People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 45

November 16, 2008


Crucial Regional Elections In Venezuela

R Arun Kumar

ON November 23, we will not just be voting for this or that governorship, we will be deciding the destiny of this revolutionary process”, opined Stalin Perez Borges, a national coordinator of the National Union of Workers (UNT) and activist of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV).

On that day, Venezuelans will go to the polls to elect 22 governors, 328 mayors, 233 legislators to the state legislative councils, and 13 councilors to district committees (including indigenous representation) making a total of 603 positions (49.75 per cent of the total candidates are women). These elections are a crucial contest between the revolutionary forces lead by President Hugo Chavez and the US-backed right-wing opposition.

In recent weeks, external and internal pressure against Venezuela's Bolivarian revolution has intensified dramatically. US imperialism and the US-backed Venezuelan opposition wants to win in these elections at any cost and push forward their plans to destabilize the government. The thinking of the opposition parties was clouded by the victory in the constitutional reform referendum. They wrongly assume that the close result in the referendum was a consequence of a weakening of the Bolivarian Revolution.

To ensure the defeat of the revolutionary forces, some of these parties are even ready with Plan B, whose central strategy is stepping up of economic sabotage by capitalists (reminiscent of the sabotage against the Allende government in Chile in 1973), unleashing terror, ranging from what they would describe as the softest (street disorders, civil disobedience etc.) to assassination plots and a coup d’état. This includes hoarding, speculation and smuggling of food, contributing to shortages of basic goods such as milk, combined with a virulent media campaign aimed at fuelling discontent among the poor. The opposition is targetting the poor majority that make up Chavez's support base. It is seeking to infiltrate the neighbourhoods (barrios) through what it calls 'popular networks', which work to spread rumors, promote discontent and divisions among Chavistas - and mobilize people against the government. According to Eva Golinger, a US - Venezuelan lawyer, who has exposed the extent of US intervention into Venezuela, these networks receive funding and training from the US government-funded USAID.

There are also reports of growing links between right-wing Colombian paramilitaries and sections of the Venezuelan opposition, particularly in the states bordering Colombia. Large landowners have contracted paramilitaries to murder at least 190 peasants in recent years in an attempt to sabotage the land reform process promoted by the government. Paramilitaries have also developed a presence in the neighbourhoods of Caracas and are acting as hired assassins. An investigation by the Center for Peace of the Central University of Venezuela noted that the 'high presence' of these groups in different sectors of Caracas, has impeded community organization and participation.

In response to such pressure, Chavez has called for greater unity within the revolution. Except in six states where the PPT and PCV have put up candidates together with PSUV (talks are on to put up a united face even here), all the pro-revolutionary forces got united to defeat the attempts of the opposition. Chavez said that the upcoming regional elections in November are very important for Latin America and the world, as they are “not just about winning mayoral and governmental positions but also about planting consciousness”. Hence, he argued, the objective of the elections isn't “just to win, but to win in organization, ability to mobilize, and increased consciousness though a battle of ideas because the country isn't totally awake and at the level that we require...It's necessary to take the willingness to battle everywhere, because a sleeping people will never win victory, and because the electoral campaign has to be an opportunity and a scenario for the continued awakening of the people...because consciousness never finishes growing, we should feed it with debate, knowledge, self criticism, [for it is a] powerful instrument and necessary to make a true revolution”.

Directing his speech to the candidates he warned them not to convert into small bourgeoisie and said, “Enough of the betrayals, we want true revolutionary governors, socialists, honest, socialist, and revolutionary mayors”. Chavez explained that betrayal of the people for personal ambition and wealth has occurred far too often over the last 200 years and cannot be allowed any further. Quoting the examples of some recent governors and mayors who have deserted, he stated that the central cause of these betrayals and desertions is the lack of correct ideological consciousness.

He warned of a possible attack by the Venezuelan oligarchy and the 'Yankee sympathisers' and recommended that in the face of such threats it would be indispensable to put in place networks of popular intelligence, connected with the National Government and police. However, he assured “Yes, November will be the red of victory and socialism. We won't be the foolish country but the red country, red with happiness, red in the streets, the red of passion and homeland, red not for violence but for peace, red not for the hate of the opposition but for the love of the people and the PSUV”.

Chavez is leading the PSUV electoral campaign by launching frontal and efficient attacks on the pressing problems that had contributed to the referendum defeat (food shortages, crime). The decision by Chavez to stage events across the country to personally and emphatically back his candidates galvanised the entire rank and file of the party.

The Bolivarian candidates were nominated in assemblies and collectives as an expression of that unity which will be the Revolution’s trump card in the elections, while the opposition candidates were hand-picked 'from the top', or by those who are paying for their candidacies-the big capitalists and the imperialist lackeys. PSUV even refuses money for electoral campaign from the businesses and mobilises it from the common people. It held a ‘day of salary for the revolution' to raise money. In the first three days Bs. 2 million (US$900,000) were raised and this shows the enormous support that the party enjoys among the people.

Bolivarian candidates swore in front of the image of Simon Bolivar-the Venezuelan independence leader-to combat imperialism, to go with Chavez, contribute to the construction of a new society, follow revolutionary ideology and work for the unity of the people responsibly. Surveys conducted by even the opposition sponsored agencies admit that Chavez even today enjoys the support of 45-55 per cent of the people while many independent agencies put this figure between 60-70 per cent. Not surprisingly, opinion polls project the candidates from the PSUV as favorites, leading in 19 of the 22 states in contest. Similar figures appear in posts for mayors and regional legislatures. This is because, to quote Perez Borges again “these candidates should also be clear: our votes are for Chavez and the deepening of the revolutionary process”.

Peoples' desire to 'deepen the revolutionary process' can be easily understood just by glancing at the budget 2009 that was recently presented in the National Assembly. This budget proposal did not contain any proposals for new taxes and moreover had increased social spending to nearly fifty per cent together with proposals to maintain the 6 per cent growth rate that was continuing for the past six years. The percentage of the budget allocated to education will be 18.2 per cent, which is more than double the percentage allocated to education in 1998, the year before President Hugo Chávez took office.

The social investment in the budget includes food programs, health, education, and the various social missions. Chavez stated “every year we will be looking at ways to increase social investment and decrease unnecessary spending”. Of course in countries like ours social investment is categorised as 'unnecessary spending'.

However, a section of the state bureaucracy joined hands with the opposition and is sabotaging these gains and this has become a bigger concern. The opposition parties are trying to fan discontent by propagating venerable lies through the media in what is being termed as 'media terrorism'. They are calling the Cuban doctors 'spies' and that all private property would be nationalised. Learning from experience the pro-revolutionary forces have decided to counter with an 'avalanche' of information meant to prepare Venezuelans to see through the 'constant media manipulation and dirty propaganda'.

The opposition is using the media not only to spread misinformation but also openly issue threats. 80 per cent of TV channels on VHF and 82 per cent on UHF are privately-owned and broadcast anti-government programming. They openly call for the intervention of the US to 'impose order' in Venezuela.

Just a few weeks ago, Miguel Henrique Otero, editor-in-chief of El Nacional, published an article titled 'The president’s urn', in which he said that “thousands of Venezuelans have had the idea of committing the crime of assassinating the president” and emphasized that the nation’s leader was a “predestined man, and that a bullet in the head would be a blessing”. That is one example of the shameful calls for the president’s assassination in the pages and programs of the opposition media. In another instance, Rafael Poleo, editor of El Nuevo País, used the Globovisión TV program 'Aló Ciudadano' (Hello, Citizen), to issue open threats against President Chávez, saying “Be careful, Hugo. Don't end up like your counterpart [Italian Fascist Dictator] Benito Mussolini, hung upside down”.

And none of these are empty threats. During a campaign event Chávez declared that the current governor of Zulia, Manuel Rosales, is behind a plot to overthrow the national government. He also said Rosales is “one of those who want to see me dead”, citing intelligence reports and the arrest in Zulia of two men who allegedly conspired to shoot down the presidential plane. Rosales is well known for his participation in the coup against Chávez in April 2002 and for having signed the decree that dissolved the constitution during that event. Rosales never went to jail for his involvement. It is in this background that we have to understand how serious the situation is when Chavez states “My days are numbered because they are hunting me”.

The Venezolana de Televisión (VTV) presented recordings of retired officers talking about plans for both a coup d’état and an assassination attempt. At the same time, National Guard troops recovered huge caches of sophisticated arms and ammunition in the states governed by the opposition. Security agencies have stated that they are studying the connection between 'these finds and assassination plots involving international factors, active and retired military personnel, civilians including politicians with a double agenda, media owners and political entrepreneurs'.

The regional elections this November 23 thus will no doubt be a measure of the forces that the revolutionary process can count upon, and their disposition to deepen the process. Traditionally, regional-unlike the presidential elections do not arouse the same commitment on the part of the electorate to go to the polling stations in huge numbers. Moreover, the anti-Chavez forces are consciously campaigning to ensure that people do not come out to vote. This is one of the reasons why nearly three million people who voted for Chavez in the December 2006 presidential election abstained in the referendum, handing the opposition its first electoral victory since Chavez came to power in 1998. These dangers are existing even today, and so, to ensure that this is not repeated, the Bolivarian forces have to work more closely among the people, raise political awareness and bring them out to vote for revolution in the defining moments such as the one that is approaching.