Venezuela is reportedly the most oil-rich nation on Earth. And US-backed regime change there has long been a very real threat. But now, international media outlets appear to be doing their best to turn that threat into a reality. Against the wishes of most Venezuelans.
Protests and right-wing calls for international intervention
President Nicolás Maduro’s centre-left government seems to be seeking to avoid confrontation with the US, which is still Venezuela’s main trading partner. But the US has long sought to destablise Venezuela, including with a US-backed coup in 2002. And unrest in the last few years – due to a global fall in oil prices and increasing political polarisation (encouraged by the US and its affluent local allies) – has been a gift for interventionists. The heavy defeat Maduro’s party suffered in 2015’s parliamentary elections only added to this volatile environment.
Venezuela has recently hit the news again because of renewed protests – which have occasionally turned violent. This unrest comes partially in response to Supreme Court decisions in March which allowed the judiciary to assume some legislative responsibilities. The body didn’t dissolve the opposition-controlled National Assembly, but it accused it of overstepping its powers under the country’s constitution and of being in contempt of previous rulings. The controversial actions were partially annulled on 1 April, but right-wing opposition forces still stepped up their protests.
On 19 April, hundreds of thousands of people, both pro- and anti-government, took to the streets of Venezuela’s capital city, Caracas. Some opposition protesters called for a “forceful” march so that the international community would help to “get rid of” the government. Pro-government protesters, meanwhile, insisted they were making their voices heard to “prevent US boots from touching our soil”.
On 19 April, there were detentions of a number of opposition demonstrators for erecting roadblocks, damaging public institutions, and attacking both security forces and bystanders. Even hospitals were attacked. And the government insists that protests have so far caused around $70,000-worth in damages. Recent video footage, meanwhile, allegedly shows opposition protesters confessing to being paid to carry out violent attacks.
One security officer was killed on 19 April. And there have been at least seven deaths so far during recent anti-government protests. This figure includes two demonstrators killed by police officers – who have now been indicted – and two bystanders shot dead by armed opposition protesters.
But why does the US want regime change in Venezuela so much?
Well, the US imports around 20% of its oil from the Middle East. But transport to the US is costly, and takes weeks. Venezuela, meanwhile, is only days away, and reportedly has the largest oil reserves in the world. It is also rich in a number of other natural resources. In short, it’s a significant source of energy. And a big focus for the US, which consumes a much greater proportion of global natural resources than its 5% of the world’s population merits, is to ensure unadulterated access to such energy. However, because Venezuela has had different plans in the last two decades – which have gone against the interests of US multinationals, it has become a target for intervention.
When the ruling party won the 1998 presidential elections, it began to use oil revenues to reduce poverty and strengthen the country’s system of social welfare. It introduced a new constitution, guaranteeing citizens the “right to demonstrate, peacefully and without weapons” (which previous governments had “criminalized and heavily repressed”, according to TeleSur). And its achievements included halving poverty levels, eradicating illiteracy, and guaranteeing free health care for all citizens.
For many decades, the CIA has sought to undermine precisely this type of government. And particularly in Latin America – a region the US considers to be its backyard. The 2016 coup in Brazil, meanwhile, showed that the era of US-backed regime change was far from over.
The role of the international media
Both liberal and conservative political figures in the US have long tried to portray the current Venezuelan government as a dictatorship. And corporate media outlets have joined in – some more subtly than others. In doing so, they have echoed the rhetoric of Venezuela’s right-wing opposition.
However, renowned professors and public figures have consistently praised Venezuela’s electoral system as being “one of the most efficient, secure and transparent electoral systems”, or even “the best in the world”. So the ‘dictator’ argument seems, at the very least, misleading.
Other media outlets, meanwhile, have been caught manipulating or misrepresenting the words of progressive figures to make it look like the Venezuelan government is losing support from sympathisers.
the same gleeful pessimism [from both political elites and corporate media outlets] is never on display in response to capitalism’s massive catastrophes.
What do Venezuelans think?
One Venezuelan activist told The Canary:
International media outlets make it look like Venezuela’s at war. Apparently, everyone’s killing each other, dissent is crushed, and human rights are violated. People are suffering a massive humanitarian crisis, and need international support to escape from a ferocious dictator. It’s a big lie. The country is under siege both politically and from the media. I’m not saying we don’t have problems. We have profound problems. But they’re not on the scale perceived from outside Venezuela.
Meanwhile, it appears there is a general unity of sentiment in Venezuela at the moment. The president of respected independent pollster Hinterlaces, Oscar Schémel, has shared the results of recent studies. And these show that 76% of Venezuelans oppose international intervention to remove President Maduro; 87% oppose international military intervention in the country; and 90% oppose the violent protests that are currently taking place. At the same time, 84% believe international mediation should promote dialogue between the government and opposition forces, and 67% think the priority of dialogue should be to resolve Venezuela’s current economic problems.
In short, Schémel says, most people want “a climate of compromise, balance, agreement, and conciliation”. Not foreign intervention or an insistence on the overthrow of the country’s elected government.
Ask the right questions
The world’s media and political elites will likely continue to issue judgement on Venezuela while providing little objective analysis. And although politics is rarely black and white, there are two key questions that we should ask when considering what’s going on in Venezuela today. What is the best way to ensure peace – national dialogue or international intervention? And which forces are set to benefit the most from the current unrest – the government and its supporters, or their opponents?
– Read The Canary‘s previous articles on Venezuela.
– Question everything you hear in the corporate media.
Featured image via Luisovalles/Wikimedia Commons