Standing by a Radical Chávez: A Conversation with Rafael Uzcátegui

A key figure from the newly-formed Popular Revolutionary Alternative talks about his expectations for the upcoming parliamentary elections.

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Rafael Uzcátegui (Venezuelanalysis)
Rafael Uzcátegui (Venezuelanalysis)
By Cira Pascual Marquina – Venezuelanalysis.com
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Rafael Uzcátegui is a historical figure in Venezuela’s popular movement who was key to the forming of the Popular Revolutionary Alternative [APR]. The APR is a leftist and Chavista electoral bloc that represents an independent and plural option in the December 6 National Assembly elections. Uzcátegui was the longstanding Secretary-General of Patria Para Todos [PPT] before Venezuela’s Supreme Court [TSJ] intervened in the party, replacing its original leadership. In this interview, Uzcátegui talks about the APR’s revolutionary project, while analyzing the government’s “neoliberal” turn.

What is the APR and why is this group of popular Chavista parties and movements not joining forces with the PSUV (as they did previously under the aegis of the Patriotic Pole) to flip the National Assembly in favor of Chavismo?

A regrouping of popular forces is underway within Chavismo, which aims to build a revolutionary alternative. There are dozens of organizations in the APR, from old and consolidated parties such as the Communist Party [PCV] and the majority of the PPT [a party that grew out of the working class and popular struggles in the 70s and 80s] to communal and regional organizations and social movements.

Some of them had grown apart from the PSUV and the government which – through its liberal economic policies and its tendency to disregard other voices from within – has alienated many. Others had critical constructive positions from within the Patriotic Pole, and their voices were not heard either.

In any case, and beyond any critical position that we may have on particular policies and practices, what separates us from Nicolás Maduro’s project is our political vision. We aim to reaffirm a left revolutionary initiative rooted in Chávez’s radical project. The Maduro government has turned away from that. Ours is a left Chavista project… and when we identify with Chavismo, we are talking about a radical Chávez.

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APR candidates in Caracas. (APR)
APR candidates in Caracas. (APR)

Can you be more precise regarding the APR’s identification with a “radical Chávez”? Are we talking about the Chávez of the commune, about the Chávez that moved towards limiting capital’s logic, or about the Chávez that nationalized means of production?

We defend a Chávez that understood capitalism’s catastrophic tendencies and actively opposed its logic both in his discourse and in action. We stand by the Chávez that understood contradictions but had a strategic objective: socialism. We are talking about the Chávez of the “Strike at the helm” [2012 speech], about the man who called-out his cabinet and insisted on an urgent change of course toward the left.

This was the Chávez that understood popular power as the force that is charged with building the revolution – by communes, workers’ and campesino organizations… In other words, we identify with the Chávez committed to the people that work and struggle, the Chávez that understood the people’s needs and desires and projected a better future instead of the grey-on-grey “pragmatic” politics that characterizes Maduro’s government.

Can you characterize Maduro’s government for us with more precision, understanding also that Venezuela is under a harsh blockade?

The sanctions are criminal, and they have a real impact on our economy. However, when a country is under siege, the solution cannot be to turn away from society and opt for a project of a few. What is happening is that the sanctions have become a pretext to abandon the socialist project and the perfect excuse to foster the creation of a “revolutionary bourgeoisie,” as they like to identify their kin!

If you look at the government spokespeople’s discourse (and their actions), you will see that for them the subject of change is no longer workers, the poor men and women from the barrio and from the campo. As they see it, the people who will build the future are the bourgeoisie, in a process of rapid capitalist expansion fostered by laws eliminating workers’ rights and privileging opaque privatizations and investments.

A sector of Chavismo in government became rich. They are millionaires locked here because of the sanctions, and they are not satisfied with that. Now they want to be bourgeois, so they are looking for an openly neoliberal solution.

To give you an example, yesterday I learned that casinos are operating again [they were prohibited during Chávez’s government]. Obviously, casinos are places where money laundering is the goal. On top of that, opaque privatizations are the order of the day. Add to that the Orinoco Mining Arc, which is the opening of one-sixth of our territory to the most predatory mining practices, and you get the picture. We have shifted from a rentier economy based on oil extraction to a rentier economy based on gold exploitation that liquidates nature to privilege a dangerous speculative economy.

The composition of the political direction has changed. Its leaders are no longer the young revolutionary soldiers that rose up against the rule of the few in 1992 [a failed military insurrection led by Chávez]. Now they are millionaires that aspire to be bourgeois with the word “revolutionary” as an epithet.

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Caroní River Basin in the Orinoco Mining Arch. (Observatorio de Ecología Política)
Caroní River Basin in the Orinoco Mining Arch. (Observatorio de Ecología Política)

Are you saying that it is the same people in power, but that their class condition has changed?

There was a mutation in the leadership of the process, and it took us a while to understand this. Its character has changed, and with this change came a transformation in policies.

There is a blockade, yes. Trump (and any representative of imperial interests) is against all expressions of popular sovereignty. However, the sanctions became an excuse to open the path to a new logic, which is expressed in the “revolutionary bourgeoisie.”

Mind you, the term [revolutionary bourgeoisie] was coined by [Agriculture Minister Wilmar] Castro Soteldo – a retired officer of the Armed Forces who participated in the November 27, 1992 uprising. There was a broad popular rejection of Castro Soteldo’s words, but Nicolás Maduro later said that whoever criticized his ministers was criticizing the president himself.

The Bolivarian Process mutated… it took us a while to understand this, but now, for the forces of the APR, this is clear. It took quite a few years for the left to understand that the Soviet Union had mutated into a non-socialist project, and in some people’s minds the Soviet Union is still alive and well! Something similar happened with China, which has become the first capitalist commercial power in the world, and some take it as a positive example. Well, the same is happening here: the project is changing!

This is a new situation, and as such, we have to organize politics in a new way.

When you talk about this shift, it brings to mind something that you said in a Ciudad CCS interview a few months ago. You observed that we are going through the collapse of the social pact based on the distribution of the oil rent. The end of that social pact has brought about a social (and economic) crisis. Can you talk to us about this shift?

The global pandemic has brought about a new, tighter world order. In Venezuela, a new order is emerging as well, and it is indeed the end of a social contract that lasted two decades.

Of course, the collapse of the old order and the emergence of the new one comes with a huge crisis. Every day there are dozens of protests and mobilizations throughout Venezuela, and they are not promoted by the right. They are workers demanding living wages, barrio dwellers demanding water, electricity and gas, campesinos demanding access to fuel, etc.

Interestingly, all this happens while the formal right is politically cornered by its own catastrophic mistakes. It has no legitimacy among the people. The popular masses demand their rights, while the government demands that they make sacrifices. All the while, no government representative is making sacrifices as happened, for instance, in Cuba during the harshest years of the blockade.

How is the APR campaign coming along?

The APR is a left Chavista alternative that recognizes the mutation of the process. That is why we decided to become an electoral alternative. However, the electoral proposal is not the beginning or the end. The union of diverse autonomous Chavista and left organizations had been brewing for a while.

Today the campaign is in the territory, in the barrios and in the campo. It is growing strong while it is silenced by both public and private media. To give you an example, the official media gives voice to the right-wing alternatives, but the APR is being ignored and hidden.

Nonetheless, we are convinced that on December 6, a new, strong force will emerge. This is not too different from the months prior to Chavez’s 1992 military rebellion. The uprising was clandestine while our proposal is public (though hidden by the media), but the elections – as did the military rebellion – will likely change the course of things.

The APR’s revolutionary forces are alive and well. We have more than 500 candidates and they are working the streets to build a new majority.

On the other end of the spectrum, the PSUV’s campaign looks much like a campaign of the old AD [Acción Democrática, the most important Venezuelan political party during much of the 20th century].

Nicolás Maduro’s son’s campaign, a National Assembly candidate, has become a permanent giveaway event. He is giving away TVs, bonuses [economic incentives], construction materials, etc. Why? Because Nicolás Maduro Guerra [President Maduro’s son] has no virtues of his own. He is not the expression of any popular movement. He is a sort of prince with a “destiny.”

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APR meeting in Carabobo State. (APR)
APR meeting in Carabobo State. (APR)

Some believe that in recent years there has been a process of curtailing popular democracy. Can you talk about this?

We are going through a process of judicialization of politics. Most parties have been intervened by the Supreme Court [TSJ]. In the case of the PPT, the TSJ imposed an ad hoc direction that would toe the PSUV’s line. In other words, they removed the elected direction and they imposed a junta that didn’t represent the majority of the party.

Additionally, the National Electoral Power [CNE] is not allowing any left parties to register, while they are registering parties associated with the right.

The state is actively intervening in the political life of the Venezuelan left. Not only do they prevent internal union elections – keeping the proletarian forces from representing themselves – and have put a hold on university elections, which is a right granted by law, but now the state is intervening in political parties!

This is not Russia in 1919 when – in the midst of a civil war – Lenin banned all parties but the Bolsheviks. Here we have a Constitution that grants us the right to organize but the courts are liquidating this prerogative. There is a tendency toward the judicialization of politics, and we are concerned.

Nonetheless, the APR is an ample alliance with many Chavista and left organizations within. It includes the PCV, which is the only party that, due to its long history and international relations, is allowed to freely exist. And so, since the official [i.e. intervened] PPT became an appendix of the PSUV, the APR will have to be represented by the PCV in the ballot.

In addition to displacing the US-backed right that now controls the National Assembly, what is the importance of the upcoming parliament’s composition?

The outgoing National Assembly, with a majority representation of the right-wing, gave up its prerogatives by turning itself into a body with the sole objective of overthrowing Venezuela’s democratically-elected president. In so doing, they lost face with the people and missed their opportunity to influence the direction of the country according to their interests and ideology.

The next parliament will have to hold a public debate about the national budget (which has been drafted in silence over the past four years), oversee economic transactions and public policies, legislate, etc. The new Assembly will also choose new Supreme Court members, the Public Defender, the Attorney General, the General Comptroller, the National Electoral Council, and the Venezuelan Central Bank board.

Additionally, the APR’s objective in the legislative body is to work for the people by bringing the Constitution back to life. Issues such as a living wage and the right to organize are guaranteed by the Constitution, and we will work to reinstate them. Finally, we will also “dust off” Chávez’s Homeland Plan [2012] which gives strategic coordinates to bring the Venezuelan people out of the current crisis.

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Hugo Chávez displays the Homeland Plan. (MinCI)
Hugo Chávez displays the Homeland Plan. (MinCI)

Briefly, what is the APR’s program?

It is time to overcome the personalist alliance between President Maduro and the Armed Forces. The structure of the government needs a counterweight from the people to ensure the continuity of the revolution.

Our program is socialism, and to move in that direction we have the Constitution as the cornerstone and Chávez’s Homeland Plan as a roadmap. All this must be done, again, without messianism, collectively, with the pueblo. The APR is going to be neither a destructive force nor a “yes man” organization. Instead, we will work to turn the National Assembly into a deliberative space for popular power.

We are calling the people to vote for the APR to bring legitimacy, autonomy, and popular sovereignty back to the National Assembly.

However, we are not promising miracles. We don’t promise that the new National Assembly will bring an end to all the need to make queues [as the right did in the 2015 elections], and we won’t use the criminal actions of the national and international right as a cover for all political and economic ills. We will promote “house cleaning” so that the limited resources can be channeled towards the people. All those who use their power to become millionaires and use institutions to consolidate their class condition must go.

We are going to the National Assembly not just for empty talk. We are going there to turn it into a revolutionary instrument and to break the imperialist yoke. That cannot be done by turning one’s back to the people, as has happened under the excuse of the sanctions. Imperialism can only be defeated with the pueblo.

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