Venezuelan opposition win National Assembly elections: Now is the time to defend the gains of the revolution

UPDATED: 7 December 2015

As feared, Sunday 6 December saw the Venezuelan opposition sweep to victory in the National Assembly elections. Venezuela’s National Electoral Council (CNE) has now published the preliminary but irreversible election results, detailing that the MUD opposition coalition has won 99 seats compared to the PSUV’s 46 seats, securing the opposition a simple majority.

This landslide victory will allow the opposition to grant an amnesty to Leopoldo Lopez, leader of the Popular Will party imprisoned for his role in the violent street barricades last year,  block public spending on social programmes beyond the budget approved for 2016, block or push through international treaties and essentially block the PSUV government’s every move. 

With 22 seats still to be announced including the three representatives for Venezuela’s indigenous population, the key issue is now the scale of the majority. If the opposition win a two thirds majority they could seek a referendum to remove PSUV President Maduro, call an assembly to rewrite the constitution, block enabling laws for Maduro to take action similar to the successful border crime crack downs, appoint or remove Supreme Court judges and impeach the Vice Minister and other government ministers. 

Regardless of the majority, the elections represent a devastating blow for Venezuela’s Bolivarian revolution. The National Assembly elections saw a high turn-out of 74.25%, meaning that many who previously voted Chavista, switched to vote for the opposition. The death of Hugo Chavez in 2013, the prolonged economic war and the international campaign against Venezuela, coupled with the PSUV government’s reluctance to confront the private sector’s strangulation of the economy head on, have taken their toll.

Despite these huge challenges, over the last 17 years the Bolivarian government has  seized control of oil production, using it to slash poverty and infant mortality; provide free health care and education for all; build hundreds of thousands of units of social housing; cut unemployment by half and empower whole communities through popular participatory democracy networks. These unprecedented gains are now under real threat.

The advancement of the interests of the working class and oppressed through the electoral route has been blocked. The future will now be determined by the popular forces outside the traditional state, the comunas, the social movements, rallying together to defend their achievements. There is no doubt that an emboldened right-wing will now work to roll back these gains, after the election many gathered in the wealthy districts of Caracas, burning Chavista red shirts and sipping champagne. The resistance of Venezuela’s working class, who have faced down coups, oil lock outs, burning street barricades and destabilisation campaigns, will once again be put to the test.

More analysis will follow.

Sam McGill

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National Assembly elections threaten gains of the Bolivarian Revolution (29/11/15)

'The National Assembly is vital to guaranteeing the power of the people...our parliament is a new tool, it is important for guaranteeing the missions: health, housing ... if the right-wing wins, it will want to prevent the people from having access to all the revolution's achievements, and to block their participation, to make the revolution fail....That's what's at stake in these elections'  Blanca Eekhout, second vice president of National Assembly and United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) legislator.

On 6 December, 19.5 million Venezuelans will again go to the ballot box, to battle it out for 167 seats in the National Assembly. The outcome will either mandate the PSUV and its allies to continue to carry forward and deepen the Bolivarian Revolution - or hand power to a vicious, counter-revolutionary and imperialist-backed ruling class. Sam McGill reports.

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Venezuela acts to secure its borders

Demonstration in support of the government campaing against smuggling

We will launch a sweeping plan with the support of the people. Enough of the criminal economy and economic sabotage ... I will intensify the Operation for the Liberation and Protection of the People so that it reaches every last corner of the last municipality of the country.’ President Nicolas Maduro, 8 August 2015.

It is estimated that 40% of Venezuela’s subsidised goods have been smuggled out of the country to Colombia, at a loss to Venezuela of $2bn each year, as well as 100,000 barrels of oil a day – an annual loss of $3.65bn. Currency manipulation, speculation, hoarding and fraud have long been central to the economic war within Venezuela against the Bolivarian Revolution. The economic sabotage being carried out across the country’s western border has opened up a new external front, prompting Venezuela’s robust response, as SAM McGILL reports.

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Venezuela-Guyana border dispute: Britain’s colonial legacy

US oil giant ExxonMobil is at the centre of a renewed border dispute between Venezuela and neighbouring Guyana. Earlier this year the Guyanese government unilaterally accepted a $200m deal from ExxonMobil to begin offshore oil exploration in the disputed Essequibo zone, which has been under official mediation by the United Nations since 1966. In May 2015 the company reported a ‘significant oil discovery’, fanning the flames of regional tensions. Sam McGill reports.

The blood-stained hand of British colonialism is at the root of this historic border conflict. In 1811 Venezuela became one of the first Spanish American colonies to declare independence and its recognised territory included the region west of the Essequibo river. However, the first republic was destroyed, and sovereignty was only attained after Simon Bolivar’s liberation armies won the Battle of Carabobo in 1821. Venezuela’s borders immediately came under threat from Britain, which controlled what was then British Guiana. Explorer Robert Schomburgk was commissioned by the British government to conduct a survey of British Guiana’s geographical boundaries. He identified the Essequibo and the Orinoco river basins as geopolitical strongholds from which to advance deeper into the continent, drawing the infamous Schomburgk line which attempted to claim the Orinoco river mouth for the British empire. Britain’s interests were further stoked by significant discoveries of gold in the region. In true colonial fashion, a map was drawn up in London and a border declared with scant regard for the region’s inhabitants.

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Venezuela - The threat of a good example

Venezuela's armed forces and civilian militias mobilised in solidarity with the government

On 9 March, President Obama invoked the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA), declaring Venezuela an ‘unusual and extraordinary threat’ to US national security whilst sanctioning seven Venezuelan officials. The act enables Obama to block transactions and freeze the assets of any Venezuelan government entity or official and take steps towards confiscating Venezuelan state property such as the CITGO oil company, which provides subsidised heating oil to poor US citizens.

This executive order will now operate alongside the United States’ covert subversion, military intervention and media vilification, a pattern illustrated in the string of other countries currently subject to IEEPA including Cuba (since 1977), Iran (since 1979), Syria (since 2004) and Russia (since 2014). It is an overt act of aggression against Venezuela. Sam McGill reports.

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Venezuela: Fighting sanctions and sabotage

In the face of plummeting oil prices, US sanctions, recession and inflation, in January President Nicolas Maduro promised that Venezuela would invest in production and slash government salaries, including his own. He went on: ‘We will never cut one bolivar of what we spend on education, food, housing – on our people.’ Sam McGill reports.

War of attrition

In the same week that US President Obama announced the re-establishment of diplomatic ties with socialist Cuba, he signed a law freezing the assets of Venezuelan officials for alleged human rights abuses during the opposition’s orchestrated ‘Exit Strategy’ violence in spring 2014. What the new law ignores, of course, is that the majority of the 43 deaths during the clashes were caused by street barricades erected by opposition gangs; four are attributed to state security forces. These sanctions were imposed scarcely a week after the US Senate intelligence committee reported on the brutal torture methods used by the CIA. At least Venezuela’s attorney general has launched a criminal investigation into the deaths that occurred at the hands of the state security forces. Obama on the other hand has categorically refused to prosecute any US official implicated in using or ordering torture.

The Community of Latin American and Caribbean states (CELAC), the G77 and China have all denounced the US sanctions against Venezuela. Nicaragua announced its own travel ban against the two US senators, Marco Rubio and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, who were the key sponsors of the sanctions. The Bolivarian Alliance for Latin America (ALBA) declared that any aggression against Venezuela, whether legal, economic or political, would be seen as ‘an aggression to each and every member country.’

A key strand of US policy is to provide at least $15m increased funding for reactionary opposition groups – on top of the $100m plus US agencies have channelled to the opposition since 2002. Such groups will also have the services of the US’s international propaganda broadcaster, Voice of America, at their disposal.

The sanctions have already bolstered the opposition in Venezuela. January saw attempts to rekindle street violence with a fire-bomb attack on the state telecommunications company CANTV, and a demonstration by opposition group MUD in Caracas on 24 January. However, the ‘general strike’ called by the opposition for 5 January was widely ignored. A million dollars, thought to be funding from Colombian paramilitaries, was seized by state security forces who also say they foiled a plot to generate disorder and looting at supermarkets.

Hoarding, scarcity and speculation continue. Private sector imports fell 12.3% in 2014. Whilst public sector imports grew, overall net imports dropped by 1.4%. December’s holidays mean depleted shelves in shops in January are a regular occurrence. This year, however, opposition broadcasters chose to focus on the long queues and empty shelves for propaganda purposes, with MUD leader Henrique Capriles describing the shortages as ‘a perfect storm for changing the government’. Soon after, security forces discovered 135 tons of detergent, 5,000 packs of nappies, 50 tons of milk, 38 tons of rice, and 158,000 cans of tuna in the warehouses of private company Herrera CA. Herrera’s investors have links to the right-wing ‘Popular Will’ party. 400 tonnes of coffee and 33 tonnes of hygiene products were uncovered a week later. All the goods were confiscated and redistributed through the state’s subsidised food outlets, Mercal and PDVAL.

Chavistas have rallied to defend the Bolivarian Revolution. Thousands thronged the streets of Caracas on 15 December to defend Venezuela’s constitution and denounce US intervention. On 23 January, commemorating the 1958 uprising against dictator Perez Jimenez, thousands joined the ‘March of the Undefeated’, promising to fight the economic war.

Nevertheless, the Bolivarian Revolution is faced with some crucial economic questions. Venezuela entered recession in the second quarter of 2014 and annual inflation reached 63.6%, illegal currency exchange continues to spiral, with the dollar selling for up to 170 bolivars, nearly 30 times the preferential rate in Venezuela’s multi-tiered currency exchange system. Venezuela has also been hard hit by falling oil prices, which have fallen by well over 50% over the last six months. Oil accounts for over 90% of export earnings. Though the annual budget typically accounts for oil prices well below the stable rate, guaranteeing public spending despite price fluctuation, the 2015 spending plan announced in October budgeted for oil at a cautious rate of $60 per barrel. Since then, the price of crude oil has plummeted to $43 per barrel, hitting unanticipated lows.

There is a current oil surplus of around one billion barrels per day, attributed to the doubling of US fracking output and Saudi Arabia’s refusal to cut oil production to hold prices in check. Saudi Arabia, OPEC’s primary exporter, holds nearly $1 trillion in reserves, and has opted to weather the lower prices in order to maintain market share. With the squeeze on oil prices weakening Venezuela, Iran and Russia, the US and Saudi Arabia are unlikely to change tack any time soon.

Venezuela’s finance and economic development commission identified two components to the country’s economic crisis: ‘1) the economic war with inflation and a 3–4% drop in productive output and 2) an economic model that is incapable of promoting the development of the nation ... we have to commit to economic recovery in a situation of crisis, political conflict and electoral process. We do not have any alternative.’

Despite the bleak outlook, Venezuela maintains a positive balance of payments. The Central Bank (BCV) reports a trade surplus of $6.8 billion for the first three quarters of 2014 whilst international reserves total $20.8 billion. Venezuela is not about to default.

Fighting the economic war

In order to strengthen links and secure foreign investment, in January Maduro launched an international tour to ‘fight for fair oil prices’. During a high level forum between China and CELAC in Beijing, China pledged $250 billion in new investment in Latin America in the next decade, providing an immediate $20 billion for development and industrial projects in Venezuela. In return, Venezuela plans to double oil exports to China to 1m barrels per day by 2016. Maduro then went on to visit Iran, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Algeria.

Nationally, the government has announced a recovery programme to stem recession and stimulate national production. On 21 January, Maduro announced increased social spending, particularly for education and housing, restating the plan to build three million homes by 2019. To tackle currency speculation, the official exchange rate will remain fixed at 6.3 bolivars to the dollar for health care and food, but non-state transactions will be subject to a floating market rate. To alleviate the impact of inflation, workers’ salaries and pensions will be increased by 15% from the beginning of February. An increase in petrol prices will be considered. There will be increased foreign investment in production with proposed ‘special economic zones’ and a focus on agriculture. National food production has tripled in the last 15 years but improvements in nutrition and purchasing power mean consumption still outstrips production. A new body headed by Maduro will implement the recovery plan.

These plans may provide breathing space, but to win the economic war, a state monopoly of foreign trade is essential to end the private capitalist control of imports and distribution. Venezuela will continue to be hamstrung by reliance on oil exports unless it can diversify production on a national scale. Winning the economic war is dependent on the Bolivarian Revolution’s ability to mobilise the working class in industry and agriculture. As Hugo Chavez put it in his Programa Patria in 2012, building socialism in the 21st century requires ‘transcending the oil-rentier capitalist model for a productive economic socialist model...a productive, redistributive, post-rentier, post-capitalist economy based on broad public, social and collective support of ownership of the means of production’.

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 243 February/March 2015

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