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Venezuela - the next stage of the Global Oil Wars

Updated: Sep 8, 2020

This article was published online in 2006.

Brian Guerin

Image by OpenClipart-Vectors from Pixabay.
"You have the freedom here to do what you want to do with your money, and to me, that is worth all the political freedom in the world." (US banker in Veneuela under the dicatorship of Perez Jimenez (1949-1958). [1])

In the context of what some observers have seen as a threatened direct US invasion of Venezuela, whose revolution threatens the oil interests that now encircle the globe, it is fitting that the Casement Outlook open its work with a look at this ancient country. Under the presidency of Hugo Chavez, Venezuela has banned GMO's, and greatly increased tarriffs upon oil corporations tapping Venezuela's vast oil resources. A variety of social programs have been initiated, with state-supported health and employment programs. To the US and the Venezuelan elite, these socialist measures are proof-positive that Chavez is an heir apparent to Fidel Castro. [2] With regard to Ireland, where the state is handing gas and oil resources to transnational corporations not merely gratis, but is paying for the privilege, it is instructive to examine the Venezuelan experience in the context of the growing evidence that Ireland has totally ceded national sovereignty to the energy corporations of other nations, a total betrayal not merely of the Constitution, but of the founding fathers of the Irish nation. [3] [4]

Simon Bolivar | Image by Wilhan José Gomes wjgomesfrom Pixabay

Roger Casement and the Monroe Doctrine

[The Monroe Doctrine] was characterized by Roger Casement in the course of the Putamayo investigations in that tortured region of South America in 1910, as that 'stumbling block in the path of humanity'.

After a bitter conflict, Venezuela gained independance from Spain on July 5, 1821. The liberator of the newly independant nation, Simon Bolivar, was greatly concerned about US regional policy: "There is at the head of this great continent a very powerful country, very rich, very warlike, and capable of anything." [5] The Panamericanism advocated by Bolivar was a direct threat to the Monroe Doctrine, announced by the United States on 2 December 1823; this doctrine was characterized by Roger Casement in the course of the Putamayo investigations in that tortured region of South America in 1910, as that 'stumbling block in the path of humanity'. [6] Elsewhere he stated that the Doctrine was a 'crime against the human race.'[7]

Roger Casement, humanitarian

The term 'Monroe Doctrine' refers to a speech by President Monroe in the US Congress on 2nd December 1823, in which he laid down as a principle of US foreign policy that any influence on or interference in the Americas by non-American powers was not to be tolerated). Casement's insight into Monroe's forthright statement was that, far from it being the cornerstone of Panamerican independence, 'it is the block on which these criminals behead their victims'. [8]) Perhaps with a touch of irony, a British government official wrote in 1916 that, while Bolivar had created the policy of Panamericanism, he 'did not contemplate the consummation of his policy under the aegis of the United States.' [9]) The newly independant Haitian nation also provided assistance to the cause of Venezuelan independence, on the condition that Venezuela's slaves were freed. [10]) Bolivar complied. Haiti, Venezuela and later Cuba were regarded as prime strategic targets in the (successful) struggle for US regional dominance, firmly established by the end of the 19th century, when Cuba was directly invaded and conquered by the US, acting to prevent a successful bid for Cuban independance from Spain. [11])

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In terms of indigenous natural resources, Venezeula has the largest petroleum reserves outside of the Middle East, as well as huge reserves of coal, iron ore, bauxite and gold. It was no suprise, then, that by 1928 Venezuela had become the world's leading oil exporter, with US companies in firm control. [12] In the course of WWII, the US agreed to a Venezuelan request for 50-50 profit sharing. The result was a huge increase of Venezuelan oil production and increased profits for US firms who thereby took control of the crucial sectors of the Venezuelan economy. After WWII, the US supported Juan Gomez, who greatly facilated foreign exploitation of Venezueala's huge resources. Perez Jimenez, dictator from 1949-58, received the Legion of Merit from President Eisenhower. In one example of this foreign exploitation, roughly half of Standard Oil's (now Exxon) profits came from its Venezuelan affiliate. [13]

In 1970, Venezuela was displaced from its position as the world's leading oil exporter by Saudi Arabia and Iran. In a pattern similar to the Middle East, Venezuela nationalised its oil and iron ore in a fashion acceptable to US investors. Venezuela remained "one of the most unique markets in the world", (US Commerce Department). [14]

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In 1988, the social democrat Carols Andres Perez undertook an IMF-approved structural adjustment program, adhered to in the face of popular revolt, involving thousands of protests, many violent, including one in which 300 people were killed by security forces in the Capital city of Caracas. [15] However, the protests continued. In January 1992, the main trade union was predicting further conflict as a result of the neoliberal programs, causing 'massive impoverishment' including a 60% drop in workers' purchasing power in three years, enriching key financial groupings and transnational corporations. [16]) No matter: the Venezeulan economy had just been accorded the status of an "economic miracle"-" a treasury brimming with foreign reserves, inflation at its lowest rate in five years, and an economy growing at the fastest rate in the Americas, 9.2% in 1991," NYT correspondant James Brook noted, along with a fall in the real minimum wage in Caracas to 44% of the 1987 level, a decline in nutritional levels, along with a "scandalous concentration of wealth," according to a right-wing Congressman he quotes. [17]) After the coup attempt of 1992 led by Hugo Chavez, the Venezuelan government admitted that only 57% of Venezuelans could afford more than one meal a day, in a nation of vast resources. The August 1991 Presidential Commission for the Rights of Children found that 'critical poverty, defined as the inability to meet at least one half of basic nutritional requirements,' had tripled from 11% of the population in 1984 to 33% in 1991; real per capita income fell 55% from 1988 to 1991, falling at double the rate of 1980-1988. [18]

As with Ireland, from 1960-2006 Perez had followed the required programme, cutting state subsidies to domestic industry, privatising state companies and opening a closed economy to competition. But something had unaccountably gone wrong, with real wages plummeting 23%, and some 60% of the population forced to rely upon the informal sector of the economy. About 80% out of a population of 25 million people lived in abject poverty. [19] The growth rate was impressive, 'but most economic analysts agree that the high price of oil in 1991 fueled Venezuela's growth rate more than Perez's austerity moves...none can fail to see that 'the new wealth has failed to trickle down to Venezuela's middle and lower classes, whose standard of living has fallen dramatically.' Infant deaths 'soared in the past two years as a result of worsening malnutrition and other health problems in the shantytowns,' according to a local priest. There [was] much 'new wealth', much of it poured into financial speculation schemes rather than new investments in industry. In 1991 money made in real estate and financial services almost equaled the profits from manufactures.' [20]

The consequent damage to the social and political infrastructure was as irrelevant as the population of Venezuela itself. Venezuela qualified therefore as a textbook economic miracle, achieved under firm IMF guidence.* (There are certain parallels to be observed here with Ireland, whose growth 'boom' is largely fed by massive state subvention of the property 'industry' and TNC's.) When Chavez led an attempted coup in 1992, he was widely seen as a heroic populist. His accession to the Presidency in 1999 after his 1998 election win signaled a profound change in Venezuela's relations with the United States. A huge majority of the population have confirmed this mandate in subsequent elections, the ruling elite having been thoroughly discredited by the decades of corruption and economic near-collapse in the 1990's as a result of structrural adjustment 'reforms' under IMF guidence. The vast inequality inherent in Venezuelan society is what won Chavez support for his 'Bolivarian Revolution', and set the stage for his 1998 victory. [21]

During his first three years as president, low oil prices and a severe recession prevented widespread economic changes. Chavez's focus was upon changes to political structures through a constituent assembly and a new constitution. Following a new presidental election, pressure mounted from the Venezuelan elite, which used the mass media to attack the government while inciting the middle class and military, a technique used earlier in Chile before the coup of September 11, 1973. A mass march of the middle class and a strike called by the CTV union federation on April 11, 2002, served as a launch-pad for a coup by high-ranking military, which attempted to abolish the national parliament and constitution and confer dictorial powers on the Venezualean chamber of commerce. Popular mobilisation and crucial lack of rank-and-file army support resulted in the defeat of the coup. [22]

The opposition then attempted a strike in the state oil corporation PDVSA, which was in fact a lock-out by top management and technical personnel. This was supported by the CTV and was aimed at driving Chavez from power. However, oil workers and soldiers kept production going. The CTV therefore split, with a new union being formed, the UNT, which has broken from its history of state collaboration to organise on a class-struggle basis. The worldwide slump in oil prices helped to fund a series of government "missions", i.e. direct-action social programs, which sideline the bloated and largely hostile state bureaucracy. These programs include funds for Cuban doctors to bring medical care to the slums, literacy and secondary-school equivalancy courses to give the general population greater access to third-level education, the creation of new universities, state-subsidised grocery-stores in the slums, new co-operative industries, a program of land reform for small farmers and those who have lost their land, and the banning of GMO crops. [23]

These measures, funded by Venezuela's own oil and mineral resources, gave Chavez the overall momentum to win 59% of the August 2004 referendum organised by the opposition. Since then, Washington's hostility has intensified, with Chavez openly being compared to Hitler by US officials, stating that there were concerns over Chavez's style of 'populist leadership.' [24] Venezuela's new alliance with Cuba and Boliva is potentially the beginning of a South American political and economic bloc, developing independently of US influence. [25] [26] It remains to be seen if Hugo Chavez is a worthy heir of the 'Liberator.' If he merely remains content with populist rhetoric in response to Venezuelan demands for thorough social transformation, then it is unlikely that he can survive the revolution in Venezuela he has in part helped to unleash. His environmental record is not outstanding. Washington's hostility is not primarily directed against Chavez and his merits or demerits, but Venezuelan nationalism, which is the real threat. If the Venezuelan population, and indeed the people of South America as a whole, gain full operative control over their own resources, the Monroe Doctrine is null and void and with it US control over one of the richest continents in the world.

It remains to be seen if Hugo Chavez is a worthy heir of the 'Liberator.' If he merely remains content with populist rhetoric in response to Venezuelan demands for thorough social transformation, then it is unlikely that he can survive the revolution in Venezuela he has in part helped to unleash.

Whether there will be an outright invasion of Venezuela by the United States remains to be seen. If this occurs, the most likely staging point will be Columbia. [27]) For it was in the Putamayo region of Columbia/Peru that some of the worst atrocities known to humankind occurred, and it was Roger Casement's investigation of these which very likely delayed the total extermination of the indigenous population. That program however has been accelerated since WWII, as the neo-fascist National Securitry Structure was implemented in all its force in South America, with the indigenous population as the primary target. [28] The popular democratic revolts which have swept through South America, of which Chavez is simply one single manifestation, now constitute perhaps the greatest threat to Washington's imperial ambitions it has ever known. It is control of the land which is the key to control of political power in any country: once this is achieved, control of natural resources follows; oil, gas, mineral resources, etc.

The land clearances underway in South America, which are at their most savage in Columbia, are designed to clear the way for transnational (that is, US) control over the property of the people. It was Roger Casement's insight into the central role of the Monroe Doctrine in sustaining the Columbian conquest of South America which has made him an enduring threat, even after death; this was perhaps a greater crime if possible than his Irish nationalism. Roger Casement, who was rightly hailed as the 'New Davitt' [29], saw the total eradication of landlordism, in South America and Ireland, as the key to effective national independence. The indigenous revolution in Venezeula is the clearest example of the world-wide intensification of these resource wars, in Corrib just as much as in Caracas. In Ireland, the total abandonment of national economic soverneignty has led to forty years of total dependency upon US transnational corporations whose concerns are remote from indigenous economic activity. Now, the Irish people are compelled, in violation of the Constitution, to hand over their property, Ireland's natural resources, to the energy corporations of foreign states, who benefit hugely from state subsidy and legal protection from their government. The widespread struggle of indigenous peoples across the world from Venezuela to Ireland is the central struggle of our time; upon this struggle will rest the success or failure of this final war for global domination.


[1] Noam Chomsky, Year 501. Verso Press, 1993, p. 99

[2] http://www.counterpunch.org/sustar05282005.html

[3] http://www.taoiseach.gov.ie/upload/publications/297.htm

[4] http://www.irelandposters.com/dublin/1916_proclamation.html

[5] Chomsky (1993), p.142

[6] The Amazon Journal of Roger Casement, ed. Angus Mitchell, Lilliput Press (Dublin, 1997) p. 313

[7] Roger Casement's Heart of Darkness: The 1911 Documents, ed. Angus Mitchell, Irish Manuscripts Commission (Dublin, 2003) p.217

[8] The Amazon Journal, p.131

[9] Chomsky (1993), p.143

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid., p.170

[13] Ibid.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Ibid., p.172

[19] http://www.counterpunch.org/sustar05282005.html

[20] Chomsky (1993), p. 172

[21] http://www.counterpunch.org/sustar05282005.html


[23] Ibid.

[24] http://www.voanews.com/english/archive/2006-02/2006-02-02-voa79.cfm?CFID=6237780&CFTOKEN=13695433

[25] http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2006/02/03/politics/main1279205.shtml

[26] http://pilger.carlton.com/print/98841

[27] http://www.counterpunch.org/petras03222005.html

[28] http://www.chomsky.info/articles/200412--.htm

[29] Mitchell, Heart of Darkness, p. 215

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