Venezuela’s Social Democracy Hits A Speed Bump

One electoral defeat is disheartening but changes nothing. Venezuela's struggle for social democracy continues under a man who has worked nine years to build it. Don't ever count him out or his strong popular support.

Hugo Chavez addressed upwards of a half million supporters
on the final day of campaigning for constitutional reform on December 1. He was
confident of a victory that seemed assured. The turnout was impressive as a sea
of red filled Caracas'
main Avenida Bolivar boulevard and spilled over into adjourning streets. It
dwarfed the November 29 final opposition rally Rupert Murdock's Times online/UK
and Fox News estimated at "more than 100,000" ahead of saying
"polls predicted an agonizingly close result" that referred only to
the corporate-run ones. They turned out to be right.

A day ahead of the vote, Chavez addressed the joyous crowd
saying a "yes" vote will "open the path to socialism (and is) a
vote for Chavez and the revolution (while) vot(ing) "no" is a vote
for Bush. We are not simply confronting the pawns of imperialism. Our true
enemy is US
imperialism (that) will only recognize the results if they win."

Writing this article began on Sunday. It intended to say
they didn't, but sadly they did so the struggle continues. It's too early to
know what's next after this crucial election loss on top of the disturbing
information James Petras and Eva Golinger reported in separate articles on November
28 – that Venezuelan counterintelligence uncovered an internal November 20 CIA
memorandum from the US Embassy in Caracas. It revealed a secret plot called
"Operation Pliers" to destabilize the referendum and as Petras put
it: "coordinate the civil military overthrow of the elected Chavez
government. The Embassy-CIA polls concede(d) that 57 per cent of voters
approved (of Chavez reforms while) predict(ing) a 60 per cent abstention."
They were wrong.

Golinger wrote that a CIA-funded "PSYOPS" propaganda
campaign was being waged with over $8 million in the past month for corporate
polling firms to cook their numbers against Chavez, work with the dominant
media to report it and continue a torrent of anti-Chavez scare talk. Petras
covered the same ground and said "Food producers, wholesale and retail
distributors have created artificial shortages of basic food items" and
tried to "sow chaos" by "provok(ing) large scale capital

Venezuelan-based Media Left editor, Gary Ghirardi, explained
this further. In an email to this writer, he said: "food shortages….are
the result of (elements of) the military selling food slated for the poorest
Venezuelans (in) Colombia and….the black market" to enrich
"unscrupulous military managers…..The poor are affected by this
corruption (and that took its toll on Chavez's) support base." It helps
explain "why 3 million of the poor….did not go to vote." In
December, 2006, 7.3 million Venezuelans voted for Chavez's reelection. This
time, only 4.4 million supported constitutional reform against 4.5 million

"Another reason (for this result was) the complexity of
the reform issues" that required close reading to understand. Many Chavez
supporters likely didn't do it and were easy to sway by corporate media propaganda
opposing them. Gharardi also believes Chavez overestimated the citizenry's
"political education" and may have tried to advance his socialist
agenda too fast. Had reforms been fewer in number, easier to understand, and
directed toward social programs for the poor and community power, he'd likely
have prevailed. These are lessons to be learned for a future round of social
changes sure to come.

But they'll face the same stiff opposition and kinds of
threats the CIA memo revealed to counter an expected Chavez win. Some actions
were ongoing for weeks, others were planned (but not used) for election day,
and it now remains to be seen what's ahead. The memo laid it out: 

  • more
    disruptive and violent street protests;
  • provoking
    a "general uprising" and "climate of ungovernability;"
  • discrediting
    the National Elections Council (CNE) by accusing it of fraud and
    manipulation of results; cross out this one for now;
  • discrediting
    Chavez to isolate him in the international community; and much more
    including encouraging a military rebellion and readying US forces in
    neighboring Curacao and Colombia
    to support it.

In Petras' words, Venezuelans had "a rendezvous with
history" on Sunday to "provide the legal framework for (further
democratizing) the political system, the socialization of strategic economic
sectors, (further) empower(ing) the poor, and provid(ing) the basis for a
self-managed factory system." Winning impressively and avoiding a likely
bloodbath from "a successful US-backed civil-military uprising"
prevents the reversal of "the most promising living experience of popular
self-rule (anywhere), of advanced social welfare and democratically based
socialism." One electoral defeat is disheartening but changes nothing. Venezuela's
struggle for social democracy continues under a man who has worked nine years
to build it. Don't ever count him out or his strong popular support. 

The Struggle

A partial draft of this article was written Sunday under the
incorrect topic heading – Savoring the Triumph. It began: 

For now, victory is sweet and
Chavistas savored it all night on Caracas
streets. Mañana was back to reality and the knowledge that triumph is never
secure as long as an imperial power threatens it. Nine years of social progress
can be erased with a keyboard click the way coup plotters did it on April 11,
2002 for two days. After deposing Chavez, they repealed the Bolivarian
Constitution, dissolved the National Assembly and Supreme Court, and dismissed
the attorney general and comptroller. Only mass people power with military
support put Chavez back in office.

So far, he's prevailed impressively in every presidential,
parliamentary, municipal and referendum election since December, 1998….until
now. Here's the record: 

  • Chavez
    elected President in December, 1998 with 56.2% of the vote;
  • a
    national referendum held in April, 1999 to convene a Constituent Assembly
    for a new Constitution won with 71.8% support; 
  • a
    Constituent Assembly was elected in July, 1999 to draft a new
    Constitution; Chavez supporters won a large majority of seats in it;
  • a
    national referendum for a new Constitution was held in December, 1999 that
    was adopted with 71.9% support;
  • a new
    presidential election was held under the new Constitution in July, 2000
    reelecting Chavez with 59.8% of the vote;
  • a new
    National Assembly was also elected in July, 2000 in which Chavez
    supporters won a large majority of seats; 
  • municipal
    elections were held in December, 2000 with about two-thirds of voters
    supporting pro-Chavez parties;
  • Chavez
    defeated an opposition-called national recall referendum in August, 2004
    with 59.3% of the vote; 
  • in
    local and regional October, 2005 elections throughout the country, Chavez
    supporters won in 80% of local authorities and 20 of 22 provincial
  • National
    Assembly elections were held in December, 2005 in which Chavez's MVR won a
    large majority after opposition candidates boycotted the process in a  desperate act knowing they had no chance
    to win legitimately; 
  • Chavez
    was reelected President in December, 2006 with 62.87% support and the
    highest voter turnout in Venezuela's
    history at almost 75%. His victory topped all presidential elections in US history
    since the nation's highest office became contests after 1820 when James
    Monroe ran practically unopposed.

All Venezuelan elections were judged scrupulously open, free
and fair by international observers from the region, European Union and
US-based Carter Center. About 100 representatives from
39 countries monitored Sunday's vote in a democratic process unimaginable in
the US
and in most other countries. The method used has voters cast ballots twice.
They first register their vote on an electric machine that produces a paper
receipt. It's then placed in a ballot box so the two records can be matched to
avoid any allegations of fraud. 

Further, Article 56 of the Bolivarian Constitution states:
"All persons have the right to be registered free of charge with the Civil
Registry Office after birth, and to obtain public documents constituting
evidence of the biological identity, in accordance with law." To implement
it, Chavez launched Mision Identidad (Mission Identity) in 2003. It was a mass
citizenship and voter registration drive that gave millions of ordinary
Venezuelans national ID cards and full citizenship rights for the first time.
In 1998 before Chavez was elected, less than half of eligible Venezuelans were
registered to vote. In 2000, the number was 11 million and by September, 2006
it topped 16 million in a country of 27 million people, and Chavez urges all
eligible citizens to vote.

Compare this to the tainted US system in which rolls are purged
of the kinds of voters most likely to oppose leading candidates unsympathetic
to their interests. Electronic voting machine manipulation compounds the
problem. They provide no verifiable paper ballot receipts so recounts are
impossible. In addition, millions of votes cast are uncounted that include
"spoiled ballots," rejected absentee ones, and others lost, ignored
or miscounted in the tabulations. It's because the electoral process was
privatized, and large electronic voting machine companies got unregulated control
over it with everything to gain if candidates they support win. 

This doesn't happen under Chavez because the system was
designed to prevent it. It's not perfect, but the National Electoral Council
(CNE) is an independent body, separate from the Executive, Legislative and
Judicial branches or any private corporate interests. None of its members are
appointed by the President to assure free, fair and open elections in the true
spirit of democracy rarely as evident anywhere.

The 2007 reform referendum, the twelfth election since the
first one electing Chavez President in December, 1998. Until now, he won them
all impressively because he's a rare politician, dedicated to his people and
keeps the promises he makes. One electoral defeat changes nothing. The struggle
for social democracy continues. It's never smooth going.

A Long Caracas Night After A
Calm Voting Day Despite Fears of Opposition-Staged Disruptions

Voting went smoothly overall on Sunday despite early
warnings of planned opposition-led disruptions. Polls were scheduled to close
at 4:00PM but were kept open as long as people were still queued in lines.
Things were tense late in the day when Reuters reported at 6:34PM that
"Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez appear(s) headed for victory on
Sunday….citing exit polls. Three exit polls showed the anti-American leader
won by between six and eight percentage points in a vote where turnout was low.
The opposition was skeptical," and they were right. Reuters, Sky News, Fox
News and China News all reported Chavez appeared to have won.

It was unofficial because polls were still open, and at
8:00PM no exit poll figures or government results had been released. Official
ones based on about 92% of votes counted from Venezuela's National Electoral
Council (CNE) finally came on Bloques A and B at 1:15AM. Venezuelapress.com
reported them as follows: 

  • Block
    A: No – 50.70%; Si (Yes) – 49.29%;
  • Block
    B: No – 51.05%; Si (Yes) – 48.94%;
  • Abstention:
  • Total
    votes cast: 9,002,439 with 118,693 unvalidated. Turnout was about 55%
    compared to 75% in last December's presidential election. 

The result is in stark contrast to a widely quoted
Consultores independent poll conducted from November 26 – 30 that showed among
likely voters Chavez would win with 56% against 44% voting "no." The
same poll showed among all respondents Chavez led 55% to 42%. It and others
with similar recent results were wrong as Chavez suffered his first electoral
defeat in nearly nine years in office. It turned out that many of his
supporters were swayed by opposition claims that he'd gone too far and voted
"no." Many others didn't vote, and that was the likely decisive
factor as it appears most were Chavez supporters.

At 7:11AM, December 3, Reuters corrected its earlier report.
From Caracas it said: "President Hugo Chavez crashed to an unprecendented
vote defeat (announced) on Monday as Venezuelans narrowly rejected his bid to
run for re-election indefinitely and accelerate his socialist revolution in the
OPEC nation….Chavez conceded defeat but said he would "continue in the
battle to build socialism….This is not a defeat. This is a 'for now.' I have
listened to the voice of the people and I will always be listening to it"
as he referred to the opposition's "pyrrhic victory." 

He was also gracious in defeat saying: "To those who
voted against my proposal, I thank them and congratulate them." He told
his supporters: "Don't feel sad. For now, we couldn't do it. I will not
withdraw even one comma of this proposal, this proposal is still alive." He
also told reporters "Venezuelan democracy is maturing (and) I understand
and accept that the proposal I made was quite profound and intense."

As expected, his opponents were gloating, but one pollster
struck a positive note saying: "This defeat has two sides to it for Chavez.
He came out the loser after a tough plebiscite campaign but he also gets rid of
the accusation that he is a dictator." Chavez earlier said and repeated he
would accept the results of the vote, and he stands by his word. It proved the
process is open, free and fair unlike elections in many other so-called
democracies that aren't. The struggle indeed continues with powerful popular
support backing it. 

Stephen Lendman lives
in Chicago and
can be reached at [email protected].

Also visit his blog
site at sjlendman.blogspot.com and listen to The Steve Lendman News and
Information Hour on TheMicroEffect.com Mondays at noon US Central