situation in Venezuela is extremely tense and dramatic.
On December 2, the big employers grouped in FEDECAMARAS
and the bureaucracy of the CTV (Workers' Confederation of
Venezuela) launched their 'general strike' (in fact a lock-out
organised by the employers and the trade union leaders)
aimed at forcing Chávez either to bring forward the
elections, or to call a referendum on whether or not he
should continue in office, or, in the worst case, hoping
that economic chaos will create the conditions for a new
military coup. Nearly a month after the action began, in
his New Year's speech, Carlos Ortega - a union bureaucrat
and the spokesman for the 'Coordinadora Democrática',
in which the opposition forces are gathered - announced
that "the strike continues until we get rid of Chávez",
and called for civil disobedience through not paying taxes.
in the last days of the year, the government seems to have
resumed the political initiative. A symptom of this is the
recovery by the Navy and the police of several oil tankers
belonging to the state oil company (PDVSA) anchored in various
ports of the country and the import of foods to cope with
the shortage caused by the employers' boycott. In turn,
the military General Staff has sworn loyalty to Chávez.
the crisis is still far from a solution. This is because
the forces of reaction are striking at the heart of Venezuela,
that is, the strategic oil industry. Senior and middle management
and oil tanker captains from PDVSA are the brains behind
this plan. According to several reports from the international
press, the main refineries of Venezuela, like those of Paraguaná
and El Palito, are paralysed. In Cabello and Maracaibo,
the two main ports, tankers remained at anchor. An oil company
manager on strike, Horacio Medina, stated that Venezuela's
oil production has fallen by 70%, about 1.9 million barrels
a day, as a consequence of the strike. In turn, the managers
of the gas extraction district of Anaco, about 300 kilometres
to the east of Caracas, which generates 75% of the country's
gas, agreed to reduce production to the minimum level. According
to government officials, the losses are up to 1,300 million
dollars and the country faced with huge fines because of
its non-fulfilment of international oil export commitments.
forces of counterrevolution knew how to hit where it really
hurts because Venezuela is the fifth largest exporter of
oil in the world and 80% of its revenues come from oil sales,
and currently foreign sales are still paralysed.
dramatic days are part of the opposition's offensive to
establish an overtly pro-imperialist regime in order to
re-colonise Venezuela and turn it into a base for reaction
in South America. This follows the rise of governments like
those of Lula in Brazil and Gutiérrez in Ecuador,
which show the retreat of the neo-liberal right wing. After
the defeat of the pro-imperialist coup by the General Staff
and Carmona in April 2002, there have been continual attempts
by the opposition to displace Chávez by means of
'institutional' procedures or by a coup. For that reason
they have utilised all available resources: furious media
campaigns, production stoppages, lockouts, terrorist actions,
the export of capital and even a failed attempt at assassination.
The politics of the US and the opposition
clear that US imperialism backed the April coup attempt,
or at least gave a green light to Carmona and sectors of
the army, because of the way that the US immediately recognised
Carmona as President, as did Bush's lackey in Europe, José
María Aznar. Chávez's closeness to Cuba, a
series of diplomatic squabbles, and his condemnation of
the 'war on terrorism' provoked anger and condemnation by
the US State Department.
people's response to Carmona's coup attempt and the split
in the Armed Forces raised the spectre of civil war. For
that reason, American imperialism has opted for a more cautious
policy towards Chávez, although during the recent
political crisis, in declarations which were later denied,
officials of the US State Department supported the opposition.
The US is concerned since Venezuela is one of its major
oil suppliers. That's why it seeks to get rid of Chávez,
although not by means of a coup. It's clear that the Bush
government, in its preparations for war against Iraq, would
very much appreciate a friendly government in Caracas.
to calm the situation, representatives of the Carter Foundation
and of the UN, and César Gaviria, the president of
the OAS (Organisation of American States) - that is, the
'Ministry of Colonies' - arrived in Venezuela. Gaviria's
aim is to negotiate an 'constitutional' solution to the
crisis, trying to bring together moderate elements from
both the Chávez and the anti-Chávez camps
in a kind of government of national unity, or to arrange
a timetable for the dignified departure of the former parachutist
colonel. Of course these options imply either the complete
capitulation of Chávez or his overthrow sometime
in the future. For that reason it is necessary to reject
the mediation by Gaviria and the OAS.
other hand, the opposition, despite agreeing to the ousting
of Chávez, seems to have failed to reach an agreement
on how to do it. It has split into 'moderate' and 'radical'
groups. The Coordinadora Democrática is a heterogeneous
front with neither a clear programme nor common methods.
It embraces, among others, the representatives of the big
bourgeoisie of FEDECAMARAS, the union bureaucracy of the
CTV, and the church hierarchy. It is also supported by the
Maoist group Bandera Roja. As a product of the crisis of
the traditional parties that collapsed with the old regime,
the opposition still lacks credible figures to staff a unified
leadership. One of the causes of the divisions is that neither
the employers nor sectors of the middle class are happy
with the alliance with the leadership of the CTV. Although
the main spokesman, of the Coordinadora Democrática
is the leader of the CTV, Carlos Ortega, its main support
comes from the middle class, 'public school boys' from the
better-off quarters of Caracas, and a layer of workers and
employees who are either better-paid or under the control
of the trade union bureaucracy. They also have the support
of the privately owned mass media, which have launched a
furious campaign against the Chávez regime calling
for a coup.
After the April coup
reinstated in the presidency, Chávez kept calling
on the defeated, weakened and confused opposition to engage
in peace and national reconciliation. Venezuelan and Latin
American workers must draw a lesson from these evens - that
there is no possibility to reconcile the interests of the
workers and poor people with those of the capitalist oligarchy
and imperialism. The permanent conspiracy of the ruling
class can only be answered by a sharp policy, with workers
taking advantage of the tactical retreat of the rulers,
beating them decisively at the heart of their economic,
political and military power.
April coup - whose programme was a declaration of war against
workers and the poor - was crushed by the spontaneous uprising
of working and popular masses of Caracas and other towns.
It was thanks to this that Chávez was able to hold
on to power in those dramatic days because the armed forces
had split and one section had supported the coup.
13th a mass upsurge took place - of a basically spontaneous
character - which was probably the largest mass action since
the 1989 Caracazo, and brought about a favourable change
in the balance of forces. The country was deeply socially
and politically fractured into two openly confrontational
camps. The opposition had emerged weakened and divided.
Part of its cadre in the army had been displaced. There
were cases of fraternisation between the troops, low ranking
officers and the mobilised population. Among the masses
a widespread sensation of victory was felt, and popular
organisations - Bolivarian Circles, land committees, fighting
trade unions and popular assemblies - developed very quickly.
this favourable situation was let slip, and exactly eight
months later it was the opposition which went on to the
limitations of Chávez and the character of his regime
current situation is largely the responsibility of Chávez
himself and his calls for peace and moderation after the
popular victory of April 13. The hesitations, indecisions
and inconsistencies in facing the plotters are due to the
bourgeois character of his regime. At the beginning of his
term Chávez - who could count on the support of the
Armed Forces and the masses, and was assisted by a rise
in oil prices - attempted to play the role of arbiter between
different social classes and imperialism and to rebuild
the ruined political regime, while guaranteeing social peace.
But today this project is bankrupt.
the setting-up of the Fifth Republic, based on the Bolivarian
Constitution, Chávez declared that he would bring
back stability to a Venezuela in which the old bourgeois
regime - that of the 'Punto Fijo' agreement - based on the
traditional parties (AD and COPEI) was decomposing. As the
possibilities of a 'Saudi Venezuela' created by a flood
of oil revenues receded, leading to the threat of new Caracazos
like the one that had rocked the country in 1989, a regime
change was indispensable. Chávez presented himself
as an arbiter capable of 'reconciling the nation', appealing
to the poor masses with anti-neoliberal rhetoric in order
to prevent them from following an independent course that
might threaten the bourgeois order.
characteristics of the Chávez regime bear some relation
to sui generis bonapartism, a kind of regime that Leon Trotsky
defined, and which occurred in the 1930s and in the post
second world war period in semi-colonial countries. Such
governments, based on the army and the state apparatus,
attempt to 'rise' above the social classes to arbitrate
between the social interests in conflict, giving concessions
to the mass movement in order to have more room for manoeuvre
with imperialism. These governments, although they may quarrel
with imperialism, end up surrendering and being incapable
of dealing with internal reaction, due to their bourgeois
'Chavism' stands for 'empty hands populism', that may swing
leftwards or rightwards, as Chávez has shown in these
last few years, but, due to its class character, is incapable
of breaking with imperialism and satisfying the elementary
demands of the masses of both town and country. It also
confirms that the fight for national demands in a semi-colony
cannot be left in the hands of the bourgeoisie. The irrefutable
proof of these is in the experiences of the masses under
Perón in 1955 and Allende in 1973.
Today, the foundations on which his project stood are in
a complete crisis. The National Armed Force and the police
are divided. Although the General Staff, for the time being,
is faithful to the president, it is certain that the differences
are eating away at the institution. This is demonstrated
by the constant disobeying of orders by middle and high
ranking officers who are demanding the resignation of the
president and who mutinied in the Plaza Altamira in Caracas
- this being one of the high point of the opposition's agitation.
Recently the government intervened in the Metropolitan Police
of Caracas because they were loyal to an opposition mayor,
an event which triggered the 'civic strike'.
political structure established by Chávez in order
to take office is not doing any better. Within his cabinet
there are notorious differences between the 'neoliberal'
and the nationalist wings. The founder of the MVR, and one
of Chávez's main political operators, Miquelena,
shifted to the opposition a few days before the April coup
plot. Chávez's allies from the MAS and the PPT have
been in a deep crisis before, during and after the April
conspiracy. As a consequence, in spite of having parliamentary
majority, his MPs are divided into an official and a moderate
group. In both sectors there are strong suspicions of corruption,
something that the regime has used to its advantage. Likewise,
despite having replaced the civil service bureaucracy, the
old practice of favouritism has not disappeared.
reforms in the regime introduced by Chávez have allowed
the bourgeoisie to breathe freely. This is demonstrated
by the fact that the courts have released the leaders of
the April plot from prison, and today are enabling the opposition
to carry out a referendum.
up, the institutions of the state and the regime, like the
Armed Forces, parliament, and the judiciary - all of which
are attempting to constrain any audacious step by Chávez'
- are not just in crisis but also are under the control
of agents of the pro-imperialist bourgeoisie.
economic arena he hasn't done any better either. In the
beginning Chávez sought to energise Venezuelan capitalism,
protecting 'productive capital', extending credit lines
to small and middle producers, and incorporating foreign
capital into 'national development', as shown by his insistence
on attracting investment into the oil industry and other
areas. Those measures, far from benefiting workers, put
the full weight of the crisis on their backs, as shown by
the devaluation of the Bolívar in February 2002 which
increased the cost of living and cut public spending by
20%. Meanwhile the bourgeoisie has been exporting thousands
of millions of dollars a year, the external debt is being
paid on time, no progressive taxes of the rich have been
introduced, and the foreign oil companies are make huge
development' is feasible in this way, let alone the transformation
of the old conditions of bourgeois exploitation and imperialist
looting, because the measures do not affect the basis of
bourgeois property or the country's subordination to foreign
capital. Thus, 80% of Venezuelans are still below the poverty
line; 60% only just survive in the 'informal economy'; and
official unemployment has risen to 20%. The employers go
on sacking people and imposing labour flexibility, while
inflation undermines wages. Meanwhile, the considerable
oil revenues continue to benefit the biggest capitalists
and the foreign investors.
reason that the middle class joined the opposition is rooted
in the economic crisis and not merely in ideological questions.
During the boom years, the Venezuelan middle class grew
and developed on the back of the oil revenues, but now is
poverty-stricken. This middle class, made up of liberal
professionals, young managers working in the multinationals,
students, the owners of small companies, is deeply conservative
and culturally and politically backward. Since Chavism did
not challenge the economic interests of the bourgeoisie
and imperialism, it could not satisfy any of the economic
aspirations of the middle classes that through these years
have seen their living standards decline steeply due to
the export of capital, inflation and the liquidation of
their savings. Neither was the middle class seduced by favouritism
and corruption, which is still common under the new regime.
The constant imperialist propaganda of the privately owned
mass media and the pressure of the bourgeois politicians
drew them to the plotters' camp, where they were used as
a hysterical battering ram of reaction. In addition, those
sections of the middle class which have cultural and social
connections with the army also played a role in drawing
the majority of the middle class to the side of the plotters.
the regime still relies on the support of broad layers of
the poorest workers. Although they have been given very
little by Chávez - minimal agrarian reform and salary
increases which have been absorbed by inflation - according
to some media reports over 30% of them still support the
president. That's because the ascent of Chavism enabled
the poor masses of the countryside and the town to participate
in national political life. This phenomenon was boosted
by the active role that the masses played during the defeat
of the April coup. From then on the most exploited working
masses, the poor and the excluded from the city have been
undergoing a clearly political upsurge: confronting the
plotters and defending what they regard as their conquests.
They achieved a great political victory, at the cost of
dozens dead and hundreds wounded, experiencing a leap in
their experience and politicisation. This is demonstrated
by the fact that, in the heat of the April days, popular
assemblies sprang up in the poor quarters as neighbourhood
committees and fighting unions, and that the so-called Bolivarian
Circles became the axis for the organisation of many mobilisations.
by day the situation in Venezuela is more tense. In spite
of the government's efforts the equilibrium cannot last
very long, especially when the oil industry has been taken
hostage by the forces of reaction. It appears that the opposition
leaders' call for civil disobedience and the refusal to
pay taxes is a symptom of the weakening of the 'civic strike'
and a sign that it could be called off. If this happens,
Chávez could get closer to the employers and imperialism,
although this wouldn't rule out the opposition returning
to the fray at some future point, because the US and the
bourgeoisie don't consider Chávez to be 'their' man.
if the crisis deepens and serious measures are not taken
against the plotters, other possibilities may occur. One
way out might be that some sections of the army, faced with
the danger of social break down and civil war, displace
Chávez as a preventive measure, for the sake of 'national
unity', and gradually return power to the oligarchy. This
scenario would be tragic for the masses, because it would
install a regime aimed at recolonising the country, as a
battering ram for reaction in the whole continent, as well
as unleashing revenge attacks against the popular classes
that dared to challenge the rulers over the last few years.
variant is that Chávez, undermined by economic chaos,
gives up the presidency in the name of 'avoiding bloodshed
between brothers' and joins the pact with the moderates
proposed by the OAS in order to make the transition to a
another possibility is a bloodbath headed by a civic-military
junta, which would establish a semi-fascist dictatorship
using civil war methods against the popular classes. However,
after the April experience and because of the lack of suitable
leaders in the ranks of the opposition, this is an unlikely
one of these variants would be against the most elementary
interests of the popular masses, and could occur if the
masses do not act decisively to smash subversion. Once again
it is necessary to reflect on the historical experience
of Allende and Perón in order to show the limits
of bourgeois nationalism and the capitulations inherent
in their politics.
to confront the plotters?
has said that he will reinstate order with the help of the
Armed Forces and will ensure the continuation of production,
but initially he had to pull back from his attempt to seize
the 'Pilín León' oil tanker, which was blocking
the port of Maracaibo, because the judiciary ruled that
the navy was not qualified to sail such a ship. Neither
the 'loyal' Armed Forces nor the bourgeois institutions
can be trusted!
fight against counterrevolution is necessary: that is, the
broad mobilisation of the workers and the poor people in
defence of what they regard as their conquests and against
the employer-imperialist plot that seeks to recolonise the
such a goal to be achieved it is necessary to fight for
the expropriation of the plotters of FEDECAMARAS, of all
employers' and landowners' organisations, who own the main
levers of the economy, as well as driving imperialism out
of the country. Key points in this programme are: the genuine
nationalisation of the whole hydrocarbons industry - production,
refinement and distribution - as the first step towards
workers' management and displacing the managerial class
that profits from the oil revenues; the non-payment of the
foreign debt and the abandoning of all agreements that subordinate
Venezuela to imperialism; the nationalisation under workers'
and people's control of all companies that close down; and
of the big media which are tools for counterrevolutionary
agitators. In order to win over the poor masses of the countryside
to this programme it is necessary to encourage the occupation
of the big landowners' estates as a step on the road to
true agrarian reform.
to counter shortages, the black market and speculation it
is necessary that the popular sectors control the distribution
of food and basic goods currently held in the warehouses
of the monopolists, middlemen and big merchants.
plotters, both civilian and military, should rot in jail.
In order to deal with provocations, terrorist acts and sabotage
by the oligarchs, the development and the centralisation
of workers' and people's armed self-defence committees is
necessary. Neither the General Staff nor the middle-ranking
officers can be trusted, because of their numerous links
with the bourgeoisie and the reactionary sections of the
middle class. The rank and file soldiers and non-commissioned
officers must be entitled to disobey the orders of opposition-supporting
officers and to denounce any attempt at conspiracy. Only
the revolutionary pressure of the workers and the people
in arms will convince the best elements in the rank and
file of the army to come out against reaction and neutralise
those who are undecided.
threats 'against oligarchy and fascism' are of no value.
Neither are mass rallies if concrete slogans and precise
goals are lacking - they are mere vacillations that do nothing
but encourage the union bureaucracy and the big bourgeoisie.
The reactionary bosses and imperialists know where to strike.
The masses that restored Chávez to office in April
know very well who their enemies are and have already demonstrated
their heroism and self-sacrifice in the struggle to put
an end to counterrevolution.