Stalin Pérez Borges is a union leader and veteran socialist militant. He is currently a member of LUCHAS (acronym for Unitarian Unionist Chavista League, and also ‘Struggles’ in Spanish) and of the Bolivarian Socialist Workers’ Central (CBST) Advisory Council. Intersecciones spoke to Pérez Borges about the current crisis in Venezuela. The original Spanish version was published on February 7. Translated by Pedro Alvarez from Aporrea
Before commenting on the current political crisis, how would you describe the social and economic crisis in Venezuela today?
This question leads to a very long answer, so I apologise if it gets tiresome. The economic and social crisis has grown exponentially for about five years now, and has got to this rotten state of hyper-inflation that we’re barely coping with, and which is breaking world records. This is the cause for the huge discontent that we have at this stage and for the important change in the correlation of political power in this juncture. In my opinion this is a consequence of three fundamental facts: two of them circumstantial, and one structural.
The circumstantial causes are, first, the economic sabotage and blockade, described by the government as “economic warfare”. This factor is the most determinant in this serious economic and social situation that we are enduring. The trade exclusion and the blockade have caused a stagnation of 80% of what little was being produced in the country’s industries. It has also led to plummeting in the high levels of imports of food, medicines, raw materials and machinery that was occurring. It is also the cause of the hoarding and the fact that unscrupulous traders can set the price for all sorts of commodities, including US dollar.
The second circumstantial cause is corruption, ineptitude and impunity, which has soared in the past five years, although it can be traced back further. The level of corruption and ineptitude on the part of government functionaries is big and damaging. In many cases it coincides with the sabotage of the elites and of imperialism, with the complicity of military and civilian functionaries, with regard to the speculative value of the market price of commodities that the people need.
And the structural problem is that the national productive capacity is very low. This is also determined by the historic high level of oil income, which turned the local bourgeoisie into a very parasitic social class, always dependant on the price of oil. They prefer to import, rather than produce or export. Whether genetic or cultural in origin, this has defined the old bourgeoisie and this corrupt state bureaucracy, as well as the already emerging ‘Boliburguesía’ [‘Bolivarian bourgeoisie’] of the past 18 years. On this structural issue of the low national industrial production, the responsibility lies with the IVth Republic that lasted 50 years, and on the Vth Republic for the past 20 years.
Under Chávez, despite some appropriate programmes and plans to improve the development of national industry, this largely remained on paper, and the levels of national production needed were never made a reality. Under Chávez, from 2007 to 2012, that low production capacity didn’t produce discontent as the high price of oil was enough to import even the most luxurious goods. But from 2013 to date, with Maduro, a high price has been paid for this mistake. With the decreasing price of oil, there is no money for imports, nor for the national industry, including transnational companies, to receive the dollars that they used to be guaranteed due to the currency controls. The struggle of these sectors to seize a share of that income is the main reason why the conspiracies and the fight to death haven’t stopped in these 20 years of Chavista governments. And it is here, making use of this situation, that Yankee and European interests also come to play a role.
On January 23 there was a new demonstration by the opposition, within the framework of the coup climate that the ‘self-proclamation’ of Juan Guaidó as ‘interim president’ brought. What was the scope of those demonstrations and the level of support they had in the popular classes? Has support for the opposition expanded into the popular classes, or is it still mainly based in the middle and upper social segments?
The opposition’s demonstrations on January 23 were impressively big. Those in Caracas and Valencia surprised both them and others. That has encouraged them a lot. The right-wing segments hard largely surrendered after the elections for the congress (ANC). From that election to this January 23, they were absent when it came to street demonstrations. They were focused on media campaigns against the government (taking advantage of the broadening discontent, as the government hasn’t been able to counter the effects of the “economic warfare” with successful measures), and against the complicity of corrupt bureaucrats that has allowed speculation in the commercial sector. The big solutions that President Maduro has implemented are the distribution of the famous food bags, contained in the CLAP [Local Committees of Distribution and Production], Compensation Bonuses for unspecified causes, and continuous increases to the minimum wage and fodd ticket for workers’. Progressive measures, but they have not been enough to cover for the loss of purchasing power of workers’ salaries. So in the right wing demonstrations of January 23, the usual social base of middle-class people plus segments of workers were present, including some unions that earlier this year were known for identifying with Chavismo until.
What’s the feeling among the government-sympathising popular class? What’s their level of combativeness, rejection of the coup and support for the government? Are there cases of self-organisation or does the government maintain all the initiative when it comes to popular mobilisation?
You did not ask this, but it’s important to consider the following for a proper analysis: After January 23, the opposition has made big efforts to congregate the same number of people, or more, as on January 23 in Caracas and Valencia; they demonstrated again on February 2 but it wasn’t the same in terms of numbers or expectations as on January 23. Meanwhile the Chavista demonstration on January 23 in Caracas was very well attended, but they didn’t encourage demonstrations in other cities.
However, “the feeling among the government-sympathising popular class” is very strong. On January 28, 29, 30, 31 and February 1 and 2, the Chavistas organised spectacular and surprising demonstrations in more than six cities. The one in Caracas on February 2 had attendance numbers similar to those of the best days of Chavismo. So currently we have a Chavismo that is more motivated to take the offensive against the coup or invasion plans.
For now there are no visible signs of self-organisation at the grassroots. The lead in these demonstrations is being taken by the PSUV [United Socialist Party of Venezuela] and the government’s structures. Personally, however, I have been struck by the strong presence of young people in these demonstrations.
It seems evident that the coup strategy has as its main objective to breakdown the monolithic support of the army for the government. How do you see this aspect? Do you think a foreign intervention is possible without an internal rupture within the army?
Since much before January 10, the opposition and high ranking members of the Trump adminstration, and even senators from that country and some governments like those of [Ivan] Duque in Colombia, [Jair] Bolsonaro in Brazil, [Mauricio] Macri in Argentina, and Luis Almagro from the OAS [Organization of American States] have been waiting that the push for Maduro’s fall to come from segments of the Bolivarian National Army Forces (FANB). However, until this day that has failed. They have offered members of the FANB important amounts of money and promises of amnesty and appointment to high positions. Ever since Guaidó proclaimed himself interim president, this usurper’s main proposition is aimed at the members of the FANB, promoting a supposed Amnesty Law in favour of soldiers that rebel against Maduro’s government. This strategy might have some psychological effect in some officers, but no signs have been seen inside or outside the FANB that a force may appear that’s capable of risking a suicidal venture on the side of imperialism and its lackeys in the opposition.
How would you generally describe the strategy of the right wing and of imperialism, and how do you assess the results of such strategy to date?
The aim of imperialism has always been to oust the Chavista government at any cost. The ousting of Maduro has been planned in the middle and short term. Since the very moment he came to power in 2013 they started with this plan. And in the current situation they have more urgency. This is why the events to make this happen are taking place faster than the assessment they make of their operations. They need to put an end to Maduro and the Bolivarian revolution, as well as close the cycle of instability and of progressive and more-or-less sovereign governments that arose in our continent after Chávez kicked off the revolutionary process and started governing.
With Lenin Moreno’s treason in Ecuador and having recuperate complete control in Brazil and Argentina, in this conjuncture of a favourable balance of forces in the region, imperialism does the rest. Of course they will want to oust Maduro and defeat the Bolivarian process at the lowest possible political cost, but if they don’t achieve it in the short term, they will try to do it at any cost. Trump is the project of a segment of imperialism that desperately wants the US to seize global economic, political and military hegemony. They want to recover economic, financial and industrial supremacy, which they have been losing to China. The power that they maintain is basically military power.
They won’t adapt their aggressions and the battle to oust Maduro to a specific script or to a classic coup d’état. There are concrete examples that have been occurring for about ten years: in 2009 they ousted Zelaya, not with the same style with which coups had happened in Honduras; then they ousted Lugo in Paraguay with a parliamentary coup in 2012; three years later, with a parliamentary coup and an ‘impeachment’, they ousted Dilma and kept Lula in prison in Brazil. And as a complement, imperialism has contributed to the appearance of presidents such as Bolsonaro in Brazil, Macri in Argentina, and recently Nayib [Bukele] in El Salvador. For this purpose they have been using different weapons, like fake news. With this new instrument they deceive and confuse large segments of the people. Of course in this endeavour they have been aided by the bad performance of the governments of the FMLN [in El Salvador], of Cristina [Kirchner in Argentina], and of the PT [Worker’s Party in Brazil]. So, back to Venezuela, we need to observe that those two tools are being used: the threat of a military action, and a campaign of fake news.
With regard to part of your question, some variant may emerge, like that which emerged in Nicaragua in the 90’s with the Contadora/Esquipula Agreement and later electoral defeat of Sandinismo at the hands of Violeta Chamorro. In the current case, here, it would be a defeat of the Bolivarian and Chavista process. They haven’t succeeded at this after almost twenty years. But this story is being written, and they are not winning, for now.
The anti-imperialist sentiment of our people is historic and runs very deep. It will be difficult to defeat us. It will be very difficult to convince a majority of the workers and poor people to accept the raising of the US flag, as Guaidó and the political leaders of the right that accompany him have done in their public demonstrations. Since the oil strike of 1936, which almost became a national strike against the British and Yankees, and the military dictatorship, a very deep anti-imperialist sentiment has grown, which was rebuilt or revived for more than fifteen years with the message of Chávez. A rebellious sentiment appeared here that hasn’t stopped since February 27 and 28, 1989. This has found expression in the decisive, fearless struggle of April 13, 2002 [when an attempted military coup against Chávez was defeated], and in the response to the bosses’ strike and oil sabotage [in December 2002-January 2003]; in all the resistance we have done, not letting the right wing oust Maduro by force. Let’s not forget that in Nicaragua they produced a civil war, using guerrillas and the betrayal of Comandante Edén Pastor to achieve their aim.
There is an international image of Maduro’s government, not only in the imperialist press but also in segments of the left, that presents it as a completely degenerated government, rotten out by corruption, bureaucracy and political authoritarianism. A kind of ‘Bolivarian Thermidor’ that destroyed the achievements of Chavismo. There are parts of the left that understand the current confrontation as a ‘reactionary polarisation’ (which seems to find a parallel with the experiences of some Middle Eastern countries, where imperialism and fundamentalist jihadism are in confrontation, and where both sides represent a threat to the people.) What do you think of this description? How do you assess the elements of authoritarianism, corruption and bureaucracy present in Maduro’s government? Has there been repression against the left, unionists or social movements? What role is the anti-Chavista left playing?
Yes, there are parts of the left, among them many old organisations of Trotskyist origin, that describe Maduro’s government as a dictatorial, fascist, criminal regime that maintains hundreds of political prisoners, and even as being an illegitimate government. In so doing, they repeat and coincide with the campaign that the capitalist press is waging worldwide. Those descriptions are the basis used by imperialism, some governments in the region and parts of the Venezuelan right, to ask now for military intervention, to freeze the accounts of PDVSA in international banks, to expropriate the gold stored in England and other such forms of theft of national resources.
In my view, those descriptions are very misleading, and don’t match reality at all. I have been critical of wrong policies by the governments of Chávez and Maduro. Yes, in Venezuela there are endless social and economic problems, where Maduro’s government has a lot of responsibility. Neither Chavez’s government nor Maduro’s are socialist, independently of what use they make of socialist slogans, from labels in affordable food to any other endeavour. It’s undeniable that there are high levels of corruption among government functionaries and state institutions. It’s evident that there’s no capacity to solve the economic crisis, to avoid fiscal deficit or capital flight, to control the price of the dollar and the costs of production and trade. It is a government that continues to pay the foreign debt in the middle of this imperialist economic blockade. They haven’t touched any of the monopolies, such as the Polar group and others, when these same monopolies hoard food stocks or distribute them arbitrarily and overpriced.
Living in Valencia, the main industrial city in this country, and being a unionist, I can tell you that its industrial zones are almost paralysed, that there are industrial sectors that are completely, or almost completely stagnate; that working conditions, safety, salaries in important sectors such as energy, oil, health, and education have suffered to worrying levels. But we must be clear that the responsibility for this reality lies both with the government and the economic and commercial blockade against Venezuela. However it would be crazy and in fact vile to compare Maduro’s government with some Middle Eastern regimes that have no democracy or freedom. There’s no comparison, it’s unacceptable.
Has Maduro’s government been authoritarian in repressing some demonstration or blocked a strike? Of course it has. I don’t justify excesses. But that does not justify it being described as oppressive, or the level of the denunciation campaign against it. They don’t do the same with Brazil, Argentina, Colombia, Mexico or other governments, where oppression and state crimes are more evident.
There are some political prisoners, and a commission should be established to investigate how many and who they are. However, not all prisoners that the right (or even the anti-Chavista ‘left’) claims to be political are such. In the list that they have there are some anti-Chavista murderers, like those who burned people alive that they found in middle-class residential zones for being suspected of being Chavistas or due to their physical appearance. That list of alleged political prisoners contains individuals that slit the throats of Chavista motorists, and those who blocked the traffic and were responsible for deaths that arose due to those violent actions. There are parts of the anti-Chavista, or anti-Maduro left that, consciously or not, contribute to the right wing’s agenda.
What did you think of the recent meeting of members of the Citizens’ Platform for the Defence of the Constitution with Juan Guaidó?
Sad. I felt really embarrassed. It was shameful. I know most of the people that were in that meeting representing the Citizens’ Platform for the Defence of the Constitution (PCDC) with that imperialist coup agent, Juan Guaidó. I’ve felt great respect for most of them for a long time, but that action is very questionable from several perspectives. Their main argument was that they went to meet up with Guaidó to “avoid a war”, and so that “sovereignty is expressed in a referendum”. These two statements mean:
First, that they don’t believe that Guaidó is an agent of imperialism nor that he concocted his self-appointment as supposed president of Venezuela as part of a master plan to carry out a 21st century coup d’état, which is developing. The PCDC people still don’t believe that Guaidó and his plot are manoeuvres of Yankee imperialism, which can lead us to a scenario of violence and death, and even an occupation of Venezuela.
And second, that those in the PCDC may not know that the referendum or new presidential elections they’re calling for, just a month after the elected president has assumed his position, only serves as a way forward for those behind the imperialist coup. He is a usurper and the biggest representative in Venezuela of imperialism and other complicit governments. These are the same people that have imposed an economic and trade blockade, which are the main causes for this economic crisis, of this hyper-inflation that cripple our salaries. Proposing an agreement on a referendum or presidential elections to them is going along with there game.
Elections with an economic blockade and military pressure from an imperialist army? What is that? Meeting up with that lackey to propose avoiding a war, when it’s him and his masters who are encouraging it? The biggest irony is that they call themselves a platform for the “Defence of the Constitution”. They should realise that’s not how you defend it. If this was due to pure naivety, they will have to deal with all the epithets thrown at them by different groups, individuals and organisations.
Today I read the statements made by Gonzalo Gómez, with regard to what he calls “falsehoods and lies about the meeting with Guaidó”. I’ve always felt esteem and appreciation for Gonzalo. We’ve gone a long way together along the revolutionary path. We were leaders of the PST ‘La Chispa’, and I was with him until the end of 2015 in the national coordination of Marea Socialista, and we both participate in the online magazine Aporrea. There, in this statement from today he says that “They seek to create confusion on the aims of this initiative: avoiding war, and that sovereignty is expressed in a referendum.” However, he doesn’t say what the falsehoods or lies are, other than that “it didn’t take place in the Colombian Embassy as teams of digital mercenaries have maliciously said on social media and fake news.”
Besides that, in his response, he informs that they are also asking for an urgent meeting with Nicolás Maduro, with the same agenda and aims as the meeting that they’ve already had with Guaidó, but saying that the PCDC doesn’t recognise Guaidó as president of the republic but rather as president of the National Assembly. And he finishes his statement with this: “The only meetings that we are organising are with embassies such as those of Mexico, Uruguay and the Vatican, to discuss the same agenda, emphasising negotiations for a plural social dialogue, and not of elites, and of course within the democratic-constitutional framework provided by the Constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela.” With this last part, it’s “good to know” that if they (the PCDC) are involved, then these negotiations for a plural social dialogue will not be “only for elite”. That’s all I can say about the meeting of the PCDC and Guaidó, and its consequences.
Are there any signs that the government may agree to a political negotiation with the right towards a capitulation or “orderly” transition?
There must be members of the government, civilians and military, that currently want to negotiate with segments of the Venezuelan right and imperialism. There are many who have high positions in government and in the army, who are not at all anti-capitalist or anti-imperialist. Some, while saying that they are, are afraid of an imperialist military intervention or of a situation of civil war. But one thing is what one may want, and a very different thing is what the objective conditions and the class struggle can unleash.
Will the political leaders of the PSUV and President Maduro and those around the government agree to have new presidential elections or a referendum in 30 days or three months, under the care of the same multilateral organisations that have attacked them all this time, just as a new constitutional presidential term has begun? Will they do that, as they still have a strong social base to resist the attacks? Will the tension dissipate or will imperialism put yet more pressure?
Government representatives will attend a conference in Montevideo, Uruguay, this weekend. They will seek the path of dialogue there. They are announcing that the plan to make it work consists of four stages: 1) “Immediate dialogue”, that is, to sit at the table; 2) Negotiation; 3) “Commitments or agreements”; and 4) Implementation. Okay, and what’s the timeframe for these four stages? The other intriguing question is: what will imperialism do during the implementation of these agreements? Will it lift the sanctions or will it keep its cannons and missiles pointing at us to hasten the implementation of agreements?
What’s the reality of the “popular militias”? What capacity does the Venezuelan government have to militarily resist in the case of a foreign intervention or a civil war?
In a public statement by LUCHAS we urgently requested the dispatch of army officials and soldiers to at least 11,000 zones, so that they live with the communities and organise the military aspect of the anti-imperialist resistance. I believe we need to make the civilian-military alliance a reality in the community. In that statement we expressed that “In this context, we encourage the people and workers to voluntarily join the ‘50,000 Popular Defence Units in all neighbourhoods, cities, and corners of the country (study and work groups), for them to back up and strengthen an integral defence of the motherland’, which President Maduro has asked to implement.”
Popular militias or those Popular Defence Units are a work in process. The Militias has existed for years, and they already have two million militia members, many of which are being called to integrate other army forces as active, permanent soldiers. It’s also said that the weapons capacity of the army is very modern, with good logistics and a very respectable professionalism.
We also want to make a call to form “Simón Bolivar International Brigades” of solidarity with Venezuela. And that 1) the World Federation of Trade Unions (WFTU), national unions, federations, and other social movements and organisations around the world trade in medicines, food and raw materials with the legitimate government of President Maduro and/or with unionist and social organisations of Venezuela; and 2) That social organisations of Latin America organise Solidarity Caravans, and come here through our borders with Colombia and Brazil.
The government seems to have been paralysed on the economic-social front for a while. In this regard the government shows, first, incompetence in stopping the economic pressure and the fall in oil prices, and then also some degree of responsibility in the general economic chaos. The latter is a consequence not only of deliberate sabotage, but also more objectively, of the use of strong redistributive policies without a decisive break with inherited capitalist structures (which leads to a halt in investments, escape of capital, inflation, etc.) Does the government have any initiative to tackle this? Does any part of the government debate or propose more drastic measures like the nationalisation of the banking sector and international trade, or the expropriation of companies that speculate at the expense of peoples’ suffering?
I believe it here, in what you point out in your question, that the government’s Achilles heel can be found. If it doesn’t act soon, resolving the consequences of its stagnation in these economic and social aspects, these will do more damage than any missile or incoming imperialist “humanitarian aid”. If it doesn’t control problems, effectively and in the long term, such as currency exchange speculation, supply shortages, and the price of food and medicines, or encourages the national production of goods and services, in the mid-term it will lose its social base and will find it difficult to survive. Among other measures it has to decide to stop paying the foreign debt, block capital flight, impose progressive taxation on assets, and promote the distribution and control of goods by a Communal State and of the workers. Otherwise we will fail.
I understand that predictions are difficult in the current context, but I must ask: What can we expect? What hypotheses do you think are plausible on how things will develop?
Yes, it is very difficult to foresee. I have no predictions. Let me finish this interview with our motto: “Fight, fight, don’t stop fighting for a government of the workers and of the people.”