and has increased its oil imports from Russia, which is highly ironic. It could have had the business of buying from Venezuela which is located so very nearby. It takes a Venezuelan tanker 4 days to reach Louisiana. It takes 40 days for a tanker from the Middle East to reach the States. Before this hybrid war, Venezuela sold all of its oil to the USA, now it has found other, more amenable, customers.

Even the USA Chamber of Commerce now admits this failure of the sanctions and bemoans that USA corporations have lost billions of dollars because of them.

So prices have shot up. Oil prices increased by 179% in 2021 and today the price of a barrel is around $90 (Brent Crude, Jan. 26, 2022). This has greatly helped Venezuela.

4. The steadfastness of the Venezuelan people
When President Maduro presented his end of year account to the National Assembly a week ago, he lauded and thanked his people recognizing that the economic achievements are a collective, shared, national triumph. He particularly thanked the workers and he thanked business people too, the new business people, of small and medium enterprises, that are actively producing the goods and services that the population really needs.

Not the upper-class rapacious business elite that has so feverishly opposed him and his government, that despises him because he was for 9 years a bus driver and union leader in Caracas. An elite that has colluded with urban terrorists and foreign powers to overthrow him, that has sabotaged the economy with hoarding and stopping production not caring how much it hurts the people.  

Nicolas Maduro, the Worker President, whose education is due thanks to his rise in the unions and studies in Cuba, has not set aside Venezuela’s Socialism of the 21 Century. He knows the difference between a market and capitalism. Every modern society has a market, that is, buying and selling. It is capitalism where the means of production are owned and controlled by an oligarchy and not those who do the real work. Worse still, when significant portions of the population do not even reap any benefit from the wealth that is created, when they are marginalized.

The Bolivarian Revolution of Venezuela is committed to eliminating the marginalization of its people. Venezuela, according to its Constitution, is based on a mixed economy where there is private property but also state property, communal property, social property and where the key industries and services are not in the private sector, but in hands of the people such as the oil industry, mining, electricity, water, and telecommunications. And where the communal state – communal councils and communes- are active participants in governance.

One of Venezuela’s most well-known Bolivarian economists is Pascualina Curcio. She has explained how the devastating attack on the currency, the bolivar, was done through social media and with the help of the rating agencies. The value of the bolivar was simply invented, made up, then propagated. To stop this, the government then allowed a partial dollarization, whereby the US dollar has become the unit for prices, for payments and it circulates along with the bolívar. Polls show that 60% of commercial transactions are done with the dollar.

But workers are generally paid with the bolivar, especially public workers, and this creates an inequality. Instruments to face this situation have been:
–        The PETRO, the digital currency,
–        Using several international currencies like the Euro, the Chinese Yuan and Russian Ruble, that circulate with the bolívar.
–        Using electronic transactions, using people’s cell phones for all sorts of payments, even taxes and utility payments, so that the issue of the currency is bypassed.

Another tool against inequality are the boxes of subsidized foodstuffs that reach over 6 million families twice a month, at a very low price of $100 bolívares ($US 21). It is a measure of how much domestic production has increased that 70% of the food in these boxes is home grown.

And one must not forget the significant democratic triumph of the recent regional elections on the 21 of November 2021. After making more than 100 calls to the opposition parties for peace and negotiation, at last, President Maduro was able to hold negotiations in Mexico with them. As a result, all the opposition political parties took part in the November elections, even those that had up to now refused to recognize the legitimacy of the Venezuelan government.   Furthermore, the opposition won the governorship of 4/23 states and 59/263 mayoralties and accepted the electoral outcomes.  

What kind of supposed dictatorship is this that allows its opponents to run in elections and win? It was truly a demonstration of the robustness of Venezuelan democracy. The USA and Canada do not wish to recognize this and look foolish. Whereas the European Union, and the United Nations, have recognized the legitimacy of these elections.

Venezuela is on the right path in doing its best never again to fall into the hands of any power of the North as these trash international and contractual laws when it suits them and disregard the sovereignty of other countries. Venezuela’s international friends and allies lie elsewhere.

Venezuela is the site of the most creative, most democratic, and most significant struggle for democracy and for socialism in the world today. If you consider yourself a progressive, a humanist, a person of justice and peace, then you should be defending Venezuela most rigorously. The implications for the world, for the region, and for peace are very great indeed, and much will depend on the struggle taking place now in Venezuela.

So, congratulations are in order for a wise President Maduro and his courageous Venezuelan people who have stared the empire in the eye and said:
We are a free and sovereign nation; we fought and won our Independence against the formidable Spanish Empire in the 19th Century and we will win our sovereignty again in the 21st against another formidable empire.
VENCEREMOS 

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