Venezuela, Imperialism and Dependency: A Conversation with Luis Britto García

One of the country’s key intellectuals reflects on how US imperialism extracts value from Venezuela and other countries of the Global South.
Luis Britto imperialism
Luis Britto García (Venezuelanalysis)

Luis Britto García is considered Venezuela’s most highly regarded living writer. He has written numerous plays, novels, historical works, essays, and film scripts, and is a keen political commentator. In this exclusive VA interview, Britto García talks about the relationship between the “developed” Global North and the dependent Global South, and reflects on Venezuela’s plight due to the US imposed blockade.

Dependency Theory had Venezuela as one of its epicenters, with intellectuals such as Domingo Maza Zavala, Héctor Malavé Mata, and José Agustín Silva Michelena providing a set of theoretical tools to understand the dependency relation between center and periphery in a global, capitalist context. Briefly, what does dependency theory tell us?

Dependency theorists discovered that development and underdevelopment are two sides of the same coin. Developed countries exist because they are fed with the resources, surplus value, and unpaid or underpaid work extracted from underdeveloped countries. In turn, the latter have this condition [of underdevelopment] because developed countries impose unequal conditions of exchange and exploitation through military, political, or economic coercion.

It is difficult to overcome dependency: revolutionary transformations are the only way out, but they are either hindered or destroyed by the hegemonic countries. Dependency Theory arose in the Global South, fundamentally in Venezuela, to explain this situation.

Misinterpretations are common when it comes to talking about imperialism. On the one hand, it is common to “naturalize” it (i.e. say there have always been empires, since Rome, and so on). On the other hand, many focus on moral condemnation (i.e. positing that there are evil individuals or evil countries who control the world). As it turns out, imperialism is a system of domination specific to capitalism, and it has its own internal logic. How should we understand imperialism with precision as we struggle for a better world?

There were many empires in antiquity, and they were fundamentally based on military superiority; this situation allowed the metropolis to grow by imposing tributes while often enslaving the defeated peoples. These empires were maintained by garrisons located in enclaves. Rome, one of the most notable empires, declined when it began to replace its legions of citizens – who were resisting extended military service – with mercenaries hired from among the subjugated peoples. But at some point, these mercenaries realized that it would be more profitable to fight for themselves than for the empire that oppressed them, and things began to change.

In fact, this situation should be taken into account by the United States, whose on-the-ground military presence depends more and more on mercenaries hired from the social strata it oppresses and exploits, including Afro-descendants, Chicanos, Latinos, marginalized people, or troops from NATO-occupied countries.

However, to get to your question, contemporary imperialism goes far beyond simple military occupation. It is, as Lenin said, the highest stage of capitalism. In the imperialist era, capitalist competition is progressively replaced by monopolies: industrial capital merges with banking capital, thus producing financial capital. As financial capital grows, it privileges the exporting of capital over the exporting of commodities. In so doing, external capital preys on less developed countries to take advantage of their abundant natural resources, cheap labor, and the local demand for goods, which grows in spite of the workforce’s meager wages.

This situation leads to conflicts over the partition of the world among the most powerful financial groups. Finally, concentrated capital focuses (parasitically, I should add) on producing dividends rather than commodities, leading to a progressive decomposition of the mode of production itself. This, step by step, is what we are going through today.

Here in Venezuela we are feeling the effects of imperialism on our own flesh through US-led sanctions. Can you explain why the US deploys such a devastating policy when it comes to Venezuela?

The sellouts who are on the loose and deny, hide or attempt to cover up the reasons why the US applies its sanctions regime against Venezuela. First, our country has the world’s largest fossil fuel reserves. Fossil fuel supplies around 80% of the world’s energy, and the world could run out of it in four to five decades. Additionally, Venezuela has the world’s first or second-largest gold reserves. With gold expected to become the basis of the next monetary system – now that the dollar-backed-by-nothing is collapsing – our gold reserves have become all the more desirable. Additionally, Venezuela has the cheapest workforce in the world.

US imperialism wants to control and freely dispose of our incomparable natural and labor resources, and they want to do it paying no taxes, disregarding social rights, and with the power to resolve disputes within US courts or with those mediated by the World Bank.

The question of sovereignty is key to the anti-imperialist struggle and for the project of socialism. What kind of economic policies do you think should be promoted in Venezuela right now?

Sovereignty is the unlimited and perpetual right of a country to make its own laws, enforce them with its own authorities, and resolve disputes over their application within its own courts. To surrender any of these attributes is to annihilate Venezuela’s sovereignty, independence, and our very existence. Thus, our economic policy must irreducibly defend these principles, and it must do so within the bounds of the Constitution. We must preserve control of our hydrocarbons and other fundamental resources such as gold, water, and minerals. In other words, all that is strategic must be under the control of the nation.

Our country’s policies must rigorously apply the principle of equality and not grant privileges to foreign persons or companies. Also, our policies should not grant foreign entities extraordinary advantages, such as the already existing exemption on income and value-added taxes to foreign interests; their preferential access to resources and capital; the provision of infrastructure tailored to their investments; or surrendering long-term concessions that range from half a century to unlimited time.

Our country’s policies must protect Venezuelan companies and individuals and they must discard the neoliberal catechism that imposes the restriction of monetary circulation and the immolation of workers. Relating to this, anti-cyclical or socialist policies to stimulate consumption through the amplification of circulating money must be set in place. Finally, as a country, we must not allow disputes of national interest to be resolved in foreign courts: we have already lost more than a third of our territory, including the Essequibo, and other cases are now in process at the ICSID [the World Bank’s International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes].

Finally, could you recommend references to help people understand imperialism in a rigorous way?

First on the reading list should be VI Lenin’s Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism. Noam Chomsky’s Profit Over People: Neoliberalism and Global Order is also a must. As for Venezuelan authors, Armando Córdoba and Héctor Silva Michelena’s Theoretical Aspects of Underdevelopment should be required reading. Finally, I encourage everyone to read the Constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela. Many neoliberals are remiss; I wonder if they even read the title!