Bank of England must hand back Venezuela’s gold

venezWhen Hugo Chávez took power in Venezuela in 1998, a chain of reaction was set off among the Venezuelan comprador elite and the US imperialism it served. The stratagems and dirty tricks that have been used to take this country back to its former position of being ‘owned’ by the US are many and varied, and there are quite a few articles in both LALKAR and Proletarian that can be read to secure a better knowledge of the history of imperialism’s ceaseless and determinated attempts, with unbridled aggression, to bury the Bolivarian revolution and the example it sets others in what the US considers its ‘backyard.’

Prior to 1998, Venezuela was the world’s fifth-largest exporter of oil, but what was left to Venezuela of its huge wealth after the imperialist corporations had taken the lion’s share was systematically appropriated in personal incomes by the ruling elite, with a small share going in wages to the privileged oil and banking sector workers who make up the much-touted ‘middle class’. The country’s dependency on oil profits has meant that its economy was always firmly tied to imperialism, and no attempt was ever made by these leeches either to diversify or to invest any of the profits from oil into improving conditions for the vast majority of the population, most of whom were existing in slums and shantytowns well below the poverty line. Venezuela now stands proudly at the side of socialist Cuba, supported in the region by some other progressive states such as Nicaragua which also suffers from constant interference in its internal affairs by the US and its puppets. The constant coup attempts, financial and industrial sabotage (mainly in the field of oil production and refining) and the crippling sanctions have been a drain on the Bolivarian programmes, but, despite this, the masses still support their government, now led by President Maduro.

This article mainly deals with recent intrusions and dirty tricks but will also have to refer back to some earlier ones as part of the explanation of what is happening now.

The coronavirus, Covid 19, is causing distress and deaths around the world in 2020 and almost every country has tried to combat the virus and alleviate the problems caused by it as much as possible. Venezuela’s efforts in this regard have been hampered since it has been under even stricter US sanctions than before because (a) President Maduro won the last Presidential election easily and (b) Venezuela did not succumb to a coup attempt last year designed to overturn the election result.

Sanctions from the US in reality mean sanctions from nearly everybody who has dealings with the US. This has meant that food, medicines and Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) for medical staff are among the items forcibly being denied to the Venezuelan people as US imperialism attempts to cow them and make them re-install the yoke of imperialism on their own necks and shoulders. Even where the much-needed supplies could be found, their transportation is problematic as any transportation company taking such a contract will find itself also sanctioned by the US and on a very slippery and very short slope headed to financial destruction.

Fuel is also on the list of embargoed essentials. This does at first sight seem strange as Venezuela sits on the largest known oil reserves in the world but, with that staple industry wrecked by sabotage and sanctions, it is extremely hard to sell what oil you can get to the surface. Many who worked in the oil production and refinement industries as specialists and managers kept their allegiance to the comprador Venezuelan elite and to US imperialism, and were well-placed to carry out wrecking tactics.

Venezuela has had to look to its gold reserves to try to overcome the problems of both trying to protect its people from the pandemic and to get the oil industry back into production, at least for the home market and for those countries strong enough to stand up to US imperialism or who have equal pariah status among the imperialists and their puppets.

Like most countries Venezuela has assets in other countries and has, like many others, for very many years held gold bullion in the Bank of England (BoE). This may seem strange to some, especially when Britain is a major player in the sanctions placed on Venezuela, but the BoE is the second largest keeper of gold in the world, with approximately 400,000 gold bars from various nations in its vaults. Only the New York Federal Reserve has more. The Venezuelan gold was placed in the BoE even before Chávez come to power, and has therefore been safe from theft, there being, unfortunately, nowhere in Venezuela anywhere near as safe. Venezuela did keep a small amount of gold at home but this has been keeping the country afloat during the crippling sanctions. When the elected government of Venezuela, however, requested the release some of Venezuela’s gold for sale in order to realise funds of around £820 million to get food, medicines, medical equipment and refined oil products to fight against the pandemic, the BoE immediately turned down the request. The US and other piratical imperialist powers behind last year’s failed coup attempt claim not recognise President Maduro’s government and the US last year warned "bankers, brokers, traders and facilitators" not to deal in "gold, oil, or other Venezuelan commodities stolen from the Venezuelan people by the Maduro mafia". So, now the BoE dutifully claims not to know who the rightful owner of the Venezuelan gold in their vaults is!

The imperialist claim that President Maduro’s government is illegitimate is absurd in the extreme. The flimsy pretext is that in 2018 the Venezuelan government brought the Presidential election forward a few weeks hoping this would help clarify to the world the fact that the President had the country’s overwhelming support. 2017 had seen another coup attempt connected with what was supposed to be ‘mass, popular’ anti-Maduro rioting in some wealthy areas and 2018 witnessed drone attacks, piloted (if that is the correct term) by some small groups hiding within the country who had the drones loaded with explosives, at least one of them targeting the President. Fortunately, the Venezuelan security forces were able to disrupt the signals directing them, and later soldiers and local workers captured some members of the two piloting groups, who, when questioned, named Colombian drug cartels as the financial power (at least as far as their wages were concerned) behind the attacks.

The opposition within Venezuela complained that it was wrong to bring the elections forward even though it made perfect sense for voter safety and the fact that there is absolutely nothing in the Constitution that would disallow it. The opposition also complained that people imprisoned for promoting and taking part in defeated coup attempts or who escaped the justice of the Venezuelan masses by fleeing the country after said coup attempts were not being allowed to run for the Presidency.

When the Presidential election results came in, President Maduro had secured 6,245,862 votes against 1,927,387 votes for Henri Falcón of ‘Progressive Advance’, and, 996,181 votes for Javier Bertucci of ‘EL CAMBIO’ (two other candidates – Quijada and Ratti – pulled out during the campaign). This then was a clear 67.8% of those voting. In the wealthier areas it is known that many workers were threatened with extreme violence and financial aggression by the landowners and employers resulting in a large rate of abstention, yet in every single state, even those where workers were threatened by the elite, Maduro’s vote never went below 50%, while in others it soared to 60-70% of votes cast. Both defeated candidates then complained that there had been some irregularities. There had, but only on the part of the elite who had tried in some places to force workers to vote for one of the opposition candidates or abstain! Despite these ‘irregularities’ Maduro had shown that the vast majority of the masses supported him, his government and their collective aims!

The ruling elite in the USA and their news moulders went mad! Amid the frothing mouths all screaming that the Venezuelan presidential election had been fixed and that it was anti-democratic, the US government decided that the result was void and declared the winner to be Juan Guaidó! Mr Guaidó had not taken part in the election, of course, but as an escaped coup conspirator he was seen as the ideal ‘democratic’ choice of the US to be the puppet leader of Venezuela. As farcical as this scenario is, every other imperialist robber and all their many puppet states lined up to declare Juan Guaidó to be the rightful democratic leader of Venezuela. It is this breathtakingly audacious declaration by the 40 thieves that stopped Venezuela (on the face of it at least) from securing the IMF loan of $5 billion that it asked for to buy the things it needed to combat the Covid 19 outbreak (that and the fact that the IMF simply does as it is told by the USA anyway). And it was just this declaration that was making the poor old BoE hesitate to hand Venezuela’s gold over to Venezuela!

In the USA, of course, there was no such public hand-wringing. All Venezuelan assets were seized and handed to Mr Guaidó. In the UK, however, Venezuela has launched legal proceedings against the Bank of England to try to force it to release €930m ($1bn; £820m) worth of Venezuelan gold. It has even asked for that money to be given straight to the United Nations for the sole use of fighting Covid 19 in Venezuela. The UN is no friend of Bolivarian Venezuela but it has already identified Venezuela as a “priority country” in considering its global Covid-19 response because the Venezuelan healthcare system is now so fragile as a result of the sanctions, the loss of oil revenue, and the many aggressive armed interventions that the US has sponsored.

One of the first statements made by the UN after the Covid 19 outbreak was declared a pandemic, was a call for a global ceasefire so that all humanity could fight against the pandemic. The US representatives in the UN voted against that. They saw the pandemic as an ally in strangling several countries’ leaderships – Cuba, Venezuela and Iran being among the top targets.

Mr Guaidó does not even have the support of most of what constitutes the opposition within Venezuela, let alone the masses! Most of the opposition, such as Falcón, did not approve of what he called “Guaidó’s submission to Trump and Pompeo”. Claudio Fermín of the Partido Soluciones para Venezuela (‘Solutions for Venezuela Party’) attacked the “irresponsible and fanciful thesis” of Guaidó and his supporters, which is reliant upon the “fantasy cloud of instructions sent to them by their bosses Elliot Abrams, Pompeo, and Trump”. Henrique Capriles Radonski, who twice ran unsuccessfully to be president, pointedly said that Nicolás Maduro has ‘internal control’ while Guaidó’s people have only ‘international alliances’.

At the time of writing, the British courts are yet to rule on who is the genuine ruler of Venezuela so that they can then consider the $1 billion lawsuit that the bank of Venezuela has had to bring against the BoE because the BoE will not give the Venezuelan government its gold! Every state with gold in the BoE who thinks that they may one day fall foul of US imperialist interests should be watching this with interest, if not horror.

The US government has also announced that Venezuela and its leaders are growing and shipping drugs to America and has therefore put a price on the heads of President Maduro ($15 million) and other leaders ($10 million each). Once again, we have farce following farce! Not only is there no evidence anywhere to prove this lie but in December 2019 the US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) released its ‘National Drug Threat Assessment’, a study that gives the best and most detailed look at the movement of drugs into the United States. At several points in the study, the DEA says that Colombia is the “primary source for cocaine seized in the United States”. According to the DEA’s Cocaine Signature Program, in 2018 “approximately 90 percent of cocaine samples tested were of Colombian origin, six percent were of Peruvian origin, and four percent were of unknown origin”. As far as the US government’s own drug agency is concerned, there is no cocaine or any other narcotic that comes from Venezuela, and yet the world is told with the greatest of confidence (obviously bluster is to be taken as an adequate replacement for proof) that the Venezuelan leaders want to flood the US with cocaine!

Apart from putting prices on the heads of elected leaders of the Venezuelan government this tactic, they think, gives them complete authority to block the Venezuelan coast with gunboats and send US military into Venezuela looking for drugs and drug growers to arrest or shoot. On April Fools’ Day, President Trump gave a press conference in which he announced a new “counter-narcotics effort” by US Southern Command. “We’re deploying additional Navy destroyers, combat ships, aircrafts and helicopters; Coast Guard cutters; and Air Force surveillance aircraft, doubling our capabilities in the region”, he continued: “The point of this mission, which will be joined by other countries, is to ‘increase surveillance, disruption, and seizures of drug shipments. We must not let the drug cartels exploit the pandemic to threaten American lives.” As the American government knows only too well, the drugs traffic from Columbia, the real source of the killing powder on the streets of the US, doesn’t go anywhere near Venezuelan ports or its coast even when it is shipped by sea but, as they don’t really want to stop that trade, the real routes are immaterial to them. One of the US’s partners in this exercise is Colombia, a country where the government really does have links to drug growth and shipment. Both Colombia’s current president, Iván Duque, and his patron, the former president, Álvaro Uribe, have had close ties with drug lord José Guillermo Hernández Aponte, alias Ñeñé, among others.

Armed intervention foiled

On 3 May, 2019, in the early hours of a sleepy Sunday morning, speedboats left the Colombian coastlines and headed toward Venezuela landing on the coast at La Guaira. The heavily armed men on the boats wore uniforms which bore the US flag patches. These armed intruders were met by the Venezuelan military, resulting in eight of the invaders being killed, with two arrested and several temporarily on the run. One of the arrested men told the Venezuelan soldiers that he is an agent of the US government’s Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA). The next morning Venezuelan security forces, aided by the fishermen and fisherwomen of the Bolivarian Militias in the coastal town of Chuao, arrested eight additional mercenaries on a speedboat who were also attempting to enter the country.

Two more invaders were captured by Venezuelan soldiers and militias the same day in the town of Puerto Maya. Very large amounts of specialised assault weapons, explosives and ammunition along with military intelligence equipment was seized by Venezuelan security forces over the two days.

One Venezuelan leader, Diosdado Cabello said at the time: “What happened is an example of the desperation of the United States and its allies.” He also called the invaders and the coup plotters behind them “…a cast of characters from the seediest quarters of the military and the drug world, as well as of US intelligence and Colombian paramilitaries.”

The plot has now been laid bare for all to see. It was led by Jordan Goudreau, who served in the US Army in Iraq and Afghanistan and is now linked with mercenary suppliers Silvercorp. He worked with Cliver Alcalá, a former Venezuelan military officer. Alcalá is now in prison in the United States for his involvement in the drug trade. Goudreau and Alcalá were backed by Trump’s bodyguard Keith Schiller and Roen Kraft of Kraft Foods. One of the ironies of the military incursion was that – in the name of combatting narco-trafficking – the entire operation seems to have been financed by drug dealers. José Alberto Socorro Hernández (alias Pepero), who was captured during the invasion, admitted that the La Guajira cartel of Colombia offered them $2 million for their actions.

Videos and photos have also emerged on social media showing a contract signed between Goudreau and US puppet/leader Guaidó. There may be some enmity between them now, however, as Silvercorp has yet to receive payment for the work.

It does now seem likely that the mission of this group was not to take over the country or government by itself. It was probably expected to inspire and join up with other groups, but if they really expected a friendly response from the Armed Forces or a street mobilisation of the populace it didn’t happen. They cannot have expected the swift and unforgiving response that they did get from Venezuela’s people and armed forces alike!

Juan Guaidó must now be feeling very peeved with his backers and very impotent as the plans to send him back to Venezuela as a puppet dictator/president keep turning to ash. When a flotilla of Iranian tankers set off to deliver petrol and other refined oil products to Venezuela, he went from screaming that they contained nothing to declaring that the fuel wouldn’t last long, while all the time hoping that the US would capture or sink the tankers in question either directly or through a third party. He must have been beside himself with rage when he realised that from the spot where US gunboats had been, the five ships were able to sail serenely past, the said gunboats having almost magically disappeared before the first tanker got there. The Iranian flotilla was met by the Venezuelan navy, delivered its cargo and returned home, while the Iranian government made it clear to all that they would sail again if asked by Venezuela to do so. Far more worrying for the plans of Guaidó and the US government is the fact that Iranian oil and refinery experts have been flown into Venezuela to mend the sabotaged refineries and wells.

In saluting the Venezuelan people, armed forces and government for their heroism and tenacity under extreme threat, we also salute the Iranian people and government for their selfless acts of comradeship to another country under the same crippling sanctions.

We include a special salute to those five tankers, Fortune, Forest, Petunia, Faxon and Clavel and their crew of heroes.

Long live anti-imperialist unity.