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Text of Nino Pagliccia’s presentation in GERG’s panel on Venezuela, Society for Socialist Studies Annual Conference, 5th June 2019

Introduction

Last April marked a special anniversary for Cuba but one that we should all reflect upon given the current events in Latin America, particularly in Venezuela. In mid-April 1961 three cities in Cuba were bombed at the same time from the air. Immediately the US government claimed that Cuban pilots defectors carried out the action with Cuban planes. The media quickly “confirmed the action”.  These were false flag attacks organized by the US.

In a large mass rally in Havana the next day Fidel pronounced a very important speech where he called Kennedy and the media liars.

That was the speech where Fidel declared the “socialist character” of the Cuban revolution. [1]

The year 1961 was also the year when Venezuela issued a brand new constitution during the presidency of Romulo Betancourt at the same time that the Communist Party of Venezuela was declared illegal. Venezuela was starting what Chavez called Puntofijismo as a reference to a formal agreement establishing that the two signing parties would take turns being in government to the exclusion of other parties. They did just that until Chavez was elected president in 1998.

Personally, 1961 was the year when as a young student in Venezuela I was participating in a march protesting the neo-liberal policies of the government of Romulo Betancourt when two of my schoolmates were killed by the police. I immediately became aware of the essential political difference between those events taking place in Cuba and in Venezuela.

But those events of my 1961 have been repeated over and over before and since then.

The pattern of US interventions, military and parliamentary coups are quite clear. What they all have in common is disinformation used to twist events and demonize the target government often as a prelude to a more aggressive intervention.

In fact, fast-forward to the 21st Century, pan quickly over the Middle East, and zoom into our hemisphere today and you will see Venezuela. But the Venezuela you will see is not what most Venezuelans want you to see, but what the US government wants you to see. And here in Canada we have the Canadian government taking a so-called leadership role in promoting disinformation about Venezuela.

Disinformation

In an article in Venezuela Analysis that I titled, Is Venezuela Canada’s modern day El Dorado? I refer to Canada’s corporate interests in the mining sector, and Canada’s task luring the political will of rightwing regional governments through the illegitimate regime change intentions of the “Lima Group”.  [2]

Canadian foreign policy under Chrystia Freeland is fully attuned to US foreign policy and highly questionable.

The foreign ministry website speaks of “… contribut[ing] to the restoration of democracy through peaceful and negotiated means.” The reality is that Canada has not taken a single step to use “negotiated means.” On the contrary, at the last meeting of June 3 with the “Lima Group”, IMF Mongherini and the International Contact Group the Venezuelan elected government is excluded.

I am not the only one condemning disinformation as the key tool used for regime change.

Author and analyst Dan Kovalik wrote, US Press Reaches All-Time Low on Venezuela Coverage [3]

A study of the group Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) indicated that corporate media in the United States has undertaken “a full-scale marketing campaign for regime change in Venezuela”. [4]

In an article last April Time magazine said, “Venezuelans are starving for information”.  To which Venezuela Analysis responded that, “Creative reporting about Venezuela is, according to Lucas Koerner and Ricardo Vaz, ‘the world’s most lucrative fictional genre’ “, and it goes on showing how there are three private TV channels, a satellite provider that covers FOX News, CNN and BBC. Anti-government print media is also widely accessible as well as online outlets. [5][6]

The reality is that outside Venezuela people are starving for truthful information about Venezuela.

The NYT printed, “Venezuela’s Collapse Is the Worst Outside of War in Decades” with barely a reference to the impact of US sanctions and the billions of dollars stolen from Venezuela as if irrelevant. [7]

Maybe what’s going on in Venezuela is not a conventional war, but there is such thing as economic war by sanctions, media warfare or infowar. Venezuelans know it and call it guerra mediática. In 2009 Chavez spoke of “media dictatorship.”

It kills people just the same by virtue of curtailing vital trade, investment and imports in a capitalist world economy that reacts and panics very easily at a minor sign of insecurity.  Capital flees leaving the country at the mercy of political imperial grab.

The US government and its embedded corporate media display what I call choreography of disinformation, or equivalently they become the jugglers of disinformation. Very often disinformation is intentional deceit.

When it comes to Venezuela papers like the Washington Post, the NYT, the Globe and Mail and others are no different from Tabloids. How else would you interpret the NYT information that Hezbollah is in Venezuela? It is a dangerous insinuation about the fact that the Minister of Industry of Venezuela is of Lebanese descent and his great-uncle allegedly was associated with the Ba’athist Party of Iraq. The NYT would never make such an outlandish insinuation that the neo-Nazis are in Canada because Chrystia Freeland had a distant relative associated with Nazism in Ukraine.

I will not attempt to respond to the obvious ridiculous lies that sound childish like the recent blame on the Maduro government’s mismanagement for the sabotage on the electric power grid, or people eating garbage.

If we skip over the most obvious media lies, the bulk of disinformation can be reduced to two main categories of accusations laid against Maduro:

1) Maduro is not a legitimate president, he was elected by fraud; and

2) Maduro has broken the constitutional order of Venezuela.

What is a more objective reality?

Was Maduro’s election of May 20th, 2018 legitimate?

Questioning the legitimacy of Maduro’s presidency is currently the main focus of disinformation by the US and Canadian governments readily propagated by the MSM. The twisted logic is that once Maduro has been seen as an “illegitimate” president who “stole the election” of May 20, 2018 then the alternative parallel “interim” president Juan Guaido’, created by the US on January 23, 2019, becomes acceptable.

It is important to remember that Maduro obtained irrefutably almost 68% of the valid votes on May 20th, and that Guaido’ appointed himself as president in a street rally.

The accusations about the elections of May 20th in Venezuela use words such as “illegitimate”, “farce”, and “fraud”, and that they do not meet “international democratic standards”. Both the Lima Group and the Canadian government use that same expression.

I did an analysis of the electoral process based on the established international standards. I used a seldom-cited but important document appropriately titled “International Standards and Commitments On The Right To Democratic Elections: A Practical Guide To Democratic Elections Best Practice”. The document was issued in 2002 by the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE).  [8]

All the recommended elements for a legitimate election, such as that the elections be

  • non-discriminatory,
  • periodic and genuine,
  • on the basis of universal and equal suffrage, and
  • through secret ballots

were followed in Venezuela. Confirmed by many international observers.

One more requirement states that “the election commissions/bodies be independent and impartial.” This is another contested point by the international opposition, but by constitution (Article 296, p. 317) and in practice, the Consejo Nacional Electoral (CNE – National Electoral Council) of Venezuela is as independent and impartial as it can be.

Ironically, one requirement stating that the chosen electoral system “should be respected” is the only one that has not been followed by the opponents as well as by the international community.

More importantly, six candidates participated in the elections representing different ideologies. One of them, Henri Falcon, was threatened with sanctions by the US if he decided to participate. He did after all.

The most radical rightwing opposition, now supported by the Canadian government, did not participate in the elections and did so by their own free will boycotting the process.

But it gets personal. In the most outrageous decision the Canadian government intervened shamelessly in the electoral process in Venezuela on May 20, 2018, by publicly declaring that it was fraudulent even before it took place. It took the further step – contravening all democratic and human rights principles – of forbidding Venezuelans to exercise their right to vote in Venezuelan Consulates in Canada.

This is when the issue of the elections also took a very personal angle for me. The Canadian government stopped me, as a Venezuelan, to vote on that day.

This is the same government that speaks of re-establishing democracy in Venezuela but prevents the most basic democratic process to happen.

Has the Maduro government broken the constitutional order in Venezuela?

Former Canadian ambassador to Venezuela Ben Rowswell (2014-2017) recently stated in an interview with CTV that Maduro “suspended” the constitution. That never happened as it has been widely documented. [9]

The 1999 constitution replaced the 1961 constitution introducing important elements not present before.

Chavez’s promised in his electoral campaign to re-write the old constitution. This is how he started his swearing-in ceremony in 1999; he said, “I swear over this dying constitution….” He was kind not to declare it dead already.

This was the first constitution in Venezuelan history that was drafted by an elected group of people of a Constituent Assembly, and that was later approved by popular referendum and passed with over 70% approval.

One of the most remarkable facts is that 110 articles of the total 350 articles in the constitution (almost one third) deal with human rights and guarantees (civil rights, political rights, social rights, cultural and educational rights, economic, environmental and indigenous rights).

This is also a constitution that emphasizes self-determination, independence and sovereignty in the spirit of the liberator Simon Bolivar who fought for Latin American independence from Spain.

What makes the Venezuelan constitution unique is that it clearly puts the individual, the person, and the people at the centre of this democratic process, that is not only participatory, but it also recognizes the individual as a protagonist of the democratic process in Venezuela.

The level of rejection the opposition has had for this constitution is shown by the fact that one of the first decrees of the short-lived president, Pedro Carmona, following the coup against Chavez in 2002, suspended the 1999 constitution.

Missed opportunities and misplaced opportunities

The Maduro government did not break the constitutional order, neither it suspended it. Rather, the opposition missed their opportunities to build their cause under the constitution, as a democratic process requires.

  1. Perhaps the greatest missed opportunity was when the opposition won a majority in the National Assembly in 2015. From there the opposition could have worked to really gain the popular support they could have used to win the next presidential election. However, they used a series of irregularities (i.e. fraud), and made the political mistake of overtly attempting to pass legislation in order to overthrow, not only Maduro within six months (=parliamentary coup), but also the Supreme Court. [10] That was not the best strategy.

By September 2016 the Supreme Court of Venezuela declared the NA in contempt after which any decisions coming out of it would not be recognized as legitimate.

(There was a paralysis of decision making since the NA was not legislating as mandated by article 150 and more specifically article 187 of the constitution)

  1. The opposition did appear to take the constitutional route and made use of Article 72 of the constitution that allows the recall of the president (or any other elected officials) through a referendum [20% of registered voters request the referendum; the recall is accepted when the same number of voters that voted for the president votes to recall]. However, in their eagerness again they committed irregularities and the National Electoral Council (CNE) in October 2016 suspended the initial phase of signatures recollection process before the recall referendum.
  1. Another missed opportunity was boycotting the Constituent National Assembly, which was called constitutionally by president Maduro in 2017 based on article 348 of the constitution. The violent circumstances in Venezuela made it timely to call to the whole Venezuelan population to come together to change everything that needed to be changed for the sake of peace in the country. By excluding themselves from having representation in the Constituent Assembly the opposition pulled out from a constructive process.
  1. The opposition misplaced their opportunity all together when last January Juan Guaidó appointed himself interim president claiming his right based on article 233. He clearly violated the constitution. Article 233 of the Venezuelan Constitution clearly establishes the procedure to follow when the elected President cannot proceed with his/her term of office. The specific causes are: “Death, resignation, dismissal by the Supreme Court, medically certified incapacity, abandonment, or recall.” None of these causes applied to the elected President Nicolas Maduro. It was blatantly fake news.

This is quite a dramatic and farcical change of tactics by the opposition from suspending the constitution in 2002 in a coup to pretending to defend it now, but ultimately trampling over it.

Has the Maduro government complied with its “responsibility to protect”?

We can respond to the “Guerra mediática” (media war) by showing that the Maduro government has not broken the constitutional order, and that it is the legitimate government democratically chosen by the majority of Venezuelans, but we cannot deny the economic crisis in Venezuela caused by the negative impact of the damaging “guerra económica” (economic warfare) waged by the US.

The last conservative figure for the cost of US sanctions to Venezuela is US$130 billion. Even then the US government and the MSM want you to believe that the economic crisis in Venezuela is due to the Maduro government mismanagement totally disregarding the impact of the unilateral coercive measures.

That is simply ridiculous and one more example of disinformation that is unfortunately repeated by many.

The reality is that the government of Venezuela is responding in the best way possible given the circumstances. The people are at the centre of all programs: reducing the population living in slums by delivering more than 2 million homes (Gran Misión Vivienda), free education, school meals (Programa de Alimentación Escolar) and school supplies for school kids, free healthcare (Barrio Adentro), guaranteed pensions to the elderly, and others.

Until 2017 all these programs have contributed to improve the wellbeing of Venezuelans. The economic war is now undermining all these social gains but not to the fault of a government that is open to improvements.

Perhaps the most important government program has been the Local Supply and Production Committee (CLAPComité Local de Abastecimiento y Producción) that guarantee delivery of boxes of food and other items in order to cover the basic needs. The program covers about 6 million families.

US sanctions affecting the Venezuelan CLAP program of food distribution and supply claiming that it finances or is a cover up for drug trade is the most vile deceit that will risk to starve Venezuelans. Not even in time of war such crime is allowed.

Concluding remarks

Let me conclude with a broader perspective of the situation in Venezuela with my interpretation of what’s next.

It is obvious that the US government is after the control of Venezuela’s oil based on its unfounded claim over its “backyard”. Canada has joined with its own claim to protect its mining sector corporations with interests in Venezuela. Neither country has any interest in the people of Venezuela despite their rhetoric.

It is also quite obvious that the Bolivarian revolution in Venezuela centers on the protection of its people and on preventing any pillage of its resources based on its legitimate claim on sovereignty, independence and self-determination, supported by the majority of people.

There lies the true nature of the US/Canada attacks against Venezuela.

But that is the pragmatic reason. The more political and ideological reason is that the US corporate interests that govern the country will never allow any other ideology anywhere in the world that hints or resembles any form of socialism even in its embryonic form. Canada’s foreign policy today is quite attuned with US foreign policy.

It is interesting to note that the constitution promoted by Chavez himself does not have a single mention of the word “socialism”. It speaks frequently of “social democracy” but never of socialism.

But if you hear the false news from the opposition, the corporate media and US/Canada governments, Venezuela has the most radical leftist/socialist/communist government as supposedly ratified by its close relationship with Cuba.

Chavez coined the phrase “Socialism for the 21st Century” in 2005, six years after the new constitution was approved. And yet he was already slated for a US-sponsored coup in 2002. The coup failed but that must have made Chavez’s anti-imperialist social development for Venezuela much more urgent. His speeches in opposition to capitalism, imperialism and neo-liberalism, as causing oppression of the population, became much more open, explicit and forceful.

The policies of his government also became much more progressive as indicated by the law passed in 2006 establishing Communal Councils towards local governance, and the law of 2010 establishing the creation of Communes, that is, institutions that would bring together the Communal Councils – as units of direct democratic self-government – with local productive units. Their reps form in turn a Communal Parliament with links to the state government…for now. [10]

The seed of this vision may be traced back at the time of the 1999 constitution. Article 184 of the constitution establishes that the law will create “mechanisms” to promote the creation, among others things, of  “new decentralized subjects” at very local level “to guarantee the principle of co-responsibility with the public government”.  Based on this article and the law, Communes could constitutionally and legally demand the transfer of authority for decision-making. This may have prompted the suspension of the constitution by the coup plotters in 2002. However, the formal figure of Commune is not present in the constitution, only in the law.

There are currently close to 3,000 Comunas. More are needed.

Given this partial view of the potential socialist Venezuela, we should infer that the corporate establishment media war is not just against Maduro but it is against Chavismo as the living ideology of the Bolivarian Revolution.

We are currently witnessing a race between two forces in our hemisphere: the US and Canada imperial forces that support the Venezuelan rightwing opposition, to produce a regime change in Venezuela, and Venezuela’s socialist forces

This is not a race where we can stand at the margin and say, may the best win. This is a race in which we are all involved. Understanding what is at stake is an essential task. Today’s geopolitical reality makes all vulnerable.

I would not be surprised to see a more prominent place for the 21st Century socialism in the new constitution being drafted by the Constituent National Assembly. Perhaps, we may witness a formal Venezuelan declaration of the “socialist character” of the Bolivarian revolution.

Ultimately it is up to Venezuelans to democratically ratify it or not.

The important point about disinformation by the US government and the MSM is that while it may convince many outside Venezuela, it has no traction in Venezuela. And that is why Guaido’ has not succeeded with his coup attempts called by the US, nor with bribing the military. They can see who is on the side of the people.

In a recent comment a Venezuelan woman who said she is approaching her 50s, said, “I have lived half my life in Chavismo and half before Chavismo. I know. I don’t want to go back.

As one who has lived in Venezuela before Chavismo, who has closely witnessed what Chavismo is building, and also as one who has an international perspective from Canada, I totally agree, and I will add, we must not go back.

———————————–

NOTES

[1] http://www.granma.cu/cuba/2019-04-16/proclama-fidel-el-caracter-socialista-de-la-revolucion-cubana-16-04-2019-10-04-31

[2] https://venezuelanalysis.com/analysis/14331

[3] https://orinocotribune.com/us-press-reaches-all-time-low-on-venezuela-coverage

[4] https://fair.org/home/zero-percent-of-elite-commentators-oppose-regime-change-in-venezuela/

[5] https://venezuelanalysis.com/analysis/14501

[6] https://fair.org/home/theres-far-more-diversity-in-venezuelas-muzzled-media-than-in-us-corporate-press/

[7] https://www.nytimes.com/2019/05/17/world/americas/venezuela-economy.html

[8] https://venezuelanalysis.com/analysis/13837

[9] https://venezuelanalysis.com/analysis/13018

[10] Ref on Communes: George Ciccariello-Maher

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