Two days after the referendum in which 54.9% of Venezuelans approved a constitutional amendment to lift term limits on elected officials, journalist and activist of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) Vanessa Davies spoke with Venezuelanalysis.com about the meaning of the referendum, the next steps and challenges ahead for the PSUV, gender in the Chávez government, the media, and U.S. President Barack Obama.
Vanessa Davies, could you please describe your role in the Bolivarian process?
I am a journalist. I worked for many years in a very right-wing newspaper. I have always been an activist of the Left. I have always been connected to the revolution. I do volunteer work in [the Venezuelan state television channel] VTV, and I do volunteer work with other alternative media. I collaborate with everything I can that will support the revolution.
Since the year 2008, I have participated in the national leadership of the PSUV, the United Socialist Party of Venezuela. We campaigned for the regional elections last November. In this campaign, the campaign for the amendment, personally, I dedicated myself to travelling around the country, to campaign face-to-face, and to work with the pro-amendment committee of VTV.
What is the significance of the results of Sunday's vote?
I think they show the revolutionary will of the majority of our people, their will toward transformation. Our oppressed and discriminated people are asserting their role in making the Bolivarian Revolution continue. Also, the majority of the people believes in and vouches for the leadership of Commander Chávez.
I think that when looking at the results we must also see who was defeated. I think the private communications corporations, incorrectly labeled the mass media, were defeated. These corporations act like political parties, and even beyond this, like conspiratorial groups, as in the case of Globovisión. I think they were defeated in the referendum. They had a campaign of lies, of terror. It is a campaign that we've dealt with throughout the Bolivarian Revolution, a campaign of deception, of manipulation of the middle class that has historically been very anti-communist in our country.
However, not even with this manipulation and these lies was the anti-amendment campaign able to achieve its objective, which was to generate instability, to generate violence, and provoke the defeat of the "Yes" [campaign for the amendment]. They were defeated.
I think the opposition leadership, which still does not understand what is going on in Venezuela, was also defeated. They do not want to understand, and they continue with their attitude because it brings them economic benefits, because they receive funding from the United States.
Could you give me an example of the manipulation and lies you are talking about?
For example, the opposition campaign has always played the game of planting fear that the government is supposedly going to take away your children and your property. They slammed the people with the conspiratorial campaign of the communications corporations who are aligned with the United States State Department (it is well known what went on in the Puerto Rico meeting).
The most recent example we've seen was Manuel Rosales, the mayor of Maracaibo, an opposition leader who told people that we were going to take away their bicycles. What's more, he has remained in government posts for years, years upon years. He criticizes the possibility of repeated candidacy, but at the same time, he has governed for sixteen years between the mayoralty and the governor's office.
The wisdom of our people prevailed in the end. I remember during a pro-amendment campaign event in Maracaibo, where Manuel Rosales governs, a man said, "Go and ask Rosales where is the shed where we're going to store all the bicycles." And the same man said, "My friend, who is going to want so many children? How can you think they are going to take children away from their families?"
Surely, I am using the anecdote to demonstrate how absurd the opposition's arguments are. However, they have been saying the same thing, singing the same song, for ten years. Shamefully, there is a sector of the country that listens to them and takes them seriously, but it is not the majority of the country. The majority knows that this is a lie. They know, moreover, that they are being deceived, that what the opposition does is deceive.
I'll give another example, the example of the supposed "indefinite re-election." It is a lie! We were not struggling for indefinite re-election, we were struggling to gain a right that we did not have, which is the right to ratify a good government, always through elections, always at the voting booths. However, the opposition's campaign was based on this lie.
Our people once again said they do not believe this. And there are the electoral results to prove it.
In the regional and local elections last November, the PSUV was victorious overall, but was defeated in some state and local races. This gave a slightly bitter taste to the voting results. In this referendum, however, it seems the victory was more decisive. How would you compare last November's electoral results with last Sunday's?
Look, I think we scored a huge victory last November, with seventeen governors and more than 260 mayors. The problem is that part of the media war is to make us believe that we were defeated, when the numbers show that it was the opposition that was once again defeated. But the media campaign has been very strong. I think we were victorious in November and on February 15th.
The revolution is on a two-victory streak. Since the defeat of the constitutional reform [in December 2007], which was a blow to our people even though the voting margin was minimal, the revolution has achieved two victories: The victory of the regional elections and the victory of the amendment.
I think our reading of these results can be that the majority of the people want the revolution to continue. The majority of our people want Commander Chávez to continue leading the revolution. They may have complaints and unheeded demands, and they may feel discontent, but we can see in the results of February 15th that the people simply put aside their discontent in order to support Chávez and the revolution.
What does this imply about the power of the PSUV?
Look, I think we cannot forget that the PSUV is a very young party, and it has many things that it must revise and correct, without a doubt. But I think that the results demonstrate that it is a strong party, that it is a powerful party, a party with roots in all our national territory. If we compare it with the votes obtained by the opposition, I think it is evident that the PSUV has become stronger, even with all the things that need revision.
What are some of the next steps and perhaps a challenge in the times to come?
President Chávez has listened to the clamor of the people. I will speak of my personal experience.
During the campaign, when we had the opportunity to go and share with people, and do grassroots work like it should be done, the people said to us, "we are with [Chávez], but we want to see changes, we want transformations, we want a state that works effectively and responds to the needs of our communities."
This translates into the three Rs, which are Revision, Rectification, and Re-advance. On Sunday February 15th, the National Electoral Council had hardly announced the electoral victory when President Chávez went on national radio and television and spoke of the three Rs. He said we had to re-start the policy of the three Rs, which originated after the electoral defeat of the constitutional reform in December 2007.
The three Rs are a challenge for the PSUV and a challenge for all revolutionary activists. They are a challenge for us to effectively constitute a state that responds to the people, so that the people can effectively be the government, that is what we want, that is what we say in all our slogans.
There is something that we cannot lose sight of: We inherited a state made by and for capitalism and the interests of transnational companies, the state that belonged to the political parties that brought our country to ruin and collapse. And with this state we have had to bring about revolution. It is an inefficient state, and it continues to be so, despite the achievements of the revolutionary process.
But to overcome these challenges we need our people to participate effectively in the construction of this government. The people must participate in the big decisions. They must be heard when they complain, and have mechanisms through which to express themselves. All of this is a challenge that we must confront from this moment on.
Could you give a specific example of something that should be revised, rectified, and re-advanced?
The missions. The missions have been a successful revolutionary policy. The missions have emerged from a state structure that does not answer to, or only with great difficulty answers to the demands of our population. The missions are a way to respond to the population without having to go through the bureaucratic mess of the state that does not function in the majority of cases.
Now, what is happening in the majority of the missions? We must revive them, without a doubt. Just like everything in the revolution. The three Rs should be a permanent practice in the Bolivarian Revolution and in any revolution. All revolutions should be revised, rectified, and re-advanced and this should always be with the participation of the majority of the people in the management of the revolution.
I think I could give you an even more specific example: The Barrio Adentro Mission, which is responding to the medical necessities of our population. Without a doubt, we must revise our Barrio Adentro Mission. We must look at what is not working well and why it is not working well in order to correct it, so that Barrio Adentro may improve its services to our population. I think this goes for all the missions.
You are a prominent woman in the leadership of the revolution and of Venezolana de Televisión [the state TV channel]. What is the significance of this, as well as the policy on women's issues within the revolution, for the women, girls, and elderly women of Venezuela?
In the past, the women's movement in our country had to confront repression and discrimination even just to win the right to exist. We began to transform this with the constitution of 1999, which recognizes women.
Women cannot be said to have the rights they deserve if they do not even exist in the legal language of their country. Things must be named in order to exist. People must be named. Now, in our constitution, we exist. In the language of President Chávez, we exist. There is no longer a single presidential speech in which women are not specified: "men and women," "she or he," "female or male spouse."
This recognition of the presence of women is a great achievement. But beyond this, we must point out all the rights women have fought for and gained with the revolution. We have a Women's Affairs Ministry. We have a Women's Bank that is specifically directed toward attending the financial necessities of women, alone or in organized groups, who are in their own processes of economic and political emancipation. We have a law on the right of women to a life free of violence, free of discrimination. We have women in very important public offices, including the president of the Supreme Court, the president of the National Electoral Council, the president of the National Assembly, and many cabinet ministers.
We have advanced more in ten years of revolution than our women's movement was able to advance in seventy years of struggle. This is something that fills us women with pride and happiness. We continue advancing and working in our revolution, and we continue to struggle to make women's issues visible. These issues are specific to women but have remained hidden for years because society was governed by men who thought women were supposed to be included like one more thing on the side. We were not visible. The Bolivarian Revolution has made women visible, and permitted us to attain rights that for many years had been denied to us.
In the formation and activation of the PSUV over the past year, one can observe various currents and political tendencies within the party. Please, talk to me about how you view these tendencies and what role they will have in the upcoming phase following the victory in the referendum.
Look, this is a very very personal opinion and I do not speak for the party leadership or any other comrades in the party. Our revolution has been an alluvial process in which many people of distinct political positions participated because they felt compelled by the leadership of Commander Chávez. This is how it has been throughout ten years of revolution; people with different political views have come and gone.
Within the PSUV, logically, there are currents. There are those of us who take a more leftist stance within the party and insist on transformations toward socialism and beyond. There are probably other less radical currents that have a distinct vision, perhaps, well, I wouldn't even call it reformism or social democracy, but rather that they have a distinct vision of the revolutionary process.
This internal debate is going to come without a doubt. The idea is that, as a revolutionary party, this debate can take place and we can live with our differences. It is a process that has yet to mature.
I would identify myself with the leftist current. However, I think our revolutionary process continues to need a healthy competition among a broad sector of society. That is, we need to make an effort towards inclusion and co-existence among these distinct currents within the party, as long as this does not imply making compromises with the counter-revolution, with corruption, and with other practices that are not dignified and revolutionary.
To be sure, these undignified practices are not the exclusive behavior of one current. You can observe these behaviors in people who claim to be of the Left, but who act as though they belonged to the elite, who are not in consonance with the people's desire. So, with this in mind, I think we should see things with less dogmatism and be open to the process we are in, the process in which the Bolivarian Revolution was born.
The PSUV formed after a government that had a relationship with the people had been established. This is different from other socialisms of the twentieth century. What does this imply about the relationship between the party, the government, and social movements in Venezuela?
Remember that the Fifth Republic Movement (MVR) was the party of the revolution with which Chávez rose to the presidency along with a great people's movement in 1998. It was after his re-election in 2006 that President Chávez called for the dissolution of the MVR and the formation of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela as the party that should work toward the construction of Bolivarian Socialism.
Evidently, this is a sign of difference from other revolutionary processes. However, the truth is that the PSUV must undergo a process of revision. I think the three Rs are also applicable to the PSUV, because there are things to re-evaluate.
For example, we have 5.7 million members, but not all of them participate actively. This is something that we have to acknowledge is happening. However, in the referendum, 6.3 million people voted for the "yes" on the amendment, more than the number of registered activists in the PSUV. So, there are things that evidently we have to evaluate in light of the results of the last elections, as the party of the revolution.
Regarding the party-government relationship, President Chávez has insisted that they should be like two arms on one body, in his opinion. One arm is the government, the other is the party. It is a process. These are things that will not be achieved overnight. The party will, over time, more effectively and strongly participate in the decisions of the government. This is a challenge we have ahead of us.
As for the relationship between the party and the social movements, in my opinion, the party cannot sequester the social movements. That is, social movements have to have complete autonomy in their actions, their leadership, their organizational structure, all the while having the common objective of the defense of the revolution, which is the same objective that the PSUV has. It is the common objective of the construction of socialism. But in my opinion, the social movements must have absolute autonomy. It would be wrong for the party to pretend to take over the organizations of the people, which are distinct from political parties. I think it would be an error.
What is the role of community media?
Very important. Very important because we cannot forget that we are in the context of a media war. When we speak of a media war we are talking about a conglomerate of communications companies, including radio, the press, and also television, that are horribly adverse to the revolution. And it is logical that they are adverse; the companies that make up this media conglomerate have political and economic interests that are affected by the revolution, because they lived parasitically and in complicity with the oligarchic system that we had in our country. So then, evidently, the revolution is not in their interest, and it is not in their interest that the people become the government or that the people construct socialism. Of course, in the context of this media war that is so unequal, a system of public and state-owned media is making an effort to provide an alternative. And I think it has done so with great courage. We cannot forget that we inherited this state, including Venezolana de Televisión, from the past governments.
Community media is the voice of the revolution in our communities. Community media is the voice of the people's movements in our communities. They are the voice of our organized communities. They are a voice that has come out in defense of the revolution, and I am sure they will continue to do so. Moreover, they are the spaces where a distinct type of communication is created. It is not the traditional type of communication based on the political precepts of liberalism, in which we journalists were trained. Our community media have the challenge ahead of them of constructing a distinct form of communication. The rest of us share this challenge as well.
Are things going to change now that U.S. President Barack Obama was elected?
I do not think so. That is, I think that even if Obama had good intentions toward Latin America, if he were committed to listening to the clamor of the people of Latin America and the United States, if he had the best intention of profoundly transforming U.S. foreign policy toward Latin America and in particular Venezuela, the superior interests of the transnationals, the military industrial complex, and the giant corporations that have always benefited from the aggressive, criminal, genocidal policies of the United States will impose their agenda on top of whatever he says. They will do away with him. I mean, he would not be able to.
I think that any way you look at it, this man is from the U.S. establishment. We must understand Obama as a necessity of the U.S. establishment. Obama was the necessary figurehead for the moment in which the U.S. was living, in order to calm the waters and change without really changing. He is a figure who can generate the illusion of change, but without producing that change.
To think that because he is of African descent he has a distinct vision of the country or of Latin America is a naïve illusion, in my opinion. This is not about skin color, it is about political formation and lived experiences. I simply do not think that Obama would have gotten to where he is if he had been a little bit more radical, and if he had not been connected to the political and economic machine that controls the United States government. However, with respect to Obama there is much to be seen.
Even here in VTV, people have many illusions. They think that because Obama won, we are going to see changes, things are going to be different. Of course, without intending to rain on their party, the rest of us said we shouldn't fall for the media show that made the triumph of Obama possible.
We cannot say that Obama is Bush, because we cannot say what is not true. But we have to recognize that governments run by the Democrats invaded, bombarded, persecuted, massacred, supported dictators. These were governments of the Democratic Party. So, to say that Bush and the Republican government is gone and now the Democrats will bring the changes that the Latin American people and some of the U.S. people want, is really naïve.
However, I continue to believe in the U.S. people who are not satisfied what CNN and Fox News tell them, who go out and look for answers beyond the media lies, who try to understand what is happening in our countries. For me, this is a great hope. I believe it is possible that this consciousness could effectively bring a change in the United States, which would be a very important event in the history of Latin America as well.
What is something that worries you and also something you hope for, now that Sunday's vote has passed?
I hope that we can correct the things in which we have failed. I hope our people continue to participate in the construction of socialism with the enthusiasm they have shown so far. I hope for radical changes in our bureaucracy, radical changes in the struggle against corruption, transformative changes in the management of the government. I believe in President Chávez's speech on Februaray 15th, which confirmed that we are now headed toward the deepening of the revolution.
And this will be a debate! Surely, what I understand to be the deepening of the revolution is not the same as some of my fellow activists. It is a debate in which the people have the final word, as they had in the two electoral victories of November 23rd and February 15th.
Do you have anything else you would like to add?
I would like to add something about Latin America. Venezuela has been an inspiration for other liberation movements in Latin America. And we must see ourselves in the mirror of the errors of the Sandinista Revolution, what it cost the Sandinistas to take power and return to the government to make revolution.
We have a great responsibility. We cannot fail. President Chávez has said it, and I tell you that as an activist. We cannot grant ourselves the luxury of making mistakes... of failure. Well, if we make mistakes, of course we make a mistake and the important thing is that we correct it. But we cannot fail our people and we cannot fail the people of Latin America.
Thank you very much, Vanessa Davies, for your comments and thoughts, and your time.