[News] Venezuela After the Referendum

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Tue Dec 4 12:11:49 EST 2007


December 3, 2007

Lessons for the Bolivarians

Venezuela After the Referendum


Hugo Chavez' narrow defeat in the referendum was the result of 
large-scale abstentions by his supporters. 44 percent of the 
electorate stayed at home. Why? First, because they did not either 
understand or accept that this was a necessary referendum. The 
measures related to the working week and some other proposed social 
reforms could be easily legislated by the existing parliament. The 
key issues were the removal of restrictions on the election of the 
head of government (as is the case in most of Europe) and moves 
towards 'a socialist state.' On the latter there was simply not 
enough debate and discussion on a grassroots level.

As Edgardo Lander, a friendly critic pointed out:

"Before voting in favour of a constitutional reform which will define 
the State, the economy, and the democracy as socialist, we citizens 
have the right to take participate in these definitions. What is 
understood by the term socialist state? What is understood by the 
term socialist economy? What is understood by the term socialist 
democracy? In what way are these different to the states, economies, 
and democracies that accompanied socialism of the 20th century? Here, 
we are not talking about entering into a debate on semantics, rather 
on basic decisions about the future of the country."

And this was further amplified by Greg Wilpert, a sympathetic 
journalist whose website, 
<http://www.venezuelaanalysis.com/>venezuelaanalysis.com, is the best 
source of information on the country:

"By rushing the reform process Chavez presented the opposition with a 
nearly unprecedented opportunity to deal him a serious blow. Also, 
the rush in which the process was pushed forward opened him to 
criticism that the process was fundamentally flawed, which has become 
one of the main criticisms of the more moderate critics of the reform."

Another error was the insistence on voting for all the proposals en 
bloc on a take it or leave it basis. It's perfectly possibly that a 
number of the proposals might have got through if a vote on each had 
been allowed. This would have compelled the Bolivarians to campaign 
more effectively at grassroots level through organised discussions 
and debates (as the French Left did to win the argument and defeat 
the EU Constitution ). It is always a mistake to underestimate the 
electorate and Chavez knows this better than most.

What is to be done now? The President is in office till 2013 and 
whatever else Chavez may be the description of 'lame-duck' will never 
fit him. He is a fighter and he will be thinking of how to strengthen 
the process. If properly handled the defeat could be a blessing in 
disguise. It has, after all, punctured the arguments of the Western 
pundits who were claiming for the last eight years that democracy in 
Venezuela was dead and authoritarianism had won.

Anyone who saw Chavez' speech accepting defeat last night (as I did 
here in Guadalajara with Mexican friends) will not be in any doubt 
regarding his commitment to a democratically embedded social process. 
That much is clear. One of the weaknesses of the movement in 
Venezuela has been the over-dependence on one person. It is dangerous 
for the person (one bullet can be enough) and it is unhealthy for the 
Bolivarian process. There will be a great deal of soul-searching 
taking place in Caracas, but the key now is an open debate analysing 
the causes of the setback and a move towards a collective leadership 
to decide on the next candidate. It's a long time ahead but the 
discussions should start now. Deepening popular participation and 
encouraging social inclusion (as envisaged in the defeated 
constitutional changes) should be done anyway.

The referendum defeat will undoubtedly boost the Venezuelan 
opposition and the Right in Latin America, but they would be foolish 
to imagine that this victory will automatically win them the 
Presidency. If the lessons of the defeat are understood it is the 
Bolivarians who will win.

Tariq Ali's new book, 
of the Caribbean: Axis of Hope, is published by Verso. He can be 
reached at: <mailto:tariq.ali3 at btinternet.com>tariq.ali3 at btinternet.com

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