Bill Bonnar ,international secretary of the Scottish Socialist Party, reports on his solidarity visit to Venezuela.

I VISITED the Venezuelan capital, Caracas, for a week last month in my capacity as international secretary of the Scottish Socialist Party. The SSP see ourselves as an integral part of the independence movement here in Scotland and the visit allowed me to witness first-hand another struggle for national self-determination.

Before I left I noted the kinds of stories which were circulating in the British media. Caracas was a political battle ground between supporters and opponents of the government; there was fighting in the streets; the Maduro “dictatorship” was clinging on to power by its finger tips; and army-controlled death squads were rampaging through the capital hunting down opponents.

My very first day revealed all this to be a work of fiction. What I witnessed was a city and its people going about its normal business. I saw no conflicts or clashes and the main activity of the National Guard seemed to be trying to sort out the horrendous traffic congestion.

When I related some of the horror stories circulating in the British media in a meeting in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs they simply laughed, explaining that the opposition had an entire industry devoted to spreading anti-government propaganda which it then sends round the world via American news agencies.

The Ministry invited me to explore the capital and draw my own conclusions. These were my impressions. Describing Nicolas Maduro as a dictator is a nonsense. He is the elected president of an elected government. In fact, it was pointed out that in the last 20 years there have been 25 elections at regional, national and presidential level and the socialist party, PSUV have won 23 of them; most by huge margins and under international supervision.

The so-called democratic opposition have not recognised any of these results and recently announced they would never recognised any future election victory by the PSUV. It says everything we need to know about the opposition. As for Maduro being a dictator my sense was that there exists in the government a strong collective leadership.

The right-wing opposition appear to have little or no presence within the capital; they are overwhelmingly located in the wealthy white suburbs stretching along the Caribbean coast. It’s where the wealthy live and have always lived; not in Caracas itself.

Support for the government remains strong, You see it in the numbers of people wearing PSUV emblems, in the political activity in the city and in the large numbers of Venezuelan flags been flown; a strident symbol of Venezuelan resistance closely associated with the government,

The army, in the form of the National Guard has a strong presence and is strongly linked to the government, All the military commanders appear to be leading political figures in their own right and project a very definite image as defenders of Venezuelan sovereignty and the Bolivarian Revolution. One obvious example of government support was he launch of a National Petition against American Aggression; NO MAS TRUMP.

It was launched on the day I arrived and I proudly signed it on behalf of the SSP. In the main squares and streets, large numbers of stalls had been set up for people to sign, queues quickly gathering and within a week it had totalled seven million signatures and counting.

Any visitor to Caracas will be immediately struck by the extent of the current economic crisis. It is obvious from the crumbling infrastructure, the half-empty shops and the queues outside banks to get money. While the origins of this crisis are in the collapse of world oil prices and before that the international banking crisis; what is driving it now are draconian American sanctions and domestic economic sabotage and speculation from the country’s still predominant private sector.

There is a war being waged against the Venezuelan people. It is not a war fought by guns and marauding American troops, it is an economic war and remains the principle weapon of the opposition and their American backers.

The aim is to make the Venezuelan people so desperate that the will support any kind of change just to get back to some normality. Students of Latin American history will instantly recognise a strategy of de-stabilisation. It was applied to Chile in the 1970s and Nicaragua in the 1908s, it is being applied to Venezuela today.

Despite everything that has been thrown at them my impression was of a government which remain strong, resolute and confident about the future. With the opposition apparently in complete disarray and the American Government scratching its head with what to do next the Venezuelan Government are now taking action to deal with the economic crisis and rebuild the economy.

What struck me more than anything else was the way the Venezuelan Government frame their struggle in terms of national self determination and sovereignty.

Venezuela first emerged through a campaign against Spanish colonialism and in modern times against US aggression. It is about the people of Venezuela deciding their future for themselves something that most people in Scotland will relate to.

Bill Bonnar will report back at the following meetings across Scotland. All welcome

Ayrshire – Tonight, 7pm at the Vineburgh Community Centre, Irvine

Glasgow – Thursday 7pm at the Pearce Institute in Govan

Stirling – September 18 at Stirling University