Open Letter to Rep. Ocasio-Cortez on Venezuela
Dear Representative Ocasio-Cortez,
I am one of your many fans. Your breakthrough in the 14th District of New York was historic; and your popularity is adding fuel to the fires of a crucial social democratic political challenge to neoliberal Democrats. I follow you on Twitter. I repost all your stuff to my Facebook friends. I tout you and others (Rep. Tlaib is from my state) as our last, best hope.
I am also a retired member of the armed forces with substantial Latin American experience (as one of many agents of imperialism). That is why I am expressing my disappointment with one of your remarks about Donald Trump’s so-called “state of the union” speech, in which you characterized the Venezuelan government of Nicholas Maduro as anti-democratic and “authoritarian.”
I realize you are swimming in the swift currents of national politics, and you can’t be expected to research everything, but you have been let down by your staff and advisers on the subject of Venezuela. I admit that it’s tough to tell the truth about Venezuela when the US ruling class has so effectively muddied the water, but that is what real leaders do. Discover the truth and tell it, even if you will be swimming in yet deeper, swifter waters. You are a leader now, a powerfully influential one, and that’s why I’m asking you to distinguish reality form propaganda.
I fall for clickbait sometimes, so I know we all make these kinds of mistakes. Yours have impact. This statement about Venezuela is a mistake. A big one.
The propaganda has worked, and that makes it harder. But we rely on leaders like you to be courageous enough to challenge even successful propaganda that is untrue. You owe that to yourself, your constituents, and the people of Venezuela who have long suffered at the hands of the class represented by Juan Guaidó — an upper class defined by whiter skin (Venezuelan society suffers from vile white supremacy), more money, and access to visas — the reason most Venezuelans in the US are anti-Bolivarian.
The only thing most of the Venezuelan elite hate more than indigenous Venezuelans are Afro-Venzuelans . . . and Chavez was both. So are the poor majority in Venezuela. Nicholas Maduro is the legitimately elected President of Venezuela. The United States government, in coordination with the racist Venezuelan ruling class, is the “opposition.”
Your specific remark was in response to the guilt-by-association fallacy now routinely employed by neoliberal Democrats as well as Republicans to tar “socialism.” You are reported to have said, “What we really need to realize is happening is that this is an issue of authoritarian regime versus democracy and in order for him to try to dissuade or throw people off the scent of the trail, he has to really make and confuse the public.” (italics added)
The problem here is that you yourself have now repeated a fallacious trope that has wrongly established President Maduro’s “guilt” in the minds of the public (by a neoliberal press) as an authoritarian. Only with this falsehood can the guilt-by-association fallacy (Maduro=socialism=economic ruin=authoritarianism) work. It becomes a false-guilt by association fallacy.
The fact is, both Maduro and his late predecessor, President Hugo Chavez, were repeatedly elected by Venezuelan majorities in internationally-validated elections. One tried and true technique employed by US coup makers is to foment enough street destabilization (manufactured social crisis) to provoke a police response, then spin the response as “authoritarian.” Establishment Democrats have been up to their necks in this skullduggery.
I know that the usual term for the Democratic establishment is “centrist,” but this is part of an illusion that the term “neoliberal” exposes; so I will begin with that, because the history of US-Venezuelan relations has been, ever since the neoliberal (read: late capitalist globalization) project began with the Reagan administration, a history of neoliberalism versus economic democracy and Venezuelan sovereignty.
Neoliberalism is globalization through debt and colonization of other countries’ home markets. In this hemisphere, we are seeing the neoliberal version of the Monroe Doctrine — the idea that the US essentially manages the affairs of the whole hemisphere through colonial surrogates. The Venezuelan ruling class is a US colonial surrogate. What is happening now in Venezuela is not made-in-Venezuela, it is the latest act in a coup attempt by the US that has been ongoing since Hugo Chavez won the Presidency in 1998 (taking office in 1999).
Philip Cerny explained neoliberalism this way:
<<Originally a label for a new form of nationally rooted transatlantic conservatism in the late 1970s and 1980s, neoliberalism was at first embodied primarily in the politics of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and the Conservative Party in the United Kingdom (UK) and of President Ronald Reagan and the Republican Party in the United States (US). It has often been seen as a revival of what has sometimes been called “classical liberalism” or “19th century liberalism” — i.e., a return to purer laissez faire principles and the ideology (and economic theory) of the self-regulating market. However, this is an oversimplification. Neoliberalism in its varieties, “free market conservative, neoliberal structuralist and neoliberal regulationist,” paradoxically includes an active role for the state in designing, promoting and guaranteeing the free and efficient operation of the market — a kind of imposed laissez faire somewhat analogous to Rousseau’s image of people being “forced to be free.”>>
Neoliberal theology asserts the primacy of the private, the value of small government; but neoliberal practice has been massively subsidized and legally protected from public accountability by the state. Without the state’s affirmative actions on behalf of the international business class, the system would collapse. Fast. Begin by thinking about how many battle groups from the US Navy are required to ensure the flow of fossil hydrocarbons into the industrialized metropolis, and you can extrapolate from there.
One of the key advantages of this “public-private” partnership that is neoliberalism is insulated from accountability to those below those institutions on the social hierarchy. The boundaries are blurred, via contracts and memoranda of understanding, between the US public sector — with its administrative apparatus, and its military and intelligence establishment with their vast budgets — and the private sector, composed of publicly funded “non-governmental organizations” (NGOs), think tanks, foundations, and an army of horizontally-integrated perception managers.
Those perception managers (MSNBC is one, every bit as much as Fox) have mass media as a conformity-producing web of influence that reaches right into the living rooms of a US culture that has 2.24 television sets, running an average of six hours and 47 minutes a day, 2,476 hours a year. To appreciate the latent power of television, realize that the average college class has a student in tow for three hours a week.
In terms of how the top of the pyramid relates to the base, this public-private alliance has the force of law in addition to a mobile redistribution of accountability. The people on the bottom are excluded from knowing who is the author of anything. We saw this mobile redistribution of accountability in action with the US-supported Honduran coup d’etat against democratically-elected President Manuel Zelaya . . . whose sin was to question neoliberal economics for Honduras. The transnational public-private alliance that authored the coup used this accountability shuffle to checkmate Zelaya and feint past the Organization of American States (OAS). This shell-game of accountability provides a coup alliance with enormous tactical agility. Bear this mobile accountability in mind as you read about coups themselves, in their (a) preparatory phase, their (b) execution phase, and their (c) consolidation phase.
The essential objectives of neoliberal policy are:
(1) to reduce obstacles to the penetration of other nations’ trade and capital markets and lock them when possible into debt-dependency,
(2) to establish and enforce neoliberal orthodoxy as the organizing principle of the state,
(3) to minimize “outcome-oriented” state intervention, e.g., poverty reduction, and stress state regulation that encourages economic “growth,” and
(4) to shift emphasis from government (identifiable and therefore subject to account) to governance (control is exercised by a meshwork of public and private agencies, under a regulatory regime, which become less identifiable, i.e., less targetable from below for accountability).
These are the goals, likewise, of neoliberal coups like the one being tried now in Venezuela.
Who benefits from this often impenetrable regulatory regime? From 1983 until 2007, according to a study by sociologist G. William Dumhoff, net worth distribution between the wealthiest quintile (20%) of the population and the other four quintiles combined (80%), changed from 81.3% of the wealth held by the top quintile to 85.1 percent of the wealth. In the same period, the bottom 80% went from holding 18.7% of the wealth to 15%. Today, in the US, the top one percent holds 40 percent of American wealth, and almost all the political power.
See, you know this stuff, but you may not have studied its history in Venezuela. Henceforth, please study the history of neoliberalism in any other country before you say things you hear from MSNBC — a neoliberal news outlet that is a fully owned subsidiary of the Democratic Party neoliberal establishment. Neoliberalism has effected a net transfer of wealth upward, beginning in the late 70s and early 80s. The transfer of wealth from poor countries to rich ones has been even more accelerated.
Neoliberalism is the current system to achieve continuity of elite, and imperial, power. But imperial power has always had a core-periphery dynamic, that is, a powerful core — a nation or alliance of nations — that rely on the exploitation of peripheries to maintain their dominance. I couldn’t type on this computer if it were not for cobalt from the Democratic Republic of Congo, iron from Brazil (another coup state now), palladium from Botswana, gold from Costa Rica, copper from Chile, selenium from the Philippines, zinc from Peru, silver and antimony from Mexico, chromium, manganese, and platinum from South Africa, and aluminum, arsenic, barium, cadmium, lead, and mercury from China — all gained through unequal exchange.
Core nation elites value stability, and sharing some of the surplus from exploitations abroad with one’s domestic political base is one way a domestic population is invested in an unequal core-periphery dynamic. A measure of shared imperial privilege across class lines consolidates the core’s political base. It was that way in imperial Rome. It is that way today. An average American — even though well down on the champagne glass as it represents the US population — still consumes vastly more than the average Congolese or Filipino or Peruvian or Chinese. We are awarded a share of imperial privilege as a hedge against social unrest. And we are fed propaganda to “other” those abroad who resist the neoliberal order.
The anti-austerity programs promoted by you and other social democrats (I’m all in for Sanders again) are essentially anti-neoliberal.
Neoliberalism emerged in response to a deep secular crisis of capitalism, first with the stagflation of the 70s, followed by the Latin American debt crisis of the 80s, followed by the serial catastrophes of the 90s — with Latin America, East Asia, Turkey, Russia — and culminating in the 2000s, with the dotcom bust and the magical exploding real estate bubble that hasn’t finished with us yet (it’s consequences are being delayed and increased in eventual severity by something called “quantitative easing”). Neoliberalism is embedded in crisis. Neoliberalism, for all its triumphal rhetoric about “the end of history” and “there is no alternative,” has actually been a protracted period of capitalist crisis management. Capital accumulation for the ruling class is threatened when expansion is contained, and so they keep grabbing for more, more more. To justify it, they use ideology.
Neoliberal ideology is the sum of the public arguments in defense of the practice of neolibealism, and the repetition of those arguments until they appear axiomatic.
Ideology is defined as “an orientation that characterizes the thinking of a group or nation,” but the main thing to remember is that successful ideology appears as mere common sense. The claims of ideology are not fashioned to represent actual practices.
The purpose of ideology — if public understanding of the practice is likely to engender resistance to power — is to simultaneously conceal that power and ensure that same concealed power’s day-to-day reproduction.
The narrative that Maduro and the Bolivarian movement are authoritarian is an ideological, not a factual, claim.
Dominant ideologies are “hegemonic,” meaning that most people have so internalized the basic assumptions of the ideology that they are seen as “common sense,” placing those assumptions beyond any critical intervention. Hegemonic ideas and practices are embedded in culture. Successful ideology is hegemonic ideology. The actual rules no longer require external persuasion or force; they have been extensively internalized by most people as “the way things are.” The Maduro-authoritarian narrative is hegemonic.
Neoliberal arguments, because they are hegemonic, sound very familiar. They are about the hidden hand of the market, and how it shakes society out as a just and flourishing meritocracy. “Free market” is a kind of benevolent god that we ought to thank for its abundance. And neoliberalism discursively constructs itself as inevitable: Maggie Thatcher’s claim, “There is no alternative.” The TINA-fallacy. Neoliberal language is obfuscatory.
The Honduran coup was a “constitutional crisis,” and the current coup attempt against Venezuela is “authoritarianism versus democracy.”
No caigas en ese truco, querida Diputada.
Ideological givens are then available to support propaganda — and propaganda is a weapon during military-political operations, like coups d’etat. Propaganda is one weapon in a coordinated attack, and not representative of any species of truth. Truth is incidental to public pronouncements by governments and institutions. The purpose of official public pronouncements is not representative, but persuasive. Official sources aren’t aiming at the truth, unless it is incidental. They are aiming at your support or acquiescence about what they are doing. We want you to break that pattern, not replay it.
The motive behind neoliberalism is perpetuation of ruling class power and American international power, and the mechanics are fourfold: capture competitor nations in an American-dominated system, exploit the markets of weaker nations, ensure net flows of wealth from peripheral nations to sustain US consumption, and lock peripheral nations into debt and dependency as leverage to control how they do business.
It was this system that Hugo Chavez and the Bolivarian movement challenged, and opposition to neoliberalism is precisely what put this movement in the gunsights of the US ruling class and its colonial surrogates in Venezuela. Because it is not the popular leaders (like Zelaya, Chavez, Aristide) that are the primary threat. They focus the threat, and thereby increase it, but the real threat is popular rule. The coup in progress in Venezuela is not against Maduro, per se, but against the majority of poor, non-white Venezuelans.
If this propaganda works, the people will resist, and all in the resistance are already pre-demonized by precisely the kind of propaganda you have been clickbaited into repeating. And mark my words, if that resistance is met with a US invasion, it could turn into a bloodbath. The overwhelming majority of Venezuelans will oppose it, and many will actively fight. I have been to Venezuela, seen the racial/class hierarchy up close, drank Polarcitas with them into the wee hours over pollo asado, and walked the mountains with them. They will not back down. They will never accept a foreign army. And a good deal of the armed forces are loyal to the Venezuelan Constitution — the military stopped the last overt US coup attempt in 2002.
Do any of us want to be complicit in this? Do not repeat the assertions that are paving the way.
The coup in progress is not just Trump; it is Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Barack Obama, and Donald Trump. It is part and parcel of the neoliberal program, the very same one you are opposing here in the US. That program has been continuous. It is a program of systematic, progressive destabilization. Economic destabilization, social destabilization, and security destabilization. All three of these programs have been carried out through economic warfare, propaganda, and US-funded intermediaries.
Please take note, Representative Ocasio-Cortez, that this is not a question of authoritarianism versus democracy, but a question of whether the US ought to determine the future of the people of Venezuela. Please do more to learn about them before you mischaracterize the situation there again.
We all make mistakes. The best of us admit them, learn from them, and move on to make new mistakes. The struggle you and I are in together in the US is the same one as those Venezuelans who have invested their hope in the Bolivarian project, warts and all.
We are the global anti-austerity movement, the fight against neoliberalism.
With great respect and my continued support,