Bank of England must hand back Venezuela’s gold

Britain’s latest theft is part of a long history of looting and aggression against the Venezuelan people, who continue to struggle for their independence and freedom.

Lalkar writers

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Lalkar writers

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When 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 try to take this country back to its former subordinate position are many and varied, and these unbridled and aggressive attempts to bury the Bolivarian revolution and the example it sets to other countries in what the US considers its ‘backyard’ have been covered in many of our previous articles.

Before 1998, Venezuela was the world’s fifth-largest exporter of oil, and the little that remained to Venezuela of its huge wealth after the imperialist corporations had taken the lion’s share was systematically appropriated in the personal incomes of the ruling elite, with an even smaller share going to pay the wages of workers in the privileged oil and banking sector, who make up the country’s much-touted ‘middle class’.

Venezuela’s dependency on oil profits 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 people, most of whom were existing in slums and shantytowns well below the poverty line.

Venezuela today, by contrast, 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 state programmes aimed at raising living standards for the poor, but, despite this, the masses still support their government, now led by President Nicolás 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 background to 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 it is causing 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 aimed at overturning the election result.

Sanctions from the US in reality mean sanctions from nearly every country that has dealings with the US. This has meant that food, medicines and personal protective equipment (PPE) for medical staff are among the items being cruelly withheld from the Venezuelan people as US imperialism attempts to cow them into submission. Even where the much-needed supplies could be found, their transportation is problematic as any company taking on such a contract will find itself sanctioned by the US and on a very slippery and short slope to financial ruin.

Fuel is also on the list of embargoed essentials being denied to Venezuela. This does at first sight seem strange, since 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 can be got to the surface. Many who used to work 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 for wrecking activities.

Venezuela has had to look to its gold reserves to try to overcome the problems of trying to protect its people from the pandemic and getting the oil industry back into production – at least for the home market and for those countries strong enough to stand up to US imperialism.

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 enforcer of the sanctions placed on Venezuela, but the BoE is the second-largest keeper of gold in the world, with approximately 400,000 bars belonging to various nations in its vaults. Only the New York Federal Reserve has more.

Venezuela’s gold was placed in the bank’s vault before Hugo 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 period of crippling sanctions.

When the elected government of Venezuela requested the release some of the country’s gold for sale in order to realise funds of around £820m 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”. Taking this as its cue, the BoE is now claiming not to know who is the rightful owner of the Venezuelan gold in its vaults!

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 by a few weeks, thereby hoping to clarify to the world the fact that the president had the country’s overwhelming support.

Meanwhile, 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, carried out by small groups hiding within the country who had loaded the drones with explosives, at least one of them targeting the president. Fortunately, the Venezuelan security forces were able to disrupt the drones’ signals, while soldiers and local workers captured some members of the piloting groups, who, when questioned, named Colombian drug cartels as the financial power (at least as far as their wages were concerned) behind their activities.

Venezuela’s pro-imperialist opposition complained that it was wrong to bring the elections forward, even though it made perfect sense for voter safety and despite the fact that there is nothing in the constitution against doing so. The opposition also complained that people who had been imprisoned for promoting and taking part in defeated coup attempts or who had escaped the justice of the Venezuelan masses by fleeing the country after such coup attempts were not being allowed to run for the presidency.

When the presidential election results came in, Nicolás Maduro had secured 6.2 million votes against 1.9 million for Henri Falcón of ‘Progressive Advance’, and, just under a million for Javier Bertucci of ‘El Cambio’ (two other candidates – Quijada and Ratti – pulled out during the campaign). Maduro therefore won a clear 67.8 percent of the votes cast.

In the wealthier areas it is known that many workers were threatened with extreme violence and financial aggression by landowners and employers, resulting in a high rate of abstention, yet in every single state, even those where workers were threatened by the elite, Maduro’s vote never went below 50 percent, while in others it soared to 60-70 percent.

Both defeated candidates complained about ‘irregularities’. There had been some, of course, but they were carried out by the elite, who had tried in some places to force workers to vote for one of the opposition candidates or to abstain. Despite these ballot-rigging activities, President 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 its tame news media 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 $5bn 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 Bank of England hesitate to hand Venezuela’s gold over to Venezuela.

In the USA, of course, there was no such public handwringing. All Venezuelan assets were seized and handed to Mr Guaidó. In Britain, however, Venezuela has launched legal proceedings against the Bank of England to try to force it to release £820m ($1bn) 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’s representatives in the UN voted against this proposition. 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 in presidential elections, 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 $1bn lawsuit that the Bank of Venezuela has had to bring against the BoE. Every state with gold in the BoE that thinks it may one day fall foul of US imperialist interests will be watching the proceedings closely.

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 ($15m) and other government leaders ($10m each).

Here again, farce follows 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 pointed out that Colombia is the “primary source for cocaine seized in the United States”.

According to the DEA’s cocaine signature programme, 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’s own drug agency is concerned, there is no cocaine or any other narcotic coming to the US 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 Venezuela’s leaders want to flood the US with cocaine.

Apart from putting prices on the heads of Venezuela’s elected leaders, the US imperialists think this tactic gives them the 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, US president Donald 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 said, adding: “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. Since they don’t really want to stop that trade, however, the real routes are immaterial to them.

One of the US’s partners in this farcical ‘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, known as Ñeñé, among others.

Armed intervention foiled

On 3 May 2020, in the early hours of a sleepy Sunday morning, speedboats left the Colombian coastline and headed toward Venezuela, landing on the coast at La Guaira. The heavily-armed men on board sported US flag patches on their uniforms.

Eight of the invaders were killed when they encountered the Venezuelan military, while two more were arrested and several went temporarily on the run. One of the arrested men told the Venezuelan soldiers that he was 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 more mercenaries on a speedboat that was 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. Large quantities 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, who 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 narcotrafficking’, the entire operation seems to have been financed by drug dealers. José Alberto Socorro Hernández (aka Pepero), who was captured during the invasion, admitted that the La Guajira cartel of Colombia promised to pay them $2m for their actions.

Videos and photos have emerged on social media of 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 any of payment it was promised.

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. What they clearly did not expect was the swift and unforgiving response that they actually got from Venezuela’s people and armed forces alike.

Juan Guaidó must now be feeling pretty peeved with his backers and embarrassingly impotent as every plan to send him back to Venezuela as a puppet dictator/triumphal president turns 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 or one of its allies would capture or sink the tankers in question.

He must have been beside himself with rage when he realised that the five ships were able to sail serenely into harbour, the US’s gunboats having almost magically disappeared before the first tanker got to where they had been stationed. The Iranian flotilla escorted into harbour 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 ruling class is the fact that Iranian oil and refinery experts have been flown into Venezuela to mend the country’s 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 suffering under the imperialists’ crippling sanctions regime.

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!