• When Venezuela becomes smart and decides to explore an independent path towards the oil trade outside US control, this becomes a move unpalatable to America. To make it worse, the quality of the Venezuelan oil is the envy of many.
• President Nicolás Maduro is being chided and threatened with invasion not so much because he is misgoverning Venezuela but more because he is keeping his oil away from the reach of the US.
For many years in high school we learnt that the US was a major producer of oil.
We saw movies about the Wild West where cow boys shot each other scrambling for either cattle or the wealth below the surface of the earth.
That is when we got to know that the states of Texas and California were major producers of oil. But unlike in the Middle East, this oil remained within the borders of its owners. The US was not known as an oil exporter. It could go to war in the Middle East fighting to get oil imports from there.
In 1973, when the Oil Producing and Exporting Countries decided to get together and jointly increase oil prices in the world market, the US cried foul. But the choice was really in the hands of the US to either join Opec and receive the bonanza of the increased oil prices by exporting some of its oil treasure, or remain a net importer and pay dearly for the black gold.
But there was yet another choice that the US could have made: To consume its own oil and forget about the Arab Sheikhs and their expensive oil. Apparently this thought was not even contemplated. The US decided to mobilise oil consumers the world over to "stand firm against the global cartels" bent on ruining the global economy through expensive oil prices.
There was, however, another side to this oil saga to which little attention was paid. This silent issue in the global oil debate was to do with who actually traded in oil. In essence, the major oil merchants were US-based multinationals. They were the ones that, while shipping oil from the oil fields to the consumer, also masterminded its exploration and mining in fields as far apart as from Saudi Arabia to Spanish Guinea, or from short-lived Biafra to the environs of Mount Sinai.
One can now see why the US has always been interested in accessing oil from outside her borders, while conserving her own for future needs. First, it is a trade in which she remains dominant. Second, it is a business in which her technology is employed, thereby creating jobs at home at many levels within the knowledge industry.
Thus when Venezuela becomes smart and decides to explore an independent path towards the oil trade outside US control, this becomes a move unpalatable to America. To make it worse, the quality of the Venezuelan oil is the envy of many.
President Nicolás Maduro is being chided and threatened with invasion not so much because he is misgoverning Venezuela but more because he is keeping his oil away from the reach of the US. Very simple. Nothing complicated.
But then the scarecrow must be introduced to give rationale to the US attitude as something more noble, a fight for values much higher like human rights and democracy. How many Latin American countries have trodden on the bones of their own people for the sake of building a "free market" with the full support of the US?
One cannot forget Pinochet's regime in Chile of yesteryear or Papa Dock of Haiti for that matter. These were good enough cases for the US to go ballistic in defence of the human rights of ordinary citizens but she did not. Instead the rulers were treated as reliable allies and protected against the wrath of their own people.
But times change. We are living in an era where popular struggles for democracy everywhere cannot be easily contained by the collusion of "the coalition of the willing" few who are ardent supporters of the status quo.
Even in the US itself,it may not be long before a substantial part of society begins wanting to know why so much attention is being paid to one man called Maduro. Given the unpopularity of his policies with the people of Venezuela, sooner rather than later, popular struggles for democracy within the country will take better care of him than external US intervention.
My fear is that such externally imposed intervention would simply create another Libya in Venezuela, opening the oil fields ajar to foreign exploitation while totally destroying the fabric of Venezuelan society. God forbid. One completely dysfunctional Libya is more than enough for us "the wretched of the earth" in the Third World. Adding another one in Latin America would simply add insult to injury.
LESSONS FROM CUBA
Cuba has sounded a word of caution against US intervention in Venezuela. Cuba went through it for over half a century and survived, thereby nurturing a nation of truly independent people, proud of their culture and dignified in their existence. Material wealth is something that the bourgeoisie throw about in the rest of the world as a sign of individual success.
In socialist society, material wealth is valued in so far as it advances the social well being of society as a whole. That is why a poor man would rather call sick in Cuba than in Texas.
I am making this point because the aspiration to build a socialist society will remain relevant to the poor as long as the issue of gross inequalities in society is not solved under capitalism.
The rhetoric about socialism in Meduro's Venezuela is not an empty rhetoric. Though the current government may not necessarily practice any socialism, the people themselves aspire for a society in which they would get a better deal. Socialism sounds like such a society. It is an ideal worth pursuing.
So when socialism is seen as an enemy worth fighting, the US gets it wrong. What is worth fighting are the conditions under which the people live which tend to nurture such demagogues as Maduro. And demagogues can come from both the right and the left. Fidel Castro was not a demagogue: He was a revolutionary who lived and practiced socialism, and that is why he ruled by example, persuasion and compassion. May be the people of Venezuela need such a leader as Castro. If that is so, the US should realise that such leaders are produced from popular democratic struggles "from within" and not "shipped in" through truck loads of food aid.