[News] Venezuelan Elections: a Choice and Not an Echo

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Fri Oct 5 10:53:08 EDT 2012


  Venezuelan Elections: a Choice and Not an Echo

10.04.2012 *::* Latin America <http://petras.lahaine.org/?cat=2>

http://petras.lahaine.org/?p=1912

*Introduction:* On October 7th, Venezuelan voters will decide whether to 
support incumbent President Hugo Chavez or opposition candidate Henrique 
Capriles Radonski. The voters will choose between two polar opposite 
programs and social systems:


Chavez calls for the expansion of public ownership of the means of 
production and consumption, an increase in social spending for welfare 
programs, greater popular participation in local decision-making, an 
independent foreign policy based on greater Latin American integration, 
increases in progressive taxation,the defense of free public health and 
educational programs and the defense of public ownership of oil 
production. In contrast Capriles Radonski represents the parties and 
elite who support the privatization of public enterprises, oppose the 
existing public health and educational and social welfare programs and 
favor neo-liberal policies designed to subsidize and expand the role and 
control of foreign and local private capital. While Capriles Radonski 
claims to be in favor of what he dubs "the Brazilian model" of "free 
markets and social welfare", his political and social backers, in the 
past and present, are strong advocates of free trade agreements with the 
US, restrictions on social spending and regressive taxation. Unlike the 
US, the Venezuelan voters have a choice and not an echo: two candidates 
representing distinct social classes, with divergent socio-political 
visions and international alignments. Chavez stands with Latin America, 
opposes US imperial intervention everywhere, is a staunch defender of 
self-determination and supporter of Latin American integration. Capriles 
Radonski is in favor of free trade agreements with the US, opposes 
regional integration, supports US intervention in the Middle East and is 
a diehard supporter of Israel. In the run-up to the elections, as was 
predictable the entire US mass media has been saturated with anti-Chavez 
and pro-Capriles propaganda, predicting a 'victory' or at least a close 
outcome for Washington's protégé.

The media and pundit predictions and propaganda are based entirely on 
selective citation of dubious polls and campaign commentaries; and worst 
of all there is a total lack of any serious discussion of the historical 
legacy and structural features that form the essential framework for 
this historic election.

*Historical Legacy*

For nearly a quarter of a century prior to Chavez election in 1998, 
Venezuela's economy and society was in a tailspin, rife with corruption, 
record inflation, declining growth, rising debt, crime, poverty and 
unemployment.

Mass protests in the late 1980's early 1990's led to the massacre of 
thousands of slum dwellers, a failed coup and mass disillusion with the 
dual bi-party political system. The petrol industry was privatized; oil 
wealth nurtured a business elite which shopped on 'Fifth Avenue, 
invested in Miami condos , patronized private clinics, for face-lifts 
and breast jobs, and sent their children to private elite schools to 
ensure inter-generational continuity of power and privilege. Venezuela 
was a bastion of US power projections toward the Caribbean, Central and 
South America. Venezuela was /socially polarized/ but political power 
was monopolized by two or three parties who competed for the support of 
competing factions of the ruling elite /and /the US Embassy.

Economic pillage, social regression, political authoritarianism and 
corruption led to an electoral victory for Hugo Chavez in 1998 and a 
gradual change in public policy toward greater political accountability 
and institutional reforms which signaled a turn toward greater social 
equity.

The failed US backed military-business coup of April 2002 and the defeat 
of the oil executive lockout of December 2002 -- February 2003 marked a 
decisive turning point in Venezuelan political and social history: the 
violent assault mobilized and radicalized millions of pro-democracy 
working class and slum dwellers, who in turn pressured Chavez "to turn 
left". The defeat of the US-capitalist coup and lockout was the first of 
several popular victories which opened the door to vast social programs 
covering the housing, health, educational and food needs of millions of 
Venezuelans. The US and the Venezuelan elite suffered significant losses 
of strategic personnel in the military, trade union bureaucracy and oil 
industry as a result of their involvement in the illegal power grab.

Capriles was an active leader in the coup, heading a gang of thugs which 
assaulted the Cuban embassy, and an active collaborator in the petrol 
lockout which temporarily paralyzed the entire economy.

The coup and lockout were followed by a US funded referendum which 
attempted to impeach Chavez and was soundly trounced. The failures of 
the right strengthened the socialist tendencies in the government, 
weakened the elite opposition and sent the US in a mission to Colombia, 
ruled by narco-terrorist President Uribe, in search of a military ally 
to destabilize and overthrow the regime from outside. Border tensions 
increased, US bases multiplied to seven, and Colombian death squads 
crossed the border .But the entire Latin and Central American and 
Caribbean regions lined up against a US backed invasion out of 
principle, or because of fear of armed conflicts spilling beyond their 
borders.

This historical legacy of elite authoritarianism and Chavez successes is 
deeply embedded in the minds and consciousness of all Venezuelans 
preparing to vote in the election of October 7th. The legacy of profound 
elite hostility to democratic outcomes favoring popular majorities and 
mass defense of the 'Socialist president' is expressed in the profound 
political polarization of the electorate and the intense mutual dislike 
or 'class hatred' which percolates under the cover of the electoral 
campaign. For the masses the elections are about past abuses and 
contemporary advances, upward social mobility and material improvements 
in living standards; for the upper and affluent middle class there is 
intense resentment about a relative loss of power, privilege, prestige 
and private preferences. The rightwing elite's relative losses have 
fueled a resentment with dangerous overtones for democracy in case of 
lost elections and revanchist policies if they win the elections.

*Institutional Configuration*

The rightwing elite may not control the government but they certainly 
are not without a strong institutional base of power. Eighty percent of 
the banking and finance sector is in private hands, as are most of the 
services manufacturing and a substantial proportion of retail and 
wholesale trade. Within the public bureaucracy, the National Guard and 
military the opposition has at least a minority actively or passively 
supportive of the rightwing political groups. The principle business, 
financial and landowners associations are the social nuclei of the 
right. The rightwing controls approximately one third of the mayors and 
governors and over forty percent of the national legislators. Major U.S. 
and EU petroleum multi-nationals have a substantial minority share in 
the oil sector.

The rightwing still monopolizes the print media and has a majority TV 
and radio audience despite government inroads. The government has gained 
influence via the nationalization of banks -- a 20% share of that 
sector, a share of the mining and metal industry and a few food 
processing plants and a substantial base in agriculture via the agrarian 
reform beneficiaries.

The government has gained major influence among the public sector 
employees and workers in the oil industry, social services and the 
welfare and housing sector. The military and police appears to be 
strongly supportive and constitutionalist. The government has 
established mass media outlets and promoted a host of community based 
radio stations.

The majority of the trade unions and peasant associations back the 
government. But the real strength of the government is found in the 
quasi-institutional community based organizations rooted in the vast 
urban settlements linked to the 'social missions'.

In terms of money power, the government draws on substantial oil 
earnings to finance popular long term and short term social impact 
programs, effectively countering the patronage programs of the private 
sector and the overt and clandestine "grass roots" funding by US 
foundations, NGOs and "aid" agencies. In other words despite suffering 
major political defeats and past decades of misrule and corruption, the 
rightwing retains a powerful /institutional/ bases to /contest /the 
powerful socio-economic advances of the Chavez government and to mount 
an aggressive electoral campaign.

*Social Dynamics and the Presidential Campaign*

The key to the success of the Chavez re-election is to keep the focus on 
socio-economic issues: the universal health and education programs, the 
vast public housing program underway, the state subsidized supermarkets, 
the improved public transport in densely populated areas. The sharper 
the national social polarization between the business elite and the 
masses, the less likely the rightwing can play on popular disaffection 
with corrupt and ineffective local officials. The greater the degree of 
social solidarity of wage, salaried and informal workers the less likely 
that the right can appeal to the status aspirations of the upwardly 
mobile workers and employees who have risen to middle class life styles, 
ironically during the Chavez induced prosperity.

The Chavez campaign plays to the promise of continued social prosperity, 
greater and continuing social mobility and opportunity, an appeal to a 
greater sense of social equality and fairness; and it has a bed rock 40% 
of the electorate ready to go to the barricades for the President. 
Capriles appeals to several contradictory groups: a solid core of 20% of 
the electorate, made up of the business, banking and especially agrarian 
elite and their employees, managers, and professionals who long for a 
return to the neo-liberal past, to a time when police and army and 
intelligence agencies kept the poor confined to their slums and the 
petrol treasury flowed into their coffers. The second group which 
Capriles appeals to are the professionals and the small business people 
who are fearful of the expansion of the public domain and the 'socialist 
ideology' and yet who have prospered via easy credits, increased 
clientele and public spending. The sons and daughters of affluent 
sectors of this class provide the "activists" who see in the downfall of 
the Chavez government an opportunity to regain power and prestige that 
they pretend to have had before the 'revolt of the masses'. Capriles 
past open embrace of neo-liberalism and the military coup of 2002 and 
his close ties to the business elite, Washington and his rightwing 
counterparts in Colombia and Argentina assures the enraged middle class 
that his promise to retain Chavez social missions is pure electoral 
demagoguery for tactical electoral purposes.

The third group which Capriles does not have, but is vital if he is to 
make a respectable showing, is among the small towns, provincial lower 
middle class and urban poor. Here Capriles presents himself as a 
"progressive" supporter of Chavez social missions in order to attack the 
local administrators and officials for their inefficiencies and 
malfeasance and the lack of public security -- Capriles, hyper-activity, 
his populist demagogy and his effort to exploit local discontent is 
effective in securing some lower class votes; but his upper class links 
and long history of aggressive support for rightwing authoritarianism 
has undermined any mass defection to his side.

Chavez on the other hand is highlighting /his social accomplishments/, a 
spectacular decade of high growth, the decline of inequalities 
(Venezuela has the lowest rate of inequalities in Latin America) and the 
high rates of popular satisfaction with governance. Chavez funding for 
social impact programs benefits from a year-long economic recovery from 
the world recession(5% growth for 2012), triple digit oil prices and a 
generally favorable regional political environment including a vast 
improvement in Colombian-Venezuelan relations.

*The Correlation of Forces: International, Regional, National and Local*

The Chavez government has benefited enormously from very favorable world 
prices for its main export-petroleum; it has also increased its revenues 
through timely expropriations and increases in royalty and tax payments, 
as well as new investment agreements from new foreign investors in the 
face of opposition from some US MNC.

Washington, deeply involved in conflicts in oil rich Muslim countries, 
is in no position to organize any boycott against Venezuela one of its 
principle and reliable petrol providers; its last big effort at "regime 
change" in 2002-03,during the "lockout" by senior executives of the 
Venezuelan oil company backfired --it resulted in the firing of almost 
all US 'assets' and the radicalization of nationalist oil policy.

US efforts to 'isolate' the Chavez regime internationally has failed; 
Russia and China have increased their trade and investment, as have a 
dozen other European, Middle Eastern and Asian countries. The EU 
recession and the slowdown of the US and world economy has not been 
conducive to fostering any sympathy for any restrictions in economic 
ties with Venezuela.

Most significantly the rise of center-left regimes in Latin America, the 
Caribbean and Central America, has favored increasing diplomatic and 
economic ties with Venezuela and greater Latin American integration.In 
contrast Obama's's backing for the Honduran and Paraguayan coups and 
Washington-centered free trade agreements and neo-liberal policies have 
gone out of favor. In brief, the international and regional correlation 
of forces has been highly favorable to the Chavez government, while 
Washington's dominant influence has waned.

One of the last Latin American bastions of US efforts to destabilize 
Chavez, Colombia, has sharply shifted policy toward Venezuela,. With the 
change in regime from Uribe to Santos, Colombia has reached 
multi-billion dollar trade and investment agreements and joint 
diplomatic and military agreements with Venezuela, signaling a kind of 
'peaceful coexistence'. Despite a recent free trade agreement and the 
continuance of US military bases, Colombia has, at least in this 
conjuncture, ruled out joint participation in any US sponsored military 
or political intervention or destabilization campaign.

US political leverage in Venezuela is largely dependent on channeling 
financial resources and advisors toward its electoral clients. Given the 
decline in external regional allies, and given its loss of key assets in 
the Venezuelan military and among Colombian para-military forces, 
Washington has turned to its electoral clients .Via heavy financial 
flows it has successfully imposed the unification of all the disparate 
opposition groups, fashioned an ideology of moderate 'centrist' reform 
to camouflage the far right, neo-liberal ideology of the Capriles 
leadership and contracted hundreds of community agitators and 'grass 
roots' organizers to exploit the substantial gap between Chavez's 
programatic promises and the incompetent and inefficient implementation 
of those policies by local officials.

The strategic weakness of the Chavez government is local, the incapacity 
of officials to keep the lights on and the water running. At the 
international, regional and national level the correlation of forces 
favors Chavez. Washington and Capriles try to compensate for Chavez 
regional strength by attacking his regional aid programs, claiming he is 
diverting resources abroad instead of tending to problems at home. 
Chavez has allocated enormous resources to social expenditures and 
infrastructure -- the problem is not diversion abroad, it is 
mismanagement by local Chavista officials, many offspring of past 
clientele parties and personalities. The issue of rising crime and poor 
low enforcement would certainly cost Chavez more than a few lost votes 
if the same high crime rates were not also present in the state of 
Miranda where candidate Capriles has governed for the past four years

*Electoral Outcome*

Despite massive gains for the lower classes and solid support among the 
poor, the emerging middle class product of Chavez era prosperity, has 
rising expectations of greater consumption and less crime and 
insecurity; they look to distance themselves from the poor and to 
approach the affluent; their eyes look upward and not downward. The 
momentum of a dozen years in power is slowing, but mass fears of a 
neo-liberal reversion limits the possible electorate that Capriles can 
attract. Despite crime and official inefficiencies and corruption,the 
Chavez era has been a period extremely favorable for the lower class and 
sectors of business, commerce and finance.This year -2012-is no 
exception.According to the UN ,Venezuela,s growth rate (5%)exceeds that 
of Argentina(2%) Brazil(1.5%) and Mexico(4%).Private consumtion has been 
the main driver of growth thanks to the growth of labor 
markets,increased credit and public investment.The vast majority of 
Venezuelans ,including sectors of business will not vote against an 
incumbent government generating one of the fastest economic recovery in 
the Hemisphere. Capriles radical rightist past and present covert agenda 
could provoke class conflict , political instability , economic decline 
and an unfavorable climate for international investors.

Washington is probably not in favor of a post-election coup or 
destabilization campaign if Capriles loses by a significant margin. The 
popularity of Chavez, the social welfare legislation and material gains 
and the dynamic growth this year ensures him of a victory margin of 
10%.Chavez will receive 55% of the votes against Capriles 45%. 
Washington and their rightist clients are planning to consolidate their 
organization and prepare for the congressional elections in December. 
The idea is a "march through the institutions" to paralyze executive 
initiatives and frustrate Chavez's efforts to move ahead with a 
socialized economy. The Achilles heel of the Chavez government is 
precisely at the /local/ and /state level/: a high priority should be 
the replacement of incompetent and corrupt officials with efficient and 
democratically controlled local leaders who can implement Chavez's 
immensely popular programs. And Chavez must devote greater attention to 
local politics and administration to match his foreign policy successes: 
the fact that the Right can turn out a half a million demonstraters in 
Caracas is not based on its ideological appeal to a ruinous, coup driven 
past, but in its success in exploiting chronic local grievances which 
have not been addressed -- crime, corruption., blackouts and water 
shortages .

What is at stake in the October 2012 election is not only the welfare of 
the Venezuelan people but the future of Latin America's integration and 
independence,and the prosperity of millions dependent on Venezuelan aid 
and solidarity.

A Chavez victory will provide a platform for rectification of a 
basically progressive social agenda and the continuation of an 
anti-imperialist foreign policy. A defeat will provide Obama or Romney 
with a trampoline to re-launch the reactionary neo-liberal and 
militarist policies of the pre-Chavez era -- the infamous Clinton 
decade(of the 1990's) of pillage, plunder , privatization and poverty.

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