With surprise, we have read in different media outlets the refusal of the Communist Party of Venezuela (PCV) to participate in the registration process of political parties that the National Electoral Council (CNE) will initiate in the coming days, a process that is necessary for those national parties that obtained less than one percent of the votes in the last two elections (or that they have not participated in them) to be renewed as political parties.
This process should be completed by those political parties allied to Chavismo, such as the PCV, Tupamaros, Redes, PPT, and Podemos, as well as by opposition parties, among them Popular Will, First Justice, COPEI, or Democratic Action. The only parties that are excluded are the PSUV (United Venezuelan Socialist Party) and the MUD (Democratic Unity Roundtable, since they obtained the sufficient votes in the last elections, according to the CNE.
Among the pro-Chavista parties, the majority have indicated that they will participate in the registration process, even if they have expressed a series of critiques towards it. The PCV, for its part, has signaled that it will not participate.
Bad manners? Do they consider themselves better than the rest? Have they become right-wing? Why don’t they simply call all of their friends, the members of allied parties like the PSUV and the hundreds of thousands of people who have always voted for the PCV to sign for them and achieve its renewal?
According to their explanation in the media, they see the registration as a way of betraying their members.
I’m not a member of the PCV, although I’ve voted for the party many times. For this reason, I asked a comrade from the PCV, who is an expert in these legal issues, to explain to me what is going on. He prefers not to give his name, due to the fact that he is not designated by the Communist Party to speak on this subject.
He explained to me that the issue is long and complicated, and would require knowing a little bit of the history of the party and of our country, the context in which the current Law of Political Parties was written, and the two rulings issued by the Supreme Court regarding this matter in 2016.
Historical context of the Law of Political Parties
One of the things that he explained to me were the characteristics of the Law of Political Parties currently in force. It’s a law that was discussed and approved in 1964 and published in the Official Gazette in April of 1965, during the presidency of Raul Leoni, and after five years of the government of Romulo Betancourt, when it became necessary to look for ways to outlaw the left-wing political parties and have a registry of their members.
While the law was reformed in 2010, the reform only touched on certain tangential matters, and didn’t affect the spirit of the law, something that this comrade identified as a tremendous error on the part of our revolutionary lawmakers active in parliament at that time.
It’s very important to understand what occurred in Venezuela in 1964 and 1965, when the law was written, in order to understand its motivations. Regarding this, I prefer to recommend the article by Javier Biadeau “Have we forgotten the historical context of the 1965 Law of Parties?”, which, though a little long, diligently describes the historical context.
Biardeau, a sociologist and professor at the Central University of Venezuela (UCV), explains, “the pressures of the US and the most reactionary sectors represented by the Church, the bourgeoisie, and the right-wing military sectors undertook a hardline campaign to bring about the prohibition of the Communist Party, an echo of the campaigns realized in other countries in the context of the Cold War, the fear in the face of the victory of the Cuban Revolution in 1959, and the McCarthyite persecutions that destroyed so many careers and lives in the United States in the ‘50s.”
“From the beginning of 1958, these sectors developed an anti-communist campaign aimed at creating terror in the population and justifying the request to outlaw the PCV, in addition to persecuting all of the leaders of the patriotic junta and the political cadres of both the URD and AD, who had devised a policy of unity of action in the clandestine fight against the Marco Perez Jimenez dictatorship without counting on the support of exiles,” Biardeau explains.
He recalled the anti-communist purpose of the Pact of New York and the Pact of Punto Fijo, signed in 1958 by the leaders of the principal parties of that period. He explained that on February 14, 1962, Betancourt made public a political line in which he indicated that “the communists can be outlawed.” The offices of the Popular Tribune (the newspaper of the PCV) and other leftist media were raided on many occasions and communist leaders were arrested again and again over a large number of excuses.
In 1962, following the insurrections of the Carupanazo and the Porteñazo, the activity of the PCV and the MIR was suspended, and hundreds of their members are arrested and judged. During that year, the massacre of Sanz Manturín High School also occurred, in which agents of the DIGEPOL and members of AD and COPEI murdered two members of the Communist Youth (JCV).
By 1963, the majority of the leadership of the PCV and the MIR, including hundreds of activists, had been jailed. Also arrested were PCV congress members who had parliamentary immunity, accused of collaborating with “the disastrous events of the attack on the El Encanto Train” in which five national guardsmen died and the PCV had denied responsibility.
That year, the Supreme Court upheld a decision by Betancourt to proscribe both parties. Moreover, disappearances became widespread in the theaters of anti-guerrilla operations towards the end of 1963 and the beginning of 1964.
The government and the media criminalized the Communist Party and the guerrillas. The communists had very little access to the media to explain and justify their actions – the government closed their newspapers and the few media outlets that dared to interview them were raided. From then on, anti-communism penetrated part of the population, who had a strong turnout in the 1963 elections, in spite of the left’s call for abstention. Raul Leoni of Democratic Action won and took over in March of 1964.
In October of 1964, members of the JCV carried out “Operation Van Troi” in which they kidnapped in Caracas Lieutenant Coronel Michael Smolen, second in command of the US military mission and military intelligence agent of the CIA, and demanded in exchange the liberation, on the other side of the world, of Nguyen Van Troi, a Vietnamese member of the Vietcong who was going to be executed in South Vietnam for planning an assassination attempt against the US Secretary of Defense. This action was deployed in the media against the PCV by the Venezuelan government, which intensified its repressive actions, leading to increased debate on the left over the validity of armed struggle as a path to power.
In the midst of all of these commotions, is when in 1964 the Law of Political Parties, Reunions, and Public Protests is discussed. Biardeau explained that the law indicates in its presentation of motives that it has as its fundamental objective “normalize” political life in the country by way of “the regulation of political organizations” in such a way that “there exists an intentionality whose axiology was not abstract, but rather adheres to the ideological-political tensions of the historical moment”.
In the opinion of the FDP deputy Ramón Echegaray, the law was “directed towards the identification and persecution of potential dissidents and opposition”. In fact, Echegarray indicated that the law “has as an eminently McCarthyite objective that is almost aimed at impeding the legal existence of Marxist groups in the country”.
For these reasons, Biardeau criticized that in the 2010 reform, all of the fundamental articles of this law had remained intact and had not been adapted to the spirit of the 1999 Constitution.
The above-mentioned law, in its article 10, specifies the following:
The regional parties will constitute themselves by way of their registration in the electoral registry by the Supreme Electoral Council. The registration requests must be accompanied by the following requirements:
1. The membership roll of the party in a quantity no less than 0.5% of the population registered in the electoral registry of that respective state. The membership roll must specify first and last names, age, address, and identity number.
2. A declaration of will of the members of the party to belong to it (…)
While this is a regulation for the regional parties, article 16 indicates what are the requirements for the national political parties, among them is a certification “that the party has been constituted in at least twelve states in conformity with the norms of the present law.”
Likewise, article 25 the law adds that “the national political parties will renew over the course of the year that begins each constitutional period their membership rolls by 0.5% in the form indicated in this law” unless they obtain “in the corresponding national elections, 1% of the votes cast” (note: in the original law of 1965, this is article 26).
In other words, to register and renew a political party involves making public at least part of the membership roll, including the first names and last names, age, address, and identity number, as well as the declaration of will to be a member of that party.
My friend from the PCV tells me, “that is equivalent to betraying a large part of our members” and it’s something that the PCV has always opposed.
More than register the parties, this law of 1964-1965 sought to intimidate the members of these parties, described as subversive and dangerous, and prevent their legalization. If you were a member of the PCV in that era of repression, raids, unjustified arrests, torture, disappearances, and assassinations, you pure and simply were not going to register, which would impede the PCV from recovering its legality.
To sign in support of a party is not the same as being a member of the party
Many will say: “But why are you getting so wrapped up in this? It’s a signature and that’s it”. Today, in our days of political liberty, there are many who would with pleasure want to sign in support of the PCV. I myself said to my friend that I would happily sign in support of the PCV if they called on us, and I am sure that hundreds or thousands of people in the PSUV and other allied parties would sign as well.
But one thing is to sign in support of a party, and another is to sign indicating that you are a member of that party, which is what the Law of 1964-65 demands. There is a great difference between what was done to collect signatures in support of the parties (as was done in 2011, the last time that a renewal was held) and the original purpose of the Law of 1964-65, which requires a declaration of will that you are a member of that party.
What it means to be a member of the PCV
It must be understood that the PCV operates in a different way than the other political parties. The Communist Party is a party of cadres, in contrast to the PSUV, which is a party of masses. A signature is not enough to be a member of the Communist Party; you have to go through a several month long process until you are approved by the Party. You have to be part of a cadre school in which you spend months learning about historical materialism, class struggle as the motor of changes over the course of human history, the thought of Marx, Engels, Lenin, and other revolutionaries.
You must commit yourself to Marxism-Leninism as a revolutionary ideology; you must have impeccable ethics; you must understand that a member of the Party is a part of its structure and has to abide by its line and internal discipline. You have to be admitted and approved by the Party. To be a member of the Communist Party is a very serious thing.
For this reason, the very Communist Party would not be in agreement with any person whatsoever going to a CNE booth and saying “I’m part of the PCV” and signing. This would mean that it would be the CNE that decides who are members of the Communist Party and who are not, taking away this power from the party itself.
I know that in mass parties, like the PSUV, it’s different. Every once and a while they open registration, and it’s enough to go and sign beneath a red awning for the party to consider you part of it. Nobody disputes the importance of mass parties in a process like ours. But you have to understand that the PCV operates in a different way and we can’t generalize or believe that all parties should operate like the PSUV.
What happened in 2016
My friend form the PCV tells me that this problem caused by the rulings from 2016 has been occurring since June 2015, when the lawyer Cesar Burguera Villegas presented before the Supreme Court a request for an interpretation of article 67 of the Constitution concerning political parties and of articles 10, 16, and 25 of the Law of Political Parties.
The Court responded on January 5, 2016 with Sentence #1, which prohibits the double membership in political parties, which is not mentioned in the Law of Political Parties, nor in the Constitution, nor in any other legal instrument, my friend explains.
The sentence says in part that:
“To have at one’s disposition the personal identifying information of a militant, sympathizer, or member of a political party who signed an exclusive declaration of will to belong to that party, constitutes not only a flagrant violation of the right to privacy of that citizen (articles 28 and 60 of the Constitution), but also an abuse of trust, an ethical transgression of the rules for the democratic and institutional functioning of the country, and a true electoral fraud. This is what is known as double membership, which can become an illegal practice of many political parties who constitute themselves in the shadow of the law, utilizing the identity of members of other organizations with political ends, without due authentication and compliance with procedures. One cannot legally belong to two parties at the same time, and such an occurrence debilitates democracy, transparency, and electoral integrity.
“The prohibition of double militancy is nothing more than a response to the necessity of strengthening political parties and promoting their ethics, respect, and discipline. This prohibition from the point of view of party members means that they cannot appear in the membership rolls of two parties, since this inevitably nullifies on account of illegitimacy one of the two organizations, placing in doubt not only the due authorization or declaration of will of those voters, which is an indispensable condition for their existence. But it also nullifies the party that actually meets the required percentage to re-register as a party under article 25 of the Law of Political Parties, Public Meetings, and Protests.
“The information of the voters registered in a political party should be available to the electoral organ in order to prevent the identity of those citizens from being violated and manipulated by a political organization with the purpose of including them in their membership rolls. This would entail a violation of the declaration of will of the citizens to belong to a political party of their preference, and its inadequate, fraudulent use without the authorization of the voter registered in the political party constitutes a true fraud against the law.”
Please not that according to the ruling, the party should make available to the CNE all of the data of its registered voters. My friend explains to me that they consider this a very delicate matter; they feel that they are being obligated to inform on all their members. For security reasons, there is not a single person in the PCV who has a list of all its members. These lists are fragmented among the different regional bureaus with different security measures, and this is this way because of the persecution Marxist-Leninist parties have suffered around the word.
They fear that, if tomorrow a new right-wing government emerges in Venezuela, it will be very easy for them to access this data and persecute the members of the PCV. Or, not even that: in our country, there are still frequent cases of private companies persecuting and firing workers that form part of the PCV. If this data were to be leaked, it would facilitate discrimination.
Once the TSJ ruling was handed down in January 2016, the CNE released a regulation in the Electoral Gazette No. 801 of April 4, 2016 that governs the renewal of political parties.
The parties allied to the Venezuelan government declared themselves on alert and rejected the TSJ decision and the new regulation. On May 17, 2016, the parties PPT, Tupamaro, UPV, IPCN, MEP, CRV, NCR, PRT, REDES, Alliance for Change, and the PCV filed a request for clarification with the Supreme Court.
The Court responded with a new ruling in October 2016, upholding the previous decision and also responding to the request for clarification, indicating that [the CNE] “should biometrically verify (with fingerprint scans) the membership lists that accompany the requests for renewal or registration presented by the political parties.”
In the first ruling of January 2016, the court only ordered “the implementation of security mechanisms (electronic and informational)” in order to verify the membership lists of each party, but it did not order the use of biometric mechanisms.
This new ruling also establishes that “the political party that does not comply with the renewal process of its registration before the electoral organ will not be able to participate in any electoral process, be it of municipal, state, or national character.” Even though the party won’t be “outlawed” in the sense that it won’t be persecuted, the fact is that the PCV now will not be able operate any more as a political party, but rather it will be reduced to a sort of club of Marxist-Leninist pals who are fans of domino.
That said, did that ruling in 2016 correctly interpret the intentions of those who drew up the Law of Political Parties of 1964-1965?
Was the 1964 Parties Law against double membership?
Even though the original Law of Political Parties ordered the [public] registration of party members, we doubt that the objective of that action was “promoting ethics, respect, and discipline” within the political parties as the TSJ ruling of January 2016 assures. Its principal end, back then in 1964, was the registration of party members as a form of pressure and intimidation.
If you were the member of a party described as insurgent and dangerous (for example: the PCV), simply you would not register, and this made it impossible for the PCV to recover its legality.
I highly doubt that the Supreme Electoral Council (CSE) of the ‘60s was interested in verifying if each signature that supported a party was not repeated in the lists of the other parties (double membership), and that in that era, the CSE did not have any technological mechanism to verify double membership. There weren’t computers like those that we have today, and those that existed were out of reach of the Supreme Electoral Council and of our country.
In 1961, a second generation IBM computer had a cost of between 7 and 13 million dollars, and could only do a few hundred operations per second. The first third generation computers, like the IBM S/360, began to emerge in 1964, costing more than 300 million dollars. For their price and novelty, they were out of our country’s reach.
In other words, whatever verification the electoral body was to carry out, it had to do it manually. In the 1963 elections, there were 3,369,968 registered voters. How would we check double membership in those days?
If Party X comes along with a list of 500,000 people, and we have to verify that none of them are registered in other parties, we would have had to manually go through the membership rolls of other parties, name by name. Can you imagine how much time it would take to check?
In the ‘60s, the “easiest” way to verify would have been to create a dossier for every voter, that is: you would have had to store in some place 3,369,000 folders with the names and information of each voter, including their declaration of will to belong to a certain political party. The verification of double membership would involve a titanic effort, which would take years to undertake and would require hundreds or perhaps thousands of public employees working continually.
This is something that was never done because the purpose of the Law of Political Parties and of the government of that time was not to check double membership. Its purpose was to ensure that the “dangerous” parties, like the PCV, remained illegal.
I highly doubt that those who created the Law of Political Parties in 1964 had wrote it thinking that some day the CNE would have computers, databases, biometric verification systems, fingerprint scanners, and all of the other technological tools necessary for these types of verification, which we have today.
With the passage of time, this character of the law was lost, and the renewal of political parties became an annoying formality; from then on, the CSE became less strict in its enforcement. It was enough to turn in sheets filled with signatures.
My friend from the PCV tells me that in the ‘70s and ‘80s, with the passing of time and the lowering of tensions, the renewals of the parties became more flexible. Leftist parties such as the Socialist League of the MEP [Electoral Movement of the People] went door to door looking for signatures and it was normal for my own friend and many other PCV members to also sign in support of other left-wing parties like these, in spite of the fact that the Communist Party, like all other Marxist-Leninist parties in the world, prohibits double membership. But to sign in support of other leftist parties was not seen as betraying your commitment to your party, but simply giving them your support so they could re-register.
It was normal for the parties to collect signatures and turn them over to the Supreme Electoral Council. They didn’t see any problems in this. “One signed supporting [the other parties] and then they went with these lists of support to the CSE” and renewed the party’s registration, my friend tells me.
The right-wing parties likewise did something similar. The CNE Dean Tania D’Amelio said that it was normal for various parties to go to a plaza and ask the same group of people to sign in support of all of the parties present. The same person could show up and sign 4 or 5 sheets. And the issue is this: everyone saw the act of signing as an act of supporting a party, not as a “declaration of will that you are a member of the party” as is indicated in article 10 of the still in force Law of Parties.
However, the decisions of the TSJ emitted in January and October 2016 and the new CNE regulation of April of that year change all of this, since what they do is reinforce the Law of 1964-65, indicating that what is being done is a registration of members, not a collection of signatures in support. The new ruling, moreover, expressly prohibits double membership and orders the implementation of biometric and IT measures to ensure that every person is who they say they are. Additionally, parties no longer have the authority to collect signatures themselves, but rather it must be carried out directly by the CNE.
There’s nothing wrong with verifying identities and penalizing double membership. The bad part is the change of rules: from a mere procedure of collecting signatures done door to door by the political parties themselves, now we are moving to a formal, legal bureaucratic procedure undertaken by the CNE, in which each party has to take its members to a determined place on a specific weekend in order to have them give their signature, fingerprints, and complete address.
This is done without first conducting a broad consultation of the different political parties, some of whom (like the PCV) have a long trajectory in our history and have mechanisms of admission of members very different from the other parties.
Does the government seek to ban the parties? Does it aim for Chavismo to have a single party?
There are many theories and conjectures about these actions. There are those who believe that this is an action designed to leave Chavismo with a single party and annul all the rest. My own experience leads me to think that this is a problem of communication between allies, who should talk more regularly, but don’t for reasons I don’t know; perhaps out of pride or the belief they know everything.
Personally, I have often come across people in the government who reached a certain post and feeling that they are impervious, refuse to listen to others. They think that they know everything, make decisions that affect thousands of people without knowing or taking account their necessities, lack the humility and empathy to understand that not everybody is in the same position. And, when people get angry and protest against them, they write them off as counter-revolutionaries, ultra-left, or spies.
It would be supremely stupid for the government in this moment to be creating discontent and confrontations among Chavismo as well as causing trouble and provoking wounds within the process.
Overall: the revolution still has not emerged from the hard defeat that we suffered on December 6, 2015. Elections for governors and mayors are approaching, and in 2018 there are presidential elections. The problems that we have experienced as a result of the economic war foretell that, in spite of the strong efforts of the government to solve the crisis and protect the most defenseless, it’s very probable that we will suffer another electoral reversal in the regional elections.
I think it would be very insensible for Chavismo to distance itself from its allies, particularly from those who have always been unconditionally with our struggle. The PCV is a party that, in the presidential elections of 2013, won 1.89 percent of the vote, a figure that is hardly negligible given that these elections were won with 1.49 percent difference with respect to the opposition. In 2012, the PCV obtained 3.2 percent and in 2006 2.9 percent support; other allied political parties such as Podemos and the PPT reached 6.53% and 5.13%, respectively.
All of these figures are greater than the one percent required by the Law of Political Parties. There will be some who say that this is relatively small, but in the current circumstances we are living through, it’s important to add, not subtract.
To believe that the parties have to operate in the same way and to refuse to find a solution for the problem that affects a revolutionary party founded in 1931, which has a historical character and did not cause this conflict, is undoubtedly not easy. It doesn’t make sense to cause these fights merely out of a desire to interpret to the letter a law written in 1964 by our political enemies; a law whose spirit is contrary to the Bolivarian Constitution of 1999 and was made not to defend democracy, but to violate the political rights of those who fought for a different world. Fixing this problem requires someone to recognize that they were wrong in a climate where supposedly the best jurists of the country are chosen in order to avoid that these types of errors are made.
Whatever the cause is, we hope that the problem is corrected.
Everyone should have the ability to sit at a table, listen to each other and be understood. Let a solution be found to such a delicate problem so that a confrontation, which in this moment of our history should not be occurring, is ended.
Translated by Lucas Koerner for venezuelanalysis.com.