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 In some other cases, prominent opposition figures, like Caracas Mayor Alfredo Peña, have withdrawn from the race in a move which is seen as motivated only by trying to avoid the embarrassment of defeat in the polls.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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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.

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Prosecutor investigating anti-Chavez coup killed in terrorist attack

By Jorge Martin

The explosion of two bombs in his car took the life of 38-year old State Prosecutor Danilo Anderson, late on Thursday night in Caracas, Venezuela. The terrorist attack took place at 11.50 pm in Los Chaguaramos, in south east Caracas, where Danilo Anderson was coming away from evening classes he was attending at the University.

From his role as State Prosecutor Danilo Anderson had waged a tireless struggle to get the leaders of the opposition prosecuted for the crimes they have committed and particularly for the military coup they organised on April 11th 2002.

In August 2002, Venezuela’s Supreme Court ruled that in Venezuela there had been no coup d’etat. As amazing as this ruling can seem, the Court decided that there had instead been a “vacuum of power”, because Chavez had “resigned” (in reality he had given himself up when the coup organisers threatened to bomb the presidential Palace!), and that this “vacuum” had to be filled somehow and... Pedro Carmona happened to pass by and filled the vacuum of power! This surreal ruling prevented any action from being taken against those involved in the military coup for two years. Its main public figure, Pedro Carmona, was put under house arrest from which he fled to a comfortable exile in Colombia and Miami, and from where he has continued to pull the strings of the reactionary conspiracy to remove Chavez from power and put an end to Venezuela’s Bolivarian revolution.

In spite of the scandalous ruling of the Supreme Court, recently Danilo Anderson had started a number of legal cases to bring the opposition leaders responsible for the coup before the courts. At the end of October he presented charges of conspiracy to commit homicide against former Caracas Mayor Alfredo Pena, Metropolitan Police (PM) Commander Lazaro Forero and Public Security secretary Henry Vivas, “for the (eve of the coup d’etat) events of April 11, 2002, in which 20 people died and 87 were injured on the Avenida Baralt.” None of them turned up to face the charges and the judge issued arrest warrants against Pena and the others and also orders preventing the three of them from leaving the country.

He also pressed charges against Capriles Radonsky, the opposition mayor of Baruta, Caracas, for his role in the siege of the Cuban embassy during the coup. He was also working closely in the case against the SUMATE directors, for receiving money from the US National Endowment for Democracy and plotting to overthrow Chavez.

At the same time Anderson presented charges for conspiracy and civil rebellion against the 400 people who were present at the swearing in ceremony of coup installed “president” Pedro Carmona (popularly known as Pedro “the brief” since his coup collapsed in less than 48 hours, defeated by the mass mobilisation of the people of Venezuela). Danilo used the attendance book for that ceremony, which took place on April 12, 2002, to cite everybody who had signed it as part of the conspiracy. This list reads like a “who’s who” of Venezuela’s oligarchy. They were all there: the hierarchy of the Catholic Church, the owners of the media, industry and banks, the corrupt and un-elected leadership of the CTV trade unions, etc.

Danilo Anderson’s investigation represented a severe blow against Venezuela’s oligarchy and was a serious attempt to put an end to impunity for those who have tried by all means (legal and illegal) to put an end to Venezuela’s Bolivarian revolution. His investigations mean that all those leaders of Venezuela’s reactionary opposition who are now pretending to be nice and democratic would be exposed. This is the case for instance with the current leader of Fedecamaras, Albis Munoz, the owners of the main private media outlets, the current leaders of the CTV, etc. As we have argued for a long time, these people should be in jail, and should not walk free and be left to continue to organise conspiracies to put an end to the revolution.

The death of Anderson clearly benefits all these people, and that is where the investigation into his assassination should point to. Because of the nature of his investigations, Danilo had already been the object of all sorts of threats. He was prominently displayed by the extremely reactionary Reconocelos web site which aims to “expose” leaders and activists of the Bolivarian revolution (http://www.reconocelos.com/details.php?image_id=201). Danilo was also attacked by two opposition supporters while shopping in the well-known Sambil mall in October.

A section of the Venezuelan opposition, having been defeated on three separate occasions in their attempts to topple Chavez, has increasingly resorted to death threats. Former president Carlos Andres Perez declared openly that Chavez should be “killed like a dog”.

A rally has been called outside of the State Prosecutor’s office for this afternoon.

It is quite clear from their track record that the Venezuelan oligarchy will not stop at anything in their attempts to overthrow the Chavez government, put an end to the revolutionary movement of the masses and maintain their privileges. The revolutionary movement, which has proven on numerous occasions that it has the overwhelming support of the majority of the Venezuelan people, should act accordingly.

The only way to defend the revolution is by going on the offensive and wresting from the oligarchy all the levers of power that they still have. The property of all those involved in the April coup should be confiscated and put under the democratic control of the workers and the people of Venezuela. Otherwise they will continue to use their positions of power in the economy, within the judiciary, in the media, etc. to conspire to drown the revolutionary movement in blood.

From the Hands Off Venezuela Campaign we offer once again our support to the Bolivarian revolution. En Venezuela, no pasaran!

November 19, 2004

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