Negotiations give Maduro breathing space in the ongoing battle for Venezuela

Throughout November 2016, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro held successful talks with the country’s opposition coalition, in an encouraging sign for the future of the Bolivarian Revolution after a year of constant challenges to the socialist government. That the right-wing Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD) agreed to negotiations at all is a triumph for President Maduro, who has for months called for a dialogue between the two sides, even accepting the opposition’s condition that the Vatican facilitate any such talks. Claire Wilkinson reports.

This dialogue comes after a period of intense political conflict between Maduro’s United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) and the opposition coalition MUD. The opposition has controlled Venezuela’s National Assembly since it won a majority in December 2015. Its main objective since taking up its seats has been to oust President Maduro by any means possible. This has included massive electoral fraud committed while collecting signatures for the recall referendum, as well as rejecting the authority of both Venezuela’s Electoral Authority (CNE) and its Supreme Court, who have annulled decisions made by the National Assembly since opposition politicians began to attempt to change Venezuelan law in defiance of its constitution.

The MUD had initially insisted that its talks with the government would cover only ‘political questions’, but with polls showing that the Venezuelan people first and foremost want a bipartisan solution to the economic problems that are crippling the country, the opposition was forced to concede that economic issues would have to be discussed. On 12 November 2016, the opposition coalition agreed that it would work with the government in order to end Venezuela’s ‘economic war’ – for the first time acknowledging the existence of such a war being deliberately waged against the government by private companies.

This agreement commits both parties to cooperate in order to ‘combat sabotage, boycott and aggression against the Venezuelan economy.’ The economic warfare has led to shortages of food, medicine and other essential products. President Maduro has described this agreement as ‘an excellent step forward for peace and prosperity’.

Both parties also agreed to work on bringing the opposition-led National Assembly back into compliance with the rulings of Venezuela’s Supreme Court, which will in turn return legitimacy to decisions made by the National Assembly. Both parties will also jointly name two new representatives to the CNE when the positions become available in December. This can be seen as the opposition backing down on its attempts to undermine the authority of both the CNE and the Supreme Court earlier in the year, as it has now agreed to ‘normalise the constitutional relations between the different powers of the state.’

Finally this ongoing dialogue between Maduro and the opposition has led to both parties signing a pact to denounce violence in the streets. It reads:

‘Because there is no politics or coexistence in violence, nor in force, because there is no politics or coexistence in hatred…We commit to promote respectful political action, which banishes, condemns and eradicates hatred, the justification of violence, intolerance and the use of ridicule and insult as a political weapon in our society.’

The forces of the opposition in Venezuela are deeply divided, and those who have always sought to overthrow the government by violence will no doubt continue to do so. Even those sections of the opposition that pay lip-service to constitutional means of change are working both covertly and overtly for the overthrow of the Bolivarian Revolution. But it potentially stabilises a volatile situation that, a few months earlier, had seemed designed to trigger imperialist intervention. Only last month MUD was attempting to oust Maduro from the Presidency by claiming he was a Colombian national and stating that he had ‘abandoned’ his post while visiting Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) member states in order to coordinate an agreement to stabilise international oil prices. Meanwhile, Henry Ramos Allup, the head of the MUD-controlled National Assembly, has admitted that the opposition’s attempt to oust President Maduro via a recall referendum is now effectively over, telling a crowd of his supporters in Caracas on 9 November: ‘Let’s be realistic, they killed the recall. We will have to look for an alternative to end this.’ All this at least provides Maduro and the PSUV with some breathing space as they continue to attempt to strengthen working class power at the grassroots, tackle corruption and build international alliances.

For while the challenges and dangers of building socialism in a deeply divided country like Venezuela – where the neoliberal elite retains so much of its former power, wealth and influence and foreign interventionist forces circle like vultures – remain as real as they were a month ago, there is good news too, barely reported in the bourgeois press.

Maduro has agreed a deal with China’s National Petroleum Company (CNPC) which will mean an investment of $2.2bn in Venezuela’s state-owned oil company PDVSA, with the aim of increasing oil production for both countries. He has extended the country’s State of Economic Emergency decree by another 60 days, continuing to allow him extra powers to raise the country’s minimum wage to keep up with inflation, as well as guaranteeing the population’s access to essential goods and approving resources for the social missions. He has also spoken of a massive overhaul of publicly-owned companies, tackling corruption and theft and restructuring these enterprises with the working class at the forefront. On 16 November, a few days after Maduro announced these measures, the Public Prosecutor’s Office began proceedings against the former heads of the Venezuelan government’s food distribution chains, who are accused of corruption, embezzlement and theft of state resources, amongst other charges. This renewed focus on rooting out and punishing corruption is an essential step forward for Venezuela’s revolutionary process.

The mainstream media would have us believe that the wealthy elites in Venezuela are fighting for their freedom against an oppressive regime. Any awareness of the blood-soaked history of neoliberalism and imperialist intervention in Latin America makes the position of communists, socialists, and progressive peoples the world over clear. We stand in solidarity with the people of Venezuela, the PSUV and President Maduro as they attempt to safeguard and build on the gains of the country’s Bolivarian Revolution.

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 254 December 2016/January 2017


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