Editor's note: Since 2003, Venezuelanalysis has worked to counter mainstream media narratives about Venezuela's Bolivarian Revolution and to promote on the ground solidarity with the country's grassroots socialist movement. As part of this mission, VA is committed to creating a space for civil and constructive debate concerning key issues on the Bolivarian left and international solidarity. In this vein, we have republished this piece by Stansfield Smith as the latest in a series of articles aimed at fostering productive debate on the international left with respect to Venezuela's current political conjuncture. Eva Golinger is a founder of the Venezuelanalysis project and we deeply respect and admire her contributions to both VA and the Bolivarian Revolution. At the request of Eva, we have republished a short response of hers below. Stansfield has kindly made several minor modifications to the original piece in the interest of promoting comradely debate and discussion. It is our hope that polemics like these are useful to readers in clarifying the pressing issues currently at stake in Venezuela's Bolivarian process.
As the class struggle heated up in Venezuela this year, fueled by interventionist threats by the pro-US Organization of American States (OAS) bloc, many on the US left have remained on the fence about whether to continue supporting the democratically elected Maduro government. Rejecting left-liberal claims of Maduro’s “authoritarianism”, a number of writers, including Shamus Cooke, Greg Wilpert, Maria Paez Victor, have come with articles clarifying the stakes and calling on the left to take a stand against US aggression.
The day after Trump threatened to militarily intervene in Venezuela, Jeremy Scahill posted his interview with Eva Golinger on The Intercept. Venezuelan-American lawyer Eva Golinger, the author of The Chávez Code: Cracking US Intervention in Venezuela, is known as an outstanding defender of Venezuela during the Chavez era. She hardly goes as far in anti-Maduro criticisms as Scahill, who may fit what Shamus Cooke characterized as “the intellectually lazy “pox on both houses” approach that has long-infected the U.S. left.”
To her credit, Golinger does emphasize the real class issue ignored by “pox on both your houses” liberals like Scahill: Washington’s and the Venezuelan right-wing’s goal is to crush the heart and backbone of the Chavista revolution, “the grassroots, the social movements, the workers, the community organizers, the people who are actually the ones trying, struggling to hold on to anything that’s left of this movement that they have been building and empowering themselves with now over the past fifteen years or so.”
And, counter to claims of Maduro “authoritarianism,” she correctly notes in her recent article,
“Imagine if protestors [sic] were to use lethal weapons against security forces in the U.S., even killing some of them. In Venezuela, the anti-government protestors [sic] have even burned innocent bystanders to death because they suspected them of being ‘chavistas’. Were that to happen in the U.S., the repression and forceful action by the state would far exceed the leniency exercised by the Venezuelan government in the face of these deadly demonstrations.”
Yet within her valuable analysis, and precisely because of her valuable analysis, both in the interview and in her article Golinger makes some statements that require correction.
1. Golinger writes “The demonstrations arose from the massive discontent throughout the country as food shortages, lack of access to medications, skyrocketing inflation and erosion of democratic institutions have intensified since Maduro won office by a slim margin in 2013.”
In fact, the violent demonstrations arose as part of a coordinated effort by OAS General Secretary Luis Almagro, the US government, and the rightwing MUD opposition to generate a chaos in the streets that demanded OAS “humanitarian intervention’ to restore order and displace the Maduro government. While there is massive discontent due to food and medication shortages and inflation, those most affected by this, the working classes and poor, are not the ones participating in the anti-government protests.
2. Golinger defends Attorney General Luisa Ortega, [“the judicial maneuvering by the country’s highest court to silence critics should cease.”] who was eventually removed by unanimous vote of the Constituent Assembly after recommendation by the Supreme Court. The issue was not simply being a critic; Ortega had failed to prosecute violent protesters and their financial backers, and lied to the public.
3. Golinger says “they [the Maduro government] even gave over a half a billion dollars to Trump’s inauguration fund.” This is clearly wrong, as has been pointed out on the article’s comments section. PDVSA gave $500,000 to Trump inauguration. Yet Golinger and the Intercept do not correct this.
4. Golinger writes “A growing number of Venezuelans who supported Hugo Chávez and his policies have distanced themselves from his successor, dismayed by the country’s turn from a once vibrant participatory democracy towards a closed one-party state, intolerant of critics.”
She, like other left-liberal critics, sees a divide between the Maduro and Chavez eras, when in fact the fundamental problems of oil dependence, corruption, bureaucracy existed throughout this period, in part overshadowed by Chavez’ charisma and high oil prices.
That the majority of opposition MUD parties are participating in the coming October regional elections clearly proves Venezuela is not a “one-party state, intolerant of critics.”
5. She writes “President Maduro’s convening of a constituent assembly to rewrite the nation’s constitution has been vehemently rejected by the opposition and has caused severe internal rifts within his own movement.”
Events have shown “severe internal rifts” to be false. The July 30 vote was a major victory for the Chavistas and a major defeat for the rightwing. Now the violence has mostly ended and opposition parties say they will participate in the upcoming elections.
6. Scahill dishonestly claimed the July 30 vote for the Constituent Assembly “was held after an order issued by Maduro. Why that was necessary was baffling even to former supporters of Chavez, as the Bolivarian movement has often celebrated its constitution as a revolutionary and meticulous document. For many seasoned observers, the whole affair reeked of an effort to consolidate power.”
Scahill’s “seasoned observers” is a euphemism for “professional corporate media propagandists.”
To clarify, Venezuela’s constitution Article 348 states,
The initiative for calling a National Constituent Assembly may emanate from the President of the Republic sitting with the Cabinet of Ministers; from the National Assembly by a two-thirds vote of its members; from the Municipal Councils in open session, by a two-thirds vote of their members; and from 15% of the voters registered with the Civil and Electoral Registry.
In other words, rather than being an act that violated the constitution, a little fact checking would show Maduro’s action followed the constitution to the letter.
7. Scahill claims “The vote for the assembly was boycotted by many Venezuelans and when the official results were announced, it was clear that the tally had been tampered with.”
Like the claims of “no doubt” Russia interfered with the US election, Scahill’s “it was clear” comes with no evidence attached.
Golinger, who is not as hostile as Scahill, still says, “There’s a lot of indication that it wasn’t a free and fair vote — that the tallies are not accurate.” But she likewise gives no evidence for this “indication”.
In fact, international election observers have vouched for the validity of the vote, and the agreement of opposition parties to run in the upcoming regional elections implies they accept the integrity of the National Electoral Council.
8. Golinger says the government chose the candidates for the Constituent Assembly, so it would have won regardless of how many voted. In fact, people were free to nominate anyone, and in the end, there were 6120 candidates for 545 seats. She does not mention that Chavista candidates won for the simple reason that the opposition boycotted the Assembly election, having planned to have overthrown Maduro by then.
9. Scahill asserts:
Maduro’s forces have also conducted raids to arrest opposition figures and both government forces and opposition forces have been involved in lethal actions during protests. It must be pointed out that Maduro controls the country’s military and intelligence forces and those far outgun all of the combined masses of government opponents.
Is he actually surprised that a country has armed forces that can outgun the civilian population? Scahill does not mention that army and police members have also been charged with killing opposition protesters.
10. Golinger makes a series of misleading statements comparing the present Constituent Assembly process to the one that took place under Chavez. The Chavez one,
[W]as put to a vote after he was elected, to whether or not people actually wanted to proceed. More than 70 percent of those participating said yes. Then they elected the members. Then it was done in this extremely open, transparent way. You know, there were drafts of the constitution passed around and discussed in communities. And then it was put to another vote to actually ratify it by the people on a national level. So I mean, we’re missing almost all of those steps this time around and it lasted four months, it had a mandate of four months. And it wasn’t all-supreme, that it could be a legislator and an executor and an enforcer, which is what we’re seeing now.
No mention that the Chavez era turnout to convoke an Assembly brought out 37.8% of the population (92% voted yes, not 70%). This July 30, voter turnout was higher, 41.5%. No mention that now, just as before, proposed changes to the constitution must be made public, discussed and voted on by national referendum. No mention that the present Assembly is all-supreme -- even over Maduro -- unlike the previous Assembly, because this is what the present constitution states, not the case before.
Article 349: “The President of the Republic shall not have the power to object to the new Constitution. The existing constituted authorities shall not be permitted to obstruct the Constituent Assembly in any way.”
It is hard to believe Eva Golinger does not know this. She claims the present process is a “major rupture” from the Chavez era, when in fact the government and Constituent Assembly are simply following the Chavez 1999 constitution.
11. She says, “I wish that they hadn’t moved forward with this rewriting of the constitution and creating this sort of supra government, because it does make it more difficult to find a solution to the crisis.”
We see that the opposite is the case. The vote for the Constituent Assembly has made it easier to find a solution.
Maduro did not act in an authoritarian manner. He did not quell the violent protests by declaring a national emergency and resorting to police and military repression. He did not use death squads, or torture, jail and exile the opposition. Instead he called for a Constituent Assembly, and with the mass show of support in the election, the violence has died down, and most of the opposition has returned the electoral field.
We should call this for what it is: a humanitarian example for other governments when faced with social unrest.
With the July 30 Assembly vote, the US, the OAS Almagro bloc, and the opposition MUD have suffered a serious defeat, as even the hostile New York Times has noted. This gives the progressive forces an opening to resolve the serious problems the country faces. The extent it will make use of this opportunity to break out of the unresolved social, political and economic conflicts of the last few years remains to be seen.
Response by Eva Golinger
One important lesson I learned from my friend Hugo Chavez was to choose your battles wisely. “Aguila no caza mosca” (Eagles don’t hunt flies), as he liked to say. I was loath to respond to an article directly attacking me, written in an arrogant tone by a U.S. man who, to my knowledge, has not lived for any significant period of time in Venezuela or been close to or worked directly with Hugo Chavez and his inner circle or Nicolas Maduro. Attempting a character assassination of someone who not only is Venezuelan and lived there for over 12 years (both before Chavez was first elected in 1998 and well after), and who has deep ties and involvement in the Bolivarian Revolution and international solidarity movement, as well as had a close friendship with both Chavez and Maduro, and many, many others both inside and out of the government, is a pointless effort for someone claiming to “defend” the Bolivarian process.
I have the same position I have always had. My principles have never wavered in my defense of social justice and the right to self determination. I will always stand up and denounce, and fight against, with the tools I have, U.S. imperialism, aggression and war. But I will never defend corruption, organized crime or abuse of power. As someone who was very close and worked with the Venezuelan government for years, recently I have seen and discovered things that would make your skin crawl. Things I will never defend because they betray everything I have always fought for and they are destructive to the Venezuelan people’s movement for social justice, revolutionary democracy and peace.
The role of international solidarity activists, especially those from the United States, is to stand up against U.S. aggression and interventionism. It is not to interpret or judge the motivations or differing perspectives of others in the affected countries. I stand by my recent statements on the elite circle currently in power in Venezuela because I have documentary evidence to back up my position and many, many years of profound, insider experience. I will continue to be honest, introspective and nuanced in my discussions and writings on Venezuela that I may or may not have from now on, because what is happening is not a “one or the other” situation, but rather a complex, deep and diverse struggle to defend a movement that faces severe and debilitating threats both internally and externally.
I won’t be intimated or silenced by yet another man claiming to be “progressive” or “leftist” who utilizes subtle sexist undertones and arrogance to attempt to discredit me. My position on Venezuela is legitimate and grounded in real life experience and deep ties. I stand with the people and never with the elite. I stand against war and interventionism. I will fight against corruption and abuse of power wherever it originates. Another relevant phrase my friend Hugo Chavez repeated often was “Cuando los perros ladran, es señal de que vamos avanzando”. When the dogs bark, it’s a sign we’re advancing.