Venezuela: deepening democracy

I’m not going to tell Obama what to do, but by immediately withdrawing from Iraq, from all of the military bases they have all over the world, he could use those billions of dollars to buy medical equipment for the people of the United States, and provide social security, free healthcare, education.’ President Chavez

Obama – a new train on old tracks
In a provocative two-part interview shown on 13 and 18 January by the US Spanish-language network Univision, Obama declared that Chavez has ‘been a force that has interrupted progress in the region’. With the standard incantation ‘We need to be firm when we see this news, that Venezuela is exporting terrorist activities or supporting malicious entities like the FARC,’ he stated ‘This creates problems that are not acceptable’. In response Chavez noted that the US was the world’s top exporter of terrorism and harshly criticised Obama’s silence over the bloody assault on Gaza by Israel, saying ‘There is still time’ for Obama to change his views. ‘No one should say that I threw the first stone at Obama. He threw it at me.’

A new constitutional amendment campaign
On 18 December last year, a majority of the Venezuelan National Assembly approved the first reading of amendments to articles of the Constitution which would remove the current limit of two terms for all elected officials including the president. Electors would not lose the right to a recall referendum should they wish to remove such officials from office in the middle of any term. By 14 January, Chavez supporters were able to present 4.7 million signatures supporting the referendum to the National Assembly. The National Electoral Council (CNE) has organised the referendum for 15 February.

This change is vital for the progress of the Venezuelan revolution, and will remove the restriction on voters which prevents them from re-electing their chosen candidates. This obstruction to democracy would otherwise force President Chavez to relinquish office in 2012 against the wishes of the vast majority of the electorate. His leadership is clearly central to the further development of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) in government, and the deepening of the democratic process in Venezuela. Inevitably the wealthy and their imperialist mentors are desperate to defeat this.

In early January, Alberto Federico Ravell, director of the anti-government Globovision TV, met three key opposition party leaders in Puerto Rico: Jorge Borges a leader of Justice First, Luis Planas, Secretary General of the Christian Democratic Party, and Emilio Barboza, President of A New Era, together with US advisers. US Venezuelan embassy official John Caulfield joined them. They planned a campaign against the proposed constitutional amendment. ‘The group of advisors has been working very hard recently...with ideas for television commercials, events and speeches,’ Ravell wrote in a leaked email. The Plan would cost $3 million. Denouncing this, President Chavez again demanded the US end its long history of intervention in the affairs of its southern neighbours. Some of those who met in Puerto Rico later met with US officials in New York to plan their strategy further.

The PSUV has set up the ‘Simon Bolivar Campaign’ to win the referendum. Chavez has stressed that its success ‘will mark a rupturing with the old democracy. After this we are planning a break with the democratic model called classical liberalism.’ During a visit to Venezuela on 17 January, Brazilian President Lula observed that ‘no one is asking [Colombian President Alvaro] Uribe why he wants a third term,’ clearly pointing to the US imperialism’s double standards in its attacks on Venezuela. Committees across Venezuela committed themselves to the campaign. Over 20,000 people attended the swearing-in of the heads of PSUV ‘Yes’ committees in Caracas on 17 January. There are an estimated 9,800 committees nationwide involving some 100,000 people. The National Women’s ‘Yes’ Front in Carabobo state has a membership of 20,000 women; each woman in the Front is aiming to get 30 people to vote ‘Yes’.

Opposition provocation and violence
On 9 January over 40 PSUV supporters were injured by members of the opposition hurling missiles and explosives during the swearing in of the newly elected governor of Tachira state. Three PSUV members of the regional assembly were wounded. Meanwhile, anti-government students launched protests against the referendum. One group tried to block one of the main freeways in Caracas; police dispersed them with tear gas and water cannon. Some students were videotaped setting fire to the national park north of Caracas, which is very susceptible to forest fires during the dry season. ‘We know what this is about: it is the chaos plan, the Pact of Puerto Rico,’ said Chavez.

On 17 January, six Colombian paramilitaries were detained in Maracay, Aragua state. On 27 January, 31 more Colombian paramilitaries were detained in the Caracas suburb of Petare. Weapons, grenades and two kilograms of explosives were also seized in Maracay.

On the same day violent protests by middle class students erupted in at least six major Venezuelan cities following a week of relative calm. In Cagua, Aragua state, police detained 12 demonstrators armed with rocks and Molotov cocktails. The remaining demonstrators took refuge in buildings on their university campus, which by law security forces cannot enter. In Cumana, Sucre state, university students blocked off major avenues and attacked National Guard troops with glass bottles and stones. Students from privileged backgrounds at the University of the Andes campuses in Merida and San Cristobal also shut down major streets by burning tyres. Interior and Justice Minister Tarek El-Aissami accused university authorities and the private media of inciting confrontations with state security forces in order to spread an image of the Chavez government as repressive.

Social transformation
The PSUV in Congress continues to force forward social change. In an end-of-year speech, Chavez repeated ‘we’ll continue giving to the people, what is theirs...Venezuela will never go back.’ ‘The Venezuela of today, compared to Venezuela ten years ago...Venezuela was falling apart, it was in pieces, today Venezuela is a country that is remaking itself, reconstructing itself, transforming itself.’ The current Plan of Investments, 2008-2013 provides $100 billion over four years for social ends.

The government’s neighbourhood health care programme has built 6,531 health and diagnostic centres in every part of the country, Chavez said. Infant mortality has decreased from 21.4 per thousand live births to 13.4 today. The ‘Mission Miracle’ eye-care programme has performed 594,886 eye operations on Venezuelans, while dental care, previously reserved for the elite, has become available to the masses so that the average number of consultations has risen from four for every thousand people in 2003 to 365 in 2008. The number of Venezuelans in school at all levels has increased by 1.3 million since 1998; this does not include the hundreds of thousands enrolled in government-sponsored educational programmes. 178,808 toddlers are included in the early childhood education programme ‘Little Simon,’ and 256,164 toddlers are enrolled in state-funded pre-schools. Meanwhile, four million children now receive free meals at school, a number which Chavez said has increased fourfold under his government. Through the creation of free internet centres Venezuela now has the highest rate of internet access in Latin America. ‘Never in the history of Venezuela, in such a short time, has our country experienced such extraordinary change. Only through revolution can this be achieved’, Chavez concluded.

Alvaro Michaels

FRFI 207 February / March 2009


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