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The red hurricane begins to sweep through Venezuela

By Fred Fuentes
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Following
Chavez’s call to not “leave the streets for one single day in the 27 days that
remain” of the campaign to approve the proposed constitutional reform, the Yes
campaign has kicked into gear. Within the space of a week there has been a
dramatic change in the mood here in Caracas, as the “red hurricane” has
unleashed itself across
Venezuela. In the eye of the storm are the PSUV militants, members of the new United Socialist Party of Venezuela, who are the motor force behind the campaign

One got a
really sense of this shift in the mood last Sunday, when Chavistas gathered at the airport and along the drive to Miraflores
to greet the president returning from his battle in Chile. Whilst the majority
went to the airport to greet him, I stayed with some of the activists from my
local socialist battalion
(the grassroots units of the PSUV) to hold up signs along one of the main street which Chavez
would drive down.

Holding up Yes signs, and with music comprised of
revolutionary songs and campaign tunes, we talked to passerbys, as cars pulled
up to grab posters to stick on the side the car and on their windscreen. Horns beeped, and
drivers and passengers yelled “Si, Si”, and “Que vive Chavez”. We danced, and
talked and gave away posters for several hours, with a continuous flow of
traffic, with more and more of the cars drving by covered in red posters or with red flags waving,
beeping up and down the main avenue.

This was a
sharp change from earlier in the week. On Wednesday, an opposition students
march went through
Caracas. Unlike the one the week before
this time there was no violent acts by the students during the march, but clearly some of them were
looking to help create tensions and violence. Not content with a simple march those students returned to the Central University of Venezuela (UCV) and began to attack
chavista students. They ended up surround students in the social work
department, throwing rocks at the windows and burning the doors and a nearby
bus, with some 150 students inside with no avenue to escape.

In some
respects, this march seems to have marked a the end of any real opposition campaign. It came on the
back of a sizeable rally the Saturday before and the surprising announcement by
ex-Minister of Defence, Raul Baduel, called on people to opposed the reforms.
However, the march laid bare that the opposition was running out of steam, and
despite the media spin, very few did not have an impression of the opposition
students as fascist thugs. The Saturday just gone, the opposition organised a
dismal march, and two days later around 50 people turned up to their “mass
mobilisation” to block of city streets. What little base they had which they could mobilise seems to have become demoralised or put off by the opposition campaign.

On reflection of this was the second public declaration by
Baduel this Monday just gone. Besides essentially repeating
his last speech he had two new points to note: firstly, he was not longer just
calling for a No vote, but asking for the reform to be withdraw (having
realised that a No vote would not win) and secondly he at least tried to sound
like he was still in the Bolivarian camp.

Whilst it
is true that someone with the stand that Baduel has within chavismo could have really
caused a stir, most people I have talked to agree that his first speech was so
similar to that of the opposition that it impact amongst
grassroots chavistas was tiny. If anything it further spurred them on to campaign for
Yes, as they saw that their president could for the first time in a while
possibly face some stiff competition.

In
contrast, tens and hundreds of thousands have flocked to the Yes cavalcades
that have been organised across the country. No matter where you go in
Caracas, you cannot but walk past people in
red handing out the constitutional reform, encouraging everyone to read them
and vote.

During the afternoon of that same Sunday when Chavez returned from Chile I had once again attended one of my local socialist battalions, where local activists were discussing the Yes campaign. Here everyone was clear on the necessity to win the biggest
vote possible, and what it would require.

One of the
participants pointed out that in the last week or so cooking gas had suddenly
become very hard to find. Discussion quickly moved to how to deal with this.
One man explained that the government had nationalised a number of gas
distribution companies but not the one that supplied this area. A woman
recalled how they had survived the 2 months bosses lockout at the end of 2002 without cooking gas,
and how this was clearly part of the opposition plan to provoke discontent but
it wouldn’t work because the community was more conscious and organised now.

The battalion, in a demonstration of the powerful dynamic that has emerged from these meetings
of local revolutionaries, resolved to organise a meeting with
other local battalions, community councils and gas workers to debate the
problem out and seek a solution – including demanding nationalisation if
necessary.

In the
process of explaining how the battalions would be structured for the purposes
of the campaign, the local organiser got a call to say that Chavez would be
arriving back to Venezuela soon and that we should go and greet him on the
streets (where I live is between the airport and Miraflores, through which the
president would have to travel).

A
discussion began: what to do. Everyone was aware of what had happened in
Chile, the dignified actions of Chavez
and the provocation by the King of Spain. Chavez had spoken for the majority of
the world at that summit and we all felt we need to let him know that we were
behind him. But discussion had not finished on the organisation of the
battalion for the campaign. In the end the decision was to finish this discussion
as it was crucial for the next few weeks of campaigning and that as soon as
possible we would mobilise to greet Chavez.

The
spokesperson from the battalion explained how the restructure would occur,
incorporating discussions that had happened in the socialist circumscription
(which group together 10 battalions). A problem arose: the circumscription had
reorganised itself along the lines that were first sent down from the national
promoters committee. This was later changed (due in part to the fact that local
experience had shown it would not work out) meaning their the local battalion was
stuck between still having the old structure at the circumscription level, with less activists available at the local level to fill the designated spots on the command which are made up of elected heads of commissions. The battalion
resolved that one of the activists elected to be part of the campaign structure
and the circumscription level would be integrated into the local battalion
structure instead.

Once ready
we parted for the streets, not before an announcement was made that each day at
3pm
activists would be meeting to go door knocking and cover the area in Yes
material, and that next Sunday there would be a cultural act in the main plaza
organised by the local PSUV circumscription. There a tent would be set up for
those with questions about the reform to find out more and get information.

Later,
speaking to some the activists they noted that one problem they had continually
come up against was that in many cases the general lines coming from above did
not fit the reality of what was occurring below. This had create unnecessary
confusion, but that over time this was being resolved and that the grassroots were
making their presence felt.

On
Wednesday, I tagged along with activists from another battalion, this time in
23 de Enero, as they went around their local neighbourhood door to door to
distribute the reform. As they were quick to point out they were not just any
battalion, but the one that Chavez belonged to. As is usually the case, the
overwhelming majority were women, ready to hit to streets to defend the revolution.

The
response was once again overwhelming “Si, Si”, although this perhaps should not
have been so surprising given 23 de Enero is a militantly chavista area. With
each positive response the group would break out into song, singing one of the
many campaign tunes which echoed through the streets, in some cases with other neighbours joining in.

My sense
has been that many of those who only a week ago had doubt on the
reform or where unsure, have now come solidly into the Yes camp. Seeing the true face
of what an opposition victory would mean with the violence at UCV, and the
impact of the red hurricane that has been unleashed, the Yes cavalcades and the Chavez's intervention in Chiles, many have begun to be swept along.

However
there is still a dangerous road ahead. Key is ensuring that the biggest possible
vote is obtained. The course of the Venezuelan revolutionary process has been
one of attempting to legitimise every further step forward by the masses with a democratic
mandate emanating from the ballot box. Perhaps like no other this referendum aims
to be a gateway through which the masses want to drive though in order to give the revolution a massive impulse forward. Each side
understands what is at stake, hence the reaction of the right wing opposition, the conservative
elements of the chavista camp and the revolutionary masses headed by Chavez.

Whilst
there is much to be optimistic about given the beginning of the campaign, this
also means that
Venezuela has entered into a new more
dangerous phase. I think even the opposition know they will lose, but they also know
that perhaps more is at stake now than in any other electoral process until
now. This means they will try everything – including acts of violence and
terrorism – to try and impede the referendum going ahead. They also want to
affect the vote to help create the basis to prolong their campaign post the
referendum, basing themselves on the spurious argument of adding no votes and
abstention to justify their “real” support. That is why local activists here are preparing themselves for an possible action, all the while remaining alert and on the streets.

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