In a surprise announcement, the radical left-populist Venezuelan President, Hugo Chávez, has accepted the decision of the National Electoral Commission (CNE) and will face a recall referendum. The acceptance of the CNE results by Chávez has given the opposition the opportunity to go onto the offensive again.
Yet all the evidence clearly points to fraud. The figures announced by the CNE are only 15,738 more than the 2,436,083 signatures needed. 1.2 million signatures had to be subjected to the “repair process” or checked. Of these, only 614,968 could be “confirmed” by the opposition. 74,112 people did not acknowledge their signatures, meaning that they were used without their consent. Also, 50,000 people should not have been on the electoral register because they are dead!
Raids on the headquarters of opposition parties such as Accion Democratica have also found 600 forged ID cards and bundles of forms supporting the recall already filled in. One man was arrested in Caracas for carrying 420 false ID cards!
Additionally, there are widespread reports of intimidation against workers who refuse to sign. The Coca-Cola plant in Antimano threatened 50 workers with firings and closure. Unions at Coca-Cola plants in Carabobo, Lara, Bolivar, and Monagas all reported similar incidents. The Venezuelan subsidiary of Coca-Cola just happens to be owned by a leading supporter of the opposition and the owner of Venezuela’s largest TV network.
The right-wing opposition has been conducting an on-going campaign to gain the 2.45 million signatures necessary to trigger the referendum. This follows two attempts to overthrow Chávez, in a failed military coup in April 2002, and a bosses’ “lock out” between December 2002 and January 2003. Both these attempts at reaction were defeated by mass mobilizations of the working class and masses from below, despite the vacillation and hesitation of the movement’s leadership.
The CNE announcement comes only weeks after a plot was exposed involving the entry into Venezuela of more than 100 Colombia right-wing paramilitaries. It seems these forces were colluding with right-wing reactionaries in Caracas to launch a bombing campaign aimed at provoking instability and a possible assassination attempt on Chávez.
These attempts to overthrow Chávez indicate that a “creeping coup” is under way. This campaign was backed by the direct intervention of U.S. imperialism and the ruling class throughout Latin America, who are determined to remove his regime and replace it with a more pro-capitalist government.
The removal of Chávez is becoming a more urgent priority for U.S. imperialism because of the crisis in the Middle East and Iraq, given that Venezuela is the fifth largest producer of oil. In the closing days of the recall petition verification process, the Carter Center and the Organization of American States started issuing statements supporting the claims of the opposition and putting pressure on the government.
It is hypocritical for U.S. imperialism to denounce Chávez for heading an undemocratic regime. He was elected by a far bigger majority than Bush, who rigged his own election in Florida. The “democratic” U.S. election system is making it very difficult for the radical populist Ralph Nader to even get on the ballot in a number of states, for the November U.S. Presidential election.
Fox in Mexico, Lagos in Chile, and even Lula in Brazil have all either distanced themselves from Chávez or expressed outright opposition to his regime. They are terrified of the implications of the revolution in Venezuela and the repercussions it potentially could have throughout the region. The leaders of Latin American capitalism are keen to show their reliability and subservience to the interests of U.S. imperialism.
Unfortunately, reaction has now been given the opportunity to regroup and strike again. This has been possible because following each defeat suffered by reaction – due to the mass movement – the revolution unfortunately has not purged the state of reactionary forces and overthrown capitalism.
A workers’ government has not been established that would introduce a socialist plan of production based upon the nationalization of the major industries and the banks, which would be democratically run and managed by the working class. Rather than take such decisive steps, Chávez and the leadership of the movement have, so far, tried to placate the forces of reaction, thereby giving them the opportunity to prepare to strike again.
“Twin Track” Policy
U.S. imperialism and the Venezuelan ruling class will not be placated by Chávez’s acceptance of the CNE’s results. They have adopted a twin track policy of attempting a military coup and bosses’ lock out, and at the same time using “constitutional” means of defeating the government. The right wing will now energetically try to mobilize its forces to win the referendum.
If that fails, they will not accept the result and will launch a further campaign accusing the government of fraud and attempt to overthrow Chavez.
Big layers of workers and Chávez supporters understand that the referendum is being called on the basis of a fraud, and is a further attempt to overthrow the regime. The Bolivarian trade union federation (UNT), the Bolivarian Workers’ Front, and the National Coordination of the Bolivarian Circles have all rejected acceptance of the referendum. The referendum decision has also been rejected at meetings of government supporters around the country.
The working class needs to strengthen its own organizations to confront reaction and take the revolution forward. The Bolivarian Circles must urgently be expanded to include elected delegates from all workplaces and local communities. All elected delegates must be subject to immediate recall by the assemblies of workers who elected them.
Rank-and-file soldiers’ committees need to be set up, which will purge all officers who support reaction and institute a system for the election of officers. These committees need to be linked up on a district, city-wide, regional, and national basis. These should form the basis of a new workers’ and peasants’ government.
Through these bodies, an armed workers’ militia needs to be set up to defend the revolution from the threat of reaction. Chávez has spoken of his support for the “concept of an armed people.” However, this must not be left only as words. The working class and rank-and-file soldiers must now take the necessary steps to turn this into a reality.
It is clear that the National Constituent Assembly, which was created by Chávez when he came to power, cannot be relied upon. 20 MPs elected on the Bolivarian list have now gone over to the opposition! The creation of workers’ councils or the expansion of the Bolivarian Circles, with the election of delegates subject to immediate recall, would be a more democratic and reliable basis for the working class to take the revolution forward.
It will not be easy for the reactionary forces in Venezuela to secure a victory. They not only need to win a majority in the referendum, but to win more than the 3.8 million votes that Chávez won in 2000.
Chávez still has the support of the overwhelming majority of the working class and poor. Over one million have been lifted from illiteracy. Millions more have been given access to doctors and medical care for the first time. But society is polarized along class lines between the left and the right. The reforms that have been introduced are threatened by the continuation of capitalism.
Chávez, who was elected with over 60% of the vote, has lost some significant support, especially among the middle class. This is mainly due to the deep economic crisis which has rocked the country, caused partly by the effects of the bosses’ lockout and partly by the economic sabotage and flight of capital which has taken place.
Chávez’s failure to break from capitalism and introduce a socialist planned economy based upon genuine workers’ democracy has prevented his regime from being able to offer the middle class a solution to their problems. This erosion of support has given the “creeping counter revolution” social forces on which to rest. Whether this is strong enough to defeat Chávez in this referendum remains to be seen. However, it will continue as a threat that will eventually succeed unless capitalism is overthrown.
This threat of reaction, especially in the form of U.S. imperialism, can only be averted through the establishment of a workers’ and peasants’ government in Venezuela and an appeal to the working class of Latin America and the U.S. for solidarity and support, with the perspective of spreading the revolution to establish a Democratic Socialist Federation of Latin America and the Americas.
For an expanded version of this article and other material on Venezuela, see the CWI website www.socialistworld.net