Tension builds in presidential election race / FRFI 227 June/July 2012

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Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 227 June/July 2012

Tensions are building in the run-up to the Venezuelan presidential elections in October. Hugo Chavez of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) is standing for his third term. Opposing him is Henrique Capriles Radonski, from the Roundtable of Democratic Unity (Mesa de unidad democratica or MUD).

Who is Capriles Radonski?

Despite presenting himself as a ‘moderate’, Capriles Radonski is a right-wing extremist who participated in the short-lived 2002 coup against Chavez and took part in a violent assault on the Cuban embassy in Baruta while mayor of the district. When revolutionary lawyer Danilo Anderson was in the process of suspending Capriles’ mayoral legal immunity in order to prosecute him, he was assassinated by a car bomb. The perpetrators were never found. The opposition’s campaign is supported by Pedro Carmona, who swore himself in as president in the 2002 coup and has been living in hiding in Colombia ever since. The MUD coalition also boasts support from the infamous former Colombian president Alvaro Uribe, who has offered to campaign against Chavez in towns on the border between the two countries.

Conveniently for the opposition, the Capriles family own an influential media chain, which includes the national papers Ultimas Noticias and El Mundo, stocks in the private opposition broadcaster Globovision, radio stations, online media, and Venezuela’s biggest cinema company. In March, Ultimas Noticias published allegations about the existence of paramilitary organisations linked to pro-revolution social movements such as the Ezquiel Zamora national campesino front. The paper has since been forced to publicly retract the allegations.

Dirty tactics and the media war

Although officially campaigning opens on 1 July, the opposition’s dirty war has already begun. Capriles held a campaign procession through the district of Cotiza in March, during which his bodyguards attacked and injured five people. The bodyguards were later identified as police officers from neighbouring Miranda state, which is governed by Capriles. The son of opposition legislator Ismael Garcia accused PSUV members in red T-shirts of firing at him. Community members reported seeing Capriles campaigners change their T-shirts from yellow to red moments before the attack. It is clear that the opposition is using the media to present to the international community a picture of democracy in Venezuela under attack from an oppressive PSUV state headed by Chavez. US congressman Eliot Engel has called for an OAS mission to monitor the presidential elections. Rejecting this, Venezuela’s National Electoral Council has called for candidates to publicly agree to recognise the results they publish. Capriles has so far failed to do so.  On 14 May media workers marched in Caracas after journalists from public media companies VTV and Avila were physically attacked by Capriles’ supporters.

Attacks on embassies are clearly a signature of opposition violence. On Friday 13 April, the anniversary of the failed 2002 coup, members of the opposition stormed the Venezuelan embassy in London, damaged the building and verbally abused embassy staff. This was prominently covered by Globovision and El Universal in Venezuela.

The Bolivarian revolution advances

Despite health concerns, Chavez continues to top the polls with even privately-owned polling companies showing 53% support for him. The continued economic viability of the Bolivarian revolution is crucial to securing these elections. Significantly, the Venezuelan economy grew by 5.6% in the first quarter of 2012 and inflation is falling. A further lynchpin in Chavez’s campaign has been the passing of the ‘Organic Law of Work and Workers’. The final version was the product of more than 19,000 proposals developed from over 1,800 worker assemblies nationwide. The new law reduces the working week to 40 hours, increases maternity leave to 6.5 months and seeks to eliminate private sub-contracted labour. The minimum monthly wage has been raised by 32% to $414, the highest in Latin America.

Article 25 of the law states: ‘the social process of work has, as its main objective, to overcome forms of capitalist exploitation, as well as to produce goods and services that guarantee our economic independence [and] satisfy human needs, through the just distribution of wealth...’ Appropriately, the legislation was signed on 1 May, International Workers’ Day, as tens of thousands of PSUV supporters turned the streets of Caracas red. As Alexis Toledo, mayor of Vargas state, emphasised: ‘May Day is a day of struggle for workers in a large part of the world, but in our country it is a day of celebration’.

Sam McGill