Comment by NDMLP International Affairs Study Group
The Counterrevolutionary Build-up
Venezuela and Brazil are current scenes of a new form of coup d’état designed to restore South America to its worst post-WW2 years in the 1960’s, when US imperialism used loyalists in the military establishment to decide who rules the country. Although times have changed since the US-backed brutal military coup in Chile deposed Salvador Allende in 1973, military methods persisted.
The US waged a proxy war against the Sandinista government of Nicaragua between 1979 and 1990 using the notorious Contras who subjected the country to eleven years of terror until the US had its way, but at tremendous cost to the country. The Sandinistas, however, returned to power in 2006. In El Salvador, during the 12-year long civil war from 1980 to 1992, US military personnel and the CIA collaborated with killer squads of the repressive regime. Grenada, a small island in the Caribbean, was punished in 1983 for being friendly towards Cuba: US troops invaded Grenada and toppled the government of Maurice Bishop. The overthrow in 1989 of the once US favourite and informant, and well known drug trafficker, Manuel Noriega of Panama was overkill against a dictator without means to defend.
Haiti saw some of the clumsiest US meddling in the Caribbean. Highly undemocratic means were used to prevent the return to power of Jean-Bertrand Aristide, a popular politician known for his advocacy of Liberation Theology. The US orchestrated a coup against Aristide in 2004 and then the US military kidnapped him. The Obama regime ensured that Aristide did not return to Haiti until after presidential elections in 2011, in which his party was forbidden to contest. Haiti’s relations with Cuba picked up fast from 1998 when Cuba― then without diplomatic relations with Haiti ―came to the rescue of the hurricane disaster struck Haiti. However, the US took advantage of the disastrous earthquake of January 2010 to place Haiti under effective US control with Michel Martelly as the US approved President from 2011 to 2016.
The US bid to militarily topple President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela in 2002 failed miserably. The failure, besides making Chavez a bitter enemy, also diplomatically weakened the US in Latin America. The next US adventure in Latin America was in Honduras. Manuel Zelaya of the then centre-right Partido Liberal, elected President in 2006, was inspired by political changes in South America, especially Venezuela, and sought in 2008 to join the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA) an inter-state organization of Latin America and the Caribbean, initiated in 2004 by Cuba and Venezuela and with a current membership of eleven, predominantly Caribbean, countries. Zelaya was punished in 2009 by removal from power by a military coup which the whole of Latin America and the Caribbean denounced. Although there was no evidence of a direct US role, Martin Andersen asserted in his article “Unpunished U.S. Southern Command role in ’09 Honduran military coup” [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2009_Honduran_coup_d%27%C3%A9tat] that senior officials at US Southern Command actively supported the coup; and more recently Mark Weisbrot produced evidence Hilary Clinton, when she was US Secretary of State, acted to prevent the return of Manuel Zelaya [http://america.aljazeera.com/opinions/2014/9/hillary-clinton-honduraslatinamericaforeignpolicy.html].
The next successful US bid for change regime in South America was the constitutional coup in Paraguay in June 2012, where the Senate impeached left-of-centre President Fernando Lugo; his removal from office was then affirmed by the Supreme Court.
Although the US was most keen on a regime change in Venezuela, which will be discussed in more detail later in the article, regime change in Argentina came about much sooner than expected. Peter Koening [http://www.globalresearch.ca/argentina-a-quiet-neoliberal-coup-detat-in-latin-americas-southern-cone/5492654] argues that Daniel Scioli, incumbent Governor of Buenos Aires Province, of the ruling Front for Victory Party who led his opponent Mauricio Macri, the neoliberal multi-billionaire Mayor of Buenos Aires of the right-wing Cambiemos Party by an impressive 13.6% margin three months before the election was cheated of victory by foul means. James Petras [http://www.globalresearch.ca/argentina-the-end-of-post-neoliberalism-and-the-rise-of-the-hard-right/5509379] predicted that there will be a rapid reversal of policies by the new regime to suit the neoliberal agenda.
It was against this background that moves for a regime change in Brazil gathered momentum.
The Brazilian right achieved on 31st August 2016 its aim of ending 13 years of left-wing governance, something which it may not easily achieve by the electoral process. This outcome of a process that started with Eduardo Cunha, then President of the Chamber of Deputies, agreeing to launch impeachment proceedings against Dilma Rousseff was virtually a foregone conclusion when the Partido do Movimento Democrático Brasileiro (PMDB), a centrist Brazilian Christian Democratic partner of the ruling coalition announced its departure, making President Rousseff vulnerable to an impeachment vote.
What followed was a formality, after the PMDB joined the Brazilian right to bring down President Rousseff irrespectively of whether she was guilty or not of the charges against her or if the charges were adequate to impeach her as President. Events moved fast. It took less than 11 months since the country’s Federal Accounting Tribunal called into question the budgetary accounting of President’s Rousseff’s government in 2014 until her removal as President of Brazil. Dilma Rousseff in fact remains one of the few political leaders not tainted by financial scandal. The case for impeachment was irregularities in the calculation of the state budget, with some payments delayed, in order not to transgress the limits of the approved budget― a method routinely used by most Brazilian governments.
It was a creditable feat for the two houses of parliament packed with politicians with serious records of crime and corruption. The suspension by the Supreme Court on 8th December 2015 of the special commission elected by secret vote by the Chamber of Deputies to debate Rousseff’s impeachment and its nullification by the Supreme Court on 17th December were irrelevant to the impeachment process that was set in motion. The Chamber of Deputies then elected by open vote a new commission, two-third of whose members were implicated in various crimes.
She appointed former president Lula da Silva as her chief of staff on 16th March 2016, partly to protect him from political harassment by the opposition since, as a minister, he would have immunity and could only be tried by the Supreme Court in matters pertaining to the long ongoing corruption on a massive scale in the state-oil company Petrobras (the “Car Wash” investigation) was interpreted as a move to pervert the course of justice and public opinion was mobilized against Rousseff.
Things went according to plan, and Michel Temer― a right-wing member of the Brazilian Democratic Movement Party, Vice President since 2011 and Acting President from 12 May 2016 ―was sworn in on 31st August. But the public view of Temer’s government was far from what the conspirators wished for. Several members of Temer’s cabinet were then under investigation in the Petrobras probe, and his government was much embarrassed by the resignation of three key ministers in quick succession: Planning Minister Romero Jucá on 23rd May, followed by Transparency and Anti-Corruption Minister Fabiano Silveira resigned on 31st May and Tourism Minister Henrique Alves on 16th June, all in connection with financial scandals linked with Petrobras.
In Early June the newspaper O Globo reported that Brazil’s Prosecutor General Rodrigo Janot sought the arrests of the Leader of the Senate and other senior ruling party politicians for allegedly trying to obstruct a two-year-old investigation into political kickbacks on Petrobras contracts. Those targeted were Senate President Renan Calheiros, Senator Romero Jucá, the president of the ruling PMDB, former Brazilian President José Sarney and the suspended speaker of the lower house of Congress, Eduardo Cunha, who was heavily compromised in the Petrobras scandal and played a central role in the impeachment process. He was suspended as President of the Lower House by a Supreme Court judge in May 2016, indicted by Brazil’s Supreme Court on 24th June and resigned in shame on 7th July. It was thus unsurprising that Acting President Temer, already implicated in serious allegations of corruption including bribery and barred from standing in another election, was loudly booed by the Brazilian crowds at the opening ceremonies of the Rio Olympics in August 2016.
As moves to impeach Rousseff gathered momentum, public support for her revived fast since the public realized that she had not committed any financial crime. She defended her conduct well and insisted that her impeachment had no legal basis and that her removal from office would constitute a coup that will open the way for politically motivated removal of democratically elected persons from office. Legal campaign by her supporters persuaded the Supreme Court to rule that there should be separate votes to decide her removal as President for irregular accounting procedure designed to conceal the nation’s mounting economic problems and another to decide if she should be banned from public office for eight years. Her opponents in the Senate, despite an overall majority hostile to her, mobilized adequate majority only for the first part of the vote.
Many Western analysts who concede that Rousseff’s removal was a farcical parliamentary coup avoid saying that the coup was plotted by conspirators at both home and abroad. Michel Chossudovsky in his article “Wall Street Behind Brazil Coup d’Etat: The Impeachment of Dilma Rousseff” in Global Research asserts that her impeachment was ordered by Wall Street. [http://www.globalresearch.ca/wall-street-behind-brazil-coup-d-etat/5526715]. Also see highlighted item on page 50.
News analysis in teleSUR titled “Russia Blames ‘Foreign Interference’ for Brazil Coup” [http://www.telesurtv.net/english/news/Russia-Blames-Foreign-Interference-for-Brazil-Coup-20160512-0026.html] indicates a strong US role in the conspiracy to remove Rousseff, while mainstream Western media would either blame Rousseff for her downfall or interpret the coup in terms of internal rivalries and attempts by politicians to escape corruption charges.
The Russian state media explained US motivation to encourage the constitutional coup in terms of Rousseff’s signing the agreement to establish the (BRICS) New Development Bank; the prospect of her support for a new world reserve currency besides the threat BRICS poses to the U.S. dollar; the initiation of the 5,600 km long fibre-optic telecommunications system across the Atlantic in October 2014, which would protect against foreign espionage as well as undermine the US-backed communications monopolies; blocking the return of major US oil and mining companies to Brazil and instead looking to China for investment. It was also suggested that the CIA used subordinate media in its propaganda war against Rousseff.
Rousseff, in an interview with teleSUR, however, rejected US involvement in her country’s political crisis, amid reports that opposition figures met in Washington in the days leading up to the coup.
Rousseff has commendably stood up to her enemies and at every stage declared her intention to fight back. Alongside the coup, a broad coalition called the Popular Front emerged in defence of democracy and against impeachment. It comprised progressive parties ranging from the social democratic Workers Party (PT) to the far left Party of Socialism and Freedom (PSOL), the unions, the peasant and other social movements. Notably, this popular coalition is also critical of the neoliberal policies of the Rousseff government, and demands a radical change of orientation.
Dilma Rousseff although she ran a somewhat leftist campaign, as soon as elected she took a series of measures following a clear economic neoliberal agenda. In the context of economic crisis, inflation and recession, more and more concessions were made to the banks, to financial capital, and to the big landowners, whose main leader was nominated to be Minister of Agriculture. What should be noted is that Rousseff, although seemingly more left oriented than her predecessor Lula da Silva, was incapable of breaking the mould to act in firm defiance of imperialism.
She is not solely responsible for the economic policies that hurt her politically and made room for a corrupt parliament to vote her out of office, however unjustly. She inherited them from her predecessor who still holds sway in the PT which, along with its leader Lula da Silva, had drifted far from its militant stand against imperialism and its allies. Once in power, President Lula da Silva combined economic liberalization with revitalizing bourgeois democracy: his ‘Third Way’ ideology facilitated a market-led, imperial-centred model of capital accumulation. His embrace of free market-IMF structural adjustment policies simply disembowelled his agrarian reform policies and led to a rise in unemployment, decline in real wages, slashing of pension benefits and negative per capita economic growth, part of which was amid the brewing crisis of US-European capitalism.
The events in Brazil remind us that there is no middle path in a world dominated by imperialism, which will not take any more kindly to the slightest deviation from the line laid down by it than it would to outright defiance. Imperialism is in fact better placed to dominate over or topple at will regimes that are willing to accommodate imperialist demands.
The PT got close to a self-criticism only after Rousseff was corned by the Brazilian right; and seems to have, rather belatedly, relearned the old axiom that the main political instrument of the left is social mobilization, in which the working class takes into its own hands the helm of society and State. (http://www.revleft.com/vb/threads/195556-Overthrowing-Dilma-Rousseff-Brazil-It%E2%80%99s-Class-War-and-Their-Class-is-Winning)
The question remains as to why it took so long for the PT to rediscover class and class struggle. The PT is alone in this matter. It has been a common failing among left parties which were elected to power either alone or as a dominant partner in coalition government like in Nepal, several Latin American countries, and in the states of Kerala and West Bengal in India, or even as junior partner in a ruling alliance as in Sri Lanka in the 1970’s, where the left suffered an illusion of lasting power and forgot the potential of the enemy to return with a vengeance.
The coup against Rousseff has its positive side. The plotters are too unpopular for the coup regime to retain power by fair elections, despite the weakness of the Brazilian left. The Popular Front coalition formed in defence of democracy and against impeachment comprising left and progressive parties, the unions, peasant and movements and other social activists has done much to educate the public about the coup and mobilize public support for Rousseff. But more is needed from the alliance since the defeat of a right, well entrenched in power and backed by US imperialism, will not be easy.
The future of Brazil hangs in the balance and choices are narrow. The left needs to mobilize as a mass movement with a clear anti-imperialist program to isolate imperialism and its big bourgeois allies in Brazil. Unity based on short-sighted parliamentary political goals lacks vision; and the broad left of Brazil, like the rest of South America needs to be weaned from the illusion that fundamental change is possible through the electoral process, an idea that was until recently encouraged by many left enthusiasts, based on the electoral success of the Left in South America, especially Venezuela.
Confession of a Conspirator
As Brazil’s New Ruler Admits Lie Behind Impeachment, US Press Closes Eyes
In a September 22 speech to an elite foreign policy group in New York City, Brazil’s legislatively installed president, Michel Temer, made the startling admission that President Dilma Rousseff was removed from office because of her position on economic policy, rather than any alleged wrongdoing on her part.
Speaking to the Americas Society/Council of the Americas, a group of “opinion leaders” and corporate executives with interests in Latin America, Temer said, as translated by The Intercept (9th September 2016):
And many months ago, while I was still vice president, we released a document named “A Bridge to the Future” because we knew it would be impossible for the government to continue on that course. We suggested that the government should adopt the theses presented in that document called “A Bridge to the Future.” But, as that did not work out, the plan wasn’t adopted and a process was established which culminated with me being installed as president of the republic.
The Intercept‘s Inacio Vieira notes that the economic plan that Rousseff refused to implement called for widespread cuts to social programs and privatization, a radically different agenda from the one approved by the 54.5 million Brazilian voters who gave Rousseff’s Workers’ Party its fourth electoral victory in 2014.
The US and its minions in Venezuela tried all manner of tricks to bring down the regime of Hugo Chavez, but were outwitted at every turn by the charismatic Chavez. The United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) founded in 2007 had very strong electoral support until 2015 when it lost its parliamentary majority.
Among important internal factors that weakened the PSUV were its over reliance on public admiration for Chavez and the failure to politicize the masses. Also, the much needed welfare measures in education, health, poverty alleviation and social security that benefitted the vast majority were mainly funded by the massive income from petroleum export, boosted by the high price of oil which lasted until a financial crisis shook the US and Europe in 2009. Chavez also used the oil income to boost anti-imperialism in the region. Diversification of the economy was, however, slow to realize and the rapid fall in oil prices after 2009 initially slowed down economic progress and soon led to economic recession in a society where the steady rise in living standards led to greater consumer expectation. There were besides, corruption which was endemic to Venezuela and a rising crime rate aggravated by criminal gangs from neighbouring Colombia and encouraged by the political opposition.
Conditions for destabilization matured amid deepening economic recession, double digit inflation, falling living standards and weakening political support owing to the global economic slowdown combined with falling oil prices. Economic sabotage by hoarders and cross-border smuggling of goods into Colombia combined to cause real as well as artificial shortages of essential goods; and criminal elements acting in collaboration with the opposition aggravated social violence.
There was also vicious manipulation by the US and global bankers to force a collapse of the Venezuelan currency, the Bolivar, its net effect being an escalation of the cost of imports and domestic inflation, and thus a fall in real income especially of low income groups. The resultant crisis comprising the collapse of the currency, inflation, recession and flight of capital, led to a vicious cycle of general economic collapse, for which the PSUV government is blamed although the sources were elsewhere. It was against this background that the opposition attempted to overthrow the Maduro government.
The US and its clients in Venezuela who during the years of Chavez unsuccessfully resorted to political violence, all out media warfare, economic sabotage and military coups saw their opportunity in the aftermath of the death of Chavez in 2013. Imperialism scented blood in the slim electoral majority with which Chavez’s hand-picked successor Nicolas Maduro was elected in 2014, and went in hot pursuit. It urged the opposition to act to bring down Maduro through destabilizing the government on several fronts.
In February 2014, the US opted for a confrontation and backed a most violent extra parliamentary opposition led by Leopoldo Lopez, which openly called for a coup and resorted to extreme violence which killed 43 people, injured 870 and inflicted immense economic damage on public property. The government took two months to overcome the terrorism. The detained perpetrators of terror were hailed as “political prisoners” by the US government, its ‘human rights’ outfits and mass media.
Maduro government’s lack of control over foreign funding of local organizations allowed the US to channel through the notorious National Endowment for Democracy tens of millions of dollars to all manner of organizations and individuals who were amenable to the civilian-military coup slated for 12th February 2015, but thwarted by military intelligence and resistance by lower level loyalist soldiers.
Amid the economic dislocation in Venezuela, money seeped through various channels to the opposition parties and their politicians, already well funded by US-assisted NGOs and agencies for political intrigue. The opposition, having gaind control of the national assembly in December 2015, has been in a hurry to remove Maduro from power well before the end of his term in 2018. It planned to remove Maduro from power constitutionally by forcing a recall referendum, failing which it would make it impossible for him to govern. However, unless achieved by 2016, a recall will not lead to fresh elections but to the Vice President succeeding as President, leaving destabilization as the sole option.
The strength of the Maduro government is its legacy of nearly 15 years of progressive measures that socially and economically benefitted the majority and the rise of community-based grass-roots democracy. Thus, despite severe economic hardships since 2013, forty percent of the electorate backed the PSUV in the last elections, and can be counted on to support government efforts to reverse the economic decline.
So far the Maduro government has successfully overcome offensives by US proxies. More recently Maduro has kept the coup makers at bay by resorting to firm security measures and the use of competent intelligence. He minimized the role of the US embassy in internal matters and hence its subversive potential by trimming US diplomatic staff from 100 to 17 to match Venezuela’s staff in Washington. Such measures can, however, have only a short-term effect as the enemies can reorganize and adopt fresh strategies.
The government can achieve real and lasting strength only by addressing the deep, fundamental issues of the Venezuelan economy and state. Venezuela has to learn important economic and political lessons from its negative experience of the past decade.
A Venezuelan economy based on a petroleum export is unreliable, as it depends on a market dominated by the US and its allies. The consumer economy based on oil revenue has proven to be unsustainable as well as politically disastrous. Thus, national defence in the medium and long term against the imperialist offensive demands a self-sufficient economy, based on strong local production free of bureaucratic control.
US intervention and destabilization comprise a serious external threat. But the bigger threat is internal and comes from a sizeable section of the political and bureaucratic elite. These forces have already hampered the implementation of major projects by deviating from plans. It was such social groups that played a key role in undermining socialism in the USSR and China to become the new capitalists who exercised direct control over the state. It requires strategic planning and informed mass involvement to stop the rot; and most importantly a long term view of the economy and proactive economic planning.
It is necessary and correct to arrest and punish anti-government conspirators, individually and collectively. But conspirators breed like vermin; and breeding grounds exist at home and abroad. Thus, it is most important to control the conditions that enable their proliferation.
Thus what Venezuela needs is social as well as economic mobilization to sustain itself during the critical next two years and to steer the economy along a stable and sustainable route in subsequent years, which means replacing a consumerist economy with one primarily based on production to meet the needs of the toiling masses.
Reaction secured a marginal electoral victory in Argentina in 2015; and the reactionary regime of Mauricio Macri lost no time to reverse every meaningful gain for the ordinary people under the left-of-centre governments of Néstor Kirchner and Cristina Fernández de Kirchner from 2003 to 2015. Macri, who has moved aggressively to the right, rules by decree, bypassing the left-dominated legislature. He devalued the peso by 40% hoping to increase exports but also inducing inflation which will mainly hurt the poorer population. He has liberalized the financial sector by removing capital controls, lifted import restrictions, and waived taxes on mining to benefit foreign and local big business. He also ended subsidies for electricity and made redundant thousands of civil servants to add to the misery of a people suffering under an economic crisis. To the glee of Wall Street’s vulture capitalists he also pledged to pay US$4.6 billion to the US hedge funds, which held Argentina to ransom during its disastrous depression leading declaration of bankruptcy in 2001. [Source: http://www.globalresearch.ca/latin-americas-revolution-under-attack/5526891;]
In May 2016 President Macri sent a military delegation to the US to sign a military cooperation agreement which entails the establishment of a US military base in Ushuaia on the southernmost tip of the Argentina. Among other matters reportedly discussed is the negotiation of another military base in Argentina’s Misiones Province, located in the north-eastern corner of the country at the border between Paraguay and Brazil. [Source: http://www.telesurtv.net/english/news/Macri-Gives-Go-Ahead-to-US-Military-Installations-in-Argentina-20160518-0029.html]
The moves are not surprising; and much more is due in the months and years to come. The only hope, with good reason, is that the people of Argentina have further matured politically since 2001-2003, when they unceremoniously disposed of a succession of reactionary rulers. Public opposition to Macri’s ‘reforms’ is strong, with trade unions firmly resisting his anti-labour moves. But it takes more than protests, law suits and parliamentary political resistance to reverse the damage that Macri will inflict on Argentina during his tenure, unless terminated soon.
What is important about the turn of events in Argentina is that it is a sign of what awaits Brazil and more importantly Venezuela if reaction is allowed to have its way. All is not lost in Brazil yet, but a limited agenda like restoring Rousseff or returning PT to power will only postpone the evil day when reaction will return more strongly to dominate over a population which would have lost its will to fight by wasting its efforts on campaigns lacking a long-term view. Things are less gloomy on the Venezuela front, with the opposition retreating a little against a massive show of strength on the streets by government supporters on 1st September in contrast to a rather poor show by the opposition on the same day, despite weeks of preparation. But that does not mean that the Maduro government can take anything for granted or be complaisant, since the ominous regime change in Argentina and the ability of Colombian reactionaries to mobilize sufficient support to reject at a referendum held on 2nd October 2016 the accord between the Government of Colombia and FARC revolutionaries brought about by the untiring efforts of Cuba, with Norway as moderator, over four years to put an end to 52 years of conflict are not conducive to peace in Venezuela.
What happens in Argentina, Brazil and Venezuela in the coming months will be decisive for the future of Latin America. Events in Venezuela will be crucial since in the past decade the US has targeted the government of Venezuela more than any other in Latin America, not just because the US resents what has been achieved in Venezuela but more because of the inspiration that Venezuela has been to several countries in the region including Bolivia, Ecuador and Nicaragua to openly defy US imperialism and others to at least occasionally stand up to the US.
Thus the US and its pro-business allies in the Venezuela National Assembly should be stopped well before they could repeat in Venezuela what the US‒Macri alliance is implementing in Argentina. Besides the struggle for national survival within Venezuela, there is strong need for international solidarity with Venezuela; and all left, progressive and democratic forces should take a firm stand in support of Venezuela against imperialist meddling.
This is also the time for rethinking our understanding of global issues and the dangers of subjectivism. Those, including some Marxists, who called the process in Venezuela “Socialism of the 21st Century” should undergo an exercise in serious self-criticism, especially for promoting the illusion of a “peaceful path to socialism”. Equally, revolutionary dogmatists who, besides their criticism of the Venezuelan project, refused to defend Venezuela against sustained US attack should realize their folly. There are lessons for all of us to learn.
Other sources: “Reactionary Tide in Latin America” by Michael Löwy [https://www.solidarity-us.org/site/node/4695]; “US and Venezuela: Decades of Defeats and Destabilization” by James Petras [http://www.globalresearch.ca/us-and-venezuela-decades-of-defeats-and-destabilization/5434884]