A Local Perspective on the Communist-Socialist Party Split in Venezuela

There is a unique local context in every state and municipality where the Communist Party of Venezuela (PCV) and the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) are running separate candidates in this Sunday’s regional and local elections, and each instance bears particular implications for the future path of Venezuela’s Bolivarian Revolution.

Caracas, November 23, 2008 (venezuelanalysis.com)– There is a unique local context in every state and municipality where the Communist Party of Venezuela (PCV) and the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) are running separate candidates in this Sunday’s regional and local elections, and each instance bears particular implications for the future path of Venezuela’s Bolivarian Revolution.

In the Municipality of Libertador, wherein lies the capital of Mérida state, many supporters of President Hugo Chávez say they plan to pinch their noses and vote for the PSUV candidate for mayor, the incumbent Carlos León, instead of the PCV Candidate, Fredys Terán, who they favor on principle.

“I vote for the party, for the movement of the President, not the person,” one local cultural worker told Venezuelanalysis.com last week, while tabling for the PSUV.

These nose-pinchers will be choosing against a communist candidate whose campaign platform is almost identical to that of several PSUV candidates for mayor in surrounding municipalities. Terán’s over-arching campaign themes are environmentalism and local community participation, and as current president of the Mérida State Legislature, he is notably light on classist rhetoric.

Those who break from the PSUV party line that Chávez emphatically demands of his supporters will be choosing against an incumbent with no campaign platform other than his record after four years in the mayor’s office. As mayor, León has generally upheld the status quo, maintained clientelistic relationships with communities, and promoted profit-driven projects such as shopping malls, bull fighting festivals, the upkeep of the most touristy sections of town, and private waste treatment concessions.   

To better understand these perhaps atypical profiles of communist and socialist candidates, it is important to clarify the political nature of the Municipality of Libertador in the context of the state as a whole.

In Mérida, an ecologically sensitive, highly touristic, and predominantly agricultural state in the Venezuelan Andes Mountains, President Chávez and the “socialist” process of political changes he and the PSUV lead remain very popular. Presumably for this reason, Chávez cancelled his scheduled campaign rally in Mérida last week.

In December 2006, Mérida’s voters re-elected President Chávez to a second term in all except one of the state’s twenty-three municipalities: Libertador. Libertador is the most densely populated and wealthy municipality in the state, and it is also the only municipality in which the PCV decided to run a separate candidate from the PSUV.

In this context, perhaps the PSUV members and leaders kept León as the socialist candidate because of his electability, despite his notably capitalist policies and multi-class alliances.

Or, León’s candidacy could be the result of a substantially less radical political orientation in this local branch of the PSUV. Worse, it could reflect the power of local business interests and power brokers over the party more than the party membership.

Fredys Terán’s chief campaign proposal is to convene an assembly of local community councils and re-configure the decision-making process in the state to be more participatory and democratic. He is considered the fringe communist candidate despite the fact that this proposal is identical to that PSUV mayoral candidate Pedro Álvarez in a municipality downriver from Libertador, and others across Venezuela.  

Terán told Venezuelanalysis.com in an interview that the working class of Mérida lacks class consciousness because it has been intoxicated by four decades of representative democracy. “It is sad to see a worker thinking like a petit bourgeois,” he said. “The people must definitively understand that they have the power, independently of whether there is a mayor or governor!” he exclaimed.

According to Terán, there is “no difference” between León and the most prominent right-wing opposition candidate, University of the Andes Rector Lester Rodríguez, because neither of them have taken steps down a socialist path.

Environmental health is this theme that integrates the solutions to the principal problems of local residents, said Terán. Solving the horrendous traffic problem of this car-hungry population will be a manifestation of collective rights taking priority over individual rights, he added.

Despite President Chávez’s very harsh criticism of the PCV for breaking ranks with the PSUV in some places, Terán remains steadfastly loyal to the president. He says the president was just “upset” when he called the PCV traitors, and that truly the party and Chávez continue to count on one another.

Meanwhile, Carlos León appears to be promoting the construction of a new gigantic shopping mall by the large corporation Sambil and a five-star Marriot hotel in an ecologically sensitive sector of the municipality nearby. This initiative has garnered harsh criticism from a radical local multi-issue activist group called Colectivo Libre Aquiles Nazoa (CLAN).

“The atrocious ecocide… the banal consumerism… the incentive toward the worst of savage capitalism given by a mayor who calls himself socialist, but says Sambil represents progress,” a recent CLAN editorial railed.

The CLAN has criticized León regarding several issues, including his support of bull fighting, state-wide beauty pageants, and his administrative bureaucracy. The CLAN launched a public campaign in support of local waste treatment plant workers who were pushed into non-unionized contract work as a false cooperative formed by the concession holder and private owner of the plant, then assaulted by hired attackers when they occupied the plant.

In interviews with Venezuelanalysis.com, CLAN activists said they are disappointed by both the PCV and PSUV candidates, because both seem to be clamoring to represent themselves as President Chávez’s favored candidate, rather than following a truly community-oriented, socialist path.

Perhaps only a minority of voters in the Municipality of Libertador have been grappling with whether the PSUV candidate is the lesser of two evils or unacceptably evil. However, the clear existence of such logic among voters could have disappointing implications for the future of the Bolivarian process here. Then again, when the phenomenon is put in the context of the state of Mérida and Venezuela as a whole, the implications are less clear.

See also:

The Communist-Socialist Party Split: An Interview With a PCV Mayoral Candidate