Venezuela: Chávez calls for struggle against imperialism

On 3 June, after a long and fraudulent campaign against President Chávez by opposition parties, the Venezuelan National Electoral Council (NEC) declared a presidential recall referendum. Funded by the US National Endowment for Democracy, and shepherded by ex-US President Carter’s ‘Democracy’ circus, the Venezuelan ruling class hopes to defeat Chávez in the referendum on 15 August. At the same time the constant demands by the poor on President Chávez to establish real social justice and to use more oil revenues for the masses means that the class struggle in Venezuela will intensify. The US is set to become even more openly involved in trying to destroy these democratic victories.

Following a check of the recall petitions, 2,451,821 signatures were eventually accepted, only 15,738 more than the 2,436,083 legally necessary. Such was the extent of the fraud that the NEC initially invalidated 1.2 million signatures, but it then allowed a three-day ‘repair, remove or resubmit’ process in May.

Workers at a Coca-Cola plant in Antimano, Caracas, were fired from their jobs for refusing to ‘repair’ their signatures, which were included in the anti-Chávez drive either without their authorisation or under pressure. The workers complained about this and similar intimidation at Coca-Cola plants in the states of Carabobo, Lara, Bolivar, and Monagas. Billionaire Gustavo Cisneros, who also owns Venezuela’s biggest TV network, and who is the main economic supporter of the anti-Chávez movement, owns the Venezuelan subsidiary of Coca-Cola.

74,000 people, whose signatures appeared in the original sheets, removed them. In one case in Caracas, 5,382 signatures of dead persons were discovered. NEC member Jorge Rodriguez announced that between 15,000 and 50,000 people who had died had not been removed from the electoral register that was being used for the re-verification process, despite the fact that this information had been sent by the competent bodies to the Electoral Register Commission. The number of ‘repaired’ signatures using forged or cloned IDs probably reached as high as 40,000 nation wide.

To remove Chávez, the opposition will need to get more than the 3.75million votes he received when he was elected. It therefore needs to find an additional 1.35 million votes. But for the working class, the referendum campaign offers a necessary opportunity to deepen the revolution and to increase the organisation of the people to turn it into a mandate for the government’s education, health and social programmes.

The new electoral campaign
Chávez himself immediately accepted the NEC decision and called on revolutionaries to wage what he called ‘the battle of Santa Ines’ (a battle in 1859 where peasants defeated the landowners), to soundly defeat the counter-revolutionaries in the referendum. A million supporters demonstrated for Chávez on 6 June in Caracas. In all the pro-Chávez demonstrations in June the poor severely criticised the organisation of the Commando Ayacucho in the recall campaign, demanding better organisation during the referendum campaign itself.

As a consequence, a new campaigning organisation has been established. Chávez’ Commando Nacional Maisanta is to lead the ‘Bolivarian Circles’ that have already grown spontaneously within working and unemployed communities. These will be organised nationally as the ‘Commando Popular Bolivariano’ (CPB). Electoral campaigns will explain the Constitution and the government’s programme to the workers. Following President Chávez’s significant anti-imperialist speech in May, the military will work with the Circles to prevent violent attacks by the opposition in the recall campaign. Each local ‘Circle’ will have a centre of operations and ‘basic action units’ working in seven areas including registration and mobilisation of electors, organisation of provisions, communications and self-defence. The necessity for such preparation was underlined by a number of armed attacks on offices of parties supporting Chávez during the recall campaign.

Peter DeShazo, US Under-Secretary of State for the Western Hemisphere, has announced that the US will only recognise the results of the referendum if it takes place in ‘free and fair conditions’ and in an environment ‘free of intimidation and violence’. Since all the violence during the last five years has been instigated by the counter-revolution, such statements are clearly preparing the ground for the opposition to claim foul play if it is defeated.
On 14 July, President Chávez signed agreements on cross-border energy projects with Colombia, in part to end the provocations on the border with Colombia, which counter-revolutionaries use to brand the Venezuelan government as ‘terrorist’ or ‘supportive of terrorism’, and more particularly to allow Venezuelan troops to keep a clearer eye on armed right-wing terror groups operating out of northern Colombia.

The economy
Socially and economically the mass of the poor have demanded that the leadership of the MVR (Fifth Republic Movement) and its allies in government take significant steps to change the country. 67 per cent of the people live in poverty whilst 35 per cent live in extreme poverty. Three quarters of the population is either unemployed or works in the informal sector, and there have been 43,000 murders in the past five years.

The government has budgeted $1.7 billion for social projects this year, up from just a few million in past years, whilst $1 billion from the Central Bank’s foreign reserves of $24 billion and $750 million from the State Oil Company (PDVSA) have also been allocated to social ends. Venezuela’s economic position provides a real basis for these changes. It has the largest oil reserves outside the Middle East, with proven reserves of nearly 78 billion barrels. It is the third largest oil supplier to the United States, behind Canada and Mexico and just ahead of Saudi Arabia, and it sells its products through Citgo, its Tulsa-based retail arm. Venezuela exports about 1.34 million barrels of oil a day to the United States, 13 per cent of US imports (March 2004).

As a result of big business’s war on the Chávez government, the GDP dropped 8.9 per cent in 2002, then a further 9.4 per cent in 2003. But the oil price rises and strict management of the economy have led to a rapid recovery. The economy grew 30 per cent in the first four months of 2004, recovering from the economic damage committed by the oil bosses in 2003. In 2004 the economy will expand by 8-12 per cent, repudiating the IMF scare stories of last year. The current balance of payments account is strong, and the past flight of capital is under control. $37 billion will be invested in PDVSA between 2004 and 2009.

US imperialism

In the next 50 years Venezuela will become the only state in the Western Hemisphere to export oil. It possesses, along with Colombia, the natural and human wealth US business needs for the next 40 years. To start, the US consumes 33 per cent global hydrocarbons, one in four barrels of oil, 40 per cent of the world’s petrol, and has 25 per cent deficit in its energy consumption. Yet some 90 per cent of world current reserves of oil and gas are in the hands of Islamic OPEC, Russia or the Islamic regions of the previous Soviet Union. Strategically Venezuela is vital for the US. With new technology it can be regarded as having reserves of 800 billion barrels, greater than all the other reserves of OPEC. The US wants complete freedom to gain access to the resources of Venezuela. They must be
Alvaro Michaels

FRFI 180 August / September 2004


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