The snap April presidential elections following the death of Hugo Chavez have provided the pretext for a sharpening of the class struggle and political polarisation in the battle over Venezuela’s Bolivarian revolution. Winning by a narrow margin of 1.5%, Nicolas Maduro represents a commitment to socialism and the deepening of the Bolivarian Revolution. His opponent Henrique Capriles, who facilitated a brutal attack on the Cuban embassy in the bloodstained 2002 coup, represents a continuation of the interests of finance capital that have orchestrated violence and unrest over the last decade. The accusations of election fraud are part of pre-meditated plan to destabilise the country. Sam McGill reports.
Maduro, the candidate of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) won the 14 April election by 50.61%, a margin of 224,742 votes, over Capriles, the candidate of the opposition’s ‘Table of Democratic Unity’ (MUD) coalition, who garnered 49.12% of the vote. Immediately after the election results were announced, Capriles began a campaign of non-recognition, launching a full-scale attack on the legitimacy of the Venezuelan election process.
Gangs of opposition thugs sprang into action, taking to the streets for two days of violence which left 13 revolutionaries dead. In a vicious attack on democratic freedom, snarling mobs surrounded buildings of the National Electoral Council (CNE), whose president, Tibisay Lucena, had her house attacked whilst Eva Golinger, editor of the chavista Correo del Orinoco newspaper, was assaulted while out with her year-old baby. Taking a turn towards fascism, opposition supporters armed with pistols and smoke bombs burned down PSUV buildings, trashed subsidised food stores and public schools, smashed up no fewer than 20 Cuban-run free health clinics and attacked housing projects and the public transport system. This outpouring of ruling class hatred clearly targeted the concrete examples of the Bolivarian Revolution’s commitment to lifting Venezuela’s working class and oppressed out of poverty.
In response, crowds of Chavistas thronged the streets, fighting pitched battles to drive out the opposition and defend the gains of the revolution tooth and nail. Soldiers, voluntary Bolivarian militias and the National Bolivarian Police force mobilised to put down the counter-revolutionary violence. Once again the popular mobilisation of the poorest sections of society, supported by pro-revolutionary state forces, thwarted a renewed coup attempt in Venezuela.
The state has begun arresting those responsible for unleashing such murderous violence. In addition, National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello moved to withhold speaking rights for opposition politicians who refused to recognise Maduro as president.
In response, on 30 April, opposition representatives staged a pre-planned stunt to disrupt the National Assembly session with air-horns, banners, whistles and shouting, sparking a brawl as PSUV legislators hit back. The international media of course jumped at the opportunity to portray the opposition as victims of violence. It is essential to recognise that the opposition was intent on alleging fraud all along, regardless of the results. Four days before the election, Cabello released evidence including an email sent from Amando Briquet, of Capriles’ campaign team, to Guillermo Salas, member of the organisation Esdata which reports on Venezuela’s electoral process, stating ‘We need everything set out in Washington for checking over by the [Capriles campaign]. It’s necessary that all documentation is presented internationally if we decide to take the road of not recognising the results.’
Shifting the goal posts
Venezuela is renowned for having one of the most robust electoral systems in the world.1 Voters present their fingerprint on automated machines in order to prevent identity theft or double voting. In addition, voters tally their decision with a printed receipt which they deposit in a ballot box. The automated results are then validated through a manual count of 54% of all ballot boxes. In the 2013 presidential elections a total of 18 audits were carried out during the entire process with members of all political campaign teams signing off each step. The election was verified by 170 international observers from around the world, including the Electoral Mission of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR).
After the election the CNE agreed to additionally audit, with witnesses from all parties, the remaining 46% boxes of voting machine receipts, constituting a 100% audit of all votes. Whilst Capriles initially stated his campaign ‘accepts what the CNE … has announced to the country. We will be there in the audit’, days later he shifted the goal-posts, boycotting the audit and calling instead for a full recount and audit of fingerprints in the electoral voting record books. The Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR) notes in its statistical analysis2 that the probability of the 100% audit finding enough discrepancies to change the results of the election is less than one in 25,000 trillion.
Capriles himself only won the governorship of Miranda in December last year by 40,000 votes; both sides accepted the results and the transparency of the CNE. Chavez lost the constitutional reform referendum in 2007 by a narrower margin, 1.4%, and accepted the result. With a turnout of just under 79%, the results mean 40% of the Venezuelan electorate voted for Maduro, more than British Prime Minister Cameron in 2010 (23%) and US President Obama in 2008 (30%) The opposition’s sudden obsession with ‘democracy’ and the ensuing legal battle over the election is nothing more than a smokescreen, justifying political violence and destabilisation.
US ratchets up intervention
The Organisation of American States, UNASUR and even the imperialist governments of Spain and Britain have publicly recognised the election results. The US remains the only nation in the Americas that is yet to recognise Maduro’s victory. Speaking during his visit to Mexico on 3 May, Obama stated ‘I think that the entire hemisphere has been watching the violence, the protests, the crackdowns on the opposition’, claiming that the US ‘has not tried to interfere in any way with what happens’ in Venezuela. The US Foreign Affair’s 2014 budget report, Securing US Interests Abroad, shows otherwise. The budget presented by Secretary of State John Kerry earmarks $5 million for ‘political efforts to protect democratic space’ in Venezuela, representing a $2 million increase from 2013. Further evidence of direct US intervention was exposed in a cable from 2006 recently published by Wikileaks3 detailing that between 2004 and 2006 the Office of Transition Initiatives channelled ‘upwards of $15 million’ to ‘over 300 Venezuelan civil society organisations’ as part of a five-point programme with the aim of ‘penetrating Chavez’s political base ... dividing chavismo...protecting vital US business and ... isolating Chavez internationally.’ It is in this context that the Maduro government on 25 April arrested US citizen Timothy Hallet Tracy on suspicion of channelling money to right-wing youth groups in ‘Operation Sovereignty’.
Remaining strong in the face of this aggression, Maduro warned Obama ‘We don’t care about your recognition. We have decided to be free and we are going to continue being free and independent with you or with out you. We don’t care about your opinion.’ In its explicit aim of building socialism in the 21st century and regional support for anti-imperialist struggles, the Bolivarian Revolution represents a direct threat to US interests in its own backyard.
Economic war of attrition
Alongside these dramatic political battles there has been a steady insidious campaign of economic sabotage. The Polar corporation, a food monopoly owned by Lorenzo Mendoza, the 329th richest person in the world, has been at the centre of a hoarding scandal resulting in rocketing prices and scarcities for essential items such as cooking oil, flour, meat and toiletries. Polar claims to produce 48% of Venezuela’s basic food basket, giving it the power to play politics with the stomachs of Venezuelans in an attempt to undermine confidence in Maduro’s leadership. As an immediate measure, the government are importing an additional 760,000 tons of basic items from Brazil and Argentina, however the situation highlights the necessity of attacking the private ownership of food production and land.
A revolution of the revolution
The election was much closer than predicted and has prompted a process of self-criticism, with Maduro calling for a ‘revolution of the revolution’, recognising the need to tackle the crime, inefficiency and corruption characteristic of an oil-exporting economy. These social problems cannot simply be blamed on the opposition and there are many manifestations of corruption and inefficiency within the PSUV and other sections of the state. Developing a popular response is essential, as illustrated in the relaunch of the ‘war on latifundio’ (large land estate owners). Since 10 May, hundreds of landless peasants from the communal council ‘Free Men and Women of the Compuerta’ have occupied the estate belonging to one of the wealthiest families in Lara state. The collective has taken the struggle into its own hands after several requests to expropriate this idle land had received no answer. A statement from the movement4 implicates the local, nominally chavista, mayor Luis Plaza who owns land adjacent to the estate, for ‘trying to use his position of power to take over this land and expand his agro-industry from the surrounding lands.’ Instead the collective emphasises: ‘We are convinced that we must do as Chavez said – “review, rectify and relaunch the revolution”, and the war on latifundio, and we must do it here and now, honestly and concretely.’
The current situation in Venezuela illustrates the limitations of a revolutionary movement dependent on elections, which can only partially reflect the day-to-day struggle. It is clear that popular consultation and participation are essential for driving forward the socialist project. This process has begun with Maduro convoking ‘street government’ sessions across the country where grassroots organisations propose and participate in plans for development such as 75 projects recently announced following government street sessions in Tachira state in May.
The opposition can only be defeated with a victory for revolutionary forces within the Bolivarian process. As Reinaldo Iturriza, the newly appointed Minister of Communes argues: ‘The Bolivarian Revolution cannot be understood without a critique of the idea of political representation ... we need to really get inside the people and listen to what the people are thinking, what they are feeling, what is bothering them, why they vote or why they don’t ... The key in Venezuela is the popular will [lo popular]: how it is expressed, how it is translated. Instead of trying to represent the social base of the revolution, I believe that what needs to be done is to give the people the free rein to express themselves. How? Well, that’s the political challenge we have ahead of us.’
1 An overview of the electoral process can be found at:embavenez.co.uk/pdf/cne/cne3.pdf
- www.cablegatesearch.net/cable.php?id= 06CARACAS3356&version=1314919461
- venezuelanalysis.com/news/9233 ‘Venezuelan peasants relaunch the ‘war on latifundio’ in Lara state’