IV 353 Venezuela 1 Part 1 (Reformated)

Johannes Schneider Johannes.Schneider at gmx.net
Wed Sep 10 09:24:56 MDT 2003

Venezuela: When two worlds collide Édouard Diago*

When Hugo Chavez became president of Venezuela in 1998, he took over the
reins of a deeply depoliticized country, seriously infected with corruption
and clientelism. The "democracy" installed in 1958 had been confiscated by
the elites of the political parties allied to corrupt networks. Chavez was
elected more on the basis of rejection of this old system than on a solid
political project based on organised social forces on whose support he could
rely. Let us say from the beginning that what has happened in Venezuela
under Chavez does not amount to a socialist revolution. However, if we
understand by "revolution" a radical change in political mentality and its
organisation, a massive growth of understanding that the regime belongs to
the people, then a revolution is underway. If one understands by
"revolution" a long process which is born before it is concretely realized,
the Venezuelan revolution began in the 1950s against the dictatorship of
Marcos Pérez Jimenez and is now at the gates of power with Hugo Chavez as
spokesperson. To take up an idea frequently invoked by its partisans, the
"Bolivarian revolution" resembles a kind of French revolution, an
indispensable stage in the preparation of more radical processes in the

An anti-communist pact Analysts have often presented Venezuela's
contemporary history as an exception in Latin America - a country which has
succeeded in establishing a representative and liberal democracy while the
rest of the continent was subject to political instability, military
dictatorships and the development of guerrilla movements. The reality is
much more complex. Representative democracy in Venezuela was born on January
23, 1958 with the overthrow of the dictatorship of Marcos Pérez Jiménez
following a popular insurrection accompanied by a military uprising. On the
civilian side, the Venezuelan Communist Party (PCV) was the most active
party in the insurrection; it led the Patriotic Junta - the alliance of all
the parties opposed to the dictatorship (Acción Democrática, COPEI, the URD
and the PCV).
*1 Some historians say that the privileged classes of the time, allied to
the US, supported the overthrow of the dictatorship, which did not respond
any more to their interests. At this time Venezuela was the most significant
country on the planet in terms of oil. It was the main supplier of oil and
materials necessary to the military deployment of US forces in Europe during
the Second World War. The entire oil industry was controlled by western
companies, particularly the British ones. The fall of the dictatorship led
to a new political regime which was definitively put in place with the
election of Romulo Betancourt, leader of the AD in exile. The PCV supported
the candidacy of Wolfgang Larrazabal which ensured the interim presidency
between January 23, 1958 and the election of Betancourt in January 1959. The
new regime, which adopted a Constitution in 1961, was sealed during 1958 by
an alliance between the three main parties (AD, COPEI, URD). This alliance
decided to marginalize the PCV, through the Pact of Punto Fijo. This was a
kind of agreement of co-government between the three parties who, under the
pretext of protecting the nascent democracy, decided to share power whatever
the electoral results. Parallel to this, the main trade union federation,
the Confederation of Venezuelan Workers
(CTV), led by AD and responding directly to its interests, signed an
agreement with the employers on the maintenance of collective agreements
originating from the dictatorship. The Pact of Punto Fijo collapsed
definitively with the victory of Chavez in 1998.

Military work by the PCV The first months of the new regime were marked by
the demands of workers, students and the revolutionary left in general,
including the PCV. Betancourt's victory in 1958 was rapidly seen as a
betrayal. Elected on a left wing programme and personal image (he was a
member of the CP in Costa Rica in the 1930s and participated in a left
government between 1945 and 1948), he rapidly reconciled himself with the
interests of the dominant classes, convinced that in 1959 no left government
could face down US imperialism. The Cuban revolution of January 1959 refuted
this analysis in stinging fashion. It favoured the radicalization of left
sectors inside the ruling party, AD and put the PCV back on the rails. The
repression of left sectors by the Betancourt government effectively obliged
the revolutionary left to turn away from the road of legality. The PCV
decided to turn to armed struggle, joined in 1961 by the MIR, a left split
from AD led by its youth wing and influenced by revolutionary Marxism during
the years of clandestinity. Inside the PCV, a sector concerned itself with
military work under the leadership of Douglas Bravo. This front attempted to
overthrow the AD regime in 1962 through two military coup attempts organised
by the PCV. The emergence of Chavez on the public scene on February 4, 1992
was the end result of this strategy of the left forces inside an army made
up in its great majority of elements originating from popular sectors which
is partly trained in the public universities and is thus open to Marxist and
progressive thought. In this sense, one can speak of a revolutionary process
which began in the late 1950s and which found in the election of Chavez a
first small victory.

Hugo Chavez Hugo Chavez, a young soldier undergoing training, joined the
clandestine movement towards the end of the 1970s, influenced by his
brother, Adan Chavez, today in charge of agrarian reform in Venezuela, then
an activist in the Party of the Venezuelan Revolution (PRV). The PRV
originated from the guerrilla movement. In 1962 a National Liberation Front
and Armed Forces of National Liberation had been set up under the influence
of the CP. When, in 1965, the CP called on its militants to halt the armed
struggle, Douglas Bravo refused. The NLF-AFNL became the FALN-PRV. In 1969,
the majority of combatants accepted the amnesty of President Caldera. The
group around Douglas Bravo and Ali Rodriguez - currently director of the
national oil company, Petroleos de Venezuela S. A (PDVSA) - kept the PRV in
guerrilla activity and resumed clandestine work inside the army. We should
note that the CP, the AFNL and then the PRV adopted an anti-feudal and
anti-imperialist, cross-class political programme. According to the latter,
the nationalist bourgeoisie had its place in the revolutionary regime to be
created, a political position largely sustained by Chavez. In the Venezuela
of the 21st century, the Chavista majority thinks like the guerrilla
movement of the 1960s, which is not a small political conquest. Inside the
armed forces, Hugo Chavez developed what would become the MBR-200
(Revolutionary Bolivarian Movement) which would lead the civilian-military
insurrection of February 4, 1992. More known as a coup d'État, this
insurrection was the response of the MBR-200 to the repression of the
popular riots of February 27, 1989 (the Caracazo), a spontaneous movement of
Venezuela's excluded masses against a package of neoliberal measures
implemented by Carlos Andres Perez, a Latin American supporter of the
Socialist International. The forces of order would leave 3,000 dead in the
streets. Unknown, Chavez then entered on the public scene through the
attempted coup of February 4, 1992. Naturally, the sectors of the
traditional left, unfamiliar with political work inside the armed forces,
mistrusted the putschist colonel. Apart from the PRV, reduced then to a
groupuscule, two other parties of the radical left had developed their own
apparatus inside the armed forces - La Causa Radical *2 and Bandera Roja. *3
The popular masses, for their part, saw immediately in Chavez a possibility
of getting rid of a regime which was hated because of its neoliberal
policies and corruption (a minority of the country lived according to US
living standards while the huge majority was immensely deprived). From 1958
to 1993, every president came from either the AD or COPEI. The presidential
election of 1993 saw the breakdown of this model and the emergence at a mass
level of La Causa Radical, a heterodox Marxist party which developed
particularly in the class struggle trades unionism in the east of the
country. During the election of 1993 its candidate, Andres Velázquez was on
the point of becoming president. Massive fraud stole the election from him.
A minority of the party demanded it call street demonstrations to demand his
victory. The majority refused, sowing the seeds of the division of 1997
which led to the creation of the Patria Para Todos (PPT) party, today the
second key party in the Chavista majority. During Chavez's clandestine work
in the army, some contacts had taken place between the colonel and La Causa
Radical, without any agreement emerging. During the presidential election of
1993, Chavez called for active abstention, arousing a fierce hatred on the
part of La Causa Radical towards him. Its candidate Andres Velázquez is
today in the opposition and did not hesitate to give his support to the
military putschists in April 2002. When participating in the presidential
election of 1998, Chavez announced that it amounted to a 'tactical
movement'. In the framework of representative democracy, to consider an
election as a tactic is to avow the revolutionary character of one's
objectives; to come to power by the ballot box to so as to install a
revolutionary process from a position as legitimate head of state.

A political revolution Chavez would successively win several electoral
processes. The first was in December 1998, against nearly all the
established parties. The PPT decided to support Chavez, under the pressure
of the rank and file and against the will of its main leader of the time,
Pablo Medina. *4 The Movement Towards Socialism (MAS), pillar of the last
right wing government of Caldera
(1993-1998), supported him also, *5 provoking the departure of its main
leaders. All the other political forces were opposed. He nonetheless won the
election with 55% of the vote. His great political project was to bring
about constitutional reform, under the slogan "all power to the people". To
achieve this, he called a referendum to set up a Constituent Assembly. In
the elections for this Assembly his supporters obtained 90% of the seats.
The new Constitution was written in less than a year and approved by a
majority of the electoral body, before the renewal of all electoral mandates
in August 2000. Chavez then obtained more votes than during the election of
December 1998. In many areas, the new "Bolivarian Constitution" of the
Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela contains authentically innovatory measures.
The concept of the state of law is replaced by that of the state of Law and
Justice and the concept of participatory democracy is introduced. Deputies
became subject to removal. *6 The concept of the workers' cooperative was
introduced, as well as the principle of self-management. The rights of
indigenous peoples were recognised including rights of land ownership,
managed according to the ancestral traditions of the pre-Columbian peoples.
The Constitution was feminized. The principle of defence of the environment
is invoked in numerous constitutional clauses. The patenting of living
organisms is forbidden, as are monopolies. Oil, as a raw material, is
excluded from the field of possibilities of privatisation. The presence of
foreign troops on the territory is forbidden. The principle of solidarity
and Latin American integration has a prominent place. Other elements
indicate that the negotiations in the bloc which had come to power had led
to concessions to the right; the principle of a decentralized police force
originating from the old system was maintained. *7 Abortion, after a sharp
debate, was rejected despite Chavez's position in favour (repeated publicly
in April 2003). Non-discrimination because of sexual orientation was not
introduced in the discussion but Chavez has recently defended gay rights.
Free enterprise was kept as a constitutional principle as was private
property in the means of production. The Constitution is undoubtedly
situated within the framework of a capitalist regime. These examples among
others show that Chavez's party included authentic reactionaries in its
early period in power. *8 Strewn with obstacles to a genuine social
revolution, the Constitution is nonetheless a precious tool for the popular
movement which in the conquest of semi-direct or participatory democracy.
That is the real innovation of the "Bolivarian revolution".

A society in movement Some thousands of Bolivarian circles, popular
assemblies, trade unions of struggle, assemblies of women, students,
committees for urban or agricultural land, dozens of rank and file political
regroupments, make today's Venezuela a society in movement. All these
associations benefit from the frank and massive support of the chief of
state who sees in them the genuine process of consciousness raising
necessary for the transformation of the country. Thus, for example, it is
with the support of the chief of state that the community mobilizes to
defend its school system against a political decision to close it down. *9
It is with the support of the minister of higher education that student
assemblies are held in favour of opening up the public university to the
popular classes. The National Institute of Women has developed thousands of
'meeting points' throughout the country to help women react to domestic or
work-related violence, informing them of their rights, organising them to
acquire others. The same institute organises women to gain access to public
credit allowing them to become autonomous economic actors, even if the
activities proposed reproduce a form of sexual division of labour. Numerous
new trade unions have appeared outside of the CTV federation, which is
linked to the opposition. These unions decided early this year to form a new
confederation, the UNT. *10 Caracas is a city of around 4 million
inhabitants. A large part of its population lives in the "barrios" (the
equivalent of the favelas in Brazil). Initially shantytowns, the barrios
have over time been transformed into real neighbourhoods, where the
inhabitants build their houses on occupied land, without ownership rights.
In these neighbourhoods, strongholds of Chavismo, the inhabitants
self-organise, following the advice of the president: "organise yourselves,
we will bring you the political and economic support". Thus popular
assemblies have been created, reinforced by a new institution, the local
councils for popular planning. Here we have one of the most interesting
subtleties of the Bolivarian revolution: the head of the state is the main
promoter of the subversion of the state by popular organization. Faced with
a highly bureaucratised state, Hugo Chavez has appealed to his compatriots
to themselves manage directly the affairs of their neighbourhoods, and
promote workers' control of the enterprises. This impressive political
upheaval has not however led to a genuine transformation of Venezuelan

No deep-seated structural transformation Unlike the Cuban revolution which,
in less than three years, had eliminated illiteracy, reduced rents by half,
nationalized electricity and implemented agrarian reform, the Bolivarian
revolution has not yet implemented great structural reforms. However, unlike
the Castroite revolution, Chavismo has not suppressed any newspapers, banned
parties, or arrested any political prisoners. So in neither sense can the
Bolivarian revolution be assimilated to some kind of "Cubanization".
Nonetheless, great structural reforms are necessary if the people are not to
lose confidence in the possibilities of this government. A great plan for
feeding the people needs to be developed on the basis of the timid
beginnings of recent months. *11 Public health is in a state of advanced
decay. However, the reform of national education has begun with the opening
of the Bolivarian schools, which assure pupils food and complete days of
teaching. However, it would be wrong to pin the entire responsibility for
these shortcomings on the government alone. The big difficulty which the
government faces is an absence of control over great parts of the state
apparatus. This bureaucratic reality is explained by Venezuela's model of
development in the second half of the 20th century. Venezuela has lived for
40 years from its oil income which represents 50% of its tax receipts and
80% of its exports. 70% of its food needs are imported. The country's
economic model is based on the export of its crude oil, and money has never
been invested in the industrialization of the country. One can say that
Venezuela is not, properly speaking, a capitalist country led by a national
bourgeoisie. There is not properly so-called a working class dependent on an
employing class. 50% of workers are employed in the informal sector, the
biggest formal employer is the state and jobs in this sector follow the
clientelist model of the former regime. Each minister or director of
services employs their friends without dismissing others, and membership of
political parties is organized around this clientelist basis. To give an
example, the press and communications service of the Libertador ward in
Caracas has 54 employees! The private enterprises that exist have been
created thanks to initial support from the state and those who have become
owners of these enterprises have never understood what the word tax means.

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