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michael a. lebowitz
mlebowit at sfu.ca
Thu Nov 15 13:44:54 MST 2007
The red hurricane begins to sweep through Venezuela
Submitted by Fred Fuentes on November 15th, 2007.
Following Chavezs call to not leave the streets
for one single day in the 27 days that remain of
the campaign to approve the proposed
constitutional reform, the Yes campaign has
kicked into gear. Within the space of a week
there has been a dramatic change in the mood here
in Caracas, as the red hurricane has unleashed
itself across Venezuela. In the eye of the storm
are the PSUV militants, members of the new United
Socialist Party of Venezuela, who are the motor force behind the campaign
One got a really sense of this shift in the mood
last Sunday, when Chavistas gathered at the
airport and along the drive to Miraflores to
greet the president returning from his battle in
Chile. Whilst the majority went to the airport to
greet him, I stayed with some of the activists
from my local socialist battalion (the grassroots
units of the PSUV) to hold up signs along one of
the main street which Chavez would drive down.
Holding up Yes signs, and with music comprised of
revolutionary songs and campaign tunes, we talked
to passerbys, as cars pulled up to grab posters
to stick on the side the car and on their
windscreen. Horns beeped, and drivers and
passengers yelled Si, Si, and Que vive
Chavez. We danced, and talked and gave away
posters for several hours, with a continuous flow
of traffic, with more and more of the cars drving
by covered in red posters or with red flags
waving, beeping up and down the main avenue.
This was a sharp change from earlier in the week.
On Wednesday, an opposition students march went
through Caracas. Unlike the one the week before
this time there was no violent acts by the
students during the march, but clearly some of
them were looking to help create tensions and
violence. Not content with a simple march those
students returned to the Central University of
Venezuela (UCV) and began to attack chavista
students. They ended up surround students in the
social work department, throwing rocks at the
windows and burning the doors and a nearby bus,
with some 150 students inside with no avenue to escape.
In some respects, this march seems to have marked
a the end of any real opposition campaign. It
came on the back of a sizeable rally the Saturday
before and the surprising announcement by
ex-Minister of Defence, Raul Baduel, called on
people to opposed the reforms. However, the march
laid bare that the opposition was running out of
steam, and despite the media spin, very few did
not have an impression of the opposition students
as fascist thugs. The Saturday just gone, the
opposition organised a dismal march, and two days
later around 50 people turned up to their mass
mobilisation to block of city streets. What
little base they had which they could mobilise
seems to have become demoralised or put off by the opposition campaign.
On reflection of this was the second public
declaration by Baduel this Monday just gone.
Besides essentially repeating his last speech he
had two new points to note: firstly, he was not
longer just calling for a No vote, but asking for
the reform to be withdraw (having realised that a
No vote would not win) and secondly he at least
tried to sound like he was still in the Bolivarian camp.
Whilst it is true that someone with the stand
that Baduel has within chavismo could have really
caused a stir, most people I have talked to agree
that his first speech was so similar to that of
the opposition that it impact amongst grassroots
chavistas was tiny. If anything it further
spurred them on to campaign for Yes, as they saw
that their president could for the first time in
a while possibly face some stiff competition.
In contrast, tens and hundreds of thousands have
flocked to the Yes cavalcades that have been
organised across the country. No matter where you
go in Caracas, you cannot but walk past people in
red handing out the constitutional reform,
encouraging everyone to read them and vote.
During the afternoon of that same Sunday when
Chavez returned from Chile I had once again
attended one of my local socialist battalions,
where local activists were discussing the Yes
campaign. Here everyone was clear on the
necessity to win the biggest vote possible, and what it would require.
One of the participants pointed out that in the
last week or so cooking gas had suddenly become
very hard to find. Discussion quickly moved to
how to deal with this. One man explained that the
government had nationalised a number of gas
distribution companies but not the one that
supplied this area. A woman recalled how they had
survived the 2 months bosses lockout at the end
of 2002 without cooking gas, and how this was
clearly part of the opposition plan to provoke
discontent but it wouldnt work because the
community was more conscious and organised now.
The battalion, in a demonstration of the powerful
dynamic that has emerged from these meetings of
local revolutionaries, resolved to organise a
meeting with other local battalions, community
councils and gas workers to debate the problem
out and seek a solution including demanding nationalisation if necessary.
In the process of explaining how the battalions
would be structured for the purposes of the
campaign, the local organiser got a call to say
that Chavez would be arriving back to Venezuela
soon and that we should go and greet him on the
streets (where I live is between the airport and
Miraflores, through which the president would have to travel).
A discussion began: what to do. Everyone was
aware of what had happened in Chile, the
dignified actions of Chavez and the provocation
by the King of Spain. Chavez had spoken for the
majority of the world at that summit and we all
felt we need to let him know that we were behind
him. But discussion had not finished on the
organisation of the battalion for the campaign.
In the end the decision was to finish this
discussion as it was crucial for the next few
weeks of campaigning and that as soon as possible
we would mobilise to greet Chavez.
The spokesperson from the battalion explained how
the restructure would occur, incorporating
discussions that had happened in the socialist
circumscription (which group together 10
battalions). A problem arose: the circumscription
had reorganised itself along the lines that were
first sent down from the national promoters
committee. This was later changed (due in part to
the fact that local experience had shown it would
not work out) meaning their the local battalion
was stuck between still having the old structure
at the circumscription level, with less activists
available at the local level to fill the
designated spots on the command which are made up
of elected heads of commissions. The battalion
resolved that one of the activists elected to be
part of the campaign structure and the
circumscription level would be integrated into
the local battalion structure instead.
Once ready we parted for the streets, not before
an announcement was made that each day at 3pm
activists would be meeting to go door knocking
and cover the area in Yes material, and that next
Sunday there would be a cultural act in the main
plaza organised by the local PSUV
circumscription. There a tent would be set up for
those with questions about the reform to find out more and get information.
Later, speaking to some the activists they noted
that one problem they had continually come up
against was that in many cases the general lines
coming from above did not fit the reality of what
was occurring below. This had create unnecessary
confusion, but that over time this was being
resolved and that the grassroots were making their presence felt.
On Wednesday, I tagged along with activists from
another battalion, this time in 23 de Enero, as
they went around their local neighbourhood door
to door to distribute the reform. As they were
quick to point out they were not just any
battalion, but the one that Chavez belonged to.
As is usually the case, the overwhelming majority
were women, ready to hit to streets to defend the revolution.
The response was once again overwhelming Si,
Si, although this perhaps should not have been
so surprising given 23 de Enero is a militantly
chavista area. With each positive response the
group would break out into song, singing one of
the many campaign tunes which echoed through the
streets, in some cases with other neighbours joining in.
My sense has been that many of those who only a
week ago had doubt on the reform or where unsure,
have now come solidly into the Yes camp. Seeing
the true face of what an opposition victory would
mean with the violence at UCV, and the impact of
the red hurricane that has been unleashed, the
Yes cavalcades and the Chavez's intervention in
Chiles, many have begun to be swept along.
However there is still a dangerous road ahead.
Key is ensuring that the biggest possible vote is
obtained. The course of the Venezuelan
revolutionary process has been one of attempting
to legitimise every further step forward by the
masses with a democratic mandate emanating from
the ballot box. Perhaps like no other this
referendum aims to be a gateway through which the
masses want to drive though in order to give the
revolution a massive impulse forward. Each side
understands what is at stake, hence the reaction
of the right wing opposition, the conservative
elements of the chavista camp and the revolutionary masses headed by Chavez.
Whilst there is much to be optimistic about given
the beginning of the campaign, this also means
that Venezuela has entered into a new more
dangerous phase. I think even the opposition know
they will lose, but they also know that perhaps
more is at stake now than in any other electoral
process until now. This means they will try
everything including acts of violence and
terrorism to try and impede the referendum
going ahead. They also want to affect the vote to
help create the basis to prolong their campaign
post the referendum, basing themselves on the
spurious argument of adding no votes and
abstention to justify their real support. That
is why local activists here are preparing
themselves for an possible action, all the while
remaining alert and on the streets.
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Michael A. Lebowitz
Simon Fraser University
Burnaby, B.C., Canada V5A 1S6
Director, Programme in 'Transformative Practice and Human Development'
Centro Internacional Miranda, P.H.
Residencias Anauco Suites, Parque Central, final Av. Bolivar
fax: 0212 5768274/0212 5777231
mlebowit at sfu.ca
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