The Venezuelan opposition is stepping up its campaign, organising a “sovereign consultation” last Sunday, 16th July. The three questions asked in this consultation are about the legitimacy of the Constituent Assembly the government has called for, the need for the armed forces to intervene and remove the government and the formation of a so-called “government of national unity”. The opposition has announced that Sunday's consultation marks the “zero hour” for a national, permanent and open ended “trancazo” (road blockades), until the “fall of the dictatorship”.
The aim is clear: to overthrow the government of Nicolas Maduro. The opposition had already refused to participate in the Constituent Assembly elections of July 30, but now, the first question of their consultation asks whether people “reject and do not recognise” that Assembly. Furthermore, question two “demands from the armed forces and all civil servants … to back the decisions of the National Assembly”. This is a clear call for the armed forces to mutiny against the president.
Finally the third question calls for the “renewal of all public powers” (even though their terms of office have not been exhausted), “free and transparent elections” (though it does not specify for which offices: councils, regional, presidential, national assembly?) and finally “the formation of a government of national unity in order to re-establish the constitutional order” (though it is not stated who would compose such a government, or for what period of time would it be in office).
Preparing a coup
It is ironic, or more precisely cynical, that the opposition now uses the banner of the Bolivarian constitution which they rejected at the time, have opposed ever since and which they abolished during their coup in April 2002.
In effect, the opposition is calling for the removal of all state powers, except those they control, and for them to come to power by force. This is their attempt to resolve the conflict between the different state institutions in their favour and is strongly reminiscent of the April 2002 coup they carried out. Then, as is being called for now, the Armed Forces intervened to remove the president, and the opposition created a so-called “government of national unity” presided by bosses’ federation chief Pedro Carmona. One of the main aims of the opposition with this consultation is to give some sort of legitimacy to a new “government” of theirs which then they will try to get international recognition for.
To add more weight to their insurrectionary move, a series of right-wing former presidents of different Latin American countries are travelling to Venezuela to participate in the coup and lend it some semblance of legitimacy. Amongst them are Andrés Pastrana, from Colombia; Laura Chinchilla, from Costa Rica; and Tuto Quiroga, from Bolivia. Of course, all their talk about “democracy” and “human rights” is a scandalous farce. Pastrana presided over the implementation of Plan Colombia during which widespread killings and violations of human rights were carried out by Colombian and US troops under the guise of the “war on drugs”. Chinchilla is an opponent of basic human rights like same sex marriage, abortion and the morning after pill, as well as being mired in corruption scandals during her presidency of Costa Rica. Quiroga is a Bolivian right wing politician who was vice president during the brutal repression of the struggle for water rights in Cochabamba as well as the implementation of a US backed policy of eradication of coca plantations which was carried out by suppressing the local peasant population. Finally, Vicente Fox is also a right wing politician whose career is mired in corruption scandals and repression (in particular of the citizens of Atenco who were opposing their forced relocation to make way for the building of an airport). Any talk of human rights and democracy on the part of these corrupt and repressive politicians is an offensive joke.
Of course, the world’s media is providing a cover for this attempted coup which also has the support of Washington, Madrid and Bogota.
The Venezuelan opposition has always been quick to cry fraud, but only in those cases where they have been declared losers of course, but the way they are organising their consultation lacks even the most basic of guarantees. Opposition leader Negal Morales has claimed that “more than 14 million people will participate”, something which is clearly physically impossible. First of all, in the last presidential election in 2013, total turnout was 15 million, with 7.2 million voting for the opposition candidate. If over 14 million people were to turn out this time in a consultation convened by the opposition alone, that would mean that ALL Bolivarian supporters have now switched sides, something which is clearly absurd. If you were to take the December 2015 national assembly elections as a basis, 14.3 million voted then, with 7.7 million voting for the opposition. In any case, the opposition claims there will be 1900 voting stations throughout the country, which they say will be opened from 7am until 4pm, that is 9 hours. It would require over 800 people voting every hour, 13 every minute or 1 every 4 seconds in each polling station for 14 million people to vote!! Accuracy, consistency and facts have never been the Venezuelan opposition’s strong points.
Negal Morales himself admitted that there was no way of checking that people were not voting twice or more. He said people would not have allocated voting stations and that “could generate double voting” and appealed “to people’s civic consciousness not to do it”! To add to the farcical nature of the process, he added that “voting records would be burnt immediately after the count”. Well, there you have it. The type of democracy the Venezuelan opposition is interested in is one where what counts are the declared results, not what people vote for nor how many do actually vote.
You can be sure that on the same night the Venezuelan opposition will declare a massive victory in which millions will be declared as having voted to reject Maduro’s “dictatorship”. Their whole campaign is based in their age-old anti-Communist hysteria. According to their thinking, if the Constituent Assembly goes ahead it will impose a “Cuban constitution” and since Castro-Communists eat children for breakfast, that must surely be a very bad thing. The Constituent Assembly will serve, allegedly, to abolish private property (and by this they mean not only the means of production, but above all YOUR personal property). Finally, the Constituent Assembly will consolidate Maduro’s dictatorship. One loses count of how many times this Castro-Communist dictatorship has been consolidated!!
On the basis of this “massive success”, the opposition has promised to “step up the struggle” in what they described as “a national zero hour, the uprising of the whole country”. Vice-president of the National Assembly and opposition leader Freddy Guevara has promised that from July 17 there will be “mass civil disobedience, with even stronger measures”, including “road blockades, a national strike, the takeover of Caracas and indefinite occupation of roads”, and he added that if all that doesn’t make “those mad men realise”, then “the Army will have to withdraw their support”.
Opposition actions to try to overthrow the government have already gone on for over 100 days and have involved violent rioting, gun fire against police officers, innocent bystanders and chavista supporters, the lynching and burning alive of chavista supporters, suspected or real, the use of homemade explosives and rocket launchers, remote controlled roadside explosive devices, the commandeering of a helicopter to attack public buildings, arson attacks against schools, buses, hospitals and social housing projects, etc. One can only wonder what Guevara and the opposition leaders mean when they talk of “stepping up the pressure” and of using “even harsher actions”!
The situation in Venezuela is therefore both extremely serious and urgent. The next few days could be crucial.
Defeat reaction with revolution
The reactionary opposition represents the interests of the oligarchy (bankers, capitalists and landowners) and imperialism which stands behind them. If they were to take power they would launch a massive austerity package on the Venezuelan workers and the poor, with brutal cuts in public spending, the abolition of the Bolivarian social programs, the privatisation of social housing, the privatisation of expropriated companies, the privatisation of re-nationalised utilities, the abolition of the main rights and protections in the Labour Law, etc. At the same time, they would launch a political purge of all state institutions, ministries and state-owned companies and an all out assault on democratic rights, unleashing a lynch mob against chavistas and their organisations.
For this reason we must oppose their reactionary campaign and stand in solidarity with the Venezuelan working people.
As we have explained elsewhere, this does not mean giving support to the present policies of the Maduro government, which are ineffective in combatting reaction and by making constant concessions to the capitalist class undermine the social base of support of the Bolivarian movement. Even now, during the campaign for the Constituent Assembly elections, the so-called “patriotic businessmen” are advocating the privatisation of expropriated companies as well as the use of the Assembly to “strengthen private property rights”. This is the main plank of the campaign of Oscar Schemel, for instance, with the full backing of businessman and minister Perez Abad, which has been given ample time in all the state media. That road leads directly to disaster.
The only way to defend the conquests of the revolution is by unleashing the revolutionary self-activity and organisation of the masses of workers, peasants and the poor. An example of what is possible can be seen in the campaigns organised by groups like the Bolivar Zamora Revolutionary Current (which has organised Popular Defence Brigades) or the Alexis Vive Patriotic Force (which is calling for a new revolutionary leadership).
The offensive of the oligarchy must be defeated, but it can only be defeated by revolutionary means.
The duty of revolutionaries and consistent democrats internationally is to oppose the insurrectionary attempts of the reactionary opposition and defend the gains of the Bolivarian revolution. Taking a “neutral” position puts you objectively on the side of counter-revolution. We must wage a relentless campaign against the lies of the international media, to denounce our own imperialist governments which support reaction in Venezuela in the name of “democracy” and “human rights”. At the same time we must support and encourage those in Venezuela who are beginning to draw the correct revolutionary conclusions from this crisis: we cannot make half a revolution.
UPDATE: July 16 opposition "consultation" countered by Chavista show of strength
By Jorge Martin
Venezuela’s reactionary opposition had put all their weight behind a “consultation” which was supposed to show that an overwhelming majority of Venezuelans not only reject Maduro’s proposed Constituent Assembly, but also want the Army to intervene and the formation of a “national unity government”. Their mobilisation on the day was sizeable, but fell far short of their own expectations. The real news was the massive turnout, on the same day, for the official dry run of the Constituent Assembly elections, which was a show of strength for Chavismo
Let’s start with the opposition’s “consultation” which had been previously described as a referendum and a plebiscite and which, despite being called by the opposition-dominated National Assembly, had no legal status and no real guarantees. Much has been made by the international media of the fact that this consultation was organised “against the wishes of the regime”, but in reality, the government made no attempt to stop the consultation from taking place and it also had the logistical support of the opposition mayors and regional governors, as well as the National Assembly and the backing of the capitalist class.
Five right-wing former Presidents of different Latin American countries (all of them involved in corruption scandals and having used brutal repression against workers and peasants in their own countries) were allowed to observe the proceedings and made incendiary speeches at the end of the day, demanding Maduro should “heed the expressed will of the people and go”.
The opposition was able to mobilise large numbers of people. This was never in dispute. Even in some Chavista leaning areas of the capital there were queues in their polling stations, such as in El Valle, Antimano and Catia, for instance. However, this should be taken with a pinch of salt. In Catia for instance (Parroquia Sucre of Libertador council), in 2013 the electoral register contained over 290,000 people, of which 39% (91,000) voted for the opposition see link. Yesterday, the opposition had one polling station for their consultation in this area. Of course, if you attempt to get over 90,000 people into one polling station over 9 hours, you will get a long queue!
As we have explained before, the opposition consultation had no guarantees whatsoever, as was admitted by opposition leaders themselves, who admitted that people could vote more than once but they were appealing to their “moral conscience” not to do so! There is already a video showing a person who voted three times in one hour in the right-wing stronghold of Chacao.
Furthermore, as announced, at the end of the day they burnt the ballots and the registers, allegedly in order to protect people from repression, but in fact guaranteeing that whatever results they announced no one will ever be able to check and audit them. So much for an opposition which has been accusing the Bolivarian revolution of election fraud for the last 15 years!
What was remarkable, however, was the mobilisation of the Chavista rank and file for the dry run of the Constituent Assembly elections. In fact, both the government and the Chavista masses considered this not so much as a trial run in order to see how the process works, but rather as a show of strength, an opportunity to show the reactionary opposition, which has been involved in violent rioting and terrorist actions for over 100 days, that they fundamentally reject their attempt to overthrow the government.
The queues outside the official National Electoral Council polling stations were massive throughout the country, even in big cities where the opposition is very strong, in some of which it controls the local council and regional governors and has been constantly on the streets for over three months, such as Barquisimeto, Valencia, Mérida, etc. In many cases, as in Catia la Mar (Vargas), in Maracaibo (Zulia), in some Caracas neighbourhoods such as El Valle or Lídice, the queues were so long that the polling stations instead of closing at 4pm as scheduled, remained open until 8pm. Particularly significant was the turnout in Petare, a parish which has voted for the opposition in recent elections see video (below). We have heard reports from Merida of many people who queued for hours and finally went home without participating in the dry run.
It is important to stress this point for two reasons. The first is that the international media either completely ignored the official dry run process or lied deliberately to say that turnout had been very poor. For instance, the Spanish El País said: “This newspaper was able to verify in a tour of Caracas the little influx to some polling stations that hosted the dry run convened the same day by Chavismo for the vote of the Constituent Assembly. There were premises that looked empty, despite the efforts of the state media to show an avalanche of participants that was not such.” We do not know where Alfredo Meza, the paper’s correspondent, got his information from, but this is not a true report of what actually happened. We know because in the picture gallery published by El Pais they actually published four pictures of very long Chavista queues for the dry run, but they said in the caption that they were Chavistas “queueing to participate in the opposition consultation”!
For an indication of the mood see for instance this video (below), shot in La Vega, Caracas, by Zurda Konducta conductor Oswaldo Rivero. We doubt very much that Alfredo Meza has ever been to La Vega, but, unfortunately for the opposition, there is more to Caracas than just Altamira.
The second reason why this Chavista mobilisation is important is because it reveals that there is a healthy reaction on the part of many in the Chavista ranks amongst the workers and poor who, despite all economic difficulties, know that if the right wing comes to power they will be made to pay. It is a very healthy class instinct which is fuelled by anger at the situation they have had to live through over the last three months of constant opposition violence and road blockades carried out by small numbers of people holding them to ransom, and the lynch mob atmosphere against Chavistas which the opposition has created.
Clearly the opposition did not expect this and they were unsettled. It took them hours to announce the results. In a clear demonstration of splits and divisions between their different factions, before the results were announced, different individual opposition figures were already analysing them.
So, what was the “result” of the opposition consultation? They officially declared that 7,186,170 people had participated. Let’s assume for a moment that the figure is true. That would fall short of the 14 million they themselves had announced would take part, just days before July 16, and also short of the more conservative figure announced by Capriles as a litmus test for the day. The opposition also announced that “with this result Maduro would have lost a recall referendum”, referring to the Constitution that states for a recall referendum to be binding on the sitting President, more people would have to vote for his recall than he actually won in the election. Unfortunately for the opposition, Maduro was elected with 7,587,579 votes in 2013, and so would not have been recalled with these figures. Not only that, but the figure they plucked out of thin air is in fact less even than the opposition candidate won in that presidential election, which was 7,363,980.
But let’s examine the plausibility of the announced “result”. According to the opposition, they had 2,000 polling stations with a total of 14,000 polling booths, which remained open for 9 hours, from 7am until 4pm. Some of them remained opened later, but many were already done much earlier. Let's calculate: 7,186,170 votes /14000 booths/9 hours = 57 votes per hour per booth = 1 vote every one minute and 5 seconds in each of the polling booths for 9 hours non stop!!! In that one minute and 5 seconds every voter had to go to the table, show their identification documents, have their details written down in the electoral register, receive their ballot paper, go into the booth and fill it in, fold it and put it in the ballot box. This would be a massive achievement for the opposition, one which breaks all election records and a few laws of physics as well.
Just to give an example: in Spain there are 63,000 Venezuelans according to the census taken on January 2017. Of these 9,000 are below the voting age, leaving 54,000. The opposition claims that 91,981 participated in the consultation. Now, there may be some discrepancies between the census and the real figures, but nearly 38,000 more than are actually registered officially? We can at least be justified in having some serious doubts about these figures.
We can therefore say that the opposition “referendum” backfired. At the time of writing, the opposition leaders have not yet come out to say what are the next steps they intend to take. Their rhetoric before July 16 was fiery. The consultation was to be the “zero hour” for a national uprising and the removal of the government before the July 30 Constituent Assembly elections. They might still try that, but now it looks less likely that they will achieve any such thing. Of course they will not stop trying. Both Spain and the US are already mulling over the idea of sanctions against Venezuela (perhaps targeted at selected officials) “if the Constituent Assembly goes ahead”.
The main underlying problems, however, still remain: a deep economic crisis, the depletion of foreign reserves (now under the US$10bn mark for the first time), very high inflation, a rapid devaluation of the currency, all of which combine to wear down the social base of the Bolivarian revolution.
The government, in a weak position, continues with its policy of class conciliation, which in turn, combined with widespread corruption of high officials and bureaucratism in the way the movement is run, is depleting and demoralising the Chavista rank and file. Faced with all these difficulties, the Bolivarian leadership instead of basing itself on the revolutionary activity of the masses to strike blows against reaction, is relying on the state forces and is appealing for peace and dialogue. The level of independent revolutionary mobilisation of the Chavista left has been very weak and mostly concentrated in rural areas.
The outcome of the July 16 “consultation” in the immediate period ahead will probably have the effect of weakening the the counter-revolutionary offensive, but unless the fundamental problems are addressed, this will only be temporary.