The Economic War and the Municipal Elections

On Sunday Venezuela will hold some important municipal elections, which are framed by a time of economic upheaval

By Juan Manuel Karg - Rebelión
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Buying electric goods under police supervision from an occupied store (EFE)
Buying electric goods under police supervision from an occupied store (EFE)

On Sunday Venezuela will hold some important municipal elections, which are framed by a time of economic upheaval. The government of Nicolas Maduro is trying to stop speculation and price increases incited by powerful Venezuelan economic sectors. At the same time, the rightwing, represented by the Democratic Unity Table (MUD) is trying to hold a plebiscite on Maduro’s governance at the booths, seeking to “centralise” elections that are naturally decentralised (as mayors and local councillors will be voted for).

Economic war: speculation, scarcity, and price increases

Venezuela is experiencing a sensitive economic period, where the Maduro government is facing disorder brought about by corporate speculation and the incalculable greed of these sectors. The Daka white goods shops case is paradigmatic because it illustrates a parasitic mechanism of permanent usury, which is also being employed by other chain stores. They buy white goods overseas at the official rate (dollars provided by the state through Cadivi), they re-mark the products so that prices for them go up astronomically – up to 800%. In that way they ride the “bicycle” of continuous profit.

The government acted against such usury with Daka. It ordered price reductions so that the people could have access to the goods, which resulted in long queues for these shops to buy products at a much lower price than for what they had been selling them. Here, another possible problem appears, coming from the first, and interesting to analyse in processes of social change: the phenomenon of unlimited consumerism which was seen in the compulsive buying of white goods from these shops because of the discounts. A real fever for consumption was awakened. Even Maduro noted this problem – secondary, but real – and urged the Venezuelan population to foment a culture of saving and not of irrational consumerism.

The rightwing’s moment and the role of Maduro

The Venezuelan rightwing sees these elections as “their moment”. They say and repeat in the local and international press the cliché of “it’s time”. The analysis is concrete and part of specific questions:

a) Indeed, they have been close to achieving their aim from April, when Capriles was just 1.5% behind Nicolas Maduro in the presidential elections.

b) The unfolding “economic war” has an impact on day to day life. It is accompanied by a media fabrication: “lack” is the word chosen to illustrate the shortages self-provoked by the business people, in order to blame the government.

However, here’s an interesting piece of information: Maduro hasn’t just retaken the initiative in a strong way, with pertinent state intervention supported by social and political organisations, but at the same time he has surprised the Venezuelan political class by these measures. Why? Because he’s gone on the offensive:  he’s building up his leadership with these measures, accompanied by the street government (an initiative where he travels the states of the country “on foot”) and promoting the communal councils and communes – which was one of the last demands of Chavez in his famous Golpe de Timon speech. He’ hasn’t sat around doing nothing. Audaciously, he began a debate about the role of Venezuelan business people in the productive structures of the country.

And the 8D [December] elections?

 It’s in this context that, this 8 December, municipal elections are being held in the country. They will be a new measure of force of the two antagonistic models, beyond the progressive discourse veneer of Capriles. According to the most recent results from the poll company ICS (International Consulting Services), the candidates of the Great Patriotic Pole will be competing for, and with good odds, the main mayoralties.

A concrete example: Ernesto Villegas, ex communications minister, could snatch the Greater Caracas Metropolitan mayoralty from the MUD. There, it’s possible to talk of a technical tie with the current mayor, Antonio Ledezma, with a slight advantage to Vellegas (44% to 43%). Further, mayor of Libertador municipality, Jorge Rodriguez (GPP) would be re-elected, beating Ismael Garcia 52% to 45%. In Maracaibo there would also be, according to the poll, a small lead by Perez Pirela over Eveling Trejo (45% to 43%, for the GPP candidate).

Though they are municipal elections, their outcome will be closely observed by international analysts and the mainstream press, who will be seeking to validate – as they have tried to do on previous occasions – the “start of the end” of Chavismo, in order to promote the upcoming recall election of Maduro. On the other hand, the progressive and revolutionary forces of the world will also be paying attention to this process. Though it may not put the survival of the most important social changes on a world scale at risk, 8D will serve as a “thermometer”. It will indicate the dangers and opportunities, and will serve as a balance of the first year of the Bolivarian revolution without Chavez.

Translation by Tamara Pearson for Venezuelanalysis.com