- Created: Saturday, 17 June 2017 06:28
- Written by Sam Mcgill
20 May: RFG/RATB protest outside the Guardian London offices against their hostile reporting of events in Venezuela and the achievements of Bolivarian Revolution
In May, a Venezuelan street vendor named Orlando Figuera was murdered by masked anti-government protesters in the affluent Altamira neighbourhood of East Caracas, the epicentre of right-wing violence. He was surrounded, beaten and stabbed before being doused in petrol and set alight. As a black, working-class Venezuelan, Figuera was representative of many of those enfranchised by the Bolivarian revolutionary movement. Other Afro-Venezuelans have also been singled out, burned and beaten to death. Fascist gangs have kidnapped and assassinated prominent trade unionists and community activists, whilst snipers have targeted socialist rallies. The gruesome attack on Figuera is a taste of what will come if the opposition overthrows the democratically-elected government of Nicolas Maduro and the United Socialist Party (PSUV). Sam McGill reports.
These attacks are proof that there are no limits to the savagery of a ruling class determined to claw back power and destroy socialism. While the international bourgeois media persists in portraying anti-government forces as peaceful, pro-democracy demonstrators facing down an authoritarian government, in reality these vicious counter-revolutionaries have torched state housing projects, metro stations, buses, subsidised food distribution offices, medical centres, schools and two maternity hospitals. The opposition pledges to remain in the streets until the socialist PSUV is forced out, demanding that presidential elections – not due until 2018 – are held immediately. Regional elections are now scheduled for December.
There have been 20 elections and referendums during 18 years of Bolivarian government. Throughout this time the reactionary opposition has incessantly plotted to overthrow the Chavistas, carrying out the short-lived 2002 coup, oil lock-outs, a failed recall referendum and the violent street protests of 2014. Despite winning the majority of seats in the 2015 National Assembly elections, the opposition MUD coalition has been unable to reverse progressive PSUV policies. With the National Assembly and the government in deadlock, the forces of reaction have stepped up their efforts at destabilisation.
The current protests were sparked after Venezuela’s Supreme Court temporarily assumed the functions of the National Assembly. Following a year-long battle, the assembly was found to be in contempt of court for allowing three suspended opposition legislators to take their seats. Though the move was rescinded within days, the MUD seized its chance, denouncing a crackdown on democracy and demanding foreign intervention.
Despite claiming to head a popular outburst driven by hunger and desperation, the protests are confined to affluent areas, concentrated in districts controlled by opposition mayors and governors. Scarcity, shortages and inflation are undoubtedly a problem, but the residents of Altamira have access to subsidised dollars, upmarket delis and well-stocked patisseries. Meanwhile, the working class and poor, hit hardest by spiralling living costs and food shortages, have not joined the MUD’s cause. Arrested youth activists report being paid $70 to commit acts of violence, with school children offered shoes, clothes and pocket money to participate. Even so unrest has not spread to the popular barrios. Instead, hundreds of thousands of workers, community activists and socialists have flocked to rallies in defence of the government.
Nevertheless, the prolonged economic crisis is taking its toll. Oil prices remain less than half of what they were in 2014, hovering around $50 a barrel. The unofficial exchange rate has tipped 5,900 Bolivars to the dollar, fuelling triple digit inflation and currency fraud as well as widespread smuggling, hoarding and speculation of subsidised food, medicine and fuel, resulting in shortages at state-run supermarkets and astronomical prices on street stalls. Oil makes up 96% of export earnings and has left Venezuela dependent on imports, crippling endogenous agriculture and production. The majority of the economy remains firmly in private hands, with business leaders predominantly backing the MUD coalition. One company, Polar, controls around half of all food distribution while 69% of total banking sector assets are privately owned. Economic sabotage is promoted by the same forces demanding regime change yet the PSUV has been unwilling or unable to tackle their stranglehold on production, finance and distribution.
There is frustration at entrenched corruption and the lack of progress in expanding the participatory democracy of neighbourhood communal councils as an alternative to the bourgeois parliamentary system. This has led to disillusionment amongst some Chavistas. Facing this reality, Maduro has called a National Constituent Assembly (NCA) tasked with redrafting the Venezuelan constitution. The move could prove crucial in re-engaging the Bolivarian grassroots.
Chavez first convoked a constituent assembly in 1999. It was an initial exercise in popular power, paving the way for the creation of 45,000 communal councils which today connect with cooperatives and communal enterprises to form 1,500 communes. Maduro has urged the NCA to ‘transform the state’ by incorporating the communes as new forms of local government, whilst enshrining social programmes like the housing mission and community health care in law. The NCA will comprise 540 members, nominated by secret ballot. Sectoral seats have been allocated to social movements, communes, students, farmers, workers in the fishing industry, pensioners, people with disabilities, business representatives and indigenous peoples. Elections will take place in late July. Government officials, active army personnel, judges and ministers are not eligible to stand. Once drafted, the new constitution will be put to a referendum for approval.
Over 640,000 people have already participated in initial assemblies, nominating over 30,000 candidates. Gender and sexual equality is a key focus with Mujeres por la vida (Women for life) demanding legal abortion and the Revolutionary Sex and Gender Diversity Alliance promoting LGBT rights. Meanwhile the national network of communards identify the communal economy, collective farming and education for liberation as central to transcending oil dependency and raising political consciousness.
The MUD and Fedecameras, Venezuela’s main chamber of commerce, have refused to cooperate. The right-wing opposition and monopoly business leaders are not interested in democracy. After all, Capriles and his cronies ripped up the constitution in the failed 2002 coup. Their demand for elections simply provides a fig-leaf for their violence. MUD figurehead María Corina Machado admitted as much, stating ‘there is a growing danger that we miss the essential point. The aim is not to hold elections within the framework of Maduro’s criminal regime. The aim is to put an end to the regime.’
To this end, millions of dollars are injected into right-wing organisations each year. Since 2009, the US has provided at least $49m to ‘strengthen and promote civil society’. In May the US Senate passed the ‘Venezuelan Humanitarian Assistance and Defence of Democratic Governance Act’ promoting sanctions, intervention and allocating a further $20m for ‘democracy promotion’. The pro-imperialist Organisation of American States has ramped up its attack, attempting to legitimise foreign intervention. However, at the end of May, a resolution condemning Venezuela failed to muster the necessary two-thirds backing, blocking overt intervention for now.
In the face of fascist attacks and imperialist intervention, revolutionary groups, student networks and collectives including the Venezuelan Communist Party, have launched a national anti-imperialist and anti-fascist front. A founding declaration emphasised ‘Joint action and articulation between the revolutionary organisations, the forces of the workers’ and popular movement, and the patriotic officers of the Bolivarian armed forces are urgently required. A patriotic and popular united plan is necessary to defeat the terrorist right and imperialism... the opposite is, in practice, surrender’.
Despite the economic crisis rocking Venezuela, despite frustrations with the PSUV government and the limits of operating within a capitalist framework, the Bolivarian revolution still represents hope. The last 18 years have seen widespread participation in a fight for socialism. The working class and oppressed have had a taste of participatory democracy, they have grasped what a society geared to meet their needs could look like. They have won free universal education and health care, reclaimed idle land, directed the construction of social housing, taken control of the distribution of food in their communities. They are now faced with two alternatives, to deepen and radicalise the revolutionary movement, or to suffer defeat at the hands of a rabid right-wing. The fight for socialism in Venezuela demands our support!
Exposing the lies of The Guardian and BBC – solidarity with Venezuela!
In May the Revolutionary Communist Group and Rock around the Blockade picketed the offices of The Guardian newspaper in London to oppose the media war against the Bolivarian revolution. The protest achieved international coverage with Venezuelan President Maduro retweeting it, alongside Latin American news network Telesur.
The Guardian has played a leading role in the international media war against the Bolivarian Revolution, which seeks to legitimise attempts to carry out what amounts to a coup. It consistently reports the lies and distortions of the right-wing opposition and has called for President Maduro to be given ‘pariah status’. Reynaldo Trombetta, former journalist for the private Venezuelan El Universal paper and leader of the dubious Justice4Venezuela campaign, has been given regular columns, demanding ‘pressure from the left’.
A further protest will be held outside the BBC on 17 June. The BBC lays the deaths of the more than 70 people killed over the last two months at the feet of the Venezuelan government. In fact the majority have been bystanders, killed while attempting to negotiate street barricades and road blocks. So far, state security forces have been implicated in ten deaths, but far from acting with impunity, 19 soldiers and police have been arrested and charged. Meanwhile the BBC downplays the 20 deaths deliberately caused by opposition protesters, where Chavistas, security personnel and passers-by have been shot, run over and beaten to death. No deaths have yet been attributed to pro-government groups. A case in point is the death of Juan Pernalete, killed on 26 April. Venezuelan private press and the BBC blamed a tear gas canister fired by the National Guard; however an autopsy found his injuries indicated a close-range weapon such as a captive bolt pistol used to stun animals before slaughter. Video footage appears to show two opposition protesters using an unidentifiable object in his vicinity just before he collapsed. Exposing media lies about Venezuela is a vital part of solidarity with the Bolivarian Revolution.
Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 258 June/July 2017