Background Material on Venezuela

May 23, 2004

U.S. imperialism is carrying out a destabilization campaign against the constitutional government of Venezuela headed by President Hugo Chavez.

Amongst other things, through the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), the U.S. government has been organizing and financing opposition groups in Venezuela. In April 2002, these groups attempted a military coup, arresting Chavez and issuing a number of "decrees" nullifying many of the economic and political reforms being implemented by Chavez. The coup, although immediately recognized by the U.S. government, was defeated by the Venezuelan people who came out in their millions to rally around the elected government.

Since 2002, the U.S. government has continued to fund and encourage the same oppositional forces. Relying on tactics similar to those employed in Haiti and elsewhere, the U.S. government and media (as well as the monopoly-owned media in Venezuela) continually try to create hysteria about Chavez' alleged "dictatorial powers," while promoting the opposition as the "democratic alternative." However, the facts show that the opposition, in addition to having virtually no popular support, relies on the methods of agent provocateurs and terrorists.

The opposition openly agitates for the armed overthrow of the constitutional government and several leaders have repeatedly called for U.S. military intervention. Their tactics include murder and torture of government officials, as well as attempts to incite civil strife through violent street actions. The aim is to cause a disturbance big enough to "justify" U.S. intervention to "restore peace."

There is also the danger that the U.S. may use Colombian paramilitary death squads and/or the Colombian army to create armed conflict with Venezuela which again could be used as an excuse for U.S. intervention. Within the last year, Colombian paramilitaries have been repeatedly caught making incursions and preparing armed attacks inside Venezuelan territory.

Recent History

From 1958 to 1998 two parties representing the Venezuelan upper classes [Accion Democratica (Social Democrats) and Copei (Christian Democrats)] monopolized political power through an agreement, known as "puntofijismo," under which the two competed and shared the state administration while excluding all working class parties.

In the 1980's, the Venezuelan economy faced tremendous difficulties as a result of the fall in oil prices and the flight of foreign capital. In response, two successive administrations -- headed by Presidents Carlos Perez and Rafael Caldera -- adopted a typical neo-liberal economic program which included "Structural Adjustment Loans" from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), privatization of state-owned enterprises, cutbacks in social expenditures, deregulation, etc. The measures -- dictated by U.S. and foreign banks -- destroyed the livelihoods of the Venezuelan people, forcing more than two-thirds of the population into poverty.

In 1998, Hugo Chavez was elected President on a platform that called for the democratization of the country through the convening of a National Constituent Assembly and the drafting of a new constitution. In August 1999, the Constituent Assembly was elected with an overwhelming majority of members supporting the pro-Chavez Fifth Republic Movement (MVR). The new constitution was overwhelmingly approved in a national referendum in December 1999 and subsequently the Chavez-led coalition won a substantial majority of representatives in the new government.

Chavez and the MVR began a process of economic and political reforms known as the "Bolivarian Revolution."

Several measures have been taken to strengthen the economic independence of the country. The new Constitution itself banned the privatization of the oil industry and other state sectors. In 2001, a new law was passed mandating that the Venezuelan government maintain at least 51% ownership in all new oil exploration and production enterprises.

Chavez also brought Venezuelan oil production in line with OPEC quotas, thereby reducing oil exports to the U.S. (Venezuela is one of the 4 top suppliers to the U.S., accounting for 13% of the oil imported to the U.S. in 2002 or more than 1.4 million barrels/day).

Chavez has also taken measures to impose certain limited monetary controls to prevent manipulation of Venezuela's currency by the big international bankers.

One of the major social reforms of the Chavez government is in the educational sector. Chavez has doubled the government's annual expenditures on public education and already built 3,200 new "Bolivarian Schools". These schools help the most downtrodden because they are day-long schools, thus enabling parents to work. The Bolivarian schools also provide free breakfast, lunch and a late afternoon snack for all children. The schools are also closely integrated with the community and serve as community centers. In addition, "Plan Simoncito" has greatly expanded infant and child care for ages 0 to 6. Today more than 300,000 infants and children, nearly 45% of Venezuela's children, receive free day-care.

In addition, Bolivarian University is extending access to higher education to tens of thousands of students from impoverished backgrounds. With the help of Cuban experts, Venezuelan has also undertaken an extensive adult literacy program.

Some of the other ongoing reform initiatives include:

- rural and urban land reform which has already given title to land and housing to hundreds of thousands of peasants and urban poor.

- a community health care program which is establishing clinics in poor neighborhoods.

- a nationwide network for distributing food at below market rates.

The U.S. government also opposes the independent foreign policy of the Chavez government which has repeatedly spoke out against U.S. aggression and interference in Latin America and throughout the world, against the FTAA, etc. Chavez also opposes the blockade of Cuba and concluded a barter-exchange agreement with Cuba, providing that country with 534,000 barrels of oil/day in exchange for Cuban assistance in developing the health and education sectors of Venezuela.