The governing United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) is preparing to elect delegates to its Third National Congress, the first to be held since the party’s leader and founder Hugo Chavez died last March.
The Congress will convene 26 – 29 July, discuss and adopt the party’s programmatic and ideological platform, and elect a new party leader.
The meeting, only the second held since the founding congress in 2008, is being hailed by party leaders as a chance to re-orientate and strengthen the largest organized political force behind the country’s Bolivarian revolution.
“Chavismo [the ideology of Hugo Chavez] is going to emerge from the conference strengthened, united and victorious for all coming battles,” said Elias Jaua, Venezuela’s foreign minister and a PSUV national leader, to press recently.
The PSUV’s local party branches, called Bolivar-Chavez Battle Units (UBCh), are responsible for proposing possible candidates to represent the party’s grassroots at the congress. On Sunday, 13,500 UBCh’s met around the country, and proposed nearly 20,000 possible candidates to run for the 540 congress delegate positions available.
On 20 July, registered party members will choose which of these candidates will be delegates at the congress. While the PSUV has over seven million registered members, the PSUV claims 2.5 million are active members of the UBCh’s, however this numbers varies with the source.
In addition to the 540 grassroots delegates, the remaining delegates to the congress will include the PSUV’s national leadership, 96 parliamentary deputies, 20 state governors and 242 mayors.
Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro has also asked the UBHCs to come up with ten concrete proposals ahead of the congress to improve government performance.
Speaking to party activists on Saturday, Maduro said, “I’ll await ten proposals from you to improve the government even more. If only a democratic opposition existed in Venezuela that made real criticisms and alternative proposals”.
In response to the call, Carla Junko, a local leader of a UBCh in the Petare neighbourhood of Caracas, said that her local party branch would have a proposal to support local production.
“Everything that arrives at the grassroots should come from the grassroots. As an organised community we should build self-governance in order to not depend on central government, and to meet the needs of our people. In our neighbourhood there is land for seed planting,” she explained to press agency AVN.
Debate ahead of the congress
Meanwhile some groups within the PSUV, such as the critical-left Socialist Tide current, have signaled their dissatisfaction with the congress’ organisation. They argue that rather than elected PSUV politicians having the automatic right to be a congress delegate, all delegates should be elected by the grassroots. As such they raise the fear that the congress could be controlled by “bureaucratic tendencies” within the party rather than being a space for the free debating of ideas.
Such groups also criticise that the PSUV’s national directive council, composed of 30 party leaders, will not be up for reelection at the congress, despite the council’s term of office having expired.
“Maduro and [PSUV First Vice President] Diosdado Cabello have a defensive position against a legitimate demand from the bases, which is the direct, universal and secret election of the leadership, and this goes against the participatory and protagonistic democracy that Chavez defended so much,” argued pro-Bolivarian political scientist Nicmer Evans recently.
Other PSUV figures have defended the congress’ organisation by arguing that the grassroots will have direct representation and that discussion sessions will be held to receive criticisms and proposals from delegates.
President Maduro also responded to internal criticisms of the congress’ organisation on Sunday. “It’s a minority that loves to criticise. Others are very theoretical, and when you look to see what work they’ve done, you can’t find anything,” he said.
The president added that a special debate on the direction and performance of the Bolivarian process would be held during the congress and that delegates would be encouraged to make their criticisms and contributions. “Let the people speak the truth,” he declared.
Further, Diosdado Cabello announced in a press conference today that new national and regional PSUV leaderships would be elected before 28 January 2015. He said this process would be “democratic”, although it is not currently clear how this election will be undertaken.