On May 16, supporters of the democratically elected government of Nicolás Maduro were forcibly evicted from the Venezuelan Embassy in Washington, D.C. by US police forces. Earlier this year, President Maduro’s embassy staff was ordered by the US to vacate the premises following the recognition by the Trump administration of Juan Guaidó as President of Venezuela (recognition that came, of course, via tweet). Before leaving, the staff handed the keys to the embassy over to the Protection Collective and other guests they had invited to guard the embassy. While the staff was still there, the embassy had been the site of numerous teach-ins and other events to raise awareness about the imperialist machinations of the US in the sovereign nation of Venezuela.
The four arrested members of the Embassy Protection Collective (also members of the leftist group Code Pink)—Kevin Zeese, Dr. Margaret Flowers, Dr. Adrienne Pine, and David Paul—have since been released on personal recognizance. They await their next court date on June 12. The government had attempted to force the group to give up their passports, but instead settled for requiring the group to get preapproved for foreign travel. Several others were arrested during the embassy standoff, including a few who were charged by the police with “throwing missiles” for their attempts to throw packages of food and supplies to the embassy protectors.
Carlos Vecchio, the ambassador appointed by Guaidó, has since taken over embassy operations with his staff. In a statement, Vecchio said that he planned to turn the embassy into a headquarters for organizing humanitarian aid for Venezuela. Bolstered by chants of “Yes, we did!” from Guaidó supporters who had gathered at the embassy, Vecchio claimed that the embassy building had been “recovered,” and that “the next building will be the Miraflores Palace [the Venezuelan Presidential Palace], and we will be there with all our people.”
The claim that the embassy building has somehow been “recovered” by the Venezuelan people is baffling. If “recovery” means the illegal seizure of an embassy and the forced removal by US police of demonstrators invited by the elected Venezuelan government to stay there, then we should be wary of the opposition’s plans to “recover” Miraflores. Indeed, Guaidó’s failed putsch on April 30 has since led him to openly plea for the US to use military force to oust the Maduro government. This plea for “coordination” has been answered by US Southern Military Command head Admiral Craig Faller, who said that he looks forward to “discussing how we can support the future role of those who make the right decision, put the Venezuela people first and restore constitutional order.” There have since been ongoing talks between the US military and Gauidó’s staff. It appears the illegal embassy seizure may have been a dress rehearsal for the military storming of Miraflores, and the Trump administration may be planning to implement one of the violent, military options it has kept on the table all along.
The US has been pulling out all the stops to put an end to the Bolivarian Republic since its inception in 1999, when it was established through a constitutional referendum at the impetus of the then-newly elected President Hugo Chavez. The Bolivarian Republic sparked the ire of the ruling class in Venezuela as well as of the capitalists in the United States, by drowning out their market ambitions with huge, massively popular government-funded initiatives in housing, health care, food, education, and infrastructure. These programs have been continued by Maduro, Chavez’s successor as president in 2013. Maduro won the 2018 election by a wide margin, despite later claims of election fraud by the West. These claims came even though it was the opposition that refused to allow the UN to monitor the election, and claimed that the elections that it had by and large boycotted were rigged.
The blatant imperialism of the US in backing Guaidó—who declared himself interim president in January of this year—is only the most recent in a long series of US-backed attempts to upend the Bolivarian Republic and to thus reopen the markets for the kind of foreign investments that surplus global capital is so dependent on for its exploitative functioning. In 2002, with advance US knowledge, members of the Venezuelan military attempted a coup, which briefly ousted Chavez before ultimately failing. Pedro Carmona, a trade association leader with an estimated net worth of $18 million, took over the government, dissolved the elected National Assembly, and loaded his advisory council with other business leaders. Thus rang true the Marxist lines that “the executive of the modern state is but a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie.”
After Chavez’s restoration, the reaction continued when business executives organized their 2002-2003 lockout of the economy to try and force liberalization of the markets Chavez had made some headway nationalizing. Food, medicine, and other basic goods were kept from the populace in the ensuing lockout by the executives. Imports of rice and corn jumped 66 per cent and 99 per cent, respectively, that year.
These kinds of lockouts and food hoarding tactics have been reattempted in Venezuela against Maduro’s government in recent years, with devastating effects on the economy. Clearly, despite the Western-propelled myth that the Venezuelan government has complete economic control (and is therefore solely responsible for the current economic crisis), a wealthy few today, just as in the 2002-2003 lockouts, retain control of much of the Venezuelan market. Private companies like Empresas Polar, owned by prominent Venezuelan billionaire Lorenzo Mendoza, healthily exist in the supposedly government-owned economy. The company produces 80 per cent of the beer, 18 per cent of government-defined food basics, and 14 per cent of all processed foods in the country. Empresas Polar has been accused by Maduro of hoarding foodstuffs, creating artificial scarcity, and exporting its products away from Venezuela to “better” markets in Peru or Aruba, distribution possibilities likely tied to the company’s partnerships with Pepsi-Cola.
Even if these accusations are false, however, the food crisis has still other roots. Civil terrorism—warehouses worth of food have been burned to the ground, and government food distribution infrastructure has been sabotaged by opposition groups—coupled with the corruption of government officials, has been responsible for the inability of the subsidized food programs to keep up with the demand of Venezuelans. Finally, the collapse of the price of oil, Venezuela’s main export, in 2013 has been chiefly responsible for the country’s inability to finance its imports of food and medicine. These are imports Venezuela has been reliant on for most of its modern history. This has all combined with round after round of Western sanctions designed to make the economy scream.
Despite these causes of the food crisis, the government still feeds what it estimates to be six million families with its CLAP (Local Production and Distribution Committees) food programs, which are organized mostly by local volunteers. While the program has its shortcomings, it is an impressive feat given the larger material conditions in the country.
The motto for the Embassy Protection Collective was a Howard Zinn quote: “Go where you are not supposed to go, say what you are not supposed to say and refuse to leave when they tell you to go.” In an age of such renewed, shameless imperialism by the Trump administration, the measures that the Collective took to defend the embassy were indeed critical steps in the fight to defend the Bolivarian Republic.
Nick Goodell is a recent graduate of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where he studied history and philosophy. He co-hosted The People’s History Hour on 104.5 WRFU for two years, and currently organizes with the Party for Socialism and Liberation, Central Illinois Jobs with Justice, and CU Food Not Bombs.