We Are Not Seeing a Battle between ‘Two Segments of Society’ in Venezuela

Sorry oligarchs, but we’re on to you. You do not represent a segment of Venezuelan society, although that is the claim of a 2017 article in the Independent (https://www.independent.co.uk/news/long_reads/how-venezuela-went-from-the-richest-economy-in-south-america-to-the-brink-of-financial-ruin-a7740616.html).  

The article explains that after Venezuela became a democracy in 1958 the power sharing agreement between the country’s three leading parties unraveled. Their pact, meant to preserve democracy came to dominate it. party elites picked candidates and blocked outsiders, making politics less responsive. The agreement to share wealth fostered corruption. (Sound familiar?)

Chavez ran for president in 1998, and his populist message of returning power to the people won him victory. But the parties, now reduced to two, still dominated government institutions. Chavez made judicial reforms to reduce corruption and abolished the legislature’s upper house. The latter reform is cricized in the Independent article, although the author admits there were problems before the economic crisis that brought Chavez to power, summed up by ‘personalism and petroleum’. Personalism tends to consolidate power under a single leader and petroleum leads to corruption.

Chavez’s struggles with the business and political establishment are said to be due to his executive decrees and populist self-righteousness. In other words, if he had played nice with the oligarchs everything would have turned out ok.

When the establishment elites removed Chavez from power in 2002, the people protested and he was returned to power. The coup leaders, who suffered from a serious case of overreach, had dissoved the constitution and legislature, yet Chavez is criticized for acting as though politics is a zero-sum game. This is based on the fiction that he was fighting a legitimate part of Venezuelan society. His treatment of the unions gets a similar treatment.

When courts challenged Chavez, he gutted them, suspending unfriendly judges and packing the supreme court with loyalists. The result was intense polarization between ‘two segments of society’ who now saw each other as existential threats, destroying any possibility of compromise.

Two segments of society? Really? This strike was actually an ‘oil lockout’ organized by the Venezuelan Workers’ Federatio (CTV); the Venezuelan Chamber of Commerce (Fedecamaras), a right-wing coalition known as the Democratic Coordination (CD); and other sectors of the Venezuelan opposition. It was aimed at overthrowing the President of theRepublic, but meanwhile it caused scarcity of basic goods. More serious for Venezuela’s economy in the long-run, it inflicted damage to the state-owned oil company, Petroleos de Venezuela (Pdvsa). The country lost $14.4 billion in oil revenue during the lockout, which lasted 63 days and inflicted damage to Pdvsa that has not been overcome to this day. Over a thousand wells were broken during the lockout, and cannot be repaired. (https://venezuelanalysis.com/analysis/7527)

There were four stoppages called by the opposition within a year: December 10, 2001; February 9, 2002; October 21, 2002; and the April 2002 coup. The coup included acts of violence and an attempted takeover of the Venezuelan Armed Forces. Yet today, the damage to oil infrastructure is one of the talking points of the corporate media in the US, which supports the administration’s sanctions on the Maduro government.

Unfortunately, oil stoppages were only part of the sabotage. Since 1979, the information technologies of Pdvsa have been controlled by SAIC (Science Applications International Corporation). No one knew that its members included ex-military officials and former directors of the CIA. According to Minci (the Venezuelan Ministry of Communication and Information), during the oil lockout this company exercised its ability to control the Ministry’s computers by paralyzing the charge, discharge, and storage of crude at different terminals within the national grid. It also altered the functionality of most oil substations, compressing and processing plants, etc. The manipulation was only possible for those with access to secret internal codes. The scheme included the use of hidden modems installed in desks and office walls, the use of phone and internet systems to paralyze Pdvsa operations, and the destruction of databases needed to keep operations running.

Some segment of society! Now what does the Trump administration do? It sanctions the oil company that provides the majority of Venezuela’s revenue.

This December, 2018 article paints a more hopeful picture of Pdvsa. https://venezuelanalysis.com/news/14176