The Shadow of Chile Falls on Venezuela

The mayoral elections campaign has seen an increase in economic sabotage aimed at incapacitating the government of President Nicolas Maduro and, says Francisco Dominguez, presents a threat not unlike that faced decades ago by Salvador Allende in Chile.


The mayoral elections campaign has seen an increase in economic sabotage aimed at incapacitating the government of President Nicolas Maduro and, says Francisco Dominguez, presents a threat not unlike that faced decades ago by Salvador Allende in Chile.

Mayoral elections are to be held in Venezuela on December 8. Every mayoralty will be contested and, as is the case in Venezuela’s vibrant democracy, both the right-wing coalition and Chavista candidates are busily campaigning up and down the country.

These municipal elections take place in a very different context to recent elections in Venezuela – they will be the first held since the death of Hugo Chavez.

They are also the first following the violent response of the right-wing opposition to the presidential election in April.

Venezuela’s anti-democratic opposition used the close election results to try to unseat the elected government of Nicolas Maduro. They alleged fraud but failed to provide any evidence.

Nonetheless, their leader Henrique Capriles encouraged opposition supporters to “vent their anger.” A wave of violence followed resulting in the death of 13 innocent people as well as the burning of vehicles, attacks on health centres, national electoral council buildings and houses of prominent members of the government.

The opposition also attempted to internationalise its false claim of fraud. Its political leaders travelled around the world linking up with right-wing politicians such as Jovino Novoa, senator for Chile’s extreme right Union Democratica Independiente (UDI). The establishment of UDI was encouraged and assisted by Pinochet’s dictatorship. Novoa notoriously served as general government undersecretary of the military dictatorship between 1979-1982.

This link with the Chilean right wing makes sense. The opposition in Venezuela is at the moment – just like its counterparts in Chile 40 years ago – waging economic war as a strategy to destabilise and bring down the government of President Maduro.

They are organising shortages of vital food and other day-to-day essentials, carrying out sabotage attacks against key facilities such as electricity plants, the metro and oil refineries.

All this echoes the strategy of president Nixon in Chile designed to “make the economy scream” to “prevent Allende from coming to power or to unseat him.”

As in Chile, they have unleashed psychological warfare in the media to sow confusion and despair among the poorest and most vulnerable as well as the middle classes.

The West’s mainstream media readily and uncritically lends support to this campaign. In October alone the Washington Post ran an editorial headlined Venezuela, On The Path To Implosion, the Miami Herald right on cue announced Desperation In Venezuela and the FT followed with Chaos In Caracas. Foreign Policy magazine ran a piece called Is The US Ready For A Venezuelan Meltdown?

Just as with the ousting of the democratically elected Salvador Allende in Chile the influence of the US looms large in Venezuela.

Key bodies of the US foreign policy apparatus are very actively intervening in the internal affairs of the country by channelling millions of dollars of taxpayers’ money into opposition political, social and media coffers.

President Maduro has denounced the destabilisation efforts saying that the Venezuelan right is not campaigning for elections but is instead focused on “insurrection.”

Former vice-president Jose Vicente Rangel – now a well respected journalist – warned of “a terrorist agenda of the opposition seeking to selectively assassinate Chavista leaders, ministers and high military officers, as well as terrorist attacks against the metro (underground), cable cars, state oil company installations, water supplies, supermarkets and electric installations.”

Maduro has explained that extremists in the opposition are seeking a “total collapse,” exploiting difficulties in the Venezuelan economy to create chaos or, at the very least, to give the strong impression of it among anxious sections of society. It hopes to provoke a “social explosion” that could see the government ousted.

In that context, one major concern is the recent statement by 45 Venezuelan retired military officers – including a dozen generals and admirals and a former defence minister – supporting a military intervention to replace the Maduro government which they claimed “would not be a coup d’état” but “defending sovereignty.”

The opposition is characterising the mayoral elections as a plebiscite against the Maduro government. They are seeking to popularise the idea that a setback for Maduro must lead to a new government.

This is a baseless line of argument as the pro-Chavista forces have a two-thirds majority in the National Assembly, 20 out of 23 state governors and 22 of 23 local state assemblies as well as just having just won a six-year presidential term for Maduro.

Furthermore, recent polls indicate that the government coalition will win a majority of the mayors.

In coming weeks calls from anti-democratic sections of the opposition for an end to the Maduro government are likely to get ever more shrill and should they, and their external sponsors, be able to carry out their plans successfully it would lead to a severe setback to democracy and social progress in Venezuela.

As in Chile 40 years ago, we would see the rise of a vicious regime trampling on all the democratic, social, political and economic rights that the Venezuelan majority secured over the past 15 years.

In Chile, Pinochet’s dictatorship lasted 17 years and an estimated 10,000 people were killed. So the stakes are very high in Venezuela. A setback there would be a massive blow to progress in the whole of Latin America.

Global solidarity with the elected government of Venezuela is vital. As Martin Luther King once said, “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”

Francisco Dominguez is head of Latin American Studies at Middlesex University and secretary of the Venezuela Solidarity Campaign (www.venezuelasolidarity.co.uk). He will be among the speakers at the Latin America 2013 Conference at Congress House (London) on Saturday December 7 on Chile: Remembering the Other 9/11 40 Years On – register and information at www.latinamericaconference.org.uk