Candidates of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) won the governor elections on December 16 in 20 out of the country’s 23 states, including in 5 which were ruled by the opposition MUD. The reactionary opposition’s only consolation was that it kept the important Miranda state where their defeated presidential candidate Henrique Capriles Radonski beat former vice president Elias Jaua.
The regional elections came after the victory of Hugo Chávez in the October 7 presidential elections. Clearly, the defeat of the opposition on October 7, when they had convinced themselves they could win, had a demoralising effect amongst their ranks.
Bolivarian candidates won by large margins in Apure (62% to 23%, where another revolutionary candidate got 14%), Cojedes (62 – 37), Delta Amacuro (75 – 22), Falcón (50 – 36, with 11 for another Bolivarian candidate), Guárico (73 – 26), Portuguesa (53 – 21, with another revolutionary candidate getting 23%), Sucre (59 – 36), Trujillo (81-17), Yaracuy (60-38) and Vargas (73 – 25).
Very significant were the victories for PSUV candidates in 5 states which were ruled by the opposition. This included Zulia, the country’s most populous state which had been ruled by the opposition since 2000; the key industrial state of Carabobo, the country’s 3rd most populous which was ruled by local oligarch and top opposition figure Salas Feo; and Táchira, in the very strategic border region with Colombia. In oil rich Monagas, PSUV candidate Yelitza Sanataella defeated incumbent José Gregorio “Gato” Briceño, the local governor elected on a Bolivarian ticket only to jump ship and join the opposition.
In Nueva Esparta (Margarita island), opposition governor Morel Rodriguez who had ruled it since 2004, was clearly defeated by the PSUV candidate by 54% to 45%. The only two states where the opposition won in the October 7 presidential elections were now won by PSUV candidates.
Meanwhile, the opposition won in the sparsely populated state of Amazonas where the governor had been elected on a Bolivarian (PPT) ticket but subsequently joined the opposition and renewed his mandate on Sunday. The only significant victories for the opposition were in Lara, where again the governor Henri Falcón had been originally elected on a PPT ticket with Chávez’s support and now won against PSUV candidate Reyes Reyes (56 – 43) and Miranda where, as we said, Capriles Radonski beat Elias Jaua (52-47). Even here, the PSUV will have a majority in the state legislative council.
The sum of the total votes of official PSUV candidates was 4.5 million, while the opposition received 3.5 million.
The rate of abstention is usually higher in regional elections than it is in presidential elections. This time the turnout was 53%, as opposed to 64% in 2008 when the opposition mobilized all its forces, and 44% in 2004 with a demoralized opposition which had just been beaten in the presidential recall referendum. It is clear that abstention was higher amongst opposition voters, demoralized by the October 7 elections.
The defeat of the opposition – for that is what it is – will further aggravate the internal contradictions amongst the amalgam of parties which compose it, particularly now that they might be forced to select a new presidential candidate for a possible early election in 2013. A report in the Venezuelan News Agency (AVN) graphically described the somber and demoralized mood in the opposition headquarters as the results were being announced: “So, at the end of the day, this country is chavista” ("Osea, qué arrecho, ¡este país es chavista!") complained those present.
The reactionary Spanish newspaper ABC, known for its hatred of Chávez and the Bolivarian revolution, did not mince its words: “These results reveal widespread popular support for ‘chavismo’, despite the absence of Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez… On the contrary, these election results represent a serious blow to the Venezuelan opposition which hoped that Chavez’s frail health would mean a bigger share of power for the MUD”.
Some opposition commentators now complain that the PSUV benefited from the “sympathy” vote for Chavez who was undergoing cancer treatment in Cuba as the elections took place. This might be the case, but still does not explain why people feel sympathy for Chavez: it is because he represents the Bolivarian revolution! In any case when Chavez announced he was to undergo surgery again, the opposition complained that “he had hidden his real state of health in order to win the presidential elections” and now they are complaining that his real state of health helped the PSUV win the regional elections. The truth is that the Bolivarian revolution still commands overwhelming support amongst the Venezuelan masses and the so-called “democratic” opposition has been defeated… again.
However, it would be dangerous to fall into empty triumphalism. Not all is well in the Bolivarian camp. As we have warned before, there has been a growing current of discontent among the revolutionary masses against the bureaucracy and the reformists within the movement. This was particularly the case with the way candidates for governors were chosen: from above, without any involvement of the rank and file.
In a number of states we have already seen governors elected as “revolutionaries”, with the support of president Chávez, jumping over to the opposition (in Lara, Amazonas, Aragua, Monagas, etc.). In the case of the Andean state of Trujillo, the “Bolivarian” governor Cabezas had become so unpopular that he had to be removed as a candidate by president Chávez as there was a near uprising amongst the revolutionary masses in the state when the decision was announced. The new PSUV candidate, Rangel Silva was seen as closer to the will of the people and got an amazing 81% against the opposition’s 17%.
This discontent led to credible alternative revolutionary candidates standing in 6 states, all of them supportive of president Chávez and the Bolivarian revolution, but to one degree or another to the left of the official PSUV candidates. Four of them stood on the Communist Party ticket, although the PCV supported the PSUV candidates in all other states. In different states these PCV candidates were supported by various other forces, like the Tupamaros, the Venezuelan Revolutionary Current (CRV), etc. In the Andean state of Mérida, the former state governor Porras got a respectable 10% of the vote, in Amazonas, Gregorio Mirabal got a modest 5%, while in Portuguesa, the alternative PCV candidate got 24% of the vote relegating the opposition candidate to third place (with 21%).
As well as the PCV candidates, other alternative Bolivarian candidates stood in Apure, where the MEP-Tupamaro candidate got 14% and in Falcón, where Oswaldo R. León received 11% of the votes.
Perhaps the most significant challenge from the left to an official PSUV candidate was that in Bolivar, the southern state home to the state-owned basic industries (aluminum, steel, etc). Here, the PCV stood Manuel Arciniega who received just over 8% of the vote. He was seen as the candidate standing for the workers of the basic industries and their experience of worker’s control, as against the incumbent governor, Rangel Gómez who has played a key role in destroying the Plan Guyana Socialista and in removing the worker-presidents in these companies. He was also one of those opportunist turncoats who during the April 2002 coup briefly sided with the opposition while it seemed it had the upper hand, only to swear loyalty to Chavez and the revolution once the coup was defeated by the masses.
Archiniega's campaign struck a chord amongst an important section of the advanced industrial workers in the region. In Caroní Municipality, where most of them live, he received 10% of the votes, with peaks of 16% in Parroquia Chirica, Parroquia Once de Abril, 15% in Vista al Sol, 12% in Pozo Verde and Yocoima. These are the parishes with the highest concentration of workers from the CVG corporation basic industries and their families. During the campaign he also held a rally of thousands at the gates of the huge SIDOR steel plant.
It has to be said that there was a campaign of vicious and dirty attacks on the part of PSUV candidates against these alternative candidates, accusing them of being counter-revolutionary and saying that they were against president Chávez. The fear that splitting the Bolivarian vote might have allowed the right wing Andres Velasquez to win in Bolivar also played a role amongst the broad revolutionary masses. Considering all of these factors, the vote received by Arciniega is significant, although it was concentrated amongst the most advanced elements. Opposition against Rangel Gómez was also expressed in an abstention rate of 59%, much higher than the national figure. In the end Rangel Gómez narrowly won the vote by a margin of 46 to 44, but will now be under a lot of pressure from below.
The results of these alternative revolutionary candidates show that the cynical use of the idea that PSUV candidate are “Chavez’s candidates” still has an impact amongst the broad Bolivarian masses, but no longer holds sway amongst the most advanced elements. They are strongly supportive of the president because they see him as representing the revolution, but are equally against bureaucrats and reformists disguised as “revolutionaries” precisely because they do NOT represent the revolution.
The build-up of internal opposition within the Bolivarian revolution always seems to be cut across by electoral processes, where the healthy instinct towards unity and rallying the forces behind the candidates prevails. But now there is a strong feeling that enough is enough. An article in the revolutionary website Aporrea was entitled “how many elections are needed to make a revolution.” In order to achieve genuine unity, clarity is also important and therefore, the strongest unity can only be reached through a clear democratic accountability of the elected representatives and leaders of the PSUV to the rank and file.
The oligarchic opposition is defeated, demoralized and divided, although it still commands important levers of power (Miranda state, but above all, the means of production, the mass media and the food distribution chain). The workers and the poor have defended the revolution on the streets and in the ballot box on countless occasions. Now it is the time to put what they have voted for, socialism, into practice by expropriating the means of production, banks and the landed estates and replacing the capitalist state apparatus with new revolutionary institutions based on the workers’ and communal councils.
It is time for the working class and the poor to go on the offensive. Socialism is the way forward.