FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Referendum on Chávez is Only a Preview of Bigger Battles to Come

Caracas.

The populist Venezuela President Hugo Chávez Frias looks likely to win the recall elections on August 15, but the conservative opposition will keep battering away-and with Washington’s help.

In a typically wide-ranging and lengthy press conference August 12–Noam Chomsky, Eduardo Galleano, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau each got mentions–Chávez mixed defiant statements about U.S. imperialism and George W. Bush (the “master” of the opposition) with an offer to meet with his rivals after his expected victory.

For their part, the opposition leaders, who later that day drew more than 100,000 to rally across town in the upscale neighborhood of Altamira, whipped up the vote for a “yes” to the recall-and showed little interest in reconciliation with Chávez, who they tried and fail to oust in a coup in 2002.

Financed by virtually all of Venezuelan big business and given all-out support by the corporate electronic media, the opposition may be past its peak but can still muster large numbers. The opposition has taken up the slogan “against jobs, insecurity and disunion” to appeal to the lower middle classes. Many of these people have been downwardly mobile or economically insecure since neoliberal, free-market “structural adjustment” came to Venezuela in 1989, the year a popular uprising against International Monetary Fund austerity measures was put down with 1,500 killed.

The opposition’s appeal to the middle class on economic issues, however, doesn’t square with their earlier attack on Chávez’s social programs, known as “missions.” Taking a page from NGOs, Chávez’s team has bypassed the inefficient and opposition-dominated state bureaucracy to create ten new operations, including medical clinics in shantytowns and villages, staffed by Cuban doctors; technical assistance to farmers; food security for impoverished indigenous groups. (Think about it: in the U.S. people lose their health care every day; in impoverished Venezuela, the system is expanding). A poster seen in the Caracas subway captures the impact of the programs: A Black woman says, “Today I’m a maid; tomorrow, I’ll be a social worker.” Such programs an essential part of what Chávez calls his “Bolívarian revolutionary process”-a populist program of aid to the poor and nationalist insistence on Venezuela’s sovereignty. It’s a charismatic, top-down, leadership-centered “revolution,” however, compared to the mass insurrection that toppled the Somoza dictatorship in Nicaragua in 1979.

Nevertheless missions-funded by high oil prices-have deepened Chávez’s support among the poor, and were key to mobilizing an estimated 1.2 million to a “Vote No” rally August 8. (An opposition rally that day drew well over 100,00 as well, but was nevertheless far smaller than its counterpart). It’s the sight of poor Venezuelans-some 80 percent of the population-politically active and with raised expectations that terrifies the wealthy and upper middle class. To mobilize votes, however, they need to give a populist cover to the opposition. To that end, the Confederation of Venezuelan Workers (CTV in Spanish), long controlled by the Democratic Action (AD) party, has played a prominent role, as has the Movement Towards Socialism (MAS) and a Maoist sect, Red Flag. But the brief U.S.-backed seizure of power by Pedro Carmona, head of the business group, FEDECAMARAS from April 11-13 discredited the opposition in the eyes of millions. The failure of the bosses’ “strike” in the oil industry in 2002-2003-which dealt a huge blow to the Venezuelan economy-also cost the opposition support. The aftermath of the oil strike saw the main oil workers unions and others leave the CTV to form the National Union of Workers (UNT), which is in the process of developing its structure and program.

From the point of view of Chávez supporters in the social movements and popular organizations, the referendum shouldn’t be taking place at all. The recall provision is a feature of the constitution written by Chávez supporters and approved in 2000; the opposition used the tactic for want of any other. But the social movement activists see this as unwarranted concession, given irregularities in the petition-gathering process for the vote.

For Gonzalo Gomez, a veteran socialist, writer for the activist Web site Aporrea.org and a nonstop activist, the worry is that “the process” is becoming bureaucratized and bogged down-and that Chávez is seeking legitimacy by allowing the referendum and negotiating with the opposition rather than pressing ahead with further social change. Another leading activist, Fresia Impinza, is worried about a fraud via the privatized state telecommunications company (the U.S. telecom giant SBC is responsible for transmitting the data for the vote). Known for a series of high-profile lawsuits and legal actions against corrupt officials tied to the old governments, Impenza ran a series of daily meetings in the run-up to the vote to mobilize activists to defend key economic and political locations in the event of a coup attempt or provocation. Government spokespeople dismiss such possibilities, but given Venezuela’s recent history, conspiracy theories can’t be dismissed.

Indeed, as most opinion polls showed a likely Chávez victory, the opposition announced that they would declare their own results based on exit polls at 2 p.m.-hours before the voting concludes. If the electronic voting-itself the subject of a huge number of conspiracy theories-later shows a Chávez win, then they will be expected to cry fraud. If a manual count of paper receipts confirms a Chávez win, the opposition may claim that Chavistas in the military stuffed the ballot boxes.

Then there’s the threat of provocations. This would lay the basis for claims that violence marred the elections, rendering them illegitimate-which is where observers like Jimmy Carter and diplomats for the Organization of American States comes in. Moreover, Washington won’t relent in squeezing and destabilizing Chávez if he wins his election and Bush loses his: John Kerry has already gone out of his way to call Venezuela a “threat” to the U.S. (In the event of a recall of Chávez, his vice president would take over, and Chávez could run again in the regular elections in 2006).

For all the intensity, the referendum may be a preview of bigger battles to come. After all, there’s no such thing as revolution from above. The pro- and anti-Chávez rallies reflected the massive polarization in society, one that sooner or later will find an expression of direct confrontation of social classes. The referendum has only postponed such a class.

LEE SUSTAR is a regular contributor to CounterPunch and the Socialist Worker. He can be reached at: lsustar@ameritech.net

 

More articles by:

LEE SUSTAR is the labor editor of Socialist Worker

January 16, 2019
Patrick Bond
Jim Yong Kim’s Mixed Messages to the World Bank and the World
John Grant
Joe Biden, Crime Fighter from Hell
Alvaro Huerta
Brief History Notes on Mexican Immigration to the U.S.
Kenneth Surin
A Great Speaker of the UK’s House of Commons
Elizabeth Henderson
Why Sustainable Agriculture Should Support a Green New Deal
Binoy Kampmark
Trump, Bolton and the Syrian Confusion
Jeff Mackler
Trump’s Syria Exit Tweet Provokes Washington Panic
Barbara Nimri Aziz
How Long Can Nepal Blame Others for Its Woes?
Cesar Chelala
Violence Against Women: A Pandemic No Longer Hidden
Kim C. Domenico
To Make a Vineyard of the Curse: Fate, Fatalism and Freedom
Dave Lindorff
Criminalizing BDS Trashes Free Speech & Association
Thomas Knapp
Now More Than Ever, It’s Clear the FBI Must Go
Binoy Kampmark
Dances of Disinformation: The Partisan Politics of the Integrity Initiative
Edward Curtin
A Gentrified Little Town Goes to Pot
January 15, 2019
Patrick Cockburn
Refugees Are in the English Channel Because of Western Interventions in the Middle East
Howard Lisnoff
The Faux Political System by the Numbers
Lawrence Davidson
Amos Oz and the Real Israel
John W. Whitehead
Beware the Emergency State
John Laforge
Loudmouths against Nuclear Lawlessness
Myles Hoenig
Labor in the Age of Trump
Jeff Cohen
Mainstream Media Bias on 2020 Democratic Race Already in High Gear
Dean Baker
Will Paying for Kidneys Reduce the Transplant Wait List?
George Ochenski
Trump’s Wall and the Montana Senate’s Theater of the Absurd
Binoy Kampmark
Dances of Disinformation: the Partisan Politics of the Integrity Initiative
Glenn Sacks
On the Picket Lines: Los Angeles Teachers Go On Strike for First Time in 30 Years
Jonah Raskin
Love in a Cold War Climate
Andrew Stewart
The Green New Deal Must be Centered on African American and Indigenous Workers to Differentiate Itself From the Democratic Party
January 14, 2019
Kenn Orphan
The Tears of Justin Trudeau
Julia Stein
California Needs a 10-Year Green New Deal
Dean Baker
Declining Birth Rates: Is the US in Danger of Running Out of People?
Robert Fisk
The US Media has Lost One of Its Sanest Voices on Military Matters
Vijay Prashad
5.5 Million Women Build Their Wall
Nicky Reid
Lessons From Rojava
Ted Rall
Here is the Progressive Agenda
Robert Koehler
A Green Future is One Without War
Gary Leupp
The Chickens Come Home to Roost….in Northern Syria
Glenn Sacks
LA Teachers’ Strike: “The Country Is Watching”
Sam Gordon
Who Are Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionists?
Weekend Edition
January 11, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Richard Moser
Neoliberalism: Free Market Fundamentalism or Corporate Power?
Paul Street
Bordering on Fascism: Scholars Reflect on Dangerous Times
Joseph Majerle III – Matthew Stevenson
Who or What Brought Down Dag Hammarskjöld?
Jeffrey St. Clair - Joshua Frank
How Tre Arrow Became America’s Most Wanted Environmental “Terrorist”
Andrew Levine
Dealbreakers: The Democrats, Trump and His Wall
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Que Syria, Syria
Dave Lindorff
A Potentially Tectonic Event Shakes up the Mumia Abu-Jamal Case
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail