Venezuela: The elite lose again

Across Venezuela hundreds of thousands have celebrated the defeat of the attempt to “recall” the radical President Hugo Chávez. The overwhelming referendum result is a huge blow against US President Bush’s policies and the Venezuelan ruling class. The opposition had hoped that they would be able to mobilise sections disappointed by Chávez and thereby secure a victory.

This is the third time that an attempt to overthrow Chávez has failed. The April 2002 US-backed military coup disintegrated in the face of a mass movement from below as millions of Venezuelans protested on the streets. The December 2002 to February 2003 strike by senior staff at the PDVSA nationalised oil company and widespread bosses’ lock-out in other sectors petered out in face of support for Chávez’s popular reforms and the determination of the poor masses to defeat this bosses’ strike.

This latest referendum is the eighth time since 1998 that Chávez has won at the ballot boxes, twice he has been elected President and his policies have now been supported in six referendums.

The right wing opposition seized upon the recall mechanism that Chávez himself had introduced into the Constitution, something that does not currently exist in any other country in the world. The opposition used all types of fraud, including signing up the dead, to bolster their claim that they had collected the necessary number of signatures to trigger the holding of the recall referendum.

Clearly Chávez’s victory has been based upon a widespread mobilisation of the impoverished working class and poor. The number of voters rose from 12.4 to 14 million as the poor registered and many long term immigrants were given identity cards.

The preliminary results gave Chávez 58.25% (4,991,483 votes) and the opposition 41.74% (3,576,517 votes). This pro-Chávez vote was a huge increase on the 3,757,773 votes Chávez won when he was elected President for the second time in July 2000.

But it is clear that in this polarised situation the opposition leaders, a privileged clique struggling to defend their power and wealth, will not simply go away. Their propaganda campaign has not stopped and sometimes they can be quite ‘creative’. As the voting was underway the National Electoral Council (CNE) announced the existence of a pre-recorded fake press conference that had the voice of the CNE President proclaiming Chávez’s defeat. Also during the voting the opposition published “exit-polls” claiming to show they were winning and then, when the votes were announced, they used they own exit polls as evidence of rigging.

The opposition may step up this campaign over the next few days, attempting to justify new attacks on Chávez. Sections of the international media have already joined in this campaign. The Independent in London even published an article, while the voting was still taking place, that gave ‘figures’ claiming to show that Chávez was losing, however these were quoted from the previously unheard of “mid-morning results” whatever they were.

How will the Venezuelan ruling class and imperialism react to this result? The more impatient could move towards more extreme measures, including terrorism and assassination, to attack the Chávez government. Other sections may adopt a more long term view working either to tame Chávez or to undermine both his regime and support over a longer period.

Despite having implemented reforms that have, for now, improved conditions for the poor, Chávez works within the capitalist system. Currently this means Venezuela is suffering from high inflation of around 22%, something that has been worsened by the two currency devaluations Chávez has carried out. So long as capitalism remains there is the prospect that a fall in the current high price of oil in the future could rapidly decrease the room for reforms and Chávez’s freedom of movement. This is why the positive reforms already implemented and the hopes for a secure and better future are tied to the question of whether capitalism continues in Venezuela.

Having won this important victory it is necessary for the Venezuelan working class and poor to move onto the attack. The momentum of the referendum campaign has to be used to prepare a lasting victory over capitalism, the ruling class and their imperialist allies.

This means strengthening the working class and popular organisations, like the Bolivarian Committees, and ensuring that they are fully democratic. At the same time the question of the workers’ movement adopting a socialist programme that breaks with capitalism and establishes a workers’ and peasants’ Venezuela will become increasingly urgent as the ruling class and imperialism resumes its attempt, using direct or indirect methods, to re-establish firm control over Venezuela.

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August 2004