On January 10, Nicolas Maduro celebrates the first year of his second term in office. What have been his strengths and weaknesses in a convulsed 2019? The country’s living legend, Julio Escalona, analyzes the Venezuelan president’s performance and highlights his great merit: “He has won the war without firing a shot”.
“There are decades when nothing happens and weeks when decades go by.” Julio Escalona, a constituent of the National Assembly, quotes Lenin to describe the way time has passed during the government of Nicolás Maduro. In 2019, shocking events were unleashed: Juan Guaidó proclaimed himself president. An attempt was made to force a shipment of “solidarity aid” into the country. The country was suddenly left without electricity throughout the entire national territory. There was another coup attempt and assaults on barracks.
In each of these episodes,”the national-world right rubbed its hands together in celebration: now the government is collapsing. But no, Maduro surprises them with some measure. Maduro surprises them because they underestimate him, and they underestimate the Venezuelan people even more,” says Escalona.
Economist, teacher, author of seven books, in his youth Julio Escalona was a student leader and one of the commanders of the Antonio José de Sucre Guerrilla Front, which operated in the mountains and plains of eastern Venezuela. With an extensive political career, during the years 2008-2014 he was Ambassador, Alternate Permanent Representative of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, to the UN. He founded the Socialist League and is a member of the Political Council of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela. His life condenses much of Venezuela’s recent history. He is a living legend.
Escalona is a critical Chavista, not because he flirts with ambiguous political positions (he is a determined defender of the Venezuelan revolutionary process), but because of his exercise of dialectics to analyze the complex Venezuelan situation. In December 2018, he surprised the country by delivering an extensive speech at the National Assembly where, among other issues, he questioned the handing over of food distribution to inefficient capitalist companies, called for the elimination of the Ministry of Food and suggested that “the government was infiltrated”.
A year later, Julio Escalona demanded: “It is necessary that President Maduro constitute a war cabinet. The ministers need to get out of the black cars and go out and be involved in the lives and needs of the people”.
On the economy, he called for “a deepening of the socialist measures, far from moderating them. We are defining the direction of socialism or retreat”.
This critical voice, with the authority of his extensive service record, turns 82 on the eve of the first anniversary of Nicolás Maduro’s second term. In an eloquent speech, he highlighted the strengths and weaknesses, threats and opportunities of the Venezuelan president’s administration in 2019. An authentic analysis that we summarize for the readers.
There was an effective increase in the real wage and a rethinking of monetary policy that impressed both the domestic right and the US. That battle continues to this day through petroleum bond transfers, the circulation of petroleum in the domestic market to make payments, banking transactions, purchases, etc. This is in a trial period. Let’s wait for the beginning of the year to address it in more detail.
During the month of December the streets of Caracas and the shopping malls have been filled with people making purchases. We must continue to monitor and evaluate the situation. But whoever observes the streets of Caracas today would not be able to understand the depth of the events caused by the war. In fact, the prices are liberated, the production of essential goods is still not going at the necessary speed and the substitution of imports is still slow.
President Maduro’s success has been resounding in the field of foreign policy and diplomacy. In the battles that have taken place both in the General Assembly and in the UN Security Council and Human Rights Council, we have been victorious, with the support of our allies such as China and Russia. Overall, in every arena where we have faced Trump and his representatives, we have defeated them.
We have also been resoundingly successful in the field of their direct attempts to overthrow the government. They were defeated on February 23 at the border with Columbia; on April 30 in an attempted coup d’état that would begin with the seizure of the Carlota air base, located in the city of Caracas; in the recent attempts in this month of December to take over military barracks; in the attempted assassination of President Maduro on August 4, 2018. Finally, in the various acts of violence that have been organized throughout the country.
Price policy is an area where the government has so far failed to find a way to contain the permanent increase that is severely impacting the population and has placed some sectors on the verge of hunger. The government has made permanent efforts through a system of income transfer through direct subsidies to the population and measures such as the use of petroleum for transactions in the internal market. But inflation remains a serious problem.
The social classes that continue to dominate Venezuelan society are the same ones that have dominated it since colonial times. Import trade and banking continue to mark structural events in the Venezuelan economy. As long as this conflict is not definitively resolved in favour of the bloc of exploited classes, we will see how, particularly the economy, it will be difficult to recover to the benefit of the country and the majority of its population.
Corruption and inefficient bureaucracy are expressions of this situation. Corruption is not simply an ethical problem, which it is. Bureaucracy is inefficient, for example, in recovering oil production. But it is very efficient through the so-called oil sowing, the transfer of oil income to the large transnational monopolies operating in the country and from there, to the international banks. In such a way that where the oil revenue is really produced is in the international financial system. After 20 years of the Bolivarian revolution, this situation has only been partially transformed.
The blockade and the sanctions imposed by Trump are a severe blow to the popular sectors that have been placed on the verge of hunger and live in severe deprivation. The objective of the enemies of Venezuela is to turn daily life into an inferno.
The “think tanks” have been focusing their actions on the destruction of values and imagination in solidarity and the promotion of individualistic, selfish values and behaviour. This is probably the main battlefield that operates from the shadows.
While publicly blackmailing with military threats, which are not mere threats, but real and according to appropriate circumstances, Venezuela can be attacked militarily. But government intelligence has detected the terrorist military actions in time and neutralized them.
There is serious competition between different oil transnationals, some based in the United States, for investment in the Orinoco Oil Belt. Trump’s sanctions are preventing this, so they are losing the bidding to Russian and Chinese companies. Will these transnationals continue to wait for Trump to overthrow Maduro? I believe that these companies will try to reach an agreement with Maduro, because the objective of his overthrow seems unlikely. The passage of time seems to favour the Venezuelan government which is demonstrating that it can navigate and ride out the waves of the crisis.
Since the time of President Chávez, Chavismo has acquired a social base that remains loyal to it. At the time there was a real process of redistribution of oil income, and real incomes were increased. Health, education, and the massive construction of housing began to reach the marginalized population. That is why people now criticize and complain, but in these times of crisis and aggression, Chavism has managed to hold marches and immense concentrations representing millions of people full of anti-imperialism and patriotic consciousness.
“Maduro has defeated Trump without firing a shot”.
In short, for Escalona the balance sheet is positive: “Nicolas Maduro is a Latin Caribbean president who virtually without firing a shot, has defeated Trump, the president of the United States. Maduro has fulfilled a principle of Sun Tzu: to win the war without fighting it. This is a great merit.
“The new year can be full of surprises,” he adds. “How far and how long will the uncertainty last? On Trump’s side there is strong pressure to resolve the issue of Venezuela, but experience confirms, as General Pablo Morillo proved during our war of independence from Spain. After years of war he discovered that Venezuela is “a tough nut to crack”.
Translation by Internationalist 360°