[News] Venezuela - The Election That Matters

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Wed Oct 3 11:23:47 EDT 2012


  The Election That Matters

by GEORGE CICCARIELLO-MAHER

http://www.counterpunch.org/2012/09/28/the-election-that-matters/

On October 7^th , Venezuelans head to the polls for an election that 
will determine not only the future of the country and its Bolivarian 
Revolution, but that could also have powerful implications for the 
anti-capitalist struggle in Latin America and beyond.

*A Tale of Two Elections*

In what is painted as a battle for the country's future between two 
opposing ideals, an incumbent often berated as a populist demagogue 
faces off against a representative of the moneyed elite. The former, a 
political outsider hated by the far right for his skin color; the 
latter, a wealthy former state governor completely out-of-touch with the 
plight of the working poor.

The election begins in a dead heat, but a series of public gaffes by the 
conservative candidate as well as a general lack of charisma 
consistently dog his campaign, leading him to increasingly desperate 
measures. Just when it seemed things couldn't get worse, a leaked 
recording reveals the emptiness of his rhetoric of unity and empathy.

I'm not talking about the U.S. election, Mitt Romney, or his 
now-notorious comments about the "47 percent." I'm referring to the one 
election this Fall that /really/ matters, because it represents the 
struggle for the future of the Americas: that of Hugo Chávez in Venezuela.

*A Tale of Two Venezuelas*

The 1998 election of Hugo Chávez marked the entry of "the other 
Venezuela" into the official political life of the nation. This 
Venezuela, in the words of legendary folk singer Alí Primera, is the 
"Venezuela of the poor, the Venezuela with no reason, no reason to 
exist." But exist it has for five decades or more, despite being 
obscured by a series of oil booms and the hermetic exclusion of the poor 
and dark-skinned from politics, high society, and the media.

This Venezuela did not appear publicly for the first time with Chávez's 
election, but instead existed subterraneously in a multiplicity of 
movements, struggles, collectives, militias, organizations, that emerged 
for all to see and none to deny in the massive rebellions of February 
1989 known as the Caracazo. This spontaneously organized appearance of 
the Venezuelan /pueblo /then led to the attempted coup by Chávez and 
others three years later, which saw the future president imprisoned. The 
revolutionary grassroots, and Chávez himself, were at a fork in the 
road: to run, or not to run, in the elections. Chávez had previously 
rejected the possibility, but over the course of the mid-1990s, his mind 
and the minds of millions of others were changed, and the collective 
decision to attempt power by the ballot instead of the bullet.

The tear in the continuum of history that appeared in 1989 and grew in 
1992 was blasted open in 1998, destroying the existing political system 
and demanding something completely different, something that would truly 
represent the other Venezuela. In this task, there have been significant 
successes: the social welfare of the Venezuela people has been 
dramatically improved through the Mission system and the groundwork has 
been laid for a qualitative leap to a political system that breaks 
firmly with the past. But the present remains heavy with the residue of 
that past: in the corruption, the opportunism, and the multitude of 
halfhearted revolutionaries that surround Chávez and threaten to derail 
or reverse the process.

And not only that. When Chávez fell ill last year and disappeared 
unannounced to Cuba, a long avoided conversation was forced upon this 
other Venezuela. Where the very word "Chavismo without Chávez" had 
previously marked one as a reactionary, everyone was now grappling, 
albeit in hushed tones, with the question of this inevitability. When 
the comedy of errors that is the Venezuelan opposition seemed to finally 
unify behind a single candidate, Henrique Capriles Radonski, the stage 
seemed set for a competitive election of the kind not seen in more than 
a decade: young against old, healthy against ill, the appearance of 
novelty against 14 years in power.

But it was not to be.

*A Tale of Two Leaks*

The difficulties for Capriles were clear from the outset. The less 
charismatic of two young symbols of the opposition, Capriles' candidacy 
was only ratified amid continuing doubts about Leopoldo López's 
eligibility to run due to corruption allegations. Capriles is the very 
image of the Venezuelan elite: light-skinned, wealthy, and utterly out 
of touch with the mass of Venezuelans, he even ran for Congress in 1998 
under the green banner of the discredited Copei party, one wing of 
Venezuela's corrupt "partyocracy" that held power for decades. Despite 
his youth, here was a man firmly of the past in a country where any 
association with the "Fourth Republic" is a kiss of death. Moreover, as 
mayor of the wealthy Caracas sector of Baruta during the brief 2002 coup 
against Chávez, Capriles came under suspicion for doing little to stop 
an angry mob that attacked and besieged the Cuban Embassy as part of a 
witch hunt for Chavista cabinet members.

Capriles needed desperately to shake this legacy, to cut any ties with 
the past and chart a course for the future. But this is no easy task 
when the past is neoliberal and the present socialist, and Capriles and 
the opposition United Democratic Roundtable (MUD) coalition have 
struggled for a platform in a country where state intervention remains 
immensely popular. They have consistently insisted that they would not 
dismantle the Mission system or engage in large-scale privatization, but 
this has begged the question: what sets Capriles apart from Chávez? 
Meanwhile, many have suspected that behind the soft-pedaled rhetoric of 
social democracy, of Chavismo with a younger and whiter face, there 
lurked the threat of reaction and of a return to the disavowed past.

Two recent leaks have made it clear how justified this suspicion was. 
First came the release of a secret agreement by opposition forces on 
some basic aspects of their plan for government. Surprisingly, the 
document was released <http://venezuelanalysis.com/news/7248> by an 
opposition politician and former governer of Anzoátegui state, David de 
Lima, himself no friend of the Chavistas. Whereas Capriles has argued 
that his government would pursue a "Brazilian model 
<http://www.ultimasnoticias.com.ve/Noticias/TuVoto/Candidatos/Capriles-R--afirma-que-adoptara-el--modelo-brasile.aspx>" 
a la Lula (notably neglecting the latter's support for Chávez), the 
leaked MUD document 
<http://albaciudad.org/wp/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/MUD.-Lineamientos-para-el-Programa-de-Gobierno-de-Unidad-Nacional-23-Enero-2012.-Final-2-DEF-1.pdf> 
lacks even the trappings of social democracy, and instead reveals plans 
for extensive reforms of a markedly neoliberal stripe. The French 
sociologist Romain Migus has published a short book 
<http://albaciudad.org/wp/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/libro_el_programa_de_la_mud.pdf> 
analyzing the MUD program, which sums up the situation best: these are 
"[neo]liberal wolves in progressive sheep's clothing."

While the MUD has denied any knowledge 
<http://www.ultimasnoticias.com.ve/noticias/tuvoto/noticiaselectorales/mud-desmiente-existencia-de-paquetazo.aspx> 
of what they dismiss as a "fake" document, even anti-Chávez politician 
William Ojeda has attacked the "hidden agenda" 
<http://www.ultimasnoticias.com.ve/noticias/tuvoto/noticiaselectorales/video--william-ojeda-critica--paquetazo--de-la-mud.aspx> 
it contains (only to be promptly expelled from his party). The Chavistas 
have gone on the offensive, tying the MUD to the past in the most direct 
of ways be deeming the proposed reforms a "paquetazo" (big package), a 
direct reference to the neoliberal reform package that sparked the 
Caracazo, and which was imposed in similarly backhanded fashion by 
Carlos Andrés Pérez. This was a master stroke, and one that has struck 
the anti-Chavistas at their weakest point. In an ill-conceived and 
visibly desperate attempt to displace the controversy with humor, 
Capriles even suggested 
<http://www.ultimasnoticias.com.ve/noticias/tuvoto/capriles-r--las-mujeres-saben-cual-es--el-paquetaz.aspx> 
that "the women know" what the real "big package" is.

More damning still was the second leak, which provided a visceral 
reminder of how much of the past remains in the present. On September 
13^th , a video appeared of a conversation 
<http://www.ultimasnoticias.com.ve/noticias/actualidad/presentan-video-que--vincula-a-oposicion-con-actos.aspx> 
between former Capriles aide Juan Carlos Caldera apparently accepting a 
large pile of cash (reportedly $9,300) in exchange for arranging a 
face-to-face meeting between a wealthy businessman and Capriles. Caldera 
denied the charges, but was quickly booted from the campaign in a failed 
attempt at damage control: the memory of corruption past and the pained 
knowledge that it continues even within the Chávez regime meant that 
Capriles would not be spared the taint of suspicion. (The fact that the 
money allegedly came from Wilmer Ruperti 
<http://www.ultimasnoticias.com.ve/noticias/actualidad/politica/-quien-es-wilmer-ruperti-.aspx>, 
an oil transport magnate with friendly relations to Chávez seems odd at 
first glance, but less so once we consider that this would not be the 
first time that Ruperti had orchestrated an undercover video recording).

While opinion polls are notoriously politicized in Venezuela, the most 
established opposition firm, Datanálisis, has consistently given Chávez 
a margin of victory of between 13 and 16 percentage points. But even 
Datanálisis has been fudging the presentation, if not the numbers, to 
show a late rally for Capriles: on September 25^th the firm released a 
poll 
<http://www.ultimasnoticias.com.ve/noticias/tuvoto/noticiaselectorales/datanalisis--chavez-supera-a-capriles-r--por-10-pu.aspx> 
showing Chávez with only a 10-point advantage, where the prior week had 
seen nearly a 15-point margin 
<http://www.ultimasnoticias.com.ve/noticias/tuvoto/datanalisis--encuesta-da-14-7-puntos-a-chavez-sobr.aspx>. 
While head pollster and Capriles supporter Luis Vicente León suggested 
this as proof of the "stellar" impact of the opposition campaign, he 
failed to note that the most recently released data is drawn from a poll 
that was /conducted earlier/, prior to these scandalous revelations.

*A Tale of Two Plans*

Largely as a result of both leaks and the hemorrhaging of public support 
they have prompted, the MUD coalition has begun to splinter. Citing the 
leaked MUD government plan on which they were not consulted, four 
smaller parties withdrew their support 
<http://venezuelanalysis.com/news/7248> from Capriles, joining David de 
Lima and William Ojeda in the untenable in-between space between 
Chavistas and their opposite. A few short days later, on September 17^th 
, one independent candidate withdrew from the race to throw his weight 
behind Chávez and an open supporter of the opposition went nearly as 
far. The first, Yoel Acosta Chirinos, declared that 
<http://venezuelanalysis.com/news/7265> "My adversary is the right wing, 
and my historic ally is Chavez. The important thing is that the 
government is maintained [in power], and that more power goes to the 
people." While Acosta had admittedly been a Chávez supporter in the 
past, the constitutional lawyer and firm anti-Chavista Hermann Escarra 
openly declared the MUD platform unconstitutional, and a step backward 
toward "the most savage capitalism."

This splintering of Capriles' coalition and frustration with the 
electoral Plan A has yielded the threat of a perennial "Plan B." Such 
poor prospects yield nothing if not desperation among an elite so imbued 
with the idea of its own divine right to rule that it will not let 
trifles like "democracy" or "elections" stand in its way. After briefly 
ousting Chávez in a quickly reversed 2002 coup, the Venezuelan 
opposition struggled for years to shed the taint of /golpismo/, of 
coup-mongering. In this sense, Chávez's last re-election in 2006 was 
historic: it was the first time that the majority of the opposition 
recognized the results as fair and clean. But when they did so, it was 
not out of some abstract faith in democracy, but political strategy, and 
the question is how long will they fail before deciding that the 
strategy of repeatedly losing elections is not working out for them.

We have seen more than whispers that a Plan B might be in the works in 
recent weeks. On August 25^th , a massive explosion at the Amuay 
refinery (Venezuela's largest) killed dozens, immediately raising 
suspicions <http://venezuelanalysis.com/analysis/7214> that sabotage had 
been at play, since opposition pollsters had previously suggested that 
only a "catastrophic" event could prevent a Chávez victory.

More ominously still, a leading member of Vota Piedra, one of the 
parties that recently withdrew support from Capriles, took to the 
airwaves <http://venezuelanalysis.com/analysis/7271> to reject this 
decision. Ricardo Koesling, who some have tied to the Cuban-American 
terrorist network led buy Luis Posada Carriles from the 1970s to the 
present, and who allegedly participated in the 2002 attack on the Cuban 
Embassy under Capriles' watch, made it clear that his days of political 
violence are far from over, and that: "Capriles is going to be 
President, and we'll use bullets, fists, kicks, everything we've got, to 
force the Chavistas out."

But such a direct strategy of tension has never worked out for the 
anti-Chavistas, whose flailing attempts to gain power through force have 
only hurt them on the political terrain when the majority sent them 
packing. Either in recognition of this fact or as an open threat lest 
they dare, posters recently spotted 
<http://www.ultimasnoticias.com.ve/noticias/tuvoto/candidatos/afiches-intimidatorios-pueblan-el-centro-de-caraca.aspx> 
in Caracas from the hardcore Chavista Venezuelan Popular Unity (UPV) 
party feature deceased radical leader Lina Ron alongside the popular 
slogan: "With Chávez everything, without Chávez bullets [/plomo/]."

More likely than direct acts of sabotage, however, is the constant 
threat that the opposition will refuse to accept or recognize a Chávez 
victory, and as in previous elections, the groundwork for this strategy 
is already being laid. From opposition pollsters who suggest a clear 
Capriles victory to then denounce the opposite, to suggestions that 
electoral observers 
<http://www.ultimasnoticias.com.ve/movil/detallenota.aspx?idNota=106364> 
near the Colombian border are preparing to sow chaos, to a leaked email 
suggesting that opposition leader Julio Borges is already preparing to 
cry fraud.

In this, the domestic Venezuelan opposition can count on working 
hand-in-hand with both the U.S. government and media. The latter is 
already replete with stories 
<http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/08/05/venezuela-presidential-elections_n_1743842.html> 
about the undemocratic Chávez regime and the impending electoral fraud, 
and the expelled former U.S. ambassador Patrick Duddy recently outlined 
<http://venezuelanalysis.com/analysis/7259> a variety of possible 
alternatives for U.S. intervention into the post-electoral scenario. 
Such view plainly contradict the recent conclusion of the Carter Center 
<http://venezuelanalysis.com/news/7272> (confirmed by the Union of South 
American Nations, UNASUR), that "of the 92 elections that we've 
monitored, I would say the election process in Venezuela is /the best in 
the world/."

*A Tale of Two Paths*

Against those intransigent souls for whom elections can only be a trap, 
the Venezuelan example should give some hesitation. Few could have 
foreseen the collapse of the political system, the increasing social 
polarization, and the eventual resort to more or less open class combat 
that would be unleashed in part by Chávez's election. Historical 
ruptures open possibilities, but political leaders are more often than 
not conditioned to make the wrong decision when it matters most. When 
Obama was elected, he could have, in theory at least, placed his bets on 
the poor, tacked hard to the left, and hoped to mobilize supporters 
faster than his enemies. Instead he did the opposite: giving up any 
radical pretensions from the get-go and charting a course of unabashed 
neoliberalism at home and imperialism abroad.

Chávez provides an alternative possibility: elected as a moderate and 
populist, he acted both on gut instincts and on the advice of those 
radicals and movements that had cut their teeth in the struggle against 
the old Fourth Republic. Before he had accomplished much, or even 
intended to, the right struck back, and it was the interplay of the 
"whip of the counter-revolution" and powerful revolutionary movements, 
more than anything else, that radicalized the once-moderate Chávez. It 
is this combative dialectic, one that has made the Venezuelan revolution 
possible and yet one that is notably absent at the heart of the empire, 
that is at stake on October 7^th .

/*George Ciccariello-Maher* teaches political theory from below at 
Drexel University in Philadelphia, and is the author of We Created 
Chávez: A People's History of the Venezuelan Revolution 
<http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0822354527/counterpunchmaga>, 
forthcoming from Duke University Press. He can be reached at 
gjcm(at)drexel.edu./

-- 
Freedom Archives 522 Valencia Street San Francisco, CA 94110 415 
863.9977 www.freedomarchives.org
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