March 2018        

A crucial election in Venezuela

Seán Edwards

There is no doubt that Venezuela is the main target of the United States in Latin America, which it sees as the principal obstacle to its domination of the continent—its God-given right, as stated by numerous presidents, from Monroe to Reagan, Obama, and Trump.
     Of all the countries of America, none was more securely tied to the United States, up to 1998, when Hugo Chávez was elected on a programme of independence, sovereignty, and social progress, which he called the Bolivarian Revolution.
     Venezuela in 1998, thanks to its oil wealth, was the richest country in South America, with a poverty-stricken majority and an absurdly wealthy upper class. President Chávez resolved to use the oil wealth in the interests of the mass of the people, thereby earning the hatred of the upper class and of the United States, expressed in the failed coup d’état of 2002.
     Chávez was elected again and again. However, in spite of his socialist rhetoric, “21st-century socialism,” in spite of his huge popular support, he never attacked the economic power of the capitalist class. Venezuela remains a capitalist state.
     The United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) is an all-class alliance, and the bourgeois members have a considerable influence. Bolivarian businessmen do quite well, availing of profitable business and contracts with the state or the state oil company, PDVSA. A further weakness is that Venezuela’s long tradition of bureaucracy and corruption has not gone away, and continues to infect the state apparatus.
     A great strength of the movement has been the enormous personality of Hugo Chávez. His death in 2013 was a cruel blow.
     With Chávez gone, the opposition and the US government intensified their attacks on the government and its supporters. When Maduro narrowly won the presidential election, the far right cried “fraud” and proceeded to organise a campaign of street violence and assassinations, with the aim of deposing Maduro, resulting in forty-three deaths. The right-wing politician Leopoldo López was sentenced to fourteen years’ imprisonment for directing this violence. The international corporate media regard him, of course, as a political prisoner.
     Alongside this, and far more effective, has been the economic war against Venezuela. Businesses, especially the big monopolies, like the food importers Polar, create shortages by stockpiling goods, or by exporting subsidised Venezuelan food to Colombia, by undermining the Venezuelan currency, causing hyper-inflation. This has been compounded by the lack of resolute action by the government in its own defence, and by its sheer incompetence. Many people lost confidence in President Maduro and stayed away from the polls in the election for the National Assembly in 2015, with the result that the opposition won a majority.
     In the Assembly they declared they would get rid of Maduro in three months. Indeed they could talk about nothing else. This is not possible under the constitution. There is a constitutional way—it involves collecting signatures—but they ruined it by including dead people in the list. They weakened their position even more by refusing to accept a judgement of the Supreme Court concerning electoral malpractice by three deputies, whose election it did not recognise. Consequently, the court suspended the powers of the Assembly.
     A new campaign of street violence was initiated. Gangs set up burning barricades in the street, and attacked public buildings, including a maternity hospital, which they tried to set on fire—they failed, but the building had to be evacuated. A young man suspected of being a Chavista, Orlando Figuera, was doused with petrol and burnt to death (not reported in the Irish Times*). More than a hundred people lost their lives as a result of this campaign. Amazingly, those who organised and paid for it have not been arrested, though they are well known.
     Once again the economic war is more effective in attacking Venezuela. The shortages and the inflation are inflicting real hardship on the people, along with the economic sanctions imposed by the United States and the European Union—hardship that is widely reported in the media but blamed on the government. (The Irish Times takes its copy from the New York Times.)
     Also, the collapse in the price of oil hit Venezuela especially hard, exposing many economic and political weaknesses that had not been dealt with when the price was high.
     The constitution provides for the election of a “Constituent Assembly,” with powers to propose changes in the constitution. President Maduro decreed that such a body be elected. The opposition refused to participate in this election, but it was endorsed by over eight million votes—more than enough to win an election. This was followed by two more electoral victories, including 18 out of 23 state governors and a big majority of local mayors. Obviously, many of those who stayed away from the Assembly election in 2015 came out to vote this time.
     Once elected, the Constituent Assembly turned out to be a big disappointment, bureaucratic and unimaginative. The widespread discontent among Chavistas at the government’s performance is not reflected there: it reflects the view that the PSUV has a monopoly of Chavismo, that it is the only revolutionary party.
     The Communist Party of Venezuela has expressed many criticisms of the government: its failure to combat effectively the attacks on the country, the treatment of workers employed by the state, and the subcontracting of work to private employers by the state and the oil company. “The government of President Nicolás Maduro has not developed, let alone executed, policies or plans that represent a revolutionary solution to the Venezuelan capitalist crisis, limiting itself to managing the crisis without affecting the power of capital.”
     Along with the Homeland for All party and other left groups, the Communist Party formed the Anti-Imperialist and Anti-Fascist Popular Front to fight the oligarchic enemy at home and the imperialist enemy abroad.
     President Maduro’s efforts to make a deal with the opposition have failed repeatedly. They had actually reached a deal about the conduct of the presidential election in their talks in the Dominican Republic when, following a phone call from President Santos of Colombia, they got up and walked away. Rex Tillerson, secretary of state of the USA, was in Colombia at the time.
     The election will go ahead on 22 April, in the form almost agreed to, but the main opposition parties have refused to participate. (One of their number, Henry Falcón, has broken ranks and announced his candidacy.)
     The Communist Party, faced with the necessity of defeating the opposition on the one hand and its serious criticism of Maduro’s government on the other, called a national conference of the party to consider its candidacy in the election—that is, whether to support the re-election of Maduro or nominate another candidate. The conference adjourned to enable talks with the PSUV to take place, and when it re-convened it took the decision to support Maduro, on the basis of an agreed joint statement. Homeland for All took the same decision.
     So the coalition that supported Hugo Chávez from 1998 has been reconvened, at least for the election—an election that they have to win.

*See Abby Martin’s report at Venezuela Analysis. Venezuela Analysis also has some good reports from Paul Dobson, Rachel Boothroyd, and Lucas Koerner.

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