- Created: Tuesday, 14 April 2009 13:18
- Written by Alvaro Michaels
FRFI 206 December 2008 / January 2009
The first electoral test of the new United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) in the 23 November 2008 regional and local elections was a significant success. The government now faces the task of deepening the revolution as world capitalism struggles with its crisis.
With a 65.45% turnout of almost 17 million registered voters (exceeding all previous non-presidential elections) and 95% of the vote announced, the PSUV and its allies increased their vote by 1.1 million over the last national turnout – the December 2007 constitutional amendment referendum. This reversed that vote’s abstentions. President Chavez and his supporters have now won 13 of 14 national elections and referenda held since 1998. In 40 years prior to Chavez’s election, Venezuela staged only 15 national electoral contests.
In the 2004 regional elections, the opposition refused to stand, so this time some seats in reactionary wealthier and middle class districts were expected to change hands, with the help from much of the media. The PSUV and its coalition allies won 58% (5.5m) of the popular vote for a total of 603 elected positions. The opposition received 200,000 fewer votes than in the 2007 referendum. Pro-Chavez parties won 17 of the 22 governorships, one of two Metropolitan mayoralties, 265 of 328 municipal mayoralties – 41 more than in 2004 – and the majority of the 251 local state legislature seats up for election.
The level of democratic choice and debate is much higher than elsewhere in Latin America, with 17,308 candidates competing for the 603 positions. Around 295 political parties participated. 134 observers from Latin American states observed 100% computerised voting, with every voter getting a receipt. As Chavez said, ‘Who can say there is a dictatorship in Venezuela?’
The results show clear political polarisation. The wealthy and much of the middle class want to prevent any improvement in living conditions for 80% of the population. PSUV candidates defeated incumbent opposition governors in three states (Guarico, Sucre, Aragua). The opposition retained its governorships of tourist centre Nueva Esparta and the oil state Zulia; it also won in Tachira, bordering Colombia, and Carabobo. Its victorious candidate in Miranda was Henrique Capriles Radonsky, who tried to burn down the Cuban embassy during the April 2002 coup attempt. Significantly, the opposition won the Greater Caracas mayoral election and took over a fourth municipality to add to the three wealthiest already in its hands – Chacao, Baruta, and El Hatillo. The opposition won in Sucre with 56% of the vote. Sucre includes the vast Petare slum. Workers’ unmet demands for clean drinking water and proper waste collection, together with a rejection of high crime levels, were central to the opposition campaign. Caracas’ largest and poorest municipality, Libertador, was won by former Vice-President Jorge Rodriguez, a Chavez supporter.
The next tasks
The PSUV victory creates the basis for a socialist programme with which to respond to the deepening imperialist crisis. Most Venezuelan firms are heavily indebted to the state and local banks. The government must lever these firms into changes that democratise operations at a local level and redesign production and distribution to meet the masses’ needs. $40bn reserves will provide elbow room, but constraining the capitalist class and their links with international capital, through trade and credits, is essential. It will mean a continuing struggle against the private owners’ nine-year campaign of sabotage. Exchange controls must be extended, further regulating import and export contracts to inhibit the destructive effects of the world market on the economy. The government knows that a democratic transformation of inept and reactionary bureaucracy, inherited from previous regimes, is essential.
The 70% fall in oil prices has hit Venezuela’s principal export earnings. However, the government has maintained most of its funding for social programmess and continued its nationalisation of major cement, steel, financial and other capitalist property. Working class voters were more selective regarding ‘Chavista’ candidates – rewarding candidates who met popular demands for health, education and other local services and rejecting those who did not, such as the outgoing Governor of Miranda and the Mayor of Caracas.
Opposition-controlled state governorships and municipal mayors will attack the national government, demanding more resources, but this will expose contradictions in their anti-socialist propaganda. Either the global crisis will drive political parties along the road of constructing a socialist state, or Venezuela will return to the imperialist domination with all its horrific consequences.
Socialism and realism
Venezuela’s diversification away from US imperialism’s grasp has alarmed President Jefferson’s political descendants. US imperialism has backed coup and assassination attempts against President Chavez, and has updated its military ‘options’ against his government. It has supported bombings in Venezuela and provided asylum for the perpetrators. In July 2008, ‘to back counter-terrorism operations’, the US Fourth Naval Fleet (disbanded in 1950) resumed operations in the Caribbean and along the length of Latin America. In response, Venezuela is carrying out joint naval manoeuvres with Russian warships in the Caribbean. The arrival of Russian fighter aircraft and President Medvedev’s tour of Latin America, following Venezuela’s $4.4bn purchase of arms (including a Kalashnikov factory) from Russia, have put a spoke into the wheel of any immediate direct US military intervention. November’s Russia-Venezuela agreement to develop nuclear power will block any attempts by the US to claim ‘terrorist’ motives by Venezuela. On 26 November at the Third Extraordinary Summit of the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA) Chavez proposed the creation of a regional monetary bloc with its own currency to break the US dollar’s hegemony. US imperialism is being thrown on the defensive.