Venezuela: Blows and Counterblows

Once again, an attack by the opposition has resulted in a very positive event for the Bolivarian process: a new social actor, full of force, of ideals, has entered into the political sphere.

1. The failure of the military coup in April 2002 (more than 80% of the generals in operational positions remained faithful to Chavez and the constitution) constituted the first great defeat of the opposition and a real gift to Chavez. These new circumstances allowed for the different actors to become unmasked and the people to acquire a much higher level of political understanding (both within the military ranks and within the civilian cadres, it was now known who could be counted on and who could not be counted on). It created a favorable playing field in which to move forward with cleaning out the military institution. It divided the opposition. It reminded an ever increasing number of the middle classes, who were previously against the process, of the anarchy which would result from the marginalization of Chavez.

2. The frustrated attempt to bring the country to a halt on December 2, 2002, was the second great defeat of the opposition. They could not stop the country. Chavez did not bow to their pressure. But most importantly, the petroleum industry came to be truly under the control of the Venezuelan state. This was the second great gift from the opposition. Due to their subversive and saboteur attitudes, around 18,000 upper and middle-level managers who opposed the government – and who actually exercised control of the company – created the conditions in which they could be legally dismissed.

3. The ratification of President Chávez’s mandate in the recall referendum of August 15, 2004 – a never-before seen process in world history – was the third great defeat that the Venezuelan opposition suffered in attempting to end the government of President Chávez. The triumph, by an enormous amount of votes[1], and under the attentive gaze of hundreds of international observers, who unanimously ratified the results, was the third gift from the opposition.

4. It constituted, as one of the observers, well-known Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano, put it, “an injection of optimism in this world where democracy has lost so much prestige” due to the fact that it has been unable to resolve the problem of poverty.

5. This was not the victory of a single man, but rather of a humanist and solidarity-based project for the country, as much in the national as in the international arena; of a project for the country which had emerged as an alternative to the voracious and predatory neoliberal model: a model of endogenous development and social economy.

6. It was a triumph of the current Venezuelan constitution, the only constitution in the world that contemplates the idea of a recall referendum for the presidency.

7. But, above all else, it was a victory of the people, of popular organization, of the people from the barrios [poor neighborhoods], but also of the people from the middle class, who responded to the call of the president to organize themselves in their local voting area, taking the initiative without waiting for the organizations that were heading the electoral campaign to be constituted.

New post-referendum stage

8. With this triumph, a new stage in the Bolivarian revolutionary process began. The media warmongers were left without ammunition. The opposition revealed itself; it lost a lot of credibility. The internal struggles between different factions intensified.

9. The opposition had been defeated in this battle, but it was clear that the forces supporting Chavez had not yet won the war. We cannot forget that in a country of 26 million inhabitants, close to 4 million people voted in favor of revoking his mandate. Nor can we forget the expectations that were created by this triumph amongst those 6 million people who voted NO.

10. The challenges to confront in this new stage were extremely varied: political, economic, institutional and communicational.

11. The Bolivarian revolutionary process had to make a qualitative leap forward in regards to the protagonistic participation of the people. The most important idea of President Chavez – “poverty cannot be eliminated if power is not given to the people” – needed to materialize into organizational forms and concrete participation. And that is what occurred. The concept of the communal councils emerged. Carrying out an approximate calculation, it was estimated that Venezuela had around 52 thousand communities. And in each of these communities, an entity needed to be elected, which would play the role of a communitarian government. This entity was called the communal council, and a majority of them have already received government resources to begin carrying out small projects that the community has prioritized.

12. It was also crucial to advance in the development of a new productive model, as an alternative to capitalism. And that is what is occurring. Venezuela is being transformed from a country which survived of oil rent and the exportation of primary materials, into a country with a solid agricultural and industrial base, which produces goods and services that are needed for popular consumption. A model based on new social relations of production that liberate waged labor from exploitation by capital, by promoting companies of social production inspired by principals of solidarity, cooperation, complimentarily, reciprocity and economic and financial sustainability. A model that aspires to territorial balance, and harmonic and proportional development of the regions, in order to overcome the housing problem and the collapse of the five large cities in which 75% of the population is concentrated. A model based on a new generation of basic companies orientated towards deepening endogenous development. I am referring to the creation of Compañía Nacional de Industrias Básicas (Coniba, National Company of Basic Industries) and its eleven affiliates, and the Corporación Petroquímica de Venezuela (Pequiven, Venezuelan Petrochemical Corporation) that aims to strengthen innovative technological capacities, in order to transform primary materials into value-added products which would allow for import substitution and the diversification of exportable products. A model that promotes state investment in strategic industries like telecommunications (CVG Telecom) and those that have to do with food security and sovereignty, such as  Corporación Venezolana Agraria (CVA, Venezuelan Agrarian Corporation), the parent company of the new enterprises in the agricultural sector.

13. On the other hand, the process of co-management has made notable advances in the electricity industry in the state of Merida, and in the aluminum company, ALCASA, in the state of Bolívar. And the number of recuperated factories in the hands of workers has increased.

14. At the same time, one of the priority tasks is the need to resolve the problem of employment. With this objective in mind, the state has being pushing forward with the reactivation of the private industrial sector which is willing to collaborate with the project of endogenous development and social economy proposed by the government. The framework for an agreement with this sector has been established, through which the government grants low interest rate loans, as long as these companies take onboard their social responsibility, committing themselves to dedicating at least 10% of their earnings to covering the most pressing demands of the nearby communities.

15. Following the referendum, there was a notable improvement in the correlation of forces in the institutional sphere. The results in the elections for governors and mayors were very positive for the government. The opposition only governs in two out of twenty-four states. All the deputies in the National Assembly are Bolivarian. The opposition candidates, seeing that they were going to lose, opted to not participate in the elections, hoping to discredit this legislative entity in doing so.

The weaknesses of the process

16. This quantitative accumulation of forces should have translated into a qualitative accumulation. An emphasis should have been placed on efficiency, in better performances regarding the responsibilities that each person must assume in order to put into practice all the projects and initiatives announced by the government; but this is far from having been achieved. The old state model continues in force, and despite the attempts by Chavez to change things, is very strong. The same has occurred with the issue of corruption.

17. Prior to the December 3, 2006 presidential elections there had been very little, or no advances made in the formation of a political instrument better adapted to the great challenges that the Bolivarian revolutionary process has set for itself. There continued to be – perhaps becoming even more accentuated – disputes over positions at the different levels of leadership of the process. The Miranda Electoral Command, formed to lead the presidential electoral process, was hegemonized by the Movimiento V República (MVR, Movement for a Fifth Republic), provoking discontent amongst the rest of the political parties that support the process, as well as amongst the population.

18. On the other hand, rather than advancing in the construction of a united instrument of the workers, this process took backward steps. Today, there continues to be too much dispersion. Old methods continue to be employed.

19. The opposition media outlets, which clearly make up the majority, exponentially enlarging the errors and weaknesses of the government, and distorting its project, thereby being able to recreate a climate of opposition to Chavez, influencing a significant number of Venezuelans.

20. Of course, the United States government – for whom, Chavez has become a true obsession – has continuously been behind these campaigns.

21. Lastly, added to this daily and hourly media bombardment, was an opposition that began to finally unite around the figure of Manuel Rosales, as the opposition presidential candidate for the December 2006 elections. The, until then governor of Zulia – one of the largest and most strategic states in the country due to the fact that it shares a border with Colombia – carried out a well orchestrated electoral campaign, promising to conserve all the good things that the Chavez government had done for the people, and demagogically announcing that he would also directly deposit into the bank accounts of every poor Venezuelan household a significant sum of money, product of the earnings coming from petroleum, so that instead of taking money out of the country to help other people, he would be handed it over to the people.

22. Able to sense all these limitations and obstacles, only weeks out from the electoral event, the president began to personally assume the direction of the campaign, appearing everywhere, in a tireless tour throughout all the country, where the people from the popular barrios applauded him with delirium. In the final two weeks of the campaign, he began to involve the youth as the central motor of his campaign, and to point to this social sector as the moral force which would allow the process to overcome the vices that infected previous generations.

23. Although no one doubted that Chavez would win, given the notable advancements that the Venezuelan people have obtained thanks to the Bolivarian government, due to the reasons previously mentioned, it seemed a difficult proposition that the Bolivarian leader could obtain a better electoral result than that in the referendum. This appraisal of the situation was confirmed by a majority of opinion polls which gave him as the winner by a difference of some 20%, the same 20% of more than two years ago.

24. Nevertheless, a clean election, with the lowest abstention rate in the political history of the country (less than 25%), carried out under the attentive gaze of hundreds of international observers[2], ratified the mandate of the Venezuelan president by an overwhelming majority of votes. Hugo Chavez got 7 million votes, 1 million more than in the 2004 referendum, and the opposition, represented by Rosales, maintaining its 4 million votes.

25. It was such a convincing victory that the current US government had no other option but to recognize the triumph, publicly accepting that a democratic regime exists in Venezuela, and expressing its interest in establishing a positive and constructive relationship with the new government. [3]

26. This was the fourth great triumph of Chavez, although this time it cannot be said that it was the fourth great defeat of the opposition, because, although they lost, they came out strengthened from the battle. We need to accept that its most recognizable leaders demonstrated maturity in acknowledging their defeat with nobility, and stating their disposition to wage future battles within the rules of the game laid out by the Bolivarian constitution.

27. For his part, President Chavez responded positively in front of these declarations, stating his disposition for dialogue, but “without conditions or blackmail”, and always so long as the opposition did not intend for him to abandon his principles. “Socialism of the 21st century is, and will continue to be, the objective we are aiming for” he affirmed at the time.

Announcement of the decision to promote the creation of a new party of the revolution

28. In one of his first speeches after the election, Chavez put forward “as a strategic fundamental line, the deepening, widening and expansion of the Bolivarian Revolution… on the Venezuelan road to socialism” and made three fundamental announcements, which reflect the clear consciousness that the Venezuelan head of state has of the weaknesses that plague the political process in his country: the struggle against corruption and bureaucracy as two new strategic objectives of his government for the next period, and a call to construct the united party of the revolution.[4]

29. The first two announcements were not surprising, given that the president had insistently stated over the previous months his preoccupation with these issues, but the third announcement regarding his decision to create a new political party – which he provisionally called the United Socialist Party of Venezuela – was surprising. Not because he had not referred to the issue before or had not conversed about it with the leaders of all the political parties that supported him, but rather because the news was not preceded by a profound debate over the issue and because everyone was led to believe that what they would be dealing with, at least initially, would be more akin to the construction of a front of parties and not a political instrument that would imply the rapid dissolution of the existing parties, some with a long trajectory in the country, such as the Communist Party.

30. Chavez was very precise in his speech: he rejected the idea of what he called “a sum of acronyms”, at the same time as he put forward the necessity to construct a new party with new figures elected from the grassroots.

31. What we are dealing with is a political entity that would unite at its core “all those Venezuelans willing to fight to construct socialism [in Venezuela]: whether they be militants from the political groups of the left, or members of the social movements, or those compatriots who up until this moment were either not members or, disappointed by the deviations and errors committed, had stopped being members of some of the existing organizations.”[5]

32. Tens of thousands of activists[6], as part of this new political project, went out to travel the country preparing a massive inscription of all those who aspired to become members of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela, the largest in the history of the country. More than 5 million people had enrolled up until June 3, one week before the closure of inscriptions.

33. Unfortunately, everything seems to point in the direction that in order to obtain such a high figure, acts of “stacking” or pressure were used on more than a few occasions, blurring the results obtained and causing discomfort amongst many people. The president has called on everyone to denounce these types of acts, and has given the directive that it is necessary to “look after the process…. and denounce in time any deviation” which could cause a lot of damage in the future.

34. On the other hand, Chavez left it very clear – during his Aló Presidente show on Sunday, June 10 – that one thing is inscription, and another the selection process afterwards of those who will go on to conform the new political instrument. His hope is that the new party will be made up of tested militants, although it will only be made up of a handful of people. What has not been spoken about until now is how, or who, will carry out this selection.

35. At the moment, a revision of all the inscriptions by the CNE (National Electoral Council) is in process. Afterwards, the inscribed aspirants will meet in groups of 200 – the denominated “socialist battalions” – to allow real, democratic participation by everyone, and to facilitate the selection from below, of the best men and women from these battalions as spokespeople to the Founding Congress, When it was previously calculated that some 4 million people would be part of the inscription process, it was estimated that around 22,000 socialist battalions would have to be constituted and each battalion would elect a spokesperson to the regional assemblies, who in turn would send spokespeople to the aforementioned congress. This congress would therefore be made up of around 2,200 congress delegates. Today, given that inscriptions have risen to over 5 million, new calculations will have to be made. What this formula does not resolve is what will happen when, by chance, various recognized leaders are concentrated in the same community.

36. The founding congress is expected to last three months, debating all the issues related to the new party: the program, organizational forms, type of membership and other issues, beginning with the debate over what type of country are they trying to build. After each session, these national spokespeople will go back to their respective grassroots assemblies to keep them informed and to deepen the debate at this level. It will be from these grassroots assemblies that those aspiring to fill positions at the different levels of leadership in the party will have to be nominated. Someone who does not count on support in their local base cannot be nominated to a position within this new political instance.

37. It is expected that through this mechanism there will be of flowering of thousands of new faces, until now unknown, originating from the new leaderships emerging out of communitarian work, and workplaces and study centers.

The five motors

38. On January 10, 2007, after being sworn in for his second presidential term, Chavez made another significant announcement: he proposed the formation of the “five constituent motors” to advance towards the socialism of the 21st century.

39. The first refers to the Enabling Law, which allows the executive to legislative on areas where it is necessary to speed up the changes towards socialism.

40. The second relates to the reform of the Bolivarian Constitution of Venezuela, which would allow, amongst other things, the modification of articles that in the economic and political sphere are not in accordance with the project of the socialist society which they are attempting to construct. There is nothing strange about the fact that the Bolivarian Constitution of 1999 has become too small for the revolutionary process, just like a child’s clothes become too small as they grow up.

41. The third envisages a campaign of moral, economic, political and social education called “Moral and Enlightenment,” which has to be as present in territorial organization (communal councils and other organizations) as in the workplace.

42. The fourth, which the president has called “Geometry of Power”, attempts to revise the political-territorial distribution of the country, and generate the construction of city systems and federal territories with the objective of redistributing political, economic, social and military power more equitably across the national arena.

43. The fifth, and most important, refers to “The Revolutionary Explosion of Communal Power” and aims to promote communal councils and everything that has to do with popular power

44. According to the Venezuelan head of state, these five motors will be the ones that launch the “Bolivarian socialist project”.

Advances in nationalizations

45. In the last few months, there have been more advances made in regards to the nationalization of companies than have been made in the last 9 years of government, moving forward enormously in the recuperation of the economic sovereignty of the country.

46. “Electricidad de Caracas”, the largest company in this sector, valued at $900 million, was nationalized. The US multinational AES signed an agreement with the Venezuelan government, handing over 82.14% of its shares.[7]

47. On the first of May, the Venezuelan government recuperated its energy sovereignty by proceeding to nationalize the petroleum in the Orinoco Oil Belt, where the most important reserves in the world are located. There was a reduction of the power of the petroleum consortiums that operate in this region of the Orinoco river, where close to 400,000 barrels of petroleum are extracted daily, a figure which could rise to 600,000 barrels. This measure will affect various foreign companies. The most affected will be, from the US: Chevron, Exxon Mobil, Texaco and ConocoPhilips; the French company Total, the Norwegian Statoil; and the UK-based British Petroleum. For the Venezuelan company PDVSA, until now a minority partner in this consortium, the situation has become inverted: its quota will be 60%.[8]

48. On June 8, Compañía Anónima Nacional Teléfonos de Venezuela (Cantv, National Anonymous Telephone Company of Venezuela), the biggest private telephone company in the country, which was publicly owned up until 1991, was renationalized. At the time of renationalization Cantv controlled 83% of the internet market, 70% of the national telephone communications market and 42% of international calls. It owned close to 3 million telephone lines and 100,000 public telephones.[9]

49. With this measure the Venezuelan state has advances in the control of the strategic telecommunications sector.

50. The recuperated company is attempting to increase telephone access to all areas of the country. In two years there will be a tripling of areas with fiber optic coverage. Its services will reach the most remote rural areas. As well as expanding the service, the aim is to make it accessible to the lowest income sectors, lowering the cost to make calls.

Non-renewal of RCTV’s concession

51. During the night of May 27, the broadcasting concession granted to Radio Caracas Television, the most powerful opposition television station in the country, expired. I agree with the Venezuelan political analyst, Vladimir Acosta, that this was the second great revolutionary moment of the process, following the recuperation of petroleum in 2003.[10]

52. To convert a private channel into a public service channel is not only a strong blow to the media hegemony of the Venezuelan opposition, it is also an act “that goes to the heart of global power”, because today this fundamentally depends on the mass media. Without the monopoly over media to fabricate consensus, the supremacy of this global power is enormously weakened.[11] It is because of this that there has been such a virulent conservative reaction at the global scale.

53. The measure was announced by Chavez months before. The opposition immediately prepared its counter response. It tried to make citizens believe that, with this act, freedom of expression would be mortally wounded, and that the government was advancing in an accelerated manner towards a dictatorial regime. After attempting various mobilizations of the adult sector, none of which achieved the scale hoped for, a new political subject appeared on the streets of Caracas: the students.

54. Thousands of them, the majority coming from the private universities, came out onto the streets protesting against what they called the “closure” of Radio Caracas Television. Although their intentions were peaceful, a group of students provoked disturbances, setting alight bonfires in the streets, impeding traffic and forcing police bodies to intervene to maintain order. The images of confrontations between students and police traveled the globe, as more proof of the authoritarian character of the government. What was not reported however, was the fact that the majority of those injured belonged to the police force, who had assumed a dignified attitude, not allowing themselves to be provoked.

55. But what do these students represent? Are we dealing with a mere apolitical movement, like they themselves and the opposition media like to make people believe?

56. The strategy of the opposition has been to, on one hand, “present the students as a unified mass” and, on the other, to maintain their separation from the student movement, in order to underscore its independent and spontaneous character.[12]

57. The first element of this strategy was rapidly pulled apart by an important sector of the students who supported the measure adopted by the government. They came out on the streets on a mass scale.

58. In regards to the second element, everyday, new evidence is emerging which reveals the behind the scenes intervention of the opposition. There are not only recorded telephone conversations and intercepted electronic messages which reveal their plans to use the students for political aims, but also, on top of all this, there is the irrefutable proof that one of the student leaders provided themselves.

59. The small group of student leaders who protested the “closure” of RCTV, convinced by the propaganda spread by the media amongst those that are assiduous, that chavistas are against freedom of expression in Venezuela, decided to demand an audience in the National Assembly, believing that this initiative would be rejected. To their surprise, the opposite occurred, only that Cilia Flores, the president of the Parliament, broadened out the proposal and decided that this event would be used to open up a debate between students from the opposition and those supporting the measure adopted by the government. In a gesture, never before seen in the history of the country, the National Assembly opened its doors to the students so that they could come and debate.

60. It was decided that each current would be granted ten minutes speaking rights. The opposition students entered the assembly wearing red shirts, which was strange given that red is the color with has identified chavistas. Afterwards it was discovered why: “far more than a safety strategy: they were an integral part of a professionally-designed media strategy”. [13]

61. Speaking rights were granted first to Douglas Barrios, a student at the Universidad Metropolitana, a university known for harboring only the elite of society. After a speech lacking in any substance, where he called for a process of national reconciliation, he ended by saying that he “dreams of a country where people are taken into consideration without having to wear a uniform”, and having finished this phrase, he and the groups of opposition students removed their red shirts, allowing everyone to see the white shirts they had on underneath, covered in different slogans defending RCTV.

62. All this could have been interpreted to be an original, theatrical act of repudiation, if it had not been for the fact that the last sheet of his speech was left behind on the podium. On it, very precise instructions were given as to how they should conduct themselves in the National Assembly. The text was signed by ARS Publicity, a company which is owned by the Globovision group, which was implicated in the April 2002 coup.

63. Taking off their red shirts, only speaking once, and to leave immediately – all these were actions that were outlined in the instructions. This last action was halted, at least for the duration of the following speaker, due to the pressure exerted on them to stay by the chavista students and the deputies of the National Assembly.

64. The self-proclaimed defenders of democracy were not capable of democratically debating; they made only one intervention and then retired from the scene. The self-proclaimed independents arrived as pawns of Globovision. This is the hypocrisy of the opposition leaders.

65. It should remain clear that we are far from thinking that all the students that marched against the decision to not renew the concession are of this sort. We are convinced that the majority of them will reconsider their position, when through healthy debate, they know what the project for society, headed by President Chavez, really is.

66. The events in Parliament only put into relief the strategy of the opposition, but also, more importantly, revealed the extraordinary student leadership that has emerging in the country.

67. One after the other, the ten speakers in support of the measure adopted by the government began to dismantle, one by one, the arguments of the opposition, with freshness, intelligence, creativity and, above all, forcefulness. Who can argue, for example, with what the next speaker, Andreína Tarazón, from the Universidad Central de Venezuela said, when she criticized the behavior of the opposition students, comparing their conduct in not facing up to the debate, with that of Condoleezza Rice during the meeting of the OAS, where she spoke and then left?

68. Those viewing television, who saw this transmission, live and direct via a national broadcast on all frequencies, must have felt a strong impact due to the quality of the interventions. They were so good that it was not long before they began to be distributed via the internet. There were thousands of people in all parts of the world who were able to be astounded and amazed with the words of Andreína and her comrades. She transformed herself into one of the best ambassadors for Venezuela.

69. But the alternative media blow dealt by the left could not be left unpunished. A few days later YouTube suspended the account of the user named “Lbracci”, through which this experience had been distributed in video format. [14]

70. On the other hand, new spaces for debate are opening up in all corners of the country. And the youth sectors are proving in practice that democracy exists in Venezuela.

71. Once again, an attack by the opposition has resulted in a very positive event for the Bolivarian process: a new social actor, full of force, of ideals, has entered into the political sphere. There is no doubt that those students who support the government have everything to win. A project for a more humanistic and solidarity-based country, that puts its efforts into eliminating inequalities; that calls for the exercising of a growing social control over all activities, in order to struggle against the scourge of corruption; that recuperates the sovereignty of the homeland. It is a project that the Venezuelan youth cannot afford to be indifferent towards.

Note: This article was prepared for the ABIVEN 2007 yearbook.

Translated from Rebelión by Federico Fuentes

[1] Chavez obtained the support of around 6 million people, around 4 million voted in favour of revoking his mandate

[2]. Amongst the most important groups present were: the European Union, the Carter Centre, the Organisation of American States (OEA).

[3]. The United States expressed via Sean McCormack, spokesperson for the State Department, its desire to a have a “positive” and “constructive” relationship with the Bolivarian government. “We congratulate the Venezuelan people for its conduct during this election”, he declared, also expressing his desire to “work with the government of President Chavez”. This seems to be a radical change given that not long ago, Washington classified Chavez as a “destabilising force for the region”.

[4]. Speech given at Act of Recognition for the Miranda Command, December 15, 2006.

[5]. Hugo Chávez, Nota introductoria al libro El discurso de la unidad (December 15, 2006) Ediciones “Socialismo del Siglo XXI”, No 1, Caracas, 2007

[6]. Chavez decided to call them “promoters”.

[7]. Salim Lamrani, Se abre una nueva era en Venezuela, February 26 2007.

[8]. See Salim Lamrani, Soberanía petrolera, reformas sociales e independencia económica en Venezuela, www.rebelión.org, May 15, 2007.

[9]. Agencia Bolivariana de Noticias, «Queremos que Cantv sea una empresa tan eficiente como Pdvsa», January 11, 2007; Agencia Bolivariana de Noticias, «; gobierno nacional dio primer paso hacia nacionalización de la Cantv», February 12, 2007.

[10]. Vladimir Acosta, La no renovación de RCTV es un hecho revolucionario porque toca al corazón del poder mundial , interview by Marcelo Colussi, Argenpress, June 2007.

[11]. The term “fabricating consensus is used by Walter Lippmann in Public Opinion, Allen and Unwin, London, 1932 and cited by Noam Chomsky in Cómo nos venden la moto, Ed. Icaria, Barcelona, 1996, p.14. This author also has a book titled Manufacturing Consent.

[12]. Georges Ciccariello-Maher, Who´s pulling the strings behind Venezuela´s “student rebellion, Caracas, June 10, 2007.

[13]. .Op.cit.

[14]. Carlos Martínez , Antena 3 y YouTube censuran un debate sobre la no renovación de la concesión a RCTV ,June 12, 2007.