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michael a. lebowitz mlebowit at sfu.ca
Thu Nov 15 13:44:54 MST 2007

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The red hurricane begins to sweep through Venezuela

Submitted by Fred Fuentes on November 15th, 2007.
Following Chavez’s 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 wouldn’t 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
Professor Emeritus
Economics Department
Simon Fraser University
Burnaby, B.C., Canada V5A 1S6

Director, Programme in 'Transformative Practice and Human Development'
Centro Internacional Miranda, P.H.
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