Saturday October 25th, 2014, 2:18 am (EDT)

Dear Reader,

We place these articles at no charge on our website to serve all the people who cannot afford Monthly Review, or who cannot get access to it where they live. Many of our most devoted readers are outside of the United States. If you read our articles online and you can afford a subscription to our print edition, we would very much appreciate it if you would consider purchasing one. Please visit the MR store for subscription options. Thank you very much. —Eds.

After the Referendum: Venezuela Faces New Challenges

Marta Harnecker is director of the Centro de Investigaciones Memoria Popular Latinoamericana (MEPLA) in Havana, Cuba, an organization for research on the history of popular movements in Latin America. She is the author of Venezuela: Militares Junto al Pueblo (Vadell Hermanos, 2003) and Hugo Chávez Frias: Un Hombre, Un Pueblo (Gakoa, Tercera Prensa, 2002), as well as numerous books and articles about the Latin American left. A translation of her book, Making the Impossible Possible: The Left at the Threshold of the Twenty-First Century, is forthcoming from Zed Books.
This essay was finished on September 26, 2004. I thank those who have read this paper and suggested ideas. I especially thank my comrade, Michael Lebowitz, to whom I owe important ideas, and who helped with the translation.

With President Hugo Chávez’s victory in the August 15 referendum, the Venezuelan opposition suffered the third great defeat in its struggle to end his government. The unprecedented recall referendum ratified Chávez’s presidency by a margin of two million votes and was declared valid unanimously by the hundreds of international observers who scrutinized it.

In a part of the world where democracy has been discredited by its failure to solve the problem of poverty, the result provided, in the words of one observer, Eduardo Galeano, “an injection of optimism.”

The victory belongs not to a man but to the project of creating a country guided by humanism and solidarity in its domestic and international spheres. It is also a victory for a development model embracing endogenous development and the social economy as alternatives to voracious, destructive neoliberalism.

It was a victory, too, for the Bolivarian Constitution of Venezuela, the only constitution that permits such a recall referendum for the president.

But it was mainly a victory of the people, not only the popular organizations and the people of the poor neighborhoods but also members of the middle classes who immediately responded to the president’s call by organizing themselves.

A new stage of the Bolivarian revolutionary process has begun. The opposition has been defeated in this battle, but the war has not yet been won. Before discussing this new stage and the challenges facing the revolution, it is important to put these in a historical context.

The Socioeconomic Context

Venezuela, the fifth-largest oil producer in the world, has been historically a society of great inequality. While an oligarchy enjoyed an extraordinarily high standard of living, 80 percent lived in poverty. When then-president Carlos Andrés Pérez proposed a package of neoliberal reforms in February 1989, a popular explosion occurred. The poor came down from the hills and attacked supermarkets. The armed forces restored order by firing on the people, killing thousands. Some poor people began to wake up.

It was clear that the neoliberal measures brought deepening poverty. Masses of peasants migrated to the cities, real wages dropped substantially, and the informal sector ballooned.

In just three years 600,000 people migrated to the cities. The campesino labor force, rural peasants and farmers, shrank by 90 percent. The proportion of workers in the informal sector rose from 34.5 percent in 1980 to 53 percent in 1999. The industrial labor sector decreased. After 1989 partial or total privatization of the telecommunication, ports, oil, steel, and airline sectors reduced employment in strategic industries and transferred ownership to foreign capital. Subcontracting and outsourcing added to the problem. Economic inequality and unemployment grew with unemployment levels reaching 15.4 percent. Real wages fell substantially, and social fragmentation worsened considerably. Multiple popular organizations were formed, but they did not achieve a national presence. Only 17 percent of the union movement remained organized, and it no longer represented the popular sectors.

The economic crisis brought with it a political crisis. Corruption reigned as skepticism about politics and politicians grew, and apathy was everywhere. There appeared to be no way out.

In this context Hugo Chávez won 56 percent of the vote in the presidential elections of December 6, 1998. The people, tired of corruption and increasingly skeptical about traditional politics, bet on a candidate who represented something new.

The former lieutenant colonel had become known in the country as leader of the Bolivarian movement in the military. The Revolutionary Bolivarian Movement, MBR 200, attempted unsuccessfully on February 4, 1992, to overthrow President Carlos Andrés Pérez for being corrupt and a traitor to the constitution.1 When freed from jail two years later, Chávez began traveling the country to convince people that profound institutional change was necessary to end Venezuela’s chaos, corruption, and inefficiency and to carry out the social and economic transformations that the country needed so badly.2

Having abandoned the path of insurrection, Chávez sought power by the institutional route. A quarter-century after Salvador Allende’s defeat in Chile, Chávez became the first Latin American president to attempt deep social and economic transformations by the peaceful road. But this time the peaceful road was taken with two elements that were absent from the Chilean process: Chávez was not disarmed—he had the support of the great majority of the military; and this time the process began with the fundamental premise that it would be necessary to change the rules of the game in the institutional sphere.

Stage 1: Creating the Institutional Conditions for Socioeconomic Transformation

As Chávez initiated his government, Venezuela faced complete international isolation. Neoliberalism had been imposed as the only model throughout the world. The socialist bulwark on which previous Latin American revolutionary efforts had counted had disappeared—and their main opponent, the United States, had become the first world military power without any counterbalance.

What was Chávez to do under these circumstances? He spent his first year in government trying to change the international correlation of forces3 (in particular, by strengthening the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries4) and consolidating his support at home. He launched an emergency social welfare plan to assist the most destitute sectors (Project Bolívar 2000) and adopted educational measures favorable to them: restoring free public education and promoting the creation of Bolivarian schools (full-day schools providing students two meals each day). Worried about the ideological preparation of the people he began a weekly radio program, which permitted him to speak directly to the people about the nature of the revolution (eventually this was also broadcast on television).

At the same time, he was creating the institutional conditions that would allow him to advance the necessary socioeconomic transformation.

All the while, the opposition worked to neutralize the new leader and to co-opt him. Although defeated at the polls, the oligarchy still had enormous influence: immense financial and economic power through the management of the state petroleum industry, Petróleos de Venezuela (PDVSA); a crushing majority in the legislative and judicial branches of government and numerous high-level allies in the provincial and city governments; near-monopoly control of the media; the support not only of the business federation, but also of the Confederación de Trabajadores de Venezuela (CTV), the most powerful national labor federation; and the allegiance of some high-ranking generals and some within the hierarchy of the Catholic Church who had close relations with the managerial elites. In addition to all this the oligarchy enjoyed close links to Washington.

Despite the great support for the newly-elected president from the broad popular sectors, the middle class, and the army, it was a very disorganized majority. In Venezuela, unlike Chile or Brazil, no strong leftist parties existed. The newly-created Fifth Republic Movement (MVR) had become the biggest party of the country, but it had attracted many opportunistic elements and was trapped in a constitutional process. The CTV, and generally the popular movements were weak and had been blatantly manipulated by the traditional parties. Under these circumstances Chávez had little choice but to rely extensively on the armed forces, the only national structure with which he could work to achieve his plans.

Internally, the government’s first priority was to change the rules of the institutional game. Beginning with a referendum to convene a Constituent Assembly, the new Bolivarian Constitution was created. This anti-neoliberal constitution, which was overwhelmingly approved by the people, defined a new model of participatory democracy and a new economic model embracing cooperatives and worker self-management. Both models are fundamentally based on humanism and solidarity.

The next step was to shift the correlation of forces within the institutions of the government. In the July 30 mega elections (for the offices of the president, governors, mayors, and deputies to the National Assembly) the government achieved very favorable results.5

Thanks to these victories, Chavism now dominated the government, and the opposition, deeply divided, had little influence in the National Assembly. With the traditional parties in crisis, the mass media became the true party of the opposition.

The third step was to introduce the revolutionary legislation that would permit the constitution to realize its promise. But the legislative process proved excessively slow (due to the inexperience of Chavist deputies and the interference of the opposition). Finally, on December 10, 2001, the president used the Qualifying Laws, the special legislative powers granted to him under the Constitution, to enact forty-nine laws, among them the Law of the Land, the Fisheries Law, the Law of Hydrocarbons, the Law of Micro Credits, and the Law of Cooperatives. This package of laws demonstrated his determination to move the revolutionary process forward. The oligarchy, its economic interests affected for the first time, now lost hope that it could co-opt him as it traditionally had done with other politicians.

Foreseeing the offensive that the opposition would begin, and always thinking about how to improve the domestic correlation of forces, Chávez launched the Bolivarian Circles. He called upon his supporters to organize themselves into groups of seven to eleven people to educate their neighbors about the Constitution and to take some concrete initiative: respond to the necessities of the neighborhood, form a cooperative, or get a loan from the bank. Without popular participation, he understood, the revolution would run out of fuel.

Stage 2: The Oligarchy’s Offensive and the Government’s Response

The opposition did not wait for Chávez to carry out his plans. It undertook the first steps of a great offensive to end his mandate.7 It organized massive demonstrations and attempted a general strike on the day that the forty-nine laws were enacted.

At this moment political conditions were much less favorable to Chávez than they had been earlier. Luis Miquilena (then Minister of the Interior, who had been Chávez’s key political organizer at the beginning of the process) was removed by Chávez after he declared his opposition to enacting the forty-nine laws and assumed the role of a leading opposition figure. The loss of his political general was a severe blow for the president, especially since his departure was imitated by many followers. In this way the government lost its overwhelming majority in the National Assembly and its control of the judiciary. Many high magistrates linked to Miquilena moved openly to an antigovernment position, uniting with those who clearly shared the political positions of the opposition. Many deputies abandoned the Chavista bloc. In this period, the mobilizations against the government increased and the opposition’s self-confidence grew.

The events of April 11, 2002, and the subsequent days are well known and we will not discuss them further. The failure of the military coup, in which more than 80 percent of the generals with operational control remained loyal to Chávez and the Constitution, constituted the first great defeat of the opposition and a true gift for Chávez.

These events exposed the actors, and the people’s political understanding grew as they saw who within the military and among political cadres had revealed themselves. These circumstances made it easier to purify the military, divided the opposition, and led sectors of the middle classes, who had previously opposed the Bolivarian revolutionary process, to contemplate the chaos that could accompany Chávez’s defeat.

Most importantly, the popular organizations grew quickly. Bolivarian Circles multiplied throughout the country, adopting more varied forms. New organizations emerged, such as urban land committees and specific middle-class groups of doctors, teachers, and lawyers. Further, union leaders from various industries, critical of the complicity of the CTV, accelerated their efforts to build an independent labor force to support the revolutionary process. The various left parties that had supported Chávez, but with very critical attitudes, decided to build a common front in support of the government. Lastly, a transformative process that had neither been well understood nor highly valued by the left and progressive forces throughout the world now attracted their sympathies. The violently counter-revolutionary nature of the opposition could not be explained except by the existence of a true revolutionary process. International sentiment against the coup grew.

The overwhelming victory, whose main heroes were the people joined with the armed forces, did not give way to a counteroffensive by the government as many predicted. Chávez considered it necessary first to take stock of his strengths. Although the coup had been defeated and the Constitution had been reestablished, it was not clear at the time how much support there was for continuing to advance the revolutionary process. Therefore the first task was to consolidate his forces to defend against a second coup attempt. In particular, he dedicated himself to purifying the military. Further, as conciliatory gestures toward the opposition he named ministers in the economic sphere who were more acceptable to the business community and he restored the previous opposition directors of PDVSA. In addition, he accepted the revision of some of the Qualifying Laws and the establishment of a roundtable for dialogue with the opponents of the Bolivarian process.

The opposition took Chávez’s actions as a sign of the government’s weakness. It began to regroup its forces, and when the courts freed the perpetrators of the military coup it proceeded to engage in various destabilizing actions and settled on the strategy of an economic coup. They called for a national general strike on December 2, 2002. Their objective was to paralyze the country, forcing Chávez to resign. They focused on stopping the production and distribution of petroleum.6 And, where they could not achieve this, they resorted to sabotage. They expected Chávez would be gone before Christmas.

However, with the firm leadership of President Chávez and the exemplary behavior of not only the oil workers but also the rest of the workers and the people who overcame the hardships of those days, the opposition suffered its second great defeat. The country had not stopped. Chávez had not given in. And now the petroleum industry really came under the control of the Venezuelan state. This was the second gift of the opposition. Through their subversion and sabotage approximately eighteen thousand upper- and middle-level managers (who had in fact controlled the company) provided the legal conditions necessary for their dismissal.

Most important, each new attack of the opposition made the people more politically conscious and prepared to take initiatives. The attacks multiplied organizations like the Bolivarian Circles, urban land committees, and assemblies of citizens. They also gave rise to new forms of popular organization: motorcycle couriers; groups that reopened the schools the opposition had closed; agrarian and fishing groups organizing for their rights; consumer groups organizing to boycott the opposition’s mass media; groups that protected the gas stations; groups that escorted trucks and defended the petroleum facilities from possible sabotage by the opposition and that ensured the appropriate distribution of gas; groups that surrounded Miraflores Palacio and mobilized in its defense against any threat of the anti-Chavistas; and circles that worked to help the neediest through the difficult times created by the economic coup. The Positive Middle Class movement in support of the government was born in these circumstances.

The president continued to enjoy wide popular support and the active support of the armed forces who recovered ships and protected the centers of production and distribution of food and fuel. As a result, by February 7, 2003, slightly more than two months after the beginning of the oil strike, the president was able to announce that the attempt at destabilization had failed.

Nevertheless we cannot forget the incalculable economic damage caused by the opposition’s actions. Even today the Venezuelan economy has not completely recovered.

Stage 3: The Arduous Referendum Process

The Carter Center, the “Group of Friends” (countries including the United States), and the Organization of American States all pressed for a dialogue between representatives of the government and the opposition. On May 29 there was an agreement to look for a peaceful resolution to the crisis.

Both sides agreed on the means to resolve the crisis, which was to employ the legal instrument spelled out in the constitution: the recall referendum. The opposition was confident it could win through a referendum given the many polls that indicated that Chávez’s popularity was declining among the middle classes, the political cadres who had supported him initially, and the popular sectors whose lives had not changed despite the promises of the revolution.

However, with the failure of the economic coup and the beginning of economic recovery (especially the recovery of oil production) the government began to gain strength. In April 2003 Chávez announced that he had resumed the offensive. From that moment he began to create several campaigns (called missions) to support people in the most neglected social sectors. These programs aimed to open clinics in the popular neighborhoods8; launch literacy campaigns9, expand middle and higher education, create the Bolivarian University for those students who had been excluded from higher education10; and offer nutritious products at prices that were much lower than those available commercially11—each program was warmly welcomed by the population and won new followers to the process.

The referendum process began with the gathering of signatures at the end of November. To trigger a recall referendum under the constitution requires the signatures of 20 percent of those who had voted in the election of the officeholder. This process was carried out in two stages: first, for deputies of the opposition that the Chavistas wished to recall (many of whom had been elected as Chávez’s supporters) and, second, for Chavist deputies and the president. So many irregularities occurred in the second process that the president denounced the existence of a mega fraud. This began a difficult process of examining the sheets and the signatures collected.

Finally the National Electoral Council (CNE) concluded that, in addition to those signatures entirely rejected, more than 800,000 doubtful signatures of the opposition needed to be verified and that they should undergo a “repair” process during May 28–30.

On June 3, the CNE announced that the opposition had obtained barely a sufficient number of signatures to trigger a referendum.

How was Chávez to respond? Many Chavistas were convinced that there had been an enormous fraud and that the opposition in fact had not reached the required signatures. They argued, therefore, that Chávez should refuse to recognize the result. The opposition (believing the characterization of Chávez that they presented in their own mass media) expected that Chávez would reject the results of the constitutionally mandated procedure and prove to the world that he was antidemocratic.

But, the president, contrary to these forecasts, accepted the decision of the CNE and masterfully turned the partial reversal into an overwhelming victory.

With his characteristic optimism, which he has always been able to transmit to his followers, Chávez called upon them to prepare for the electoral battle with great seriousness. He understood that for an electoral victory to be decisive it would have to be won by an overwhelming margin. And he knew that goal could only be achieved if everyone who supported the process was committed to getting out the vote.

The question was how to do this without a political apparatus capable of mobilizing all the popular support. Unfortunately, the Commando Ayacucho, the electoral coalition of Chavista parties and movements created in October 2003, had so far functioned poorly. Sectarianism, patronage, favoritism, inefficiency, the inability to correctly evaluate situations, and the lack of transparency had all combined to discredit the Commando Ayacucho among the people and barred it from playing a leading role in the coming battle. Only the president could take on this role, and he did this by communicating directly with his most committed supporters. He proposed the organization throughout the country of electoral patrols. The members of these units of ten political or social activists would each work, house by house, to convince ten more people to vote against the recall. Each patrol, therefore, would be responsible for working with a hundred people.

While he called upon the people to organize at the grassroots, the president appointed the national leadership for the electoral campaign (The Commando Maisanta). Their composition is interesting, aside from several ministers and a very few political cadres, the majority were artists, academics, and social communicators who had not previously participated in politics. These new faces, untainted by the past, lent prestige and freshness to the campaign.

And although the state and municipal directors of the campaign in many cases were guilty of the same bad habits that had plagued the Commando Ayacucho and were thus the weakest part of the structure, happily they had little influence in the work at the base or in the results of the campaign.

Although the president had insisted that organizations of up to twenty persons be created in each electoral area to carry out the struggle and that the Units of Electoral Battle (UBEs) be selected democratically by the base, in many places there were problems with top-down selection. Nevertheless, what was critical is that people at the base proceeded to organize themselves into patrols and campaign for the president. They carried out their tasks with the dedication and love of those who know that the future of their leader and of the revolutionary process rests in their hands.

Many of these patrols were not strictly as Chávez had envisioned: They were not composed of political or social activists, but with inexperienced supporters of the process. Rather than working the assigned electoral list they decided to organize street by street or building by building. They organized themselves according to where they worked instead of by where they lived. Still, there is no doubt that the patrols are the most significant organizational form through which the Venezuelan revolutionary process has lived. They allowed hundreds of thousands of supporters of the process to join together to carry out a concrete political task independently, regardless of the quality or lack of party leadership in their locale.

Many people, who were emotionally committed to the process, but until then had been inactive, took their first step into organizing and political activity. Thousands of anonymous beings contributed their grain of sand. And so, too, did the political leaders who were able to put aside their personal projects to work closely with the base for a single objective: to defeat the referendum.

The Venezuelan people have emerged greatly strengthened from this living, practical experience. Their self-esteem has risen, and they have grown as human beings. Whatever is planned for the future must take that into account. This victory, more than an electoral, quantitative victory, is a moral, qualitative victory.

Stage 4: Consolidating and Deepening the Revolution

Chávez’s electoral victory on August 15 is the third great defeat suffered by the opposition; it represents enormous support for the Venezuelan revolutionary process, and it makes clear the necessity of continuing the social transformations until they are irreversible.

What is the correlation of forces at this time, and how is it possible to improve it? The government is in a stronger position nationally as well as internationally. No one can deny the democratic character of the Bolivarian process and the great popular support behind Chávez. The media warriors are now out of ammunition. The opposition has been exposed and has lost much of its credibility (their analyses were revealed to be illusory, and they have demonstrated how separated they are from reality and the people). Further the splits in the opposition have become increasingly visible.

Under these circumstances, the more extreme members of the opposition may consider assassinating Chávez to be their only option, but it is an extremely risky one. Its predicable result would be the bloodiest slaughter on the continent since the Conquest, and its ultimate results are unpredictable.

We must not forget, however, the existence of those nearly four million people who voted to revoke the mandate of Chávez. One of the government’s great challenges will be to win the support of a significant portion of those people (who are clearly not all members of the oligarchy!) as well as of those who simply stayed at home. Nor can the government afford to forget the expectations that this victory has created in the six million who voted for Chávez.

The Bolivarian revolutionary process faces a variety of challenges in this new stage: political, economic, institutional, and communicative.

The process must foster a qualitative leap in the active participation of the people. The president’s strongest idea, that “poverty cannot be eliminated if we do not give power to the people,” must be realized in the organizational forms and embodied in people and expressed through their concrete participation. For this, it will be necessary to perfect the instruments of civic participation set out in the constitution, but not yet put into practice because of the polarized situation. The government must nurture the neighborhood meetings with the best popular activists and push for the implementation of the local planning councils and social accounting. And to the degree that new leaderships arise and some of the old ones consolidate, it is necessary to advance toward a more and more collective manner of working. Fidel is right when he says that Chávez cannot continue being the mayor of all Venezuela, and the president himself agrees emphatically.

Further, it is necessary to overcome the political baggage inherited from Venezuela’s Fourth Republic and create in its place the political forms appropriate to the new period. All the organizational experience and popular participation of the recent electoral campaign must not be lost. The patrols and UBEs must learn to coordinate their work, and this should be discussed in local assemblies. Where the UBEs have not worked well, they should consider ways of improving their efficiency. The cumulative experience, the knowledge gained, and the changes in people’s thinking should help build a great political front bringing together all the militants that identify with the Bolivarian project. The electoral patrols should be transformed into social patrols that invite all interested community members to discuss and analyze social problems with them. There should be a place in the revolutionary project for all who feel themselves to be patriots, who love Venezuela, without first requiring them to be a member of a Chavist party. It is necessary to ensure that everyone feels useful. There is much to do in this country, and the more people can be organized and mobilized, the quicker they will be able to advance. The radicalism of work in the process depends not on the radicalism of the discourse but on the capacity to mobilize and involve actively the broadest spectrum of people.

What kind of political organization could emerge from the referendum experience? It is essential, I believe, to overcome the dispersion and isolation of the immense numbers of potential militants by creating a space for all those people who are not part of a particular political or social organization. Some of the characteristics of this new type of political organization should include: being much more than the sum of parties and popular social organizations; not repeating disputes over positions at the leadership levels; those who organize at the base should be represented at every level in proportion to the work they have carried out at the base; and all patriotic forces without exclusion must be united around a unique program.

This new political organization must swim in the sea of social movements. It should begin with clear rules specifying the rights and duties of all members, establishing mechanisms for the base to control the leaders. The goal should be to grow not simply by building coalitions between organizations but primarily through organizing from below. This political organization should stimulate the emergence of an authentic leadership that is broadly respected.

It is necessary also to build a unifying organization for workers. There are still too many divisions and the old habits persist. It seems indispensable to discuss the new type of trade unionism that will be required to face the radical changes that the working class has undergone in the last decades and to reflect on the role of Venezuelan workers in the revolutionary process.

It is also necessary to advance in the development of an alternative economic model and for this state initiative is essential. Therefore it is necessary to consolidate big government enterprises in the strategic areas: petroleum, electricity, telecommunications, finances, the distribution of food, and transportation. These enterprises must be governed not by the logic of profit, but rather by a logic of humanism and solidarity, and the workers must play a leading role in assuring this. At the same time, it is necessary to expand on a grand scale the popular economy through cooperatives and associations of the most diverse types that allow the workers to provide leadership in the process and thereby transform the relations of production.

Simultaneous transformation in both the large enterprises and the popular economy is fundamental to solving the problem of unemployment and disguised unemployment in the informal sector—one of the most serious problems affecting the poor. A critical step in this direction is Mission Vuelvan Caras—a combination of state initiatives and cooperatives created to foster endogenous development (by creating centers of development oriented to internal requirements and also by technically and organizationally preparing the work force to master these tasks). This mission must be consolidated and expanded if the problems of the economy are to be resolved. Precisely because solving the problem of unemployment quickly is one of the highest priorities, it is also necessary to encourage the reactivation of that portion of the private sector that is willing to cooperate with the government’s endogenous development and foster the development of mixed companies.

Venezuela’s endogenous development project will only be able to fulfill its potential if Latin American is able to achieve its own economic integration. As an alternative to the Free Trade Area of the Americas, which the United States is trying to impose, Chávez has proposed the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA), which will be guided by the logic of humanism and solidarity that characterizes the Bolivarian project. Thus, the creation of ALBA is another of the important economic tasks of this new stage.

Further, it is necessary to make gains within government institutions. In this sense the next elections of governors, mayors and councilors, at the end of October are very important, and the parish elections and elections of deputies to the National Assembly that will take place next year are even more so. If a clear majority is not achieved in those institutions, compromises with sectors of the opposition will be necessary to permit these institutions to function.

Especially, it is necessary to advance in the transformation of the state to overcome the limitations of the Fourth Republic. As Alí Rodríguez (president of PDVSA) said last April, “we have a revolutionary government but we don’t still have a revolutionary state” this explains why Chávez’s missions have had to be carried outside the structures of the corresponding ministries. It is essential now that these be included in a new model of the state. For this, it is necessary to restructure ministries and to create new ones. The essential thing is that government institutions must stop being bureaucratic mazes in the big cities and be brought to where people live and work, where people can exercise social control of public administration. People need to be informed about the resources available and the means by which they can exercise control—it is the only way to overcome the scourge of corruption, another of the high-priority tasks in this new stage. Transparency is absolutely fundamental.

One of the biggest challenges the government faces is that of reaching the hearts and minds of those millions of Venezuelans who up to now have not identified with the Bolivarian project. Many people, especially among the middle classes, have been deceived by the media. They have been convinced that Chávez is a dictator who wants to “Cubanize” Venezuela, destroy private property, and make the middle classes disappear. Furthermore, they have been told that he has no respect for union freedom, that he attacks journalists, and that he’s responsible for the climate of violence in the country. All are absolutely false accusations. What many of the four million who voted to recall Chávez reject is not the project of Chávez but a totally distorted cartoon of that project produced by the opposition mass media. Communicating the truth of Chávez’s project to all the people is one of the biggest challenges the government faces if it is to create the political conditions necessary for the process to advance.

It is essential that the government find a way to ensure that the distortions of the mass media no longer substitute for reality for so many Venezuelans. The opposition media must communicate information not disinformation. With the international support produced by the referendum result, the government should vigorously defend the right of the people to be correctly informed. There is no democracy without an informed people. All the media, including those of the state, should undergo a profound transformation process. The state media must quickly expand its capacity to reach all of the country and work more efficiently. The alternative community media, which reflect the concerns and interests of their communities, must be reinforced. Finally, a television station for the South must be developed as soon as possible—to communicate a true picture of Venezuela throughout Latin America and also to provide an alternative source of international news for Venezuelans.

Consider these four challenges, political, economic, institutional, and communicative, in the current period. They have a common element. They are not a call for an immediate end to capitalism. Rather, each has to do with developing the capacity of the people for a more conscious and active participation in the life of their country—politically, economically, through the state, and ideologically. Only this development will advance the Bolivarian revolutionary process in a sure way and make the transformation irreversible.

Notes

  1. These military people decided to act against Carlos Andrés Pérez after he threw them against the people to control the popular outpouring of protest motivated by hunger and the poverty, February 27 1989, in what is called the “Caracazo.”
  2. Marta Harnecker, The Left at the Threshold of the XXI Century: Making the Impossible Possible, published in Spanish by Siglo XXI Editores, 3rd. ed. 2000, pp. 70–74.
  3. The term correlation of forces refers to the relative strength of contending sectors based upon their economic power, the number of adherents, the number of activists, their capacities for organization, the degree of self-awareness, and their level of military support among other things.
  4. In this sense Venezuela has fostered South American and Caribbean integration processes; it has privileged the relationship with its partners in OPEC and has come closer to other poles of power in the world such as India, Russia, and China, strengthening at the same time, its bonds with the forums of emergent nations including the Group of 15 and the Group of the 77 for South-South cooperation. Marta Harnecker, The Left After Seattle (Madrid: Siglo XXI España, 2001), includes a chapter about Venezuela where you can find more information about the first stage
  5. It is symptomatic that Chávez has been accused at the international level of being a dictator when he has been the leader with the most popular consultations carried out in the world in so short period of time: eight if we count the recent recall referendum: elections for president of the republic (December 1998); referendum for creation of the Constituent Assembly (April 25, 1999); election of the constituents (July 25, 1999); approval of the new constitution (December 15, 1999); president mega-elections, deputies, governors and mayors (July 30, 2000); councilmen’s elections and members of the parochial meetings (December 3, 2000); union elections (August–October 2001); recall referendum (August 15, 2004).
  6. Marta Harnecker, “Venezuela. A Sui Generis Revolution,” paper presented in the LAC Seminary, III World Social Forum, January 24, 2003. In this article there is more information about the two first stages, especially the second one.
  7. Through their technical knowledge and absolute control of the flow of information within the company, the high executives of PDVSA modified the access codes, interrupted processes, and seriously damaged some facilities which would have exploded if the new highly-qualified personnel had not discovered that they had sabotaged the temperature regulation systems. Lastly, when in spite of everything production continued, albeit slowly, they blocked the internal and external transport of raw materials. They prevented the movement of ships for two weeks.
  8. On June 7, 2003, the medical clinics in Caracas were inaugurated.
  9. On July 1, 2003, the Mission Robinson began.
  10. On July 29, 2003, the Bolivarian University of Venezuela was inaugurated in Caracas.
  11. The government created popular markets called MERCAL, which now provide 35 percent of the food that is sold.
FacebookRedditTwitterEmailPrintFriendlyShare
FacebookRedditTwitterEmailPrintFriendly