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Venezuela elections: Chávez wins victory but opposition gains ground
Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez in the UK , photo Paul Mattsson
ON SUNDAY 23 November, more than 14 million people in Venezuela came out early in the morning to elect governors, mayors and regional representatives.
Johan Rivas, Colectivo Socialismo Revolucionario, the CWI group in Venezuela.
These were the second regional elections to take place during the course of the 'Bolivarian Revolution' (the first ones took place in 2004). Twenty-two provinces, 330 communities and 225 federal representatives were elected from 8,000 candidates standing on behalf of political organisations (national and regional parties and independent organisations).
"The Bolivarian government won 17 of the 22 provinces that were contested... president Chávez confirmed that this triumph is the ratification of the people for the socialist project of the 21st century," said the deputy president of PSUV [United Socialist Party of Venezuela], retired general Muller Rojas, in a press conference. He dismissed the opposition's electoral gains.
Nonetheless these results are an advance for the right-wing opposition forces that apparently have abandoned for now the conspiratorial route and instead are concentrating on kicking Hugo Chávez out of power by democratic means.
It is possible the opposition has a long-term plan and their next objective will be the next municipal elections and the national parliamentary elections in 2009. On the side of the 'Bolivarian movement', with all its contradictions, Chavez's supporters still maintain the majority of the governors and also popular support.
It would appear that one force is recuperating and the other is losing ground. Out of six of the governorships obtained by the opposition, four are new and amongst them is the high governor of Caracas (the regional governor for the capital).
The other three are a state which borders Columbia, Taxhira; the central state of Carabobo (one of the principal industrial developments which includes the principal seaport of the country, Puerto Cabello where the majority of imports enter), and Miranda, where the PSUV candidate was considered the successor to Chávez and inheritor of Chavismo as the leader of the reformist wing of the party.
The opposition maintained its control over the state of Zulia, which borders Columbia and has the majority of the petroleum wealth of the country.
There, the opposition has its principal leader, Manuel Rosales, who initiated the autonomy movement ("For a liberal and capitalist independent Zulia" is his slogan), similar to the Media Luna autonomy movement in Bolivia. This state was the most visited by president Chávez and the state where he put the most emphasis during the campaign. Chávez even threatened to put the opposition presidential candidate Rosales in jail on charges of alleged corruption.
In concrete terms, the opposition controls six regions of vital importance, three of which have the largest electorates: Zulia, Miranda, Carabobo, and in total it now controls 37% of the national electorate. This foreshadows a new stage in the Bolivarian Revolution.
Fidel Castro with Chavez and Morales
Venezuela's Chávez government has been trying without success to construct a 'socialist' model but without breaking with the structures of capitalism and the capitalist state it inherited.
The government has introduced a programme of social investment and reforms that have favoured the most marginalised sectors of the population - while 50% were in poverty in 1998, today official statistics reduce that figure to approximately 20%.
However, the same demands of the population, which Chávez articulated in his 1998 presidential campaign when he was elected for the first time, still apply: overcoming insecurity, the demand for new jobs, housing, higher-quality public services and measures to counteract the high cost of living.
So far this year there is an accumulated inflation rate on food products and basic necessities in the capital city, Caracas, of more than 45% and at the end of the year the inflation index will be between 28% and 30%. At the same time, the minimum wage of the working class rose by 30% this year.
Homicides in Caracas have increased, making murder the third-highest cause of death according to some statistics and studies carried out by human rights organisations. Additionally, it was not until 2006 that the government really began to construct housing, and even that year, the percentage of new housing built was less than half of the original goal to construct 200,000. Each year, the shortage of houses amongst the Venezuelan population increases by 100,000.
The problem is that the state is the same one that was left by the capitalist governments of the past. It has stimulated corruption, bureaucracy and inefficiency amongst individual ministers. Given these contradictions, the opposition has very skilfully developed a campaign to exploit the government's weaknesses.
For example, four years ago it was unthinkable to imagine a leader of the opposition visiting public institutions to carry out a political campaign and introducing themselves in the poor neighbourhoods without being rejected by the vast majority.
During this campaign, in an important public health centre of Caracas, the opposition candidate for the post of high governor (the state governor) presented himself. And even though he was rejected by some workers, he was able to be in the building for a number of minutes and received support from other workers there.
In an informal interview, one of the workers who supported the opposition candidate affirmed that she was with Chávez, but that she supported the opposition for governor because she was tired of the current governor's corruption; that the institution was deteriorating; that they didn't pay salaries on time; nor did he listen to the rest of her demands and that, as a punishment, she was going to vote for the opposition candidate.
Maybe this example can give us an idea of what is happening in Venezuela today after ten years of revolution and counter-revolution.
As in all of the electoral processes before, the Chavismo formed a coalition of political organisations - Polo Patriotico - in the attempt to unify its forces and run unified candidates.
The bureau of the PSUV had convened in the middle of the year some internal meetings so that the militants could elect their candidates. But what initially appeared to be an act of revolutionary democracy by the party soon became the beginning of political differences between the various tendencies within the party and the parties of the alliance.
This was because a large number of those who aspired to be PSUV favourites did not get what they wanted and instead the decision of the president of the party - Chávez - was imposed. This resulted in some of these candidates withdrawing from the PSUV and running with other political organisations.
The situation with the other parties of the alliance was even more complicated. The PSUV bureau presented its candidates as the only ones in the electoral campaign and the rest of the parties were told that they should support them. This produced conflicts within these parties and the bureau, including with president Chávez himself, who on various occasions denounced these parties, accusing them of being counter-revolutionary and of not recognising his leadership.
In the end, with all of the infighting, what should have been a great alliance of revolutionary forces that supported the Bolivarian Revolution was little more than a series of convenient agreements in regions where their candidates coincided, and in other areas where they were divided, there was no alliance.
Historically, for this kind of election, abstention ranges from 40% to 50%. But 65% participated this time, the highest turnout in the last ten years.
It was an untypical campaign, focused on the aggressive confrontation between Chávez and the candidates of the opposition. Faced with the unpopularity of the majority of his candidates, Chávez took up the campaign as his own and converted it into a kind of referendum.
According to unofficial figures, more than 5 million voted in favour of the candidates of the government, and 4 million for those of the opposition. That translated to 17 governors for Chavismo and six for the opposition.
In 2008, the global financial crisis has intensified, and although at the beginning Chávez had declared that it would not affect Venezuela, in recent weeks he has corrected himself and has called on the population to support his politics of austerity for the next year.
The fall of the price of oil during the last few months has him worried, as more than 60% of the national budget depends on oil. In Venezuela, out of every $100 of income into the country, $90 is for oil, which in large parts served to finance public expenditures in different social programmes.
At the same time, 60% of this income has been spent on importing food to meet internal demand because of the incapacity of the national agricultural industry to satisfy internal consumption.
In this acute situation, class struggles will intensify and the protests of the social sectors for legitimate demands will be greater, affecting the government as much as the opposition. Both sides will try to blame the other.
Faced with this scenario, revolutionaries should campaign for a socialist programme. Socialists cannot permit the government or the opposition to manipulate the population. We should demand the complete nationalisation of the financial system and the elimination of the financial and economic monopolies that are controlled by the five most powerful families of the country and the transnationals.
They must immediately be put under the control of the organised people in their communities, peasants without land and workers organised into committees, made up of democratically elected delegates, to begin the planning of the economy based on the true needs of the people.
This would be the first concrete step to transform the current structures and go towards socialism. In the same way there must be a constant mobilisation of the revolutionary social sectors to lead the people in their struggle for their just demands. We cannot let the opposition take the initiative in leading these movements.
It is also imperative that the workers' movement overcome its crisis of political direction and take its place in the vanguard.
Lastly, this whole scenario must open political debates about the weakness of the Bolivarian socialist model. It has shown itself incapable of changing or transforming the system.
Venezuela still has the opportunity to carry out a successful socialist revolution, but it depends on a change in the character of the Bolivarian direction or the appearance of an organised and conscious revolutionary workers' movement with clear socialist perspectives.
In The Socialist 3 December 2008:
Environment and socialism
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