In the university town of Mérida, Venezuela, student political organizations have had a significant presence at marches both for and against a proposed constitutional amendment that will eliminate the two-term limit on elected offices if it is approved in a national vote this February 15th. The predominant discourse has been quite polarized between opponents and supporters of President Hugo Chávez, who plans to run for a third term in office and carry on the construction of “21st Century Socialism” if the amendment passes. However, nuanced voices have emerged from the campaign hype. Seeking to highlight the deeper analysis provided by these non-conformist voices, Venezuelanalysis.com interviewed student leader and social activist Carmen Pulido about the state of radical student activism and the amendment. Pulido regularly organizes student-labor solidarity activities and other political events along with a loose network of anti-capitalist university students. These students have been staunch supporters of many of the initiatives undertaken by Chávez’s ten year administration. Nonetheless, the students persistently retain their autonomy in order to push the “Bolivarian Revolution” led by Chávez toward what they see as a more just and revolutionary path.
Carmen Pulido, with which organization and sector of the student population do you identify?
I am president of the Audio Visual Media School Student Center at the University of the Andes and also a militant in the Aquiles Nazoa Free Collective (CLAN) . Personally, I identify with the student movement that does not obey the political rules dictated by interests that do not correspond to the role that students should have in the national political process. The students’ role in this moment, apart from reclaiming their rights as students, is to cultivate anti-capitalist values in class solidarity with the workers and social movements, participating actively in these and offering as much support as possible from their position as intellectuals and academics.
What is your opinion of the students who protest against the amendment and those who have allied themselves with the Chávez government?
The autonomy of student political movements is indispensible for achieving a change in conscience and a greater presence in social movements, as well as for the students’ daily struggle to defend their rights in the university. Personally I am not in agreement with leaving aside these struggles and these acts of solidarity in order to defend political party interests. I do not agree that the priority of the Venezuelan people should be to approve or disapprove of the constitutional amendment, as some student groups in favor of and against the amendment affirm. This is the priority of political parties that have control of the majority of the means of communication and information in our country and who define the agenda of the day, leaving aside the interests that are of higher priority to the common citizens and organized groups (labor unions, community councils, etc.).
Therefore, my opinion is that neither of these factions is really representing the interests of the students or the people in general. As such, the students who seek to truly represent them should organize with students who are searching for other ways to participate and have an impact on national policy, but this should happen from the heart of the student movement outward and not the other way around.
What is your opinion about the government’s order to the police to permit peaceful protests but dissolve the violent ones?
The majority of the right wing opposition’s street protests nation-wide are terribly violent and instead of affecting the government, they actually affect the security of the common citizen. The burning of Ávila [National Park] in Caracas and the delinquent, self-victimizing attitude of those who block off streets in the city of Mérida are really deplorable. They make it necessary for security forces to take effective action.
But it is important to highlight that the actions of the security forces need to be focused on impeding aggression toward citizens. This point has not been made very clearly nor has it been put into practice. I think it is important because by avoiding direct confrontations between the violent groups and the police, there will be fewer risks of all kinds.
We should also emphasize that the responsibility does not fall only on the security forces; these events are also the responsibility of the university authorities who permit the aggressors to shield themselves in university autonomy and use the university facilities as a barracks for their operations while blocking out the authorities and other students.
In all instances, peaceful demonstrations are necessary, since this is the manner in which organized groups can make their needs felt, whether or not they are right. Now, in some cases protests are not peaceful, but they are legitimate because they demand concrete recognition of flagrant assaults on people’s rights.
For example, when workers occupy factories or unions go on strike, they do not put citizen security in danger. These are generally pressure tactics in order to arrive at a negotiating table. In these cases, police repression with firearms is not justified, as in the case of the takeover of Mitsubishi during which three workers were killed at the hands of the police who were forcefully evicting them.
The government authorities should know how to distinguish among protests and how to resolve them since they are not all of the same nature.
What are you, the revolutionary students, struggling for?
The student movement’s greatest need at the present time is to return to having a truly revolutionary course. The students must resume an important and decisive role as members and propellers of social movements of the people’s making, on the side of the exploited, against capitalism, and in search of a new social organization that is more just and is defined as a function of the true necessities of society and not in the interests of capital.
But for this to happen, a solid and conscious organization is needed that prioritizes fulfillment of these needs. The revolutionary students should construct this organization. That is what we struggle for.
And how would you evaluate the size and level of organization of the revolutionary students now?
In general, the faction of this movement that has not become bureaucratized is very small and dispersed. Very rarely does it organize itself outside of political or electoral junctures. Activities that generate consciousness or participation in the social movements I have mentioned are scarce. Even the revolutionary organization for the reclamation of students’ own rights is almost non-existent. Each academic department focuses on its own problems without building an integral approach at any level.
Do you think the Chávez government is advancing toward revolutionary socialism?
Sincerely, I do not think so. Why? I hope to be understood: Supposedly, revolutionary social movements and their leaders seek power within a government that is based on capitalist structures in order to have sufficient control so they can transform those structures.
Many will agree that it would have been impossible for Chávez to arrive at the government and expropriate all the capitalists and big estate owners and nationalize the bank overnight. However, I also think many will agree that the policies of a revolutionary government should be based on measures that gradually weaken the current economic system and open the way toward a socialist economy.
The Chávez government has instituted more and more measures that reinforce capitalist democracy. Also, people’s organizations find themselves terribly affected by the patronage system of the PSUV [United Socialist Party of Venezuela] and the government functionaries who work toward vote-gathering and not the true organization of the people.
Do you support or oppose the amendment? Why or why not?
Like I said before I do not believe that the priority or the greatest need of the Venezuelan people in this moment is to support or reject a constitutional amendment. The campaign has been completely empty on both sides. The arguments of the right wing against the amendment are the same as always: The blackmail, the fear-mongering, and the speculation about a dark and terrible future if the amendment passes. These are exactly the same arguments that are used by the proponents of the amendment.
But there is another reason that I do not support nor am I campaigning for the amendment. There is a latent need to break out of the permanent electoral cycle, which converts the important labor of social organizations into a simple search for votes, and wastes large quantities of resources on purely electoral propaganda, resources that could be used for the formation of the people with socialist consciousness and action.
The only thing that can guarantee the course toward socialism is collective revolutionary leadership that emerges from political and student movements that maintain a firm and unbreakable position against capitalism and the right wing, and that are willing to defend their principles even at the cost of losing privileges or favorable positions within political parties or power groups. Let us not forget that historically, the majority of the advances in democracy and the retreat of capitalism have been achieved by the militancy and revolutionary action of social movements.
Thank you, Carmen Pulido, student leader and member of the Aquiles Nazoa Free Collective.