Venezuelan leader Nicholas Maduro Picture: Kevork Djansezian / AP

The war against Chavismo in Venezuela has entered a dangerous new phase. Opposition forces call it a “superior phase” of violent struggle on the streets, along with the simultaneous creation of a parallel government that will remove the powers of the president. 

There are few peaceful outcomes to such a strategy, and an increasing possibility that the country could descend into civil war. 

On Sunday members of the opposition announced they were launching a consultative process across the country on the referendum called by the government to change the constitution. 

The opposition declared they were doing so without the approval of the National Constituent Assembly. While the mainstream Western media continues to demonise President Nicholas Maduro and justify the violent acts of the opposition, the proponents of chavismo claim the international left have failed to show its solidarity. 

This can be explained by the fact that the dominant narrative in the western media depicts Maduro as a dictator for life, who sends political dissidents to prison. 

But this narrative fails to mention the plethora of paramilitaries operating in Venezuela, or the gangs of criminals motivated to destroy public institutions. There are only those “resisting dictatorship”.

While it is true that Maduro has made serious mistakes in the handling of the economic and political situation in the country, he is also confronting an orchestrated campaign of regime change.

The multi-pronged approach of the opposition, which is pursuing a military and political strategy, is largely conceptualised in the US. 

The US has long identified the government of Venezuela as one of its top six enduring targets along with China, North Korea, Iraq, Iran, and Russia. This was according to a 2007 US strategic document leaked by Edward Snowden in 2013, which also said Venezuela is seen as the main adversary of the US in the western hemisphere.

A Venezuelan opposition leader recently interviewed on BBC’s Hard Talk admitted that the US is bankrolling the opposition’s campaign against the government. Numerous reports have surfaced that the US budgeted $49 million to support the efforts of the right wing in Venezuela since 2009.

The US has also provided funds to the Organisation of American States (OAS) to deploy teams to Venezuela and Bolivia out of concern that “democracy is threatened by the growing concept of participatory democracy”. 

The secretary-general of the OAS Luis Almagro led a campaign in April this year to oust Venezuela from the OAS, which led to Maduro announcing Venezuela’s withdrawal from the group.

Chavismo’s “participatory democracy” first under Hugo Chavez and then Maduro successfully brought about a reversal of the sharp social inequalities in Venezuelan society. Before 1998 the poverty rate in the country stood at 60%, but the policies of Chavez and Maduro managed to halve the poverty rate bringing it down to 30%, despite the economic crisis caused by falling oil prices. Health care and education were also made available to the poor.

To date the opposition has not published a concrete plan on how they would govern, but its leaders have stated publicly that they would implement a neo-liberal economic programme, along the lines of Michel Temer in Brazil and Mauricio Macri in Argentina. 

If the opposition takes power in Venezuela, they may succeed in reducing inflation and alleviating shortages, but they would also likely eliminate subsidies and social programmes for the poor. More importantly, they would roll back the policy of supporting communal councils, which have been the cornerstone of participatory democracy.

Curing the social ills of Venezuelan society is not the concern of the US, however. Indirect control of the country’s massive oil reserves is. The problem for the US is that successive revolutionary governments in Venezuela have eroded the political and economic hegemony that the US had over Venezuela. 

The challenge now is to “take Venezuela back,” and subordinate its economy to American interests.

Hence the US has allegedly provided assistance to the opposition in Venezuela to create Committees for the Rescue of Democracy across the country. Also the training of opposition elements to undertake armed attacks on military bases – both on barracks and battalions in different parts of the country, in order to steal weapons and break down segments of the armed forces. 

Emboldened by outside support the opposition has called on Venezuela’s armed forces to ignore orders and join the coup. 

The opposition leader Julio Borges, who was elected president of the national assembly (in what the government considers an illegal vote) has claimed that an incoming government will pardon soldiers who join opposition forces now. 

It would seem that the situation in the country has reached a point of no return. 

The response of the international community to the war talk of the Venezuelan opposition is important, and will determine whether it deepens its violent strategies. The global south needs to carefully consider whether it will support efforts of regime change against a democratically elected government of the left, or whether it will advocate dialogue and reconciliation.