Venezuela: Referendum provokes new crisis

Once again Venezuela draws all the attention in Latin America’s evolving scene with the development of a new political crisis. This time it is due to the announced “success” in collecting signatures calling for a voter referendum on whether to keep President Hugo Chavez in power or to revoke his mandate. Supposedly 3,600,000 signatures were collected for placing the referendum on the ballot, surpassing all expectations.

Chavez came to power in a civil and military uprising in 1992 and was democratically elected by a solid popular vote in 1998.

The campaign to collect the signatures and to interrupt the presidential mandate was organized by the Democratic Coordination (DC). The DC is an odd group of political organizations and leaderships that are very different from one another. It encompasses far right-wing forces that were defeated by the Bolivarian Revolution, and includes delirious far left-wing groups that are unable to understand the particularities of the Venezuelan situation.

The collection of signatures does not have a practical effect yet, since the legality of the procedures adopted by the DC is questioned by the government as well as by the political and social forces that support it. The accusations of fraud are countless. However, those accusations haven’t prevented the secretary-general of the Organization of American States, former Bolivian president César Gavíria, from attesting to the normality of the collection of the signatures and from openly defending the forces arrayed against Chavez.

The holding of the referendum depends on a decision to be taken by the National Electoral Council, which will decide on the legality of the process. According to government leaders and leaders of the Movimiento V República – MVR (Movement for the Fifth Republic), more than a million signatures will be annulled when the courts verify the occurrence of double signatures, false ballots and all sorts of irregularities. Those are the grounds for Vice President José Vicente Rangel’s declaration that the referendum “it is an announced defeat” for the opposing forces.

On the other hand, the persistence of the political fight between the opposing camp and the Chavez administration in Venezuela reveals the presence of two concomitant phenomena that are present in the political scene since the proclamation of the Bolivarian Revolution.

One of these phenomena is the division of society into two sides or antagonistic camps. This division is a clear expression of the class struggle. On the one side there are the progressive forces, rooted among the working people, that support the government and whose platform is based on overcoming neoliberalism and achieving national freedom. On the other side, there is the country’s oligarchy and elite, which that have tied their fate to U.S. imperialism’s domination of the region and whose class privileges were obtained by means of the brutal exploitation of the Venezuelan people.

The anti-Chavez sectors certainly count on the support of significant parts of the population, especially sectors that have been disoriented by the massive and systematic propaganda campaign against the Bolivarian Revolution launched by the media. The Chavez administration and its supporters are thus confronted with the challenge of broadening the government’s base of support, winning society’s middle strata, and neutralizing and isolating obstinate right-wing sectors. Likewise, the Bolivarian Revolution must find ways to adequately address the people’s most heartfelt needs and avoid the further impoverishment of the masses.

The other phenomenon, related to the first one, is the deepening political radicalization taking place in the country. Among the anti-Chavez sectors, this takes the form of resorting to coups as a means to achieve their reactionary objectives. The current referendum drive is the third coup attempt against President Chavez within a year and a half, although this time it is disguised as an apparently constitutional procedure.

This congenital trait of resorting to coups among the Venezuelan right-wing forces, which is also present throughout Latin America, indicates that the progressive forces cannot afford to have illusions about the democratic character of the dominant classes and imperialism. At the same time, while taking account of a situation of “strategic defense” conditioned by a correlation of forces that is unfavorable to revolutions, they must be ready to present a firm and lengthy resistance with a strategic vision.

The Latin American peoples, especially the Brazilian people, are not indifferent to the appearance of another political crisis in Venezuela. The advance or retreat in the democratic and popular process led by President Hugo Chavez will deeply influence the political evolution of the entire region.

José Reinaldo Carvalho is a vice-president of the Communist Party of Brazil (PCdoB) and responsible for International Relations. This article is a translated version of the original published in Portuguese on www.vermelho.org.br.