People's Democracy

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


No. 45

November 11, 2012




Venezuela: The Revolution Triumphs


Yohannan Chemarapally


IT was billed by the western media as the toughest electoral challenge President Hugo Chavez had faced in his political career. Some political pundits were even writing his political obituary. The Venezuelan people, however, were confident about the eventual outcome of the presidential polls that took place on October 7. The majority of the opinion polls had forecast a decisive victory for the incumbent president running for another six years in office. Despite the spirited show put up by a united opposition, Chavez won with more than 54 per cent of the vote. Some 81 per cent of the electorate had come out to vote. The turnout was the highest in Venezuela’s electoral history. It was the fourth straight election victory for Chavez.




After the results were announced, Chavez addressed more than a million of his supporters who had gathered to celebrate his victory, saying that the “revolution has triumphed.” The whole of Caracas was lit with fireworks to celebrate the historic day. Chavez told the jubilant crowd from the “People’s Balcony” at the presidential palace that “Venezuela will never return to neo-liberalism and will continue in the transition to socialism of the 21st century.” He said that the country of Simon Bolivar the liberator has been “reborn.”


Chavez also congratulated the opposition for quickly acknowledging the election results. “They have recognised the truth. They have recognised the victory of the people,” said Chavez. He also struck a conciliatory note adding that he would “include everybody” while formulating government policies. “I commit to being a better president than I was in the past few years,” he said. “I extend from here my recognition of all who voted against us, recognition of their democratic weight.”


In the last presidential elections in 2006, Chavez beat his right wing opponent even more handily, polling 62 per cent of the vote. The opposition was divided at the time. Henrique Caprilles Radonski, the 40 year old telegenic right wing candidate, this time tried to position himself as a progressive politician. The entire opposition, 30 parties in all, had united behind him under the banner of Democratic Unity Roundtable, known by its Spanish acronym --- MUD.


The United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), led by Chavez, was formed after the last presidential elections in 2006. Most of the left wing parties supporting Chavez had merged into the PSUV. It is now the largest left wing party in Latin America with a membership of more than five million.


The Venezuelan electorate has been sharply polarised as the latest election results have showed. Sections of the middle class, who otherwise would have voted for Chavez, have been perturbed by the rising crime graph and chronic power outages.


The opposition also controls most of the media in the country. State owned television outlets have only around 5.9 per cent of the viewership, according to recent data gathered by the local affiliate of US company, Nielsen Media Research International. Major newspapers like El Nacional and El Universal are also stridently anti-government. Only 12 per cent of the radio services are publicly owned. Most of the privately owned radio stations, which are very popular in the country, are controlled by businessmen who have no love lost for Chavez. Despite the facts on the ground, the western media continues to insist that the media in Venezuela is being monopolised by the government and had played a key role in ensuring the victory of Chavez.   


Unlike previous challengers, Caprilles said that he would continue with most of Chavez’s domestic policies if elected, including providing subsidised food, education, health care and housing for the poor. The western media tried to portray Caprilles as a statesman in the mould of the former Brazilian President, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva. But the average Venezuelan saw through the façade. Caprilles, a scion of a wealthy family, was a politically conservative from a very young age. He had even participated enthusiastically in the short-lived American sponsored coup against Chavez in 2002, even staging a violent demonstration in front of the Cuban embassy in Caracas. He was a member of the right wing Catholic Christian group “Tradition, Family and Property” that was supportive of the military governments that ruled much of Latin America in the sixties and the seventies.


Caprilles on the campaign trail has at least been honest enough to state that he was against the presence of Cuban doctors and paramedics working among the poor in Venezuela. Around 29,000 Cuban doctors are serving in Venezuela. He also said that he was against selling Venezuelan oil at subsidised rates to less developed countries and countries under unilateral American sanctions like Iran and Syria.




Venezuela has been sending refined crude to these two countries. Venezuela also exports a higher proportion of its oil to the US now in comparison with previous years. Since 2005, some poor neighbourhoods in the US have been recipients of Venezuelan oil aid during the harsh winter months.


At the same time, Venezuela has diversified its oil sales. China, and to a lesser extent India, are the new emerging markets for Venezuelan oil. Chavez has pledged to double the oil exports to Asia to reduce the country’s dependence on the US oil market. Venezuela has emerged as the biggest oil producer overtaking Saudi Arabia. Venezuela has the largest proven oil reserves, 18 per cent of the world’s total. Chavez, after he came to power, along with Muammar Gaddafi and Saddam Hussein, had played key roles in ensuring that OPEC got a high price for oil from the West. Chavez also forced western oil companies to pay much higher rates of royalties. The West has now got rid of Saddam and Gaddafi.


As for Chavez, the Bush administration tried its best to do the same to him in 2002 by orchestrating a coup attempt. Since then Washington has been trying less devious methods to remove their nemesis in the region.


For the last two years, the US embassy in Caracas has been working overtime to prop up a credible challenger to Chavez. Secret cables leaked by Wikileaks show opposition politicians lining up at the US embassy seeking organisational help along with funding. On top of the US agenda was to find a candidate who would be able to convince the electorate in Venezuela that there would be no return to the old days when the business elite ruled the roost and the poor were subjected to the whims of international banking institutions.


But the leadership of the MUD was heavily loaded with politicians who were avowed supporters of neo-liberal policies. A position paper prepared for Caprilles that was leaked to the media talked of reintroducing neo-liberal policies if elected. Among the proposals that were contemplated were the reduction of food subsidies and closure of the “Mercals” --- the cooperative stores set up in impoverished areas. Three small parties, part of the MUD coalition, deserted Caprilles on election eve after the revelations. Caprilles had claimed that the document was fabricated by his political opponents.


Meanwhile, the US State Department seems to have formulated contingency plans on dealing with Chavez after his victory. Patrick D Duddy, a former US ambassador to Venezuela, in a document published by the Council on Foreign Relations, spelt out the options for Washington after the inevitable victory of the Venezuelan president. “If Chavez is re-elected in a process judged acceptably free and fair, the United States should seek to reset the bilateral relationship with an eye to the eventual renewal of high level communications on areas of mutual interest,” the report said. “If the election results appear fraudulent or apparently legitimate results are nullified, the United States should encourage international pressure to restore democracy and suspend bilateral business as usual until a legitimate government is restored.”  




Now that victory for Chavez has been a decisive one, it will be interesting to see what position Washington will adopt towards Chavez. The Venezuelan president, on his part, seems to have a preference for the current US president. He had joked on the campaign trail that if he were an American, he “would vote for Obama.” Venezuelan foreign minister Nicolas Maduro, while on a recent visit to Delhi, told this correspondent that “Mitt Romney is crazier than George W Bush.”


A former American president, Jimmy Carter, said recently that the electoral system in Venezuela is “the best in the world.” It is similar to the voting system in India. Among the aspects of the electoral system that Carter highlighted was “the touch screen voting system that both stores votes electronically and via paper ballots, allowing easier verification of the results.” President Chavez had in the run-up to the polls expressed his fears that the “far right” had planned in advance of “not recognising” his victory. Chavez and Caprilles had both signed a document, promising to recognise the results of the election. Caprilles kept his side of the bargain and was quick to congratulate Chavez.


As soon as the results were announced, the Cuba’s President Raul Castro was among the first world leaders to send a congratulatory message. “Your victory is our victory! And the victory of South America and the Caribbean,” the Argentine president, Christina Fernandez de Kirchner, tweeted. The Obama administration did not immediately react but some Republican lawmakers were quick to accuse Chavez of “stealing the elections.”


While campaigning, Chavez had vowed to accelerate the pace of reforms if re-elected, so as to make the Bolivarian revolution irreversible and put his concept of “21st century socialism” into practice. The democratic revolution has already made tremendous strides in bridging the economic disparity that earlier characterised Venezuelan society. Information based on data provided by various international organisations, including UN agencies, show that Venezuela has made tremendous strides since Chavez first came to power in 1999. Unemployment has dropped from 14.5 per cent of the total labour force in 1999 to 7.6 in 2009. GDP per capita has risen from 4,104 to 10,801 US dollars in 2011. Poverty has decreased substantially. In 1999, more than 23 per cent of the population lived below the poverty line. In 2011, it had fallen to 8.5 per cent in 2011. Infant mortality rates have also come significantly lower. According to UN statistics, Venezuela has the least unequal society in Latin America.


But the crime and inflation graph has shown an upward trend. Not surprisingly, these were hot-button election issues and had slightly dented the popularity of Chavez. Caracas is considered as one of the most lawless capital cities of Latin America. The Venezuelan government will no doubt redouble its efforts to reign in the crime wave and curb petty corruption and inflation. But among the important achievements have been the government’s ability to provide free healthcare and education systems and providing a profit free food distribution system. The Hydrocarbons Act of 2006, followed by the Venezuelan government’s decision to regain full control of the vast proven oil and gas reserves in the Orinoco delta has, facilitated the generation of more oil revenue.


On the foreign policy front, Venezuela has played a key role in reshaping the political map of Latin America. American hegemonic influence is now limited to a few pockets only. Regional organisations like Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) are all set to transplant American dominated groupings like the Organisation of American States (OAS). Chavez was also the moving force behind the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA), a grouping that consists of staunchly anti-imperialist states like Cuba, Bolivia, Ecuador and Nicaragua. His victory will also strengthen organisations like the NAM that have been striving for a multipolar world.