Almost a century ago, on 7 August 1819, Simón Bolívar’s small force of about 2 500 troops defeated a Spanish army at the Battle of Boyacá. Three days later, Bolívar entered Bogota and the story of South America took a postcolonial turn.
Spanish rule in New Granada was over, the territory renamed Gran Colombia or Colombia, and including Venezuela, Ecuador and Colombia. Venezuela’s national congress had declared independence from Spain much earlier, on 5 July 1811, but more than two years of talks, treachery and warfare followed. Finally, after Bolívar won six battles in a row against the Spaniards, Venezuela fell to its people, with Bolívar triumphantly entering Caracas on 6 August 1813, having had the name El Libertador bestowed on him.
Caracas was Bolívar’s birthplace, so it was a double homecoming. He assumed leadership of his native land and later also of Colombia (1821-1830) and Peru (1823-1829). It’s fashionable for Western histories to declare that he ran political dictatorships and for those accounts to gloss over the three centuries during which Venezuela was a Spanish colony.
So enduring is the Spanish imprint that the country’s very name remains that coined by the colonists: Venezuela stands for Little Venice. Venezuela has shaken off many things from its oppressed history, but not its non-indigenous name, given in 1499 by Spanish expeditioners who had seen villages built on stilts in a lake. The country’s shores had felt the cursed gaze of Christopher Columbus the previous year, when he had been on his third voyage of “discovery”.
At this moment, Venezuela risks falling under the sway of a colonial and imperialist power far greater than Spain ever was in its pomp. The United States, with its insatiable greed for other people’s resources, and its morbid pathology of seeing reds, commies, lefties and socialists everywhere, has its eyes on a Venezuela weakened by internal strife.
Under the guise of humanitarian concern, Washington is manoeuvring to turn a food convoy – rejected by the Venezuelan government – into a vehicle for military invasion. This is not one of the CIA’s slow-burning coups-by-stealth; it is a bare-fisted and naked attempt at regime change. The Venezuelan army has said that it will resist any attempt to force the food convoy over the country’s borders. The self-styled interim president of Venezuela, Juan Guaido, a puppet for Western interests if ever there was, is urging “ordinary people” to rally in support of this force-feeding stratagem.
One can imagine how the event, set to take place this weekend, might play out. Altruistic food ferry is denied entry into Venezuela. The convoy and its tide of supporters nonetheless breaches the border. The Venezuelan army pushes back. People are hurt; lives are lost.
And look! What’s on the Colombian side? Armoured vehicles, tanks, soldiers, guns? An invasion force, a proxy for US intentions and interests?
This week, the man in the White House, Donald Trump, made impassioned pleas to the Venezuelan military to ditch its backing of President Nicolas Maduro and to switch loyalties to Guaido. The latter, you will recall, magically transformed from opposition leader to “interim president” by the trick of declaring himself so – and then receiving official recognition and enthusiastic backing from the US and craven European nations, including neoliberal Macronland.
What can Venezuela do? Even if a sizeable number of its citizens reject Maduro, can they seriously countenance their country being helped by friends such as this?
At times like this, it’s well to remember the words of Mao Zedong, in conversation with two Latin American public figures on 14 July 1956. (Sadly, no source lists the names of Mao’s Bastille Day companions.)
“Now US imperialism is quite powerful, but in reality it isn’t. It is very weak politically because it is divorced from the masses of the people and is disliked by everybody and by the American people too. In appearance it is very powerful but in reality it is nothing to be afraid of, it is a paper tiger. Outwardly a tiger, it is made of paper, unable to withstand the wind and the rain. I believe the United States is nothing but a paper tiger.
“History as a whole, the history of class society for thousands of years, has proved this point: the strong must give way to the weak. This holds true for the Americas as well.
“Only when imperialism is eliminated can peace prevail. The day will come when the paper tigers will be wiped out. But they won’t become extinct of their own accord, they need to be battered by the wind and the rain.
“When we say US imperialism is a paper tiger, we are speaking in terms of strategy. Regarding it as a whole, we must despise it. But regarding each part, we must take it seriously. It has claws and fangs. We have to destroy it piecemeal. For instance, if it has 10 fangs, knock off one the first time, and there will be nine left, knock off another, and there will be eight left. When all the fangs are gone, it will still have claws. If we deal with it step by step and in earnest, we will certainly succeed in the end.
“Strategically, we must utterly despise US imperialism. Tactically, we must take it seriously. In struggling against it, we must take each battle, each encounter, seriously. At present, the United States is powerful, but when looked at in a broader perspective, as a whole and from a long-term viewpoint, it has no popular support, its policies are disliked by the people, because it oppresses and exploits them. For this reason, the tiger is doomed. Therefore, it is nothing to be afraid of and can be despised. But today the United States still has strength, turning out more than 100 million tons of steel a year and hitting out everywhere. That is why we must continue to wage struggles against it, fight it with all our might and wrest one position after another from it. And that takes time.
“It seems that the countries of the Americas, Asia and Africa will have to go on quarrelling with the United States till the very end, till the paper tiger is destroyed by the wind and the rain.
“To oppose US imperialism, people of European origin in the Latin-American countries should unite with the indigenous Indians. Perhaps the white immigrants from Europe can be divided into two groups, one composed of rulers and the other of ruled. This should make it easier for the group of oppressed white people to get close to the local people, for their position is the same.
“Our friends in Latin America, Asia and Africa are in the same position as we and are doing the same kind of work, doing something for the people to lessen their oppression by imperialism. If we do a good job, we can root out imperialist oppression. In this we are comrades.”