Excerpt from a talk given at the 8th International Che Guevara Conference in Vancouver, Canada on October 26, 2019. For report, pictures and videos from the conference visit the website: www.cheguevaraconference.ca
How a country for over 20 years can be battling the United States – under attack by all forms of war, sanctions, a diplomatic war, a media war, and remain independent and sovereign. Together with their compañeros and compañeras in Cuba, they are showing the world what it is like to be in the Western Hemisphere, or only 90 miles from the United States, and say “We are not listening to you anymore, we are marching on our own path.”
That is why I think it is so important that we talk about Cuba and Venezuela, and their relationship, both at the International Che Guevara Conference today and yesterday. Venezuela and Cuba have become an epicentre for anti-imperialist struggle.
When we think about the ideas of Che Guevara, about Che’s important legacy in this conference, we must also talk about his legacy of internationalism. About how any oppression around the world must affect all of us, must call us all to action.
“Today, 200 years later, we can say it: After having lost that independence that cost so much, Venezuela, in these last ten years…has recovered its independence…and this recovered independence is a door that we should keep open so that for the next years and decades we can recover all the needs of the people: Freedom, equality, happiness, living, life, a humane country, a full country.” President Hugo Chávez, Comandante Hugo Chávez, said these words at a civic-military parade in Caracas, Venezuela on July 5, 2011, during the 200th anniversary of Venezuela’s Declaration of Independence from Spain. As Chávez explains, through the achievements of the Bolivarian revolutionary process, now, the people of Venezuela not only mark their independence from Spain but also their tremendous advances towards independence from U.S. imperialism.
Today, together with Cuba, the democratically elected government of President Maduro and the Bolivarian revolutionary process are now the biggest threat to the hegemony of the United States in the Western Hemisphere.
I think that there are three factors that explain the situation and how Venezuela has become this epicentre of anti-imperialism. The reasons why a country becomes favourable to imperialism are also why they lose favour and become a target of U.S imperialism. I want to talk about three reasons. One is Venezuela's independence, two is Venezuela’s Bolivarian Revolutionary Process and three is something Professor Acuña discussed in his speech, which is that Venezuela’s success becomes an example for other Latin American countries. The gains of the Bolivarian revolutionary process show what is possible to the rest of Latin America, as we heard the U.S. Trump administration very recently refer to as the “backyard” of the United States. I think when we talk about ALBA, when we talk about Latin American integration, that is a very real threat to the Untied States as well.
Although the mainstream media, including the CBC here in Canada, never mentions sanctions. In fact, you could listen to entire radio programs that never mention sanctions. I wrote an article for Fire This Time, a polemic against Ana Maria Tremonte, who covered “in depth” the situation in Venezuela and didn’t mention the word sanctions once. She’s retired now, but the CBC editorial policy remains the same.
Venezuela is facing brutal and inhuman sanctions by the U.S., Canada, and the European Union. So, how is it that they can write whole articles explaining “The ruin of Venezuela,” for example, this is the front page of an issue from 2018 of the New York Review of Books – and no talk about sanctions.
Under Obama in 2014, the United States, which had already been punishing Venezuela for electing Hugo Chávez in 1998 and beginning the Bolivarian revolutionary process, began blocking economic, financial and commercial trade with Venezuela. Through the approval of laws which made it impossible for anyone in the U.S. to carry out transactions and business with the Venezuelan State. There was the executive order declaring Venezuela, which is thousands of miles away from the U.S., to be an “unusual and extraordinary threat to U.S. national security.”
Then, nearly five years later, in 2019, there is a report by the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR), based in Washington, DC, it is a think-tank that does independent analysis and work, they estimated that 40,000 people have died as a result of U.S. sanctions between 2017-2018 in Venezuela.
CEPR studied how the sanctions make it impossible, difficult and expensive for Venezuela to get medicine, basic foods, because the United States has over 150 measures aimed at destroying the Venezuelan economy, at bringing the people of Venezuela to their knees and forcing the overthrow of President Maduro, and reversing the independence that Venezuela has gained.
In total, sanctions imposed by the U.S., Canada, the E.U. and Switzerland are estimated to have cost Venezuela more than $130 billion since 2015, this amount is equivalent to Venezuela’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in one-year. It is unimaginable to think that that money has just been stolen from the Venezuelan people, and from the government of Venezuela, and still the country is continuing to build as it is.
I have been in Venezuela four times in the last two years – I have been fortunate to travel to Venezuela, for example, to observe the elections in May 2018 as an international accompaniment to the victorious election of President Maduro. After this, there is one reflection that I have, and it is where I started my talk today, the people of Venezuela are steadfast and resilient in their struggle to defend their sovereignty and self-determination - you can see this in mass organizations, community groups, and more.
So, it is no surprise, for anyone that has seen Venezuela with their own eyes, that 9 months after the U.S. government declared Juan Guaido the “interim President of Venezuela” he is no less of a puppet than when the U.S. attempted coup d’état began on January 23, 2019.
This is very important, but it is only possible because people in Venezuela defend their sovereignty and independence and every time that they do, they know that it is going to create a deepening confrontation with imperialism. When people ask me about the elections of May 2018, they have heard about the lower voter turn out, or they repeat what the media has said about how there wasn’t as much support for President Maduro, when in fact, President Maduro received a higher percentage of the electorate voting for him than Trudeau, the same as Obama in 2008, which is hailed as this incredible electoral victory that mobilized the people of the U.S. – this is the same percentage of the vote that Maduro won. So, when I am asked about the May 2018 elections in Venezuela, I tell them about the people that I talked to in the voting lines in Venezuela, about how those people knew that when they voted, if they voted for President Maduro, they knew that the U.S. was going to impose tighter sanctions. They knew when they voted that their life was going to get more difficult if Maduro was re-elected. Can you imagine still wanting to vote for someone, and a government that is defending your sovereignty and independence, even though you know that the United States will continue to punish you if you do?
That brings me to a discussion we started yesterday, and what I think is an important question for this conference which is, why do the governments of the U.S. and Canada want to overthrow the government of Venezuela and reverse the Bolivarian revolutionary process?
Well, what would you think if I said that the imperialist war against Venezuela is not about what the mainstream media, and many leftists, or progressives continue to talk about? Let us be clear, the main factor of the US-led imperialist assault on Venezuela is for one, not about oil, and secondly, not about socialism.
Of course, we can debate and discuss both things. The U.S. is attacking Venezuela for oil and its vast resources is obvious, so what is that deeper reason? I assert that the war on Venezuela today is a war on a country that is asserting its independence from imperialism.
Independence from imperialism and sovereignty, not socialism, and not oil, is the message today broadcast from Venezuela to the people of Latin America and the world. The U.S. government and their allies cannot accept and cannot tolerate a growing anti-imperialist movement, and we will see that with continued horrific repression against people in Chile, or anywhere where people revolt against their neo-liberal, U.S.-allied governments.
Venezuela and the anti-imperialist movement that they are leading together with Cuba in Latin America has the capacity to bring colonial and semi-colonial countries in Latin America and around the world united against the imperialist bully and their endless drive for capitalist market hegemony, neoliberalism and super exploitation which is what the U.S. government intends to bring to Latin America again.
So, what does Venezuela need us to do? Many respected progressive and leftist intellectuals and analysts in North America and Europe I think are paying perhaps too much attention, or are carried away by, the internal dynamics of the Bolivarian revolution, without realizing that our main task is not to speculate about the revolutionary process in Venezuela.
What has the Fire This Time Movement for Social Justice Venezuela Solidarity Campaign focused on? We have monthly protests that began in December of 2015, we support delegations where people can go to Venezuela to see for their own eyes what is happening, we hold public educational events about sanctions, the blockade, and the reality in Venezuela, we work together with other groups across Canada and in the U.S., including with something called the Campaign to End U.S./Canada Sanctions on Venezuela, we collect petition signatures, and largely, we talk to people on the streets about what is happening in Venezuela.
We have the necessity to build a more united and stronger solidarity movement. This means building a strong antiwar, anti-imperialist movement that also focuses on building solidarity with Venezuela in defense of their right to self-determination, which I think can bring all types of people on board. We can bring in many more people around supporting the right of Venezuelan’s to choose their own government.
The Venezuelan Bolivarian revolution and defending its independence has really created for us a golden opportunity for progressive, leftist, pacifist, and all other human-loving activists to overcome the fragmentation that has existed for so long on the left. Working and oppressed people in the U.S. and Canada must hear us; must see us in united action, in order to believe us and to join us. This is a movement that must involve people in Latin American community and all other communities in Canada working together, including people in Indigenous communities fighting for their own right to self-determination. It means concrete actions, handing out information, petitioning, cultural events, bringing people from Venezuela to Canada, which I will tell you, has been nearly impossible given Canada’s position against Venezuela.
I also want to call attention to the example of the Embassy Protection Collective, which is now the Embassy Protection Collective Defense Fund, you can get more information at the back table. The Embassy Protection Collective was a protest that lasted over 30 days to defend the Venezuelan Embassy in Washington, DC. The protectors were eventually sequestered inside of the Embassy, and four activists were in the Embassy protecting it from a take-over by the illegitimate representatives of Juan Guaido in the United States when they were arrested. They were defending the right of Venezuela on the grounds of very basic and well-established international laws, the Vienna Convention, that govern the sanctity embassies. They led the struggle with 24 hours a day protests that were loud and energetic, and brought together different movements. This was a powerful example of what we can build in solidarity with Venezuela.
Now, four of the Embassy Protestors are facing up to a 1 year in prison and a $10,000 fine and we are helping to fundraise for them. As I said, you can get more information at the back.
At the root of all conflicts and battles of imperialist countries against independent countries, including colonial and semi-colonial countries, is the drive to deny them their sovereignty and self-rule. Everything else is secondary.
We have very clearly seen that the heroic people of Venezuela and their revolutionary government, under Comandante Chavez and now democratically elected President Maduro, are extremely capable of dealing with all kinds of internal counter-revolutionary sabotage. We must immediately increase our effort to explain to the people in the advanced industrial countries that shortages of goods, food, medicine, and basic necessities are the result 500 years of colonialism in Latin America, and now today also the result of inhuman, brutal and heavy imperialist sanctions and blockade against Venezuela, and also against Cuba. We must build a movement in defense of the Venezuelan people with the main slogan of “US, Canada and All Other Imperialists Hands Off Venezuela!” and “End the Blockade Against Venezuela!” Let’s work and focus together in a united effort on these basic demands. As Professor Acuña ended, I also want to end the same – Venceremos, we will win!
Follow Alison on Twitter: @Alisoncolette
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