Venezuela: Chavez’s socialist party wins 20 of 23 states in regional elections; PSUV activists debate party's role
Supporters rally for PSUV candidate for Merida, Alexis Ramirez. Photo from YVKE Mundial.
By Tamara Pearson, Merida
December 16, 2012 -- VenezuelAnalysis -- With all votes counted to the point of results being irreversible, the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) has won 20 states, and the opposition Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD) coalition, three states in the December 16 regional elections.
The opposition lost control of Zulia, Tachira, Carabobo, Monagas and Nueva Esparta, but retained Amazonas and Miranda and Lara states.
In Miranda, one of the key states at stake, contested by PSUV ex-vice-president Elias Jaua, and the opposition presidential candidate and current governor of Miranda, Henrique Capriles, the opposition won with 50% to Jaua’s 46%.
In Bolivar state, where the results were very close, the opposition candidate Andres Velasquez is refusing to recognise his defeat and has called on locals to “defend” his “victory”.
Venezuelans and residents chose 23 state governors and 237 state legislators. The results of the state legislative voting have yet to be announced.
In the 2008 regional elections the PSUV won 17 of the 22 states being contested.
For state by state results see below.
Participation levels and voting mood
Turnout was just under 54% , though this varied markedly in different regions. In the 2008 state elections (which were slightly different to these ones in that they also included mayoral elections) participation rate was 65.45% of registered voters.
“In general you can see an environment of apparent calm, with some levels of abstention that have been higher than we expected”, Leonardo Briceno, a teacher from Merida state told Venezuelanalysis.com’s Ewan Robertson.
The voting mood in many states has been reported to be peaceful, but somewhat apathetic, a contrast to the usual joyful ambience that has marked Venezuelan elections over the last thirteen years.
PSUV leader Jorge Rodriguez said that the “popular” or poorer areas had longer queues and higher participation than other areas.
The head of the operational strategic command for the Bolivarian Armed Forces, Wilmer Barrientos, informed press that the voting process had been carried out with “absolutely normality”, and that only 19 people have been detained, and of those, six people arrested for electoral crimes.
There were 12,748 voting booths, with a total of 36.220 voting machines distributed among them, and 17,421,946 eligible voters, 186,036 of which are foreign born residents.
Amazonas: PSUV: Nicia Maldonado 37%, MUD: Liborio Guarulla 65%
Anzoategui: PSUV: Aristóbulo Istúriz 53.97% MUD: Antonio Barreto Sira 41.06%
Apure: PSUV: Ramón Carrizález 59.83% MUD: Luis Lippa 22.42%
Aragua: PSUV: Tareck El Aissami 52.72% MUD: Richard Mardo 42.71%
Barinas: PSUV: Adán Chávez 54.69% MUD: Julio César Reyes 41.72%
Bolivar: PSUV: Francisco Rangel Gómez 43.57% MUD: Andrés Velásquez 42.34%
Carabobo: PSUV: Francisco Ameliach 53.49% MUD: Henrique Salas Feo 42.7%
Cojedes: PSUV: Érika Farías 59.27% MUD: Alberto Galindez 35.31%
Delta Amacuro: PSUV: Lizeta Hernández 61.27% MUD: Arévalo Salazar 20.99%
Falcon: PSUV: Stella Lugo de Montilla 48.28% MUD: Gregorio Graterol 35.28%
Guarico: PSUV: Rodríguez Chacín 70.41% MUD: José Manuel González 25.55%
Lara: PSUV: Luis Reyes Reyes 41.98% MUD: Henri Falcón 54.35%
Merida: PSUV: Alexis Ramírez 47.56% MUD: Lester Rodríguez 37.96%
Miranda: PSUV: Elías Jaua Milano 46.13% MUD: Henrique Capriles Radonski 50.35%
Monagas: PSUV: Yelitze Santaella 52. 59% MUD: Soraya Hernández - Independent: Jose Briceño: 40.67%
Nueva Esparta: PSUV: Carlos Mata Figueroa 52. 44% MUD: Morel Rodríguez 44.34%
Portuguesa: PSUV: Wilmar Castro Soteldo 50.96% MUD: Iván Colmenares - PCV: Oswaldo Zerpa 22.59%
Sucre: PSUV: Luis Acuña 56.77% MUD: Hernán Núñez 35.26%
Tachira: PSUV: José Vielma Mora 51.7% MUD: César Pérez Vivas 44.48%
Trujillo: PSUV: Rangel Silva 79.4% MUD: José Hernández 17.31%
Vargas: PSUV: Jorge Luis García Carneiro 69.05% MUD: José Manuel Olivares 24.13%
Yaracuy: PSUV: Julio León Heredia 57.08% MUD: Biagio Pilieri 36.05%
Zulia: PSUV: Francisco Arias Cárdenas 50.99% MUD: Pablo Pérez 46.74%.
Venezuela: Campaigns for regional polls were hard fought
By Ryan Mallett-Outtrim
December 4, 2012 -- Green Left Weekly -- Despite securing a comfortable victory in the October 2012 presidential election, the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) is set for a harder struggle in crucial regional elections on December 16.
However, even opposition polls show PSUV is likely to keep control of most governorships. The issue is whether the opposition Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD) can win or hold key seats, or the PSUV can build on the momentum from the presidential vote and important social gains.
Chavez easily won the October 7 president elections after impressive social gains for the poor majority as a result of the revolution his government leads. Chavez won the popular vote over the right-wing opposition in 22 out of 24 states, but many of the votes for governorships, mayors and municipal candidates look set to be closely fought on December 16.
The high support for Chavez does not necessarily extend to others in his party. Participatory grassroots democracy is one of the principles of the revolution, championed by Chavez, but some pro-Chavez office-bearers have been criticised being bureaucratic, isolated from the grassroots or hostile to the goal of popular democracy. The candidates for December 16 were hand-picked by PSUV leaders, and not all candidates are trusted or supported by the ranks of the Chavista movement.
The US-backed opposition has sought to exploit frustrations at inefficiency, corruption and bureaucracy that have undermined the revolution's popular programs.
The PSUV won 17 governorships in the 2008 election, but the opposition won some key states.
However, since then, the revolution has advanced on a range of fronts ― such as housing, efficiency in the social missions and land reform. Crime and the judicial system remain a source of popular frustration.
Many of the 23 state governor positions and 229 positions in state legislative councils are hotly contested between the PSUV and opposition, particularly in states such as Miranda, Zulia and Merida.
Polls remain split on the outcome in the key battleground state of Miranda, where former PSUV vice-president Elias Jaua will go up against incumbent governor Henrique Capriles Radonski.
Miranda is the second most populous state, and includes key sections of the capital Caracas. Opposition candidate Radonski defeated Chavista incumbent Diosdado Cabello, the PSUV vice-president often identified by grassroots Chavistas as a figurehead for more right-wing, bureaucratic forces in the party.
In recent weeks, Jaua's campaign has been focused on crime ― a key focus of Capriles' failed presidential bid in October.
Jaua has proposed more cooperation between the state and national governments in tackling Miranda's severe crime rates, an initiative opposed by Capriles during his time as governor.
Communist Party of Venezuela
Meanwhile, in the states of Merida, Amazonas, Portuguesa and Bolivar, the PSUV will not only face MUD and independents, but also its ally, the Communist Party of Venezuela (PCV). Although far smaller than the PSUV, the PCV is the second largest party that supports Chavez.
PCV leader Douglas Gomez has told Venezuelan media that PCV candidates in these states are not “candidates of Chavez, but they are candidates of the revolutionary process...”
Venezuela Analysis said in the state of Merida, PSUV candidate Alexis Ramirez is “relatively unknown”. But the candidate supported by the PCV, Florencio Porras, has also been criticised. Venezuela Analysis said the two offer revolutionaries a “choice between two bads” for the left.
In Bolivar, the PCV has responded to widespread criticism of the PSUV candidate by registering their own, Manuel Arciniega.
The PSUV governor of Bolivar and candidate for December 16, Francisco Rangel Gomez, has been criticised for anti-worker policies, including working against the development of workers' control in the state, in conflict with government policy.
In 2008, Rangel Gomez backed the management of the Sidor steel firm against striking workers – and used National Guard and local police to attack protesting workers. The dispute ended when Chavez intervened on the side of workers and nationalised the steel plant.
Gomez runs a powerful political machine and enjoys support in the polls. But his PCV opponent has gained ground since coming fourth in the 2008 regional elections in Bolivar.
Critics also claim Gomez is allied with reformists and members of the old union bureaucracy who oppose progressive labour measures supported by the PSUV nationally.
Unlike in Bolivar, in Trujillo state, grassroots dissatisfaction with PSUV candidate Hugo Cabezas resulted in the PSUV switching from Cabezas to defence minister Henry Rangel Silva.
Despite some tensions over candidates, Chavez publicly expressed confidence that “the revolution will triumph in the vast majority of states in Venezuela”.
The election comes amid a national discussion and debate initiated by the PSUV of the government's proposed Socialist Plan of the Nation for 2013-19. Mass assemblies and other forums have been taking place nationwide to discuss radical proposals for the socialist transition.
The results will have an impact ― a strengthening of the pro-Chavez forces will be a further endorsement of the socialist path the government is setting out. A further strengthening of the opposition, however, will make it harder to implement progressive, pro-people measures, giving greater institutional weight to those who oppose them.
Venezuela’s state elections: When winning comes before revolution
By Tamara Pearson, Merida
December 12, 2012 -- VenezuelAnalysis -- “We’ll deal with [the PSUV's problems] when the state elections are over”, a comrade said to me. “Ah, but then there’s the mayoral elections in April”, I replied. Debate within and criticism of the PSUV and its current state election campaign, as well as proper grassroots involvement, would be put off and put off, because in this incredibly democratic country there is always some kind of election coming up. Yet for how long will such sacrifices be made in the name of defeating the capitalist opposition?
Aram Aharonian, writing in Rebelion, was right when he argued that the December 16, 2012, state elections aren’t just “one election, they’re 23 different elections”, because each state has its own socioeconomic characteristics and different types of candidates running -- from bureaucrats, to an Indigenous minister, to the military, to the well known and the unknown.
However, all of the 23 PSUV candidates were chosen by President Hugo Chavez and the national PSUV executive. The PSUV is a national “machine”, as we are prone to call it here, and despite some regional differences, its state campaigning has been conducted according to national lines and a national strategy. So, although this article will focus on experiences in Merida state, the problems discussed of treating PSUV members like voters rather than activists, of isolating political parties and movements that are not aligned to the PSUV and so on, are problems that are across the board, and though more pertinent in this election campaign, can be said to be general problems in the PSUV.
Not only one of the main election slogans (here in Merida: “Alexis Ramirez, candidate of Chavez!”), the idea that the PSUV governor candidates are associated with, and chosen by, Chavez is a key political strategy the PSUV has been using over the last few months.
It’s a stance that suggests the party leadership are unconfident that their candidates have merit on their own, and also that the PSUV’s objectives of socialism, justice, economic and land reform and so on, have merits on their own. It’s a dependence on the guaranteed victory the character of Chavez brings, but it has also been used as a way to make the PSUV the only “real” Chavista party, and to delegitimise other revolutionary, pro-Chavez organisations and parties that haven’t dissolved into the PSUV, such as the Communist Party of Venezuela (PCV), the Tupumaros movement, the Great Patriotic Pole (GPP) and even unions.
As a member of the PSUV national executive, and also head of the national assembly, Diosdado Cabello told the press, “Chavez has just one candidate in each state. We can’t impose any candidate on our allies, but what we ask of them is that they don’t say they are candidates of Chavez, because they aren’t.” He also made the exaggerated claim that “socialist candidates [PSUV] will win in all 23 states on Sunday”.
The tactic aims at preventing a divided vote; as Chavez said before he left for Cuba on Sunday, “Unity, Unity, Unity”, yet it is a unity that excludes anyone who isn’t in the PSUV.
And then there is the big question of why, during a revolution, are these candidates Chavez’s candidates and not the people’s candidates? For Merida state, Chavez and the PSUV national executive, based far away in Caracas, picked the unknown Alexis Ramirez for the candidate for governor. Then they chose Rafael Ramirez, energy minister and president of the state oil company PDVSA and not at all familiar with Merida, an agricultural state. There was no consultation with the PSUV membership. While perhaps primary elections are not the best road, since many registered members of the PSUV actually support the opposition, there was no reason not to call state-wide meetings of the active membership of the PSUV and even other organisations, to both elect candidates and decide on campaigning platform, and strategy.
'Loyalty' to a person rather than a program or proposals
Two more words or slogans that have been thrown around a lot during the PSUV campaigning, both at the state and national levels, are “loyalty” and “discipline”. Yet the discipline doesn’t refer to good, serious, revolutionary organisation, nor to waging a hard campaign, nor to combating bureaucracy and corruption, but rather to unquestioning support for the handpicked candidates.
Here in Merida, we were given Alexis Ramirez, a young geographer, a local legislator, who in the last five years I have never seen in any of the political marches or rallies or events, or even when Chavez spoke here a few weeks before the presidential elections. There is also evidence that Ramirez committed serious acts of corruption as a legislator, and it is felt that he is largely a puppet and that there will be other people behind the scenes, people we don’t know, governing for him.
One comrade said to me, “Those who don’t support Alexis [Ramirez], are called traitors... I have to be 'loyal' to Chavez by lying to him and telling him his candidate is the best, no I can’t do that. This electoral campaign has been about persecution and fear."
The comrade said he will vote for Florencio Porras, the candidate of the PCV. Porras, who was governor of Merida from 2000-2008 and is “revolutionary light” (that is, a pro-Chavez reformist) will likely get a significant vote, though he won’t win. PSUV members have stuck up posters around the city calling Porras a traitor. One poster has modified the PCV’s symbol, the red rooster, to be a rooster with crutches, labelled a gallo cojo or lame rooster, a message that is disrespectful of people with disabilities. Another PSUV poster shows Lester Rodriguez, the opposition candidate, taking off a mask that is Porras’ face.
The PSUV communication committee has also posted graphics around Facebook with quips such as “You say you’re more revolutionary than me, but you’re campaigning for a candidate that’s not one of Chavez’s?” and “In battle, division is betrayal”.
Even though Chavez has gone to great pains to encourage and legitimise criticism and self-criticism and the need to denounce of bureaucracy and corruption, clearly any PSUV bureaucrats hoping to be in power are not going to do the same.
Clubs of friends within the PSUV leadership
Unfortunately, for many of the PSUV’s candidates, winning the elections comes before real revolution (participation, grassroots organisation, transparency, accountability etc.) because that is what is more important to them. They are using the PSUV to gain positions of power and money.
The blind “loyalty” and “discipline” they promote benefits them. Further, once PSUV members go along with such loyalty, refusing to criticise, they are then taken for granted and used by the PSUV bureaucracy, which will not feel pressured to listen to them.
In many revolutionary parties around the world, especially, but not exclusively in situations of repression, a kind of loyalty towards the leadership is called for. But it is conditional on active members electing that leadership, or in cases of repression, at least knowing and trusting that leadership. That is not the case here. In Merida we did not choose the regional leadership (nor the national one for that matter), we don’t know them, they never organise mass meetings with us, nor are they accountable or transparent in anyway. The communication committee puts out many press releases promoting the party, the government, and its achievements, which is good, but it never informs the membership of who its leadership is, why or how they were chosen, what decisions have been taken and why, or what the state of finances are.
Had we been able to choose our candidate (and our regional leadership), it is much more likely we would have chosen someone who is a true activist, and who we support and are willing to campaign for. Of the 23 state candidates, it’s possible that in some cases we would have chosen the same candidate as the national executive – Elias Jaua, running in Miranda state for example, is well respected and trusted. But the clubs of friends, the invisible power groups within the PSUV bureaucracy, who scheme and manoeuvre so that their own people are where they want them, would not support that.
One woman wrote on Alexis Ramirez’s Facebook page, “Alexis, I support Chavez all the way, but this time I won’t accept impositions because I don’t consider myself anyone’s sheep, and if today we accept this selection of you ... later we’ll be exposed to similar eventualities, so I don’t support you... let the PSUV know that the people shouldn’t be treated in such a way, with such threats.”
A few people have suggested that perhaps if the PSUV loses these elections in Merida, “they’ll learn”, yet this is not the first time they have made the mistake of hand picking regional candidates from far away Caracas. It is not in their interest to learn.
A choice: guarantee financial resources, or guarantee a process of participation
Another comrade, a member of my communal council, said to me, “We have to vote for Alexis [Ramirez] because we need to keep the government in power, so that we can guarantee [financial] resources for Merida.”
We’ve also all been receiving pro-Alexis campaign messages to our phones, one of which read, “Alexis is the guarantee of coordinated team work with the national government and local governments.”
Another young comrade, a public sector worker but also a dedicated fighter, argued that revolutionaries should vote for Alexis because, “it’s a very critical situation... we have to defend the process, we have spent so many decades in misery, we can’t make mistakes, we can’t go back to that”. He made a very good point; it would be terrible if after 12 years of reformist, but pro-Chavez governors, Merida were to go to the opposition candidate, Lester Rodriguez, who supported the violent and armed opposition while he was rector of the University of Los Andes (ULA), among many other things.
Yet how much should we sacrifice, in terms of debate and participation, supposedly in order to prevent the opposition coming into power? What are we defending exactly, if we’re campaigning for anti-worker politicians such as the PSUV’s candidate for Bolivar, Francisco Rangel? How will Alexis help the revolution deepen, if he’s not even accountable to the people? He can guarantee financial resources from the national government, but he can’t guarantee participatory democracy.
As a group of us went visiting the neighbours in our community, talking to the youth to see if they would get involved in an alternative cultural activity, one young female comrade expressed her exasperation, “There is no revolution here... where is the popular power? They don’t listen to us, there’s no organisation.”
She was frustrated that day, and I think she knows that there is indeed a revolution going on, if a problematic one. The point is, even if having Alexis as governor guarantees that a certain amount of resources do get spent on the people rather than diverted towards underhanded things as would be the case under the opposition, that is more or less meaningless if the people aren’t listened to and don’t have a say on just where those resources go.
Alexis has talked very little about his state government plans should he be elected, but his proposal is available here. It’s based on the country-wide socialist plan 2013-2019 that Chavez campaigned on, which is very good: education, health, community-based culture, community-generated alternative news, and so on, but which also means that it is not tailored to the specific regional needs of Merida. If he had listened, we could have told him that we also need pubic toilets, and to close the centre of the city to the unmoving and contaminating traffic, we need help in setting up community-based recycling systems and more urban agriculture, we need a drug rehabilitation centre, and so on. Had his proposal for government come from us and been more concrete and related to our specific reality, that would be another reason people would have been much more motivated to campaign and vote for the PSUV.
Elections aren’t revolution
Alexis and his PSUV team have been campaigning hard: there are posters and banners everywhere, he’s done rallies and house visits in all the parroquias of the state, he had a mass rally in Merida in the Plaza de Toros (Bull fighting plaza), and he’s spoken at meetings of various specific sectors of society, such as teachers, transport workers and the Lawyers’ Front.
But the campaign hasn’t had the same sort of energy, passion and daily street presence as during the campaign for Chavez for president a few months ago. Nor is it that different, in essence, to a typical election campaign in a country like Australia, with fairly meaningless slogans, posters with just the candidate’s face, red t-shirts that say “Alexis", and relating to people as voters more than anything else.
In Miranda, revolutionaries seem to be a bit more inspired with Jaua, offering an exciting alternative to the abandonment and lack of governance, especially of the poorer areas of Miranda, by Henrique Capriles, who recently ran for president for the MUD opposition.
Back then, Capriles made a great effort to resemble Chavez, taking on revolutionary jargon – talking about “justice for the poor” and about “improving the missions”, because he knew how strong Chavez and his cause are. Now, Capriles has gone back to his old self, claiming that Jaua’s proposals were written in Cuba, saying, “We aren’t going to hand Miranda over to Castro-communism.”
Here in Merida, MUD's Lester Rodriguez has hardly done a thing. In fact, some of us are wondering if he’s still off holidaying in Europe. His team has put up a few posters with the banal and pathetic slogan of “Proudly Merideñan”, and he seems to have put out a few press releases, suggesting that the PSUV gets its funding from PDVSA, but that’s about it.
Had things have been done differently, as I’ve outlined, we could have won easily in Merida. But despite associating Alexis with Chavez, most people are pretty clear that they are not the same, and some people feel that the PSUV doesn’t represent the sort of revolution we want.
The electoral battles have to be fought to protect and safeguard the revolution, and even at times propel it, but many PSUV “leaders” don’t understand, or don’t want to understand, that revolution is when the people organise and take power in their communities, workplaces and at the state and national levels too. A revolution is not unelected bureaucrats signing and stamping papers in air-conditioned offices, with the rest of us wearing a red t-shirt with the name of one of those bureaucrats, and then we vote for them.
Giving so much importance to these elections, calling them “critical”, reinforces the idea that we should expect such people to do everything for us. In reality, if the opposition wins Merida state, and any other states, that’s a good reason to deepen the revolution, distribute more resources directly to the people’s organisations; the communal councils, communes, workers’ councils, the movements, the Social Production Companies (EPSs) and so on. That, and involving those organisations in deciding where and how resources are distributed, is revolution. Gradually taking power away from the structurally corrupt state governments who lack accountability towards or consultation of the grassroots, is necessary.
Our disorganised criticism
Despite the current climate of labelling anyone who criticises Alexis a “traitor”, there has been a lot of debate and open criticism among revolutionaries in Merida – a positive thing which shows the development and maturity of many of those who are most active. Many people will vote for Porras -- more as a statement of criticism than support for him particularly. Many others have written articles for alternative media site Aporrea expressing discontent.
Unfortunately, for now, such criticism is disorganised, and hence isn’t being converted into strong pressure.
We’re still learning and “rehearsing” revolution, as one writer, Jose Duque, put it, “like a one year old learning to walk and falling over every half metre”. It is natural that those with power resist change, and it’s okay and useful that there are problems and obstacles for us to face. As we fight them we learn, we become stronger and the revolution becomes harder to defeat.
Looking at the behind the scenes dynamics of the PSUV like this, things can seem quite dire and worrying. But it’s important to remember how complex this revolution is, and that in this analysis I’ve just examined one aspect of it.
On the other hand there is the urban agriculture springing up everywhere due to grassroots initiative and government support, there are prisoners learning to make documentaries, there’s the free dental care three blocks from my house, there’s the youth rapping about climate change and anti consumerism in our local plaza last Sunday, there’s the kids in the barrio becoming dignified through democratic, alternative education, and much more.
The levels of general political interest and understanding are increasing, and the courage, the fight the grassroots have, its resolve, is inspiring. These things are part of the antidote to the sour elements in the PSUV.
Venezuela Analysis needs your support
Venezuela Analysis journalist Tamara Pearson wrote on the urban garden in Merida pictured above: "With the help of the government, our community council La Columna began a project of urban agriculture so that we can grow food free of agro-chemicals in a way that doesn't damage the land, recycle organic waste in our composter, contribute to national food sovereignty, and start to break down alienation in our community." Photo by Tamara Pearson.
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