[News] Venezuela: Between Ballots and Bullets

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Tue Nov 13 14:12:44 EST 2007

Venezuela: Between Ballots and Bullets


by James Petras / November 13th, 2007


Venezuela’s democratically elected Present Chavez 
faces the most serious threat since the April 11, 2002 military coup.

Violent street demonstrations by privileged 
middle and upper middle class university students 
have led to major street battles in and around 
the center of Caracas. More seriously, the former 
Minister of Defense, General Raul Isaias Baduel, 
who resigned in July, has made explicit calls for 
a military coup in a November 5th press 
conference which he convoked exclusively for the 
right and far-right mass media and political 
parties, while striking a posture as an ‘individual’ dissident.

The entire international and local private mass 
media has played up Baduel’s speeches, press 
conferences along with fabricated accounts of the 
oppositionist student rampages, presenting them 
as peaceful protests for democratic rights 
against the government referendum scheduled for December 2, 2007.

The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the 
BBC News and the Washington Post have all primed 
their readers for years with stories of President 
Chavez’ ‘authoritarianism’. Faced with 
constitutional reforms which strengthen the 
prospects for far-reaching political-social 
democratization, the US, European and Latin 
American media have cast pro-coup ex-military 
officials as ‘democratic dissidents’, former 
Chavez supporters disillusioned with his resort 
to ‘dictatorial’ powers in the run-up to and 
beyond the December 2, 2007 vote in the 
referendum on constitutional reform. Not a single 
major newspaper has mentioned the democratic core 
of the proposed reforms ­ the devolution of 
public spending and decision to local 
neighborhood and community councils. Once again 
as in Chile in 1973, the US mass media is 
complicit in an attempt to destroy a Latin American democracy.

Even sectors of the center-left press and parties 
in Latin America have reproduced right-wing 
propaganda. On November the self-styled ‘leftist’ 
Mexican daily La Jornada headline read 
‘Administrators and Students from the Central 
University of Venezuela (UCV) Accuse Chavez of 
Promoting Violence’. The article then proceeded 
to repeat the rightist fabrications about 
electoral polls, which supposedly showed the 
constitutional amendments facing defeat.

The United States Government, both the Republican 
White House and the Democrat-controlled Congress 
are once again overtly backing the new attempt to 
oust the popular-nationalist President Chavez and 
to defeat the highly progressive constitutional amendments.

The Referendum: Defining and Deepening the Social Transformation

The point of confrontation is the forthcoming 
referendum on constitutional reforms initiated by 
President Chavez, debated, amended and 
democratically voted on by the Venezuelan 
Congress over the past 6 months. There was 
widespread and open debate and criticism of 
specific sectors of the Constitution. The private 
mass media, overwhelmingly viscerally anti-Chavez 
and pro-White House, unanimously condemned any 
and all the constitutional amendments. A sector 
of the leadership of one of the components of the 
pro-Chavez coalition (PODEMOS) joined the 
Catholic Church hierarchy, the leading business 
and cattleman’s association, bankers and sectors 
of the university and student elite to attack the 
proposed constitutional reforms. Exploiting to 
the hilt all of Venezuela’s democratic freedoms 
(speech, assembly and press) the opposition has 
denigrated the referendum as ‘authoritarian’ even 
as most sectors of the opposition coalition 
attempted to arouse the military to intervene.

The opposition coalition of the rich and 
privileged fear the constitutional reforms 
because they will have to grant a greater share 
of their profits to the working class, lose their 
monopoly over market transactions to publicly 
owned firms, and see political power evolve 
toward local community councils and the executive 
branch. While the rightist and liberal media in 
Venezuela, Europe and the US have fabricated 
lurid charges about the ‘authoritarian’ reforms, 
in fact the amendments propose to deepen and extend social democracy.

A brief survey of the key constitutional 
amendments openly debated and approved by a 
majority of freely elected Venezuelan congress 
members gives the lie to charges of 
‘authoritarianism’ by its critics. The amendments 
can be grouped according to political, economic and social changes.

The most important political change is the 
creation of new locally based democratic forms of 
political representation in which elected 
community and communal institutions will be 
allocated state revenues rather than the corrupt, 
patronage-infested municipal and state 
governments. This change toward decentralization 
will encourage a greater practice of direct 
democracy in contrast to the oligarchic 
tendencies embedded in the current centralized representative system.

Secondly, contrary to the fabrications of 
ex-General Baduel, the amendments do not ‘destroy 
the existing constitution’, since the amendments 
modify in greater or lesser degree only 20% of 
the articles of the constitution (69 out of 350).

The amendments providing for unlimited term 
elections is in line with the practices of many 
parliamentary systems, as witnessed by the five 
terms in office of Australian Prime Minister 
Howard, the half century rule of Japan’s Liberal 
Democratic Party, the four terms of US President 
Franklin Roosevelt, the multi-term election of 
Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair in the UK among 
others. No one ever questions their democratic 
credentials for multi-term executive office 
holding, nor should current critics selectively 
label Chavez as an ‘authoritarian’ for doing the same.

Political change increasing the presidential term 
of office from 6 to 7 years will neither increase 
or decrease presidential powers, as the 
opposition claims, because the separation of 
legislative, judicial and executive powers will 
continue and free elections will subject the 
President to periodic citizen review.

The key point of indefinite elections is that 
they are free elections, subject to voter 
preference, in which, in the case of Venezuela, 
the vast majority of the mass media, Catholic 
hierarchy, US-funded NGO’s, big business 
associations will still wield enormous financial 
resources to finance opposition activity ­ hardly an ‘authoritarian’ context.

The amendment allowing the executive to declare a 
state of emergency and intervene in the media in 
the face of violent activity to overthrow the 
constitution is essential for safeguarding 
democratic institutions. In light of several 
authoritarian violent attempts to seize power 
recently by the current opposition, the amendment 
allows dissent but also allows democracy to 
defend itself against the enemies of freedom. In 
the lead up to the US-backed military coup of 
April 11, 2002, and the petroleum lockout by its 
senior executives which devastated the economy (a 
decline of 30% of GNP in 2002/2003), if the 
Government had possessed and utilized emergency 
powers, Congress and the Judiciary, the electoral 
process and the living standards of the 
Venezuelan people would have been better 
protected. Most notably, the Government could 
have intervened against the mass media aiding and 
abetting the violent overthrow of the democratic 
process, like any other democratic government. It 
should be clear that the amendment allowing for 
‘emergency powers’ has a specific context and 
reflects concrete experiences: the current 
opposition parties, business federations and 
church hierarchies have a violent, 
anti-democratic history. The destabilization 
campaign against the current referendum and the 
appeals for military intervention most 
prominently and explicitly stated by retired 
General Baduel (defended by his notorious 
adviser-apologist, the academic-adventurer Heinz 
Dietrich), are a clear indication that emergency 
powers are absolutely necessary to send a clear 
message that reactionary violence will be met by the full force of the law.

The reduction of voting age from 18 to 16 will 
broaden the electorate, increase the number of 
participants in the electoral process and give 
young people a greater say in national politics 
through institutional channels. Since many 
workers enter the labor market at a young age and 
in some cases start families earlier, this 
amendment allows young workers to press their 
specific demands on employment and contingent labor contracts.

The amendment reducing the workday to six hours 
is vehemently opposed by the opposition led by 
the big business federation, FEDECAMARAS, but has 
the overwhelming support of the trade unions and 
workers from all sectors. It will allow for 
greater family time, sports, education, skill 
training, political education and social 
participation, as well as membership in the newly 
formed community councils. Related labor 
legislation and changes in property rights 
including a greater role for collective ownership 
will strengthen labor’s bargaining power with 
capital, extending democracy to the workplace.

Finally the amendment eliminating so-called 
‘Central Bank autonomy’ means that elected 
officials responsive to the voters will replace 
Central Bankers (frequently responsive to private 
bankers, overseas investors and international 
financial officials) in deciding public spending 
and monetary policy. One major consequence will 
be the reduction of excess reserves in devalued 
dollar denominated funds and an increase in 
financing for social and productive activity, a 
diversity of currency holdings and a reduction in 
irrational foreign borrowing and indebtedness. 
The fact of the matter is that the Central Bank 
was not ‘autonomous’, it was dependent on what 
the financial markets demanded, independent of 
the priorities of elected officials responding to popular needs.

As the Chavez Government Turns to Democratic 
Socialism: Centrists Defect and Seek Military Solutions

As Venezuela’s moves from political to social 
transformation, from a capitalist welfare state 
toward democratic socialism, predictable 
defections and additions occur. As in most other 
historical experiences of social transformation, 
sectors of the original government coalition 
committed to formal institutional political 
changes defect when the political process moves 
toward greater egalitarianism and property and a 
power shift to the populace. Ideologues of the 
‘Center’ regret the ‘breaking’ of the status quo 
‘consensus’ between oligarchs and people 
(labeling the new social alignments as 
‘authoritarian’) even as the ‘Center’ embraces 
the profoundly anti-democratic Right and appeals for military intervention.

A similar process of elite defections and 
increased mass support is occurring in Venezuela 
as the referendum, with its clear class choices, 
comes to the fore. Lacking confidence in their 
ability to defeat the constitutional amendments 
through the ballot, fearful of the democratic 
majority, resentful of the immense popular appeal 
of the democratically elected President Chavez, 
the ‘Center’ has joined the Right in a last ditch 
effort to unify extra-parliamentary forces to 
defeat the will of the electorate.

Emblematic of the New Right and the ‘Centrist’ 
defections is the ex-Minister of Defense, Raul 
Baduel, whose virulent attack on the President, 
the Congress, the electoral procedures and the 
referendum mark him as an aspirant to head up a 
US-backed right-wing seizure of power.

The liberal and right wing mass media and 
unscrupulous ‘centrist’ propagandists have 
falsely portrayed Raul Baduel as the ‘savior’ of 
Chavez following the military coup of April 2002. 
The fact of the matter is that Baduel intervened 
only after hundreds of thousands of poor 
Venezuelans poured down from the ‘ranchos’, 
surrounded the Presidential Palace, leading to 
division in the armed forces. Baduel rejected the 
minority of rightist military officers favoring a 
massive bloodbath and aligned with other military 
officials who opposed extreme measures against 
the people and the destruction of the established 
political order. The latter group included 
officials who supported Chavez’ 
nationalist-populist policies and others, like 
Baduel, who opposed the coup-makers because it 
radicalized and polarized society ­ leading to a 
possible class-based civil war with uncertain 
outcome. Baduel was for the restoration of a 
‘chastised’ Chavez who would maintain the existing socio-economic status quo.

Within the Chavez government, Baduel represented 
the anti-communist tendency, which pressed the 
President to ‘reconcile’ with the ‘moderate 
democratic’ right and big business. Domestically, 
Baduel opposed the extension of public ownership 
and internationally favored close collaboration 
with the far-right Colombian Defense Ministry.

Baduel’s term of office as Defense Minister 
reflected his conservative propensities and his 
lack of competence in matters of security, 
especially with regard to internal security. He 
failed to protect Venezuela’s frontiers from 
military incursions by Colombia’s armed forces. 
Worse he failed to challenge Colombia’s flagrant 
violation of international norms with regard to 
political exiles. While Baduel was Minister of 
Defense, Venezuelan landlords’ armed paramilitary 
groups assassinated over 150 peasants active in 
land reform while the National Guard looked the 
other way. Under Baduel’s watch over 120 
Colombian paramilitary forces infiltrated the 
country. The Colombian military frequently 
crossed the Venezuelan border to attack Colombian 
refugees. Under Baduel, Venezuelan military 
officials collaborated in the kidnapping of 
Rodrigo Granda (a foreign affairs emissary of the 
FARC) in broad daylight in the center of Caracas. 
Baduel made no effort to investigate or protest 
this gross violation of Venezuelan sovereignty, 
until President Chavez was informed and 
intervened. Throughout Baduel’s term as Minister 
of Defense he developed strong ties to Colombia’s 
military intelligence (closely monitored by US 
Defense Intelligence Agency and the CIA) and 
extradited several guerrillas from both the ELN 
and the FARC to the hands of Colombian torturers.

At the time of his retirement as Minister of 
Defense, Baduel made a July 2007 speech in which 
he clearly targeted the leftist and Marxist 
currents in the trade union (UNT) and Chavez 
newly announced PSUV (The Unified Socialist Party 
of Venezuela). His speech, in the name of 
‘Christian socialist’, was in reality a 
vituperative and ill-tempered anti-communist 
diatribe, which pleased Pope Benedict (Ratzinger).

Baduel’s November 5 speech however marks his 
public adherence to the hard-line opposition, its 
rhetoric, fabrications and visions of an 
authoritarian reversal of Chavez program of 
democratic socialism. First and foremost, Baduel, 
following the lead of the White House and the 
Venezuelan ‘hard right’, denounced the entire 
process of Congressional debate on the 
Constitutional amendments, and open electoral 
campaigning leading up to the referendum as ‘in 
effect a coup d’etat’. Every expert and outside 
observer disagreed ­ even those opposed to the 
referendum. Baduel’s purpose however was to 
question the legitimacy of the entire political 
process in order to justify his call for military 
intervention. His rhetoric calling the 
congressional debate and vote a ‘fraud’ and 
‘fraudulent procedures’ point to Baduel’s effort 
to denigrate existing representative institutions 
in order to justify a military coup, which would dismantle them.

Baduel’s denial of political intent is laughable 
­ since he only invited opposition media and 
politicians to his ‘press conference’ and was 
accompanied by several military officials. Baduel 
resembles the dictator who accuses the victim of 
the crimes he is about to commit. In calling the 
referendum on constitutional reform a ‘coup’, he 
incites the military to launch a coup. In an open 
appeal for military action he directs the 
military to ‘reflect of the context of 
constitutional reform.’ He repeatedly calls on 
military officials to ‘assess carefully’ the 
changes the elected government has proposed ‘in a 
hasty manner and through fraudulent procedures’. 
While denigrating democratically elected 
institutions, Baduel resorts to vulgar flattery 
and false modesty to induce the military to 
revolt. While immodestly denying that he could 
act as spokesperson for the Armed Forces, he 
advised the rightist reporters present and 
potential military cohort that ‘you cannot 
underrate the capacity of analysis and reasoning of the military.’

Cant, hypocrisy and disinterested posturing run 
through Baduel’s pronouncements. His claim of 
being an ‘apolitical’ critic is belied by his 
intention to go on a nationwide speaking tour 
attacking the constitutional reforms, in meetings 
organized by the rightwing opposition. There is 
absolutely no doubt that he will not only be 
addressing civilian audiences but will make every 
effort to meet with active military officers who 
he might convince to ‘reflect’
and plot the 
overthrow of the government and reverse the 
results of the referendum. President Chavez has 
every right to condemn Baduel as a traitor, 
though given his long-term hostility to 
egalitarian social transformation it may be more 
to the point to say that Baduel is now revealing his true colors.

The danger to Venezuelan democracy is not in 
Baduel as an individual ­ he is out of the 
government and retired from active military 
command. The real danger is his effort to arouse 
the active military officers with command of 
troops, to answer his call to action or as he 
cleverly puts it ‘for the military to reflect on 
the context of the constitutional reforms.’ 
Baduel’s analysis and action program places the 
military as the centerpiece of politics, supreme over the 16 million voters.

His vehement defense of ‘private property’ in 
line with his call for military action is a 
clever tactic to unite the Generals, Bankers and 
the middle class in the infamous footsteps of 
Augusto Pinochet, the bloody Chilean tyrant.

The class polarization in the run-up to the 
referendum has reached its most acute expression: 
the remains of the multi-class coalition 
embracing a minority of the middle class and the 
great majority of the working power is 
disintegrating. Millions of previously apathetic 
or apolitical young workers, unemployed poor and 
low-income women (domestic workers, laundresses, 
single parents) are joining the huge popular 
demonstrations overflowing the main avenues and 
plazas in favor of the constitutional amendments. 
At the same time political defections have 
increased among the centrist-liberal minority in 
the Chavez coalition. Fourteen deputies in the 
National Assembly, less than 10%, mostly from 
PODEMOS, have joined the opposition. Reliable 
sources in Venezuela (Axis of Logic/Les Blough 
Nov. 11, 2007) report that Attorney General 
Beneral Isaias Rodriguez, a particularly 
incompetent crime fighter, and the Comptroller 
General Cloudosbaldo Russian are purportedly 
resigning and joining the opposition. More 
seriously, these same reports claim that the 4th 
Armed Division in Marcay is loyal to ‘Golpista’ 
Raul Baduel. Some suspect Baduel is using his 
long-term personal ties with the current Minister 
of Defense, Gustavo Briceno Rangel to convince 
him to defect and join in the pre-coup 
preparations. Large sums of US funding is flowing 
in to pay off state and local officials in cash 
and in promises to share in the oil booty if 
Chavez is ousted. The latest US political buy-out 
includes Governor Luis Felipe Acosta Carliz from 
the state of Carabobo. The mass media have 
repeatedly featured these new defectors to the 
right in their hourly ‘news reports’ highlighting 
their break with Chavez ‘coup d’etat’.

The referendum is turning into an unusually 
virulent case of a ‘class against class’ war, in 
which the entire future of the Latin American 
left is at stake as well as Washington’s hold on its biggest oil supplier.


Venezuelan democracy, the Presidency of Hugo 
Chavez and the great majority of the popular 
classes face a mortal threat. The US is facing 
repeated electoral defeats and is incapable of 
large-scale external intervention because of 
over-extension of its military forces in the 
Middle East; it is committed once more to a 
violent overthrow of Chavez. Venezuela through 
the constitutional reforms, will broaden and 
deepen popular democratic control over 
socio-economic policy. New economic sectors will 
be nationalized. Greater public investments and 
social programs will take off. Venezuela is 
moving inexorably toward diversifying its petrol 
markets, currency reserves and its political 
alliances. Time is running out for the White 
House: Washington’s political levers of influence 
are weakening. Baduel is seen as the one best 
hope of igniting a military seizure, restoring 
the oligarchs to power and decimating the mass popular movements.

President Chavez is correctly ‘evaluating the 
high command’ and states that he ‘has full 
confidence in the national armed forces and their 
components.’ Yet the best guarantee is to strike 
hard and fast, precisely against Baduel’s 
followers and cohorts. Rounding up a few dozen or 
hundred military plotters is a cheap price to pay 
for saving the lives of thousands of workers and 
activists who would be massacred in any bloody seizure of power.

History has repeatedly taught that when you put 
social democracy, egalitarianism and popular 
power at the top of the political agenda, as 
Chavez has done, and as the vast majority of the 
populace enthusiastically responds, the Right, 
the reactionary military, the ‘Centrist’ 
political defectors and ideologues, the White 
House, the hysterical middle classes and the 
Church cardinals will sacrifice any and all 
democratic freedoms to defend their property, 
privileges and power by whatever means and at 
whatever cost necessary. In the current 
all-pervasive confrontation between the popular 
classes of Venezuela and their oligarchic and 
military enemies, only by morally, politically 
and organizationally arming the people can the 
continuity of the democratic process of social transformation be guaranteed.

Change will come, the question is whether it will 
be through the ballot or the bullet.

James Petras, a former Professor of Sociology at 
Binghamton University, New York, owns a 50-year 
membership in the class struggle, is an adviser 
to the landless and jobless in Brazil and 
Argentina, and is co-author of Globalization 
Unmasked (Zed Books). His latest book is The 
Power of Israel in the United States (Clarity 
Press, 2006). His forthcoming book is Rulers and 
Ruled (Bankers, Zionists and Militants (Clarity 
Press, Atlanta). He can be reached at: 
jpetras at binghamton.edu. 
other articles by James, or <http://petras.lahaine.org/>visit James's website.

This article was posted on Tuesday, November 
13th, 2007 at 10:15 am and is filed under 
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