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Venezuela, imperialism and militarization

The response of the Venezuelan authorities to the Covid-19 outbreak confirms the depth of the militaristic thinking instilled in the country. Español

Rafael Uzcátegui
1 July 2020
The the Special Action Forces (FAES) closing stores and telling people to go home during the quarantine.
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SOPA Images/SIPA USA/PA Images

The relationship of the United States with Bolivarian Venezuela has been, as political scientist Carlos Romero describes it, "schizophrenic": "A government that demonizes the United States but at the same time obtains great commercial benefits from that country: Venezuela sends 1,300,000 barrels of oil and oil by-products daily to the U.S. market, 41% of total sales ".

While the tension between the two countries, which has intensified since the beginning of Donald Trump's presidency, is true, the reality refutes the myth that "the United States attacks the Bolivarian revolution for its interest in seizing Venezuelan oil". In fact, the company Chevron participates in four oil extraction projects within the country under the modality of "mixed companies", created by Hugo Chávez in 2007 to attract international private investment to the energy sector, which generates 9 out of every 10 dollars in the state budget.

The relationship is changing now, as the Trump administration has adopted a policy of "maximum pressure on Maduro", increasing the financial sanctions that will force Chevron to close its operations in Venezuela on December 1st. The decision is intended to influence the Latino vote in the upcoming U.S. elections in which Trump is seeking re-election. Despite some official rhetoric from White House officials who claim that "all options are on the table" to end Nicolas Maduro's rule, informed sources within the country have ruled out the possibility of military intervention. Geoff Ramsey, a member of the progressive NGO Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), has stated: "The United States has ruled out intervention for political reasons, they know it would be unpopular in the region because until now the Lima Group - coalition of Latin American governments - has been adamant in supporting a peaceful solution. And it would also be unpopular within the US, there is not much domestic support for military interventions in other countries after the experiences of Iran and Afghanistan. And even less so during election campaign season.

However, an honest discussion about imperialist interference in Venezuela must include Russia. In their strategy of building a "multipolar world" Hugo Chavez first and later Nicholas Maduro have made alliances with countries like Iran, North Korea, China, Turkey and Russia. The latter has invested $17 billion in oil and gas investments in Venezuela. Between the two nations there is an agreement to open the first Ak-103 rifle factory in Latin America, with the capacity to assemble 25,000 rifles and 60 million cartridges a year, and which was scheduled to open by the end of 2019. Until an economic crisis hit the country as a result of falling international oil and gas prices,

Venezuela led the region in arms imports, according to figures from the Stockholm Peace Research Institute (SIPRI). Its main supplier of weapons was Russia, which by 2012 sold military equipment for US$410 million. Between 2000 and 2009, Venezuela bought arms from the Russian state amounting to $2.068 billion. An example of Vladimir Putin's current influence is the military advice given by Russian officials to Venezuelan soldiers on the ground to face the recent attempt of armed invasion along the country's coasts, known as "Operation Gedeón”.

The first social policy implemented by Chavism, "Plan Bolívar 2000", was implemented by the Venezuelan army. Active, or retired, military personnel began to run ministries, governorships and mayoralties

The participation of the United States and Russia in the Venezuelan crisis has caused some analysts, such as Andrei Serbin of the Regional Coordination of Economic and Social Research (CRIES), to argue that the conflict has been transformed into a "geopolitical dispute", to which China's intervention has been added.

Covid-19 and militarism

Venezuela has a militaristic tradition that predates the Bolivarian revolution, which was deepened by the electoral victory of Hugo Chavez in late 1998. At the beginning of the democratic period, in 1958, the main parties - excluding the Communist Party - signed an alternative agreement known as the "Punto Fijo Pact" which, among other objectives, sought to "return the military to the barracks", subordinating them to the civilian authorities. And although they maintained an important role in the following decades, their open political belligerence began in 1999, when the new Constitution gave them the right to vote.

The first social policy implemented by Chavism, "Plan Bolívar 2000", was implemented by the Venezuelan army. Active, or retired, military personnel began to run ministries, governorships and mayoralties. Military logic, and not the logic of grassroots movements, was what organized the Bolivarian movement from the State, with vertical structures, names and a narrative based on the imaginary of the Armed Forces.

In 2013, expectations that a civilian president, Nicolas Maduro, would stop the militaristic trend quickly evaporated. One of his first decisions was to allow the participation of the military in public security tasks. In 2015, the so-called "People's Liberation Operations" (PLO) began, a joint effort between the military and police forces in working class neighbourhoods, which in its first five months resulted in 245 victims of violations of the right to life, according to the Public Prosecutor's Office.

In 2017, the PLOs were replaced by a new police force, the Special Action Forces (FAES), created to act in highly deadly operations (kidnappings and anti-terrorist operations), but which in practice became the leading player in citizen security operations similar to the PLO.

The grave human rights situation in Venezuela has been reflected in the latest country report of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, the results of which were released by Michelle Bachelet. On the FAES she states: "Thousands of people have been killed in alleged clashes with state forces in recent years.

There are reasonable grounds to believe that many of these deaths constitute extrajudicial executions perpetrated by the security forces, particularly the FAES", including in its recommendations: "Dissolve the FAES and establish an impartial and independent national mechanism to investigate extrajudicial executions."

In a September 2019 update on the situation in the country, Bachelet referred to the use of military courts against civilians when she rejected the five-year sentence against trade unionist Rubén González: "The application of military justice to try civilians constitutes a violation of the right to a fair trial, including the right to be tried by an independent and impartial court.”

The militarization that exists today in Venezuela is also reflected in the authorities' response to Covid-19.

Given its growing unpopularity, the Armed Forces are the main pillar of support for the government of Nicolás Maduro, whose management has caused more than four million Venezuelans to leave the country as forced migrants, according to UNHCR data. Persecution for political reasons is particularly hostile to disgruntled military personnel and the sector of Bolivarianism, known as "critical chavismo", which is opposed to his government.

According to Provea, 44 of its members have been arrested, harassed and dismissed from their jobs, with one case involving a person killed, Alí Domínguez, on 6th March 2019. Of the current figure of 402 political prisoners, according to the Penal Forum, two are military officers who held high office during the presidency of Hugo Chávez: Raúl Baduel and Miguel Rodríguez Torres.

The militarization that exists today in Venezuela is also reflected in the authorities' response to Covid-19. More than a health emergency, the virus is being confronted as a political and military enemy. A state of emergency decree has ordered a quarantine since the 13th March, 2020, similar to the rest of the world. What is different is the exclusion of medical and technical knowledge in the response, turning their backs on all sectors of society that are useful at this time.

The minister of health has been suppressed by the spokesperson, being taken over by the leadership of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela and the minister of defence. To maintain maximum control of information, only one laboratory has been authorized in the entire country to carry out screening tests, with a daily capacity for a maximum of 200 tests.

By taking advantage of the quarantine to increase the population's control mechanisms, the government has increased censorship to the point of criminalizing the only publicly disclosed report on possible infection scenarios by the Academy of Physical, Mathematical and Natural Sciences. In two months of quarantine, two people have been killed for participating in demonstrations for water, electricity and food, 22 journalists have been arrested for carrying out their journalistic work and 11 doctors have been detained for stating that they did not have enough medical supplies in the hospitals.

Venezuelan social and popular organizations have insisted on a democratic and peaceful solution to the conflict, where people can decide, in free elections, the destiny of the country, rejecting the interference of both the United States and Russia. The lack of the possibility of a non-violent solution is generating conditions for the emergence of violence.

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