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

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[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”.

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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]

Submitted by Terry Townsend on Wed, 11/26/2008 - 11:47


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.

Submitted by Terry Townsend on Thu, 11/27/2008 - 14:05


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)

Submitted by Terry Townsend on Thu, 11/27/2008 - 15:25


Submitted by Terry Townsend on Sun, 11/30/2008 - 12:17


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 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, 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.