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Venezuela’s regional elections: Another vote for the revolution and Chavez (now with video, audio)

Real News Network report, November 28, 2008: The media and the Venezuelan elections -- US media covers Chavez victory and calls it a defeat

Audio: Federico Fuentes on speaks to Latin Radical about election outcomes

November 28, 2008


25.5 Mb 128 kbps mono 28 mins

[For more analyses of the election results, see the `Comments' at the end of this statement]

Statement by the Australia-Venezuela Solidarity Network

November 25, 2008 -- The results of the elections for local mayors and state governors held in Venezuela on November 23 underlined the continuing mass support for the Bolivarian revolution led by President Hugo Chavez.

In a clear vote of confidence in the project to build socialism of the 21st century in Venezuela, the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) -- formed just six months ago with Chavez as its president -- won 17 of the 22 states in which governors were elected. The United States-backed right-wing opposition won five states with a total of about 4 million votes, compared to the 5.5 million votes for the PSUV candidates.

The elections were also a victory for democracy in Venezuela. The voter turn-out was the highest ever in regional elections, with 65.45% of those eligible casting their vote (compared to 45% in the last regional elections in 2004). Despite some opposition leaders threatening not to recognise the results if voting hours were extended, polling centres were kept open until 10.30pm in some places to ensure that everyone waiting in the long queues was able to vote, and international observers report that it was a completely free and fair ballot.

Jim McIlroy, a participant in the Australia-Venezuela Solidarity Network brigade currently in Venezuela who observed the voting at polling booths in Caracas, said: “There was a festive atmosphere at the booths, but it was also highly politicised: the people were taking their democratic right to vote very seriously.

“The computerised voting sytem is far more advanced than that used in Australia, and its ability to guarantee the accuracy of the whole process clearly has the confidence of the people.”

After the close of polls, Chavez congratulated the Venezuelan people for participating in the elections in a “civic and joyful” manner, saying that the process ratified Venezuelan democracy, but not the “democracy of before”, which “belonged to the elites”.

Red: PSUV win; Blue: oppositon win; White: no election; Arrows: gain for the opposition (AFP)

Overall, the November 23 vote for the PSUV – for the revolution and socialism -- increased by about 1.3 million on the pro-revolution vote in the constitutional reforms referendum last December. In contrast, the anti-revolution opposition’s comparative vote declined by about 300,000. As well, the Chavez suporters won back three states (Aragua, Guarico and Sucre) in which the incumbent governors had, over the last 18 months, defected to the opposition.

However, the sharp polarisation of Venezuelan society and the hard struggle still facing the poor majority to defend the gains of the revolution and realise their dream of a new socialist Venezuela is evident in the fact that the opposition, which won only two states in 2004 (oil-rich Zulia and Nueva Esparta), this time won three more from Chavez supporters (Miranda, Tachira, Carabobo). The opposition also won the position of mayor of Greater Caracas and now controls four of Caracas’s five municipalities, although the largest and poorest municipality, Libertador, was re-won by the pro-revolution candidate.

Already in control of 95% of the media in Venezuela, the right wing will without a doubt use these victories to escalate their ongoing campaign to overthrow Chavez, and undermine the Bolivarian revolution. As was exposed just a month before the regional elections, they will stop at nothing to halt the revolutionary process, including another military coup and the assassination of Chavez.

Capitalist media around the world, including in Australia, are supporting their campaign to discredit and destabilise Venezuela’s revolutionary government. An AFP report by Sophie Nicholson, for example, which was uncritically regurgitated in the Melbourne Age newspaper on November 24, pedalled blatant lies about the regional elections.

“Mr Chavez”, it stated, “has threatened to imprison opponents, or even send tanks onto the streets, if his party loses in the populous northwestern state of Carabobo”. In fact, Chavez said that the government would mobilise the military if there were destablisation attempts around the elections: a scenario that was not out of the question given the opposition’s constant public calls in national media for the violent overthrow of Chavez and his government.

The Melbourne Age article also claimed that “about 300 candidates, mainly from the opposition, have been prevented from running in the elections”. In fact, those barred from contesting were not mostly opposition candidates, and all were disqualified after investigations found them guilty of corruption.

Demolishing these and the numerous other efforts to paint him as some sort of “dictator”, Chavez immediately acknowledged the opposition’s victory in Carabobo, and the other four states. In doing so, however, he urged the opposition to behave democratically: “I hope you devote yourself to understand the people, govern with transparency, honesty and respect for the national government and the institutions of those states and municipalities. If you do so, you will deserve our acknowledgement; if you do not, the Constitution of the Republic will be imposed on you.”

Of the 17 governorships won by the PSUV, eight were won with at least 60% of the vote and most of the others were won with a more than 10% margin on the closest rival. In the local municipalty elections, which were held at the same time, the average vote for Chavista candidates was even stronger.

Despite the many difficulties and contradictions confronting the revolution, it is clear that the great majority of Venezuelans want the process of transferring resources and power to the poor majority to continue.

Chavez summed it up when he said that these election results ratify that “the path is the construction of socialism, and we have to deepen it”.

[Visit the Australia-Venezuela Solidarity Network website at www.venezuelasolidarity.org.]

Comments

Richard Gott: The Venezuelan Revolution Stumbles

Putting a brave face on a major electoral setback early on Monday morning, president Hugo Chavez quoted from a Guardian editorial that had referred to Venezuela's "vibrant democracy". The result of Sunday's regional elections, Chavez suggested, had been "a great victory for the country, for its constitution, and for its political system".

And indeed it was true that his recently created United Socialist Party of Venezuela had won the governorship of 17 states, whereas the conservative opposition to his Bolivarian Revolution had only secured five. Yet the president of the National Electoral Council, close to tears, had announced earlier that the Chavez government had lost the city of Caracas and its outer suburb of Miranda, as well as the important western state of Zulia, on the Colombian frontier. Later results showed that the Chavistas had also lost the state of Carabobo and Tachira, as well as the municipality of Sucre (which includes the vast working class town of Petare in the eastern outskirts of the capital).

Although the former vice-president Jorge Rodriguez won the state of El Libertador, in which two million people live in shanty towns of western Caracas, Venezuela's most important urban centres - Maracaibo, Valencia, and Caracas - are now in the hands of the opposition. This appears to follow the recent trend in Latin America, where the right have won great cities like Buenos Aires in Argentina and Sao Paulo in Brazil. As a result of this unfavourable vote in the urban areas, Chavez has lost the services of important long time colleagues, including Aristobulo Isturiz, Jesse Chacon, and Diosdado Cabello.

Yet in spite of this electoral reverse, this is a country that remains in a state of revolutionary change, a vast upheaval involving politics, culture, patterns of work, or new ways of thinking, the relationship between men and women, the adoption of new technologies, the explosion of community media, the revival of historical memory, and the mobilisation of millions of people to overcome the tedium of daily life.

New schools, new posts for medical assistance, and new cultural centres have been springing up in every shanty town throughout the country. Health and education have been a priority in other Latin American countries in recent years - an area of social transformation which Cuba has long been in the lead - yet only in Venezuela has the prosaic task of providing people with the basic necessities of life been accompanied by this revolutionary awakening of the people to the possibilities of what they themselves can do to achieve improvement, betterment, and change.

Sunday's elections took place in a disciplined atmosphere of suppressed excitement as people rose to the task of bringing out the vote and thereby ensuring the continuity of the revolutionary process, yet as the day wore on a more sombre mood prevailed as people began to contemplate the possibility of defeat.

It is true, of course, that half the population - for reasons of class or race or family upbringing - remains adjacent to this unique revolutionary process, and prefers to remain on the sidelines of history. Yet many Venezuelans, after 10 years of upheaval under the leadership of Hugo Chavez, remain solidly supportive of the project of which they see themselves to be an integral part.

All this is now under threat. The Chavez government was expecting to lose three or four states in Sunday's elections, since the opposition had foolishly called for an electoral boycott at the last regional elections four years ago, but the loss of the principal cities is a huge blow; the analysis of what happened and why has already begun. One failing today seems obvious: although the Bolivarian Revolution has gone a long way towards addressing the problems of health and education throughout the country, a number of specifically urban phenomena have not been adequately tackled. Crime, housing, transport, and rubbish collection are all areas where the Chavista governors have failed to produce results - and their candidates have paid the price.

Opposition politicians, some of whom supported the anti-Chavez coup in 2002, face the challenge of trying to deal with the mess, inherited from way back before the Chavez era. Antonio Ledezma, the new mayor of Caracas, has already mentioned the introduction of neighbourhood policing to tackle the crime wave. Yet in a country that remains deeply polarised, the new urban authorities are faced with an superhuman task, while the Chavistas will look on in dismay.

IMT's `balance sheet' of the November 23 election

Venezuela: A first balance sheet of the elections
http://www.marxist.com/venezuela-first-balance-sheet-elections.htm

By Patrick Larsen in Venezuela
Monday, 24 November 2008

Just past midnight on November 24, the Venezuelan CNE, National Electoral Commission, announced the first results of the elections for local mayors and state governors. From these figures it emerges that the forces of the revolution lost the elections in some important states. However, it is important to note, that 5.6 million people voted for the PSUV. This is an increase of more than one million votes on the December 2007 constitutional referendum result. On the other hand, only around 4 million voted for the opposition candidates. This means that the right-wing opposition actually lost more than 300,000 votes. This reveals the real balance of forces.

While the PSUV (United Socialist Party of Venezuela) won in 17 states, the opposition won in 5 (one state was not electing its governor in these elections). In the previous local and regional elections (in 2004), the opposition only managed to win two governorships - in the states of Zulia and Nueva Esparta. This time the opposition managed to add to this the states of Miranda, Carabobo, Táchira and the important Alcaldía Mayor of Caracas (the Greater Caracas council). While the final results for Carabobo and Táchira have not yet been announced, the preliminary count gives the opposition a majority there.

Although it should be emphasized that the PSUV won back three states (Sucre, Aragua and Guarico) from those governors who formed part of PODEMOS and had betrayed the revolution, this cannot make up for the loss of important states such as the ones mentioned above. Especially the loss of the crucially important Alcaldia Mayor of Caracas is an important setback and the opposition will use it as a base for building its support.
The importance of the elections

These were by no means "normal" elections. Everybody understood that they would have a decisive impact on the future of the revolution as a whole. From the outset the international bourgeoisie understood this very well. As the Spanish right-wing daily paper ABC put it; "Chavez faces elections in which the ‘future of the Bolivarian Revolution' is at stake." Other media tried to present a picture of chaos and uncertainty, distorting and exaggerating some of Chavez's previous statements. This is typical of the attitude of the bourgeois press whose sole intention is to discredit the Bolivarian government and prepare for its future downfall.

As we have reported earlier on, the threat of some kind of military coup is still present. In previous months various conspiracies were discovered by the Venezuelan authorities, involving both former and active high-ranking officers in the Armed Forces. In this context, the CICPC, a special attachment of the intelligence service, declared a state of alarm in 6 states, Tujillo, Lara, Portuguesa, Zulia, Bolívar and Carabobo, where intelligence reports had indicated the possibility of Opposition attempts to disturb the electoral process with violent means. During the Election Day itself 88 people were arrested for carrying arms illegally or disturbing by any means the electoral process.

In spite of this, there was a high turnout. Around 65% of the electorate voted, compared to only 45% in the 2004 local elections. Electoral centres were kept open for hours after the official closing time, as hundreds were still queuing up to cast their votes (something which the Opposition denounced as "undemocratic").
The root cause of the setback

The bureaucrats within the Bolivarian movement and within the PSUV will undoubtedly blame the masses for this new setback. They will say: "This shows the low level of consciousness, the masses are not mature for Socialism yet. Therefore we have to wait and postpone the building of Socialism". There will be a strong campaign in favour of "moderation" and strong pressure will be put on Chavez to adopt this line. Such a campaign will be a repetition of the one that followed the defeat in the constitutional referendum in December 2007 - but on a far higher scale.

However, there is another side to the situation. The conclusion that many of the more advanced layers drew in December 2007 was that it was precisely this policy (i.e. the policy of moderation) that had led to defeat. They began to rebel against what they saw as a fifth column within the ranks of the Bolivarian movement. This found its expression in the sharp contradictions at the PSUV national congress in February and also at the PSUV Youth Congress in September.

The loss of various states is in fact a continuation of the setback in the December 2007 constitutional reform referendum. The reasons are not very difficult to see. After 10 years of revolution and permanent mobilization, a section of the masses are growing weary of the lack of fundamental change in society. Although progress has been made in the social programmes, the misiones and the barrio adentro health care service, the fundamental problems (housing, jobs, prices) remain unsolved. At the present moment, due to the sabotage of the capitalists, there are food shortages in most of Venezuela, including such basic products as coffee, sugar and beans.

In Caracas food prices have skyrocketed, reaching nearly 50% over the last year. So has the crime-rate, reaching record levels in deaths per capita. The former mayor of the Alcaldía Mayor, Juan Barreto (who is a member of the PSUV), started out by carrying out expropriations of housing, but then retreated and thus proved unable to solve the housing problems of the poor urban masses.

In Miranda, the same problems prevail. Added to this is the fact that the PSUV candidate was Diosdado Cabello, a businessman and the outspoken leader of the "derecha endógena", the homegrown right wing of the government and of the PSUV. As in many other places, this clearly repelled many loyal Supporters-supporters.

The issue of corruption was also crucial in Carabobo, where the former "Bolivarian" governor (Acosta Carles, a military officer) had been shown to be involved in all sorts of murky business deals using his position. He was expelled from the PSUV and replaced by Mario Silva, a popular TV presenter. However, Acosta Carles stood against the PSUV candidate and managed to win enough votes to allow the right-wing candidate in.

These are just a few examples. What they show is that the main reason for the defeat is to be found in the disastrous effects, not of radical policies, but of reformist policies. Reformism has proved incapable of solving the urgent problems of the masses. This is especially true now, when a drastic fall in the oil price will reduce the amount of money available for social programmes.
Perspectives

This new electoral setback will undoubtedly be used by the right wing and the counter-revolutionaries in their campaign to overthrow Chavez and put a halt to the revolution. They achieved what they wanted; advances in some strategic states. From here they will go on to spread their campaign of building mistrust towards the government and criticize it more openly and more radically. They will use the results to mobilize their supporters and encourage them to work actively for the overthrow of Chavez. They will get support from the international bourgeois media which has been hammering home the idea of a weakened and discredited Chavez.

The Opposition may now launch a campaign to collect signatures for a recall referendum (as they did in 2004), which is allowed for in the Venezuelan Constitution. But this time they will probably be even more confident in their own strength and will make use of both legal and illegal methods to try to achieve their aims.

On the other hand, the masses will not remain passive. Frustration over a loss of several strategic positions will turn into anger. The masses will place the responsibility for this defeat on the bureaucracy and the unreliable and cowardly leaders that surround Chavez.

During the campaign Chavez travelled tirelessly from one part of the country to the other, even visiting some states twice. Everywhere he put the maximum effort into the campaign. But the PSUV candidates in many places watered down the political content of the campaign and did not make half the effort of Chavez. Even on election night, the PSUV candidates delivered what was a lame press conference, only to be outdone by Chavez himself shortly afterwards, giving an unannounced press conference himself.

This will have huge consequences within the PSUV, the PSUV Youth and the trade union movement. These organizations will be shaken from top to bottom. Beginning with the advanced layers in the vanguard, the masses will draw conclusions. They will see that the revolution is indeed in danger. They will move all their might to save the revolution - but this time the struggle will also be against the internal enemies of the revolution; the fifth column of bureaucrats infiltrated within the revolutionary movement.
The balance of forces

The elections reveal a profound polarisation in Venezuelan society, yes. But this does not mean the end of the revolution. As the above-mentioned figures show, the immense majority still support the revolution and the ideas of socialism, and are ready to move forward. Even on Election Day, wherever the Opposition tried to engineer riots, the people responded by taking to the streets and drove them out. This is the decisive point. In the final analysis, a revolution is not decided in parliament or in elections. A revolution is decided in the struggle between the classes, in the factories, in the universities and in the streets.

The situation is still very favourable for the revolution. Chavez has the support of the great majority of the population. He has an overwhelming majority in the National Assembly. Above all, the idea of socialism has caught the imagination of millions of workers, peasants, youth, women and the urban poor. In fact, all the conditions are ripe for launching an offensive that could abolish Capitalism and begin the building of Socialism.

The 5.6 million people who voted for the PSUV voted for Socialism. But after 10 years of revolution, it is not enough to talk of Socialism. Socialism must be implemented in action, if it is not to be a mere dream. The revolution needs to go onto the offensive!

Our slogans are:

No concessions to the right wing!
Implement the will of the majority - implement Socialism!
Nationalize the lands, the factories and the banks!
Workers' control in all factories!
Arm the people!
Forward to the Socialist Revolution!

Castro on Venezuela's November 23 election

Reflections by comrade Fidel

http://www.cuba.cu/gobierno/reflexiones/2008/ing/f241108i.html

ABSOLUTE TRANSPARENCY

Who can doubt it? Observers from all parts and varying shades have
attended the elections in Venezuela on November 23, 2007. They have
reported with absolute freedom. The oligarchy cried out like mad to
the world the coarse slander that the extension of the voting hours
at the polling stations, giving the citizens the possibility to cast
their vote, was intended to commit fraud, even though the National
Election Council had previously decided to do so and had announced
it.

This is a correct measure when adopted by the United States to
facilitate the indirect election of the President of that nation,
which is the model for the Venezuelan oligarchy, but it is wrong in
Venezuela, even though these are not presidential elections, which
are direct elections, the same as all the others for executive
positions.

The only thing honorable and clean to them is the contemptible
submission to the empire, the flight of capital amounting to billions
of dollars every year, and the prevalence of poverty, illiteracy and
over 20% unemployment.

I would not dare utter an opinion with regards to any other country
of this hemisphere, if I forgot that we are brothers and that Marti,
who fought and died for Cuba and for Our America, said one day as he
stood before the statue of the Liberator Simon Bolivar: “Venezuela
only needs to tell me what to do for her, for I am her son.”

At the moment, 40 thousand highly qualified compatriots are working
in that sister nation. They are willing to give their lives for
Bolivar’s people with which they share the risks of an imperialist
sweeping blow.

I am not an intruder giving an opinion in the country of the
Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA).

Venezuela has the potential to become a model of socialist
development with the resources formerly extracted by the
multinationals from its rich nature and the efforts of it manual and
intellectual workers. No foreign power shall determine its future.
The people are the masters of their destiny and they march on to
attain the highest levels of education, culture, health and full
employment. It is an example to be pursued by other sister nations
in this hemisphere and it does not give up: it does not wish to lag
behind a plundering empire. Venezuela rightly claims with dignity
that the UN General Assembly should design a new international
financial structure, and Cuba supports it in that endeavor.

Reading the international news, it would seem that the USSR
disintegrated just yesterday. As Stella Calloni would say, this
Monday the media terror spin broke loose. But after the storm has
passed, the truth will come up again.

Yesterday’s elections meant a qualitative step forward for the
Bolivarian revolutionary process that can be measured by many
aspects. It was not as the massive disinformation machinery would
have it: “Castro says that the Revolution in Venezuela will continue
despite the elections.” No, it’s not that! But rather that an
analysis of the basic data provided by the National Election Council
in its bulletins showed me clearly the great victory that has been
attained.

The data were precise; an unquestionable victory of the candidates
to governors in 17 of the 22 states, all of these members of the
Venezuelan Socialist United Party. The voters turn out was higher
than ever; 1.5 million more votes than those obtained by the
opponents running for such positions, and 264 posts of mayor of the
328 up for election. There is no opposition party but a group of
oppositionists with half a dozen parties, and absolute transparency.
That’s why I said and now repeat that it will be very difficult to
put out the flames of the Revolution in Venezuela.

Fidel Castro Ruz
November 24, 2008
6:35 p.m.

James Petras on Venezuela's November 23 election

Victory for Venezuela’s Socialists in Crucial Elections – November 2008

Author:
James Petras
The pro-Chavez United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) won 72% of the governorships in the November 23, 2008 elections and 58% of the popular vote, dumbfounding the predictions of most of the pro-capitalist pollsters and the vast majority of the mass media who favored the opposition.

PSUV candidates defeated incumbent opposition governors in three states (Guarico, Sucre, Aragua) and lost two states (Miranda and Tachira). The opposition retained the governorship in a tourist center (Nueva Esparta) and won in Tachira, a state bordering Colombia, Carabobo, and the oil state of Zulia, as well as scoring an upset victory in the populous state of Miranda and taking the mayoralty district of the capital, Caracas. The socialist victory was especially significant because the voter turnout of 65% exceeded all previous non-presidential elections. The prediction by the propaganda pollsters that a high turnout would favor the opposition also reflected wishful thinking.

The significance of the socialist victory is clear if we put it in a comparative historical context:

1. Few if any government parties in Europe, North or South American have retained such high levels of popular support in free and open elections.
2. The PSUV retained its high level of support in the context of several radical economic measures, including the nationalization of major cement, steel, financial and other private capitalist monopolies.
3. The Socialists won despite the 70% decline in oil prices (from $140 to $52 dollars a barrel), Venezuela’s principal source of export earnings, and largely because the government maintained most of its funding for its social programs.
4. The electorate was more selective in its voting decisions regarding Chavista candidates – rewarding candidates who performed adequately in providing government services and punishing those who ignored or were unresponsive to popular demands. While President Chavez campaigned for all the Socialist candidates, voters did not uniformly follow his lead where they had strong grievances against local Chavista incumbents, as was the case with outgoing Governor Diosdado Cabello of Miranda and the Mayor of the Capital District of Caracas. Socialist victories were mostly the result of a deliberate, class interest based vote and not simply a reflex identification with President Chavez.
5. The decisive victory of the PSUV provides the basis for confronting the deepening collapse of world capitalism with socialist measures, instead of pouring state funds to rescue bankrupt capitalist banks, commercial and manufacturing enterprises. The collapse of capitalism facilitates the socialization of most of the key economic sectors. Most Venezuelan firms are heavily indebted to the state and local banks. The Chavez government can ask the firms to repay their debts or handover the keys – in effect bringing about a painless and eminently legal transition to socialism.

The election results point to deepening polarization between the hard right and the socialist left. The centrist social-democratic ex-Chavista governors were practically wiped from the political map. The rightist winner in Miranda State, Henrique Capriles Radonsky, had tried to burn down the Cuban embassy during the failed military coup of April 2002 and the newly elected Governor of Zulia, Pablo Perez, was the hand picked candidate of the former hard-line rightwing Governor Rosales.

While the opposition controlled state governorships and municipal mayors can provide a basis to attack the national government, the economic crisis will sharply limit the amount of resources available to maintain services and will increase their dependence on the federal government. A frontal assault on the Chavez Government spending state and local funds on partisan warfare could lead to a decline of federal welfare transfers and would provoke grassroots discontent. The rightwing won on the basis of promising to improve state and city services and end corruption and favoritism. Resorting to their past practices of crony politics and extreme obstructionism could quickly cost them popular support and undermine their hopes of transforming local gains into national power. The newly elected opposition governors and mayors need the cooperation and support of the Federal Government, especially in the context of the deepening crisis, or they will lose popular support and credibility.

Conclusion

There is no point in expecting the mass media to recognize the Socialist victory. Its effort to magnify the significance of the opposition’s 40% electoral vote and their victory in 20% of the states was predictable. In the post-election period, the Socialists, no doubt, will critically evaluate the results and hopefully re-think the selection of future candidates, emphasizing job performance on local issues over and above professed loyalty to President Chavez and ‘Socialism’. The immediate and most pressing task facing the PSUV, President Chavez, the legislators and the newly elected Chavez officials is to formulate a comprehensive socio-economic strategic plan to confront the global collapse of capitalism. This is especially critical in dealing with the sharp fall in oil prices, federal revenues, and the inevitable decline in government spending. Chavez has promised to maintain all social programs even if oil prices remain at or below $50 dollars a barrel. This is clearly a positive and defensible position if the government manages to reduce its huge subsidies to the private sector and doesn’t embark on any bailout of bankrupt or nearly bankrupt private firms. While $40 billion dollars in reserves can serve as a temporary cushion, the fact remains that the government, with the backing of its majorities in the federal legislature and at the state levels, needs to make hard choices and not simply print money, run bigger deficits, devalue the currency and exacerbate the already high rates of annual inflation (31% as of November).

The only reasonable strategy is to take control of foreign trade and directly oversee the commanding heights of the productive and distributive sectors and set priorities that defend popular living standards. To counter-act bureaucratic ineptness and neutralize lazy elected officials, effective power and control must be transferred to organized workers and autonomous consumer and neighborhood councils. The recent past reveals that merely electing socialist mayors or governors is not sufficient to ensure the implementation of progressive policies and the delivery of basic services. Liberal representative government (even with elected socialists) requires at a minimum mass popular control and mass pressure to implement the hard decisions and popular priorities in the midst of a deepening and prolonged economic crisis.

Venezuela: Feet of Clay or an Achilles’ Heel?

Media outlets were predicting a disaster for Venezuela's Chavistas. Desperate for news that was fit to print, the opposition-controlled Venezuelan press and its foreign counterparts convinced many that the time had come for Hugo Chávez and his Bolivarian Revolution, after stumbling a year ago in a slim referendum defeat, to finally reveal its feet of clay and come crashing down under its own weight. But the opposition had already squandered the slight momentum it achieved a year ago on partisan bickering, and would not live up to the unrealistic optimism it sought to foster in the media.

In reality, the catastrophic collapse of Chavismo was not to be, but nor was this a crushing victory or a clear mandate for the drastic radicalization of the revolutionary process. What was revealed was not feet of clay, but an Achilles' heel, giving necessary pause to revolutionaries and imposing reflection on some serious strategic losses.

Opposition Scaremongering

For a Venezuelan opposition still not entirely comfortable with the notion of democracy, elections have much more to do with media maneuvering than the actual vote, and they would find in Simon Romero of the New York Times a convenient mouthpiece. Either through trademark laziness or unprecedented effort to distort the truth, Romero took aim at Chávez's recent statements regarding the election in the state of Carabobo, suggesting that the president was threatening to refuse to recognize an opposition victory in the state, instead sending tanks to quell the opposition. Unsurprisingly, what Chávez had actually said was quite different: he had noted that the opposition candidate for the state governorship, Enrique Salas Feo, had been an active participant in the 2002 coup, suggesting that an opposition victory in Carabobo might provide a staging ground for another effort at his ouster. "I won't let them overthrow me," Chávez insisted, "and I might have to bring out the tanks to defend this revolutionary government."

With the mediatic framework in place, the opposition on the ground engaged in the perennial strategy of preemptively undermining the eventual results of the election. At 4pm on election day, opposition leaders---conspicuously including Ismael García, leader of the formerly-Chavista PODEMOS---declared "generalized fraud" as some electoral centers remained open after the nominal closing time, demanding that voting centers be closed immediately. But such calls were in open violation of Venezuelan law, under which voting centers are obligated to remain open as long as a line of voters remains. The day's high participation-the opposition knew from the outset-was not to their favor.

Participation was indeed high: some 66% of registered voters are reported to have turned out, a record of sorts for local elections. And this despite the torrential rains that have pelted much of the country in recent days, prompting inevitable comparison to the notorious rains and cataclysmic mudslides that plagued the 1999 constitutional referendum, and the equally-notorious declarations by the Catholic Church that the rains constituted a punishment for Chávez's impudence. This vote, however, was not that of an exuberantly young process as in 1999, but rather a necessary hurdle to be surpassed as a sign of institutional revolutionary maturity, and therein lay the specific challenges it posed. 

Modest Opposition Gains

In the western oil state of Zulia, Chavista candidate and former mayor of Maracaibo Giancarlo Di Martino put up a valiant fight, garnering some 45% of the vote in what had been an opposition stronghold against hand-picked successor of former opposition presidential candidate Manuel Rosales, Pablo Pérez, with 53%. While this victory for the opposition---like the win in Nueva Esparta state---was no surprise, the relative tightness of the race was. And equally surprising was the fact that Chavistas managed to pick up a majority of mayoral races in the escualido stronghold of Nueva Esparta.

More surprising, however, were slim opposition pickups in Táchira and Carabobo states. In traditionally conservative Táchira, Chavistas have fared poorly in recent years, a fact not helped by the departure of Luis Tascón, a fiery Tachirense, from the PSUV ranks. In Carabobo, incumbent former Chavista Felipe Acosta Carlez---best known for offending the press by belching and farting on television---refused to comply with PSUV internal elections, insisting on running for re-election against the official Chavista candidate and TV personality Mario Silva. While Acosta Carlez only took 6.5%, this was almost certainly enough to tip the scales in a close race only decided by three percentage points.

A Key Loss in Metropolitan Caracas

The two most surprising and significant victories for the opposition were certainly in metropolitan Caracas and the neighboring state of Miranda, and both have clear repercussions for the future, since the defeated Chavista candidates were the two most likely successors to the president himself. But the lessons to be taken from the two are different. While Chávez's own support is highest in rural areas, in past elections the president has generally been able to win many of the country's large metropolitan areas, albeit by small margins. Caracas itself is a city divided, with poor barrios voting overwhelmingly for Chávez and the wealthier-but less populated-areas voting up to 80% against. It has been from these opposition zones that the young leadership of the right has emerged, in the charismatic figures of Leopoldo López and Henrique Radonski, both with their origins in the far-right, U.S.-sponsored Primero Justicia party.

While López was disqualified from seeking election as metropolitan mayor due to pending corruption charges, he threw his significant weight behind far-right former Caracas mayor and previously intransigent abstentionist Antonio Ledezma. Indeed, for an opposition which tends to be its own worst enemy, López's disqualification may have proven a blessing in disguise, as it avoided the always messy process of selecting a joint candidate. The Chavista candidate, Aristóbulo Isturiz, is a former education minister and one of the most respected names within the Revolution, having risen from union ranks to the Congress when Chávez himself was a young coup plotter. In the end, however, Ledezma pulled off an upset, returning him to a post that he held more than a decade ago, when he had close ties to the now-discredited politicians of the Venezuelan ancien regime.

For an explanation as to how Ledezma managed this upset victory, we need to look at the five municipalities that make up metropolitan Caracas. Three are traditionally opposition bastions, and it is from two of these that López and Radonski emerged, whereas the sprawling municipality of Libertador in western Caracas has consistently gone Chavista. Despite multiple candidacies on either side, Chavistas maintained this control of Libertador, with former vice president Jorge Rodríguez winning handily over opportunist student leader Stalin González by a double-digit margin. But the only Caracas municipality to shift hands was Sucre in the east, a complex combination of upper-middle-class residential areas and the infamous Petare slums, in which Primero Justicia's Carlos Ocariz defeated former Chavista interior minister Jesse Chacón by 8 percentage points. Testifying both to discontent with prior Chavista municipal leadership as well as PJ's concerted efforts to build support in the less-revolutionary barrios of Petare, it seems as though Sucre may have been the cause of the metropolitan area tipping toward the opposition.

We would be wrong to interpret this opposition coup in the metropolitan area of Caracas as having merely political implications: in the last real coup, in 2002, the opposition-controlled Metropolitan Police played a key role in staging the bloodbath used to justify Chávez's ouster. And given the fact that in many areas the Metropolitan Police have effectively withdrawn, allowing revolutionary popular militias to control security, the next few years could see open warfare once again on the streets of Caracas. This victory for the opposition, while slim in margin, is potentially massive in its implications.

Diosdado Goes Down

The other shock defeat for the Chavistas came in neighboring Miranda state, which itself contains half of the metropolitan area of Caracas. Here, Chávez's right-hand-man (emphasis on the "right"), Diosdado Cabello, has been governing and consolidating a significant power base during the past four years. Originally a participant in Chávez's failed coup efforts, Cabello has since come to be a powerful and loyal ally of the president, stepping in as vice president during the 2002 coup to help undermine the coup. But Cabello has also come to represent the "endogenous right," quietly heading up the significant contingent of Chavistas who would like to take power themselves and moderate the revolutionary process. As a result of this uncomfortably public role as leader of the Chavista right, Cabello has suffered the scorn of voters before, notably within the PSUV itself, where he didn't manage to score within the top 15 elected members of the party leadership (only to be subsequently appointed by Chávez).

If Cabello's star is fading, his opponent Henrique Capriles Radonski is himself a rising star of the opposition and currently mayor of Baruta municipality. A young, charismatic heartthrob, whose personal website features the mayor in several shirtless, modelesque poses, Radonski has also (like López) run afoul of the law, for participating in a public attack and siege on the Cuban Embassy during the 2002 coup. Luckily for Radonski, however, charges were dropped in time for the elections, in which his record of governance in wealthy Baruta combined with Diosdado's waning popularity to deliver a heavy defeat in Miranda. Here, certainly, Cabello's own electoral feet were shown to be made of clay. If this bodes well for the superstar of the Venezuelan opposition---himself a possible presidential opponent in years to come---the result isn't entirely negative for those Chavistas who had grown wary of Cabello's increasingly visible role within the governing movement.

The Map is Still Red

The mainstream press has made every effort to frame these elections in such a way that the opposition would inevitably appear as the winner. Central to this framing was the oft-repeated claim that, prior to the election, Chavistas controlled 21 of 23 state governments. This is simply nonsense. While it is true that after the 2004 gubernatorial elections, Chavistas had gained control of 21 states, such control wouldn't last, and the social-democratic PODEMOS coalition would soon move toward the opposition, taking with it the states of Aragua and Sucre. Furthermore, as incumbent governors refused to be displaced by the PSUV primary process, further ruptures ensued in Guárico, Carabobo, and Yaracuy, reducing PSUV control of incumbents to 16.

As first vice president of the PSUV Alberto Müller Rojas put it in his post-election press conference, "we regained four states lost through treason," further noting that the PSUV had consolidated itself as the first political force in the country. Chávez himself echoed this sentiment in a surprise appearance just moments later:

We're almost ten years from that initial victory, and the people have expressed their will, and vaya, con qué contundencia! ... Once again we see the shattering of those irrational, outlandish, and unsubstantiated arguments that some still dare to make about Venezuela... both those who voted for the Revolution and those who voted for other candidates, they all showed that here we have a democratic system, that here we respect the decision of the people... Who could say that there is a dictatorship in Venezuela?

 

Speaking directly to opposition claims to have defeated Chávez and the PSUV, his response was stark: "If they want to fall into lies, let them fall into lies... we have won 17 gubernatorial races, our party has been consolidated, we are headed for 6 million votes, and the map [of Venezuela] is dressed almost totally in red!" But the president warned nevertheless of the need to self-criticize, recognize errors, and take responsibility for the losses incurred, "because it's like a war, when an advancing army takes 20 hills and loses two, but takes three more on the way. What is most important is to maintain the rhythm of the march and the rhythm of victory."

According to the early count, the PSUV obtained 5.3 million votes, compared with the 4.3 million garnered by the opposition, and this despite losing the two most densely-populated states in the country. Jorge Rodríguez insisted that the opposition recognize the clear PSUV mandate, arguing that "when it comes to the strength of Venezuelan democracy, you can't block out the sun with your finger." But we can expect the privately-controlled Venezuelan press and their international counterparts to attempt to do just that, insisting that the Chavistas have dropped from 21 to 17 states, when in reality, seen correctly, they have actually gained in the overall picture. And where they won, they often did so somewhat astoundingly, claiming some 73% in Lara and 61% in Vargas. Chavistas won a total of 8 states by 10% or more, 4 states by 20% or more, and 2 states by 50% or more, as compared to the opposition's best showing of 57% in Nueva Esparta.

The Achilles Heel of the Revolution

If we were to follow the mainstream press talking points, the lesson of the elections was the failure of the Revolution in dealing with the everyday wants and needs of the Venezuelan population. This is half true, but the issue is too often reduced to its most mundane aspects, depriving the Venezuelan people of the capacity for political judgment. Certainly, the fact that garbage often piles up in the streets and that violence continues to plague Venezuelan cities contributed to the shock defeat of Chavista forces in the metropolitan area. But the banality of the everyday doesn't quite capture the gap between Chávez's 63% approval rating and the tangible repulsion that many Venezuelans feel for their local officials, who are often seen---with more than a little justification---as corrupt opportunists.

The municipal and state officials that were elected Sunday, while representing an institutional level that remains necessary at the present moment, are nevertheless merely a stepping stone for many on the road to a more substantive popular-communal "dual power." As alternative institutions develop, specifically the local and directly-democratic communal councils, many hope to see the more heavily bureaucratized levels of government replaced entirely. And as the councils flex their muscles, these elected officials will become all the more rabidly defensive of their power quota. Which is all to say that, if local elections represent the Achilles' heel of the Bolivarian Revolution, perpetually threatening to trip up its progress and disrupt its connection with the grassroots, we can only expect this conflict to intensify in the short term.

George Ciccariello-Maher is a Ph.D. candidate in political theory at UC Berkeley. He is currently writing a people's history of the Bolivarian Revolution entitled We Created Him. He can be reached at gjcm(at)berkeley.edu.

Venezuela Information Office on 2008 Regional Elections

 

US Socialist Worker on Venezuela's Nov. 23 regional elections

http://socialistworker.org/2008/11/26/opposition-gains-in-venezuela

Opposition gains mar Chavista election win

Lee Sustar reports that Venezuela's conservative opposition made a breakthrough in strategic areas despite an overall victory for President Hugo Chávez's party.

VENEZUELA'S OPPOSITION scored some strategic gains in regional and local elections November 23, even though President Hugo Chávez's party won about 57 percent of the overall vote in an election with high turnout.

Chávez's United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV, according to its Spanish initials) won 17 of 22 state elections for governor. But it lost control of three important states--Miranda, Tachira and Carabobo--as well as the post of mayor of Greater Caracas; the positions were captured by the U.S.-backed right-wing opposition.

The right also held onto the state of Nueva Esparta and won in the oil-producing state of Zulia--which the Chavistas had tried hard to capture--with a big majority.

Chávez insisted that the PSUV--created last year from most of the parties that had backed his coalition--had decisively won its first electoral contest. "Whoever says that the counterrevolution won...if you want to fall for lies, go ahead and fall for lies," Chávez said, declaring that the election "has been a great victory for the revolutionary forces."

Certainly the opposition's gains were markedly lower than what was predicted by opinion polls earlier this year that anticipated 10 governor's posts for the right. The high turnout of 65.45 percent benefited the PSUV, which increased its vote compared to last December's constitutional referendum, for a total of 5.4 million. The elections chose 22 governors, 328 mayors and 225 representatives of legislative electoral councils.

Nevertheless, the opposition has mounted a comeback over the last year, starting with the defeat of the constitutional referendum, which would have instituted social reforms and concentrated more power in the presidency.

Although it had been largely discredited by its role in the failed 2002 U.S.-backed coup against Chávez, the opposition has in recent months undergone a makeover. The key to this new image was the rise of a conservative--and violent--middle-class student movement that took up the banner of "democracy," as well the support of some moderate figures who had defected from the Chávez camp.

The U.S. oversaw this effort to refurbish the opposition--and help pay for it. According to investigator Eva Gollinger, the U.S. Agency for International Development poured $4.7 million into opposition groups for the electoral campaign.

But an improved image for the right and continued U.S. interference doesn't fully explain the opposition's gains. If the right could make some headway, it's because of the continued problems of inflation, uncontrolled crime and the shortage of secure, long-term jobs in spite of an unemployment rate of 7.2 percent, the lowest in 30 years.

The mass of Venezuela's poor and working class have benefited from a series of sweeping reforms, including access to health care and education, land reform, affirmative action for indigenous peoples and dramatic reductions in poverty. Revenues from the state oil company PDVSA funded much of these changes. Moreover, recent nationalizations of the steel, cement and other industries reflect further government attempts to steer Venezuela's economy towards meeting social needs.

Yet at the same time, wealth remains concentrated in the hands of the wealthy oligarchy, and the rich and the upper middle class have benefited most from Venezuela's rapid, oil-driven growth in recent years, even as inflation puts constant pressure on working-class living standards. The economy therefore has provided a focus for the opposition's agitation against the government.

This set the stage for some serious losses for the Chavistas. The mayor's post in greater Caracas went to oppositionist Antonio Ledezma of the Brave Peoples' Alliance, who held the post when it was an appointed position in the early 1990s.

"Ledezma is considered to be an integral part of the country's old political guard, given his ties to former President Carlos Andrés Perez," wrote Gregory Wilpert of Venezuelanalysis.com. The defeated Chavista candidate was former education minister Aristóbulo Isturiz, one of Venezuela's best-known politicians of African descent.

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ACCORDING TO Gonzalo Gómez of the Marea Socialista collective in the PSUV, the unevenness of the left's strength in different parts of the city opened the door to the opposition:

In Catia, my electoral district to the west of Caracas, we won in large voting centers where we had previously lost, but the number of votes was not sufficient to counteract the right in the upper-class neighborhoods in Caracas, such as the municipalities of Baruta, El Hatillo and Chacao.

The left, both inside and outside the PSUV, must take advantage of the opportunity these results give us to confront the endogenous right (right-wingers and businessmen who claim to be Chavistas) even more forcefully while we debate the results as well their causes and meaning.

The pro-Chávez far left is viewing these results soberly, but many militants see an opportunity as well. Martín Sánchez, the consul general of Venezuela in San Francisco, put it this way:

The results in some regions can be used as an opportunity to purge the ranks of opportunists and corrupt local leaders--as a way for the leadership of the PSUV to reflect on the need to allow a new layer of young leaders to gain more prominent roles, and more importantly, as an excellent opportunity to accelerate the transfer of power to the communities.

Organizations such as the Communal Councils will be able to challenge local mayors and governors in a more frontal way, divert more power away from those local leaders, and bring the concept of communal power closer to reality.

The phrase "communal power" refers to efforts by the Chávez government to promote new forms of local organization to give power to grassroots movements and organizations.

Such changes would have been given constitutional force if last year's referendum had passed. But a law passed earlier this year mandates that the national and state governments allocate funds to the communal councils, and social movements and the left have continued to press for such changes at the local level. Now, activists hope to use this new law to further popular participation in local communities.

One laboratory for communal power could be Libertador, the poorest and most populous of Caracas' five municipalities. There, former vice president and PSUV leader Jorge Rodríguez won election as mayor, despite dissatisfaction with the incumbent Chavista mayor, Freddy Bernal.

Opposition victories will complicate efforts to build communal power, however. In Sucre, one of the four municipalities that comprises Greater Caracas, the opposition candidate, Carlos Ocariz, won with 55.7 percent of the vote. He defeated Jesse Chacón, one of the most high-profile Chavista politicians in the country.

Chacón has been minister of the departments of Justice, Interior, Telecommunications and Communications and is widely seen as competent. But discontent over the poor performance of the incumbent Chavista mayor led to Chacón's defeat, as the middle class sections of the area mobilized to vote, while turnout among workers and the poor was lower.

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ANOTHER BIG loss for the government came in the important state of Miranda that surrounds Caracas.

There, the incumbent governor, Diosdado Cabello, was ousted by Henrique Capriles Radonski, a notorious right-winger implicated in a violent attack on the Cuban embassy during the failed U.S.-backed coup of April 2002. Cabello has long been accused by the left of corruption, and is seen by many activists as the symbol of a right wing, pro-business faction within the Chavista camp.

The high profile of figures like Cabello undermined the PSUV's electoral appeal and gave the right a major opportunity, said Gonzalo Gómez:

I think the results are bad because of the importance of the strategic spaces won by the opposition. However, now we are going to confront the enemy (bureaucratic, corrupt and supposedly socialist opportunist governments) without any cushion to soften the shock. And there are no reasons for the rank and file groups to abstain from confronting the mayors or governors who might not want to transfer power to the people, be they from the opposition or pro-Chavez.

The left-wing critique that some rank-and-file activists have made puts us in a good position in the debates that are to come.

Now a new opposition offensive will be on its way, even though at first they are going to say that they ought to have respectful relations with the government, or other such stupidities. It is necessary to insist on putting forward communal power in Caracas and to confront the new mayor, Antonio Ledezma...

The slogan now is: Clean out corruption and more revolution! Push for communal power and for a socialist Caracas!

The left's push for socialism coincides with the worsening world economic crisis. With the dramatic fall in the price of oil, the economy will slow and set the stage for even sharper clashes between the left and the right.

Thus, the left is preparing to sharpen the debate within the Chavista movement, which embraces everything from the revolutionary left to moderate reformists under the banner of Bolivarianism, named for South America's 19th-century independence leader, Simon Bolívar.

"Numerically, the total number of states won by Chavismo is high, but strategically, the loss of two bastions like Caracas and Miranda is a hard blow to the government of the Bolivarian process," wrote Diana Cordero of the Insurrectasypunto.org, the Web site of a leftist lesbian-feminist collective Josefa Camejo.

"If the results show well enough that Chavismo has consolidated itself as the first force in the country, tomorrow morning, we must analyze very carefully the causes of these two defeats."

Todd Chretien contributed to this article.

PSUV did well considered, despite loss of key post

Below is a comment I made to the Marxmail discussion e-list on November 26 in a discussion on the election results, in particular responding to a comment that the results were "distressing". Since hten, a number of things have happened that could be considered "distressing", if perhaps not surprising: the violent assault on a number of missions and popular spaces. But there is also the mobilisation of people against this and Chavez's call for "permanent mobilisation".

Once again, the whip of the counterrevolution might drive the revolution forward, as Chavez has pointed out about the past. We could see a revival of popular mobilisation. Of course it is all potential, as is the outcome of the very important battles that are beginning in the aftermath of the vote.

* * *

My comment:

Well the results maybe weren't brilliant, not compared to the December 2006 presidential vote for instance. And the Chavistas did lose some important positions.

But, taken as a whole, I can't see why the results are "distressing", unless you went into these elections with massive illusions - illusions that should have been at least shaken by the referendum result last year.

If that vote was repeated, then the situation would be much, much worse.

The vote rebounded by 20% from the referendum vote. That actually represents *progress*. I don't find progress distressing, I find it encouraging.

It is all a bit relative, it depends what you are taking as your point of departure, and I think it is fair to take the referendum results, because it was such a big wake up call for the revolution about the depth of its problems that have threatened its survival.

The referendum results were due to a number of factors tied to the weakness of the Chavista movement and its inability to solve key problems (both immediate problems facing the mass of people and its own organisation).

These results indicate some progress made in both directions - if there was no progress in reality, I don't believe it would have been reflected in the vote. And the vote reflected progress.

To find the result distressing I think is to hold up the PSUV to standards it isn't in a position to match.

I think when considering the vote, people should take close note of the role played by the Chavista bureaucrats that held a number of governor and mayor posts, and/or were candidates for the PSUV.

I don't find a defeat for the likes of right wing Chavista Diosdado Cabello in Miranda distressing - it seems quite understandable. What is remarkable is that there a number of Chavista bureacrats who, despite themselves, managed to get up (take that anti-worker bastard Rangel Gomez in Bolivar) - that to me says something about how deep going support for the revolutionary project that is embodied in Chavez there actually is.

It is impossible, and has for some time been impossible, to discuss the Bolivarian movement and the PSUV without placing at its centre its deep contradictions and (still unfolding) internal struggles. The class struggle is playing out within the Chavista camp and within the PSUV, and the endogenous right hold huge institutional weight.

This exists in direct relationship to the level of organisation and consciousness of the support base among the poor and the ranks.

To this we have to add the weakness of the organised workers' movement, a factor that both strengthens the hand of the endogenous right and that they help contribute to with their hostile actions.

There is no point expecting a PSUV that is weighed down with such contradictions, that has advanced despite such contradictions, to achieve what *might* have been achieved if there was a mass party that had already resolved such contradictions, had won those battles, had thrown out the powerful bureaucrats, had defeated them politically, had consistently pro-worker, pro poor revolutionary candidates that could build on the record of similar calibre mayors and governors etc etc

If only this was the case!

But such things are the product of real life struggle, unfortunately, not desires.

If this was a referendum on the project of socialism, it was a referendum in which the side of revolutionary socialism was weighed down with a heavy handicap - to say nothing of the performance enhancing drugs the horse of counter-revolution was running with in terms of controlling 95% of the media etc.

These factors must be taken into consideration, and, if we do - while recognising the very real setbacks in losing some important positions - we can also say that the vote contained modest but important gains that show the vitality of the revolution and its mass support. And the entry of the PSUV as a viable political instrument, with all of its problems and unfinished struggles, is very important because it s a vehicle that has, unevenly, mobilised the ranks - something that was missing a year ago with the constitutional reform vote.

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