In a recent op-ed in the New York Times titled “How to Fix the Mess in Venezuela”, former Peruvian President Alejandro Toledo dutifully recites the tired litany of fabrications and distortions which have long become standard fare in international media coverage of the Bolivarian Republic.
The ex-president begins by chastising Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro for allegedly responding to economic difficulties with a “crackdown” that he suggests has included jailing opposition leaders on “questionable charges” as well as “peaceful protesters”.
According to Mr. Toledo, the Bolivarian government is exceptional for refusing to tolerate the violent street barricades erected by the Venezuelan opposition in 2014, and the ensueing unrest that resulted in 43 dead, over half of whom government supporters and security personnel, and caused millions in public property damage.
By this same logic, Venezuela is singled out for pressing charges against opposition leaders such as Leopoldo Lopez, leader of the 2014 mobilizations that unabashedly called for the “Exit” of democratically-elected Maduro, and Antonio Ledezma, who together with Lopez signed a statement released just 24 hours prior to February 12’s “Blue Coup” attempt calling for the ouster of the socialist president.
It is precisely this glaring double standard towards Venezuela that allows Toledo and 25 other ex-presidents- including notorious human rights abusers Alvaro Uribe, Felipe Calderon, Alfredo Cristiani, (while Toledo himself currently faces trial for corruption)- to accuse the Bolivarian government of human rights violations.
In this twisted, orwellian world where corrupt oligarchs and profligate desk murderers parade as human rights crusaders, the violently anti-democratic Venezuelan Right is miraculously transformed into the peaceful, law-abiding victim of an authoritarian regime.
In reality, the US-backed Venezuelan opposition has since the election of Hugo Chavez in 1998 tried tirelessly to violently overthrow the Bolivarian government. From the temporarily successful US-supported coup in 2002 and opposition-led oil strike later that year to the 2014 guarimbas and the thwarted “Blue Coup” plot this February, Venezuela’s oligarchic elites have stubbornly refused to recognize the popular majority government that has triumphed in 17 of the country’s last 18 elections.
Echoing Peruvian President Humala’s speech at the Summit of the Americas last week, Mr. Toledo ridicules the Venezuelan head of state’s warnings about the very real threat of US imperialism, urging him to “shed… [his] conspiratorial mind-set and authoritarian instincts”. Belittling the danger of US aggression in one sentence, he calls for foreign intervention in another, suggesting that the “international community keep up external pressure”.
This of course begs the question, namely what “international community” is Mr. Toledo referring to?
The overwhelming majority of global South nations have stood up in solidarity with Venezuela against US imperialism. In the last month, in response to the US Executive Order which branded Venezuela a “national security threat” multilateral blocs includings the CELAC, UNASUR, ALBA, the Non-Aligned Movement, and the G77+China, manifested support for Venezuela, together representing a global majority.
If by “international community” Toledo means the United States, he effectively reveals his status as a political artifact in a region that is, in the words of Ecuador’s Rafael Correa, on the march towards its “second independence”.
The recent Summit of the Americas saw numerous heads of state denouncing US imperialist aggression to the very face of the sitting US president. The only major exceptions were Mexico’s Peña Nieto and Peru’s Humala who relished the opportunity to cozy up to Washington, cynically denying the reality of empire. Perhaps for the two leaders as well as for Toledo, US imperialism is so conveniently denied, because doing so hides their own complicity. During his presidency, Toledo championed a free trade agreement with the US, opening Peru to US multinationals and the consequent damage to labor, environmental and indigenous rights. Today, Humala’s permissiveness of US military in the Andean nation in a highly unpopular stance.
Disparaging President Nicolas Maduro’s economic management, Alejandro Toledo feigns concern for the “ordinary working people” of Venezuela who he claims are menaced by “rising inequality”. Quite the contrary, the Bolivarian Revolution headed by Chavez and Maduro has seen Venezuela become the least unequal country in Latin America.
Between 1998 and 2014, Venezuela halved average unemployment to 5.5%, slashed poverty from 41% to 27%, boosted university enrollment from 27% to 72%, dramatically increased social spending from 37% to 61%, cut malnutrition from 21% to 2%, and significantly reduced inequality from .47 to .38. Mr. Toledo does not even give passing recognition to these achievements, writing them off as a falsely earned “reputation for redistribution”.
There is no denying that Venezuela is currently embroiled in a severe recession precipitated by decade-low oil prices, which has hit the country’s popular classes- the social base of Chavismo- the hardest. Mr. Toledo is honest in admitting that the present crisis is rooted in Venezuela’s structural dependence on oil, yet he fails to acknowledge the concrete steps taken by the Revolution to overcome this neocolonial dependence by developing socially productive, communal enterprises from below.
Indeed, the more revolutionary sectors of Chavismo are actively struggling to organize communal councils and communes- the nuclei of what they call the “communal state”- which will replace the top-down bourgeois petro state with participatory democratic structures and communally controlled production. Today, Venezuela has 1070 communes and almost 44,600 communal councils, an achievement Toledo is incapable of celebrating, because it signals a radical rejection of the Washington Consensus ideology of neoliberal privatization under whose banner the ex-president made his career.
The struggle for the “communal state” is undoubtedly an uphill battle against a comprador bourgeoisie and entrenched bureaucratic elements nurtured by the capitalist petro state, and victory is far from assured. Nonetheless, if there is one thing that the Venezuelan people are sure of, it is that there can be no going back to the past, when US-trained technocrats not dissimilar to Alejandro Toledo imposed devastating structural adjustment packages on the impoverished majority. In adamant rejection of this oligarchy and its savage war on the poor, Venezuelans together with their sister peoples across the continent cry out in unison, “¡No volverán!”, “They won’t return!”