The coup failed. Venezuelans now brace themselves for slow, punishing economic warfare.

Venezuela protest
John McEvoy

The Canary is currently in Venezuela. This is the latest in our series of on-the-ground articles.

Like in 2002, Washington’s attempted coup has failed to topple Venezuela´s democratically-elected government. On 23 February, as the US attempted to force unwanted ´humanitarian aid´ trucks onto Venezuelan territory, Venezuelan officers kept their composure and almost comprehensively refused to defect.

Now, Venezuelans brace themselves for more slow, punishing economic warfare.

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Failed coup

The US-backed coup in Venezuela – which began on 23 January when US president Donald Trump recognised Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó – has plainly failed. Today, few people in Venezuela are under any illusions about who the country’s acting president is and, ironically, Guaidó is now reportedly relying on the security forces of a ‘dictatorship‘ for protection.

On the ground, The Canary has tried to cover opposition rallies, but with little success. Guaidó’s supporters either come out in small numbers and finish protesting before lunchtime or don’t turn up at all. These attempted protests become more embarrassing when, not far down the road, thousands of anti-imperialist protesters assembled to tell Guaidó’s Western backers: “Hands off Venezuela”.

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Guaidó, meanwhile, has lost considerable legitimacy in the (generally pro-imperialist) corporate media. In a matter of weeks, he’s gone from Venezuela’s ‘interim president’, to ‘self-declared president’, to simply ‘a 35-year-old engineer‘.

Economic warfare

Since the failed coup attempt, the US government has stepped up its campaign of economic warfare in Venezuela. It has intensified economic sanctions, which are costing the Venezuelan economy billions of dollars and reducing its ability to provide basic services to the country’s population. While the US was once Venezuela’s largest purchaser of oil, the US imported zero barrels during March.

It’s also likely that US-backed sabotage is behind the country’s recent blackouts, which have crippled the economy and resulted in water-shortages in major cities. Also, US sanctions are partially responsible for the recent electrical failures, since they have reduced the country’s ability to maintain and repair their main electrical plant, El Guri.

Callous disdain

The US government is applying sanctions with a callous disdain for Venezuelan lives. On 22 March, a Trump official described them:

It’s sort of like in Star Wars when Darth Vader constricts somebody’s throat, that’s what we are doing to the regime economically.

Elsewhere, US special envoy to Venezuela Elliott Abrams gloated over Washington’s “wide, broad” net of sanctions, adding: “be careful not to get caught”.

In no uncertain terms, Washington’s economic measures are killing ordinary Venezuelans. As former UN independent expert Alfred de Zayas told The Canary:

To the extent that the sanctions are the direct cause of death – maternal mortality, infant mortality, malnutrition, death through lack of access to medicines, insulin, dialysis equipment, etc – they constitute a crime against humanity under article 7 of the Statute of the International Criminal Court.

Lessons from Nicaragua

To understand Washington’s strategy in Venezuela, it’s valuable to look to Nicaragua during the 1980s. After the Sandinista revolution in 1979, the Nicaraguan government implemented various socio-economic reforms aimed at redistributing wealth among the country’s population. Like in Venezuela during the 2000s, these reforms were highly popular and successful. As Oxfam said of Nicaragua:

Nicaragua was…exceptional in the strength of that government’s commitment…to improving the condition of the people and encouraging their active participation in the development process.

In 1983, the Inter-American Development Bank similarly noted that:

Nicaragua has made noteworthy progress in the social sector, which is laying the basis for long-term socio-economic development.

As Noam Chomsky documented, the US responded to Nicaragua’s reforms by sponsoring an armed and economic campaign of terror. In the words of US policy planner George Shultz, the Sandinistas were a “cancer, right here on our land mass”, that needed to be destroyed. Vitally, US politician Alan Cranston said that if the US failed to destroy the Sandinistas, they should be left to “fester in [their] own juices”.

In other words, collective punishment would be exacted upon Nicaraguans for daring to pursue the ‘wrong’ economic model. Today, Venezuelans are experiencing a strikingly similar treatment, with the involvement again of characters like Abrams.

Given Washington’s consistent failure to bully ordinary Venezuelans into toppling their own government, the US government seems determined to make them suffer.

Fears from Venezuela

After an electrical blackout on 29 March, a youth leader in Caracas, Venezuela’s capital, asked:

Do you know what tilapia is? It’s a fish that can survive in a stressful environment. They’re like Venezuelans: we’ll suffer through anything.

Another organiser told The Canary, with a wry smile on his face:

This is a message to Trump: your threats are futile, we will win.

Many Venezuelans are aware of US foreign policy history and understand the mechanisms of US imperialism. With this political consciousness and community solidarity, it will be incredibly difficult to break them.

Featured image via the author

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