Both Iran and Venezuela have been the subject of unprecedented attacks from the US in the form of sanctions, aggressions (including military) and propaganda. Despite this both revolutionary countries have not only survived but become key players in the axes of resistance in their regions and models of solidarity for a nascent South at the end of the American Empire, argues Ramón Grosfoguel.
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It is really interesting to see how US imperialism deploys very similar tactics to destroy the Venezuelan Bolivarian revolution and the Iranian Islamic revolution, by a combination of strategies known as hybrid war or fourth generation war. This is a kind of strategy to weaken the revolutions, expecting people from within those countries to rebel against their government, by means of a combination of economic sabotage policies.
These strategies include, firstly trying to affect the sale of oil from both of these oil producing countries. In doing so they are trying to stop or restrict the oil revenues. Secondly there is an effort to block their access to loans in the international arena, with US power used to curtail or block access to international organisations like the IMF and World Bank and the SWIFT wire service. The third one is to blockade them from trade with many countries, by putting sanctions on anyone who trades with them, and by sanctioning individuals and businesses who trade with those countries . The fourth prong is to devalue the currency of these countries thereby creating hyperinflation. Therefore, prices soar and this has the effect of limiting imports, because their access to hard currencies becomes almost impossible and the currency of the country becomes almost worthless. The imperialist manufacture of hyperinflation affects people’s everyday lives including access to medicine, food, and products of primary necessity. Fifthly, they use propaganda or ‘information warfare’ to render these governments and political forces as criminals or terrorists. Accusations made by Donald Trump against President Maduro as being a drug trafficker or against the late General Soleimani of Iran as a terrorist are prime examples of this.
Richard Nephew, one of the architects of the Obama sanctions regime policy vis a vis Iran, has openly boasted in his book ‘The Art of Sanctions’ about how he led the process to reduce Iran’s oil revenue during the 2012 JCPOA negotiations, pushing Iran’s hitherto growing economy into a sudden contraction, causing the value of its currency to tumble. He further boasted about causing the rise of food prices, notably the trebling of the price of chicken. He has spoken openly on public platforms, as noted by Max Blumenthal, of the policy of trying to drive up unemployment as a means of pushing for regime change.
While discussing his book, “The Art of Sanctions,” @richardmnephew boasted with a wide grin that the economic warfare tactics he devised drove up unemployment rates in Iran.— Max Blumenthal (@MaxBlumenthal) March 8, 2021
Nephew was just appointed as Biden’s deputy Iran envoy.
My full story here: https://t.co/FWTYO7Ab4G pic.twitter.com/m5431czF8i
These are strategies employed against governments that US imperialism wants to topple. Usually, this is done prior to a military intervention, or as a precursor to a counter revolution in those countries with the support of many external forces. The aim is to get the peoples of these countries confused about the cause of their problems, so that they immediately begin to blame the government for what they are suffering, instead of seeing the broader picture, which is that the economy is being destroyed by the “invisible” hand of imperialism.
The attempt to install Juan Guaidó as unelected President of Venezuela in early 2019, after Nicolás Maduro won the 2018 Presidential election is a case in point. Long running sanctions against Venezuela caused, among other things, shortages of food and other daily supplies, disrupting healthcare and causing turmoil in the country. During this period US imperialism attempted to provoke the overthrow of the government internally by recognising Guaidó as the President of Venezuela thus giving him access to Venezuelan resources that had been previously seized by the US government as part of its economic sabotage of the Venezuelan revolution. Guaidó was then sent back to Venezuela in the hope he could rally enough support to overthrow the government. Various military incidents on the border with Venezuela and Columbia, huge pressure not just from the US but its allies in the UK, Israel and EU, as well as internal machinations failed to achieve the desired result. As many observers including Ahmed Kaballo and Max Blumenthal noted, the Venezuelan government retained its popularity and legitimacy, particularly amongst the poorest in society who were in fact suffering the most from the various economic attacks orchestrated by the US. Myself and Sandew Hira reported from Venezuela in early 2019 on this failure.
The issue of ongoing asset seizure is a major part of this policy. In the case of both countries the US and many other Westernised countries have seized assets of both countries that were deposited in banks abroad. In the case of Iran:
“The result is that Iran has been “almost completely isolated from the international financial system,” David S. Cohen, former Treasury undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, told Congress last year.
“Iran lost access to tens of billions of dollars worth of funds in foreign banks. Exactly how much money was locked up is hard to pin down. Some American experts believe it reached more than $100 billion — enough, Cohen noted, to limit Iran’s ability to stabilize its currency and conduct foreign trade.”
This money is a combination of assets frozen at the time of the revolution in 1979, and money earned from oil revenue under the government of the Islamic Revolution prior to the toughening of sanctions in recent years. It also includes assets seized as a result of Iran specific laws enacted in the US, interference in judicial processes by US administrations, using in effect that fifth pillar of hybrid war – propaganda and misinformation – to claim that Iran is a ‘terrorist’ threat and its assets can be seized in pre-emptive punitive measures (see the Iran Threat Reduction and Syria Human Rights Act of 2012) or in payment of damages in cases where spurious claims of Iranian involvement have been made (see Bank Markazi v. Peterson, 2016).
Venezuela, has been similarly targeted. In 2019, the Trump administration froze $342 million, passing much of it to Guaidó. Speaking that year Venezuelan Minister of Foreign Affairs Jorge Arreaza stated that some $5billion of Venezuelan assets were frozen in foreign accounts, and the Minister of Communication and Information Jorge Rodriguez stated that Washington has stolen more than $30 billion from the country’s accounts from foreign banks recently.
In the case of Venezuela and Iran the agenda is very clear, which is above all else to recover the oilfields from these two countries. These oilfields were in the past in the hands of western – especially US – international oil companies. The other reason is to create an example for the rest of the respective regions – in the case of Venezuela this means Latin America and with regard to Iran this means West Asia/Middle East/South Asia. It is like a message to the rest of the countries that if you are anti-imperialist and follow this route, this is what will happen to you. If you look carefully, both the Venezuelan and Iranian are anti-imperialist revolutions that put their country’s resources in the hands of the people. In the case of Iran they nationalised the oilfields, and in the case of Venezuela they nationalised the royalties of oil production. These countries put their revenues back into education, health and welfare for the people. They set a ‘bad’ example for the rest of the region, so the next thing you have is US imperialist intervention to destroy these countries.
With Iran, if you recall within a year or so of the revolution in 1979, US imperialism organized a war of aggression by a neighbouring country led by what was at that time the CIA’s man in Iraq, Saddam Hussain. He was using weapons of mass destruction, in particular chemical weapons, every single day against Iran for a total of eight years between 1980-1988: destroying the economy, destroying the country in order to give an example to the rest of the region.
The Persian Gulf is a place with many monarchies. These monarchies are well known to be very oppressive against their own people, and their oil fields are in the hands of US transnational corporations. So, for the Iranians to nationalise oilfields set a very bad precedent for the rest of the region and required the US to get involved. This involved sanctions and aggressions including many military aggressions over the years against Iran. This also includes repeated threats of invasion, and aggressions and incidents like the killing of General Soleimani.
Despite these overwhelming aggressions, Iran has managed to carry on the resistance. This resistance includes organising the resistance against the takfiris – the so-called Islamist fundamentalist groups- organised by the USA, the Zionists and Saudi Arabia to destroy governments and to destroy the countries opposing the US. They have been successful in organising an axis of resistance from Lebanon to Syria to Iraq, and now have been able to defeat these aggressions. What people generally don’t know is that the people on the ground fighting these groups e.g. against Daesh and Al-Qaeda, the people putting their blood on the ground were the Iranian revolutionaries alongside the revolutionaries of all the countries that Iran organised. So, if there has been a country fighting terrorism in the region and has been successful in defeating these terrorist groups, it is Iran and its allies in the region. This is important to emphasise because the war has been presented upside down, with Iran portrayed as a source of terrorism because of its critique and criticism of Zionism. Iran is paying a heavy price for its criticism of the genocide against the Palestinian people by the Israeli state, and their moral and other support for Palestinian resistance. Today, the only country that has been materially and in principle in solidarity with the Palestinians, like no other country, is Iran. Iran is fighting imperialism, it is fighting the representatives of colonialism in the region, that is, the Israeli racist state. While Israel is working for the imperialist system, Iran has been a successful example of resistance against imperialism for more than 40 years.
We know very well that the regional terrorists such as Al-Nusra and ISIS, were organised by US imperialism, with the active support of Israel and Saudi Arabia to destroy governments that they don’t like. Iran has been at the centre of organizing the resistance against these imperialist aggressions using terrorist mercenaries disguised as Islamists to fight proxy wars for the empire.
With Venezuela we can also see that the resistance to US imperialism has been very strong, in particular with democratic elections. We can see that the type of regimes that the US was supporting in Iran for many years was a dictatorship. The Iranian revolution installed a democratic government there, which elects its parliament and its President. The US does not of course want to recognise that there is democracy in Iran. It is of course based on an Islamic constitution. Nevertheless, it is still a democratic government where they have elections for representatives, a president, Parliament and an electoral democratic process that works. If you compare this to US democracy, you can see that the US has a plutocracy, where in order to be elected candidates either have to be very rich or have millions of dollars in support from corporations. It is clear that in Iran this doesn’t exist. In Iran you have more than 100 candidates wishing to be considered for the position of president. The time given in the press and the media is equal for everyone and nobody can be financed by corporations to get elected. This is why many times in Iran you have people who are elected that are not rich. The process of the election allows for a multiplicity of candidates, equal access to media time, meaning that there is some level of equal opportunities in the presidential process.
Compare this to Western plutocracies, where corporations finance the candidates that support their agendas. The ones that are elected are frequently those successful candidates who win corporate support. This puts into question what it is that democracy actually needs today. Liberal democracy is not working. On the contrary, it has been corrupted by transnational corporations. Basically, in Western plutocracies, all you are doing is choosing between different candidates already committed to the agendas of different corporations and financial capital.
Compare this to Venezuela. There have been 26 democratic elections in Venezuela since 1998. I don’t think there has been another country in the world that has had so many democratic elections in that period of time. And the Bolivarian Revolutionary parties have won 24 of the 26 elections. Why is it that people keep voting for them? It is obvious to the people that the agenda of the opposition has been financed by the US to sabotage the economy and everything else. The people know what is coming, namely repression. Moreover, the people know that if the pro-US opposition win the elections, they will subordinate the country to US interests – oil, gold, minerals, water and many other resources. This is why US imperialism is so interested in overthrowing Maduro and the Bolivarian government. They even tried to kill President Maduro in 2018. In this attempt, a drone was sent to target him while he was giving a public speech but the attempt failed. He remains under threat of being killed by US imperialism.
Alongside these aggressions we have Colombia becoming the Israel of Latin America. We see the US using its territory for military bases and as a base to commit military aggressions in the region against neighbouring countries and particularly against Venezuela.
Therefore when you look at the countries of Iran and Venezuela, you can see that there are many similarities in the way that this hybrid or fourth generation war is being deployed by the US. What is amazing is the solidarity between these two countries. We need to call attention to the fact that despite all the difficulties and with high risk, Iran sent from the Persian Gulf through the Atlantic to the Caribbean waters, several ships full of resources for Venezuela. Not only did Iran help to bring some much needed material for the everyday lives of Venezuelan people, but it also helped to bring the Venezuelan oilfields back into production by fixing some of the technical difficulties that had interrupted oil production due to the blocking of access to technology and materials by the US. It is crucial support, as production has dropped to very low levels in Venezuela due to the blockade and sanctions on the country causing an economic depression and lack of access to machine parts in the international market. Iran has been very strong in its solidarity with Venezuela sending boats full of food, tools, technological material and resources.
The failure of the Westernised Left
Of course, we can have criticisms of these anti-imperialist governments. They are not perfect and have all sorts of problems. However, that does not mean that whatever criticisms we have should be used as destructive criticisms. We do not need more criticism of the kind engineered in the international press to bring these governments down. It is unfortunate what has happened in certain parts of the left today. The Westernised left looks at Iran and Venezuela and just reproduces the imperialist discourses on these countries. They do so in a very opportunistic way to win votes as otherwise any support they may show will entail them having to make public arguments in support of those anti-imperialist governments. This opportunism therefore requires them to reproduce the hegemonic discourse and rhetoric in order to be or remain part of the imperialist hegemonic system.
It is really unfortunate that a huge part of the left today is taking the side of imperialism in the cases of Iran and Venezuela. This bankrupt left is arguably now part of the right by way of taking up these positions. This is the challenge for the left. They could make an important contribution in solidarity with these countries, standing up to the aggressions that are coming from the West and US imperialism. They do not even have to support the governments per se but clearly they can support the people of these countries, their desire for independence, their aspirations, and their resistance against US imperialism and aggression.
Intellectuals, media platforms, academics and politicians both inside and outside these countries have been removed from social media platforms and subjected to different types of ostracism, including arrests and harassment in the US and other allied countries. The left has not shown any effective solidarity or support for those affected by this type of censorship.
Despite these obstacles you see solidarity between Iran towards Venezuela and vice versa. You also see solidarity from Venezuela to other movements in Latin America. You can see a process of resistance right now in Latin America which is very important. Just as you have an axis of resistance led by Iran in West Asia and the region, you can arguably say there is an axis of resistance in Latin America led by Venezuela.
An example of this is the end of the Lima Cartel against Venezuela. Peru was formally part of the coalition of countries (Lima Cartel) that were supported by and supporting the US particularly in its aggression against Venezuela. This has now been dissipated as a result of elections which returned a government in Peru that is in support of progressive causes and movements, including indigenous people and peasants. Pedro Castillo won the Presidential elections in June 2021 and so the Lima Cartel against Venezuela is now dead. They are not playing a part in this game and being part of the squad cartel against Venezuela. As a result of this, we can argue that the US military aggression and diplomatic aggression against Venezuela has failed. However, there remains an economic aggression because of the US’s role in the flow of financial capital throughout the world. Any sanctions that the US puts on a country, in this case both Iran and Venezuela, has the effect of scaring off any company or other countries for fear of being economically penalised. At the level of the superpowers of the world, there is also an internal conflict that makes them take sides with some of these anti-imperialist governments such as Iran and Venezuela. This creates a positive environment for these countries to break the blockade created by US imperialism. In the case of Iran, for example, we can see how China agreed a huge trading pact that will last many decades and work to break the US blockade against Iran.
Ramón Grosfoguel is a professor of Chicano / Latino studies. He is internationally recognized for his work on decolonization of knowledge and power as well as for his work in international migration and political-economy of the world-system. He has been a research associate of the Maison des Science de l’Homme in Paris for many years.This essay is based on an interview between Professor Grosfoguel and Sandew Hira.