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Venezuela’s anti-blockade law and the Dec. 6 elections

Originally published: Liberation News by Gloria La Riva (December 1, 2020)   | 

On Sunday, Dec. 6, the Venezuelan people will vote to elect the new deputies of the National Assembly. This election is enormously important for the Bolivarian Revolution. The progressive forces are mobilizing nationwide to win back the assembly from right-wing politicians who won the majority in December 2015.

It is not a contest between one political party and another. It is the struggle for the very survival of Venezuela’s Bolivarian Revolution against a brutal U.S. economic war and coup plots. U.S. imperialism has captured the nation’s enormous resources and wealth and severely blockaded the country for years now.

Regaining the National Assembly is one immediate goal for the revolutionary government, to restore control of the country’s resources, reestablish legislative legitimacy, and help to overcome the economic hardships the U.S. blockade has caused in the population.

The anti-blockade law

To combat the U.S. economic war, a new strategy was unveiled on Sept. 29 by President Nicolás Maduro, called the “Anti-Blockade Constitutional Law for National Development and Guarantee of Human Rights,” or anti-blockade law for short.

It was approved in a session of the National Constituent Assembly (ANC by its Spanish initials) on Oct. 8. The ANC has served as an interim legislative body after the right-wing-led National Assembly was declared in contempt for illegal election practices and other violations.

The siege by the U.S., Canada and its European allies against Venezuela includes the U.S. seizure of CITGO and other Venezuelan properties, the withholding of the country’s gold and money reserves by Britain and Portugal, and a severe sanctions regime.

They have cut off its ability to import spare parts and critical chemicals for the oil and mining industries, particularly imports from the U.S., with its dominance in oil technology.

Part of the anti-blockade law is a legal framework to guarantee foreign investments and shield economic agreements from U.S. sanctions and sabotage with countries that are defying the sanctions to trade with Venezuela. Investments by domestic entities will be allowed as well.

With expected economic improvements, the government will be able to raise the real wages of the workers, pensions for seniors, and benefits for the population. The population’s buying power has been shattered due to skyrocketing inflation and the blockade. Currently, one U.S. dollar is equivalent to a staggering 1.5 million bolivares.

The government can also strengthen vital social programs such as the CLAP food boxes, health care, education and more. The country’s infrastructure–water, electricity and gas, transport, and telecommunications–also needs rehabilitation.

The urgency of economic recovery

But first, Venezuela’s industrial and agricultural productive capacity must be restored and strengthened, and the means found to overcome the unilateral coercive methods.

In President Maduro’s address to the ANC, he laid out the new anti-blockade project as a strategic way out of the siege.

He cited a January 2018 U.S. State Department statement on the insidious U.S. sanctions:

The financial sanctions that we have imposed have forced the Government to begin to default, both in the national debt as in the debt of PDVSA, its oil company. And what we are seeing… is a total economic collapse in Venezuela. So, our policy is working, our strategy is working and we will maintain it.

Maduro said:

Between 2014 and 2019, Venezuela’s oil production fell 66.5%. Just for the year 2019 alone, we generated only one-third of the oil that we produced in 2014. Between 2015 and 2019, Venezuela stopped producing in total close to 1.195 billion barrels of oil. …

Between 2014 and 2019, Venezuela experienced the sharpest drop in foreign income in its history. In six years, we lost 99% of our hard currency income. To put it in another way: Of each 100 dollars or euros that the country received from oil sales in 2014, today we receive less than one.…

All Venezuelans should understand that we are not facing a capricious, partial or personal policy that depends on who occupies the White House, or that can be reversed by an electoral outcome.

The blockade is a policy of State and it should be responded to with actions and tools of the State that correspond to the grave nature of the problem.

We need to find formulas to be able to trade freely and legally with the world without fear of retaliation from the United States. We need to recover the country’s income by relying on our strengths and capacities to be able to defend our people from the terrible effects of the blockade.

Russia, China, Iran, Turkey, Cuba cooperation

When medicines, food and fuel have been blocked by the U.S. at various times, Russia, China, Iran, Turkey and others have defied the sanctions and helped keep supplies flowing.

Tens of thousands of homes have been built in the country by China, Russia, Iran and Turkey in cooperation with Venezuela via the Great Venezuela Housing Mission (GMVV). A total of 3.2 million units have gone up since 2011. These four countries have provided a buffer to the U.S. blockade.

Cuba has 20,000 medical workers in Venezuela providing free health care. In exchange, Venezuela regularly sent oil shipments to the island.

But when Venezuela’s shipments to Cuba were blocked in 2018 after the U.S. threatened to sanction the ships’ insurers, seriously cutting the island’s energy source, Cuba did not withdraw the doctors. They continue to provide health care in the spirit of internationalist solidarity the island is renowned for.

In May and June this year, Iran successfully defied the U.S. sanctions and delivered several tankers full of oil, refining supplies, and parts to Venezuela. But in August, four Greek-flagged ships  loaded with Iranian fuel headed to Venezuela were seized by the U.S. in an outright act of piracy and robbery. The U.S. sold the fuel for $40 million, to use in its spurious “Victims of State Sponsored Terrorism Fund.” The fuel was already paid for by Venezuela.

Activation of the law’s investment component is already underway. In mid-November, Venezuelan Vice-President Delcy Rodríguez and a team of economics experts met with their counterparts and potential investors in Moscow to discuss the anti-blockade law. Russia has made dozens of economic, environmental and defense pacts with Caracas in recent years. Venezuela will soon receive 10 million doses of Russia’s Sputnik V COVIC-19 vaccine, for use in 2021. There are plans to produce Russia’s vaccine in Venezuela as well.

In addition to Iran’s essential support to Venezuela’s oil’s industry, Turkey is now providing the bulk of flour and pasta imports to Venezuela, since its cost is lower than those produced in the country.

An informative article in Misión Verdad shows how thoroughly the U.S. government–through the U.S. Department of Agriculture–monitors Venezuela’s food supply, agricultural production and imports. This information is used by the U.S. government to plot new economic attacks on the people’s food supply and agricultural infrastructure.

The latest attack was announced in early November by right-wing extremist Elliott Abrams, Trump’s “special envoy” to Venezuela and Iran. Abrams is notorious for helping direct the genocidal U.S. wars in Central America in the 1980s during Reagan’s administration. He is tasked with leading regime-change schemes in Venezuela.

Abrams boasted that he pressured certain countries from importing diesel fuel to Venezuela that the country in turn exchanges for crude oil exports.

Cutting off diesel to Venezuela is aimed at deliberately thwarting the country’s heavy-truck transport of food and other goods through the country, as well as its irrigation, sewage, water treatment, and electrical plant operations.

Confidentiality in the agreements

To prevent U.S. sabotage of Venezuela’s economic agreements with foreign and domestic entities, the anti-blockade law gives the Executive the power to keep such economic arrangements from the public to protect them from sanctions.

Keeping certain economic agreements confidential has been the subject of criticism by the right-wing opposition and from some on the left.

Jesús Faría, a United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) leader and economist, addressed this issue in an interview conducted by opposition journalist Vladimir Villegas:

Any company that is doing business with Venezuela is immediately pressured and if it does not heed the threat, they sanction it. If we openly report on a set of initiatives that we can deploy to solve the country’s problems, the blockade will be applied in the most implacable way.

In his ANC address, Maduro said,

The anti-blockade law… will allow the State to protect our internal and external assets from the threat of confiscation, theft and looting by foreign governments or companies allied with the blockade.…

Faría also answers the critics who blame the government for the workers’ wage and income crisis.

The government has raised the minimum wage continuously, only to have it assaulted by currency speculators, by the blockade and the astronomical jacking up of prices by Venezuelan capitalists.

Faría:

There is no foreign exchange for imports, essential for economic growth, and no public income to finance social and economic investments. To appreciate the seriousness of this last issue, it is necessary to mention that under normal conditions 70% of public income comes from oil activity.

It is clear that two essential conditions are necessary to increase wages. First, the commitment of a socialist government that fights undeniably for the demands of our people.

However, this is not enough. In order to increase wages, it is also necessary to have an income capable of financing such an increase. This is precisely what has been brutally hit by the blockade.

It is well known among the people, that each time the government increases the minimum wage, the capitalists jack up the prices immediately.

A ‘New Economic Policy‘

There are historical parallels to the Venezuelan government strategy in the experience of other socialist-oriented countries facing very challenging economic circumstances. It was first formulated by Lenin in Russia in 1921. After the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, imperialist invasions and the civil war of 1918-1921 had reduced the economy to less than 15 percent of its pre-war output.

Lenin’s New Economic Policy was a strategic retreat from socialist norms, to build up the country’s industrial and agriculture productive capacity. The economy was opened to foreign and domestic investment, agricultural production was incentivized, and some expropriations reversed.

With a severely depleted economy in the aftermath of the civil war and productive forces almost nonexistent, the NEP was critical to the Revolution’s survival, even with the contradictions it created. For instance, increased space for capitalist property relations inevitably increased inequality and boosted the local capitalist class–a political contradiction that the Soviet state then had to confront.

Cuba undertook similar measures

Cuba’s revolutionary government also undertook a necessary step back from a fully socialized economy in the early 1990s, when the GDP fell 34.5 percent between 1989 and 1993, the result of the demise of Eastern European socialism and the Soviet Union.

With the sudden collapse of 85 percent of its trade with the former socialist camp, and U.S. blockade measures that were passed to finally “do away with Cuba,” in 1993 the Cuban government presented an extensive economic plan that was debated and revised in some 86,000 workplace meetings by workers, and throughout all Cuban society.

This stage in Cuba’s history, known as the “Special Period in Time of Peace,” is one of heroic resistance of the Cuban people to the U.S. empire.

Without mincing words or concepts, President Fidel Castro and other leaders described the new strategy as using capitalist-style reforms to preserve the socialist gains of the Revolution.

With a plan that included foreign investments in hotels and international tourism, the restarting of a paralyzed nickel ore industry by foreign investment, converting many state farms to collectives and cooperatives, linking wage increases to production, development of a biotechnology industry, allowing limited self-employment, among other measures, the economy began to recover slowly in 1996.

Cuba’s economy picked up significantly in the 2000s. Then in 2008, Cuba’s economy was slammed by the effects of the worldwide recession. The economic policy first launched in 1993 was broadened to invite more foreign investment and allow the conversion of previously state-run entities to cooperatives and collectives. Today, more than 650,000 workers are engaged in non-state employment. Cuba also has a law that prohibits confidential trade and economic deals from being revealed publicly, to protect those investments.

A unique revolutionary process

Venezuela’s revolutionary process began with Hugo Chávez’s 1999 presidency, in a world without the presence of the socialist camp, as existed with the Soviet Union. In the early years of the Bolivarian Revolution, Cuba and Venezuela formed a vital and strategic relationship that has been of great mutual economic and political benefit. This alliance in turn inspired other progressive governments to take hold in Latin America in the decade of the 2000s.

In revolutionary history, Venezuela is unique. The socialist government has evolved to include the power of the state, including a military force and more than 3 million militias committed to defend the socialist project. The oil industry and other natural resources remain in the hands of the state, by virtue of the 1999 Bolivarian Constitution.

But Venezuela’s bourgeoisie still holds great economic power. It largely acts as an internal destabilizer for U.S. imperialism. Venezuela is still essentially a capitalist country. It is all the more remarkable then, that the Bolivarian revolutionary process has survived 20 years of U.S. imperialist coups, economic war and siege that have intensified since 2017.

Hugo Chávez’s legacy, the United Socialist Party of Venezuela, is more than the ruling party. It retains enormous influence among its millions of members. Mass organizations and social projects called missions, are organized by popular organizations called communes and communal councils. Women play a major role in the process, in the nation’s militias, in the hands-on operation of programs like the CLAP food distribution, and in neighborhood organizations.

Throughout every state, city and rural community, the forces encompassed in the United Socialist Party of Venezuela and the Great Patriotic Pole are mobilizing the people and organizing practice runs to familiarize the population with the voting machines and process come Dec. 6.

In spite of increasing unilateral coercive measures by the U.S., Canada and European countries, especially in the last year, there are several countries allied with Venezuela that have not bowed down to imperialist pressure. The anti-blockade law is Venezuela’s answer to break out of the imperialist encirclement.

It is incumbent upon progressive movements and activists in the world to understand the gravity of Venezuela’s situation, their struggle to overcome and the need for unconditional solidarity with the Bolivarian Revolution. Stand with the heroic Venezuelan masses in defense of their sovereignty and their revolutionary struggle for socialism!

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