Spain, 1936-39; Venezuela, 2019-


The ghosts of the Spanish Civil War are stalking Venezuela.

In the late 30s, social torment tore, first the Spanish crown, then the Republic, apart.

But it wasn’t just a domestic duel: the military revolt was supported by Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy. Although the Republicans had the political sympathies of the democracies, France, Great Britain, and the U.S., and the active military aid of Stalin’s Soviet Union, the former two failed to support the Republic, and America was still in its “isolationist” mood. Moscow’s intervention was limited by its partisan persecution of its leftist opponents, the Trotskyists and the Catalonian separatists.

The Republic went down to a fascist dictatorship led by Dictator Francisco Franco and the fascist modeled Spanish Falange Party. During the following grim, three decades of domestic repression Franco marginally aided, and teetered until near the end of the war on the edge of joining the Axis Powers [Germany, Italy, Japan, etc.] against the Allies.

Today’s civil conflict in Venezuela, which like its Spanish Motherland has a long history of erratic government, has produced a similar chaotic situation: an internal military struggle for power, hyper-inflation, more than a tenth of its population fleeing and disrupting its neighbors as refugees.

The picture is all too familiar. But so is the intervention of Iran, Russia and China, on the side of a nascent dictatorship, with the U.S., again, uncertain whether to intervene even though it has invoked the Monroe Doctrine against the intervention of the non-American states. [The Monroe Doctrine was a United States policy of opposing European colonialism in the Americas beginning in 1823. Washington insisted too that further efforts by European nations to take control of any independent state in North or South America would be viewed as “the manifestation of an unfriendly disposition toward the United States.”]

With its 35 million people and vast natural resources – including the world’s largest proved petroleum reserves – Hugo Chávez, styled himself as the leader of the “Bolivarian Revolution,” a socialist political program for Latin America, named after Simón Bolívar, one of the leaders in the independence movement against Spain. Chavez led an unsuccessful coup d’état for which he was imprisoned. Pardoned prison after two years, he founded a political party known as the Fifth Republic Movement and was elected President of Venezuela in 1998. Suffering a return of the cancer originally diagnosed in June 2011, Chávez died in Caracas on 5 March 2013 at the age of 58.

By the end of Chávez’s presidency in the early 2010s, economic actions during the preceding decade such as deficit spending price controls proved to be unsustainable, with Venezuela’s economy faltering while poverty, inflation and shortages increased. Chávez’s presidency also saw significant increases in the country’s murder rate and continued corruption within the police force and government. His use of enabling acts and his government’s use of Bolivarian propaganda were also controversial.

Internationally, Chávez aligned himself with the Marxist–Leninist governments of Fidel and then Raúl Castro in Cuba, as well as the socialist governments of Evo Morales (Bolivia), Rafael Correa (Ecuador) and Daniel Ortega (Nicaragua). His presidency was seen as a part of the socialist “pink tide” sweeping Latin America. Chávez described his policies as anti-imperialist, being a prominent adversary of the United States’s foreign policy as well as a vocal critic of U.S.-supported neoliberalism and laissez-faire capitalism. He described himself as a Marxist.

Freedom in Venezuela suffered following his decision, ratified in a national referendum, to abolish congress and the judiciary, and by his creation of a parallel government of military cronies. His 1998 electoral victory helped to further cement his geopolitical and ideological ties with Fidel Castro by signing an agreement under which Venezuela would supply Cuba with 53,000 barrels of oil per day at preferential rates, in return receiving 20,000 trained Cuban medics and educators. In the ensuing decade, this would be increased to 90,000 barrels (in exchange for 40,000 Cuban medics and teachers), dramatically.

In order to ensure that his Bolivarian Revolution would continue, Chávez discussed his wish to stand for re-election and spoke of ruling beyond 2030. Under the 1999 constitution, he could not legally stand for re-election again. He brought about a referendum on 15 February 2009 to abolish the two-term limit for all public offices, including the presidency. On 7 October 2012, Chávez won election as president for a fourth time, his third six-year term.

The inauguration of Chávez’s new term was scheduled for 10 January 2013, but as he was undergoing medical treatment at the time in Cuba, he was not able to return to Venezuela for that date.

Due to the death of Chávez, Vice President Nicolás Maduro took over the presidential powers until presidential elections were held. On 5 March 2013, Vice President Nicolás Maduro announced on state television that Chávez had died in a military hospital in Caracas at 16:25 VET (20:55 UTC ).

Maduro alleged that Chávez was poisoned or infected with a cancer virus by the U.S. government. A spokesman for the U.S State Department dismissed the claim as “absurd”. His death triggered a constitutional requirement that a presidential election be called within 30 days held in 2013, which Maduro won with 50.62% of the vote as the United Socialist Party of Venezuela candidate. He has ruled Venezuela by decree since 19 November 2013 through powers granted to him by the pre-2015 Venezuela legislature.

Shortages in Venezuela and decreased living standards led to protests beginning in 2014 that escalated into daily marches nationwide, repression of dissent and a decline in Maduro’s popularity. The Supreme Tribunal removed power from the elected National Assembly, resulting in a constitutional crisis and protests in 2017. Maduro called for a rewrite of the constitution, and the Constituent Assembly of Venezuela was elected in 2017, under what many — including Venezuela’s chief prosecutor Luisa Ortega and Smartmatic, the company that ran the voting machines — considered irregular voting. The majority of its members were pro-Maduro. On 20 May 2018, presidential elections were called prematurely; opposition leaders had been jailed, exiled or forbidden to run, there was no international observation, and tactics to suggest voters could lose their jobs or social welfare if they did not vote for Maduro were used. The majority of nations in the Western world did not recognize the Constituent Assembly election or the validity of Maduro’s 2018 reelection; the Canadian, Panamanian, and the United States governments sanctioned Maduro.

Maduro has been described as a “dictator”, and an Organization of American States (OAS) report determined that crimes against humanity have been committed during his presidency. Maduro allies including China, Cuba, Russia, Iran, and Turkey support him and denounce what they call interference in Venezuela’s domestic affairs by the U.S. Maduro’s government states that the crisis is a “coup d’état” led by the United States to topple him and control the country’s oil reserves. Guaidó denies the coup allegations, saying peaceful volunteers back his movement.

Venezuelan troops were supposed to sweep onto the streets of Caracas to topple their leader, Nicolás Maduro. But the dramatic predawn insurrection quickly unravelled, with Moreno and other top Chavistas reaffirming their backing for Maduro and troops remaining almost entirely loyal to their existing commander-in-chief A few hours later — at about 8 or 9am — the head of Venezuela’s supreme court, Maikel Moreno, would make a statement announcing his defection and support for Maduro’s challenger, Juan Guaidó.

sws-05-11-19

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