Long-time Venezuelan activist and deputy to the Latin American Parliament Carolus Wimmer will be touring Australia in late February-early March, hosted by the Australia-Venezuela Solidarity Network. Green Left Weekly’s Jim McIlroy and Coral Wynter interviewed Wimmer in Caracas about the challenges facing Venezuela’s Bolivarian revolution.
Wimmer has been a member of the Venezuelan Communist Party (PCV) since 1971 and is the party’s international relations secretary. He is the founding director of the journal Debate Abierto (Open Debate) and produces several radio programs on Venezuela’s state-run National Radio.
What is your opinion of the present stage of the revolutionary process in Venezuela?
The process has gone forward in very many important areas in the last few years. We have to remember that it is a political struggle. We still have a capitalist system — we don’t have the illusion that we are yet living in the “socialism of the 21st century”.
That’s the future. But President Hugo Chavez has demonstrated that he wants to change important parts of the system, and this may be the first step in a transition to a post-capitalist system. There is a deep, ongoing understanding that we must get rid of the capitalist system. To do that, we must be successful in implementing the social programs. There are five areas for revolutionary change: political, economic, social, territorial and international.
In the political sphere, we have gone forward with the new constitution. It is very democratic, especially in regards to the rights of working people, rather than the upper class. We have had seven different elections, including the half-term recall referendum in 2004 — a remarkable demonstration of a new, more democratic system.
Now, we have the struggle for participatory democracy. The aim is to give the people more rights and direct participation in the decision-making process. It’s not enough just to ask for the people’s opinion, and then still do whatever those in power want.
At present, too many people in political positions are still thinking in the old way. This struggle for participatory democracy is now centred in the local municipal councils, where there is a real discussion and participation by the people.
In future, we have to advance in the way candidates are selected. It’s too centralised at present. The PCV now has eight members in the National Assembly (AN), including the second vice-president. But this is due to the close relationship between Chavez and the PCV. Previously, we were mostly excluded from the parliament.
In the government coalition, the Movement for a Fifth Republic [MVR, Chavez’s party] represents 90% of the voters — because it represents a vote for Chavez. Other parties included are Podemos, the PPT [Fatherland for All] and the PCV. The PCV has the most votes of these three, and for that reason is represented in the National Assembly, the Latin American Parliament and the Andean Parliament.
There is now a special situation, because the opposition parties are not in parliament [after they boycotted the December AN elections]. It could be that they will not participate in the presidential elections, either. They have no chance, but will not admit it. They will probably go with abstention, and say: “We have 50-60% against Chavez!” We hope not, but it is possible they will boycott the election.
Why was the voter turnout relatively low in the AN elections?
There are a number of different reasons. Many of the people support Chavez, but not the political parties. The PCV started two years ago to work with the organised popular movement. Last year, we said to the MVR that the popular organisations need to be represented at the round table of discussion and decision-making, but there is a typical vision of a strong ruling party that rules alone. This opinion is different to that of Chavez and most of the main leaders, however.
The PCV ran in the elections for mayors and the AN, not with the parties, but in alliance with the social movements. It was important that we had a list of candidates including PCV members and members of the social movements. We had great success. We jumped from 50,000 to 150,000 votes. It changed the vision of our party. The PCV is an old, historic party, with a strong public image relating to our martyrs and our political prisoners, but a bit old-fashioned. This marks a new stage; these elections have allowed us to grow stronger.
What is the chance of building a new party, or alliance, to unite the MVR and the other political parties and create a new leadership?
The future will show if this can happen. There is widespread agreement that we need it, but at the moment we do not propose a new party — we’re not yet ready. A party needs a program, a more or less united ideological vision and a more or less agreed idea of a structure. And a lack of egoism.
There are some important historical leaders, like the director of the newspaper Diario Vea, who have been arguing for a new party. But, in my opinion, any decision of the leaders to establish a new party without the involvement of the members will not be accepted unless it is fully discussed from the bottom to the top.
On the other hand, there are great ideological differences. The MVR, for example, is a movement around Chavez, but it is not Chavez. He stands outside the party. There are even some right-wing people, originally from Democratic Action [AD] and COPEI, who are now in the MVR. Some members are just looking for jobs in the strongest government party. And if you are looking for a program of the MVR, you won’t find it.
It is very difficult to agree among the parties at present. We are looking for an alliance. It is important that we sit around the table to make common decisions, but right now there is no table. Widespread political discussion is essential. Also, it is not enough to make an alliance only for elections. Our objective is not just to have eight parliamentarians.
What is the current state of the right-wing political opposition?
After the defeat of the coup in 2002, there was a great debate among the opposition as to who was to blame. This is a welcome change, as it has usually been the left who have been divided after defeats!
The opposition forces have great ideological differences, and have nothing to offer their supporters. “Chavez must go!”, they say. But, after him, what? There are different leaders, and it has been impossible to agree on a united opposition candidate for president.
In 1998, the US forced them to present a united candidate, Salas Romer, but the right-wing parties would not accept him. Very few members of AD would accept the candidate from Primero Justicia, Julio Borges, for example. He is white, separated from the people, and is anti-women.
Where does the middle class in Venezuela stand today?
Frustrated at home. They lost a lot of money through their small commercial businesses [during the oil boycott and bosses’ lock-out of December 2002-February 2003 that aimed to destabilise the Chavez government]. They were forced to close for three months, vainly hoping that Chavez would disappear. Many of the leaders of the opposition are now in Miami. They are seen as “traitors”. They cannot mobilise anybody. Carlos Ortega [the former head of the pro-boss “union” CTV and a leader of the 2002 failed coup] is now in prison, and does not receive any solidarity or support from anybody.
Very few people in the middle class have changed their position. Politically, they will not agree with Chavez. But they will not go on a second adventure with the opposition. They are very divided and leaderless.
The lack of organised opposition is a problem for Chavismo also. There are things that don’t work in the system and there is still much corruption. At the big rally [on February 4, protesting US aggression against Venezuela] and on Alo Presidente [Chavez’s weekly television show, on February 5], Chavez spoke about the corruption, the bureaucracy, and faults.
What is the role of the social missions and the social movements, in putting mass pressure on the bureaucracy?
The major transition will begin in 2007. Before that there is great danger. If Chavez wins the December 2006 presidential election, the main discussion of socialism will begin then.
It is a very difficult subject. Nobody knows what socialism is and previously people commonly thought of it as a bad thing. Chavez is not prepared to discuss it in detail at this stage. The US will try to use the issue of “socialism” to attack Chavez prior to the election. Venezuela faces a real danger from the US in this period.
Next year, assuming Chavez wins the presidential election, the subject of socialism will be widely discussed. To build socialism in Venezuela is very difficult; it must be seen within the context of the economy of all of Latin America.
Another danger in the lead-up to December is that [the employers’ organisation] Fedecameras is trying to accommodate to this theme, saying, “Let’s participate, let’s build a better ‘national socialism’ to better exploit the workers”.
In this discussion of socialism, we need to stress the transformation of the state. The missions [which are providing health care, education, food and other basic needs to the poor majority] mean that the existing state apparatus is not working.
For example, you have a huge ministry of education, with a minister who says he is a Chavista, with 100,000 employees, who are not going to work beyond 5pm. We can’t just say to the people that we will have a five-year plan, and then we will show you the first results. Chavez needs to show results immediately. The existing ministries of education and housing don’t show results. [The health mission] Barrio Adentro is the real ministry of health.
The solution is class struggle. For us in the PCV, soon there must be a great explosion between the capitalists and their bureaucracy and the working class. At the moment, it is undercover. You don’t have official representatives of the capitalist class operating. They are all working outside the country in the counter-revolution. This struggle will come, and we can’t say for sure who will win. The US is also playing a key role in this battle.
The US is currently bogged down in Iraq. What is it doing to confront Venezuela and the rising Latin American revolution in its own backyard?
Undoubtedly, the US has made many mistakes, but it is trying to control the whole world and can’t do it. The US has shown that it is not able to construct, but it has the clear capacity to destroy.
Chavez says it will be a 100-year war, but Venezuela knows that the major fight may come very soon. Chavez spoke of needing more arms, of the need for 1 million reservists to be ready. We hope it will not come soon, but the US cannot accept the Venezuelan revolution continuing for another seven years [another presidential term].
A great problem for us is Brazil. If Lula loses the presidential election in November — and the US will do everything to make sure he loses — it will be very hard for us. Latin America without Brazil is not the same.
Although there have been many criticisms of Lula, if Lula loses, the difficulties for Venezuela would be very great. There are also many problems in Argentina. But without Lula and [Argentinian President Nestor] Kirchner, Venezuela would face severe pressures.
We think that the experience of the April 2002 coup indicates that the Bush administration was not united in its approach to Venezuela. The State Department had one approach and the Pentagon another.
A military solution is advocated by those interested primarily in the oil industry. Direct military intervention means exploitation of Venezuelan oil for the US. In his January 31 State of the Union address, President Bush said he will invest in new energy solutions, accepting that the US cannot resolve the energy crisis. The idea that he can take Iraqi oil for the US has failed completely. It would take some years for the US to build a political opposition in Venezuela. We don’t believe they can do it.
The other position is advocated by the CIA — assassination. The problem is that the US is not acting alone. There is Mossad, for example — the Israelis have interests here. There is also Colombia, the oil interests, the narco-traffickers. All would like to murder Chavez. It is a very dangerous situation. At the moment, a political solution is very far away for the US — it will not prevent Chavez from winning the Venezuelan elections.
On the other hand, no-one knows what will happen if Chavez is eliminated. Maybe a revolution. At the moment, there are more opportunities for the revolution than two years ago. The social missions continue to grow stronger.
But there are many challenges. There is the problem of corruption. And Chavez has promised many things that cannot yet be delivered, such as the resolution of the housing crisis. But, on the other hand, there is also the possibility that Latin America will change completely in our favour in the near future.
Tell us about the relations between Cuba and Venezuela.
The relationship between Cuba and Venezuela is essential to the Venezuelan revolution and the close friendship between Chavez and [Cuban President] Fidel Castro is very important to this process.
Many administrative problems can be solved at the highest level. To construct socialism we need the experience of the past. The missions were initiated by the Cubans, because Venezuelan professionals did not understand their importance.
Through this international solidarity, the Cuban people are also creating a different future for themselves with Venezuelan help. Venezuelan oil helps Cuba, as do other products.
We are engaged in bilateral assistance and we are working together to help other Latin American countries. Both Cuba and Venezuela are involved in Mision Milagro [Mission Miracle for operations on eyesight] in Bolivia. The literacy campaign will be transferred to other Latin American countries, with Cuban knowledge and Venezuelan personnel and finances.
What is the importance of international solidarity for Venezuela?
In the end, the fight will be in our own countries. We must understand the aim of Che Guevara to create “Two, three, many Vietnams!” With the power of the US, and its massive destructive capacity, it’s impossible to build socialism in one country.
To give a concrete example, the 2002 coup was closely related to Iraq. The US thought it could rapidly control Venezuela, and then move on Iraq.
People will struggle historically, but the outcomes will depend on the political detail. On the reverse side of the equation, the fact that the Iraq situation is so difficult for the US has benefited Venezuela.
The most important thing for international solidarity is that there is a struggle in your own countries against neoliberalism and globalisation so that your own governments are preoccupied with these struggles. The role of the international media is important. For example, we don’t find out what is happening in Australia through the normal media outlets. We get a false image of the fight inside these countries. We need newspapers like Green Left Weekly to get a true picture.
The brigades are important to international solidarity. It would be good to bring a group of doctors and other professional people to see the reality of Venezuela. In this digital world, the important thing is direct human communication.
For the left, it is very important to discuss the new examples here in Venezuela. Maybe you can’t export the idea of the missions, or maybe you can. For us in the world left, it is important to discuss the Bolivarian revolution and the idea of socialism in this century.
In Latin America, after the historic defeats, we thought it was impossible to do anything against the dominant capitalist system. But now we can see it is possible. Promotion of solidarity is very important, with the exchange of visits, and direct personal communication and theoretical discussion. This is how we can advance international solidarity from both sides.
From Green Left Weekly, February 22, 2006.