Venezuela Changed Forever

A transcendental electoral victory by the Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez—his eighth in less than five years—crowned an unwritten journey in the political history of Venezuela and of popular democratic participation.

There is no doubt that the Chávez model of “revolution without revolution”, of structural changes for democracy and peace, while strictly Venezuelan, nevertheless is a thermometer for Latin American countries.  It demonstrates that there is no one who can stop us from dreaming of a future of popular activism, of justice and equity, of regional horizontal integration, without tutelage.  This is why the president insisted that victory in the referendum transcends the Venezuelan frontiers because it is also a victory for Latin America.

The Bolivarian project is a bad example, an anti-hegemonic example. Because, for the first time in Latin America there is an agreement for a strategically offensive initiative towards a participatory, active, post-capitalist democracy (perhaps this expression will have to be further defined), and leaves behind the defensive models such as those straitjackets of the “No” forces; No to FTTA and No to dollarization.

This is why it should not be a surprise to hear what Chávez said about his new triumph: “We continue unbeaten”, he said, “they have informed me that the ball (of this enormous swing of the bat) has fallen right in the middle of the White House—it fell in the middle of the garden…a gift for Bush.” Then, very seriously, Chávez expressed his expectation that the government of the United States cease their interference, that they respect  internal sovereignty, without meddling of any kind, in the issues that are of exclusive competence of Venezuelans.

To the foreign press he pointed out that, “We have no plans to take Washington by assault, of attacking the United States…but here we are prepared to be free, to defend sovereignty.  Venezuela will not be a colony again; only we Venezuelans govern here.  We want to have at least a relationship such as we had with President Clinton; with him one could debate and discuss things.”

Is a confrontation with the United States and its Monroe Doctrine inevitable?  Everything seems to indicate that it is not.  Therefore, it will all depend on the force of the actors.  A lone Venezuela logically will not be able to confront it, but an integrated Caribbean- Latin America perhaps will.  And it is time that our dear intellectuals stop talking of other things, of throwing the ball outside the court; it is about integration and within it, sovereign military integration, which is indispensable.

You can count the votes, but the passion, the responsibility, cannot be quantified.  Chávez, disillusioned by the mid-level official leadership, bet on popular passion to carry out the campaign for the referendum, unleashing the strength of the brigades, electoral teams that today are an organized social force.  They are an organizational model that is not a party, not a national front, but a mobilized people, an organized mass, “a moral force” that occupies a place in the entire geography of the country.

This electoral triumph, his eighth consecutive one, creates a new situation in the national political map because it represents the harshest reversal that his adversaries have ever had and it is the most convincing popular support given by the people to the Bolivarian process.  This is why it is not strange that even days after the referendum the opposition continues to talk about fraud and incites to disobedience and rebellion.

The people that stood up to ten hours in line to exercise their right to participate, assumed that their future depended on this vote, because it was more than just about the rejection of or support for a president.  The alternatives were between two models of a country, two models of the world, between a dream of the future, consolidation of a political, economic, and social project, or to block it.

Six out of every ten Venezuelans voted for the model of a Bolivarian country that seeks to overcome the political, economic and social exclusion of the great majority with an articulate social policy focused on the “missions,” which  have managed to substantially improve the health and education indicators of the country.

There can be no popular activism without political consciousness and that is one of the great advances that Venezuela displays today.  Today, Venezuelans want to be makers of their own destiny.  August 15th was a triumph of the 1999 Bolivarian Constitution – of its referendum that ratifies a participative, activist model of democracy that guarantees a country for all, without exclusions or discriminations of any sort.

Is the destabilization over?  To almost the whole world, it is clear that many did not understand participative democracy.  It is clear that Venezuelans came to understand that they are subjects of politics,—not just its object—that they had been condemned by the elites and that they have the capacity and the need to be the makers of their own destiny.

As it turned out, the dynamics of the situation was greater than that of the individual actors.  The point of no return was reached.  This “rule of law and justice” project was re-legitimated, re-affirmed and now has to continue to deepen strategically in order to really leave behind 40 years of discredited, formal, representative democracy. “The Fourth Republic has died; its death was slow and difficult; may it rest in peace.  With the referendum the Fifth Republic is definitively born,” Chavez affirmed.  If the transition is over, then what now?

Chávez knows that he has to end with the integral transformation of state institutions, among them, Justice, which hides many acts of corruption and guarantees impunity to the powerful.  Such as when it declared that there was no coup d’état on April 11, 2002, only a vacuum of power…

The false dilemma of—to revoke the president or to face civil war—was avoided, and no one has any doubts about that.  The Venezuelan people, with a home run, with a beating, bet on the future and refused to go back into the past, in front of the lost looks of Jimmy Carter and César Gaviria, who took about ten hours to ratify the official figures, and the smile of a many European, North American and Latin American international observers.

The Opposition

The electoral results of August 15 were practically announced beforehand because all of the opinion polls reflected the triumph of the NO option, but the Venezuelan media and their foreign multipliers systematically refused to publish these polls.  The opposition stated with great emphasis that they considered the opinion of the observers absolutely fundamental.

According to the Vice-President, José Vicente Rangel, “this was also a polemical issue because North American officials who were here in Venezuela and officials who made statements in the United States said that for them the opinion of the Carter Centre and of the Organization of American States were more important than that of the National Electoral Council.  I say this with absolute knowledge because I had a discussion with Mr. DeShazo, high official of the Department of State, who let me know this opinion, and which I immediately rejected for reasons of national sovereignty.”

What was feared finally occurred. Immediately after the announcement of the CNE, downcast leaders of the opposition affirmed that they would not recognized the results and accused the government of fraud.  Their faces showed not only weariness but also lack of credible responses.  The referendum that they assumed would revoke President Chávez, had ended in revoking them, placing in doubt the possibility of keeping—in next month’s elections—more than one hundred mayoralties and half of the state governors that their parties control.

“I believe that the great victory of the Venezuelan opposition—and I hope at least some of their leaders recognize the great victory of the opposition—is that they have triumphed over violence, over coups, over fascism, and have joined us on the democratic and constitutional road,” the president said, inviting the leaders of the opposing Democratic Coordinator to a dialogue.

At lunch the next day, Chávez was left waiting for them.  He extended his hand to them but… “I still hope that those leaders of the opposition listen to this call to dialogue.  I invite them again to re-think and to accept this call.  But if they do not do so and again do not come, we are going to extend this dialogue to opposition governors and mayors, to opposition economic leaders, even to Fedecámaras [the coup plotting business leaders], and the owners of the media, with an agenda on which Vice-president José Vicente Rangel is working on.”

Venezuela has changed forever, he reminded the international press.  There is no return.  “Any dialogue is to go forward, to get the Constitution to go forward.”

The results do not mean that desperate people will not attempt to kill Chávez, urged by pseudo-democratic ex-presidents who call for the President to be killed “like a dog,” who count on idle hands—or not so idle—such as paramilitary killers.  They have tried to unleash snipers, with new tragic events, repeating old schemes.

Vice-president José Vicente Rangel insists that “one cannot commit the political stupidity of saying there is fraud, five minutes after the CNE has given its figures, knowing that these are supported by the Carter Centre and the OAS… This happens for a simple reason, because the democratic sectors of the opposition, that do exist, unfortunately, are inhibited in moments of conflict.”

He added that these sectors are paralyzed by the fear of blackmail from an extremely radicalized membership, largely situated in the east of Caracas.  The vacuum they leave is then filled by the radical, coup plotting, terrorist sectors of the opposition.  “To this is added the fact that the media only provides an outlet to the strident attitudes of the opposition.  The voices that could lessen radical attitudes are excluded or silenced”, Rangel added.

Rangel also pointed out that “this is an announced defeat for the upcoming governors and mayors’ elections.  If this is a catastrophe for them, there will be an even bigger catastrophe in a month’s time,” when the elections to renew 23 governors and 336 mayors, half of which are in hands of the opposition, take place.  The government only lost in one state, and by a very small margin.  Undoubtedly, the government is not interested in squashing the opposition because the country should have other alternatives apart from Chavismo.

Rangel indicated that “if we did not have a sense of Country, we would be happy with the opposition making so many mistakes, but this is not about taking electoral advantage of the opposition, it is about giving a sense of serenity to Venezuelans, of normalizing the democratic process in this country.”

Teodoro Petkoff, who from being a communist and a guerrilla fighter, ended up as Minister of Planning for the (ultra) rightist Rafael Caldera, and is now an ideologue of the Coordinadora Democrática, tried to reason with his fellow opposition members in an editorial he wrote in his newspaper “TalCual”: “We were saying that the manual voting results that are ratified in the voting documents by the witnesses for the opposition, could show what the national trend was.  Well, we now know them; the correlation is 70 to 30 in favor of NO.  This is too meaningful; it was said repeatedly by the Coordinadora that the opposition had witnesses in the voting tables, and if that is so, the manual results cannot be placed in doubt.  A document can only nullify a vote when a party does not have a witness on the table, which was what happened to the MAS[1] and the Communist Party in the history of Venezuela.”

A lesson in Democracy

Venezuela, which has set an unprecedented lesson in democracy and popular participation, lives today in a democratic bonanza and also in a time of economic bonanza and sustainable growth.

Hugo Chávez won his eighth election in five years and again, his tactical and strategic ability came out winning.  He bet that he would demonstrate once and for all that the great majority of the people backed the structural changes developed since he was elected to govern in February 1999 and in 2002, after the frustrated coup d’état.

A dictator and autocrat?  That is how the media campaign waged by the local media and its transnational multipliers wished to sell him as…and it was buried in a torrent of votes.

Chávez’ ratification means a step towards implementing the Constitution.  Therein lies a model for a country.  One that seeks a participative democracy, that has given dignity back to a people, that has incorporated them into the political agenda, and that puts forward a model of endogenous development—warts and all—in order to depend less on imports and on oil production and exploitation.

For the first time, oil income is reaching the great majority.  For more than 40 years, the thieving Venezuelan elites got away with more than 300 billion dollars, leaving 80% of the population in poverty and an external debt of more than 24 billion dollars.

As of today, a new phase of the Bolivarian Revolution has begun, until December 2006, that will mean intensifying the fight against poverty by building a new endogenous, productive and diversified economic model that will meet the basic needs of all the population,” Chávez said to thousands of his supporters, a happy and calm Chávez, under a persistent rain in the early morning of Monday, August 16.

Chávez took the opportunity to express his satisfaction in being the first head of state that has been evaluated by the people.  “Even though I have passed the exam, believe me that as of now, I will continue working with greater effort, with greater devotion, with greater efficiency”, he stated.

Has Venezuela changed forever?

The Grassroots Take Control

There is an aggregated value at the end of this referendum campaign: the political machinery that mobilized the mass of 900 thousand volunteers and, which is now converted into a social and economic machinery, defending the process of national change.  It is not there for the purpose of guaranteeing Chávez a referendum victory; its brigades aim to use the same logistics to conquer the social challenge of assisting the dispossessed masses.

The work of the communities is a social audit and perhaps this is something the governors and mayors do not like. It is a structural defense of the Bolivarian Revolution that goes beyond the Bolivarian Circles[2] that did not quite set in, and this perhaps does not sit well with those in high and medium political levels. This is a horizontal structure for mobilization.

For now.[3]

Chávez himself headed the referendum campaign and called it called Campaign Maisanta, in honour of General Pedro Pérez Delgado, an independence hero who fought for popular mobilization from the ground up.  His teams worked the shantytowns and city blocks.[4]

In Venezuela, democracy of the elites is finished, that anti-patriotic democracy of surrender.  And, I call upon all to make every effort and put all our will towards victory, because we will not allow them to rob us of our future and of the dream of a new country,” Chávez said.

One thing that was left behind was the acute failure of the government leadership in the political-partisan arena.

Just as on the 13th of April 2002, the grassroots were the ones that ran out to defend the Constitution and demand the return of Chávez, so again the grassroots displaced a dithering, unrepresentative leadership, and took control of the defense of the Bolivarian process.  The Popular Bolivarian Command (PBC) assumed a double role: to defend the process and to be a unifying platform linking all the sectors that approved of the government. 

The PBC organized communities within a specific geographic area, according to its reach and operative capacity.  It had two components: the Centre of Operations (COP) and the Basic Units of Action (BUA).  These later were in charge of registering, mobilizing, getting IDs, observation, and management of the electoral population of each community, and to supply, process and distribute information to help in decision making and to accomplish the mission of the PBC.

María Cristina Iglesias, the Minister of Labor, confirmed the new strategy, saying that Units of Electoral Battle (UBE) teams would remain as a social organization.  “The BUAs will now be a powerful social machinery supporting the organized population in all their strategies for the better development of the country.”

The Carrot or the Stick

The Venezuelan ambassador to the Organization of American States (OAS), Jorge Valero, commented to other ambassadors that with this electoral process the interventionist strategy had failed in Venezuela.  He was referring to the formula that overthrew the ex-president of Haiti, Jean Bertrand Aristide and which opposition forces tried to apply to Venezuela.  “Plan Haiti for Venezuela failed. The plan to apply the Inter-American Democratic Charter, to convert the government into a puppet tutored by international entities, that plan has failed,” he said emphatically.

He pointed out that the international repercussion of this process is a strengthening of the democratic, revolutionary, and progressive characteristics of Venezuela, and that now the nation will be able to act in the international field with greater vigor.

Valero praised the behavior of the head of the OAS referendum observation mission, the Brazilian ambassador to the OAS, Valter Pecly Moreira.  He pointed out that, contrary to the Columbian Fernando Jaramillo, he is “a civil servant of noble attitude, responsible, dignified and of high professional competence.”  This time, the mission was not financed by the United States and the officials were, mostly, Brazilian.  The attitude, without a doubt, was also very different.

And, perhaps because of the failure of Plan Haiti, the Carter Centre and the OAS backed the triumph of president Hugo Chávez in the referendum, despite the accusations of fraud that were thrown about by the opposition.  And, right after, the US Department of State came to the same conclusion.

Apparently, Washington was inaugurating in Venezuela a new era of “governance accords” and of “national reconciliation,” combined with old coup d’état tactics.  The old anti-Castroites of the US Department of State were left out, beginning with Roger Noriega, who heads them.

According to analysts who back this interpretation of the behavior of the United States, this position was viable because the mogul, Gustavo Cisneros, who has a strong hand in the Coordinadora Democrática, followed the directives of the US Department of State.  It is good to remember that up to now, Cisneros and his minions put all their eggs in one basket, that is, to turn Chávez around, but got only losses, frustrations and failures.

Heinz Dieterich, for example, maintained that the experts of the Coordinadora Democrática who are identified with the Cisneros camp, are working on a scheme to oppose the Bolivarian government democratically and to de-stabilize it in social and economic fields.  This is why they no longer accuse Chávez of being a dictator or a drug trafficker, but will now base their criticism on poverty and unemployment, trying to capture votes among the poor sectors of the population.

A question is obvious.  Will it be more profitable to support a process of political negotiation with Chávez than to overturn him with a coup d’état or an electoral fraud?  What is certain is that there is a tendency towards dialogue in the Department of State, perhaps due to Colin Powell, and against Noriega and his people.

If this interpretation is right, Venezuela and the Chávez government will cease to be an “external enemy” of the United States and will become another theatre of operations for hawks and doves in the war to control the White House.

Without doubt, a “governance accord” with Chávez has some insurmountable contradictions for the Bush crowd since for his re-election campaign the anti-Chavez and anti-Castro votes in the United States (not only in Florida) are very important.  And, a position of dialogue with Chávez could work against Bush with respect to Kerry who, after the Democratic Convention, stressed militarist language to appear to be stronger and more bellicose than Bush.

Nobody in the United States believes that Washington will support a process of national reconciliation around Chávez, but the change of language was necessary after failing at the referendum and it can be changed at any moment and with any excuse in order to continue with the de-stabilizing agenda that the USA has carried on these last four years.

Nevertheless, today the “intelligentsia” analyzes two subversive scenarios.  One, a rare mix of dialogue (via Carter-Cisneros-Powell?) and socio-economic de-stabilization aimed at isolating the Chavista popular sectors.  The other, violent street provocation and even political murders, promoted by the fascist components of the Coordinadora Democrática, which has already used the idle hands of the Colombian paramilitary.

These are not mutually exclusive scenarios and could, indeed, converge, throwing the country into chaos and bringing in the intervention of the multinational peace forces of the US Marines.  We should remember that up to now the call for a surgical military coup d’état and political assassination have been the two  “pre-emptive” options preferred by the CIA boys.  This is the scenario within which move Condoleezza Rice, Roger Noriega, Otto Reich, and their minions throughout the entire Hemisphere.

Maybe we should begin to get used to this duplicitous discourse of the US State Department, that of the carrot and the stick.  And, not only in Venezuela, right?

Aram Aharonian is director of the Latin American monthly Question, and of the agency Alia 2.

Translated by María Páez Victor

[1] MAS; Movimiento al Socialismo, a socialist party in Venezuela

[2] Bolivarian Circles are small groups people who come together regularly to learn about Simon Bolívar’s ideals, to discuss community needs and to mobilize to attain these.

[3] “For now” – This is a phrase made famous by Chávez after his failed attempted coup d’état in 1992, as he was publicly giving himself up, and taking full responsibility for the coup, he stated that the attempt to bring down the government had failed – for now.

[4] Maisanta also was Chavez’ great-grand father.