TRANSLATION INTO ENGLISH: MARIA CARLA BASSEGIO
1. Hugo Chávez Frías-military man who had attempted to remove corrupt president Carlos Andrés Pérez from office in February 1992 by means of a military rebellion with civil support-won the elections as President of the Republic six years later, with an important majority vote of 56 %.
2. Convinced even before that upheaval, that the country’s decade-old deep structural crisis could be solved only by means of a true social revolution, he decided to launch his revolutionary process beginning with a Constituent Assembly to change the corrupt and inefficient political and legal structure of the country, and–using the new rules of the game–unleash the social and economic transformations the country needed.
3. This he attempted in February 1992 by means of an insurrection, which is not the same as a military coup, for he has never lost sight of the need of people’s participation. That attempt was defeated and he was sent to prison, but both then and after, during his trips throughout the country, he always had the people in mind and was organizing a new upheaval. Later, however, in view of the country’s new reality, he decided to participate in the elections. He kept his strategic goal of calling for a Constituent Assembly-the only thing that changed were his tactics.
4. His is a sui generis process: completely deformed by the media and misunderstood by the left because it breaks away from all previous patterns: First, it is the result of Chávez’ overwhelming victory in the elections, it follows the institutional path in spite of all the provocations set by the opposition. Second, it has been classified ideologically as an undefined process, because instead of adopting Marxism as its guiding ideology, it has chosen Bolivarism. Third, it is headed by a military man who was bold enough to promote a military upheaval against the regime, with the support of many military men within the government. Fourth, this is a populist military man. Fifth, he has no vanguard party to head the process. Sixth, he has been incapable of eliminating corruption, one of his main goals for struggle. Seventh, he has yet to show important economic changes, and he faithfully pays the country’s foreign debt.
5. In view of all this, can one define this as a revolutionary process? I think that what is going on in Venezuela will be easier to understand if we analyze these objections, and it will become more evident why I do believe that Venezuela’s process is a revolutionary one.
1. A DEMOCRATICALLY-ELECTED GOVERNEMENT
1) HOW TO CREATE A FAVORABLE PUBLIC OPINION
6. Chávez decided to enter the 1998 presidential elections in spite of the fact that he lacked all economic means or space in the mass media-he didn’t even have a consolidated political party, since the Movimiento V República representing Chávez had just been organized, with a specific aim in mind: the electoral process. Many people thought he was just daydreaming.
7. This weakness, however, was compensated for by his charismatic personality, that the country first saw on the National TV Station after the 1992 failed armed rebellion, when he publicly recognized his responsibility-all this in a country where no political leader has ever had the guts to take such a stand. He took responsibility and pronounced his famous sentence: "For the time being!," clearly telling his people that he had not given up the struggle.
8. This attitude created a favorable public opinion toward him and his project, in a country whose scepticism for both politics and politicians pervaded broad sectors of society, including the middle sectors.
2) NO PREVIOUS GOVERNMENT HAS GONE THROUGH SO MANY DEMOCRATIC CONSULTATIONS
9. As we have already explained, he won the presidential elections by a large majority. After that he went through five consultations, proving at the polls that he could count on strong popular support: Referendum to call for a Constituent Assembly; election of its constituent members; Referendum to approve the new Constitution; elections to reaffirm the mandates of the president, members of the National Assembly, governors, mayors, councilmen, parish boards; and elections for the board of directors of the Confederación de Trabajadores de Venezuela (CTV).
10. Except for the last case, where there are so many irregular measures (the present CTV board of directors declared itself elected but never published the relative documents to prove it), in all other elections the Movimiento V República has won by a large majority.
11. But alleging the need for democracy, the opposition now wants to remove from office a man who has won six democratic consultations: four elections and two referenda. Never before in the history of the country has a political regime been submitted to so many democratic consultations.
2. IDEOLOGICALLY UNDEFINED?
12. Ideologically, it is considered an undefined process, because Marxism is not its guiding ideology. It must be explained, however, that though the Movement is not Marxist, it is not anti Marxist either.
13. Chávez tries to base his project on ideas rooted in national traditions. He is inspired by three main figures: Simón Bolívar, Simón Rodríguez, and Ezequiel Zamora.
14. Is it logical for a revolution carried out in the 21st century to find inspiration in great men from the 19th century? The truth is that today, some of their ideas are still valid in the Venezuela.
15. Bolívar, the most outstanding figure in Latin America’s struggle for independence from Spain, never spoke about class struggle but he did refer to the need to abolish slavery and his beliefs always take popular sectors into account. Perhaps, his most important contribution was understanding that Latin America must become integrated. Already in his own time he understood that there was no future ahead for our countries unless they confronted as one both body both the European countries and the United States. In the second half of the 19th century he was already able to foresee that the "United States of North America seemed destined by providence to plague America with misery on behalf of freedom." On the other hand, Bolívar’s political philosophy conceived democracy as a political system responsible for giving the people the greatest happiness, and he also believed that a military man must never take aim against his own people.
16. Simón Rodríguez, Bolívar’s teacher and friend, was also a fine pedagogue and social reformer. He strongly defended the originality of our Latin America, its multi-ethnical composition, and the need to integrate indigenous people and black slaves into the continent’s future societies. He strongly advocated for the creation of original institutions adapted to our realities, and he rejected the imitation of European solutions, convinced that "We either invent or we err."
17. Ezequiel Zamora was a liberal general who fought against the conservatives during the federal war of 1850. He encouraged total war against the oligarchy and the distribution of land to the peasants.
18. We can then see how these men constitute a democratic ideological nucleus defending national sovereignty, with an anti-imperialist and anti-oligarchic stand, that must no doubt be enriched and improved but that is already imbued with a series of key ideas to launch the revolutionary process.
3. A DIFFERENT KIND OF ARMY
19. Some people reject the Bolivarian revolutionary process because it has a military leader and because of the outstanding role played by the military in numerous State institutions and governmental plans.
20. They say the military participate in the repressive corps of the bourgeois State, that they are permeated by bourgeois ideology, that there is no way to save them. I believe this is a very rigid attitude and that we cannot generalize the situation-rather, we must analyze each individual case in which the armed corps participates in the State.
21. The Chilean army that led the coup d’Etat against Allende can’t be compared to the Venezuelan army, because starting with Chávez’ generation, it never trained its cadres in the School for the Americas, but in Venezuela’s Military Academy, by then already greatly transformed. The so-called Andrés Bello Plan gave it college standing. Army cadres started studying political science, learned about their predecessors who believed in democracy, studied analysts of Venezuela’s realities. Many of these military men ended up being specialists in different subjects at college level and they started exchanging ideas with other university students.
22. They studied Clausewitz in military strategy classes, together with Asian strategists such as Mao Tse Tung, and Chávez was very impressed by some of Mao’s ideas, particularly when he declared that the troops’ morale is much more important than any sophisticated technological weapon; or that the people is to the army as water is to fish.
23. This generation comes to life when the country had almost found peace, when very few guerrilla groups had survived, so it didn’t have to fight against them, but rather, when it visited rural areas where these guerrillas might found refuge, instead of guerrillas they discovered the incredible poverty reigning there. Ruling bourgeois ideology in our countries wants to convince us that poor people are poor because they are drunkards, because they lack initiative and the will to work, because they aren’t intelligent, and this ideology generally permeates our armed forces; but the Venezuelan military men are able to see that behind poverty stands the Venezuelan oligarchy, concentrating riches, and the United States, whose vocation it is to sow the poverty.
24. Reaching the frontier with their platoons, some of the young military cadres would share their rations with the poor people of the region.
25. Within the Venezuelan Armed Forces, on the other hand, there has never been a military caste like that of other countries. The sons of very poor families, from the countryside or from the cities, can occupy high posts within the military corps.
26. Add to this the commotion provoked by the Caracazo for Chávez’ generation. They refused to be used as an instrument for repression. Some of the more conscientious commanders refused to use their soldiers to repress the people. I interviewed a military man who told me how he had decided to organize the looting of a supermarket when he saw hungry people attacking it. He told the people to organize in queues: one for meat, one for rice, another for dairy products-but no one could take any cash register, because those people didn’t need them at all, they would be actually taking advantage of the situation to steal.