How will the Venezuelan crisis end?

Nuevo Curso’ on the ramifications of an inter-imperialist stand-off

The Spanish media seem to be infected by the triumphalism of the Venezuelan opposition: “In Venezuela there is no risk of a civil war, 90% of the population wants change”, Guaidó said on the cover of ‘El País’. (1) And if we were to take the media’s account seriously, Maduro’s regime would fall under the pressure of the demonstrations and the much awaited, but for the moment unseen, defection of the middle cadres of the army. Is that all? Or are there many things that escape from the media’s framework?

  1. The idea that American capital is [simply] pulling the strings is extremely reductionist. The big capital of the United States has lined itself up with Maduro and has every intention of continuing to do so, no matter what. If the U.S. has swaggered on the most important part of this script and has taken so long to cut off oil imports, (2) it is because its own oil sector was negotiating underhand with Maduro (3) to bypass sanctions through third countries, even before they were decreed. In other words, important sectors of American capital are not happy with a conflict, let alone if it lasts too long. Venezuela continued to be business-as-usual for them with Maduro.

  2. Therefore, although the intervention of the United States and Great Britain has served to give Guaidó the funds seized from PDVSA (4) and will surely soon give him access to the reserves in London, the United States is in as much a hurry as it is mired in a problem when it comes to going further. The bet is that the financial asphyxiation and the mobilization in the street would demoralize part of the army and that a de facto military coup would subsequently entrench Guaidó’s government. But things are starting to take longer than desired. And here comes the significant detail: even when he wants to “really” threaten, Bolton is incapable of going beyond sending 5,000 soldiers… (5) which produces hilarity even with Maduro, anxious to hoist the external enemy. With 5,000 soldiers not even the ranches of Caracas would ever be conquered.

  3. That doesn’t mean there is no real danger of war. As we have been pointing out, the temptation to organize a new Bay of Pigs, (6) training troops and non-commissioned officers now exiled in Peru and Colombia is evident and has not gone unnoticed by Maduro either. Such an invasion, with local troops combined with air and naval support from Colombia, and to a lesser extent from Brazil and the US, is among the possibilities contemplated in all crisis cabinets. (7) The key element? That the strategy does not work or that it works halfway. And in that case, turning Venezuela into a “Caribbean Syria” becomes even more likely. (8)

  4. Because Maduro and his regime are, of course, not lonely crusaders against imperialism: they depend every time, and could not survive any other way, more on the imperialisms rivaling the USA. Beyond the folklore of its Equatorial Guinea’s satrapy, Cuban intelligence services or Erdoğan’s sudden and very interested love of Bolivarianism, there is Russia and China. Both are not only playing for investments of tens of billions of euros and the lion’s share of Maduro’s privatizations.

Russia primarily fears a global drop in oil prices. Such a phenomenon is already well on its tracks, but Maduro’s fall would accelerate it. Contradictions of imperialism: The effect of this whole process on oil prices would directly affect the balance of the Middle East, by making the alliance between Russia and Saudi Arabia deeper and deeper and more desperate, by the way winning an unlikely ally for ‘Chavism’. Finally, by putting nuclear bombers both in Venezuela (9) and next to the very border of the United States, (10) Russia, has not only shown that it does not intend to “let pass” a regime change that does not follow Russian interests. Hence the warnings about the “bloodbath” that an invasion would cause, and the growing warnings of the danger of war. For Russia, abandoning Maduro would not only be economically devastating, but also for its global imperialist interests: many rulers supported by Russia would wonder whether an imperialist boss who wins the hostility of the Americans, and then does not defend you when the Americans come after you, can be relied upon. To sum up: Russia has no reason to step back.

What about China? For years ‘Chavist’ Venezuela has been its most solid ally in the Americas. (11) The fact that it has offered to “buy all the oil it needs” to compensate for the partial or total loss of the U.S. market by sanctions, is a sign of its commitment. Like Russia, it cannot afford to abandon its allies because it would harm them in their imperialist emergence, but in addition it has much more relevant investments and far superior regional interests than the Russians.

What is going to happen?

  1. Until now Brazil, the true “puppet master” (12) after this new attempt to evict the Chavist faction from power, has remained in the shadows. While the U.S. took the global lead, recovering the airs of what the USA once was in the region, Bolsonaro became the star in Davos and returned to Brazil for a last post-heart attack surgery. He is the big winner of this crisis so far. Shortly after entering the government he has shown the capacity of organizing – through Chile – the majority of the countries of the Americas in a very aggressive consensus. A consensus that has “walked along its own path”; that, by its global media exposure, is rallying to the Venezuelan opposition; and getting in the car to the U.S.A. – yes, leaving all protagonism to Bolsonaro. We are much closer to the continental model that Brazil claims than we were a month ago. As Bolsonaro said, “Venezuela is doing well…” With the U.S. recognizing Brazil as its main ally against China and Russia in the region… without firing a single shot. Although Bolsonaro’s nature, as seen in the campaign, is that of a warmonger, the military and above all Itamaraty (13) want him to remain in a more peaceful light. Brazil has already won and from now on Brazilian bets will be conservative.

  2. When one thinks of an invasion, the first candidate is Colombia, not only for Bolton but for all analysts. With Duque in government, with the impact of the latest attack by the ELN, a group linked to Venezuela, and Guaidó warming up even more, everything would seem to be pointing in that direction. Colombia is in these days a hotbed of rumors, denials and suspicious visits. But the truth is that Duque is, for the moment, avoiding to go any further. He has difficulty supporting a U.S. intervention – even qua procedure – and it is even more difficult [for him] to wage a solitary war against a Venezuelan army that has been well-equipped by Russia.

  3. Then: what choice is left? An incursion reusing perhaps one or two battalions of the exiled soldiers and commanders in a desperate attempt to provoke a general uprising and the defection of sectors of the army. A very dangerous strategy that only Guaidó seems willing to play. And yet, every day this becomes more probable. Colombia and even Brazil could give the incursion limited air support, intelligence and equipment. In that case, the situation would take a new leap. We would be at the beginning of an inter-imperialist war with the participation of regional and global powers, dressed up as a civil war. In other words, we would be on the verge of seeing Venezuela turn into a new Syria.

Nuevo Curso, February 1, 2019

Source: ¿En qué acabará la crisis venezolana?

Translation: Nuevo Curso, February 9, 2019. Final editing: H.C., February 11, 2019

4 PDVSA: Petróleos de Venezuela, the state-owned oil and natural gas company.

6 The Bay of Pigs invasion: Failed attempt by the US bourgeoisie of April 1961 to overthrow Fidel Castro’s regime in Cuba by a CIA sponsored military invasion at the Bahía de Cochinos. Following the canceling of air support by President Kennedy, it was militarily defeated within 3 days.

13 Itamaraty: Residence of Brazil’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.