Venezuela: Class struggle sharpens in wake of presidential elections/ FRFI 233 Jun/Jul 2013

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 233 June/July 2013

The snap April presidential elections following the death of Hugo Chavez have provided the pretext for a sharpening of the class struggle and political polarisation in the battle over Venezuela’s Bolivarian revolution. Winning by a narrow margin of 1.5%, Nicolas Maduro represents a commitment to socialism and the deepening of the Bolivarian Revolution. His opponent Henrique Capriles, who facilitated a brutal attack on the Cuban embassy in the bloodstained 2002 coup, represents a continuation of the interests of finance capital that have orchestrated violence and unrest over the last decade. The accusations of election fraud are part of pre-meditated plan to destabilise the country. Sam McGill reports.

Maduro, the candidate of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) won the 14 April election by 50.61%, a margin of 224,742 votes, over Capriles, the candidate of the opposition’s ‘Table of Democratic Unity’ (MUD) coalition, who garnered 49.12% of the vote. Immediately after the election results were announced, Capriles began a campaign of non-recognition, launching a full-scale attack on the legitimacy of the Venezuelan election process.

Gangs of opposition thugs sprang into action, taking to the streets for two days of violence which left 13 revolutionaries dead. In a vicious attack on democratic freedom, snarling mobs surrounded buildings of the National Electoral Council (CNE), whose president, Tibisay Lucena, had her house attacked whilst Eva Golinger, editor of the chavista Correo del Orinoco newspaper, was assaulted while out with her year-old baby. Taking a turn towards fascism, opposition supporters armed with pistols and smoke bombs burned down PSUV buildings, trashed subsidised food stores and public schools, smashed up no fewer than 20 Cuban-run free health clinics and attacked housing projects and the public transport system. This outpouring of ruling class hatred clearly targeted the concrete examples of the Bolivarian Revolution’s commitment to lifting Venezuela’s working class and oppressed out of poverty.

In response, crowds of Chavistas thronged the streets, fighting pitched battles to drive out the opposition and defend the gains of the revolution tooth and nail. Soldiers, voluntary Bolivarian militias and the National Bolivarian Police force mobilised to put down the counter-revolutionary violence. Once again the popular mobilisation of the poorest sections of society, supported by pro-revolutionary state forces, thwarted a renewed coup attempt in Venezuela.

The state has begun arresting those responsible for unleashing such murderous violence. In addition, National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello moved to withhold speaking rights for opposition politicians who refused to recognise Maduro as president.

In response, on 30 April, opposition representatives staged a pre-planned stunt to disrupt the National Assembly session with air-horns, banners, whistles and shouting, sparking a brawl as PSUV legislators hit back. The international media of course jumped at the opportunity to portray the opposition as victims of violence. It is essential to recognise that the opposition was intent on alleging fraud all along, regardless of the results. Four days before the election, Cabello released evidence including an email sent from Amando Briquet, of Capriles’ campaign team, to Guillermo Salas, member of the organisation Esdata which reports on Venezuela’s electoral process, stating ‘We need everything set out in Washington for checking over by the [Capriles campaign]. It’s necessary that all documentation is presented internationally if we decide to take the road of not recognising the results.’

Shifting the goal posts

Venezuela is renowned for having one of the most robust electoral systems in the world.1 Voters present their fingerprint on automated machines in order to prevent identity theft or double voting. In addition, voters tally their decision with a printed receipt which they deposit in a ballot box. The automated results are then validated through a manual count of 54% of all ballot boxes. In the 2013 presidential elections a total of 18 audits were carried out during the entire process with members of all political campaign teams signing off each step. The election was verified by 170 international observers from around the world, including the Electoral Mission of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR).

After the election the CNE agreed to additionally audit, with witnesses from all parties, the remaining 46% boxes of voting machine receipts, constituting a 100% audit of all votes. Whilst Capriles initially stated his campaign ‘accepts what the CNE … has announced to the country. We will be there in the audit’, days later he shifted the goal-posts, boycotting the audit and calling instead for a full recount and audit of fingerprints in the electoral voting record books. The Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR) notes in its statistical analysis2 that the probability of the 100% audit finding enough discrepancies to change the results of the election is less than one in 25,000 trillion.

Capriles himself only won the governorship of Miranda in December last year by 40,000 votes; both sides accepted the results and the transparency of the CNE. Chavez lost the constitutional reform referendum in 2007 by a narrower margin, 1.4%, and accepted the result. With a turnout of just under 79%, the results mean 40% of the Venezuelan electorate voted for Maduro, more than British Prime Minister Cameron in 2010 (23%) and US President Obama in 2008 (30%) The opposition’s sudden obsession with ‘democracy’ and the ensuing legal battle over the election is nothing more than a smokescreen, justifying political violence and destabilisation.

US ratchets up intervention

The Organisation of American States, UNASUR and even the imperialist governments of Spain and Britain have publicly recognised the election results. The US remains the only nation in the Americas that is yet to recognise Maduro’s victory. Speaking during his visit to Mexico on 3 May, Obama stated ‘I think that the entire hemisphere has been watching the violence, the protests, the crackdowns on the opposition’, claiming that the US ‘has not tried to interfere in any way with what happens’ in Venezuela. The US Foreign Affair’s 2014 budget report, Securing US Interests Abroad, shows otherwise. The budget presented by Secretary of State John Kerry earmarks $5 million for ‘political efforts to protect democratic space’ in Venezuela, representing a $2 million increase from 2013. Further evidence of direct US intervention was exposed in a cable from 2006 recently published by Wikileaks3 detailing that between 2004 and 2006 the Office of Transition Initiatives channelled ‘upwards of $15 million’ to ‘over 300 Venezuelan civil society organisations’ as part of a five-point programme with the aim of ‘penetrating Chavez’s political base ... dividing chavismo...protecting vital US business and ... isolating Chavez internationally.’ It is in this context that the Maduro government on 25 April arrested US citizen Timothy Hallet Tracy on suspicion of channelling money to right-wing youth groups in ‘Operation Sovereignty’.

Remaining strong in the face of this aggression, Maduro warned Obama ‘We don’t care about your recognition. We have decided to be free and we are going to continue being free and independent with you or with out you. We don’t care about your opinion.’ In its explicit aim of building socialism in the 21st century and regional support for anti-imperialist struggles, the Bolivarian Revolution represents a direct threat to US interests in its own backyard.

Economic war of attrition

Alongside these dramatic political battles there has been a steady insidious campaign of economic sabotage. The Polar corporation, a food monopoly owned by Lorenzo Mendoza, the 329th richest person in the world, has been at the centre of a hoarding scandal resulting in rocketing prices and scarcities for essential items such as cooking oil, flour, meat and toiletries. Polar claims to produce 48% of Venezuela’s basic food basket, giving it the power to play politics with the stomachs of Venezuelans in an attempt to undermine confidence in Maduro’s leadership. As an immediate measure, the government are importing an additional 760,000 tons of basic items from Brazil and Argentina, however the situation highlights the necessity of attacking the private ownership of food production and land.

A revolution of the revolution

The election was much closer than predicted and has prompted a process of self-criticism, with Maduro calling for a ‘revolution of the revolution’, recognising the need to tackle the crime, inefficiency and corruption characteristic of an oil-exporting economy. These social problems cannot simply be blamed on the opposition and there are many manifestations of corruption and inefficiency within the PSUV and other sections of the state. Developing a popular response is essential, as illustrated in the relaunch of the ‘war on latifundio’ (large land estate owners). Since 10 May, hundreds of landless peasants from the communal council ‘Free Men and Women of the Compuerta’ have occupied the estate belonging to one of the wealthiest families in Lara state. The collective has taken the struggle into its own hands after several requests to expropriate this idle land had received no answer. A statement from the movement4 implicates the local, nominally chavista, mayor Luis Plaza who owns land adjacent to the estate, for ‘trying to use his position of power to take over this land and expand his agro-industry from the surrounding lands.’ Instead the collective emphasises: ‘We are convinced that we must do as Chavez said – “review, rectify and relaunch the revolution”, and the war on latifundio, and we must do it here and now, honestly and concretely.’

The current situation in Venezuela illustrates the limitations of a revolutionary movement dependent on elections, which can only partially reflect the day-to-day struggle. It is clear that popular consultation and participation are essential for driving forward the socialist project. This process has begun with Maduro convoking ‘street government’ sessions across the country where grassroots organisations propose and participate in plans for development such as 75 projects recently announced following government street sessions in Tachira state in May.

The opposition can only be defeated with a victory for revolutionary forces within the Bolivarian process. As Reinaldo Iturriza, the newly appointed Minister of Communes argues: ‘The Bolivarian Revolution cannot be understood without a critique of the idea of political representation ... we need to really get inside the people and listen to what the people are thinking, what they are feeling, what is bothering them, why they vote or why they don’t ... The key in Venezuela is the popular will [lo popular]: how it is expressed, how it is translated. Instead of trying to represent the social base of the revolution, I believe that what needs to be done is to give the people the free rein to express themselves. How? Well, that’s the political challenge we have ahead of us.’

1 An overview of the electoral process can be found at: embavenez.co.uk/pdf/cne/cne3.pdf

2 CEPR statistical analysis www.cepr.net/index.php/publications/reports/a-statistical-note-on-the-april-14-venezuelan-presidential-election-and-audit-of-results

3 www.cablegatesearch.net/cable.php?id= 06CARACAS3356&version=1314919461

4 venezuelanalysis.com/news/9233 ‘Venezuelan peasants relaunch the ‘war on latifundio’ in Lara state’

Protest to defend the Venezuelan embassy

Right-wing Capriles supporters who planned a demonstration outside the Venezuelan embassy in South Kensington, London, to oppose the democratically-elected government of Venezuela were thwarted today, Saturday 20 April, by solidarity protesters. Numerous Latin-American and socialist groups agreed the previous night to defend the embassy from reactionaries who refuse to accept the election of Nicolas Maduro as President on Sunday 14 April. Even the British government has now recognised Maduro’s victory.
bwd  Set 1/6  fwd
The call for an emergency demonstration was made during a meeting called by Hands off Venezuela on Friday afternoon. Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! (FRFI) activists were among those who responded to news of a second protest planned by the Venezuelan right-wing since the election by calling for a solidarity protest to defend the embassy. On Tuesday 16 April, around 300 supporters of the neo-liberal Capriles surrounded the Venezuelan consulate near Warren Street harassing diplomatic staff and blocking their exit. An embassy statement said: ‘The Diplomatic Police had to intervene to prevent the crowd from attacking a local employee of the Embassy, who they insulted…’ FRFI and other activists were determined to prevent a repeat of this attack on Venezuela’s sovereignty. 
 
Unfortunately the call for solidarity was not supported by various groups who were not prepared to confront the Venezuelan opposition - those who would destroy the Bolivarian Revolution and reverse the gains made by the Venezuelan working class since 1999. This reticence meant that some 80 supporters of the Bolivarian Revolution were significantly outnumbered by aggressive opposition forces which peaked at 400. However, by arriving two hours earlier, the solidarity protesters were able to claim the space in front of the embassy and protect it from the opposition. This infuriated the opposition. With banners from Cuba and other Latin American countries stuck on the wall as a backdrop, the solidarity protest exposed and opposed the right-wing reactionaries, who arrived in force at 2pm and gave up at 5pm. The walls of the embassy vibrated with our chants in defence of the Bolivarian Revolution, Chavez, Maduro and socialism. FRFI activists made a vital contribution to today’s protest and the arrival of our sound-system tipped the balance in favour of those supporting democracy and revolution in Latin America.
 
We have no illusions that the Venezuelan bourgeoisie will stop their machinations to undermine the Bolivarian Revolution. When they return to the streets of London, however, we will be ready to defend the struggle for socialism in Venezuela and throughout the world.

Why the majority of Venezuelans will vote Maduro for President /FRFI 232 Apr/May 2013

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 232 April/May 2013

Nicolas Maduro is set to win Venezuela’s presidential election on 14 April, not because of his manipulation of Chavez’s death, as the opposition is shamefully claiming, but because of his record as a committed socialist.

Maduro’s political career started as a union leader while he was a Caracas bus driver. He even drove himself in a bus to and from registering his candidacy for the presidency on 11 March, mocking the opposition who have attacked him for not having a university degree.

When Hugo Chavez was imprisoned after the failed 1992 coup, Maduro was part of the successful campaign for his release and in 1997 Maduro and Chavez were founding members of the Movement of the Fifth Republic (MVR), forerunner of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV).

Chavez won the presidential elections in 1998 on an MVR ticket. Meanwhile Maduro was elected to the Venezuelan chamber of Deputies in 1998 and, in 1999, to the National Constituent assembly that drafted Venezuela’s new constitution. He was subsequently elected to the new National Assembly in 2000, becoming its official Speaker.

From 2006 to 2012, as Minister of Foreign Affairs, Maduro strengthened Venezuela’s international links. During this time Venezuela supported Libya, Syria and Iran against imperialist aggression and deepened Venezuela’s crucial role in Latin American and Caribbean cooperation agreements ALBA, Unasur, Celac, and Mercosur. In 2012 he was elected Vice President.

Chavez described Maduro as ‘a complete revolutionary, a man of great experience despite his youth, with great dedication and capacity for work, for leading, for handling the most difficult situations’, urging Venezuelans to vote for Maduro as the next President after his death.

At his official registration as presidential candidate on 11 March, Maduro presented Programa Patria, the programme for socialist development on which Chavez was elected in October 2012.

Sam Vincent

 

Chavez’s legacy: the fight for socialism /FRFI 232 Apr/May 2013

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 232 April/May 2013

The death of President Hugo Chavez on 5 March has prompted fresh presidential elections in Venezuela on 14 April. Former Vice-President Nicolas Maduro, whose candidacy was proposed by Chavez, is widely expected to win. On 19 March, results published by private poll Datanalysis gave Maduro a lead of 14% over Henrique Capriles, the candidate of the opposition’s Roundtable of Democratic Unity (MUD) coalition. Capriles himself has recognised his minimal chance of a victory, comparing his candidacy to being ‘led to a slaughterhouse and dropped into a meat grinder’. Despite winning 44% of the votes in October 2012’s presidential election (the opposition’s best electoral result to date) the coalition lost all but three of Venezuela’s 23 states in December’s governor elections and has become increasingly divided. Sam McGill reports.

While Capriles poses as a ‘centrist’, stating ‘I’m 100 per cent Lula’ – a reference to Brazil’s ‘modern left’ model under former President Lula da Silva – in reality he is a co-founder of the neoliberal Primero Justicia party which played a key role in the 2002 coup and receives training and funding from the US National Endowment for Democracy.[1]

Maduro has the firm backing of his party, the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), the Communist Party and the other parties and social movements that make up the political committee of the Great Patriotic Pole (GPP). Despite speculation that Maduro could ‘ease’ relations with private business and the US government, he stands on the same Programa Patria for ‘Bolivarian Socialist management’ 2013-2019 that swept Chavez to victory last year.[2] Indeed, at Chavez’s commemoration service on 8 March, Maduro raised both this programme and the 1999 constitution, ratified by popular referendum in the first years of Chavez’s presidency. He urged:

‘We must follow the path that was designed by our commander ... together with the people, the armed forces, with your constitution, with your great political will and testimony, with your example, with your love, to continue to protect the poor, continue to give them the food they need, continue to give education to our children … construct peace in our continent! Comandante, the battle continues!’

The change of course

A victory in the presidential election is essential for the continuation of the struggle for socialism in Venezuela. It is, however, only the first step and the future of the Bolivarian Revolution depends on the implementation of Programa Patria and the destruction of the old bourgeois state.

The immediate priorities for the Bolivarian revolution are therefore deepening participatory democracy and transforming the economic relations of property and production. As part of this task, Chavez declared a Golpe de Timon or radical change of course in a speech to the first meeting of the new Council of Ministers just after the October presidential election. This speech has prompted a welcome debate in Bolivarian circles, social movements and in the GPP across Venezuela on the need for self-criticism, efficiency, acceleration of the construction of the communes and an improved national system of public media. There have undoubtedly been huge advances in the construction of popular power, with over 30,000 communal councils in existence.[3] However, in order to accomplish Programa Patria’s aim of representing at least 68% of the population through comunas, this project must be accelerated. Chavez asked:

‘Where are the communes? Not the commune, but the communes? Where are we going to create new communes? ... Here around Miraflores [the presidential palace in Caracas] there should exist a commune. We all have to see to it, it is a part of the soul of this project. Self-criticism is to correct, to rectify, not to continue doing it in a vacuum.’

Such rectification can only come through deepening participatory democracy, Chavez maintains that it can’t be imposed centrally: ‘Popular power is not from Miraflores, nor is it from the headquarters of this or that ministry that we will solve the problems. We don’t believe that just because we inaugurate the Cerro Azul cement plant or the factory in Guanare ... or a factory for here or there, that we are already ready; no ... Beware, if we do not heed this, we are liquidated, and not only are we liquidated, we will be the sell-outs, the liquidators of this project. We have an enormous responsibility before history and to those who support us.’

This is a call echoed by social movements and communities across the country. On 14 March social collectives including the Alexis Vive Foundation, Coordinadora Simon Bolívar and the El Panel Comuna expressed their support for Maduro’s candidacy on the basis of his commitment to ‘building a communal state, as outlined in Programa Patria for the deepening of popular power and decision-making of the people’. It is these social movements and their push for participatory democracy that are the bedrock of a socialist future in Venezuela.

In his October speech, Chavez warned that: ‘Sometimes we fall into the illusion that by calling everything ‘socialist’ – socialist stadium, socialist avenue etc, what is a socialist avenue? – this actually makes it socialist ... The factories built with capitalist goals bear the indelible marks of their operating system’. He quoted the Venezuelan political economist Giordani in identifying that key to socialist transformation are:

‘1. The modification of the productive base of the country, seeking greater democratisation of economic power;

2. A change in the role of the state, to obtain an accumulative process that is directed towards the satisfaction of the basic needs of the majority of the population and the defence of sovereignty;

3. The incorporation of mechanisms of productive self-management at a collective level; and

4. The use of democratic planning as a regulatory mechanism of productive relations.’

Contradictions sharpen

Some of this self-criticism has begun to be addressed. A new media system was launched in March to promote community media and critical reflection. Communications minister Ernesto Villegas called for ‘a communication revolution…that will permit the people to speak and be heard. That is the best guarantee of a good, strong democracy’. The social missions continue with the Gran Mision Vivienda Venezuela housing mission completing 466 new homes in Vargas and Miranda states in March, another step towards fulfilling the aim of building three million new homes by 2019 and realising Chavez’s demand for decent housing for all, ‘whatever the cost’.

However, inevitably, attempts to undermine the Bolivarian Revolution have sharpened. Two days before Chavez’s death, indigenous Yukpa leader Sabino Romero was assassinated. Romero was a prominent land rights activist in the struggle against cattle ranchers and mining corporations in the coal-rich grazing lands of Sierra de Perija. Although 395,000 hectares of land were demarcated as indigenous territory by the Venezuelan government in 2011, the land remains in the private hands of cattle ranchers who have turned to violence to maintain their control. Impunity for the cattle ranchers, despite the assassination of 38 Yukpa activists, has led social movements publicly to criticise state institutions for inaction and complicity. In December 2011, Chavez had demanded the land be expropriated and handed over, approving 250 million bolivars (US$58m) in compensation for the cattle ranchers. Over a year later, this has not been carried out. The struggle for the implementation of radical land redistribution for Venezuela’s indigenous and landless peasants places the government in conflict with large private landowners. Its resolution will require the construction of a new judicial system able to uphold the rights enshrined in the constitution, and a state committed to defending these grassroots struggles against private property with force where necessary.

Conflicts between workers and employers are also intensifying. On 13 December trade unionists from the National Union of Workers (UNT) marched through Caracas demanding the resolution of over 150 separate labour conflicts. This came ten days after the dispersal of a protest by workers on strike at the privately- owned biscuit factory, Galletera Carabobo. Despite a new law to protect workers passed in May 2012, struggles for the implementation of the law continue. The actions of some local state bodies are at odds with the legislation and, in the case of Galletera, the state labour tribunal overruled the workers’ right to strike, resulting in the National Guard arresting union leaders and forcibly dispersing the picket. A three-year dispute over collective bargaining and pay at the Ceramicas Caribe factory in Yaracuy has not been resolved, despite calls from Chavez in 2011 to expropriate the factory unless the private company accepted the demands of the workers. It is clear that within the Ministry of Labour and the National Assembly itself, as well as at state level, there are opportunist elements dragging their heels over the implementation of workers’ rights. Cronyism and corruption within government structures also needs to be tackled. This is why Chavez’s call for a commune to be built around every economic unit is so essential. In a country where 70% of production remains in private hands, a strong workers’ movement, defended by the state, is essential to challenge private companies. Within recently nationalised companies it will require a fight against the surrounding sea of national capitalism, alongside an internal battle to implement democratic control over the means of production.

In understanding these contradictions, it is essential to locate the struggle for socialism in the context of a country dominated by oil exportation for over a century. The plague of corruption as people attempt to get their slice of the oil profit seriously impedes the drive to build a socialist consciousness – in some sectors a culture of graft and backhanders has become endemic. This is part of the corrosion of imperialism and undermines the implementation of progressive laws. In his election programme, Chavez identified that:

‘The socio-economic formation that is still prevalent in Venezuela is of a rentier capitalist character. Certainly, socialism has barely begun to implement its own internal dynamism amongst us. This is a programme precisely to establish it and deepen it, directed towards a radical removal of the logic of capital that must be completed step by step, but without slowing the pace of progress towards socialism. To move towards socialism, we need a popular power capable of dismantling the framework of oppression, exploitation and domination that exist in Venezuelan society ... this involves completely destroying the form of the bourgeois state which we inherited, which is still reproduced in old and harmful practices, and giving continuity to the invention of new forms of political management.’

This will require a continuing struggle within the Bolivarian Revolution by those who are fighting for a socialist path against sections who pursue the path of national capitalism.

Imperialists waiting in the wings

Although in the short term the opposition accepts that Maduro is likely to sweep to power on 14 April, there is no doubt that behind the scenes they will be plotting to destabilise Venezuela. On the day Chavez died, the Venezuelan government expelled David Delmonaco, Air Attaché of the US embassy in Caracas, and his assistant Devlin Costal. These officials had been seeking to make contact with members of Venezuela’s armed forces to foment destabilisation projects in the military. It is worth remembering that pro-opposition sections of the Bolivarian Army were key to the US-backed coup of 2002. Maduro has formally raised concerns with US President Obama about CIA and Pentagon plans, led by US assistant secretaries of state for Western Hemispheric Affairs Roger Noriega and Otto Reich, to assassinate Capriles to create chaos and enshrine him as a right-wing martyr. Maduro denounced this as part of plans for a coup, with the involvement of sections of the Venezuelan opposition. Otto Reich was heavily involved in preparations for the April 2002 coup; while in post as the US permanent representative to the Organisation of American States, Noriega supported the US-backed coup in Haiti in 2004 and lobbied for the right-wing Lobo regime following the coup in Honduras in 2009. Whether these machinations are successful or not, it is clear that there is a real fear of dirty tricks and shadowy manoeuvres.

However, the millions of ordinary Venezuelans who filled the streets to pay tribute to Chavez and commit themselves to the continuation of the Bolivarian Revolution should serve as a warning to opposition forces and their imperialist backers. Both the voluntary Bolivarian militias and the Bolivarian Armed Forces have pledged allegiance to the revolution. This is a people organised and ready to defend itself.

The future rests in the hands of all those who brought Chavez to power – the organised workers, the communal councils, the grassroots activists in the PSUV and the Great Patriotic Pole. Nicolas Maduro will be judged by these forces and his ability to carve out political space for their development. As a new chapter begins for the Bolivarian Revolution, Maduro is determined to succeed, solemnly promising: ‘I swear to the people, I am going to accomplish this, I will not fail Chavez, I will not fail the people.’

1 See: www.cepr.net/publications/testimony/democracy-venezuela

2 See: ‘Venezuelan Presidential elections: the state and the Bolivarian Revolution’, FRFI 229 October/November 2012.

3 See: ‘Venezuela’s communal councils: socialism in construction’, FRFI 224 December 2011/January 2012.

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