It was 7 a.m. April 30th in Caracas when I awoke to hear gunshots outside my hotel. Our group, seven US citizens and one Canadian, were attending a housing conference and looked forward to the next day’s May Day celebration.
The coup attempt
I feared the worst. For several weeks, self-proclaimed “president” Juan Guaidó had been giving an ultimatum —the elected Venezuelan President Nicholás Maduro must step down by May Day. Guaido promised the “mother of all marches” by the opposition. The threat of US military intervention hung in the air.
I hurried to get dressed and out the door of my hotel room. The housekeeper at the elevator said with disdain—golpistas (coup plotters) when asked about the gunfire.
At 10:00 a.m. when our group left for the Hotel Alba in downtown Caracas for the second day of a housing conference, the streets appeared normal. People were walking to work or to school. It was different than reports in US media that a coup had taken place and a war was underway.
Stage managing the details
It was not until I spoke to a reporter from the foreign press at noontime that I learned the details of the events he witnessed first-hand that morning. Some 17 soldiers had been deceived into coming to the La Carlota military base near an upscale neighborhood of Caracas. A higher-ranking officer had told young soldiers that they were going to an event, to be honored as new recruits. When they saw that they had been tricked into making it look like they were defectors, the young soldiers fled into the air base, making it look like the opposition had taken it over. All the while, a prearranged camera was rolling.
The people of the world are asking the people of the US to oppose the illegal sanctions and intervention.
The trumped up effort backfires
Within an hour, the comedic coup plot had unraveled. Opposition leader Leopoldo López, who had broken from house arrest early that morning (he was convicted of inciting deadly violence in 2014), fled with his family to the Spanish embassy. Guaidó went into hiding for the rest of the day. Venezuelan Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino López said on national television that the military was standing strong with President Maduro and announced that every military base in the country was operating normally. No coup had taken place.
The next day 400,000 workers marched in a May Day rally, one of the largest pro-government mobilizations in the history of the Bolivarian revolution. Rather than the “mother of all marches,” Guaidó’s numbers paled in comparison. As the CNN reporter on the scene said, “There’s a few thousand people, but my guess is Guaidó would have hoped for more. We saw Molotov cocktails being made but it’s peaceful here.”
Swallowing the fabricated line
In the days since the aborted coup, reports have emerged that the real coup plotters—Elliot Abrams, Mike Pompeo and John Bolton—were themselves tricked in a plot laid by Venezuelan counter intelligence. They had been convinced that Defense Minister Padrino and two other senior officials were going to defect based on discussions Abrams held with Padrino for several weeks. The day of the coup attempt, Abrams reportedly told Trump that it was a sure thing.
The US media fell in line with Guaido’s story. The New York Times reported there had been “a predawn takeover of a military base in the heart of the capital,” and that Guaidó had made a video appeal for a rebellion from the “liberated” airbase at La Carlota. The airbase was never in the hands of Guaidó or his supporters.
Instead, some 2,000 of Guaidó’s supporters gathered on an overpass to watch the highway below where 200 or so violent protesters—likely paid—were firing on the military and throwing Molotov cocktails. The foreign reporter told me that Guaidó’s supporters were well-dressed, many perched in BMW and Mercedes Benz cars. They had white cream on their faces to protect themselves from the sun and wafting tear gas. After it was over, they went to the nearby luxury Intercontinental Tamanaco Hotel and drank champagne, said the reporter who was staying at the same hotel.
May Day in Caracas
The support for the Bolivarian revolution and President Maduro appears stronger than ever, judging by the May Day outpouring. One participant later told me she had taken her mother and aunt to the rally for the first time. She said it was far different than last year’s May Day which was much smaller and mainly perfunctory. This year it was an enthusiastic day of hundreds of thousands of people celebrating a victory for their country and their revolution.
Poder Popular and the Communes
The next day, our group attended a meeting of a commune in the working-class Caracas neighborhood of La Catia where discussion had been underway for several hours on proposals to present to the national assemblies scheduled for the weekend. The commune discussed a new communal banking system and a seed bank that would be subsidized by the government for communal vegetable and poultry farms. The organically grown produce is sold to residents 50% below market rate.
Gran Misión Vivienda Venezuela (Venezuela’s Great Housing Mission)
Delegates from communes throughout the country attended the 4-day housing conference in Caracas. Held annually since Misión Vivienda was established eight years ago, the conference is organized to share experiences building housing in local areas as well as providing an international network on the right to housing. Representatives of 32 countries from North America, Latin America, Africa, the Middle East and Asia attended.
A history of homelessness and poor housing
We learned that the housing shortage in Venezuela has been severe. In 1996, before the Bolivarian revolution, 35% of the population was without homes and a third of all homes were considered “inappropriate.” Then came the rains. A week-long torrential downpour in 2010 destroyed a large area outside of Caracas in the poorest of all states—Vargas. Many people died and many thousands were left homeless. The apocalyptic disaster led Chávez to call for the launch of Gran Misión Vivienda with the goal of 5 million new homes by 2025.
New housing and community for millions
Today, despite the US economic war and threats of military attack, the fall in oil prices, England’s theft of the country’s gold in British banks, the US seizure of CITGO revenues and an oil embargo, some 2,600,000 homes have been built since 2011. Title deeds have been given to a million families. Laws were passed to prevent price speculation and guarantee fair housing prices with low interest rates. “We have never cut back on our ambitious plans for housing—our long march to communal society,” said Venezuela’s Minister of Housing.
On a visit to Vargas we saw a complete transformation of the area where 420,000 people now live. Before 2011, most lived in shacks in the hillsides. The best land sat on 37 hectares of flat oceanfront owned by four rich families. After the rains, the government took over the flat land. Today it is home to 3,200 families. Nearly the entire state of Vargas has been rebuilt with new apartment buildings providing 36,852 new homes, new schools, health clinics, beach recreation areas, a new baseball stadium, performance art arenas, day care and nursery centers.
5 years of US sanctions cause death and deprivation
Venezuela has lost an estimated $114 billion due to US sanctions that began with the Obama administration in 2014. Economists Mark Weisbrot and Jeffrey Sachs in a April 2019 report, “Economic Sanctions as Collective Punishment: The Case of Venezuela,” calculate that 40,000 Venezuelans have died between 2017 and 2018 as a direct result of US sanctions, and an additional 300,000 lives are at risk. Sanctions have prevented some 80,000 Venezuelans who have HIV from obtaining antiretroviral treatment since 2017. Most of the 4 million people with diabetes and hypertension cannot get insulin or cardiovascular medicine. The two main reasons are US sanctions that prevent the government from purchasing food and medicine, and the drastic drop in oil prices—from $163.52 a barrel in 2008 to $50.43 in January 2009.
Will the US let Venezuela develop its own way?
“It is not difficult to see why Venezuela is at the center of a global war,” said philosopher and former Venezuelan UN Ambassador Carlos Lagos in a discussion with our group. He pointed to the role of Russia and China in opposing US sanctions and interventions around the world. The right wing is moving their agenda for the hemisphere and Venezuela is the main obstacle, he said.
On the other hand, Lagos continued, the Venezuelan people understand what is happening. They know how much worse it would be if the opposition were successful in overthrowing the government. For 20 years, the Venezuelan people have been developing a consciousness, he said.
“Only the people of the US can stop this,” said Lagos to our group. “It is so important that you come to Venezuela to see for yourselves. The people of the world are asking the people of the US to oppose the illegal sanctions and intervention by your government”, he said.
On May 13th, Guaidó formally requested the support of US military forces to overthrow the elected government of Venezuela. We in the US must stop it—write letters to newspapers, protest in the streets, and pressure Congress to pass HR 1004, a bill to prevent military action against Venezuela unless approved by Congress. [As of May 16] there were 71 co-sponsors. Check to see if your Representative is on board: https://www.congress.gov/bill/116th-congress/house-bill/1004/cosponsors
Pat Fry wrote this for Portside.org,
It appeared on May 16, 2019