World In View: Venezuela in chaos

May 15, 2017

From the May-June 2017 issue of News & Letters

Venezuela is in an economic and political crisis. There are shortages of food and medicine, protests organized by right-wing forces in which deaths and injuries have occurred and confrontation between the national congress controlled by the Right, and the Supreme Court, closer to President Nicolas Maduro. What are the origins of this crisis? What is the role of the U.S.?


The economic origins of the crisis lie with oil, capitalism’s crucial commodity. With a glut of oil on the market and the price falling, Venezuela, with its almost total dependence on oil sales and within the web of the capitalist market despite the call for “21st century socialism,” has seen its revenues drop sharply. This has caused severe shortages of the products it must buy and import. At present the country has a huge international debt and limited resources to meet payments and avoid defaulting that would worsen the economic crisis.

A longer-term political crisis has been occurring since Hugo Chavez’s first election and his push to redistribute oil wealth to the Venezuelan masses in terms of housing, healthcare, education, work and other services. This was resisted by the capitalists and small-business groups, with a coup attempt and an oil strike. Chavez overcame this opposition with the strong support of the Venezuelan masses. At the same time, his top-down approach toward the construction of “socialism” tended more toward a state-capitalist economy. He is no longer present, and Maduro, lacking the relationship Chavez had with ordinary Venezuelans, has been more heavy-handed in trying to administer the state.


With the deepening economic crisis, the right-wing has stepped up its efforts to create political chaos, hoping to force the Maduro government out of office one way or another. Into this morass the U.S., which has already been supporting right-wing manipulations, is stepping in more forcefully, with the head of the U.S. Southern Command—the U.S.’s military force in the region—stating: “The growing crisis situation in Venezuela could compel an urgent regional response.”

No viable solution lies with any of these parties. Can defending the right of Venezuela’s masses to decide the direction for building their own society without outside interference or internal manipulation yield a viable way forward?

—Eugene Walker

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