Venezuela: US Imperialism in Practice

In January 2011 more than 600 (mostly young) people packed into a central London venue to hear speakers ranging from Tariq Ali to Hanan Chehata discuss ‘What is Imperialism?’ My friend Jody McIntyre, who also spoke, later explained why he had helped organise the event. It was “to bring together young people from all sections of society, to discuss and educate ourselves on one of humanity’s biggest enemies: Imperialism.”


One of the great successes of the event was that it engaged young people with a concept that the traditional left has had little success in communicating to a wider audience.

Late last year Jody and I travelled to Venezuela, a country that has been the repeated victim of US imperialism since Hugo Chavez assumed the presidency in 1999.

11 of April 2012 marked 10 years since a US government-backed coup briefly removed Hugo Chavez from power. Chavez was kidnapped from the presidential palace and flown to an island off the mainland where he was kept hostage by forces loyal to the new dictatorship. Less than two days later, through a combination of mass street demonstrations calling for his return and army officers loyal to the constitution the coup was overturned and Chavez was reinstated as president.

These dramatic events were captured in the incredible documentary ‘The Revolution Will Not be Televised’ made by Irish filmmakers who were in the presidential palace when Chavez was kidnapped.

As we celebrate the 10th anniversary of this notable victory for people power it’s also worth remembering how key members of the west’s political and media class reacted to the coup at the time. So-called ‘liberal’ media outlets from the BBC to The Guardian and members of the then Labour government were happy to grossly misreport, even celebrate, yet another US-supported assault on democracy in Latin America. Imperialism always needs accomplices.

And this is what the spokesperson of the IMF, imperialism’s chief economic arm, had to say on Friday 12 April, just hours after Chávez had been kidnapped from the presidential palace.

“We stand ready to assist the new administration in whatever manner they find suitable.”

Imperialism always has “technocrats” happy to carry out orders.

Since then the US has been unrelenting in its pursuit to isolate the Chavez government with the ultimate aim of removing Chavez from power. US academic William Robinson has neatly explained US imperialism’s strategy for Venezuela:

“I think the US is pursuing a more sophisticated strategy of intervention that we could call a war of attrition. We have seen this strategy in other countries, such as in Nicaragua in the 1980s, or even Chile under Allende. It is what in CIA lexicon is known as destabilization, and in the Pentagon’s language is called political warfare – which does not mean there is not a military component. This is a counterrevolutionary strategy that combines military threats and hostilities with psychological operations, disinformation campaigns, black propaganda, economic sabotage, diplomatic pressures, the mobilization of political opposition forces inside the country, carrying out provocations and sparking violent confrontations in the cities, manipulation of disaffected sectors and the exploitation of legitimate grievances among the population. The strategy is deft at taking advantage of the revolution’s own mistakes and limitations, such as corruption, clientalism, and opportunism, which we must acknowledge are serious problems in Venezuela. It is also deft at aggravating and manipulating material problems, such as shortages, price inflation, and so forth. The goal is to destroy the revolution by making it unworkable, by exhausting the population’s will to continue to struggle to forge a new society, and in this way to undermine the revolution’s mass social base. “

But as Venezuelans have already shown, US imperialism is up against a formidable opponent. Jody and I visited Venezuela to make a film about the country’s Hip Hop Revolucion (HHR) movement, an inspiring collective of musical revolutionaries. Founded in 2003 to bring together like-minded young people from across Venezuela, HHR has organised several international revolutionary hip-hop festivals in the country, and created 31 hip-hop schools across the country, which teenagers attend in conjunction with their normal day-to-day schooling.

HHR told us that normally those attending the hip-hop schools learn hip-hop skills for four days a week and have one day a week of political discussion. However, in some schools those attending had decided they preferred the ratio the other way round. Once participants have ‘graduated’ from the course, they are encouraged to become tutors to the next batch of attendees. Most graduates come from low-income backgrounds, and many go on to establish schools in their local areas.

Our trip to Venezuela also coincided with the inauguration and first ever conference of CELAC, the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States. Thirty-three presidents from all of the countries of the Americas (except the US and Canada) were in Caracas for the event. CELAC’s importance in creating a future regional bloc to counter US imperialism cannot be overstated. 

This was understood by Jamil, a member of HHR. “CELAC is the most important development in the last 200 years’, he told us. “We respect Chávez because he understands our struggle, but we are always looking to be self-critical in order to keep our revolution moving in the right direction.

‘I’m a revolutionary from my heart. Chavez fucks around and flips on us, we’re gonna flip on him. And that’s what I think he expects from us. You know what I mean? That’s why he is so serious with his proposals and with what he does. He has the confidence that he won’t flip on the people. And he understands that capitalism is crumbling. And this is our time, this is our moment, you know, for Latin America, for Venezuela and for us.’

As Seumas Milne, another speaker at the London event on imperialism said: “Our job is to oppose and expose imperialism, and to fight for an alternative to the economic order that drives it.”

In Venezuela and Latin America this is already happening and the Hip Hop Revolucion collective are on the frontline of that struggle.

Support the ‘Hip Hop Revolucion’ documentary: http://www.alborada.net/hhr-donate