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Vol. 81/No. 29      August 7, 2017

(lead article)

Demand Washington hands off Venezuela!

Washington tightened the screws against the government of Venezuela President Nicolás Maduro July 26, imposing sanctions on 13 government, military and state oil-company officials, including freezing their assets in the U.S. and banning travel to the country.

The measure came in the midst of a growing political crisis, four days before a vote scheduled to take place July 30 to select members to a Constituent Assembly called by President Maduro.

Meanwhile, the pro-imperialist forces organized in the opposition Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD) called for a 48-hour nationwide strike starting July 26 and for a mass demonstration in the capital Caracas on the day of the vote if the government refuses to put off or cancel the election. Opposition forces claim Maduro’s call for the vote is a move to bypass the elected National Assembly, which they won control of in 2015.

More than 100 people have died — including both opponents and supporters of the government, bystanders and members of the police and national guard — as the opposition has stepped up its provocative protests, including blocking roads and firing homemade mortars and Molotov cocktails at police and national guard. Some forces in the opposition have vowed to mount violent protests until Maduro steps down, while others have favored negotiations toward a “transition.”

Working people have been hardest hit with shortages of food and other basic necessities. Many products are only available on the black market for anywhere from 4 times to 20 times the legal price or more, way out of reach for many workers.

US threatens more sanctions

Threats by the Trump administration to follow through on a “steady drumbeat” of measures against the Venezuelan government, including a possible ban on oil imports to the U.S., have been met with caution among U.S. ruling circles and some opposition figures in Venezuela. They have expressed concerns such moves could lead to a collapse of the country’s economy and deeper crisis.

Venezuela has the largest oil reserves in the world and is the third largest supplier of crude and petroleum products to the United States. Citgo, which is owned by the state-run Venezuelan oil company PDVSA, has 6,000 gas stations, three refineries and 50 fuel terminals in the in the U.S., employing 46,000 workers.

Even in the midst of an estimated 18 percent drop in the country’s Gross Domestic Product in 2016, the Maduro government has continued to make its payments on its $120 billion debt to foreign bondholders.

Maduro and the governing United Socialist Party of Venezuela have put forward no course of action for working people to advance their class consciousness on the road to workers and farmers overthrowing capitalist rule and taking political power. Instead they say that rewriting the country’s constitution is the way to resolve the increasingly violent conflict and “deepen the Bolivarian revolution.”

Going through with the July 30 vote, however, has the potential of escalating the polarization and conflict, opening the door to a bloodbath, as opposition forces press violent street protests and call for the armed forces to break with Maduro and restore “constitutional order.” Some former high-ranking officers of the armed forces and government officials have urged Maduro to consider postponing the vote.

Gen. Alexis López Ramírez, a longtime supporter of Maduro, resigned last month because of his opposition to holding the vote.

Millions of workers who supported the government have become discontented. At the same time they have not gotten involved with the Roundtable, who they know from experience only defends the interests of the wealthy propertied owners.

Former Spanish President Luis Rodríguez Zapatero met in Venezuela July 24 with opposition leaders in an attempt to win support for a dialogue with Maduro to win postponement of the election to the Constituent Assembly.

Defend Venezuela’s sovereignty

The Cuban government has consistently defended the right of the people of Venezuela to make their own decisions without interference from U.S. imperialism or capitalist regimes in the region.

“Cuba calls for absolute respect for the sovereignty and self-determination of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela,” José Ramón Machado, second secretary of the Cuban Communist Party’s Central Committee, told the crowd in Pinar del Rio at a July 26 celebration of the opening of the Cuban Revolution in 1953.

“Those who are trying to give lessons on democracy and human rights from afar, while they encourage pro-coup violence and terrorism, should get their hands out” of Venezuela, he said. “It’s up to the Bolivarian people and government to overcome their difficulties without foreign meddling in their internal affairs.”

“Working people here and worldwide should follow Cuba’s proletarian internationalist example,” Margaret Trowe, Socialist Workers Party candidate for mayor in Albany, said in a public statement July 19. “The Socialist Workers Party says: U.S. hands off Venezuela! End Washington’s economic sanctions and interference in the internal affairs of the people of Venezuela!”  
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