The Next Battle Of Venezuela Begins

The government of Hugo Chavez has faced many tests in its attempt to transform Venezuela. So far, the Venezuelan government has been able to rely on the popular classes in order to win a number of key battles against the corrupt ruling elite.


This included support for a far more democratic constitution, a US coordinated military/big business coup in April 2002 and an employer shutdown of the economy combined with a technocrat sabotage campaign of the oil industry.


Each victory for the government was the fruit of mass organization and mobilization of the working class. The effect was to empower and embolden the revolutionary movement while radicalizing the government. Simultaneously it demoralized the social base for the mass mobilizations organized by the ruling class and further split the fragile unity of its political leadership.


However, the next battle for Venezuela is looming as the situation polarizes further. This battle will not take place on the streets but rather in the ballot box: a referendum on the rule of President Chavez.


This project is a gamble for both the government and opposition. A victory for the government would see the fragile unity of the opposition totally disintegrate, while a victory for the opposition would see it one step closer to unseating the government – an objective which couldn’t be achieved through a military coup and nation-wide employer/manager shutdown.


A victory for the government would force the Venezuelan and international corporate media and US government to accept the Bolivarian revolution for the popular and democratic process for what it is – while a victory for the opposition would fuel claims that Chavez is an authoritarian dictator, which would be used by the US government for its own purposes.


The post-referendum situation will also see a further polarization of society. A victory for the government would put the opposition in the same place as it was in Chile under the Marxist government led by President Allende. This would mean that the ruling class must ensure the destruction of democracy through another military coup or even civil war to ensure its rule. Former President Carlos Peres has already openly called for another business/military coup as the only solution to the crisis. ( )


The return to power of the opposition would see a neo-liberal austerity program implemented with the resistance of millions of people organized through neighbourhood, women’s and land reform councils. Such resistance could only be put down through brute force, something which the large radical left-wing sections of the military would oppose. Again such a situation may also lead to civil war.


Whatever the outcome, there will be no going back to the way things were before President Chavez came to power.


The focus of the opposition referendum strategy is sabotage – in the hope that the consequent anarchy will prove that the government cannot govern. The forms of sabotage have been numerous.




The political sabotage must been seen in context. As the situation in Venezuela polarizes, this is reflected within parliament as well as the ruling coalition. The more opportunist and bureaucratic elements of the original government parliamentary alliance have switched to the opposition as many politicians flocked towards Chavez in order to ride on the wave of his popularity and then switched sides as his political program became increasingly radical.


Inside of parliament itself, the opposition will use every bureaucratic measure to paralyse parliament and therefore nullify the government majority. In response, the government planned to reform the rules of parliament. The opposition reacted by blocking governments MP’s from taking their seats and even resorted to violence to do this. (
) In response, the government held the next session of parliament in a park within a radical working class area – the opposition refused to come arguing that it was “enemy territory”.


However, that session wasn’t ratified by parliament as more members of the Chavez camp refused to support the government despite that was the reason why they were elected in the first place.


In other forms of political sabotage, their has been a series of terrorist bombings of different targets including power stations, ( ) diplomatic housing of governments both friendly and unfriendly to the Chavez government (Algeria, Spain, Colombia), ( ) the Group of Friends (of Venezuela) headquarters, and more recently the President of the state oil company has said “a campaign of more open and violent sabotage” has begun against oil and energy infrastructure to disrupt production. ( )


Other acts of sabotage have been aimed at demoralizing the poor. These have included the hoarding of food and medicines. Vheadline reported ( ) that the Venezuelan Consumer Protection Agency (INDECU) officials have swooped on an illegal storage unit in southwestern Apure State to seize some 40,000 tonnes of illegally hoarded frozen chickens and again in Tejerias (Aragua State) in cooperation with units of the National Guard (GN) to seize and sell 60,000 tonnes of hoarded foodstuffs. According to the same Vheadline article “the action has caused furor among wealthier members of Venezuela‘s opposition who see the INDECU operations as repressive government action against what they claim to be free trade principles and private property.” The watchdog, is investigating over 1000 different complaints of hoarding and speculation.


The fact that the strategy of the opposition is so focused on sabotage rather than providing a political alternative reflects the fragile opposition unity – which lacks a political program and leadership that has creditability.


Consolidation of working class support


In order to combat the hoarding and price hikes of food by big business and speculators Chavez has undertaken a number of measures. According to Vheadline (
), the government has begun a program where it will invest US $836 million to find a secure food supply for the population but in particular the working class. The program also includes the establishment of government-subsidized supermarkets which ensure food supplies to the poor at a cheaper price. ( )


The government has also began the implementation of land reform which promises to have settled 100 000 people by the end of August. ( More recently, the Chavez government has launched the “Into the Neighborhood” program. ( This is a highly ambitious program which seeks to address the lack of quality education and health-care to the poor of Venezuela by sending doctors into the slumbs free of charge, and mobilizing 50 000 volunteers to eradicate illiteracy among 1 million people. The two projects have expert assistance and personnel from Cuba, universally recognized for its quality health and education programs.


The Venezuelan media have called this a “Cuban invasion” (Caracas newspaper El Universal) and have decried the “Cubanization” of Venezuela. When confronted with this allegation, Cuban President Fidel Castro noted: “This is the equivalent of saying that to save a life or contribute to a young person obtaining a gold medal for his or her homeland is to Cubanize the Venezuelan people… We should thank those stupid people for such a great honor.”


Already, as the July 25 Associated Press reports, (
) , “the Cuban doctors are a big hit with local residents who say few Venezuelan doctors dare to venture into the teeming hilltop slums that ring this sprawling South American capital. “Everybody is happy about it … We’ve never seen Venezuelan doctors climbing up here,” said 63-year-old Liboria Espinosa.”


Class struggle continues


The battle for Venezuela is also taking place on the streets. The left-wing UNT and right-wing CTV struggle for support from trade unionists, while the opposition parties hold provocative rallies in radical working class slumbs to provoke violence between the armed sections of each movement. Alfedo Pena, the right-wing mayor of the capital city, shutdown Catia TV (
), a popular community media source which operated outside of the heavily monopolized media framework. Workers have occupied a Pepsi factory and have received support from the local government. Bolivarian Circles continue to spread and Land Committees are hard at work redistributing land to the poor.


It is a race against time for both the government and opposition to mobilize enough support for the referendum. The opposition would rather have it sooner than later with the economy still in heavy recession as a result of its economic sabotage. However, the Commander in Chief of the Armed forces, a Chavez ally, has confirmed (
) that the referendum will not happen this year and will most likely occur 6-7 months after the August 19 mid-term date, as selection of the CNE is still being delayed by the opposition and the electoral list needs to be updated to avoid corruption






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