Communities, Workers form Support Groups to Campaign for Venezuelan President

Local groups and pro-chavez unions are actively gearing up to support the pro-chavez campaign in preparation for the August 15 recall referendum.

June 12, 2004–Venezuela’s National Electoral Council announced the convocation of a recall referendum against Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, last week, kicking off a heated electoral campaign.  Tensions will probably only intensify as the August 15 date for the referendum approaches.  In the final count the opposition just barely got the 20% of the electorate required to force a recall election, squeezing by with only 105.553 signatures, or 0.9% of the electorate, above the requirements.

At a march last Sunday, June 6th hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans showed their support for the President, significantly overshadowing opposition protests from the day before.  In his address, Chávez announced the dissolution of the ‘Comando Ayacucho’—the coordinating body of the political alliance supporting Chávez’ government—to be replaced by a new body, named the ‘Comando Nacional Maisanta’.  The Comando Maisanta is named after Chávez’ great-grandfater—a notorious turn-of-the-century rebel leader.

“I like the fact that those Venezuelans who are active in the ranks of the opposition to my government, are making use of the great advantages of this Constitution, that have been making use of these great advantages and are practicing participatory democracy,” said Chavez.

Local Comando Maisanta

What appears to be the most important difference between the deposed Comando Ayacucho and the new Comando Nacional Maisanta (National Maisanta Command), is Chávez’ call for supporters to form themselves into small community Comando Maisanta, to cooperate with the national Comando in the referendum campaign.  Made up of 5-10 people, these groups would encourage un-registered Venezuelan’s to register to vote, watch out for fraud, and campaign for Chávez.

The issue of un-registered voters runs considerably deep in Venezuela, where estimates of the number of Venzuelans without citizenship papers range from tens of thousands to millions.  Whatever the actual figure, it is apparently high enough to warrant the government’s launch last January of ‘Misión Identidad’ (Mission Identity), in the hopes of reducing or even eliminating the number of unregistered citizens.  Misión Identidad involves mobile registration centres (vans) that bring the registration process to people’s doorstep, allowing those in inaccessible or isolated areas a convenient way to officially register as citizens.  While a noble effort on the part of the government, to be sure, it is not without its political benefits: based on demographic indicators it is very likely that the vast majority of those previously ‘invisible’ citizens now registered are Chavistas—or recent converts.

Labour Leaders Call for Rank & File Comando Maisanta

Leaders of the National Union of Venezuelan Workers (UNT), as well as important independent leaders who support President Chávez’ ‘proceso’ called on workers across the country to begin forming workplace Comando Maisanta to support ‘Misión Florentino’.  In a statement by UNT Coordinator Stalin Pérez Borges released Wednesday, June 9th, workers are encouraged to form Comando Maisanta in every work place and to work with social and community groups and local Comando Maisanta in the campaign.  Borges cautions workers not to be carelessly optimistic, noting “the fact that we are the majority, does not promise certain victory in the referendum and the process of change.  We must work to guarantee that the will of the majority of Venezuelans manifests itself and is respected.”  “In this campaign called Santa Inés,” continued Borges, “more than with ‘military discipline’ and decree from above, we must win by using the most democratic methods and having a greater sense of unity.” The UNT statement went on to warn against the certainty that a defeat will not stop the opposition and their US-backers from seeking Chávez’ overthrow.  Thus, workers must not only prepare themselves against electoral fraud but also against the opposition’s probable refusal to recognize an unfavourable electoral outcome, and potential acts of sabotage.

Workplace Comando Maisanta will also take tough positions on current labour disputes, opposing political firings and violations of the collective agreement; encouraging the placement of closed-factories taken-over by workers under the firm control of workers; opposing the privatization of public services; opposing corruption; and a redoubled effort to support community politics and social development projects.

National Mythology as Source for Campaign Name

The Commando’s name is not the only reference to Venezuelan national mythology in the Chavista campaign.  Cultural allusions, references to popular mythology and Venezuelan history are so numerous, in fact, that the campaign itself has been given two names: ‘Misión Florentino’, and ‘La Batalla de Santa Inés’.

Misión Florentino’ refers to the popular Venezuelan myth ‘Florentino and the Devil’, according to which Florentino, a singer from the llanos–the Venezuela plains and the most common site of Venezuelan mythology—challenges the devil to a duel of improvised verses.  Florentino, as “the mythical personification of the llanero, a free being in a world without boundaries,” is forced to face the encroachment of powerful invaders who transform the llanos, enslaving the land, the animals, and men.  “But the culture of the llanera resists, expressed through the music and voice of Florentino, defying the Devil in the eternal fight between good and evil, between life and death.”  Undeniably, a powerful myth upon which to base an election campaign.  The allusion becomes even more potent when followed closely by Chávez’ fiery condemnations of US-interference in Venezuelan politics, and the possibility of an American invasion.

The other name for the campaign, the Battle of Santa Inés, refers to one of the most important battles in Venezuela’s independence wars during the 19th century, led by General Ezequiel Zamora, who is second only to Simón Bolívar in Venezuela’s hierarchy of heroic independence leaders.  In the Battle of Santa Inés, Zamora gave up the city of Barinas and retreated, causing the conservative forces to prematurely celebrate victory and recklessly pursue him.  Zamora led the conservative army into a trap in the plains of Santa Inés where he launched a successful counter-attack, destroying his adversaries.  Another powerful historical parallel to draw; the stakes are high, both rhetorically and literally.