Venezuela: Bolivarian masses anger at referendum decision

By Jorge Martin


On Thursday, June 3, the Venezuelan National Electoral Commission (CNE), basing itself on preliminary data, announced that the opposition had collected enough signatures to force a presidential recall referendum. The opposition needed the support of 2,436,083 voters, in order to trigger a recall referendum, and according to the CNE they have collected 2,451,821 signatures, which is barely 15,738 signatures above the required amount.

The last part of the process by which the opposition was trying to force the recall referendum was the so-called "repair" process in which doubtful signatures were being ratified or denied by the people and this took place over the weekend of May 28 to 30. This process was fraught with irregularities. Large numbers of forged ID cards were found by the police at different locations. A computer, scanner, printer, repair forms, and forged IDs were found at the local headquarters of the opposition party Accion Democratica in El Valle, Caracas, where people who were being pursued by the authorities sought refuge, and 600 ID cards were also found in the Accion Democratica headquarters in the Caracas district of El Paraiso.

In these police raids they also found leaflets inciting violence and calling for a repeat of the riots that took place in February (a full account of irregularities can be found in this excellent article by Gregory Wilpert and Martin Sanchez). There were also instances of workers sacked by their bosses for refusing to re-verify their signatures, as was the case at the Coca-Cola plant in Antimano, where 50 workers were threatened with the closure of the plant. The Venezuelan Coca-Cola subsidiary is owned by media magnate and opposition leader Gustavo Cisneros.

Some 1.2 million signatures had been sent to this "repair" process, and the opposition managed to re-confirm only 614,968. This in itself gives an indication of the scale of the fraud that went on in the whole signature collection process. Also 74,112 people did not acknowledge their signatures, which means that these had been used without their consent.

There is also the issue of some 50,000 people who should have been excluded from the electoral register because they were already dead, but the data had not been updated. According to CNE board member Jorge Rodriguez, this was due to deliberate sabotage.

For all these reasons on Sunday night, Bolivarians were pleased and confident and came out on the streets spontaneously to celebrate the defeat of the opposition, as it seemed clear that with so many irregularities, the CNE could never concede a recall referendum. But even at that time many were not sure of what would happen. In the run up to the repair process there had been extremely harsh pressure on the part of US imperialism and the opposition to say that if the referendum was not called, then this meant Chavez was a dictator and measures would be taken (economic embargo and military intervention included). The local agents of this pressure were the Carter Centre and the Organisation of American States, which were allegedly "observing" the repair process. In reality from Monday on they started interfering directly with the work of the CNE and making public statements that coincided almost word by word with the statements of the main opposition leaders, to the effect that enough signatures had been re-certified and that the government was stalling the process. This was another way of piling more pressure on the CNE and on the government itself.

By Wednesday it was becoming increasingly clear that the CNE would rule that there should be a referendum and there was a lot of pressure on the government to recognise such a result, despite all the irregularities. Joy turned into anger amongst the ranks of the revolutionaries. They could see in front of their eyes how, once again, a victory had been turned into defeat. The National Workers Union (UNT) rejected the calling of a referendum based on fraud, and the National Coordination of the Bolivarian Circles issued a joint statement with the Bolivarian Workers Front on the same lines. The same position was taken up and down the country by many revolutionary organisations. At the Central University a meeting of revolutionary organisations of teachers, students and workers (amongst them the Revolutionary Marxist Current and the Revolutionary Left Organisation) passed a resolution opposing the referendum and calling on all people and revolutionary organisations to mobilise against it. At 5 pm, an improvised rally with 3,000 revolutionaries from about 14 different neighbourhoods in the capital took place in Plaza Caracas, outside the CNE building. There was a lively discussion and many resolutions were passed, amongst them "1) to strongly reject the fraud and declare that it would not be accepted under any circumstances, 2) To reject any possibility to allow the fraud to be validated through political negotiations at the top, 3) expel the Carter Centre and the OAS for meddling with the process and not being impartial observers, 4) not to accept that electoral crimes are left unpunished (as happened with the crimes committed by those who organised the coup on April 13th, 2002)".

Prior to this rally there had been mass meetings of revolutionary activists in many neighbourhoods to discuss the situation. The resolutions that came out of them were extremely angry and strongly worded. "The Bolivarian people of Caricuao" in a meeting on June 1st, passed a resolution which started by saying clearly: "we refuse to accept this repair process which is fraudulent", and then went on to explain that "we will not accept any referendum, they will use all sorts of tricks in order to win: getting dead people, foreigners and under aged children to vote, etc" and correctly pointed out that "if we win the referendum they will invent something else to get rid of you Mr president, that is the only thing these criminals want." The mood of the resolution was very bitter: "how long are we going to allow them to f**k around so that they cannot call us dictators or violent, when they have committed all sorts of crimes against us, from spitting at us to killing us and organising military coups and bosses’ lock outs". And the resolution ended with an appeal to the president: "The people support you, president, we do not want a referendum, send the Ayacucho Command [which coordinates the leaders of all pro-Chavez parties] to hell. We do not believe in anybody else, president, we believe in you, do not be afraid. It does not matter if they call you a dictator, after all the people know that you are not, and that you are more of a democrat than all of them put together through a food processing machine. Do not fail us president, we support you. We are not asking for anything for ourselves, just a little bit of justice and democracy for us, is this too much to ask? Ask the people, president what we want. Meet with the Popular Movement, break the siege around you".

The revolutionary masses, as always, realised very clearly what was going on behind the scenes. Strong pressure was being applied on the president by all the reformists and the moderates within the Bolivarian movement (many of them to be found in key positions in the leadership of the parties of the movement, the Comando Ayacucho, and amongst the presidential advisers). The idea was that a referendum should be allowed to go ahead, regardless of the signatures, since the opposition will be defeated in it and this would give the president and the revolutionary movement more international legitimacy. The clearest expression of this article can be found in the statement of a Bolivarian activist quoted in a Venezuelanalysis.com article: "We would win the recall referendum by a wide margin, and that would be an excellent opportunity to re-legitimize the [revolutionary] process. U.S. imperialism wants the CNE to declare that there were not enough signatures for the recall, so they can say that Chavez prevented the opposition from exercising their democratic rights. It's a trap to label Chavez as a dictator, invoke the OAS Democratic Charter against Venezuela and isolate us," he said (quoted in Venezuela Leader to Face Recall Referendum).

But this kind of argument was strongly rejected by the rank and file activists of the Bolivarian movement. They argue, correctly, that one should not make any more concessions to the opposition which after all is responsible for the April 13th military coup and the failed coup of December 2002. The leaders of the opposition should be in jail paying for their crimes and not collecting fraudulent signatures for the recall of the president. Furthermore, if during the signature collection process hundreds of thousands of fraudulent signatures were used, then these are hundreds of thousands of electoral crimes for which someone must pay. Any concessions made in the past to the opposition have resulted not in the opposition turning towards exclusively democratic means of political action, but rather in them preparing new counter-revolutionary attempts. As for imperialism, they already maintain there is no democracy and an authoritarian populist ruler in Venezuela, and their opinion will not change. They will simply look for any other excuse to "justify" an intervention.

In any case the opposition will not be prepared to recognise the results of the referendum if this does not give them victory. They will immediately start a new campaign of pressure and imperialist meddling, threats, and all sorts of dirty tricks, and then if Chavez is reaffirmed as a president, they will say that the referendum was rigged and this proves Chavez is a dictator. The opposition is lead by the oligarchy, the rich and the bankers, the owners of the means of production and is closely linked to the interests of imperialism. They see their fundamental interests threatened by the revolution which is developing in Venezuela. They will not cease in their attempts to put an end to it by any means necessary. Their use of democratic means (like the recall referendum) is just a small part of their strategy which includes the use of paramilitary forces, riots in the streets, sabotage of the economy and eventually foreign intervention. Making any type of concessions will only strengthen their counter-revolutionary activities and it can cause, at a certain point serious demoralisation amongst the revolutionary masses.

This is exactly what happened in Nicaragua. After years of a low intensity war, with imperialist financed guerrillas constantly attacking the country, with permanent sabotage of the economy, with diplomatic pressure (through the Contadora Group of Countries, represented in Venezuela by the Group of Friends and the Carter Centre and OAS observers), etc, finally the Sandinista leadership accepted the call for an election. The election took place against this background, and with the tiredness and demoralisation of ten years of revolutionary struggle, with all sorts of pressures and dirty tricks on the part of imperialism, and finally it was lost. The insistence of using only purely "democratic" means and staying within the limits of capitalism faced with a counter-revolutionary opposition which was prepared to use all sorts of undemocratic means to overthrow the government and put an end to the revolution, finally led to the defeat of the Sandinista revolution.

The anger of the rank and file of the Bolivarian movement led some of its most radical elements to take to the streets on Thursday 3rd, clash with the opposition controlled Metropolitan Police, burn vans belonging to companies known to have supported the coup, etc. Later on thousands gathered outside the presidential palace in a rally called to show support for the president and the revolution. It was here that Chavez announced that he would respect the decision of the CNE, that had been announced only hours before, and that there would be a recall referendum. For the reasons explained we think that this is a mistake. The reactions of the people present could be divided roughly into three main groups: those who accepted the argument that a referendum would give more democratic legitimacy to the revolution and the president and that this was the right decision; those who were angry and opposed to the decision but accepted it out of loyalty to Chavez; and finally those who are opposed to the decision and still want to fight to try and change it. They are calling for a rally today, Friday 4th, but they will also participate in the mass rally in support of the revolution which has been called on Sunday. That will be a good opportunity to see what the real mood of the masses is regarding this decision.

What is clear is that a lot of the criticism has been centred on the role of the Comando Ayacucho. This was set up a few months ago and is composed of the leaders of all Bolivarian parties (MVR, PPT, PODEMOS, PCV, LS). The revolutionary masses rightly feel that this unelected body is largely useless and out of touch with the workers and the people. They confidently promised that enough signatures had been collected to trigger recall referendums against 20 opposition MPs which had been elected on Bolivarian lists. They could only narrowly trigger 9 of those referendums and only after a "repair" process. They confidently announced that 200,000 people had not acknowledged their signatures to the presidential recall referendum, and in the end only 74,000 had done so. And this is not for lack of popular will or enthusiasm, but mainly because of lack of organisation and incompetence of this body. On top of this the Comando Ayacucho in many towns, cities and states, has imposed candidates for the forthcoming council and regional elections without any consultation with the rank and file and in many cases in complete opposition to them.

This is probably one of the more acute problems facing the Bolivarian revolution at this juncture: that of its leadership. As a leaflet distributed ine these days by the Revolutionary Marxist Current argues, there is the need for a National Revolutionary Assembly of Delegates elected and with the right of recall from all the local revolutionary organisations and assemblies. Only a genuine democratic leadership of the revolutionary process can replace the Comando Ayacucho and set the basis for a genuine revolutionary policy. Such a structure could take over the running of the state and industry in order to replace the capitalist state structure which is still in place in Venezuela (in the ministries, the judiciary, etc).

In order to defend the revolution, some basic self-defence measures need to be taken. All those responsible for crimes committed during the counter-revolutionary attempts in the last few years should be put on trial and sent to jail. The properties, factories and land of known counter-revolutionary conspirators should be expropriated without compensation and put under workers’ control and management. Workers control and management should be implemented in publicly owned companies, in order to prevent corruption and bureaucratisation and use their resources to the benefit of the majority of the people. All know agents of imperialism (including the Carter Centre and the OAS "observers", and the US ambassador) should be expelled from the country. There should be an immediate default on all payments of the foreign debt so that this money can be used to the benefit of the people. As announce by Chavez, workers’ and peoples’ militias should be set up in order to guarantee to defend the revolution from imperialist aggression. All these measures would go a long way to strengthen and defend the revolution and advance it towards socialism.

June 4, 2004

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The “Misiones” and Alternative Media of Barquisimeto Solidarize with the Workers of VENEPAL

By Ricardo Galindez

With the understanding that the revolutionary conceptions of an organization are shown in deeds, and that support for workers in struggle is one of the ways in which said conceptions are best developed in practice, the Revolutionary Marxist Current has been advancing, both nationally and internationally, militant solidarity with the VENEPAL workers for the nationalization of the factory under workers’ control as the best solution to solving the crisis that arose with closure of the company, and to initiate a series of projects which began with the workers and the people themselves that can serve as an example of the new way in which the country should be managed.

For us, support for the VENEPAL workers is part of the great task of reinforcing the social revolutionary process that we are living through. Below is a very brief summary of two activities carried out in the City of Barquisimeto.

Friday 8 - 11 - 2004

On Friday November 8th, in Pavia, a populous neighbourhood in Barquisimeto, at the school “Fe y Alegria”, a solidarity event for the VENEPAL workers took place from 7 p.m. 168 workers from the Rivas “Mision” gathered to listen to Rowan Jimenez, leader of the VENEPAL conflict committee, Alexis Obono, leader of the VENEPAL workers’ union, and Ricardo Galindez, member of the Barquisimeto Committee of Solidarity with the VENEPAL workers. They explained the history that is being written by these workers, who for the second time find themselves forced to fight on the streets to avoid the closure of VENEPAL, an important source of employment in the City of Moron.

The compañeros (comrades) explained all the vicissitudes they have experienced and replied to a series of questions regarding the struggle and the possibilities of success. They also received declarations of support emphasizing the necessity of winning this struggle, which has a democratic, militant and anti-imperialist character.

At the end, 3 compañeros and compañeras volunteered to help in the creation of the Solidarity Committee in their area, and to start implementing “Operation Kilo” (a kilo of food for VENEPAL workers) in order to help reinforce the struggle until the workers attain the following objectives: that the government nationalize the company under workers’ control; and that the endogenous project proposed by the workers be developed.

SATURDAY 9 - 11 - 2004

As a continuation of the above solidarity activity with the workers of VENEPAL, at 10 a.m. at the school “Lucrecia Garcia”, located on 20th Avenue at the corner of 19 Street, 65 citizens gathered. They came from the Rivas “Mision” and other groups belonging to various unions (vigilance, “Rodia Silice”, the Bolivarian Health Union), as well as from the Popular Bolivarian Movement, from the “Conexion Social” collective, from the “Base Magisterial Consecuente”, from various UBEs (electoral battle units), neighbourhood assemblies, the Revolutionary Marxist Current and others.

In the same way as on the previous day, Rowan Jimenez, leader of the VENEPAL conflict committee, Alexis Obono, leader of the VENEPAL workers union, and Ricardo Galindez, member of the Barquisimeto Committee of Solidarity with the VENEPAL workers, spoke about the history of the struggle at VENEPAL and its importance, outlining the importance of extending the solidarity campaign.

At this meeting, 6 compañeros and compañeras agreed to join the Solidarity Committee working in Barquisimeto, which realized one of the main objectives for which this event was held (to set up a local solidarity committee).

Between the two activities, 213,000 Bolivares were raised and 33 copies of El Topo Obrero were sold. In addition, informational flyers detailing the struggle were handed out to the people who attended the meetings.

Both activities were carried out with the help of the alternative media network of the state of Lara.

At both meetings the possibility of holding further events in order to raise awareness of the struggle and to extend the solidarity campaign was raised. These activities are already being planned and will be held in the coming days.

Comment: Comrade Ricardo Galindez is a member of the Committee of Solidarity with the VENEPAL workers and is on the national leadership of the Revolutionary Marxist Current. He also on the editing staff of our official publication, “El Topo Obrero”.

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The recall referendum in Venezuela

A crushing blow to the counterrevolution

By Alan Woods

At 4:03 this morning Venezuela's National Electoral Council (CNE) announced the result of the recall referendum on the government of the Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez Frias. A tally count of 94,49 percent of ballots from automatic voting machines revealed that the opposition had failed to obtain more votes than those who wanted Chávez to stay. There were 4,991,483 "no votes ", representing 58.95 percent of those voting, against 3,576,517 "yes" votes, representing 41.74 percent.

Immediately the opposition “categorically refused” to recognise the result. Nevertheless, it is clear that the “no” has won by an overwhelming majority. Early reports suggested an even bigger majority – 63 percent to 36 percent. This may be closer to the truth. Manual count of votes from rural districts and poor urban areas where Chávez has widespread support, and where automatic machines were not used, will probably increase the President's margin of victory.

Masses roused

The referendum has roused the masses. There was unprecedented voter participation because everyone knew what was at stake. As a result Venezuelans were queuing for up to 10 hours to vote. Our correspondent in Caracas wrote last night, giving a taste of the mood on the streets during the voting:

“The euphoria on the faces of the people and the street celebrations in poor areas of Caracas contrast with the angry mood in the areas of the escuálidos. In all areas there have been big queues to vote, but whereas in the poorer districts they are still waiting to vote, in the upper class and middle class areas the queues have already vanished. In some areas people have been waiting six or seven hours to vote.”

The participation was around 90 percent. This historic voter turnout stands in stark contrast to the participation in elections in Britain or the United States. This is what happens when the people feel that they have something to vote for – and against. It is what happens when people feel that politics really matter and that voting can make a difference. What a contrast to the situation in the “western democracies” where in most cases people do not even bother to vote because they feel that, whoever is elected, it will make no real difference to their lives. Yet Bush and Blair think they have the right to lecture the people of Venezuela on democracy!

This outstanding victory in Sunday’s referendum is the eighth electoral victory of Chávez and the Bolivarians in the last six years. Yet the opposition still persists in describing him as a “dictator”. This flies in the face of the facts. Whatever you think about Hugo Chávez he is not a dictator. After almost six years in government, President Chávez has not only maintained his popular support but increased it. He won 56 percent in the 1998 elections and 59 percent in the 2000 re-election. Now his support is near 60 percent.

Defeated in every election, the opposition has tried to remove Chávez from power through a coup d'etat in 2002, followed by a management-led shutdown of the state oil company PDVSA. When these attempts failed the opposition put all their weight behind the recall referendum to oust the democratically elected President before the end of his term.

This is ironical. The constitutional right to a recall referendum only exists thanks to the new Constitution drafted by an elected Constituency Assembly during Hugo Chávez’s first year in office, and approved by popular referendum. The recall of elected officials was an idea proposed by Chávez to the Assembly, and it was supported by the majority and rejected by the opposition, which then hypocritically used that right to attempt to oust the President. By the way, if these “democrats” had won, the first thing they would have done is to abolish the right of recall referendum!

These gentlemen call themselves democrats but in practice show that “democracy” is only acceptable to them as long as their side wins. Right up to the last minute the opposition continued its manoeuvres. Before the official announcement was made by the CNE, a separate announcement was made by CNE board members Sobella Mejias and Ezequiel Zamora, questioning the result. It is an open secret that both Sobella Mejia and Zamora are aligned with the opposition. By such dirty tricks the opposition seeks to discredit the referendum and thus prepare the way for future acts of sabotage.

Once again the working class and poor people of Venezuela displayed an unerring class instinct. It was reported that in the working-class neighbourhood of Petare, people were queuing since 4 am. When it became clear that the opposition had been defeated, the mood of the masses erupted. The streets around the Miraflores Presidential Palace in Caracas were full of pro-Chávez demonstrators celebrating this new victory for the Bolivarian revolution. Venezuelanalysis.com reports: “Chavistas have taken the streets of working class neighbourhoods blowing horns and playing music. Fireworks and firecrackers can also be heard in working class sections of Caracas, resembling a New Year's celebration.”

Blow to the counterrevolution

There is no doubt that this result represents a body blow to the counterrevolutionaries, a section of which was clearly reluctant to accept the result. Intense negotiations were reported to be taking place between the Carter Centre and the Organization of American States (OAS) and the opposition coalition Democratic Coordinator to convince them to accept Chávez's victory.

It is quite natural that the masses should celebrate. They had yet again delivered a heavy blow against the counterrevolution and blocked it on the electoral plane. But strangely enough, Chávez opponents were also reported to be on the streets, ordered out by their leaders to celebrate their own “victory”. Rank and file chavista groups have denounced the call as a plan to cause public disruptions and possible roadblocks as was done earlier this year. An opposition leader's call for a "civil rebellion" to protest the delays in the voting process clearly confirm these fears.

The counterrevolutionaries were hoping to use the referendum to engineer new clashes and disorders. Their ever-present hope is to cause sufficient chaos to provoke a coup. This would have been the scenario especially if the result had been close.

Opposition leaders Humberto Calderon Berti and Cesar Perez Vivas from the COPEI party gave a press conference Sunday night to thank international observers present in this “historic election”. The miserable expression on Berti's face told its own story. It was not supposed to be like this! The counterrevolutionaries hoped that their control of the mass media would give them a sufficient advantage to win the referendum. In addition they counted on the scarcely concealed support of Washington and most of the governments of Latin America, in the person of Jimmy Carter and the OAS.

The role of the foreign “observers”

We have still to hear the verdict of international observers, including former US President Jimmy Carter and the Organization of American States. More than 400 international observers, including a mission from the Organization of American States, descended upon Venezuela to “observe” the recall referendum process. This was really an unprecedented level of foreign interference in Venezuela’s internal affairs. This recall referendum was the most closely monitored electoral process in the western hemisphere. There was certainly no such monitoring of the last US Presidential elections, which were rigged to allow George W. Bush to get possession of the White House. But such little contradictions do not bother Venezuela’s foreign critics too much.

The best-known element in the “observer mission” is the Carter Centre, founded by former U.S. President Jimmy Carter. This former peanut farmer made a mediocre President, but as a diplomatic manoeuverer he has excellent qualifications. President Chávez told me how Jimmy Carter wept when he learned of the appalling conditions of the Venezuelan poor. His ability to weep at given intervals is part of his inheritance from the US’s Southern Bible Belt. No doubt his ancestors also wept for the plight of the poor at the same time as they enriched themselves on the backs of their black slaves. This special brand of Christian hypocrisy is a most useful weapon in the armoury of international diplomacy, and one that Mr. Carter has mastered to the utmost perfection.

Hypocrisy is, in fact, very much in demand in Venezuela at the present time. The counterrevolution cannot afford to appear publicly in its real guise, but must disguise itself as “true democracy”, even though its real aim is to install a dictatorship in Venezuela. Numerous counterrevolutionary organizations have sprung up posing as “human rights” groups and so on. In order to deceive public opinion, things must be turned into their opposite: an election defeat must be presented as a victory, and a victory as a defeat, dictatorship must be presented as democracy and democracy as dictatorship, and so on.

One of those who specialise in this particular brand of hypocrisy and deceit is Súmate, which is supposed to be an objective non-partisan civil association but in reality it is a pro-opposition group, financed by Washington. The co-director of Súmate, Maria Corina Machado, was a participant in the 2002 coup that briefly overthrew Chávez—she signed the decrees of would-be dictator Pedro Carmona. She is currently being investigated for treason, for having received funds from a foreign government (the U.S.) earmarked for ousting the Chávez government.

Súmate used its funds generously supplied by US donors to organize a large team of “volunteers” whose aim was to collect the largest possible number of “yes” votes in exit polls. These “objective results” could then be presented as “proof” that the opposition had won, and used as propaganda for organizing disturbances when a Chávez victory was announced.

Despite its public image of an “impartial body”, the Carter Centre is a tool of Washington. The Carter Centre relies on U.S. government funding. And as the English proverb goes: he who pays the piper calls the tune. It is well known that the entire U.S. political establishment opposes Chávez and supports the opposition.

In testimony before a U.S. subcommittee hearing on March 15, 2000, the Carter Centre's lead observer, University of Georgia political science professor Jennifer McCoy clearly placed the Venezuelan government in the category of "new, subtler forms of authoritarianism through the electoral option…" In her declared quest to "deter new hybrid democracies," McCoy called for continued U.S. government support of the Carter Centre, claiming that such funding represented a "neutral and professional means to improve the electoral process."

Dr. McCoy has called for U.S. pressure on the Chávez government, though there had never been any significant allegations of electoral fraud in either Chávez's 1998 election or in the plebiscites that his government sponsored in following years. She also portrayed the Chávez government in the same light as the Peruvian ex-dictator Alberto Fujimori!

Carter urges caution

The fact that the sympathies of Carter and the OAS were all on the side of the opposition is not seriously in doubt. However, the plans of the opposition to make use of the foreign “observers” were dashed by the mass response to the referendum campaign. The campaign itself was conducted in a scrupulously fair and democratic manner. None of the hoped-for irregularities were found.

Early on Sunday, after visiting several voting centres, Carter was forced to admit that the voting queues in Venezuela were "unprecedentedly long and orderly". Carter, who heads the Carter Center mission to observe Venezuela's historic recall referendum, added that "from the first hours of the day we have visited several voting centres of Caracas and there are thousands of people waiting with plenty of patience and in peace." OAS Secretary General Cesar Gaviria stated on Sunday that the referendum results would be “trustworthy”.

What else could these ladies and gentlemen say? The original intention of the OAS and the Carter Centre was to put pressure on the Caracas government to reach a “compromise” with the opposition, or, if possible, to rig the referendum in favour of the latter. If the result had been a close one, they might have tried to announce an opposition victory before the official result had been announced. This was probably the reason why the announcement of the result was delayed.

A section of the hardliners must have been demanding that the OAS and Carter should collaborate with such a manoeuvre. Some sectors of the opposition had apparently announced their intention to release the results of their own exit polls five hours before the voting centres were scheduled to close. This seems to have been the position of the opposition leader Enrique Mendoza. This would have been a clear provocation. But both the Carter Centre and the Organization of American States have understood that it is pointless and counterproductive to try to deny the result of the referendum.

At half past one in the morning, officials from the Carter Centre and OAS emerged from a meeting with the National Electoral Council. They were desperately trying to convince the Democratic Coordinator opposition coalition to accept Chávez's victory. There must have been a heated exchange in the small hours of the morning. But Carter could not oblige the hard liners. He is undoubtedly an imperialist scoundrel, but he is not a complete fool. A blatant attempt to hand victory to the opposition through fraud would have immediately provoked an explosion that could not be controlled.

Carter, a relatively astute representative of US imperialism therefore had to put pressure on the opposition to calm down. The Venezuelan newspaper Diario Vea stated that Dr. McCoy, had indirectly criticized the opposition's decision to release early and unofficial results. Dr. McCoy reportedly declared that all political actors should wait for the announcement of results by the accredited governmental body, the National Electoral Council.

Both the Carter Centre and the Organization of American States understood that it was pointless and counterproductive to try to deny the result of the referendum. But that was only a tactical decision. They understood that a coup was out of the question at this moment in time, because the class balance of forces was not favourable. Thus, a Chávez victory will have to be grudgingly accepted by at least one sector of the opposition. The best that they can hope for is to cast some doubt on the process, exaggerating irregularities, shouting fraud etc. This they are already doing. In fact, they were already doing it before the referendum even took place.

What now?

As we predicted in our last article (As August 15 approaches: Why Marxists are fighting for a “No” next Sunday), the imperialists understand that the time is not ripe for a new coup, which would lead to civil war – a civil war that they would certainly lose. Therefore, they have decided to adopt a different tactic. Having failed to take their objective by assault, they will resort to siege warfare. The struggle has not ended – merely passed onto a different plane. The counterrevolutionaries and their imperialist allies will wait until the correlation of class forces is more favourable. They will move again. But for now they must beat a tactical retreat and lick their wounds.

Does this mean that everything is solved and that the opposition has been decisively defeated? No, it means no such thing. What the referendum campaign has shown is that Venezuelan society is extremely polarized between right and left. This polarization will not disappear after the referendum, but steadily increase. In that sense, the referendum has solved nothing. The counterrevolutionaries will regroup their forces and prepare for a new offensive once the conditions are more favourable.

On the international plane they will not cease their noisy campaign against the Venezuelan revolution, or drop their claims that that Chávez has authoritarian tendencies. With the aid of organizations like Súmate, they will publish fake exit polls that directly contradict the official results to show that the result was based on fraud. They will continue to sabotage and obstruct the progress of the revolution, attempting to cause economic and social chaos. They will never be satisfied until Chávez has been overthrown and the gains of the Bolivarian revolution completely liquidated.

The latest victory of the Chávez government places the bourgeois opposition in a difficult position. This is the fourth time that a free election in Venezuela has given a decisive majority to Chávez. The Venezuelan bourgeoisie is getting increasingly desperate. The class war is intensifying all the time. The workers and peasants, encouraged by the result of the referendum, will demand more reforms and a deepening of the revolutionary process. The bourgeoisie and the imperialists will demand a halt and a reversal. The government will find itself ground between two millstones.

The massive voter participation on Sunday is a clear reflection of the extreme political polarization of Venezuelan society to the right and left. The immediate question was the permanence of President Hugo Chávez in office, but far deeper questions are involved, and these questions remain to be solved. It was necessary to win the referendum, but the referendum result will not solve these fundamental problems. It will only pose them in an even sharper way.

Those leaders of the Bolivarian movement who argued that, by holding the referendum, the enemies of the revolution would be silenced, have been shown to be wrong. The internal and external enemies of the Venezuelan revolution cannot be reconciled by elections, referendums and negotiations. They will only be satisfied when the revolution is defeated. Not to recognise this is the height of irresponsibility.

On previous occasions when the masses defeated the counterrevolution there was a golden opportunity to carry through the revolution to the end and finish the power of the oligarchy once and for all. But on each occasion the opportunity was thrown away. The leaders allowed themselves to be seduced by the siren voices that argued for “moderation” and “negotiation”. The inevitable result was a new offensive of the counterrevolution.

It is time to learn the lessons! One cannot make half a revolution. As long as the oligarchy continues to maintain its hold on important sections of the economy, it will continue to act as a Trojan Horse of US imperialism, sabotaging and undermining the Bolivarian revolution. It is time to ask ourselves the key question: can we allow the interests of a handful of rich parasites to decide the destinies of millions of people? Or will we put an end to this situation once and for all, expropriating the property of the counterrevolutionaries and taking the road of socialist democracy?

The 15 August will enter the annals of revolutionary history as a great victory for the working people – on one condition: that we do not waste it, that we do not hand the initiative back to our enemies, but strike blows against them that will destroy the basis of their power. That is the only way we can build upon our victory, and turn it into a decisive revolutionary transformation of society.

London, August 16, 2004.

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Venezuela’s regional and council elections

By Jorge Martin

On Sunday, October 31, millions of Venezuelans will go to the polls to elect governors of the country’s 24 states and mayors for 337 municipal councils. Coming after the massive victory of the Bolivarian movement in defeating the presidential recall referendum on August 15, this election offers the possibility for the Bolivarian movement to take control of some key states and local councils.

The blow dealt to the reactionary anti-democratic opposition on August 15 left them in a state of profound demoralisation and increased the divisions amongst them. Two and a half months after, they still have not recognised the results of the referendum alleging, against all evidence, that there was massive fraud.

The misnamed “Democratic” Coordination, the umbrella body that united the different groups that make up the Venezuelan reactionary opposition, is now all but defunct, with a number of parties and prominent leaders having publicly or de facto walked out of it. In many states and local councils the different opposition parties have not even been able to agree on a common joint candidate, thus decreasing even more any chances of getting elected. In some other cases, prominent opposition figures, like Caracas Mayor Alfredo Peña, have withdrawn from the race in a move which is seen as motivated only by trying to avoid the embarrassment of defeat in the polls.

In fact the most extreme right wing groups, basing themselves on the frenzied middle class layers in the east of Caracas, have announced that they will not participate in the elections and are calling for abstention. In a sense their position is coherent, since the opposition leaders have been telling them there is already a dictatorship in Venezuela and that there was fraud in the August 15 referendum. What is the point in going to the polls again “in these conditions”?

Other opposition leaders are clearly aware that boycotting these elections would result in them losing important parcels of power and have thrown their weight into the campaign. There are a number of high profile State governor contests like in the oil rich state of Zulia, in industrial Carabobo, in Miranda (next to the capital Caracas), Bolivar and in Anzoategui. A victory for pro-Chávez candidates in a number of these states would be yet another major defeat for the opposition and make the balance of forces even more favourable to the Bolivarian movement. Another high profile race is that for the Caracas Mayor, which Bolivarian Barreto is likely to win.

Candidates and democracy

Closing rally of Tarek Saab in Anzoategui

One factor which weakens the Bolivarian forces in these elections has been the widely criticised way in which candidates have been chosen by those who support the government. These elections have been postponed a number of times so candidates were appointed nearly one year ago. At that time the leadership of the Bolivarian movement was in the hands of the Comando Ayacucho, which was a coordinating committee of all parties supporting Chavez’s government. This Comando proved in practice to be highly inefficient and massive criticism of its inability to deliver in the run up to the recall referendum forced Chavez to dismiss it in June.

However, the candidates appointed by the Comando Ayacucho, in most cases without any form of consultation with the rank and file, remained in place and are the official Bolivarian candidates now. Discontent with this situation led a number of organisations and parties to field alternative candidates in some places. This obviously has created divisions within the Bolivarian camp. During the campaign against Chávez’s recall many activists in the movement and even some leading figures raised the idea of the need for primary elections to choose united candidates once August 15 was over.

But this idea, raised amongst others by William Izarra, the Ideology and Political Education organiser in the national Comando Maisanta (the body which replaced the infamous Comando Ayacucho at the head of the movement), was decisively rejected by Chávez immediately after the August 15 victory.

To give just a few examples of the candidates that the revolutionary rank and file are opposing, we have the case of Vargas (a state next to Caracas) where the “official” candidate is current governor Antonio Rodriguez, who during the brief military coup against Chávez in April 2002 sided with coup president Pedro Carmona. Revolutionary organisations in Vargas did organise a primary election with the participation of nearly 14,000 people. Rodriguez got barely 1,700 votes as against nearly 10,000 who voted for Gladys Requena. Since Rodriguez refused to accept the verdict of the people, Gladys Requena is now standing as a candidate for the Vargas Revolution Collective (Colectivo Vargas Revolución). This is a clear case in which the blame for dividing the chavista vote lies with the “official” candidate.

Closing rally of Gladys Requena in Vargas (pic: CMR)

In other cases where imposed candidates have been challenged by rank and file revolutionary organisation, but where there was no alternative candidate, there have been mass meetings of the neighbourhood assemblies to discuss the programme that the revolutionary people want these candidates to adopt. There is in any case a strong feeling against bureaucratic impositions within the revolutionary movement and for the need for working people themselves to control the revolutionary movement.

These conflicts within the revolutionary movement have led to a mood of impatience and frustration amongst a layer of activists. Some have gone as far as to advocate abstention in these elections. This is completely wrong. All efforts must be made to defeat the reactionary opposition candidates on all fronts, but at the same time the level of organisation and democratic structures within the movement must be strengthened so that Bolivarian mayors and governors can be held to account. The Revolutionary Marxist Current (CMR) in Venezuela has been very clear in adopting this position in the electoral process.

Which way forward for the revolution?

A victory on October 31 will deal yet another blow to the reactionary opposition. Chávez has been touring the country supporting Bolivarian candidates in key states and has put a lot of emphasis on the need to advance the land reform. He has called on Bolivarian governors who get elected to immediately have meetings with big land owners and put before them the following: either a peaceful settlement is reached in which they give up large parts of their land, or the matter will be resolved through conflict. These calls are having a powerful impact on tens of thousands of peasants in states like Zulia, Yaracuy and others. But inevitably such calls will lead to conflicts with the landowners who have been largely untouched by the land reform so far (which has mostly consisted in the distribution of large amounts of state owned land), and will fuel class struggle in the countryside.

While being extremely belligerent towards landowners, the government has tried by all means to reach a modus vivendi with the private capitalists. A number of important concessions have been made in the form of tax cuts and incentives. Thus Economic Planning Minister, Jorge Giordani, has been very clear about the need for a “genuine national productive business class”. There is a contradiction here, since Chávez has at the same time said that capitalism has not been able to develop the country and that one cannot eradicate poverty in Venezuela unless capitalism is done away with.

There is a mood of confidence amongst the working class as well as the growing process of unionisation and of democratisation of the trade union movement, which is represented by the newly formed UNT. This will also lead to increasing conflict between workers and employers in the private sector.

The truth of the matter is that despite repeated appeals by Chávez to business not to get involved in politics and to concentrate on developing the country and the economy, the decisive sectors of the capitalist class in Venezuela have responded by organising military insurrections against the democratically elected government and sabotaging the economy.

Despite the fact that so far the Chávez government and the Bolivarian revolution have not attacked private property rights, the oligarchy (the alliance between capitalists, bankers, landowners and imperialist interests) cannot tolerate the Bolivarian movement, because they understand clearly that the revolutionary movement of the masses poses a direct threat to their domination of the economy and the country as a whole.

The struggle of the Venepal workers is one example of this contradiction. The owners of the company supported the military coup and the bosses’ lockout against the democratically elected government. The workers fought back. Now the owners have declared the factory bankrupt and the workers have occupied the premises and are demanding nationalisation under workers’ control. William Izarra has come out in favour of this proposal at a mass meeting he addressed in Venepal.

This conflict, over the control of the economy, will come increasingly to the fore in the next period, and the future of the Bolivarian revolution depends, to a large extent, on how it is resolved. The October 31 elections are an important battle in this war.

October 29, 2004.

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