“It is very clear: Venezuela said no to Cuban-like communism”, declared Maria Corina Machado, the main spokesperson for Venezuela’s opposition Democratic Unity Alliance (MUD), shortly after the September 26 nation-wide elections to the country’s 165-seat national parliament. She claimed that President Hugo Chavez had “turned the election to the National Assembly into a plebiscite and lost”. In reality, Chavez’s ruling United Socialist Party (PSUV) and its allies had won 59% of the seats in the legislature – a result usually described as a “landslide victory”.
Machado was the main leader of Sumate, an anti-Chavez “civil” organisation which organised a campaign for a 2004 referendum to recall Chavez from office. The recall mechanism was introduced into Venezuelan law at Chavez’s initiative in 1999, under the new constitution approved by 71% of voters in a nationwide referendum 12 months after Chavez was first elected Venezuelan president in December 1998. Chavez won the 2004 recall referendum with a vote of 58% to 42%.
During its campaign for the recall referendum, Sumate received donations of around US$3 million from the US government, channelled through its National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and the US Agency for International Development. According to a May 2010 report by the Spanish Foundation for International Relations and Foreign Dialogue (FRIDE) that was prepared with funding from the World Movement for Democracy (a project of the NED), US and European government-funded agencies have provided $40-50 million this year alone to anti-Chavez organisations in Venezuela, most of it to the 18 parties making up the MUD alliance.
According to the FRIDE report, foreign government, particularly US government, funding to anti-Chavez organisations in Venezuela began in 2002, in the lead-up to the April 11, 2002, military coup that for 48 hours placed Chavez under arrest and installed Pedro Carmona, head of the employers federation, as Venezuela’s president. Machado was one of the 400 signatories to the “Carmona Decree” issued on April 12, 2002, that established Carmona’s government, dissolved the National Assembly and the Supreme Court and dismissed all public officials at the national, state and local level elected or appointed during Chavez’s presidency.
Within hours of the announcement of the “Carmona Decree”, hundreds of thousands of poor people across the capital Caracas poured out of their neighbourhoods and surrounded the presidential palace and military barracks. The military split and the vast majority of junior officers and soldiers united with the civilian poor in an insurrection that ousted the capitalist-led coup regime on April 13, and brought Chavez back to power. In the months that followed, 70 generals and admirals and 340 other military officers, who had supported the coup, were sacked from the armed forces. The April 13 workers’ and soldiers’ revolution destroyed the capitalist class’s control of Venezuela’s military forces and created a new base of state power for the Chavez government, making his government one that does not just talk, but acts, as a working people’s government.
This was clearly demonstrated a few months after the April revolution, when the capitalist oligarchy launched a “strike” within the state-owned oil company PDVSA. In December 2002 the top capitalist managers of PDVSA sabotaged the company, reducing oil production from 3 million barrels a day to 150,000, attempting to economically cripple the Chavez government. They were joined by 18,000 middle and lower managers and well-paid technicians. Local police forces still loyal to the capitalist oligarchy tried defending PDVSA installations against oil production workers who attempted to undo the sabotage but were quickly brushed aside by the armed forces.
By the end of January 2003 the Chavez government, relying on army officers and oil industry workers, had taken control of PDVSA, the single biggest component of the national economy. The 18,000 managers and technicians involved in the sabotage were all sacked. With revenue and administrative resources from PDVSA and the support of Cuba’s revolutionary government, the Chavez government was able to begin implementing a program oriented to improving the social conditions of Venezuela’s working people. According to PDVSA’s 2009 annual report, while the company directly provided only US$14 million to social development in 2002, since 2003 it has provided an average of $8 billion in the years 2003-09, with education receiving $2 billion, health services $5.7 billion, food for the poor $1.9 billion.
On September 21, Jorge Valero, Venezuelan ambassador to the United Nations, in his speech at a New York summit analysing the achievements of the UN’s Millennium Development goals, summarised some of the social achievements of Venezuela’s socialist-oriented development: “The Bolivarian Revolution under the leadership of President Hugo Chavez Frias, promotes an alternative model of development, that is humanist and performs deep structural changes in favour of the excluded. Although our country has not escaped the negative effects of the crisis of capitalism, social investment has increased and, today, more Venezuelans have better living conditions … The Social Missions in favour of the most excluded sectors of society have helped to achieve, in a massive and rapid manner, social inclusion. The poverty rate fell from 49% in 1998 to 24.2% in late 2009. And extreme poverty fell dramatically from 29.8% in 2003 to 7.2% in 2009 … The unemployment rate in Venezuela fell from 15% in 1998 (before the start of the Bolivarian Government), to 6.6% in December of 2009 … Venezuela was declared a territory free of illiteracy by UNESCO in 2005.”
While the Chavez government has control of many of Venezuela’s major industrial enterprises, 70% of the countries gross domestic product continues to be generated by privately owned businesses, and most of the mass media remains under the control of the capitalist class. This gives the pro-capitalist opposition parties an important base from which to conduct its anti-Chavez propaganda.
While much of the world’s capitalist news media have presented the September 26 National Assembly elections as a big win for the opposition MUD, this has often been based on ignoring the fact that the opposition parties boycotted the 2005 National Assembly elections. The MUD in fact won 20% fewer parliamentary seats in this year’s National Assembly election than the anti-Chavez parties held during the 2000-05 legislative term. Writing on September 27 on the Venezuelanalysis website, James Suggest noted that, “During the 2000-2005 legislative term, which was marked by an array of party splits and shifting alliances, pro-Chavez parties held between 83 and 92 seats at any given time, while opposition parties held between 73 and 82 seats, out of a total of 165.
“According to the official results of Sunday’s election released by the National Electoral Council, Chavez’s United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) won 96 seats, while the opposition coalition Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD) won 63 seats. The center-left Fatherland for All (PPT) party, a former Chavez ally that split with the PSUV, won two seats. The three indigenous people’s representatives are not officially aligned with the PSUV or the MUD, but one is considered to be an ally of the PSUV, one an ally of the MUD, and one an ally of the PPT. The CNE has not yet announced the results in the contests for one last seat in Carabobo state.
“Both PSUV and MUD officials reported non-official results on Monday. President Chavez said in a press conference that the PSUV and its allies won 98 seats. MUD leader Ramon Aveledo said MUD candidates received 52% of the total number of votes cast nation-wide. President Chavez refuted this claim, reporting that the PSUV and its allies received 5,422,040 votes and the MUD received 5,320,175 votes. The CNE has not confirmed any of these claims.
“Officially, the PSUV won the majority of the seats in 16 of Venezuela’s 23 states. This included sweeping victories in the rural states of Apure, Barinas, Guarico, Cojedes, Lara, Portuguesa, Vargas, and Yaracuy; and strong victories in the major industrial states of Bolivar and Carabobo. The PSUV also won seven seats in the Capital District, compared to three for the MUD.
“In Miranda state, where the capital city is located, the PSUV and the MUD each won three seats, with the MUD defeating the PSUV by a mere 741 votes out of a total of 968,947. The two were also tied with three seats each in Sucre state. In the sparsely populated and heavily forested Amazonas state, the PSUV won one seat, while the PPT won 2 seats and the MUD did not win any seats. The MUD swept the border states of Tachira and Zulia, as well as Anzoategui and the island state of Nueva Esparta…
“Having won a majority of the National Assembly, the PSUV will be able to control the passage of ordinary laws and most other functions of the legislative body. However, the PSUV did not win a large enough majority to control the passage of organic laws, enabling laws that give decree power to the president, and some appointments to other branches of the government…
“Vice President Elias Jaua, who is a PSUV official, said, ‘The revolution can count on a comfortable majority in the National Assembly... Few governments on our continent can count on such a comfortable majority of just one party … ‘The opposition does not have any possibility, with this number of deputies, of reversing the legislative processes that have been completed or activating destabilizing mechanisms such as revoking public powers or impeaching the president’ …
“PSUV campaign chief Aristobulo Isturiz expressed disappointment that the goal of 110 seats was not reached. However, he said this should not distract from the ‘truly decisive victory’ won by the PSUV, which ‘reaffirms us as the primary political force in our country’ …” Isturiz added: “We achieved our objective in the sense of being able to guarantee the defence of President Hugo Chavez and the policies of the revolutionary government, and having won sufficient forces to propel structural changes in this era of the construction of socialism.” Through his Twitter account, Chavez called the election result “a solid victory, sufficient to continue deepening democratic and Bolivarian socialism”, adding, “We must continue strengthening the revolution!”