IV353 Venezuela 2 Part 1

Johannes Schneider Johannes.Schneider at gmx.net
Wed Sep 10 08:41:22 MDT 2003


Box: Venezuela's political forces

Venezuela is today divided into two camps, the "Chavistas" and the
"escualidos" ("spineless ones"). Neither of these camps is homogeneous.
We attempt here an explanatory synthesis of who's who in this especially
complex political panorama. The Chavez phenomenon has succeeded in blowing
apart political delimitations. If the immense majority of political and
social
forces who support Chavez position themselves in the camp of the "left" or
the
"revolution", the opposition groups primarily the sectors of the "right" but
also divisions of the "left", indeed some who originate from the
"revolutionary left".
On the side of the opposition partisans of a putschist solution and
supporters
of an institutional solution (referendum or election) coexist.
The parties making up the opposition are the parties of the old system - AD,
COPEI.
The majority of the MAS leadership, after having supported Chavez, has gone
over to the opposition. The MAS was a social democratic evolution from a
wing
of the PCV that integrated itself into the institutional game in 1970. Its
principal leader, Teodoro Petkoff, left the MAS in 1998 when it took the
decision to support Chavez. He was a minister in the rightwing government of
Caldera (1993-1998), in charge of the ministry of planning. He scrupulously
applied the diktats of the IMF. The minority of the leadership created the
PODEMOS party, which is the reformist wing of the Chavez government.
However, the opposition also includes parties originating from the far left
like Bandera Roja or La Causa Radical, or groups originating from the
Chavismo
of 1998.
Bandera Roja is a group originating from the MIR (Movement of the
Revolutionary Left - created in 1962, it fused with the MAS in the 1980s)
which rejected the abandonment of armed struggle (Bandera Roja opted for
pro-Albanian positions). This group, today implanted essentially in the
universities, had supported and hoped to participate in the attempted
military
insurrection of February 4, 1992. Today, while arguing that the Chavez
government is neoliberal, it participates in the Democratic Coordination
which
includes the most anti-Communist elements in Venezuela. Chavez supporters
consider it as the armed wing of the Democratic Coordination; numerous
assassinations portrayed as government acts by the opposition have been
attributed to it.
La Causa Radical, created in 1971 from a group of Communist militants who
rejected the rightward evolution of both the MAS and the PCV, was for a long
time the most interesting party in Venezuela. A heterodox Marxist group, it
was the party closest to Chavez at the time of the civilian-military
insurrection of February 4, 1992. After the defeat of the insurrection, its
candidate, Andres Velazquez, came close to winning the presidential election
of 1993 but fraud robbed him of victory. Chavez refused to call for a vote
for
Velasquez in 1993, preferring to call for abstention as a means of
delegitimizing the Venezuelan political system. In 1997, La Causa Radical
split, giving birth to the PPT, which supports Chavez. La Causa Radical is
currently a member of the Democratic Coordination and calls for the
organization of a new constituent assembly.
Chavez's right hand man during the insurrection of February 4, 1992,
Francisco
Arias Cardenas, who supported Chavez in 1998, became the candidate of the
entire opposition in 1999 during the second presidential election in the
framework of the new constitution. While Chavez rejected electoral
participation in 1993 and up until 1998, Arias Cardenas
was elected governor of one of the Venezuelan states with the support of the
parties
of the system in 1995. He created his party, Union, in 1999.
Solidaridad is the party of the supporters of Luis Miquilena, who was
Chavez's
political mentor until 2001. Miquilena was imprisoned under the dictatorship
because of his Communist activities. Between the 1960s and 1990s, he made a
fortune in insurance. Chavez broke with him at the end of 2001, and
Miquilena
became one of the coup plotters.
Bandera Roja, the MAS, Causa Radical, Union and Solidaridad propose the
establishment of a centre left bloc (which is indicative of the change in
the
nature of Bandera Roja).
Among the participants in this great heterogeneous coordination can also be
found the owners of the means of communication, prominent figures in TV and
print journalism and the association "Gente del Petroleo", made up
essentially
of former directors of the oil company.
Two elements allow us to understand the successive departures of the Chavez
government. First, opportunism is a basic characteristic of the old
Venezuelan
political system. The proliferation of parties is not based on clear
political
concepts but rather the necessity for a certain number of leaders to equip
themselves with a political structure to stake a claim to occupy posts
inside
the state apparatus. When it became obvious, in 1998, that Chavez would win
the presidential election, numerous political groups rallied to him to
become
part of the majority bloc. When the hopes of gaining a ministry or a share
of
power were disappointed, the parties joined the opposition. At the regional
level, an alliance can group parties which confront each other at the
national
level.
A second factor has been the radicalization of the hard core of Chavismo.
When
he came to power in 1998, Chavez was not as radical as he was in 2001 when
he
instituted land reform, reform of the laws on fishing, banks, and so on.
This
was more radical than what many supporters of Chavismo in 1998 could accept.
This was one of the reasons for the departure of Miquilena, for example, or
the split of the MAS. Meanwhile, other political forces, not very defined
ideologically, rallied to Chavez's cause, notably among youth.
Three main parties support the Chavez government: Podemos, the PPT and the
MVR
(Fifth Republic Movement). The MVR is by far the most important party in
terms
of numbers of activists. It was created by Hugo Chavez for the election of
1998. It initially brought together all the supporters of Chavez, whether
from
the centre, the left or the radical left. Now the MVR also includes
politicians originating from the old system who are recycling themselves
through Chavismo. Until now, the MVR has not possessed a democratic
apparatus
and the rank and file members have joined primarily to support Chavez. MVR
leaders speak of a million party members.
The PODEMOS party, originating from the MAS (Movimiento al Socialismo), is
the
'reasonable' component of Chavismo. Originating from a European-style social
democratic tradition, it represents the right wing of the Chavez government
and defends the measures of popular participation implemented by the
government. A clean up of the administration and the idea that it is
necessary
to inject ethics into political life are the bases of its participation in
the
ruling bloc.
The PPT is the most interesting party in the ruling alliance although the
weakest electorally. With only one deputy and three governors, the PPT has
responsibility for several ministries including labour, education and
culture.
The president of the national oil company is a member of the PPT. From a
Marxist tradition, the PPT is the product of the split in La Causa Radical.
Of
the three parties in power, it is the best structured. An annual congress
defines its political orientation and its national leadership with a
significant level of participation by the activist rank and file. At its 5th
congress, it defined itself as a party of the left, revolutionary and
humanist. It defines itself as a movement of movements and intervenes in
trades unionism ("Autonomia
Sindical", a member of the UNT), among youth ("Jovenes por la Patria"), the
women's movement ("Movimiento Manuelita Saenz"), and in local communities.
Its
analyses on capitalist globalization share many of the concerns of the
Fourth
International. If it does not define itself as communist, a number of its
leaders do so on a personal basis. During the coup in April 2002, it was a
decisive political force in the reconquest of power.
Finally, a constellation of small parties and small regional, local, indeed
neighbourhood political forces constitute the rank and file network of
Chavismo.



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