This is the second in a series of articles by Joe Montero, who recently visited Venezuela as part of a small delegation, to find out the truth of what is going on there
After having talked to a fair range of Venezuelans, and spending time in decidedly working class neighbourhoods, in city and country, some things have become quite obvious. One of them is the overall political situation.
I have been told repeatedly that to understand this, it is essential to be aware of the nature of Venezuela’s history and the changing contemporary situation.
Many years of economic hardship and political repression have resulted in a resilient population. The battle in Latin America against Spanish colonialism began in Venezuela. Simon Bolivar, the symbol of Latin American identity and liberation was born in Caracas. There is therefore a close identity between being Venezuelan, independent nationhood and the ongoing battle to achieve and maintain it.
It is the working class, indigenous and peasant traditions that are mostly connected to this.
On the other hand, the big landowners, corporate interests and traditional political elite have a historical association with foreign interests. First the Spanish colonists, and then to the business benefits of association with the United States. The term often used in the Gringos. Associated with this connection, is a long tradition of corruption, which has penetrated through Venezuelan society.
This difference lies behind the deep rift in Venezuelan society, has been made all the deeper, by the fact that most of the elite and a large part of the upper middle class are white skinned descendants of European immigrants and the rest of the population is darker skinned. There exists a deep set racism.
The divide is now so extensive, that it is hard to see how this will be resolved by peaceful means. It doesn’t mean that it’s not possible. But it will require an extraordinary effort to find a peaceful solution, and this is what most Venezuelans want.
Achieving it will involve reconciliation with the fact of the emerging political power from below. To opponents of the Chavista revolution, this is fundamentally undemocratic, because it threatens the overall political control through the traditional institutions of the parliamentary institutions. To millions of Venezuelans this represents a much better form of democracy. One which guaranties equality for all.
Within the broad Chavista camp there are differences on what this involves in practice. Particularly around how the emerging grass roots social movements relate to the state. It ranges from arguing for complete independence, to a connection to the state. Regardless of these differences, the existence of this new social political power from below has given hope to those who support it and alarmed those who oppose it.
With the rise of foreign intervention and the ties of the opposition to it, the new social political power has merged with the battle over national sovereignty. For the Chavista movement, defence of the nation’s independence has become the most critical issue of the day, and those grouped around Guaido are seen as traitors, selling out to foreigners for a fistful of dollars.
This view is not confined to supporters of Maduro. Broad sections of society have come to the same conclusion. Even a growing section of the formal opposition forces are seeing this as well. They are breaking from Guaido.
Out of this is emerging a Patriotic Movement, which is bringing together the different tendencies into a coordinated effort. There is agreement to put away other differences to meet the need of the day. Maduro has held out an olive branch, calling for discussion and national unity.
Venezuelan society is rallying, at the same time as the shows of support for Guaido are shrinking. Within this, Maduro’s own support base is rising and the Chavista movement has entered into a new phase of expansion.
There is no doubt that most consider that their nation is at war. Supporters of the Patriotic Movement say that this has taken the shape of economic war, sabotage and the engineering of incidents till now. They also say that the threat of a shooting war via invasion is very real. They do not want it, but insist that Venezuela will fight and create another Vietnam, if it comes to this.
The spirit of Venezuela was expressed to me by an older street peddler. He spoke about how in the 1980’s he had been an activist, arrested, taken into a room where he and others had rods forced into their rectums. Some of the victims died. He survived somehow. Then in the late 1990’s he was arrested again and was repeatedly tortured. He showed me his scars. The election victory of Hugo Chavez led to his release.
The old man then insisted I must have a free coffee, because the Venezuelan way is to share between friends. He then handed out free coffees to the little group who had gathered in the street to listen to the story.
I was moved.
This personal story provides a glimpse into what is moving Venezuela, and this spirit is going to be extremely hard to subdue. These are a people toughened by adversity and prepared to put themselves on the line.
Very little is heard about the truth of the political divide, the aspirations of ordinary Venezuelans, the rise of the new political power and the patriotic Movement outside Venezuela, due to the news blackout, distortion and outright lies, created outside the country and willingly peddled by the bulk of the western media.
Again and again, I and companions with whom I traveled within Venezuela, were asked to help put out the real story, by people want the world to know the truth, as well as help to prevent the march to war and tragedy that this will bring.