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We Interview two Chavista contestants for the upcoming National Assembly elections: Oliver Rivas, PSUV-block candidate (ruling party), and Rafael Uzcátegui, APR candidate (leftist bloc representing an independent electoral option) for the December 6 National Assembly elections.
Oliver Rivas is an organizer based in Caracas, and one of a handful of National Assembly PSUV-bloc candidates with deep roots in the popular movement. He is also a founder and member of La Otra Escuela [The Other School], a Chavista collective that offers political education to cadres with grassroots work. In this VA interview, we talk about the impact of the blockade on Venezuela’s economy and its participatory democracy. Rivas also addresses popular Chavismo’s projects for the upcoming National Assembly.
What is at stake in the upcoming National Assembly elections?
First, the very existence of the Venezuelan nation-state is at stake in the upcoming elections. Of course, all countries on the periphery struggle for their existence in the unequal power relationship that exists between the Global North and the Global South. This is a global class struggle, where the aggressor is the imperialist pole, represented by NATO. They aim to recolonize our continent.
As such, the struggle in the upcoming elections is not with the Venezuelan opposition, which merely reflects the White House’s interests.
Second, in the upcoming elections, the possibility of continuing with the process of institutional changes that began in 1998 is on the line. Obviously, the revolution has suffered a process of stagnation, but it goes forward on the basis of unified progressive and revolutionary forces, with the latter assuming part of the direction.
The devastating force of the imperialist siege has targeted Venezuela’s dependent, capitalist rentier economy. This slashed the state revenues which were being distributed in a more just manner – the Bolivarian Revolution had rolled back more than 500 years of colonization. While it is true that there wasn’t a rupture or complete transformation of Venezuela’s economic structure, Chávez developed public policies that benefited the poor majorities and fostered self-managed and productive initiatives and communal experiences.
For me and for La Otra Escuela what is at stake now is the possibility of continuing to struggle for the Chavista project. For us, it is obvious that a fascist and death-mongering regime controlled by imperialism will not allow us to struggle for our goals in the economic or political arenas.
Beyond the devastating impact of the blockade, what has the government done right and wrong in recent years?
The issue has to be evaluated, recognizing the very special circumstances that we face in Venezuela. We cannot talk about “good” or “bad” governance as if we lived in an idyllic world. This is a government that has faced all sorts of obstacles, including a total siege from the world’s main hegemonic power.
With this being so, if Venezuela has continued to be a sign of hope for the peoples of the world, it is because of the rights we have conquered and, later, because of the proposal of the commune as an exercise in self-government. However, with the oil rent vanishing, there is a process of dismantling some of these achievements, which threatens the very existence of state institutions.
It is also true that there have been many errors. To give you one example, there have been systematic and permanent errors in the forming of political cadres with a revolutionary and socialist horizon. We are also remiss in combating internal vices: deterrent measures are needed, as well as methods and guidelines to promote austerity and revolutionary dynamics in the parties of the Great Patriotic Pole.
But the truth is that these problems cannot be blamed on one specific sector of the Chavista leadership: if we do a self-critique, we will find that these problems are also present in social movements and organizations. A very rigorous analysis of this situation is required.
However, we know that there have been many errors. This is a consumerist economy that is parasitical on oil rent. Private enterprises are also parasitical and structurally corrupt, and this all got worse after Chávez’s death. When that happened, there was a sort of rush to control the oil revenues which, in turn, led to an enormous capital flight.
Here the question is: Is this Maduro’s fault, or is it the logical consequence of sectors conspiring internally to control the state and the rent since the early days of the Bolivarian process?
With all these observations in mind, my evaluation of the government and its policies is positive. To that, I would add that, in these times, we should opt for collectively forging a program that – with a socialist and communal logic, but also understanding the siege imposed on us – will allow us to struggle for working people’s rights. This is a pending task for the popular movement, as it is building a collective direction. One of the things that characterizes us is that we have many disperse struggles that are keeping us from coming together, centralizing agendas, and building consensus on key issues, both tactical and strategic.
There is an institutional tendency to label any dissent within Chavismo as “treason.” This discourse claims that, in the face of the imperialist siege, loyalty to the government should take precedence over any criticism. This attitude has generated friction between the government and some sectors of the popular movement. How do you understand this situation?
The relationship between grassroots organizations and the government has been historically tense. While Chavismo is a potent plebeian force (as Álvaro García Linera would say), it also incorporated left, center-left, and even conservative sectors with a traditional conception of politics, and these elements still continue to have political, institutional, and electoral force. Chavismo is not a monolithic block.
So, yes, it’s true: there is a tendency to identify any critical position as treason. However, that is a sectarian attitude that Maduro himself has criticized.
Nonetheless, generating a new set of practices – a different logic within Chavismo – must come with a renovation. This change within Chavismo would have to include the PSUV as a majority force, but also other smaller parties and a plurality of popular forces, organizations, movements, and communal and grassroots organizations
Going back to the relation between the government and the popular forces, we should understand that it has been tense in some moments, sometimes contradictory or conflictive, sometimes fluid, and sometimes there has been strong cohesion. It hasn’t always been the same. However, Chavismo is a force that has been able to advance in the conquest of rights by maintaining its internal unity.
All this happens while struggling for the cohesion of the nation-state, overcoming fascist attacks and waves of imperialist recolonization. Despite the [internal] contradictions, Chavismo has been able to close ranks in key moments. That is one of its main characteristics.
I am personally hopeful that our big internal contradictions will be solved. These are complex times and a difficult situation, and they forced the state to withdraw from or abandon part of what had been socially achieved. In so doing, it has delegated responsibilities to self-governed social (and especially productive) initiatives. These initiatives are going to be key to overcoming the dependent, exploitive, speculative, and usurer circuit of the Venezuelan economy.
Also, new economic actors will establish themselves here on the basis of the opening to private capital. This is taking place in a context where the state can no longer be expected to act as the sole source for revenue.
Faced with this situation, revolutionary forces must build a program so that we can maneuver in this complex panorama. We must not yield on fundamental issues, and we must build mechanisms to work together and develop agendas. I would even say that we must collectively build a popular and communal economic platform that won’t be tied to the country’s capitalist, dependent, rentier structures.
Is it going to be a harmonious struggle? No, it’s going to be a contradictory one. It will be sometimes violent and sometimes peaceful, as the Bolivarian Revolution has been since its early days.
In recent years there has been a decline in popular democracy here. From your perspective, given the imperialist siege, is this situation inevitable? Is it necessary to recover Chávez’s participatory and protagonistic democracy?
I think it is necessary to recover the more ample expressions of Chávez’s participatory and protagonistic democracy. From a military point of view, the imperialist siege put us on the defensive, and this comes with a larger degree of disciplining. That, obviously, comes with larger levels of social contention and, in some cases repression, excesses, and abuse. Of course, it is not different from the rest of Latin America, where repression is probably more intense.
However, there are also many cases of false positives in the world’s mainstream media and distorted reports such as the one recently released by Michelle Bachelet. In fact, Bachelet’s report was developed through interviews carried out during the pandemic. The process was too arbitrary to be scientifically rigorous.
Additionally, there have been cases of internal sabotage: agents have been paid to generate problematic situations. Of course, there is nothing surprising about this. We are under siege and the enemy is willing to use any means against us, from the sanctions and the blockade to infiltrations and paramilitary interference, including the recent operation in which the opposition’s fascist leadership hired US “security” contractors to topple Nicolás Maduro.
However, there have been important advances in this sense during the revolution. The National Bolivarian Police was created to break with the corrupt police mafias that participated (and probably still participate) in coups and coup attempts. Under the principle of conscious discipline and gender equity, the police was reorganized, with education being at the core of that process.
Of course, this process was not free of contradictions. It cannot be idealized. Also, in the current material reality, violence has become one of the pathways for survival for police forces. That is the immediate cause of the current excesses. The situation of general collapse, corruption, decomposition, and deterioration of the institutions and the society as a whole leads to the destruction of the Venezuelan nation-state. And that is not accidental.
When faced with this reality, what is revolutionary Chavismo doing? We fight against it because we know that our very existence is on the line. Deterioration is not a state policy.
You are participating in the popular debates taking place in the context of the National Assembly campaign. With this experience, what program would you promote if elected? As a representative who comes from the ranks of the popular movement, how would you concur and differ with the official line?
From our collective [La Otra Escuela] and in coordination with other organizations such as the Continental Platform of Social Movements, we have developed programmatic goals ranging from building communes across the territory and the integral transformation of the habitat, to the construction of a non-capitalist, solidarious economy.
We are going to continue defending that program at the National Assembly. We will do so in conditions that we know are adverse: confronting private enterprises won’t be easy at a time when they, and not the state, have the necessary resources to keep economic activity going. However, it is precisely now, in these difficult times, that popular productive projects that are not dependent on the rent can emerge. These are contradictory times, but tactical opportunities are opening up.
To give you an example, while it is true that the Anti-blockade Law favors private initiative, it is also the case that it allows for the participation of the state and organized popular power. In other words, there is an open battlefield. We must enter it from an on-the-ground perspective. This is not about theory or propaganda.
We understand the National Assembly as a platform from which to promote laws boosting the communal economy. In this regard, President Maduro has already proposed two laws that would foster the creation of communal cities.
Additionally, there is a plan for ten legislative projects. These have been developed through a process of popular consultation, carried out both with digital mechanisms and in public meetings.
In fact, as we speak, I’m just arriving from one such event in the working-class El Valle barrio. In those events, we encounter a high level of dissatisfaction due to the problems people face with lack of public services and low wages. These are wages and services that the blockade and capitalist speculation have destroyed. Nonetheless, debate initiatives and proposals are blooming. We have discovered that in conditions of siege, communal and other forms of small and family production are not only an ideal – they offer real solutions to working people.
To give you one example, Colgate Palmolive sabotaged the production of cleaning and personal hygiene goods. Now, we can find small initiatives and even home production of these goods in every block of every city. There is huge potential here. Cuba succeeded and we will succeed too… through our work, and through mutual cooperation with other countries!
We also have to promote a law for protecting the working class. The text must outline some minimal standards for coexistence in the transition to a mixed economy. The truth is that a mixed economy is the guiding logic of the 1999 Constitution, so the current state of affairs is not a departure from our origins.
Nonetheless, in the current circumstances, we must develop mechanisms for the social control of the economy in general, and of commerce in particular. There is a high level of impunity in the economy. Large capitalist cartels generated this situation and it has developed into a widespread speculative economy which destroyed workers’ wages. This happened along with the dollarization of the economy, which generated all sorts of distortions and illegal activity.
Cuba went through its Special Period, but they took the right measures to survive and resist. The Cuban people struggled for their right to exist and stay afloat in the world, and they did so with a non-capitalist horizon. We are going to do the same… and if that means an internal ideological debate with the conservative sectors along with a wider battle of ideas, so be it.
In conclusion, we hope that the upcoming National Assembly will be not only a body for turning popular initiatives and proposals into legislation, but also a kind of megaphone to make our struggles visible on a national level.
Rafael Uzcátegui, APR candidate
Rafael Uzcátegui is a historical figure in Venezuela’s popular movement who was key to the forming of the Popular Revolutionary Alternative [APR]. The APR is a leftist and Chavista electoral bloc that represents an independent and plural option in the December 6 National Assembly elections. Uzcátegui was the longstanding Secretary-General of Patria Para Todos [PPT] before Venezuela’s Supreme Court [TSJ] intervened in the party, replacing its original leadership. In this interview, Uzcátegui talks about the APR’s revolutionary project, while analyzing the government’s “neoliberal” turn.
What is the APR and why is this group of popular Chavista parties and movements not joining forces with the PSUV (as they did previously under the aegis of the Patriotic Pole) to flip the National Assembly in favor of Chavismo?
A regrouping of popular forces is underway within Chavismo, which aims to build a revolutionary alternative. There are dozens of organizations in the APR, from old and consolidated parties such as the Communist Party [PCV] and the majority of the PPT [a party that grew out of the working class and popular struggles in the 70s and 80s] to communal and regional organizations and social movements.
Some of them had grown apart from the PSUV and the government which – through its liberal economic policies and its tendency to disregard other voices from within – has alienated many. Others had critical constructive positions from within the Patriotic Pole, and their voices were not heard either.
In any case, and beyond any critical position that we may have on particular policies and practices, what separates us from Nicolás Maduro’s project is our political vision. We aim to reaffirm a left revolutionary initiative rooted in Chávez’s radical project. The Maduro government has turned away from that. Ours is a left Chavista project… and when we identify with Chavismo, we are talking about a radical Chávez.
Can you be more precise regarding the APR’s identification with a “radical Chávez”? Are we talking about the Chávez of the commune, about the Chávez that moved towards limiting capital’s logic, or about the Chávez that nationalized means of production?
We defend a Chávez that understood capitalism’s catastrophic tendencies and actively opposed its logic both in his discourse and in action. We stand by the Chávez that understood contradictions but had a strategic objective: socialism. We are talking about the Chávez of the “Strike at the helm” [2012 speech], about the man who called-out his cabinet and insisted on an urgent change of course toward the left.
This was the Chávez that understood popular power as the force that is charged with building the revolution – by communes, workers’ and campesino organizations… In other words, we identify with the Chávez committed to the people that work and struggle, the Chávez that understood the people’s needs and desires and projected a better future instead of the grey-on-grey “pragmatic” politics that characterizes Maduro’s government.
Can you characterize Maduro’s government for us with more precision, understanding also that Venezuela is under a harsh blockade?
The sanctions are criminal, and they have a real impact on our economy. However, when a country is under siege, the solution cannot be to turn away from society and opt for a project of a few. What is happening is that the sanctions have become a pretext to abandon the socialist project and the perfect excuse to foster the creation of a “revolutionary bourgeoisie,” as they like to identify their kin!
If you look at the government spokespeople’s discourse (and their actions), you will see that for them the subject of change is no longer workers, the poor men and women from the barrio and from the campo. As they see it, the people who will build the future are the bourgeoisie, in a process of rapid capitalist expansion fostered by laws eliminating workers’ rights and privileging opaque privatizations and investments.
A sector of Chavismo in government became rich. They are millionaires locked here because of the sanctions, and they are not satisfied with that. Now they want to be bourgeois, so they are looking for an openly neoliberal solution.
To give you an example, yesterday I learned that casinos are operating again [they were prohibited during Chávez’s government]. Obviously, casinos are places where money laundering is the goal. On top of that, opaque privatizations are the order of the day. Add to that the Orinoco Mining Arc, which is the opening of one-sixth of our territory to the most predatory mining practices, and you get the picture. We have shifted from a rentier economy based on oil extraction to a rentier economy based on gold exploitation that liquidates nature to privilege a dangerous speculative economy.
The composition of the political direction has changed. Its leaders are no longer the young revolutionary soldiers that rose up against the rule of the few in 1992 [a failed military insurrection led by Chávez]. Now they are millionaires that aspire to be bourgeois with the word “revolutionary” as an epithet.
Are you saying that it is the same people in power, but that their class condition has changed?
There was a mutation in the leadership of the process, and it took us a while to understand this. Its character has changed, and with this change came a transformation in policies.
There is a blockade, yes. Trump (and any representative of imperial interests) is against all expressions of popular sovereignty. However, the sanctions became an excuse to open the path to a new logic, which is expressed in the “revolutionary bourgeoisie.”
Mind you, the term [revolutionary bourgeoisie] was coined by [Agriculture Minister Wilmar] Castro Soteldo – a retired officer of the Armed Forces who participated in the November 27, 1992 uprising. There was a broad popular rejection of Castro Soteldo’s words, but Nicolás Maduro later said that whoever criticized his ministers was criticizing the president himself.
The Bolivarian Process mutated… it took us a while to understand this, but now, for the forces of the APR, this is clear. It took quite a few years for the left to understand that the Soviet Union had mutated into a non-socialist project, and in some people’s minds the Soviet Union is still alive and well! Something similar happened with China, which has become the first capitalist commercial power in the world, and some take it as a positive example. Well, the same is happening here: the project is changing!
This is a new situation, and as such, we have to organize politics in a new way.
When you talk about this shift, it brings to mind something that you said in a Ciudad CCS interview a few months ago. You observed that we are going through the collapse of the social pact based on the distribution of the oil rent. The end of that social pact has brought about a social (and economic) crisis. Can you talk to us about this shift?
The global pandemic has brought about a new, tighter world order. In Venezuela, a new order is emerging as well, and it is indeed the end of a social contract that lasted two decades.
Of course, the collapse of the old order and the emergence of the new one comes with a huge crisis. Every day there are dozens of protests and mobilizations throughout Venezuela, and they are not promoted by the right. They are workers demanding living wages, barrio dwellers demanding water, electricity and gas, campesinos demanding access to fuel, etc.
Interestingly, all this happens while the formal right is politically cornered by its own catastrophic mistakes. It has no legitimacy among the people. The popular masses demand their rights, while the government demands that they make sacrifices. All the while, no government representative is making sacrifices as happened, for instance, in Cuba during the harshest years of the blockade.
How is the APR campaign coming along?
The APR is a left Chavista alternative that recognizes the mutation of the process. That is why we decided to become an electoral alternative. However, the electoral proposal is not the beginning or the end. The union of diverse autonomous Chavista and left organizations had been brewing for a while.
Today the campaign is in the territory, in the barrios and in the campo. It is growing strong while it is silenced by both public and private media. To give you an example, the official media gives voice to the right-wing alternatives, but the APR is being ignored and hidden.
Nonetheless, we are convinced that on December 6, a new, strong force will emerge. This is not too different from the months prior to Chavez’s 1992 military rebellion. The uprising was clandestine while our proposal is public (though hidden by the media), but the elections – as did the military rebellion – will likely change the course of things.
The APR’s revolutionary forces are alive and well. We have more than 500 candidates and they are working the streets to build a new majority.
On the other end of the spectrum, the PSUV’s campaign looks much like a campaign of the old AD [Acción Democrática, the most important Venezuelan political party during much of the 20th century].
Nicolás Maduro’s son’s campaign, a National Assembly candidate, has become a permanent giveaway event. He is giving away TVs, bonuses [economic incentives], construction materials, etc. Why? Because Nicolás Maduro Guerra [President Maduro’s son] has no virtues of his own. He is not the expression of any popular movement. He is a sort of prince with a “destiny.”
Some believe that in recent years there has been a process of curtailing popular democracy. Can you talk about this?
We are going through a process of judicialization of politics. Most parties have been intervened by the Supreme Court [TSJ]. In the case of the PPT, the TSJ imposed an ad hoc direction that would toe the PSUV’s line. In other words, they removed the elected direction and they imposed a junta that didn’t represent the majority of the party.
Additionally, the National Electoral Power [CNE] is not allowing any left parties to register, while they are registering parties associated with the right.
The state is actively intervening in the political life of the Venezuelan left. Not only do they prevent internal union elections – keeping the proletarian forces from representing themselves – and have put a hold on university elections, which is a right granted by law, but now the state is intervening in political parties!
This is not Russia in 1919 when – in the midst of a civil war – Lenin banned all parties but the Bolsheviks. Here we have a Constitution that grants us the right to organize but the courts are liquidating this prerogative. There is a tendency toward the judicialization of politics, and we are concerned.
Nonetheless, the APR is an ample alliance with many Chavista and left organizations within. It includes the PCV, which is the only party that, due to its long history and international relations, is allowed to freely exist. And so, since the official [i.e. intervened] PPT became an appendix of the PSUV, the APR will have to be represented by the PCV in the ballot.
In addition to displacing the US-backed right that now controls the National Assembly, what is the importance of the upcoming parliament’s composition?
The outgoing National Assembly, with a majority representation of the right-wing, gave up its prerogatives by turning itself into a body with the sole objective of overthrowing Venezuela’s democratically-elected president. In so doing, they lost face with the people and missed their opportunity to influence the direction of the country according to their interests and ideology.
The next parliament will have to hold a public debate about the national budget (which has been drafted in silence over the past four years), oversee economic transactions and public policies, legislate, etc. The new Assembly will also choose new Supreme Court members, the Public Defender, the Attorney General, the General Comptroller, the National Electoral Council, and the Venezuelan Central Bank board.
Additionally, the APR’s objective in the legislative body is to work for the people by bringing the Constitution back to life. Issues such as a living wage and the right to organize are guaranteed by the Constitution, and we will work to reinstate them. Finally, we will also “dust off” Chávez’s Homeland Plan  which gives strategic coordinates to bring the Venezuelan people out of the current crisis.
Briefly, what is the APR’s program?
It is time to overcome the personalist alliance between President Maduro and the Armed Forces. The structure of the government needs a counterweight from the people to ensure the continuity of the revolution.
Our program is socialism, and to move in that direction we have the Constitution as the cornerstone and Chávez’s Homeland Plan as a roadmap. All this must be done, again, without messianism, collectively, with the pueblo. The APR is going to be neither a destructive force nor a “yes man” organization. Instead, we will work to turn the National Assembly into a deliberative space for popular power.
We are calling the people to vote for the APR to bring legitimacy, autonomy, and popular sovereignty back to the National Assembly.
However, we are not promising miracles. We don’t promise that the new National Assembly will bring an end to all the need to make queues [as the right did in the 2015 elections], and we won’t use the criminal actions of the national and international right as a cover for all political and economic ills. We will promote “house cleaning” so that the limited resources can be channeled towards the people. All those who use their power to become millionaires and use institutions to consolidate their class condition must go.
We are going to the National Assembly not just for empty talk. We are going there to turn it into a revolutionary instrument and to break the imperialist yoke. That cannot be done by turning one’s back to the people, as has happened under the excuse of the sanctions. Imperialism can only be defeated with the pueblo.