Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro has been made the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV)’s new leader. The announcement took place during the governing party’s six day national congress, where political re-organisation and economic reform have been top of the agenda.
The congress is the PSUV’s first since party founder and former president Hugo Chavez passed away in March last year. The gathering began in Caracas on Saturday and will run until this Thursday.
The national conference comes as the Maduro administration considers how to resolve on-going economic problems, including product shortages and 62% annual inflation.
Dissident leftist critics have also questioned whether enough has been done to combat corruption, and argue that there is a lack of internal democracy within the PSUV. However such differences have not publically come to the fore during the congress.
Nicolas Maduro was announced as the PSUV’s new president on the first day of the conference to the “acclamation” of the 985 delegates present.
Taking the microphone, Maduro addressed the party faithful, stating, “The PSUV has to be capable of offering a clear conception of socialism as the path to achieve supreme social happiness”.
“I’m convinced that this conference is going to be a milestone in the history of the PSUV and the political struggles of the 21st century,” he added.
Delegates have been discussing possible reforms to the party’s statutes as well as proposals made by local party branches in the run-up to the congress.
One likely proposed change is to make the 13,683 “Bolivar Chavez Battle Units (UBCH)”, which were originally electoral campaigning organisations, into statuary party branches.
A timetable has been established to consolidate the UBCH’s as the party’s principle organisational unit, and to elect new party authorities, by January 2015.
PSUV vice president Diosdado Cabello argued that the party’s re-organisation should also allow it to better reach out to all social sectors and avoid being exclusionary. He stated the hope that this would help the party “win elections with more strength” and that “never again will the opposition govern this country”.
In a plenary conference speech on Sunday, Maduro declared that changing Venezuela’s economic model would be the government’s “foremost task” in the coming period.
“The fundamental agenda and work of the Bolivarian revolution from now until 2019 is…the construction of a productive economic apparatus in the country and the advancement and transition towards a socialist economy,” he said.
The declaration comes at the same time as a top party official has conceded that in addition to current economic problems, the Chavez – Maduro administrations have not managed to fundamentally change Venezuela’s capitalist economic model, which is dependent on oil income and imports.
“We still conserve the economic system from the 90s, in 15 years we have not been able to change the rentier and parasitic system, but we’re working on it,” said PSUV parliamentarian Jesis Faria in a recent interview.
To prepare for the proposed economic transformation, Maduro announced that a national economic conference would be held in December to debate “the economic project of the transition to socialism,” with national and international participants to be invited.
The government is also studying possible economic reforms to stabilise the economy in the short term, including implementing an effective currency devaluation by unifying the three existing exchange rates into one.
On the day before the PSUV’s conference began, the leftist Socialist Tide grouping, which participates in the PSUV, organised a press conference to present their proposals and criticisms to the governing party.
The socialist tendency criticised the fact that elected PSUV politicians such as parliamentary deputies, state governors and mayors had been given the automatic right to be conference delegates, alongside the delegates nominated by the party’s grassroots.
The small organisation, which doesn’t have any representatives at the congress, said it spoke for several groups when it called for the elimination of “co-option”, a practice whereby party leaders can designate PSUV electoral candidates rather than these being chosen by internal party elections.
Socialist Tide spokesperson Gonzalo Gomez, who is a founder of independent pro-government website Aporrea, also argued that more open and grassroots debate was needed on the economic and political situation in the country and how this should be addressed.
“The situation in Venezuela is ever more grievous for the working class’ standard of living…the situation must be confronted openly with the people,” he said.
Gomez added, “The Bolivarian people have the right to participate and involve themselves in decision-making. This is our revolution, not one belonging to a specific group of leaders”.
The PSUV’s leadership has argued that the 3rd National Congress should be an opportunity for the “consolidation” and “unity” of the party. Diosdado Cabello has said that internal differences should be “set aside” during the congress.