Maduro Regime, American Left Ignore Socialist Pedigree of Venezuela’s New President

Venezuela's National Assembly president Juan Guaido gestures before a crowd of opposition supporters during an open meeting in Caraballeda, Vargas State, Venezuela, on January 13, 2019. - The president of the opposition-controlled but sidelined National Assembly was released less than an hour after being arrested by Venezuelan intelligence agents on …
YURI CORTEZ/AFP/Getty Images

Deposed Venezuelan dictator Nicolás Maduro and his allies in the American far left have worked overtime this week to paint the inauguration of President Juan Guaidó as a U.S.-backed, right-wing coup. In doing so, they omit perhaps the single defining trait of Guaidó’s opposition coalition: his party, Popular Will, is a member of the Socialist International (SI).

Popular Will is one of four parties in Venezuela that belong to the global left-wing institution and a former member of the Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD), a coalition of political parties that led years of “talks” with Maduro, allowing him to consolidate his regime through killing dissidents, placing them in prisons or torture chambers, and begging kindred nations like China and Russia for money.

Popular Will survived that mess – one that resulted in the death of the protest movement and marked distrust of the Venezuelan opposition by the people themselves – as did Guaidó, who identified himself as a lawmaker representing the MUD in the National Assembly while being a founding member of Popular Will, an openly “progressive” party.

It benefits Maduro – the head of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), a non-SI member – to downplay the progressive bona fides of his opposition. Following his removal from power on Wednesday, Maduro proclaimed that Guaidó was a reactionary U.S. operative ordered by President Donald Trump to stage a “coup.”

“I can see that the U.S. wants to push the opposition left into taking Venezuela into a state of chaos,” he insisted.

Venezuela’s Minister of Defense Vladimir Padrino – who insists that the military still backs Maduro while attempting to also claim that a coup had taken place – repeated the same ideological error: the Venezuelan opposition was a force of the “extreme right,” he told reporters on Thursday.

“It is my duty to alert the people about the high level of dangerousness that this represents for our integrity and sovereignty,” he said. “There are sectors of the extreme right who want to fragment the nation.”

The civilian wing of the Maduro dictatorship was not to be left behind. Tarek William Saab, the nation’s prosecutor general, referred to the constitutional move as a “coup d’etat from the right.” On his television show, senior chavista official Diosdado Cabello also repeatedly referred to Guaidó as an ally of “the right” and “imperialism,” meaning the United States.

The propaganda campaign worked on the easiest prey in America: the radical leftists recently elected to Congress. Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN), who has no known expertise on Latin American politics, referred to Guaidó’s invocation of the constitution as a “U.S.-backed coup … to install a far-right opposition.” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) stopped short of such ignorance but nonetheless suggested that the U.S. was playing some sort of nefarious “non-democratic” role in the situation.

The Democratic Socialists of America, a group that backed many self-proclaimed socialists running for Congress last year, erroneously referred to Popular Will itself, as “right-wing.”

Popular Will remains on the list of full members of the SI on its website and the organization has come out in support of Guaidó. This may not be enough for many leftists, who see the Socialist International as a centrist organization. As one critic in the radical Marxist publication Jacobin noted in 2014, “the SI has proven itself not only incapable of challenging capitalism, but even of combatting neoliberalism.” That writer suggested that the PSUV was a much better model for leftist parties around the world.

This does not, however, erase the contents of Popular Will’s party manifesto.

The party believes in a right to government-provided food, shelter, and education. “If we do not have what we need,” the manifesto reads, “we are not free and we cannot be free.”

Among Popular Will’s loudest critiques of the Maduro regime are that it does not invest enough government funding in public housing, engages in labor discrimination, and has destroyed public education in the country.

“Through social investment, productive work, quality education, sustainable development, and social activism, we will construct a safer, more united, and prosperous nation, where all rights will belong to all people, with responsible and active citizens,” the manifesto reads.

The language Popular Will uses to define its policy goals is far from right-wing.

Guaidó was a founding member of the party, making it legitimate to assume that his ideology aligns with that of the party. He rose to prominence as a student government leader at the Andrés Bello Catholic University and has used his position in the legislature to defend, among other issues, Maduro’s desperate claim to up to a third of the sovereign territory of Guyana. As a MUD representative, Guaidó supported dialogue with the regime as the nation’s conservatives demanded an end to the killings.

Guaidó has also, as Popular Will has since consistently throughout its existence, held positions that look nothing like Maduro’s socialism, calling for the release of political prisoners, an end to the use of torture against dissidents, and full rights of expression and self-determination for the Venezuelan people.

While the nation’s true right wing have accepted Guaidó as legitimate president, he has already outraged some by suggesting that his government could offer Maduro prosecutorial amnesty, despite a record of years of torture and extrajudicial killing that may amount to a case for crimes against humanity.

“A transition with forgiveness is not a transition. We cannot let [Fidel and Raúl] Castro’s genocidists go free,” Rumbo Libertad, a libertarian youth political party, posted on Twitter in response to Guaidó’s suggestion.

The odds are slim that the radical Marxists supporting Maduro, and his regime itself, will acknowledge that the true ideological shift happening at the top of the Venezuelan power structure is from hard-left to center-left, and not from left to right. Yet as Guaidó attempts to exercise his newly received powers, understanding them will require accepting his and his party’s true ideological core. The Venezuelan right will certainly not forget to point him out if this attempt to unseat the Chávez regime proves another unsuccessful one.

Follow Frances Martel on Facebook and Twitter.

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