The latest protests come in response to Maduro’s decision to set up a constituent assembly to draft a new constitution. This has sparked a flurry of criticism from the White House and some Latin American governments, including Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico and Paraguay. They join the opposition in criticizing Maduro’s move to put off national elections.
In stark contrast, Ulises Guilarte de Nacimiento, secretary-general of the Cuban Workers Federation (CTC), reaffirmed revolutionary Cuba’s ”unfaltering support” to the fight for Venezuela’s sovereignty and independence during his speech to hundreds of thousands of Cubans in Havana on May Day to demonstrate support for their socialist revolution.
At the heart of Washington’s opposition to both Maduro and his predecessor, Hugo Chávez, has been their relations with the revolutionary government of Cuba. The U.S. rulers would like to replace Maduro with a more compliant government, and do so without provoking deeper economic breakdown and class conflict.
The street protests are led by pro-imperialist parties, organized in the Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD). Many of their protests have been marked by violent clashes between opponents of Maduro and government forces, with 36 killed so far. State buildings and enterprises have been attacked, gas tankers hijacked and businesses looted in a number of states.
Calls by opposition leaders for more democracy are not convincing for many workers who remember the role of those forces in the U.S.-backed failed coup against the Chávez government in 2002 and know they come from the same families that ruled Venezuela in dictatorial fashion for decades.
Nor do they address the devastating economic crisis bearing down on working people, who face widespread unemployment, runaway inflation, and scarcity of food, medicine and other basic goods.
Workers face economic crisis
Conditions have been deteriorating for several years as the world capitalist economic crisis impacts Venezuela and the price of oil — which accounts for 95 percent of the country’s export earnings and has been used by both Chávez and Maduro to fund social programs — has dropped by half since 2014.
Steps have been taken to try to address food shortages and the spiraling price of goods. Local Provisioning and Production Committees have been set up that provide bags of subsidized food and other basic goods to nearly 6 million households. A wage increase — the third this year — of 60 percent was implemented May 1.
Since 2003 some 135,000 Cuban volunteers have provided health care in areas that previously had no clinics and have helped train 22,000 new health professionals. When the Barrio Adentro mission began, 57 percent of the population had no access to health care services, Dr. Roberto González Martín, head of the Cuban medical mission in Venezuela, told Granma April 16.
Cuban medical aid is much needed, with infant mortality, maternal mortality and cases of malaria, diphtheria and Zika all rising. According to the Pharmaceutical Federation of Venezuela, shortages of medicine reached 85 percent in 2016, seriously affecting the availability of hospital and specialist care.
Venezuela’s government is saddled with sizable debts to bondholders in the U.S., China and elsewhere, and puts timely payment as a first priority. In April $2.2 billion was paid and a further $3.5 billion is due later this year on a total debt of $120 billion. The government has only $10 billion left in its foreign currency reserves.
Defend Venezuela’s sovereignty
Luis Almagro, secretary general of the Washington-backed Organization of American States, has spearheaded attacks on the Maduro government. On April 27 Maduro announced Venezuela would leave the OAS. Cuba’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs expressed its “support and solidarity to the people and government of Venezuela” on their decision to break with the pro-Washington group.
On May 2 Almagro claimed the calling of a constituent assembly in Venezuela was “a new coup d’état.” About half the representatives of the new assembly would be directly elected. It would include representatives of workers, farmers, youth and women’s organizations, CNN reported.
A bipartisan bill calling for more sanctions against Venezuela was introduced in the U.S. Senate May 3.
At the request of the Venezuelan government, the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States met in El Salvador May 2. Addressing the representatives of the 26 countries in attendance, Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez Parrilla pointed to both the complicity of the OAS in U.S.-backed coups in the hemisphere and to the appeals for talks made by Pope Francis. He called for resumption of negotiations and a political solution in the framework of Venezuela’s national sovereignty.
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