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”.

Read more ...

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.

Read more ...


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.

Read more ...

Venezuela’s elections: defeat for the opposition, advance for the Bolivarian movement

By Jorge Martin

Early results of Venezuela’s regional and council elections, announced at 12.40am by the National Electoral Council (CNE), confirm the predictions of yet another election victory for Chávez’s Bolivarian movement, the ninth in just six years.

Although these results are still provisional, and in some cases they are based on just above 50% of the counted votes, they seem to indicate a clear victory for Bolivarian governors in 20 out of 22 of the country’s states. According to these provisional results, Chávez supporters have also won a number of important highly contested races in what were previously opposition strongholds. This is the case in oil rich and industrial Anzoátegui, where Tarek William Saab has beaten the opposition by 57% to 42%; in Bolivar, where most of the basic industries are concentrated, Chávez’s candidate has won by 58% to 39%; and in the Colombian border state of Táchira, Ronald Blanco La Cruz has won by 57% to the opposition candidate’s 40%. In Apure the Bolivarian candidate won a previously opposition dominated state with a massive 70% of the vote. Monagas was also taken from the opposition by Gato Briceño.

But the most important victories for the chavista movement come in the key states of Miranda and Carabobo, until now ruled by prominent national opposition leaders Enrique Mendoza and Henrique Salas Feo. If this is confirmed by the final count these would be two major defeats for the opposition and would increase their internal divisions and lead to even greater demoralisation.

In both cases Mendoza and Salas Feo were contesting the provisional results announced by the CNE and calling on their supporters to come out on the streets. In the case of Carabobo, Salas Feo tried to use the same trick that the opposition wanted to use in the August 15th presidential recall referendum by announcing that he had “won” immediately after the closing of the polling stations. This was quickly denounced by CNE member Oscar Bataglini, who reminded him that his actions were illegal and that only the CNE was allowed to announce any results. Opposition governors in Bolivar and Yaracuy did the same. In mainly peasant state Yaracuy the results announced by the CNE were very close, giving only a 300-vote lead for the Bolivarian candidate.

It is not clear whether the opposition will accept their losses in key places like Carabobo, Miranda and Yaracuy. Chávez has warned that the government will use the National Guard to ensure the rule of law if defeated opposition governors refuse to recognise the results. Last night power cuts caused confusion in Bolivar during the counting process. Chávez supporters blamed the defeated opposition governor since he has links with the privatised regional electricity company. This little detail underlines the dangers involved in leaving key economic levers in the hands of the reactionary opposition.

There were only two setbacks for the Bolivarian movement. It seems clear that they have lost the race for the oil rich Zulia state on the border with Colombia, where current opposition governor Manuel Rosales won by 55% against 43% for pro-Chávez candidate Alberto Gutiérrez. The other setback was in Nueva Esparta where chavista governor Alexis Navarro lost to opposition Morel Rodriguez by a clear 51% to 43%. A number of factors explain this defeat in Isla Margarita, which was already the only state to vote narrowly against Chávez on August 15th, among them the accusations of corruption and incompetence levelled against the current pro-Chávez governor.

In the state of Vargas, Antonio Rodríguez, the candidate officially supported by the Comando Maisanta won a clear victory with 55% of the votes, against independent oppositionist Ricardo Smith (20%) and alternative revolutionary candidate Gladys Requena (10%).

In the mayoral elections, Bolivarian candidate Juan Barreto won a clear victory (63% against 38% for the opposition candidate) in the very important Greater Caracas council (which has powers similar to a state). This mayoralty had been controlled by Alfredo Peña, who had been elected on a Bolivarian ticket but then became an opposition supporter and used the council’s police force, the Metropolitan police, as an armed wing of the opposition. In the last days of the race, when it was clear that Barreto was going to win, Peña withdrew from the race and called on his supporters not to participate.

Caracas Libertador council remains firmly in the hands of chavista mayor Freddy Bernal who won by a comfortable margin (74%) against opposition candidate Carlos Melo (19%). The latter was put on trial when weapons were found in the boot of his car during the opposition organised, quasi-fascist provocations last February (and later acquitted by the judge for “lack of evidence”).

Baruta, Chacao and El Hatillo, three other Caracas councils in the middle class and rich urbanizaciones in the East of the capital remain firmly in the hands of the opposition. Henrique Capriles (who is presently on trial for his part in the assault on the Cuban embassy during the April 11, 2002, opposition coup) held Baruta with 77% of the votes and Leopoldo López won a clear victory in Chacao (80%). Bolivarian candidate José Vicente Rangel also won the Caracas council of Sucre (52% to 46%), also in the East but comprising a number of working class and poor barrios.

The results for many other local councils are still to be announced but it is expected that supporters of the Bolivarian revolution will be able to go from controlling roughly a third of local councils to two thirds.

What next?

Throughout the election campaign Chávez has used a very radical language, particularly in relation to the need to proceed with the land reform (which has already distributed large tracts of land, but which was mainly previously owned by the state) and against the latifundia. He directly instructed a number of candidates for state governor to tackle this issue immediately after being elected. He said they should carry out a census of all big landed estates and check whether that land was being used or not. They should then have meetings with the latifundia owners and ask them to give up all land they did not really need. If they were not prepared to make an agreement, then the expropriations law should be used to distribute their land. While he insisted that agreement with the landowners was his preferred option, he also added that he did not fear confrontation over this issue and that he would go as far as using the army to enforce expropriation of the land if needed.

He has also added that elected Bolivarian mayors and governors should be committed to the revolution and the cause of the poor. They should resist anything based on their own personal gain, and should fight corruption and nepotism. To illustrate the point, in a mass rally in Táchira, he explained how he had made a speech against the latifundia in a peasant area. After the speech he had tried to meet with the local mayor, but was told he was on a rural estate having a drink and eating beef. He then found out that the estate in question belonged to the region’s largest landowner! This mayor was allegedly a chavista, but in reality he was a traitor. Chavez stressed that such individuals should not be allowed into the movement.

But his speeches have not only been against latifundia and about the need to advance the revolution in the countryside. Hugo Chávez has also explained clearly that capitalism cannot solve the problems of the poor. In a number of rallies he has made clear that the revolution must not only be social (that is the health, education and other social plans already being implemented and benefiting millions) but also economic. “Within the framework of capitalism it is impossible to solve the challenges of fighting against poverty, misery, exploitation, inequality”.

In a mass rally in Bolivar he developed this idea. He said that Venezuela has achieved political liberation in the sense that it no longer depends on any foreign power, but he added that that is just one degree of freedom. “What we have here, deep rooted in Venezuela, is a system of domination which chains us, which has oppressed us for a long time. The capitalist economic system is a system of domination imposed on our people so that a wealthy minority dominates an impoverished majority. This is economic tyranny. And this economic tyranny is still intact. We are going to break it up once and for all through a revolutionary process of economic and social liberation”

In a number of electoral speeches president Chávez added to the call for agrarian revolution a call for expropriation of factories which are left idle by their owners and of buildings in the cities that are left idle so that they can be used to the benefit of the majority of the people. He clearly stated that, “wherever there is a factory that is closed it must be handed over to the workers, wherever there is a plot of land that is idle it must be given to the peasants... we must break with the capitalist model”.

We would agree with all this, but now these words must be transformed into action, not only in the countryside, but also in relation to abandoned industries. Venepal, the paper mill in Morón, Carabobo, declared bankrupt by its owners and occupied by its workforce would be a good place to start.

It is clear that the masses of workers and peasants, who form the core of this Bolivarian movement, will interpret the appeals of Hugo Chávez as a call to action, and no doubt some mayors and governors will attempt to implement them. After this further defeat of the opposition, conditions are even more favourable for the movement to go forward. Capitalism could be snuffed out in Venezuela. The opportunity must not be wasted.

Read more ...

Join / affiliate to the campaign!

Make a donation!

Hands Off Venezuela's financial resources are limited so we rely on our supporters around the world.  Please make a donation of any size towards building the campaign