On July 8, the ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) held primary elections to select its candidates for the November 21 regional and local ballot. The primaries were marred by cases of fierce competition, as well as localized violence and other complaints of irregularities in many regions of the country.
In El Maizal Commune in Simón Planas municipality (Lara state), communard Ángel Prado won with 48% of the vote, despite his supporters suffering violent attacks throughout the day. VA was in Simón Planas in the days leading up to the primaries talking to local leaders and communards about their communal project. Read our three-part interview here: part I, part II, part III.
In most of the scenarios observed in the recent PSUV internal elections, the contest was between regional or local leaders representing different internal party currents. But in Simón Planas municipality, an ideological debate unfurled. It could even be said that the matter in question was our way of being in the world.
The type of confrontation seen in Simón Planas is to be expected in [the November 21] election, in which there are revolutionary and counter-revolutionary candidates. However, what is significant about the confrontation in El Maizal is that it occurred within the PSUV itself.
This exposes the dynamics of the ruling party and is evidence of the deformations the PSUV has experienced in terms of the way it exercises power. It also seems to be a test of the responses to these challenges that are being unveiled from within.
In Simón Planas, which is a mainly rural jurisdiction nestled in the mountainous foothills of Lara state, current mayor Jean Ortiz and El Maizal communard Ángel Prado competed for the nomination.
At first glance it was only one of 335 mayoralty contests across the country, and not exactly among the most important if we consider the low number of inhabitants or status of the region. But expectations about what was at stake raised the contest to the national spotlight.
Prado had tried to be the mayoral candidate in 2017, but the PSUV leadership prevented him from doing so on the grounds that he was a member of the National Constituent Assembly (ANC). That decision would have been perfectly understandable had it been applied to all ANC members, but it was not: others were allowed to run for offices.
Prado won the 2017 election running on other party tickets, but the National Electoral Council abided by the ANC’s decision and proclaimed Ortiz the victor. The rank and file of the municipality were left with the bitter taste of discrimination against their leader in thier mouths.
This year, with the ANC now dissolved, the waters have resumed their course and Prado prevailed over Ortiz after a campaign in which social leaders and even international figures expressed their backing.
Apart from inflicting revenge after such unfair treatment, issues of greater magnitude unfolded in Prado's election victory: the dilemma between the conventional economic structure and the communal model; the controversy between the predominant top-down and clientelistic way of doing partisan politics and the proposal to finally link political organization with popular power, for example.
Prado has managed to embody Chávez’s "commune or nothing” slogan from the praxis of El Maizal, while many others repeat on a strictly rhetorical level. The possibility of grassroots organizations being empowered by traditional state structures has many more detractors than might be expected, and some of them are within the ruling party.
Former Communes Minister Reinaldo Iturriza explained that this contradiction between two ways of understanding Chavismo was clear in Simón Planas. "It was a very intense campaign. These were not two typical pre-candidates competing against each other. Here, they had antagonistic positions. On the one hand, a Chavismo which has been losing its class nature and even corrupting itself; and on the other hand a very popular Chavismo based on workers and campesinos.”
According to Iturriza, Mayor Ortiz deployed all possible tricks (in the most traditional sense of the term) in the elections, handing out food, appliances, cash dollars, exercising control over gasoline and, in the early hours before the elections and during the day, trying to intimidate and coerce Prado voters. "It was an expression of the worst criminal power leverage, but the people ̶ who know that they are the majority ̶ waited patiently and endured the attacks in order to vote."
"There was no underlying political message from Ortiz, but only the use of the tools of power. In contrast, the communard movement has very solid ideas and, in addition, the commune is not something ethereal but is a very concrete reality. Here people can go to the communal stores to buy their products at lower prices. The commune has a young, intelligent and honest leadership, which did not stop knocking on doors throughout the territory," he continued.
According to the former minister, efforts are now being made "to recover the party and break the mercantile logic that has done so much damage, both here and elsewhere.”
“Very interesting prospects are opening up both in the PSUV and in the mayor's office, where a minimally decent government must be developed without neglecting the communal project. This effort must be oriented to bringing the logic of communal self-government, the participation of the people, and summing all those who wanted to participate, to the mayor's office," he said.
Simón Planas registered the highest participation rates across Lara state in the primaries, with 26.17% of the electoral roll voting despite the obstacles put in place by the group linked to the current mayor. The projection is that on November 21 this total may even double.
Clodovaldo Hernández is a Venezuelan journalist who has written for left-leaning news sites Supuesto Negado and Aporrea.
Translation by Paul Dobson for Venezuelanalysis.
The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Venezuelanalysis editorial staff.