Letter from Venezuela

In response to recent right wing attacks, workers are organising to put pressure on Hugo Chávez to deepen the revolution, reports Luke Stobart.

response to recent right wing attacks, workers are organising to put pressure
on Hugo Chávez to deepen the revolution, reports Luke Stobart.

On the
afternoon of Friday 11 September, in Caracas, word spreads that Venezuelan
president Hugo Chávez has returned from an 11-day tour of the Middle East.

Soon large
numbers of red caps and T-shirts appear in central Caracas and a powerful
current of people heads towards the presidential palace, where thousands would
wait several hours to hear their leader.

response is testimony to Chávez's many achievements – both during his tour, in
which he denounced Israel's attempt at "genocide" against the Palestinians,
and more generally during his ten years in office in which poverty ratios in
Venezuela have almost halved over the past six years.

But it is
not just Chávez's supporters who are on the streets. The upper and middle class
opposition has been very active, holding demonstrations, which are sometimes
violent, and TV-organised cacerolazos (pot banging in residential areas – a
tactic first used in the early 1970s by upper class supporters of the Pinochet
coup in Chile).

One of the
issues behind this has been government intervention in the media, including the
refusal to renew the licences of several right wing local radio stations due to
legal irregularities, according to the government.

measures are held up by the right wing Venezuelan media, including several
national TV stations and the vast majority of newspapers, as showing a lack of
freedom of expression under Chávez's "dictatorship". Yet the same
media aided the 2002 coup attempt, which included the violent closure of state
television. Since then one channel, Globovision, has included voices calling
for Chávez's lynching and a new coup – for which it will probably receive no
more than a fine.

licences lost by the right wing media have sometimes gone to alternative and
community projects, making the Venezuelan media far more diverse than most.
However, the international liberal media repeats the distortion that press
freedom is "under attack".

government's education reforms are also under fire. These attempt to widen
university access for poorer students by eliminating financial barriers and
entrance exams that favour the wealthier classes, who won 81 percent of all
places ten years ago. They also promote greater democratisation, allowing all
staff and students to elect a revocable university council.

previous reforms, these are not radical but do challenge the upper class's
control and dominance of the university system, which has provoked protests by
an alliance of rectors, middle class student groups and some teachers. In the
spring, armed groups roamed the campuses intimidating pro-Chávez students and
leading to violent clashes between both groups.

The right
is still weaker than the left. However, it made important advances in the
regional elections last year, and has been encouraged by the coup in Honduras
against Chávez ally President Manuel Zelaya. Now talk is of the streets hotting
up again, as they did in the period before 2003.

for many activists the reason the right have advanced has been the failures of
the Bolivarian project itself. Rampant inflation and soaring rents, sanitation
problems and continued inequality, together with widespread corruption by
supposedly socialist officials, have all created a sense of drift.

despite official talk of "participatory democracy", government
measures, such as the education reforms, have failed to involve wide layers of
the population in their preparation. An expression of the increased discontent
caused was a recent high profile conference of pro-Chávez intellectuals which
roundly criticised the gap between the government's rhetoric and practice.

But there
have also been positive developments in the last year. In the Guayana region
organised workers at the biggest factories in the country have won several
major battles for nationalisation and even for partial or total workers'
control. Interestingly, Chávez has shifted from opposing such struggles to
supporting them.

He has
argued that nationalised "state capitalist" firms need workers'
democracy to become "socialist". The fact that the working class is
now playing a prominent role in the struggle and that the Chávez government is
responding positively to it is rekindling activists' hopes for the future.