November 2017        

The battle for Venezuela goes on

Seán Edwards

Venezuela held regional elections on 15 October, electing governors in the twenty-three states.
     What was reported in the corporate media was that the opposition denounced the results as fraudulent, as did the governments of the United States, France, and Canada. The opposition has cried “fraud” every time it has lost an election since Chávez was first elected in 1998. This, if it were so, would be difficult to achieve, as Venezuela has the most tamper-proof electoral system in the world, with electronic voting backed up by a paper record.
     Yet if you relied on press reports you would be left with the impression that the election was a bit dodgy. That President Maduro is a “dictator” is an article of faith for our journalists and commentators.
     The overwhelming victory of the Chavista forces, winning 18 of the 23 governorships with 54 per cent of the total vote, was the second electoral victory this year. In July, 8 million people voted in the election of the new National Constituent Assembly, in spite of an opposition boycott campaign.
     For the United States, “regime change” in Venezuela has been one of the main foreign policy objectives since Chávez was first elected. After the coup d’état of 2002 was defeated by a massive popular mobilisation, the defeated oligarchy continued to try to undermine the government by any means: economic sabotage, street violence, advocating international sanctions against their country, even invasion.
     In all this they have the support of the United States. Obama twice declared officially that Venezuela represents a “clear and present danger” to the United States. Trump even threatens a military intervention.
     The economic sabotage conducted by the major importing monopolies consisted in the main of creating shortages of specific goods, calculated to cause maximum discomfort and annoyance. Several times, articles that had disappeared from the shelves were found stockpiled in warehouses.
     In a little book, The Visible Hand of the Market, the economist Pasquelina Curcio analyses the statistics and finds that the shortages do not correlate with economic trends, or with the supply of foreign currency to importers. She did find a correlation with elections.
     This, combined with the government’s own action and inaction, and especially with the catastrophic drop in the price of oil, has indeed created an economic crisis, with runaway inflation. The result was the opposition’s victory in the National Assembly election in December 2015. The only objective they set themselves in the Assembly was the removal of President Maduro, which, they said, would be accomplished in three months.
     The extreme right began a campaign of street violence, known as “guarimbas”: blockading the streets, lighting fires in the street, attacking public buildings, including a maternity hospital, and lynching people assumed to be Chavistas. Several young men were burnt alive; others, including a judge, were assassinated.
     You would not know this from reading the Irish Times, which reported alleged repression of peaceful demonstrations. Outside the mainstream media you can find Abby Martin’s “Empire Files” reports on the internet.
     When the Constituent Assembly brought forward the date of the regional elections, from December to October, the opposition parties rushed confidently to contest them, sure that their victory would force President Maduro out of office. The guarimbas were called off, for now. Hence the knee-jerk accusations of fraud when they lost.
     More sober voices, such as that of Henri Falcón, outgoing governor of Lara state and defeated candidate for re-election, and Henry Ramos Allup, leader of Democratic Action, soon acknowledged that they had in fact lost the election. They had lost the support they had gained in 2015; they had produced no programme; the guarimbas had done more political damage to them than to the government, most of the disturbances being in opposition-held areas; and some of the extreme right, including María Corina Machado, had actually advocated a boycott of the election.
     The five opposition governors-elect at first refused to attend the swearing in of the new governors at the Constituent Assembly; but a few days later four of the five gave in, holding a separate ceremony. The opposition has split, with much recrimination. Henrique Capriles Radonski, former presidential candidate and governor of Miranda state, has withdrawn from the alliance.
     From the outside, Luis Almagro, secretary-general of the Organisation of American States, accuses the opposition of “participating in a fraud” by contesting the election in the first place. It is the most extreme right that has his support, and the support of the United States.
     The battle for Venezuela goes on. Nicolás Maduro has won a few skirmishes. The Constituent Assembly has the task of preparing amendments to the Constitution that will consolidate the gains of the Bolivarian Revolution—as Chávez would say, “deepening the revolution.”

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