The name Hugo Chavez concerns me in many ways,not only am I a fan of President Hugo,I have a close friend with same name name.Below in respect of the President,I collected a couple great articles which shed light on major issues which surrounded Brother Hugo Chavez in the last few years of his government.
By Jim McIlroy and Coral Wynter
CARACAS, VENEZUELA - Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez described the
program of the opposition presidential candidate Henriques Capriles
Radonski, running for the right-wing Roundtable for Unity (MUD)
coalition, as "an aggression against the Venezuelan people," the
September 3 Diario Vea reported. Chavez has launched a "crusade" against
the opposition program in the lead-up to the October 7 presidential
Speaking to the media on September 2, Chavez declared that "the
true program of the bourgeoisie is to suspend the investment of
resources of the National Development Fund (FONDEN).... This would mean
the immediate suspension of more than 100 projects now in process, with a
general huge loss of employment immediately," Diario Vea reported.
Chavez said that the suspension of investment would freeze more
than US$20 million for the construction of essential infrastructure for
the productive development of the nation. Projects affected would
include expansion of the Caracas Metro, the increase and maintenance of
the free health care Barrio Adentro program, and the project for
provision of clean water to all the country's schools.
Speaking on Union Radio the following day, Chavez said: "The
opposition leader lies without embarrassment. His plan is blatantly
neo-liberal. He wants to re-privatise the ports, the airports, the roads
and highways. I'm making a call so that people listen and understand,"
the September 4 Ultimas Noticias reported.
Chavez further explained that the MUD program would mean the
privatisation of the social missions, the elimination of the
government-owned Mercal supermarket system, the freeing up of prices,
the privatisation of the public oil company PDVSA, and the destruction
of the state sector, the September 4 Caracas City Revolution Daily
President Chavez launched a final campaign offensive for the weeks
leading up to October 7 with a major speech to a mass rally of tens of
thousands of workers and trade unionists at La Guaira, in the state of
Vargas, on August 30. During the speech, broadcast live on the public
VTV channel, Chavez declared:
"We have to deepen the transition fo socialism in the economic,
political and cultural spheres. Workers have to play a fundamental role
in this process.
"The working class will deepen its role in the transition to socialism against the culture of capitalism and its corruption.
"This means not just the formal workers, but also the informal
sector -- the taxidrivers, the stallholders etc. The right wing call
them businesspeople, but they are really part of the working class. The
new law on social security now applies to them also," Chavez explained.
"The MUD neoliberal program based on privatisation caused disaster
in the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s. The plan of the counter-revolution now
is to take away all the rights of the people we've won over the last 10
years or more.
"The hidden agenda of the opposition is to privatise the Bank of
Venezuela, the CANTV public telecommunications company, and the SIDOR
steel plant. They want to sack all the public servants, stop public
spending and create a minimum state.
"Behind this, they have a plan for violence and military
intervention with the backing of imperialism. But we warn the
opposition: our revolution is peaceful, but it is not disarmed. It is an
integral revolution; the last revolution of the 20th century, leading
into the 21st," he said.
"The Venezuelan revolution is also part of an international struggle.
That's why there is so much interest worldwide in the Bolivarian
"People know we are fighting for the future of humanity. Capitalism
is in world crisis. It is seeking to take back all the spaces it has
"The question is now socialism or rapacious capitalism. But it's the poor who will reign over the future.
"The workers have to be conscious of this battle. The capitalists
have no limits, no codes, no respect for the people... I ask you to
dedicate yourselves completely to the fight. We need to consolidate our
struggle, to organise better, more scientifically. We must organise the
electoral patrols, street by street, town by town, being ready for any
moves by the opposition," Chavez stated.
"On October 7, we need to show the world that the Venezuelan
revolution is strong. We need to put the right-wing in the dust bin of
history. From then, we launch a new stage of the socialist struggle,"
By Gonzalo Gomez, Jeffery Webber and Susan Spronk
Aug 19th 2012
In Caracas, we caught up with Gonzalo Gómez, a founder of the radical
website aporrea.org and militant in the Trotskyist organization, Marea
Socialista. In this interview, Gonzalo describes his own path to
militancy, the different phases of the Bolivarian process, and the
dangers of bureaucracy, the “boli-bourgeoisie,” and the stultifying
internal life of the Partido Socialista Unido de Venezuela (United
Socialist Party of Venezuela, PSUV). He also stresses the centrality of
the creativity and dynamism of social movements from below, the
complexities of workers’ control, and the dynamics of the current
conjuncture prior to the October 7, 2012 general elections.
Susan Spronk and Jeffery R. Webber (SS and JRW): Can you tell us about your own political formation and history?
Gonzalo Gómez (GG): I began my political activism when I entered
university in the 1970s. I became involved as an active militant in
political struggle when I was 19 years old, but I had already been
involved in various student activities for a few years before this.
I studied at the Universidad Católica Andrés Bello because my first
attempt at entering the Universidad Central de Venezuela (UCV) failed;
the university had been shut down at the time by the government of
Rafael Caldera. There were serious confrontations between the students
and the state at the UCV. So, instead, I applied to the Catholic
university, which was a new university, a private university run by the
Jesuits. But as a result of a process of radicalization amongst
Venezuelan youth during those years, the Catholic university also
entered into a situation of crisis and conflict.
We were successful in building a movement that demanded co-governance
between the students and the administration in the university. We were
able to hold forums and open political discussions at the university. We
created an Assembly of Student Delegates, and a Student's Congress. My
activism in this area led initially to my expulsion from the university
along with 14 others, but pressure from the student movement – there
were mobilizations and a hunger strike – forced the administration to
allow our re-registration. Our return to the university provoked the
resignation of the rector of the university and a few department heads.
Those who left were extremely reactionary people, with very conservative
political positions – people who had previously held positions in the
business associations of Venezuela, and others who had been ministers in
the first government of Carlos Andrés Pérez.
At the university during this time we were all concerned with what
was happening in Chile, given that this was the period of Allende's
government (1970-1973) and then the Pinochet coup of 1973. I became
involved in an organization with a Trotskyist orientation called the
Partido Socialista de los Trabajadores (Socialist Workers Party, PST),
which published the paper Voz Socialista (Socialist Voice). This
organization later fused with a part of the Movimiento Izquierda
Revolucionaria (Movement of the Revolutionary Left, MIR), which
published the paper La Chispa (The Spark). The new organization was
called PST-La Chispa.
Of course, from here we went on to participate in various important
events and movements, in the struggle of February 27, 1989, the
movements preceding and following the military uprising of 1992 led by
current President Chávez, the urban movements of the popular barrios,
and the teacher's union, through something called the Base Magisterial
Democracia Sindical (Grassroots Teachers for Union Democracy, BMDS). I
was a teachers’ delegate for this movement.
More recently, I've been participating in various spaces, for
example, in Asociación Nacional de Medios Comunitarios Libres y
Alternativos (National Association of Free and Alternative Media,
ANMCLA), and the Comando Nacional de Comunicación Popular – Misión 7 de
Octubre (National Command of Popular Communication – Mission October 7,
CNCP-7O), is another space I'm involved in. Together with others in
Marea Socialista we are also participating in articulations with other
social movements and political currents inside of what's called the
Alianza Popular Revolucionaria (Revolutionary Popular Alliance, APR).
SS and JRW: What was the importance of the failed coup d'état of April 11-13, 2002 to the development of the left?
GG: The struggle that began in 2002, when activists and organizers
took the initiative to challenge the coup d'état that occurred in April
of that year, marks the beginning of a new phase of struggle. At that
time, we formed the Asamblea Popular Revolucionaria (Revolutionary
Popular Assembly). It was a short-lived political space that existed
only until the second wave of counter-revolutionary reaction, that is,
the bosses’ lockout and sabotage in the oil sector in 2002-03.
The assembly played an important role in helping to foment the
resistance against the coup, because the government had not called on
the people to defend the process against the coup, but rather had bet
all of its cards on trying to manage the balance of forces internal to
the state and the armed forces. This was, perhaps, a tactic of the
government to avoid a bloodbath in the streets. But we in the assembly
concluded that the decision to not mobilize the people could mean an
even bigger bloodbath, that the presence of the people in the streets
We helped to organize this initiative and were involved in the
confrontations with the military police in the streets, in which a
number of people were killed. But we believe these actions prevented the
original plans of the right from taking hold. The right wanted to carry
out a coup disguised as something else, to make it seem as if it was a
popular mobilization against Chávez. The right called on the
mobilization of the upper middle class and the wealthiest Venezuelans to
mobilize in the streets, a tactic that was extremely well-managed by
the private media.
The armed forces and the police were obviously behind these actions,
but the idea was to give the impression to the world that the people
themselves were overthrowing Chávez, that they were mobilizing and going
to the presidential palace in Miraflores to carry out a democratic
revolution, that this was a recovery of peoples’ power that had been
taken away by a dictatorship. This was the plan that the right had
The resistance of military forces loyal to Chávez around Miraflores
[Presidential palace], together with the presence of pro-Chávez popular
mobilizations in the streets, revealed the true nature of this
The Asamblea Popular Revolucionaria created the website aporrea.org
during this period, with the idea that the Internet would be a useful
tool in the denunciation of this coup d'état, as well as a medium
through which to organize the resistance. But the response of the people
on April 13 in the streets exceeded anyone's expectations. Indeed, we
had planned on April 19 as a day of resistance, which has a resonance in
the history of the struggle for Venezuela's independence. But the
popular reaction happened much more quickly than anticipated.
Aporrea.org was fully on-line in May of 2002. And it eventually
became a bigger phenomenon of communication than was initially planned.
It played a role that the existing sectors of public media couldn't
play. In aporrea.org we featured open confrontation with the right,
radical positions of popular struggle within the revolutionary process,
but also critical analysis and internal debate.
These were things that the existing public media was not doing. We
believed, unlike the existing public media, that we needed to have a
massive mobilization of the people, and that we needed to have open
political discussions. We thought that the differences of opinions
inside the revolutionary process had to be spoken about publicly in
front of everyone, and not between four walls amongst a few select
people. We also wanted to hold these discussions in front of the right,
debating publicly with them, with no fear that they would use these
debates against the revolution. We believe that the best tool that the
counter-revolutionaries could dream of would be the silencing of debate
within the revolutionary camp. It is precisely the right that would
benefit from this.
Aporrea.org was subsequently used as a tool to continue fighting the
forces behind the coup, because the effects of the coup did not
disappear after its formal defeat on April 13, 2002. Chávez returned,
but not without various conditions attached to his resumption of office,
perhaps by sectors of the armed forces before they agreed to the
liberation of Chávez.
In the first news reports that followed Chávez's return, it was not
reported that there had been a coup d'état, but rather a vacuum of
power. Those who defended the demonstrators at Puente Llaguno were
characterized by the right as gangsters (pistoleros) and were
imprisoned. How is it that those who defended the revolutionary process
were put in prison after the return of Chávez? How is it that we
defeated a coup d'état and then we were put in jail? If there are people
from our side who were jailed it is because sectors of those who
orchestrated the coup retained some power, and imposed conditions on
So events about 2002 are not as clear as they sometimes appear. No
doubt, we defeated the coup and Chávez returned. But if we so clearly
defeated the coup, why weren't the policies of the revolution pursued
and deepened immediately thereafter? Why did the press announce that
there hadn't been a coup? The Bolivarian Circles were stigmatized.
Meanwhile, people who led the pro-coup marches in April, members of the
reactionary former management of the state-owned oil company PDVSA, who
had been fired by President Chávez, were reinstalled in their former
And how is it that key figures in the coup attempt were allowed to
return to their positions in PDVSA? These were the same people who then
went on to lead the oil lockout of 2002-03. Who established all of these
conditions? Was it simply a policy of President Chávez to pacify the
situation, to open up dialogue? Or were there forces of power within the
armed forces and the state apparatus itself that continued expressing
the interests of those who carried out the coup?
This is why I'm suggesting that the legacy of the coup lasted beyond
its formal defeat with the return of Chávez. It is also the case that
the organizers behind the coup of April 11 who were occupying Miraflores
were guaranteed their freedom. The attorney general said all of their
rights and freedoms would be guaranteed, that they wouldn't be facing
trial. All of this together reflects the fact that the legacy of the
coup extended beyond April 13.
This legacy of the coup caused a momentary ebb in the revolutionary
process, which was reversed with the subsequent defeat of the oil
lockout. The defeat of the oil lockout reinvigorated the revolutionary
process once again. After the coup, activists were fighting against
impunity for the coup plotters and calling for the dismantling of the
metropolitan police force, and for the transformation of the judicial
apparatus, because it was taking decisions in favour of the coup
The Asamblea Popular Revolucionaria put forward an entire program of
struggle around these issues, including plans to prevent further coup
attempts in the future. It's for these reasons that aporrea.org became a
key resource for the popular movement. It was the medium through which
the public came to know about all of these dangers and problems. And
because it was always a very open forum, and was capable of publishing
news very rapidly, we received constant reports from the popular
movement, from the activists on the ground who would send us reports and
photos from the streets.
In 2007, when the Partido Socialista Unido de Venezuela (United
Socialist Party of Venezuela, PSUV) was formed, fragments of PST-La
Chispa, which had dissolved and reformed, together with other currents
merged into Marea Socialista, and joined the PSUV as the Marea
Socialista. I was a delegate from Marea Socialista at the founding
congress of PSUV.
I was heavily involved in PSUV initially, and was part of the
regional political executive of the party in Caracas. Currently, I am
not involved in the party at this level, which has a lot to do with the
negative dynamic that the party has entered into; this had led leading
activists and organizers to articulate themselves outside the party,
without actually leaving the party.
This has happened because there seem to be other political spaces
where there are greater possibilities for participation and democratic
debate than within PSUV. The PSUV has become a party of public
functionaries, and we want the PSUV, or whatever organization assumes
the vanguard of the Venezuelan revolution, to be constituted by the
leaders of the social movements, with the popular movements at the
front, rather than there being such a strong influence on the part of
functionaries of the government. The fact that these functionaries have
assumed the leadership of the party has led to the party losing much of
its vigor, its dynamism, and its internal democracy. This is an
important risk facing the revolutionary process.
SS and JRW: Can you clarify for us the way you understand the
different phases of the Bolivarian process, both before and after the
period of the coup attempt that you've discussed in some detail?
GG: The first phase before the coup was Chávez's electoral victory in
1998 and the installation of the Constituent Assembly process shortly
thereafter, in 1999. During the Constituent Assembly process the people,
in one way or another, participated in a discussion around the model of
development and politics of the country.
The next phase has to do with the facilitating laws [leyes
habilitantes] of 2001, where Chávez was delegated authority to decree
these laws. Among these laws was the Ley de Tierras (Agrarian law),
which began a process of taking land from the hands of the latifundistas
(large land owners) and redistributing it amongst the peasantry. It
also meant that the state would try to push ahead with another form of
agricultural production, from a very different perspective than what had
existed previously. There was also the Ley de Hidrocarburos
(Hydrocarbons Law), thanks to which Venezuela recuperated sovereign
control over the industrial production of petroleum, including the
imposition of greater royalties and taxes that generated increased
revenues for the state. Another important law in this period was the Ley
de Pesca (Fishing law), which sought to reverse the ecological
depredation of the coastal flora and fauna from commercial fishing.
So there were a series of laws against which the bourgeoisie reacted,
including, on December 10, 2001, the first signals of the coming coup
attempt, with a business lockout backed by the right-wing bureaucracy of
the traditional trade union federation Central de Trabajadores de
Venezuela (Workers’ Central of Venezuela, CTV), which had long been
linked to the Acción Democrática (Democratic Action, AD) and other
parties of the traditional right. Thus, the series of laws passed in
2001 was a second important phase of the process that occurred before
After the coup, I would say the next phase began when Chávez outlined
the anti-imperialist character of the revolution, and afterward, in
2005, the socialist character of the revolution. All of this occurred
during the recall referendum initiated by the right in 2004, a failed
attempt to defeat Chávez using electoral mechanisms. This was important
because it represented the employment of a fairly unique democratic
mechanism, given the fact that very few countries have a democratic
mechanism through which you can recall the President. The right tried to
employ this mechanism, and failed in their attempt to recall Chávez [in
the official results 57% of voters voted in favour of Chávez].
Meanwhile, of course, many other important things were happening in
the revolutionary process – the nationalization of various enterprises,
the recuperation of various enterprises that had been privatized, like
the telecommunications firm CANTV and the steel plant SIDOR. Such
nationalizations generated important conflicts internal to the
Bolivarian process in some cases. The government put the question of
nationalization on the agenda, but, for example, the actual
nationalization of SIDOR would never have actually happened if the
workers of the plant hadn't mounted a struggle of their own.
There was also the pushing forward of the forms of popular
organization encompassed in the concept of “popular power” – this has
had its contradictions and problems, but it's undeniable that the level
of popular consciousness of the people is much higher today as a result.
Obviously, though, there are deformations of popular power as well due
to the amplification of bureaucracy and clientelism. The institution of
genuine popular power can only be won with intense popular struggle.
Some of the contradictions came to the fore in the case of SIDOR, where
there was a struggle for workers’ control, on the one hand, and a
tremendous resistance on the part of management on the other, and the
bureaucracy of the union itself, accustomed to clientelistic and corrupt
relations with management.
The most recent development in the process has to do with the illness
of the President. This has raised a whole series of questions around
the continuity of leadership, giving the unifying role that Chávez has
played in this process. He will not easily be replaced. The social
movements, the working-class, and their organizations, have not
organically constituted themselves as a social subject with sufficient
strength to have weight in the exercise of power within the government.
We need to move toward a form of government, even while Chávez is still
present, where there are mechanisms through which the organizations of
the working-class and social movements are taken into account, are
consulted, where they have a direct role in the design of policies and
Currently there is an inorganic form of consultation, what is
sometimes called street parliamentarism, where deputies from the
government consult with people in the street. But it is the
functionaries of the government who ultimately conduct the syntheses of
these views and select the proposals that they are going to carry out.
It is not we in the popular movement who are carrying these things out
directly. If this isn't a bourgeois government, neither have we yet
arrived at a situation in which there is direct control by the popular
The government is a close interlocutor of ours, sensitive to our
demands, and it pushes various actions forwards and provides an
orientation; but at the same time, the bureaucratic apparatus of the
state often acts as a break on all advances. The bureaucracy
appropriates the discourse of the revolution, but in reality rather than
living for the revolution, they live from the revolution. They
accumulate capital, negotiate with the bourgeoisie, and reject real
changes. And when the bureaucracy blocks changes pushed from below, it
SS and JRW: Are you referring here to what some have called the “boli-bourgeoisie”?
GG: Yes. Look, when someone assumes a position in the apparatus of
the state, and benefits from transactions that are not their own, but
rather are transactions that use the budget of the state, and which
extract benefits from commissions, we are witnessing the formation of a
new bourgeoisie. They skim off a layer of the oil rent not for the
benefit of the people but for their own benefit. It is difficult to
obtain precise information regarding these practices, but it is
certainly going on. And this is one of the strongest indicators that we
have not completed a rupture with the capitalist system, but that it
remains very much alive. We've nationalized banks, for example, which is
all to the good, but private banking continues to exist. And the banks
that are in the hands of the state are quite crucially inefficient and
incapable of resolving the problems that they are intended to solve.
For me, it's necessary that there be an acceleration, a democratic
radicalization, of the revolutionary process, with more audacious and
radical measures that rupture with the existing capitalist system –
these measures will have to recognize the reigning balance of forces,
obviously. It's also necessary that there be more organic consultation
and participation of the social movements in the leadership of the
government. This, still, is not very advanced.
SS and JRW: What happened with the PSUV from your perspective? Marea
Socialista entered the party right from the beginning, but today we hear
a lot of criticisms of the internal functioning of the party, including
from Marea Socialista. Can you explain a little more fully the
substance of the criticisms of the internal process of the party?
GG: We in Marea Socialista remain in the party, and do so freely in
the sense that we conduct discussions, hold forums, and so on, and we
continue to push forward our proposals and policies within the party.
We're active both inside and outside of the party. And no one has told
us that we can't be doing this. But neither have we found an organic
space within PSUV to be able to debate these policies and proposals in a
way that has an effect on the decision-making and orientation of the
It is a party with an extremely vertical structure, with Chávez as
the maximum leader, the vice-presidents of the party below him, and then
the leadership layers beneath the vice-presidents that are now selected
through processes of cooptation, rather than through elections by the
base of the party. And when the base is able to vote on leaderships,
there is a whole machinery of power of the existing leadership that uses
resources of the state apparatus and party media in conditions that are
very unequal for competing leaderships.
So, how can we say that this party reflects the actual balance of
social forces in the revolutionary process? The party is a very
significant distortion of this balance of forces. We continue to be
active within the PSUV because we consider it an important political
space. But we feel an urgent necessity to participate in other spaces of
debate and articulation because of the limits of the formal structure
of the party. This has been the position that many, many social
movements have found themselves in, with regard to their relationship to
the party. This is the case, for example, for the various social
movements that constitute the Alianza Popular Revolucionaria (Popular
Revolutionary Alliance, APR), which participates inside of the Gran Pólo
Patriótico (Great Patriotic Pole, GPP), and which is not an
insignificant grouping of social forces. These are the movements of the
movements. Inside the Alliance one finds the peasant front that brings
together a whole series of smaller peasant movements across the country.
It is also true of the MP – another movement of movements – which
brings together the renter's movement, the movement of those occupying
public buildings, domestic workers, the network of the homeless, and
others. The case of Asociación Nacional de Medios Comunitarios Libres y
Alternativos (National Association of Free and Alternative Media,
ANMCLA) is similar when it comes to the question of alternative
community media, and it is also true of Marea Socialista itself, which
is simultaneously a workers’, youth, and popular movement.
We are all looking for alternative routes through which we can build
our capacities and build our presence, because the formal structures of
the PSUV do not allow for the flourishing and developing of our
initiatives, nor for the creativity of the social movements. To bring
everything into a single line within the party would transform all of us
into little squabblers positioning for a piece of the apparatus, or
merely into bodies to attend marches and public events of the party.
In the foundational congress of the PSUV, and in the other opening
discussions, there was wide and open debate over the programmatic
positions that the party would assume. But when one looks at how this
programmatic elaboration has been translated into the practical
governance of the party, and in the general practice of the party, there
is a large dissonance. From my perspective, the party is not
implementing its own program. The program is there as a general horizon
of the party, but day to day there is no movement to actualize it.
So we're here in Venezuela in the midst of a very important process, a
reference point for Latin America and the entire world, but the process
is still operating within a fundamentally reformist schema. This
includes, for example, the regional integration projects with the rest
of Latin America, in spite of the various positive characteristics you
can point to in these initiatives. Latin American integration is seen as
the building of common spaces and closer association between Venezuela
and a series of countries that continue to be governed by their own
bourgeoisies. So it's not a vision of unity on the basis of class, unity
of the exploited.
I believe that President Chávez has been able to make advances in
many areas, some of which have been extremely difficult – for example,
to have introduced an ideological influence of socialism within the
armed forces of Venezuela, which is of incredible value. For many years
the left in this country struggled without success to have this kind of
influence on the armed forces.
At the same time, we have committed important errors. We're 13 years
into this revolutionary process and we are still entwined in this
rent-dependent economy, based on oil. We have been unable to advance in
our own agricultural production rooted in a strong foundation of social
property. The concept of the empresas de producción social (social
production enterprises) should not be mere window dressing, a curiosity,
an interesting little thing to look at, “oh look, how interesting, how
beautiful, this enterprise in Carora or Guanare has socialized its
process of production.” If we are not capable of producing for this
country's needs, building enterprises that can compete with the existing
bourgeoisie, which can help to neutralize all the distortions that are
created in the market, then we will continue to face major economic
problems. We have a large external debt, for example, even if today it's
not with the United States or the International Monetary Fund, but
rather with China.
SS and JRW: Changing themes slightly, can you explain for us what Gran Polo Patriótico is, as well as its relationship to PSUV.
GG: In the period in which we were navigating the problems associated
with the illness of Chávez, the PSUV was encountering all kinds of
problems in its attempt to assume the role of a dynamic center of
popular organization and mobilization. And thus the social movements
began to build initiatives outside the party. Chávez had introduced the
idea of the Gran Polo Patriótico (GPP), and various social movements
took up this idea as an instrument for pushing forward with various
actions. We began to speak about organizing asambleas patrióticas
populares (popular patriotic assemblies), to build the foundations for a
polo patriótico popular (popular patriotic pole). When the president
was in the process of recuperating from his illness, he put forward the
idea of the GPP in a definitive manner.
At the beginning, the President's call received a very spirited
reaction, with the dynamic and enthusiastic participation of many
regional and national social movements. However, from my point of view,
when the GPP could not effectively respond to the creativity and
initiative of the movements within their own spaces and areas of focus,
and when it tried to encompass everything under a single vision – with a
conception of unity that lacked the necessary diversity that needs to
be included in any serious conceptualization of unity – and when it
tried to discipline everything so that it fell into line with a single
plan, this spurred discontent within popular movement.
One of the problems with the GPP has been that it has not
distinguished between the large national and regional popular movements
of significance and various little grouplets, organizations, or
expressions of very localized struggles. And these different kinds of
movements cannot be placed on a similar level within an umbrella
organization like the GPP – a neighbourhood organization of a dozen
people should not be confused with a national peasant movement or
The GPP should have sat down from the beginning with the largest of
the popular movements, but instead every tiny expression of struggle was
inscribed into it, without any clarification about the different social
and political weight they held in the country, or whether or not they
genuinely expressed important social forces. As a consequence, something
that at first appeared extremely democratic and capable of bringing
together social movements in a dynamic way began to lose its force, its
capacity to mobilize and its real social weight within actually existing
The President and the government never sat down with the key social
movements at a national level, the peasant front, the poor peoples’
movement, with the two main labour federations [the Unión Nacional de
Trabajadores (National Union of Workers, UNT) and the Central Socialista
Bolivariana de Trabajadores (Bolivarian Socialist Workers’ Central,
CSBT)] rather than just the CSBT.
SS and JRW: Can you tell us about the Marea Socialista's relationship with the trade union movement?
GG: Marea Socialista recently decided to leave the UNT and join the
CSBT, with a variety of conditionalities and criticisms of the new
labour confederation. We believe in the project of UNT but we think it
has exhausted itself. But the government only recognizes the CSBT, and
the workers who have organized themselves in the UNT are not taken into
account, as if they weren't part of the revolutionary process because
the government hasn't formally recognized them. If the President is the
president of all Venezuelans who are with the revolutionary process, it
should not be the case that a sector of the government decides that it's
appropriate to recognize only one of the labour confederations that is
on side with the revolutionary process. Thus, all of these social
movements were not called together as they ought to have been. And this
had a very negative impact on the dynamism of the GPP.
And when it came time to selecting spokespeople and regional
representatives for the GPP, the process was not carried out in the
democratic traditions of the social movements, but rather through
designations from above. For example, the PSUV played a major role in
this process of creating an ostensibly separate political space – the
GPP. I believe that this weakened the latter considerably, compared to
its beginning as a significant initiative that could have been quite
important as a social force.
I still believe that the GPP's original potential can be recuperated,
but the path toward such recuperation is to recognize clearly its
current state, and to bring together the various social movements to
work together with the government, and President Chávez, so that there
can be an effective electoral campaign for the October 2012 elections.
But the real political weight and influence of the major regional and
national social movements must be taken into account in revising and
recuperating the character of the GPP in order for this to function. And
the local movements, which are engaged in the very specific environs of
their locales, should not be extracted and abstracted from this
activity and situated within the GPP as if they were something
The popular movement in this country is still alive, and you can see a
whole variety of activities in development. What I think is difficult
is managing these activities through the structures of the PSUV or the
GPP, particularly as the latter has shifted in character. But the
movement is there, and you can see it in autonomous mobilizations and
spheres of organization, including independent initiatives organizing
for the electoral campaign of Chávez.
There are those who say that everything has to be organized into a
single framework, into a unified electoral campaign, with elections as
the central focus. I don't think social movements function in this
manner. If this is not understood, these efforts of centralization and
control are going to continue without the desired results. But they're
there; the movements are present.
SS and JRW: What are the most dynamic social forces and popular movements in the current conjuncture?
GG: In the labour movement, for example, there are the two labour
confederations, the UNT and the CSBT, as I mentioned. The UNT developed
with a more autonomous character, with a more critical and combative
political orientation, but it was beginning to deflate. More and more
unions and federations of unions were beginning to affiliate with the
CSBT, which has always been more subordinate to the apparatus of the
government, and which does not have the perspective of struggle that it
needs to have, from my point of view.
We have to fight against the right wing in Venezuela and against
imperialism, but we also have to fight within the apparatus of the
bourgeois state precisely to destroy the apparatus of the bourgeois
state to be able to implement real workers’ and popular power. And this
implies confronting the bureaucracy regularly in the decisions they make
that favour the bosses or are anti-worker and anti-popular in
character, above and beyond the progressive reforms called for and
introduced by Chávez.
If there is no struggle, if there is no tension, the bureaucratic
apparatus will tend to impose itself over the popular interests. In
order to prevent this we need to redouble the popular forces fighting
against this tendency, and they need to be taken into account by the
Next, of course, there is the peasant movement. There is the
Corriente Revolucionaria Bolívar y Zamora (Revolutionary Current Bolívar
and Zamora, CRBZ), which is a powerful, organized peasant movement.
They've carried out important mobilizations and are involved in
different collective agricultural projects and initiatives; they've also
had experience with the establishment of communal cities. There's
another important peasant movement that's called Jirajara. Braulio
Álvarez, a national assembly deputy, is the leader of this peasant
Then there is the Movimiento de Pobladores (Movement of the Urban
Poor, MP), which has been involved in the struggle for renters’
interests, and in the struggle for gaining title to squatted lands in
the city, among other initiatives. I've also mentioned ANMCLA, but in
the current moment there is also the Comando Nacional de Comunicación
Popular – Misión 7 de Octubre (National Command of Popular Communication
– Mission October 7, CNCP-7O), which groups together all of the
alternative media, including those of ANMCLA.
There are other newer organizations that have emerged as well – a
novelty in the Venezuelan process is the defence of the rights of women,
the field of feminism. The Alianza Feminista (Feminist Alliance),
Faldas en la Revolución (Skirts in Revolution), are important
organizations, as is La Alianza Sexo-Género Diversa Revolucionaria
(Revolutionary Alliance of Sex-Gender Diversity, ASGDRe), which for the
first time has brought into the revolutionary camp the movement of
lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transgendered people. They are now
actively participating in the popular movement.
There are other notable organizations that are in processes of
recuperation. One example is the Bolivarian Circles. Another is the
Frente Socialista de Profesionales y Técnicos (Socialist Front of
Professionals and Technicians, FSPT), which has organized several
gatherings of professionals and technicians from across the entire
country. Within the FSPT you have smaller groupings like the Frente
Nacional de Abogados Bolivarianos (National Front of Bolivarian Lawyers,
There are a number of nation-wide, massive organizations, clearly
identifiable, that express the interests of specific sectors and which
could reinvigorate the program of the President, the program of the
government, with their own proposals, and they have their criticisms of
the process which need to be taken into account.
If these various national movements were able to articulate
themselves clearly, and act in concert with the figure of Chávez, but
with the capacity to act with or without the presence of Chávez, this
would allow for the political advancement of this revolutionary process.
This would include thinking seriously about this entire period of
uncertainty, inquietude, and risk that we've been living through with
Chávez's illness, when he was undergoing operations for cancer and so
on. Now it seems as though he has recovered, but still. We don't know
what will happen in the future...
So there are movements in this country, with the characteristics that
social movements have here in Venezuela. If we compare ourselves to
social movements in Europe that are very well organized, disciplined,
and with clear structures and financing and so on – or at least
historically, now with the indignados in Spain, some European movements
look a little more like the movements we have in Venezuela.
The movements in Venezuela are not like the historical movements in
Europe, but they have a very high capacity for spontaneous responses,
particularly in times of emergency – they produced the Caracazo of
February 27, 1989, the response to the coup attempt on April 11-13,
2002, and were able to forge the civic-military alliance that exists
with the Bolivarian revolution. These are not small achievements of our
social movements – with their characteristics that some have called
“tropical.” There are advantages and disadvantages to these
characteristics. And in certain circumstances the advantages have been
SS and JRW: Can you comment on what has happened in Ciudad Guayana?
When we were here two years ago this was one of the central political
GG: In Ciudad Guayana, after the strike that led to the
nationalization of SIDOR, a very positive process of meetings,
gatherings, discussion tables, and so on, began, with the direct
participation of workers. President Chávez himself arrived to
participate. Out of this process emerged the Guayana Socialist Plan, and
a series of initiatives of workers’ control were introduced.
However, this experience of workers’ control wasn't able to come to
fruition in the way that it should. One thing is that the necessary
level of organization of the workers, to the extent where there is a
real possibility of implementing workers’ control, would represent one
of the starkest scenarios of class struggle. The idea that this could be
calmly normalized when the capitalist system continues existing is
delusional, and bureaucratization has crept into the actual process
since the Guayana Socialist Plan was first unveiled. This
bureaucratization occurred within the union movement itself as well.
The working-class did not have the sufficient force from below to
push forward with workers’ control, and the working-class's leadership,
or, in some cases, the supposedly socialist management of these
enterprises, ended up hijacking the project of workers’ control.
The Problem of Workers’ Control
Workers’ control should not be understood as a situation in which new
management is assigned with the participation of workers, to manage the
company on behalf of the workers. It is not a situation in which
management takes decisions without processes of workers’ assemblies,
consultations, and voting that emerge out of processes of workers’
When workers within enterprises selected delegates that were not
favoured by management, management would simply not recognize the
election of these delegates, and would repeat elections indefinitely
until a favoured delegate from the workers emerged. These were the sorts
of things that were going on in Guayana.
In Guayana, in SIDOR, there was a management team with ties to the
presidency of SIDOR under D'Oliveira, who employed a language of
workers’ control, and talked about forming socialist councils, but in
reality operated everything in the interests of the bureaucratic
apparatus of the company.
And the workers persisted in supporting this process, but their
actual participation was eroding. They focused on struggling for their
immediate economic needs, and didn't see the necessity of intervening
politically in the administration of the enterprise, and in the planning
of production. As a result there are many things that remain
underdeveloped and incomplete, and now there are struggles to resolve
even minor issues. There was a struggle over the incorporation of
sub-contracted workers, for the promotion of a collective contract that
Marea Socialista participates in a union alliance in SIDOR, in
Guayana, called the Sindicato Único de Trabajadores Siderúrgicos y
Similares (Union of Steelworkers, SUTISS), which is supported by the
majority of workers, and has the majority on the union's executive in
SIDOR, but which does not control the presidency of the union. The
management sector of SIDOR, which describes itself as being under
workers’ control, has accused SUTISS of being involved in the mafia, of
violent actions, of being involved in networks of corruption and so on.
But no one in SUTISS is in a position within management; they aren't
controlling the budgets of the enterprise or arranging contracts with
clients. Who then has the capacity to engage in this kind of corruption?
The workers who are involved in a union movement, or those who are
presently managing the company? Where should we look to find networks of
corruption, into the apparatuses of the state, or the union movement?
None of this is to deny that there are sectors of the union movement
that have very serious problems, across the country, particularly in the
construction sector, where there are assassinations and internal
battles for contracts.
But the struggle inside of SIDOR got to a point where the management
tried to criminalize the workers’ struggle, where they hired
intelligence services to investigate and persecute union leaders, tried
to bring them to trial – all of this instead of resolving the problems
of the enterprise through the democracy of workers’ power, with
assemblies, consultations, and participation.
I believe that achieving workers’ control will never come from the
government merely giving a directive for workers’ to assume that role.
The working-class needs to achieve a certain level of organization and
consciousness, it has to have its own leaders, and it has to be carried
out in a dynamic of struggle. If there is no dynamic of struggle, the
attitude of the people is to wait for the government to implement
workers’ control. And the functionaries of the state are going to find
it difficult to do this, if it doesn't emerge out of the struggle of the
It's going to be necessary to engage in confrontations with the
right, confrontations with bureaucratic sectors, carried out on the
terrain of strikes, public demonstrations, the takeover of enterprises,
so that the objective of workers’ control can be carried out within a
revolutionary dynamic. It won't be achieved by legislative decree, as an
act of parliament, or within the framework of bourgeois democracy. A
revolution implies confrontation, mobilization, conflict, struggle, and
the occupation of spaces.
During the oil lockout and sabotage of 2002-03, for example, the oil
workers directly confronted this sabotage, and created what were called
comités guías (leadership committees). The leadership committees were
formed by workers, professionals, and sections of management loyal to
national sovereignty and opposed to the coup, as well as popular
Through the actions of these leadership committees, the workers were
able to assume control of oil production during this period of oil
sabotage on the part of the management of PSVSA who participated in the
coup. However, after the coup was defeated and with the passage of time
and the return of normality, the internal dynamics of PDVSA have allowed
We have to ask, why didn't the leadership committees that assumed
control over production during the period of oil sabotage continue to
exist following the defeat of the oil lockout? The carrying out of
workers’ control was successful in the oil sector in 2002-03 precisely
because of the fact that it emerged out of the dynamic of struggle with
the bourgeoisie and the bureaucracy, in a dynamic of mobilization.
Outside of a dynamic of struggle, workers’ control did not persist in
the oil sector. Workers’ control would only work in “normal” times if
there'd been a complete seizure of power of workers in Venezuela and the
beginning of a transition away from the capitalist mode of production.
The problem isn't, therefore, decreeing workers’ control in a series
of enterprises, and deciding that the workers assume management of these
enterprises. If there is no dynamic of struggle and mobilization within
the workers themselves that make this a possibility in reality you are
not going to see actual workers’ control installed. The enterprises will
instead be managed by the government. And with the structure of the
state that currently exists, given the fact that we have not superseded
capitalism, with all of these processes of bureaucratization inside of
the state and with many legacies of the Fourth Republic still intact in
the state, the slogan of workers’ control will be distorted.
We need, then, for there to be a working-class with a dynamic of
struggle, which means proceeding conquest by conquest, conflict by
conflict. If, instead, we want calmness, tranquility, and to stabilize
the situation as it is now, what will be stabilized is the old system,
not a new one. There will not be a revolutionary process with calm and
Marea Socialista recently took part in a workshop with workers on the
theme of workers’ control, within an enterprise that had been reclaimed
by workers and nationalized by the government. Beyond discussing the
theories of workers’ control in the abstract, we had discussions over
the process of production, about what was the quantity of production,
about what was the division of labour of production across different
departments of the country in this sector of this enterprise, and so on.
Why did we have this discussion? Because, prior to this discussion,
only management had an understanding of the process of production in its
entirety. Each worker only had a very fragmentary understanding of the
production process. We needed therefore to reconstruct a vision of the
production process in its entirety, and to then examine each of the
various parts of work along the production chain, in order to understand
what needed changing – to avoid areas of over-exploitation, so the
workers could achieve a more egalitarian distribution of their
participation in the process, to improve production and ensure that the
enterprise was viable, and so on.
What I'm trying to say is that the problem of workers’ control is not
a question of bureaucratic implementation; it's our problem to solve.
It's a question of our organization, our maturity, our development, and
our political and organizational capacities as the working-class, a
working-class that is uneven in its experiences.
SS and JRW: Changing themes again, can you talk about the current
conjuncture in regional terms throughout Latin America, and the role of
Venezuela within the dynamics of the region?
GG: I think that in Latin America we are still in a position of
defending the advances that have been made with the Bolivarian
revolution in Venezuela, as well as the processes in Bolivia and
Ecuador, and the formation of the Alianza Bolivariana para los Pueblos
de Nuestra América (Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America,
ALBA). The latter has involved a search for mechanisms of regional
integration; even though in this case it is an alliance with countries
governed by their own bourgeoisies, it has allowed for a shift in the
correlation of forces in the region vis-à-vis imperialism, one that has
opened up some wriggling room. I say wriggling room because I don't
think these bourgeoisies are going to be consistent in the
anti-imperialist, anti-colonial struggle. All the same, conditions are
undoubtedly more favourable. These alliances also help in the protection
of the Bolivarian process in Venezuela.
But there is also a contradiction and a problem, because we need to
articulate ourselves with all of these nations, but this articulation is
achieved through agreements arrived at with states dominated by the
bourgeoisies of these nations, that sometimes enter into conflict with
imperialism, but which simultaneously enter into agreements with
imperial states and transnational corporations. The danger here is that
we may be assimilated into the form that capitalism is assuming in South
America today – Mercosur, for example, is a capitalist market. To enter
into Mercosur, which Venezuela did this July, could provide certain
advantages in terms of exports, but it could also bring to Venezuela
capital and products from the capitalist enterprises in these states
dominated by their bourgeoisies, capital that is typically allied with
transnational corporations from imperial countries, a dynamic that could
accentuate internal distortions in the Venezuelan process. It could
distort our processes of industrialization, our attempts at developing
agro-industrialization in an endogenous manner. So there could be
advantages, but it could also generate many disadvantages
simultaneously. The danger is that instead of uniting Latin America in
order to confront imperialism we simply become further assimilated into
Latin American capitalism in the manner in which it is currently
inserted into the world market.
The ongoing development of ALBA in a positive direction will not
happen if there are no other revolutionary processes in Latin America,
with the assumption to office of governments of a popular or
anti-imperialist character. If we commit ourselves to defending
processes of revolution, supporting those social movements that exist in
the struggles of their respective countries, we are undoubtedly going
to run into problems with the bourgeois governments with which we have
entered into various political and economic agreements.
This is the indissoluble contradiction. We can surf this wave, and
situate ourselves in each moment according to the reigning balance of
forces, but our fundamental alliance, from my point of view, has to be
with the peoples themselves, with the social movements, with those who
are struggling, those of the grassroots.
We need to keep in mind those progressive governments that have a
nationalist discourse, that introduce popular measures, that have
offered certain instances of resistance against imperialism. This is all
for the good. But we need to understand that, ultimately,
anti-capitalist, anti-imperialist revolution will be made by the peoples
Look, these are delicate points. We need to maintain peace with
Colombia, for example, and maintain commercial relations with Colombia.
Many people in Colombia survive off of these relations; but a problem
arises if the cost of maintaining relations with the Colombian
government signifies at some point that the Venezuelan government takes
measures that jeopardize the Bolivarian process in the image of the
world; or if our relations with Colombia help to stabilize a government
that represses its people, that assassinates activists.
So it may be necessary and convenient to maintain relations with
neighbouring governments, and stability in the region, so that we are
not asphyxiated; at the same time, this is not a strategic position for
developing and deepening the revolutionary processes and contradictions
of the region. It is, therefore, a very complex problem, and we have to
manage it artfully.
President Chávez has had some successes in the past in navigating
this terrain, particularly in the case of the struggle against the Free
Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) initiative. The Venezuelan
government's support of the position of anti-globalization activists
against the FTAA helped to defeat that initiative in the early 2000s.
But if this was one battle that we won, there have been other instances
that have been much less clear, and that put in jeopardy our
revolutionary process. We need to avoid our incorporation and
integration into alliances in Latin America that stabilize the region on
the terms of the majority of the countries that continue under the
control of their own bourgeoisies.
I don't characterize the government of Cristina Kirchner in Argentina
as revolutionary, to use another example. It might be a government with
which the Venezuelan government can enter into certain alliances, and
with which it might be possible to engage in certain economic exchanges,
with which we can enter into certain strategic political agreements at a
regional level, but this should not mean that we support the politics
of Kirchner. What interests me are the dynamics of the working-class
struggle and the social movement struggle in Argentina, which proved
capable of carrying out the Argentinazo in 2001-02, that took on the
banks. The government of Cristina Kirchner today is only in office
because of the history of these struggles, which overthrew a series of
governments, including those of her own party.
SS and JRW: We can see some of this complexity as well in the
international sphere if we consider the positions of Chávez in relation
to the movements of the Arab Spring of 2011.
GG: No doubt this has generated much debate. For example, I've been
challenged at international conferences where people on the
international left, historically involved in solidarity with Venezuela,
have called into question the relationship between Chávez and Iran, for
Chávez has advanced the proposal of multi-polarity in the world
system. My argument is, good enough, tactically speaking multi-polarity
can be interesting in the sense that some countries in certain
circumstances enter into conflict with imperialism, and in so doing act
as a form of protection for us. But when these countries are countries
that are governed by their own bourgeoisies, or when they have
authoritarian, or anti-democratic regimes that produce internal
rebellions against them – even when there are attempts to manipulate and
intervene in these rebellions by imperialism, as there almost always
are – how can we not ally ourselves with these rebellions? Do we ally
ourselves with the governments, or with the people themselves?
Does having commercial relations with Iran have to imply supporting
the politics of that country? When Iran comes into conflict with
imperialism, does that also imply that it's governed by a regime we
support? These are the discussions that are alive on this question in
Venezuela. My own position in regard to this case is that we need
commercial relations with Iran, and that we can enter into specific
political agreements in the international sphere with this type of
government, in the sense that they dispute imperialism and defend their
sovereignty. But this has its limits.
In apporrea.org there are distinct positions represented, because the
editorial team has very different positions on these questions. We've
published debates on what's going on in Libya and Syria, for example.
We've published material which says that in Syria the rebellion is
basically constituted of terrorist organizations supported by Saudi
Arabia and imperialism, and that they have ties with Al Qaeda, and that
we need to defend the government of Bashar al-Assad. And if we don't
defend them they’ll be coming for us next.
We have also published material which says, no, that the government
of Assad is an authoritarian regime that is massacring its own people,
that there is a genuine popular rebellion, that we are opposed to
imperialist intervention, but that the government of Syria is not going
to be of any help to us.
And then we've received letters that say, how could we publish
articles that are defending the Syrian government, a government that
even Israel doesn't want to see overthrown because its provides regional
stability? And other letters that accuse us of the opposite.
At aporrea.org our position is that we need to recognize the debate
that exists at the level of the international left, to publicize the
different views, and to enter into an open debate. We don't accept the
position that we should censor some of this material. For us debate is
In Venezuela, this is obviously complicated because of what happened
here on April 11-13, 2002, an event that is understood to have been
backed by imperialism; the result is that what is happening in other
countries is easily understood to be a similar phenomenon. But reality
is complex, confused, and contradictory.
Whoever said, for example, that rebellions deserving of support need
to be led by Bolsheviks? This hasn't been the case in Venezuela. There
is no Bolshevik part leading this struggle, with an internationalist
communist program. It is sometimes the case, for example, that a
religious sector of a society is reflecting the problems faced by a
certain segment of society and is struggling against those specific
manifestations of oppression, with very contradictory internal politics.
Reality is complicated. I believe in uneven and combined development
and dialectics. I believe you have to study situations concretely, and
to avoid unilateral decisions.
I personally believe that there has been a genuine process of
democratic rebellion in the Arab world that have reacted against certain
governments that have always been conservative and authoritarian, and
others that emerged at one time from democratic and anti-imperialist
revolutions but that have since become bureaucratized such that they are
no longer what they once were. In this sense, I think we need to
support these rebellions that have emerged from below.
The issue becomes complicated, of course, because imperialism has its
own plans to intervene and to control these rebellions. If these
revolutionary processes are not strengthened and consolidated, what have
been completely justified and genuine rebellions can be thrown off
course. None of these decisions are simple or easy. I don't pretend to
be able to resolve this by saying simply, well, I'm with the rebellions
and against the authoritarian governments and imperialism.
SS and JRW: It does seem as though the image of Chávez and the
Bolivarian process suffered internationally on the left because of its
lack of clarity on these issues regarding the Arab Spring of 2011.
GG: There's no doubt that there's been a decline of enthusiasm and
support for the Bolivarian process on the European left; I've noticed
this. It's not that they have stopped supporting the Bolivarian process,
because they continue supporting it, but there has been a decline in
support, enthusiasm, and confidence in the Bolivarian Revolution.
Because the European social movements of the left are confounded by the
fact that Chávez has relations with governments that are so distinct
from the character of the Chávez government itself. It is also the case
that the European social movements also have close ties with the
populations of the Arab countries where these revolts are taking place
because of patterns of immigration. There are many Tunisians and
Egyptians in France, for example, and other European countries, and so
these connections are well developed. •
Susan Spronk teaches international development at the University of
Ottawa. She is a research associate with the Municipal Services Project
and has published various articles on working-class formation and water
politics in Latin America.
Jeffery R. Webber teaches politics and international relations at
Queen Mary, University of London. He is the author of Red October: Left
Indigenous Struggles in Modern Bolivia (Haymarket, 2012).
Term limits, democracy and the February 15 referendum
On February 15, an amendment to
Venezuela’s constitution will be voted on that proposes to remove limits
on the number of times an elected official can stand for election to a
public office. If passed, it would allow President Hugo Chavez to stand
in the presidential elections in 2012.
Venezuela’s right-wing opposition misleadingly characterises the
proposed reform as “indefinite re-election”, implying that the vote is
about whether or not to make Chavez “president for life”.
In fact, all the amendment would do is remove existing restrictions
on standing for election. Chavez or any other incumbent would still be
required to actually win the popular vote.
As well, Venezuela’s constitution includes the profoundly democratic
right to hold a referendum on whether or not to recall any elected
official from halfway through their term if 20% of electors sign a
petition calling for one. The opposition called a recall referendum on
Chavez in 2004, which Chavez won.
Many states throughout the world (including Australia) do not have
term limits for their heads of state without this being considered
Chavez has repeatedly stressed that he does “not have any plan to be
president for life. That would be a violation of the constitution [and
also] the political system. That would be the end of alternative
The referendum has become the latest battle in Venezuela’s intense
class struggle. The Bolivarian revolution led by Chavez, which has
sought to implement policies to empower the poor that have resulted in
poverty rates halving, has been met by powerful resistance from the old
elite, backed by the US government, and much of the middle class.
The campaign around the referendum has involved large rallies by
supporters of the revolution, with 100,000 grassroots committees
established to campaign for a “yes” vote. The “no” campaign has been
marked by the violent protests and riots by middle-class students that
have become a hallmark of the opposition.
The question of term limits can only be understood in the context of
Venezuela’s current situation. Venezuela is currently experiencing a
revolutionary upheaval, central to which has been, in the words of
Chavez, the need for “the sovereign people [to] transform itself into
the object and the subject of power.”
The desperate actions of the Venezuelan oligarchy in response to the
initial reforms implemented by the Chavez government, including a failed
military coup and bosses’ lock-out in 2002 and 2003, made it clear that
a profound and far-reaching transformation of the entire society from
the bottom up was required for the process of change to advance. The
massive mobilisations of the poor and workers to defeat the elite’s
attempts to overthrow the Chavez government has revealed that the
motor-force of the process is the people themselves.
In the 10 years since Chavez was first sworn in as president,
millions of people have become involved in politics for the first time
and are running the social missions (community based social programs)
and other organisations from the ground up. Thousands of communal
councils, grassroots bodies run democratically by groups of up to 400
families, are emerging as the base of popular power. These are promoted
as potential building blocks for a new democratic and decentralised
Also, the mass-based United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), with
5.8 million aspiring members, has emerged as the political instrument
that can unite the previously fragmented revolutionary movement.
It has been the personal leadership role of Chavez — with his unique
connection to the impoverished majority — that has been crucial to
inspiring and mobilising millions. Chavez’s role has also been essential
to maintaining unity between the often fragmented forces for
Chavez’s role transcends Venezuela’s borders, as he has sought both
to promote pro-people integration in the region and used international
forum’s to give voice to the world’s oppressed. This has brought Chavez
into confrontation with US imperialism, however such actions have given
Chavez massive moral authority.
US imperialism and its local agents in Venezuela are fully aware of
the dangers to their economic and political interests of allowing the
revolutionary process to develop and create a collective leadership with
the authority currently invested in Chavez. This - not supposed
concerns about democracy - explains the vehemence of the “no” campaign
for the February 15 referendum.
The opposition’s claim to oppose the constitution amendment on the
grounds of democratic principles is laughable given that in 2002 they
kidnapped the elected government and installed one of Venezuela’s
richest men as president — before a mass uprising restored Chavez.
The Venezuelan people have the right to determine their political
system and decide for themselves who can or cannot stand for election —
this right to self-determination is the main democratic principle at
stake in the February 15 referendum.
Venezuela: Danger signs for the revolution
Kiraz Janicke & Federico Fuentes, Caracas. 22 February 2008
In recent weeks, external and internal pressure against Venezuela’s
Bolivarian revolution, as the process of change led by socialist
President Hugo Chavez is known — has intensified dramatically.
It is clear that US imperialism and the US-backed Venezuelan
opposition see the defeat of Chavez’s proposed constitutional reforms on
December 2 as a green light to push forward their plans to destablise
In addition, growing internal problems, with a strengthening of the
right-wing of the Chavista movement — known as the “endogenous right",
who support implementing some reforms without breaking with capitalism —
pose a serious threat to the survival of the revolution.
Chavez’s proposed constitutional reforms were aimed at
institutionalising greater popular power and increasing restrictions on
capitalists to the benefit of working people. In response, the
capitalist-owned private media launched a campaign based on lies and
disinformation aimed at confusing the Venezuelan people.
Combined with low intensity economic sabotage — contributing to
shortages of basic goods such as milk — the opposition was able to stoke
the discontent that exists among the poor over problems such as
corruption and bureaucratism.
Nearly 3 million people who voted for Chavez in the December 2006
presidential election abstained in the referendum, handing the
opposition its first electoral victory since Chavez came to power in
Attempting to build on this, a renewed US offensive has been
unleashed aimed at isolating Chavez internationally, and undermining the
process of Latin American integration spearheaded by Venezuela.
A key part of the strategy has involved fanning the flames of
conflict between Venezuela and neighbouring Colombia. A dispute broke
out after right-wing Colombian President Alvaro Uribe initially invited
Chavez to help negotiate with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia
(FARC)— Colombia’s largest left-wing guerrilla group — over a potential
prisoner swap with the Colombian state, only to abruptly terminate
Chavez’s role in November.
Chavez nonetheless negotiated the unilateral release on January 10 of
two prisoners held by the FARC. He also called for an end to the
inclusion of the FARC on lists of banned terrorist organisations as a
step towards finding a political solution to Colombia’s decades-long
The US responded by having a number of high-profile US officials visit Colombia and verbally attack Venezuela.
Although “not aware of any specific support Mr Chavez has provided
the FARC”, the Pentagon’s joint chief of staff, Admiral Michael Mullen,
in January still levelled false allegations that Chavez was granting the
FARC “strategic support”.
John Walters, the director of the US Office of National Drug Control
Policy, accused Chavez on January 29 of being a “major facilitator of
the international drug trade”, despite an increase in interdiction of
drug trafficking by the Venezuelan state.
The most serious imperialist attack came via a series of court orders
obtained by US oil giant ExxonMobil, backed by the US State Department,
to freeze US$12 billion worth of assets of Venezuelan state oil company
PDVSA, in both British and Dutch courts — a move described by Chavez as
part of an “economic war”.
The move is in retaliation to the nationalisation of ExxonMobil
investments in Venezuela’s Orinoco oil belt last year. PDVSA provides up
to $13 billion a year for government-initiated social programs that
provide free education and healthcare to Venezuela’s poor.
ExxonMobil’s actions are intended to also send a message to other
Latin American countries considering resource nationalisation —
imperialism will fight back.
The Venezuelan opposition is also intensifying its destablisation
campaign. The previously hopelessly divided opposition, boosted in
confidence by the referendum results, is working towards a strong,
unified campaign for the November elections for state governors and
This is combined with increasing extra-parliamentary destablisation,
including a stepping up of economic sabotage by capitalists —
reminiscent of the sabotage against the left-wing Chilean government
that preceded the US-backed military coup by General Augusto Pinochet in
The campaign involves the hoarding, speculation and smuggling of
food, contributing to shortages. This is combined with a virulent media
campaign aimed at fuelling discontent.
The opposition is increasing its focus on the poor majority that make
up Chavez’s support base. It is seeking to take advantage of discontent
to infiltrate the barrios through what it calls “popular networks”,
which work to spread rumours, promote discontent and divisions among
Chavistas — and mobilise people against the government.
According to Eva Golinger, who has exposed the extent of US
intervention into Venezuela, these networks receive funding and training
from the US government-funded USAID.
There are also reports of growing links between right-wing Colombian
paramilitaries, organised crime and sections of the Venezuelan
especially in the states bordering Colombia. Large
landowners have contracted paramilitaries to murder at least 190
campesinos (peasants) in recent years in an attempt to sabotage the land
reform process promoted by the government.
Paramilitaries have also developed a presence in Caracas barrios.
Funded by local businesses and dressed as civilians, they engage in drug
dealing and act as hired assassins. This has helped impede community
In response to such pressure, Chavez has called for greater unity within the revolution.
However, serious divisions exist within the Bolivarian movement,
which includes powerful pro-capitalist economic and political blocs —
some with important influence in the military. This sector controls a
number of ministries and a large part of the National Assembly, as well
as mayor and governor offices, and is linked to a state bureaucracy
unwilling to cede power.
There is also a more radical left, strong among the grassroots as
well as elements within the state, which wants to deepen the process and
overcome the corruption and bureaucratism holding back the revolution’s
Since the peak of the period of intensive mobilisation by the poor
and working people against the US-backed attempts to bring down the
government — with the failed coup in 2002, the oil industry shutdown in
2002-03 and the recall referendum in 2004 — the level of ongoing popular
mobilisation has decreased significantly.
Under the whip of the counter-revolution, the oppressed demonstrated
their willingness to fight — and ability to defeat — attempts by the old
elite to reclaim power and eradicate the gains associated with the
However, with the weakening of the opposition after each defeat,
combined with increased living standards for the poor, frustration with
the state bureaucracy sabotaging those gains has become a bigger concern
These problems have been exacerbated by a growing gap between
government rhetoric and reality. Also badly undermining the revolution
has been the severe weakness of the bitterly divided workers’ movement.
These factors have impeded the creation of a unified force based on
the grassroots militants that would be capable of leading the deepening
of the revolution in the direction of socialism — as repeatedly called
for by Chavez.
In this context the endogenous right-wing has grown in strength. Many
of these forces, which give lip service to the goal of socialism,
publicly called for a “Yes” vote in the referendum but worked behind the
scenes to discourage voting for the radical reforms that threatened
By promoting a “personality cult” around Chavez, the right has sought
to silence criticism of its own actions, presenting such attacks as
being against Chavez and assisting US imperialism.
The conflict between left and right within the Bolivarian movement is
most clearly expressed in the struggle over the formation of the new
United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV).
Called for by Chavez to create a political instrument to unite
militants on the ground and help lead the struggle for socialism, it has
become a battleground between bureaucratic sectors determined to keep
control and activists from the popular movements fighting to build a
mass, democratic and genuinely revolutionary party.
Such a party, if it succeeded in uniting the base with the leadership
of Chavez over the heads of the bureaucrats, would be a severe blow
against the right-wing forces that have maintained positions through
factional power blocs.
The popular sectors have had a strong influence in the direction and
discourse of the founding congress that began in January and ends in
March. However, the outcome is far from decided, with the right-wing
A controversy has broken out over false claims by former
vice-president Jorge Rodriguez (now national coordinator of the PSUV)
and Diosdado Cabello (governor of Miranda, a major capitalist with
strong influence in the military and identified as a key leader of the
endogenous right) that National Assembly deputy Luis Tascon had been
expelled from the PSUV by a unanimous vote of delegates.
No such vote occurred, and the question of Tascon’s expulsion is
still being fought over. However Rodriguez and Cabello have been forced
to back down, declaring Tascon has been “suspended” and will be given a
right to reply after the congress has decided on the statutes and
principles of the new party — a decision also never debated or voted on
Tascon has made corruption allegations against Cabello’s brother, now
head of Venezuela’s tax agency. Chavez had called for people to expose
Rodriguez and Cabello have also argued for the new party to be
subordinated to the government and stated it is not necessary to include
anti-capitalism as one of its principles, which have become key points
Other organisational disputes have resulted from manoeuvring by the
hand-picked congress organising committee, specifically on the question
of how documents to be voted on will be drafted and whether they will be
presented to the PSUV ranks with enough time for discussion.
Attempts to silence dissent and bureaucratically take over the PSUV
are part of the plans of the endogenous right, which aspires to
“Chavismo without Chavez” — and without socialism. Such actions aim to
further demoralise the popular sectors.
These divisions reflect the class struggle within the revolutionary process.
In an interview with Green Left Weekly in 2006 (“Oil, revolution and
socialism”, GLW #681) Tascon argued: “there will undoubtedly be a
confrontation between different Chavistas. I am sure there will be a
conflict of particular interests between the left and the right. But it
will not be the traditional right [who are in the opposition], but a
As a process that aims to overcome the subordination of the
Venezuelan economy — and state — to the needs of US imperialism, broad
forces have been attracted to the Bolivarian movement.
It has included those who hoped that breaking from US domination
would assist economic development within a capitalist framework, right
through to revolutionary socialists for whom nothing short of a
thorough-going social revolution will solve the needs of the oppressed
Under attack from imperialism and the local capitalist class, the
revolution has increasingly radicalised, with Chavez repeatedly
insisting the goal was socialism.
However, at the same time the revolution swung further left, the
strength of right-wing forces has increased within much of both the
pro-Chavez political parties and the notoriously corrupt state..
This contradiction is being fought out over the question of whose
interests the PSUV will serve — the oppressed majority or the
pro-capitalist bureaucrats? The organisation and unity of the left
forces will be crucial to determining the future of the PSUV — and the
The internal and external battles are clearly linked, as revealed by
the fact that discontent over problems either caused or exacerbated by
the Chavista right helped cause the defeat of the constitutional reform —
a victory for the US-backed opposition that has given it badly needed
Without a real “revision, rectification and relaunch” of the
revolution — the “three Rs” Chavez has called for — the Bolivarian
forces could face significant defeats in the elections at the end of the
year. This could pave the way for an escalated opposition offensive to
drive Chavez from government, via constitutional or other means.
During 10 years of revolution,
the Bolivarian Government has been breaking free from paradigms, beating
obstacles, exceeding all expectations, facing empires, revolutionizing
consciousness, beating foreign and internal propaganda, and even more,
defending, as the engine and fuel of the revolutionary project, the deep
conviction that the human being is the center and principle of the
The most representative achievements can be evaluated quantitatively
through the Missions, infrastructure works and technological
advancements, among others, but the qualitative analysis leads us to
three big conclusions: with the arrival of the Bolivarian Revolution,
the quality of life has been boosted for most Venezuelans, social
inequalities have been reduced significantly and Venezuela has made
important steps in the struggle to reach the real conditions of a
1. REDUCTION OF POVERTY
During the administration of the Bolivarian Government led by
President Hugo Chávez, the extreme poverty rate significantly fell from
42% in 1998 to 9.5%. This result allowed Venezuela to achieve in advance
this UN Millennium Goal. General poverty was also significantly
reduced, from 50.5% in 1998 to 33.4% in 2008.
Venezuela's Human Development Index also increased from a 0.69
(medium development) in 1998 to 0.84 (high development) in 2008.
Currently, Venezuela ranks 67 out of 179 countries according to the 2008
Venezuela's Gini coefficient fell to 0.4099, the lowest in the country's history and in Latin America. In 1998 it was 0.4865.
2. ACCESS TO EDUCATION
In 2005, Venezuela achieved the goal set by UNESCO to declare a
country an illiteracy-free territory; 96% of adults and elders know how
to read and write. But we are still working and 99.6% of the population
over the age of 15 is now literate.
Currently, the Venezuelan state spends 7% of the GDP on education,
compared to 3.9% of Venezuela's GDP in 1998. Without including the
socialist missions (social programs), school enrolment was 6.2 million
students in 1998; now it is 7.5 million students both in public and
The socialist missions, created as an initiative of President Chávez
to look after the population excluded from the formal educative system,
show the following statistics:
a. Mission Robinson II: 437,171 students, including 81,000 indigenous students, have graduated.
b. Mission Ribas: 510,585 students have graduated.
c. Mission Sucre: 571,917 Venezuelans are in the higher education
system in 24 programs (career), in 334 different municipalities. 30,000
students have graduated from seven programs: education, environmental
management, social management of local development, journalism,
management, computer science, and agro-food production.
3. ACCESS TO HEALTH
Venezuela invests 4.2% of its GDP in health and it continues
deepening strategies to guarantee Venezuelans free access to health with
the creation of the social programs Barrio Adentro I-II-III and IV. Up
to 2009, Barrio Adentro has made the following achievements:
a. 24,884,567 Venezuelans, that is to say 88.9% of the population, benefit from this mission.
b. 630,491 Venezuelan lives have been saved thanks to this mission.
c. Barrio Adentro has inaugurated: 6,531 popular health centers, 479
Integral Diagnosis Centers, 543 Integral Rehabilitation Centers, 26 High
Technology Centers, 13 popular clinics, 459 popular opticians and 3019
locations offering medical and dental care.
The public health policies developed by the Bolivarian Government
have managed to reduce the children mortality rate (children under 5
years) to 13.7%. In 1990 this figure was 25.8%.
4. SOCIAL SECURITY
Unemployment has been reduced by 50% during President Chávez’s administration, falling from 12% to 6.1% by early 2009.
In May 2007, the Venezuelan minimum wage became the highest in Latin
America (US$372). In addition, workers receive a monthly bonus for food
amounting to over US$139. Also, pensions have been increased to the
5. ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT
The Venezuelan economy has experienced 20 consecutive quarters of
growth. The year 2004 stands out with an historical growth of 18.3%. The
2008 rate of growth was 4.9%. Our economy has grown by 526.98% compared
to the Venezuelan economy in 1998.
Venezuela has the fourth largest economy in Latin America after Brazil, Mexico and Argentina.
6. FOOD SOVEREIGNTY
In order to guarantee the country's food security and sovereignty,
the Bolivarian Government created Mission Food, whose aim is to offer
basic foodstuffs to the Venezuelan population at low prices and without
intermediaries. This initiative materialized with the creation of a
network of storing centers and stores (Mercal, PDVAL, ASA, FUNDAPROAL,
and silos, among others).
In 1998, Venezuela produced 16,272,000 tons of vegetables. By 2008,
Venezuela managed to produce 20,174,000 tons of food. This represents a
7. PUBLIC DEBT
The public debt dropped from 73.5% of the GDP in 1998 to 14.4% in
2008, placing the national deficit as one of the lowest in the World.
In 1998, a debt of $3 billion was paid off to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and to the World Bank (WB).
8. INTERNATIONAL RESERVES
By early 1999, the International Reserves amounted to US$14.3 billion. In January 2009, they amount to US$41.9 billion.
9. TECHNOLOGY SOVEREIGNTY
Before the Bolivarian government, there was practically no investment
in science and technology. Today, 2.69% of Venezuela's GDP is aimed at
science and technology.
With the creation of the Infocentros (centres of information) and the
National Technological Literacy Plan, the access of the population to
information and communication technologies was boosted.
On October 29, 2008, Venezuela launched the Simón Bolívar Satellite
from the Sichuan's Satellite Center in the People's Republic of China.
It is operative and the Venezuelan state has taken control. Satellite
services will be offered to thousands of communities all around
Venezuela, and beyond our borders in other Latin American and Caribbean
countries, with tele-education and telemedicine programs.
The consolidation of Venezuela's technological sovereignty also
includes the nationalization of the main, strategic, telephone company,
Venezuela's National Company of Telephones (CANTV, Spanish acronym).
10. ELIMINATION OF GENDER INEQUALITY
Gender equality adds to the achievements of the Venezuelan society.
Women’s participation in Communal Centers is 60%; 4 out of the 5 Public
Powers are headed by women. The women's presence in the National
Assembly (Venezuelan parliament) increased from 10% to 16.5%.
This past weekend, Colombia invaded Ecuador, killed a guerrilla chief
in the jungle, opened his laptop – and what did the Colombians find? A
message to Hugo Chavez that he’s sent the FARC guerrillas $300 million –
which they’re using to obtain uranium to make a dirty bomb!
That’s what George Bush tells us. And he got that from his buddy, the strange right-wing President of Colombia, Alvaro Uribe.
So: After the fact, Colombia justifies its attempt to provoke a
border war as a to stop the threat of WMDs! Uh, where have we heard that
The US press snorted up this line about Chavez’ $300 million to
“terrorists” quicker than the young Bush inhaling Colombia’s powdered
What the US press did not do is look at the evidence, the email in
the magic laptop. (Presumably, the FARC leader’s last words were,
“Listen, my password is ….”)
I read them. While you can read it all in español, here is, in
translation, the one and only mention of the alleged $300 million from
Chavez is this:
“… With relation to the 300, which from now on we will call
“dossier,” efforts are now going forward at the instructions of the boss
to the cojo [slang term for ‘cripple’], which I will explain in a
separate note. Let’s call the boss Ángel, and the cripple Ernesto.”
Got that? Where is Hugo? Where’s 300 million? And 300 what? Indeed,
in context, the note is all about the hostage exchange with the FARC
that Chavez was working on at the time (December 23, 2007) at the
request of the Colombian government.
Indeed, the entire remainder of the email is all about the mechanism of the hostage exchange. Here’s the next line:
“To receive the three freed ones, Chavez proposes three options: Plan
A. Do it to via of a ‘humanitarian caravan’; one that will involve
Venezuela, France, the Vatican[?], Switzerland, European Union,
democrats [civil society], Argentina, Red Cross, etc.”
As to the 300, I must note that the FARC’s previous prisoner exchange
involved 300 prisoners. Is that what the ‘300’ refers to? ¿Quien sabe?
Unlike Uribe, Bush and the US press, I won’t guess or make up a
phastasmogoric story about Chavez spending money he doesn’t even have.
To bolster their case, the Colombians claim, with no evidence
whatsoever, that the mysterious “Angel” is the code name for Chavez. But
in the memo, Chavez goes by the code name … Chavez.
Well, so what? This is what.
Colombia’s invasion into Ecuador is a rank violation of international
law, condemned by every single Latin member of the Organization of
American States. And George Bush just loved it. He called Uribe to back
Colombia, against, “the continuing assault by narco-terrorists as well
as the provocative maneuvers by the regime in Venezuela.”
Well, our President may have gotten the facts ass-backward, but he
Bush knows what he’s doing: shoring up his last, faltering ally in South
America, Uribe, a desperate man in deep political trouble.
Uribe’s claims he is going to bring charges against Chavez before the
International Criminal Court. If Uribe goes there in person, I suggest
he take a toothbrush: it was just discovered that right-wing death
squads held murder-planning sessions at Uribe’s ranch. Uribe’s
associates have been called before the nation’s Supreme Court and may
In other words, it’s a good time for a desperate Uribe to use that
old politico’s wheeze, the threat of war, to drown out accusations of
his own criminality. Furthermore, Uribe’s attack literally killed
negotiations with FARC by killing FARC’s negotiator, Raul Reyes. Reyes
was in talks with both Ecuador and Chavez about another prisoner
exchange. Uribe authorized the negotiations, however, he knew, should
those talks have succeeded in obtaining the release of those kidnapped
by the FARC, credit would have been heaped on Ecuador and Chavez, and
discredit heaped on Uribe.
Luckily for a hemisphere the verge of flames, the President of
Ecuador, Raphael Correa, is one of the most level-headed, thoughtful men
I’ve ever encountered.
Correa is now flying from Quito to Brazilia to Caracas to keep the
region from blowing sky high. While moving troops to his border – no
chief of state can permit foreign tanks on their sovereign soil – Correa
also refuses sanctuary to the FARC . Indeed, Ecuador has routed out 47
FARC bases, a better track record than Colombia’s own, corrupt military.
For his cool, peaceable handling of the crisis, I will forgive Correa
for apologizing for his calling Bush, “a dimwitted President who has
done great damage to his country and the world.”
We can trust Correa to keep the peace South of the Border. But can we trust our Presidents-to-be?
The current man in the Oval Office, George Bush, simply can’t help
himself: an outlaw invasion by a right-wing death-squad promoter is just
fine with him.
But guess who couldn’t wait to parrot the Bush line? Hillary Clinton,
still explaining that her vote to invade Iraq was not a vote to invade
Iraq, issued a statement nearly identical to Bush’s, blessing the
invasion of Ecuador as Colombia’s “right to defend itself.” And she
added, “Hugo Chávez must stop these provoking actions.” Huh?
I assumed that Obama wouldn’t jump on this landmine – especially
after he was blasted as a foreign policy amateur for suggesting he would
invade across Pakistan’s border to hunt terrorists.
It’s embarrassing that Barack repeated Hillary’s line nearly
verbatim, announcing, “the Colombian government has every right to
(I’m sure Hillary’s position wasn’t influenced by the loan of a
campaign jet to her by Frank Giustra. Giustra has given over a hundred
million dollars to Bill Clinton projects. Last year, Bill introduced
Giustra to Colombia’s Uribe. On the spot, Giustra cut a lucrative deal
with Uribe for Colombian oil.)
Then there’s Mr. War Hero. John McCain weighed in with his own
idiocies, announcing that, “Hugo Chavez is establish[ing] a
dictatorship,” presumably because, unlike George Bush, Chavez counts all
the votes in Venezuelan elections.
But now our story gets tricky and icky.
The wise media critic Jeff Cohen told me to watch for the press
naming McCain as a foreign policy expert and labeling the Democrats as
amateurs. Sure enough, the New York Times, on the news pages Wednesday,
called McCain, “a national security pro.”
McCain is the “pro” who said the war in Iraq would cost nearly nothing in lives or treasury dollars.
But, on the Colombian invasion of Ecuador, McCain said, “I hope that
tensions will be relaxed, President Chavez will remove those troops from
the borders - as well as the Ecuadorians - and relations continue to
improve between the two.”
It’s not quite English, but it’s definitely not Bush. And weirdly,
it’s definitely not Obama and Clinton cheerleading Colombia’s war on
Democrats, are you listening? The only thing worse than the media
attacking Obama and Clinton as amateurs is the Democratic candidates’
frightening desire to prove them right.
Those seeking the origins of the global rebellion against
neoliberalism will need to look further back than Seattle 1998
(U.S.-centric activists are notorious for claiming that the movement
began in Seattle), and before London's J18 protests earlier the same
year. We would need to look before even the public emergence of the
Zapatista movement on January 1st 1994. Before all these events, there
was the Caracazo. On this, the 18th anniversary of this epic struggle,
it is worth looking back at this singularly important but oft-overlooked
event which has been described by Fernando Coronil as "the largest and
most violently repressed revolt against austerity measures in Latin
Carlos Andrés Pérez was inaugurated on February 2nd 1989 for his
second (but non-consecutive) term, after a markedly anti-neoliberal
campaign during the course of which he had demonized the IMF as a "bomb
that only kills people." In what has since become a notorious example of
"bait-and-switch" reform, Pérez proceeded to implement the
recently-formulated Washington Consensus to the letter. The precipitous
nature of this about-face is evident from the fact that Pérez's
neoliberal economic "packet" (the "paquetazo" as it is called) was
announced scarcely two weeks after the inaugural speech which had
attacked international lending institutions and preached debtor-nation
solidarity. The country must prepare itself, Pérez warned in this later
speech on February 16th, for a "Great Turnaround."
While Venezuelan elites had been toying with neoliberalism for
several years, and president Jaime Lusinchi had even enacted a heterodox
neoliberal package in 1984, Pérez's package was notable for its
orthodoxy. In a Letter of Intention signed with the IMF on February
28th, while most large Venezuelan cities were in the throes of
generalized rioting and looting, the basic premises of the Pérez plan
were laid out as follows: government spending and salaries were to be
restricted, exchange rates and interest rates were to be deregulated
(thereby eliminating what were essentially interest rate subsidies for
farmers), price controls were to be relaxed, subsidies were to be
reduced, sales tax was to be introduced, prices of state-provided goods
and services (including petroleum) were to be liberalized, tariffs were
to be eliminated and imports liberalized, and in general, foreign
transactions in Venezuela were to be facilitated.
In brief, this plan meant a potent cocktail of stagnating incomes in
the face of skyrocketing prices and monetary devaluation. As might be
expected, poverty reached a peak in 1989, claiming 44% of households (a
figure which had doubled in absolute terms during the course of five
years), with 20% of the population in extreme poverty. While rising
prices had been a source of anxiety at least since the 1983 devaluation
of the bolivar still remembered to this day as "Black Friday," it was
the common (and inarguably correct) perception that Venezuelans have a
common right to what lies under their soil that fanned the angry flames
of revolt early in the morning of February 27th.
February 27th 1989 was a Monday, and over the weekend Pérez's
liberalization of petroleum prices had kicked in, the first stage of
which was an immediate 100% increase in the price of consumer gasoline.
While the government had attempted to force small transporters to absorb
the majority of the increase, convincing the National Transport
Federation to pass on only 30% of the increase to passengers, many
smaller federations and individuals refused to respect this agreement.
Since their gas costs had doubled overnight, one can hardly blame them.
Protests kicked off during the early commute of informal workers into
Caracas. Upon discovering that fares had doubled, many refused to pay.
Resistance, rioting, and the burning of buses was reported from a number
of suburbs and in cities across the country well before 6am.
Demonstrations in the eastern suburb of Guarenas (where looting was
reported as early as 7:30am), sparked off broader resistance in the
region. By 6am, students had occupied Nuevo Circo station in Caracas, at
the other end of the Guarenas-Caracas line, and were publicly
denouncing the drivers.
Joined by informal workers, the crowd at Nuevo Circo moved north onto
Avenida Bolívar, building barricades to block traffic on this major
artery. By noon, blockades had spread eastward to Plaza Venezuela and
the Central University, southward to the Francisco Fajardo highway, and
westward to Avenida Fuerzas Armadas. Revolutionary ferment united
students, informal workers, and hardened revolutionaries, and the
initial anger at increased transport prices (an anger directed
predominantly at individual drivers) was successfully generalized to
encompass the entire neoliberal economic package (thereby directing
anger directly at the president).
The structure of the informal economy provided more than the
constituents of the rebellion: it provided the means of coordination and
communication as well, with motorcycle taxis zipping back and forth
across the city, drawing the spontaneous rebellion into a broader
coordinated picture which more closely resembles what we would consider a
Meanwhile, a similar pattern was appearing spontaneously in every
major Venezuelan city: protests emerged early in the morning in San
Cristóbal, Barquisimeto, Maracay, Barcelona, and Puerto la Cruz, and
Mérida, and later in the afternoon in other major cities like Maracaibo
and Valencia. Some have argued, and rightly so, that the common moniker
"Caracazo" is misleading, concealing as it does the generalized and
national nature of the rebellion.
Deaths were reported in Caracas as early as the afternoon of the
27th, as police opened fire on students near Central Park. As night
fell, sacking and looting became widespread (often aided by the police),
touching even the generally untouchable sectors of wealthy eastern
Caracas, and more than 1,000 stores were burned in Caracas alone. While
many were looting necessities (most video evidence shows people hauling
away household products and food, especially large sides of beef)
luxuries were not exempt, and as a result many barrios enjoyed a taste
of the life so habitually denied, celebrating with fine food and
imported whiskey and champagne.
The morning of February 28th saw a mixed picture: in some areas, the
police fired indiscriminately with automatic weapons, while in others
like the Antimano district of southwestern Caracas, police agreed to
permit controlled looting. The government's first attempt to control the
rebellion was a spectacular failure: the minister of the interior
appeared on live television calling for calm, only to faint on live
television thereby forcing the suspension of the broadcast.
At 6pm, Pérez appeared on television himself, to announce the fateful
decision to suspend constitutional guarantees and establish a state of
siege. The simultaneous claim that the country was experiencing a
situation of "complete normality" was hardly credible given the
decision. This marked both a green light for government repression and
the beginning of the end for the rebellion. A curfew was imposed, and
those violating it were treated harshly.
Repression was worst in Caracas' largest barrios: Catia in the west
and Petare in the east. Police directed their attention to the former,
and especially the neighborhood of 23 de Enero, as the organizational
brain of the rebellion. Known organizers were dragged from their homes
and either executed or "disappeared," and when security forces met
resistance from snipers, they opened fire on the apartment blocks
themselves (the bulletholes are visible to this day). In Petare, the
largest and most violent of Caracas' slums, up to twenty were killed in a
single incident, when on March 1st the army opened fire on the Mesuca
Much of the country was "pacified" within three days, while Caracas
saw rioting for more than five days. The human toll of the rebellion has
never been entirely clear, especially since the Pérez government
obstructed any and all efforts to investigate the events. Subsequent
government investigations set the number killed around 300, while the
popular imaginary places it around 3,000. Rumors of mass killings led to
the 1990 excavation of a mass grave in a sector of the public cemetery
called, perhaps not coincidentally, "The New Plague." There, 68 bodies
in plastic bags were unearthed, and no one knows how many more deaths
were concealed by government forces.
Internationally, the democratic façade that had obscured Venezuelan
reality for decades was shattered in a single blow. Among other leaders,
George Bush Sr. and Spain's Felipe González called Pérez directly to
express their shock and dismay that such a dependable client state had
evidently unraveled overnight. In a hopeless attempt to maintain the
image of democratic exceptionality, leaders even attempted to blame the
mass rebellion on a small number of extremists and even foreigners
Politically, the Caracazo represented the death knell of the old
regime. Former Chavista vice president José Vicente Rangel put it
clearly: "Venezuelan history split into two." Juan Contreras, head of
the revolutionary Simón Bolívar Coordinator, argues that it was the
Caracazo in 1989 rather than the pair of coup attempts in 1992 (the
first led by Chávez) that definitively destroyed the corrupt
"partyocracy." And the proof of this is the fact that those coups were
the direct result of the 1989 rebellion, or as Contreras puts it,
"Chávez didn't create the movements, we created him."
A clandestine revolutionary movement had formed within the armed
forces years earlier, led by Hugo Chávez, Jesús Urdaneta, Raúl Isaías
Baduel, and the late Felipe Antonio Acosta. 1982 to be precise, the
200th anniversary of the birth of the liberator, and hence the name
MBR-200: Bolivarian Revolutionary Movement-200. During the next few
years, the conspirators worked to recruit lower-level officials to their
cause, but the MBR's plans to support a coup were still in the works
when the Caracazo caught them off-guard.
The polarizing effect of the rebellion and subsequent massacre was as
powerful within the ranks of the military as in the general population.
Young soldiers, largely drawn from the lower classes, were sent into
the barrios to slaughter their own, and many refused to do fire. The
importance of the Caracazo for the subsequent coup attempts is described
by Chávez himself as follows: "without the Caracazo we wouldn't have
been able to do it, it was a death-blow for Pérez, more military
officers refused to participate in the repression that took place during
those days." The Caracazo "reactivated" a waning MBR-200, sharpening
the movement's opposition to the prevailing political system and
providing it with new recruits.
While the history of the Caracazo may be neglected outside Venezuela,
efforts to erase this mass popular rebellion have failed, and it
remains etched in the memory of both its protagonists and the elites for
whom the Caracazo reinforced a fear of the poor and marginalized
masses. With the successful election of the Chavista government in 1998,
this memory found its institutional basis, and while previous
governments had attempted to erase the Caracazo or deny its
significance, the Bolivarian Revolution has converted this rebellion
into its own moment of birth.
Recently, the anniversary of the Caracazo was celebrated in a public
session of the National Assembly held in El Valle, one of the large
barrios in Caracas that had seen some of the harshest repressive
measures. Speaking at the event, vice president Jorge Rodríguez, whose
own father died at the hands of police torturers in 1976, argued that:
"We still need to challenge impunity, indicating those responsible for
the massacre that occurred in February and March of 1989 The memory [of
the Caracazo] cannot die, and Venezuelans cannot allow the violations of
human rights that have occurred throughout the period of the republic
to be forgotten." Toward this end, the government's "defender of the
people," Germán Mundaraín, has emphasized the importance of constructing
a massive monument in Caracas to honor those killed during the
Moreover, Mundaraín has opened proceedings to request the extradition
of Carlos Andrés Pérez from Miami (where else?) to face charges over
the executive's participation in the massacre. While it will be
difficult to punish those who participated in the massacre which ended
the Caracazo, and it will be nearly impossible to extradite Pérez from
the United States, this should suggest that the legacy of the Caracazo
has been forgotten.
As Luis Britto García, radical poet and political writer (recently
named to the presidential committee for constitutional reform) has long
argued: "World War IV began in Venezuela. WWIII was the Cold War, which
culminated in the fall of the Soviet Union and the apparent triumph of
neoliberalism. World War IV began in Venezuela on February 27th 1989,
with the first rebellion by an entire nation against a neoliberal
package. As a result, we have discovered that a global extension of
neoliberalism into the economic, social, political and cultural fields
As the opening volley in the war against neoliberalism, the legacy of the Caracazo lives on as long as that struggle continues.
The Venezuelan president himself, before he died on Tuesday, wondered
aloud whether the U.S. government -- or the banksters who own it -- gave
him, and its other leading Latin American enemies, cancer.
A little over a year ago, Chavez went on Venezuelan national radio and
said: “I don’t know but… it is very odd that we have seen Lugo affected
by cancer, Dilma when she was a candidate, me, going into an election
year, not long ago Lula and now Cristina… It is very hard to explain,
even with the law of probabilities, what has been happening to some
leaders in Latin America. It’s at the very least strange, very strange.”
Strange indeed… so strange that if you think Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez,
Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, Paraguayan Fernando Lugo, and former
Brazilian leader Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva -- Latin America’s top
anti-U.S. empire leaders -- all just happened to contract cancer around
the same time by sheer chance, you must be some kind of crazy
Am I 100% certain that the CIA killed Hugo Chavez? Absolutely not.
It could have been non-governmental assassins working for the bankers.
But any way you slice it, the masters of the U.S. Empire are
undoubtedly responsible for giving Chavez and other Latin American
leaders cancer. How do we know that? Just examine the Empire’s track
Fidel Castro’s bodyguard, Fabian Escalante, estimates that the CIA
attempted to kill the Cuban president an astonishing 638 times. The
CIA’s methods included exploding cigars, biological warfare agents
painted on Castro’s diving suit, deadly pills, toxic bacteria in coffee,
an exploding speaker’s podium, snipers, poison-wielding female friends,
and explosive underwater sea shells.
The CIA’s assassination attempts against Castro were like a Tom and
Jerry cartoon, with the CIA as the murderously inept cat, and the Cuban
president as a clever and very lucky mouse. Some might even argue that
Castro’s survival, in the face of 638 assassination attempts by the
world’s greatest power, is evidence that El Presidente’s communist
atheism was incorrect, and that God, or at least a guardian angel, must
have been watching over “Infidel Castro” all along.
Theology aside, the CIA’s endless attempts on Castro’s life provide
ample evidence that U.S. authorities will stop at nothing in their
efforts to murder their Latin American enemies.
John Perkins, in his bestselling book Confessions of an Economic Hit
Man, supplies more evidence that the bankers that own the U.S.
government routinely murder heads of state, using private assassins as
well as CIA killers.
Perkins, during his career as an “economic hit man,” gained first-hand
knowledge about how the big international bankers maintain their empire
in Latin America and elsewhere. Perkins’ job was to visit leaders of
foreign countries and convince them to accept loans that could never be
paid back. Why? The bankers want to force these nations into debt
slavery. When the country goes bankrupt, the bankers seize the nation’s
natural resources and establish complete control over its government and
Perkins would meet with a targeted nation’s leader and say: “I have a
fist-full of hundred dollar bills in one hand, and a bullet in the
other. Which do you want?” If the leader accepted the loans, thereby
enslaving his country, he got the payoff. If he angrily chased Perkins
out of his office, the bankers would call in the “asteroids” to
assassinate the uncooperative head of state.
The “asteroids” are the world’s most expensive and accomplished
professional killers. They work on contract - sometimes to the CIA,
sometimes to the bankers, and sometimes to wealthy private individuals.
And though their specialty is causing plane crashes, they are capable of
killing people, including heads of state, in any number of ways.
This isn’t just speculation. John Perkins actually knows some of these
CIA-linked professional killers personally. And he has testified about
their murders of Latin American leaders. Confessions of an Economic Hit
Man is dedicated to Perkins’ murdered friends Gen. Torrijos of Panama
and President Jaime Roldos of Ecuador. Both were killed by CIA-linked
“asteroids” in engineered plane crashes.
Do CIA-linked killers sometimes induce cancer in their victims?
Apparently they do. One notable victim: Jack Ruby (née Jack Rubenstein),
a mobster who was himself a professional killer, and whose last hit was
the choreographed murder of JFK-assassination patsy Lee Harvey Oswald
in the basement of the Dallas Police Department. Ruby begged to be taken
to Washington to tell the real story of the JFK murder, but instead
died in prison, of a sudden and mysterious cancer, before he could
reveal what he knew.
Have the CIA-bankster “asteroids” ever tried to kill Latin American leaders with cancer? The answer is an unequivocal “yes.”
Edward Haslam’s book Dr. Mary’s Monkey proves what JFK assassination
prosecutor Jim Garrison had earlier alleged: Child-molesting CIA agent
David Ferrie, one of President Kennedy’s killers, had experimented
extensively with cancer-causing viruses for the CIA in his huge home
laboratory. The purpose: To give Fidel Castro and other Latin American
leaders cancer. (Ferrie himself was killed by the CIA shortly before he
was scheduled to testify in court about his role in the JFK
To summarize: We know that the bankers who own the U.S. government
routinely try to kill any Latin American leader who refuses to be their
puppet. We know that they have mounted thousands of assassination
attempts against Latin American leaders, including more than 600 against
Castro alone. We know that they have been experimenting with cancer
viruses, and killing people with cancer, since the 1960s.
So if you think Hugo Chavez died a natural death, I am afraid that you are terminally naive.