Venezuela in Big Oil’s crosshairs

Anti-war activists will vividly recall how Bush set the stage for invading Iraq by falsely claiming that the Hussein government possessed “weapons of mass destruction.”  But it was clear that the real reason for the war was to control Iraq’s vast reserves of oil. Millions of Iraqis and thousands of U.S. soldiers lost their lives because of Big Oil’s greed.

“Before the 2003 invasion, Iraq’s domestic oil industry was fully nationalized and closed to Western oil companies. A decade of war later, it is largely privatized and utterly dominated by foreign firms. From ExxonMobil and Chevron to BP and Shell, the West’s largest oil companies have set up shop in Iraq.” (cnn.com, April 15, 2013)

For more than a decade, Washington has targeted the government of Venezuela for an Iraq-style regime change. Venezuela has now the largest confirmed oil reserves in the world. Venezuela first nationalized a portion of its oil industry in 1976, but giant companies like Exxon and BP retained control of huge portions of oil production, and U.S. and Western European companies owned much of Venezuela’s other industries.

That all changed under the leadership of Venezuela’s Presidents Hugo Chávez and Nicolás Maduro. Big oil companies like Exxon have been kicked out.  The telecommunications, electric and many other industries have been nationalized.

Revenue from selling oil, which makes up 95 percent of Venezuela’s exports, began to be distributed among the poor. The poverty rate fell from 50 percent to 30 percent. With the assistance of revolutionary Cuba, health care and education became free. Venezuela now has the highest literacy rate in the region.

The Venezuelan government, through its oil company CITGO, helped many poor people in the U.S. survive the cold winter months for several years.

And most importantly, a powerful mass movement was created among the poor called Bolivarianism, named after Simon Bolivar, the 19th-century revolutionary who led the independence movement in Latin America against Spain. Time and again the poor have poured into the streets to back their leaders facing relentless attacks from the right.

This has earned the Venezuelan government the wrath not only of the rich in Venezuela but also of U.S. imperialism, which engineered a failed coup attempt against Chávez in 2002. The collapse of oil prices in 2015 has caused Washington to step up its campaign to create a counterrevolution in Venezuela to let the wealthy take back “their” oil from the Venezuelan people.

In March 2015, Washington declared Venezuela to be a “national security threat” and issued sanctions against prominent leaders of the country.

Citibank closed down its operations in Venezuela in July last year. President Maduro called this an economic “blockade.” He announced, “No one stops Venezuela!” (reuters.com, July 12)

In March of this year the main leader of the Venezuelan right-wing “opposition,” ignoring the fact that President Maduro’s term of office does not expire until next year, repeated his call for the Venezuelan military to conduct a coup d’état against the government, while also mobilizing armed gangs to attack government institutions and security forces.

Wall Street think tanks like the Council on Foreign Relations and the Center for Strategic and International Studies falsely proclaimed that Venezuela is undergoing a “humanitarian crisis,” complete with medicine shortages and mass starvation. Their solution? “The current U.S. administration should lead a regional coalition to halt the implosion in Venezuela.” (csis.org, April 11)

The CSIS is even calling on the Venezuelan government to drop its own currency and accept “dollarization.”

In April, Admiral Kurt W. Tidd, the Pentagon’s top official for Latin America, issued an ominous report to the Senate Armed Services Committee.  He stated, “The growing humanitarian crisis in Venezuela could eventually compel a regional response.”

Both Russia and China have recently made large bank loans to Venezuela.  Echoing the infamous “Monroe Doctrine,” Adm. Tidd continued, “Over the past decade, China, Russia and Iran have established a greater presence in the region. These global actors view the Latin American economic, political and security arena as an opportunity to achieve their respective long-term objectives and advance interests that may be incompatible with ours and those of our partners.” (telesur.net, April 6)

That same Senate committee has sponsored legislation from both Republicans and Democrats. Accusing the Venezuelan government of corruption and participating in the drug trade, it calls for more sanctions against Venezuela. The groundwork for a U.S. invasion is being laid step-by- step.

But the Venezuelan people are strong. When the rich organized a “women in white” demonstration in Caracas May 6, they were met by thousands of “women in red” ready to defend their government against the wealthy oligarchs and U.S. imperialism’s threats. (reuters.com, May 7) The anti-war movement here must stand by them and defend Venezuela from Big Oil and its Pentagon henchmen.

Hands off Venezuela!