Revolutionary Venezuela Advances Social Equality – What is at Stake in the Upcoming Elections?
by Alison Bodine and Macarena Cataldo
Reprinted from Fire This Time
In December of 1998 the people of Venezuela changed the course of history in Venezuela with a gigantic victory for the people of Latin America and oppressed people around the world with the election of Hugo Chávez Frías as president of Venezuela. The Bolivarian Revolution, led by Comandante Chávez, quickly began to make fundamental changes to improve the lives of the mass majority of poor and oppressed people in Venezuela, initiating a process that continues on today to erase the devastation caused by 500 years of colonization and foreign intervention.
Leading up to this historic moment, the people of Venezuela were plagued with the legacy of Spanish colonization, the genocide of indigenous people, slavery, and continuous imperialist intervention in the political and economic life of their country, including numerous U.S.-backed coup d’états, military dictatorships and economic crisis. Poverty and hunger were the reality for a majority of Venezuelans.
The Gains of the Bolivarian Revolution
However, this changed when the Bolivarian revolution started in 1999. The revolution recovered the dignity of the poor people and working class in Venezuela, showing to Latin American and all oppressed people that a better world is possible.
On December 6, 2015 the people of Venezuela are going to the polls to elect a new National Assembly. This election is a crucial step in keeping the revolutionary process moving forward, and a majority in the National Assembly would guarantee the power of the people and the continuity of the revolutionary process. But, what exactly are the gains that the people of Venezuela are fighting to protect in this election?
The Bolivarian revolutionary process started when Chávez took office in 1999, following his election in December 1998. The first thing that Chávez did was to schedule a referendum on whether or not Venezuelans wanted to convoke a constitutional assembly to re-write the constitution. The referendum passed with resounding support and the Venezuelan constitution was then crafted and approved with the participation of the people of Venezuela. It is widely recognized to be one of the world’s most progressive and forward-thinking constitutions that outright secures the basic human and political rights of the people of Venezuela. For example, it requires the state to promote sustainable agriculture, protect the environment, guarantee the rights of indigenous peoples, take affirmative action against the effects of institutionalized discrimination. It also guarantees every Venezuelan the right to a fair wage, health care, and a secure food supply. As a result of the new constitution and the policies of the revolutionary government the people of Venezuela have made tremendous gains:
• Venezuela social spending is at approximately 60% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP)
• Venezuela has the third lowest poverty levels in Latin America and the Caribbean after Argentina and Uruguay
• Poverty rates in Venezuela have fallen dramatically from 1999 to 2015, the poverty rate decreased from 42.8% to 27.5 %
• The rate of extreme poverty dropped from 16.6% to a record low of 5.4%
• Venezuela jumped from 83rd in the year 2000 to 67th in 2014 in the ranking of human development index (HDI) of the United Nations Program for Development (UNDP)
• The GINI coefficient, which represents a calculation of inequality in a country, fell from 0.46 in 1999 to 0.398 in 2013, meaning that Venezuela has the lowest level of inequality (the smallest gap between rich and poor people) in all of Latin America. This is due to the huge improvement of wealth distribution to the benefit of poorest people.
• Venezuela’s constitution also grants people the right to proper housing, a guarantee that has been turned into reality through the Great Housing Mission. The mission has now constructed a total of 752,585 housing units. The Venezuelan government is building an average of more than 200 units each day.
• Venezuela was declared illiteracy free in 2005
• Recently, the Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro announced a 30% increase in the national minimum wage and food tickets, effective November 1. This marks the fourth raise in the minimum wage this year and the 30th over the last fifteen years. This measure nearly triples the amount Venezuelans receive in food tickets, which can be used to purchase food and other everyday items
• From when it first began until 2014, the medical Mission Barrio Adentro provided 618 million medical consultations and saved 1.7 million lives.
• In 2015 Venezuela was re-elected to a second consecutive term on the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC), with the backing of 131 countries. In addition Venezuela also received firm support in its re-election bid from 100 civil society groups from diverse countries across the globe “In the last 15 years, with the adoption of the Bolivarian Constitution, Venezuela has been exemplary in its advances in the promotion and protection of human rights,” read a public statement signed by the grassroots organizations.
The Intervention of the U.S. and Their Allies
From the beginning of the revolution the imperialist forces have maintained a siege on Venezuela. In April 2015, U.S. President Obama declared that Venezuela represents a “threat” to US foreign policy, in essence, giving the U.S. government more power to directly intervene in the internal affairs of Venezuela.
However it wasn’t the first time that the U.S. has attacked Venezuela and it will not be the last one either, we can remember, for example, the U.S.-backed coup against Chávez in 2002 which was overturned by the mass mobilization of the Venezuelan people in support of their president and revolution.
It is also important that we ask ourselves, why did Obama declare a ‘national emergency’ and claim that Venezuela represents a threat to US national security and foreign policy? This is because over the last 14 years of the Bolivarian Revolution, Venezuela has successfully proposed and supported Latin American integration (through ALBA, CELAC, UNASUR and other regional economic agreements) and this regional organization represents a “threat” to the hegemonic power of the U.S. on the region. Venezuela is a threat to the U.S. because it supports these alternative diplomatic and economic organizations which serve the economic and political interests of oppressed people in Latin America, and rejects those promoted by the U.S. government and their allies. They attack Venezuela for the same reason that they have been attempting to overthrow the Cuban revolution since it triumphed in 1959. Under the leadership of the Cuban revolution, Cuba, Venezuela other progressive governments in Latin America like Ecuador and Bolivia are fighting back against centuries of colonial and imperialist domination, and encouraging other oppressed countries to do the same!
The imperialist siege has also continued in other ways. This past November 2, the U.S. State Department official Thomas Shannon announced that he would seek new sanctions against Venezuela. Shannon indicated that US sanctions against Venezuelan officials “will be an important tool for us and we will use it if necessary.” Shannon’s remarks come on the heels of recent statements by US Southern Command chief John Kelly last week, who warned that Venezuela lies on the brink of a social “implosion,” a dangerous suggestion given the recent history of U.S. backed coups in Venezuela and Latin America.
These attacks are not the only ones available to imperialist forces in their mission to overthrow the revolutionary government of Venezuela. In the same way that the U.S. government and secret services did with Chile in 1973, during the progressive and socialist government of Salvador Allende, they are trying to destabilize President Maduro’s government by means of an economic war. The U.S. is financing and supporting the internal opposition in Venezuela, which represents the interests of the capitalist class that still exists in Venezuela despite the gains made by the Bolivarian Revolution. Through them, the U.S. government and their allies are able to control the distribution and production of vital products for daily consumption such as coffee, flour and toilet paper. In this way they aim to provoke the people of Venezuela to lose the in their revolutionary government.
Electoral Process in Venezuela, An Act of Revolutionary and Participatory Democracy
Elections in Venezuela have undergone significant changes since the days of U.S.-backed military coups and massive electoral fraud. In fact, following the 2012 election of President Hugo Chávez, the former President of the United States Jimmy Carter declared the election process in Venezuela “the best in the world.” The advanced electronic voting machines, which use finger printing and printed receipts for verification would seem out of place even in countries like the U.S. and Canada. Furthermore, the electoral process and voter registration in Venezuela is the same no matter what state or country you may live in. This is in contrast to the United States, where voter rules and even the process for appearing on the ballot for an election may change from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.
The first of these changes to the election process in Venezuela came as part the new Constitution (passed in the year 2000) which created the National Electoral Council (NEC). The NEC is a 5th branch of the Venezuelan government, independent from the other branches, whose role is to run the elections. The five members of the NEC are all elected by the National Assembly.
On December 6, Venezuelans will be electing 167 deputies to the National Assembly to represent 87 electoral districts. Two-thirds of these deputies are elected through plurality (the candidate who gets the most votes wins) and the other one-third are elected through proportional representation. Three seats in the Venezuelan National Assembly are reserved for representatives of Indigenous nations from the southern, eastern and western regions of the country.
There are two main political alliances running in the Parliamentary election in Venezuela, the Great Patriotic Pole (GPP), led by United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV – Partido Socialista Unido de Venezuela) and the Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD – Mesa de la Unidad Democrática).
Currently, the majority of the165 seats in the National Assembly, 98, are held by deputies that support the Bolivarian revolution, 65 seats are held by the opposition and 2 seats are held by deputies that are unaffiliated.
This year’s Parliamentary elections will also include a significant development in the representation of women, as the National Electoral Council has ruled that each party must run a minimum of 40% female candidates in the election.
On June 29, 2015 Venezuela’s largest political party, the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) held their primary elections to select their candidates in the upcoming parliamentary elections. Voter turnout to the primary elections was the highest in the 8 year history of the party, which was founded by the late Comandante Hugo Chávez in 2007. Over three million people came out to vote across all 87 electoral districts in Venezuela. This is in contrast to the mere 600,000 votes in 33 districts cast in the primary election of the right-wing opposition party MUD.
The PSUV primary elections were the result of 13,600 grassroots assemblies held throughout Venezuela in April. During these assemblies more than 7,000 candidates were chosen to run in the primaries, half of whom were under the age of 30 and 60% were women.
Sabotage by a Violent and Counter-Revolutionary Opposition
Despite the great initial victory of the PSUV in the success of their primary elections, we must also remember that the December 6th elections in Venezuela are taking place in the context of two years of an escalated economic war against Venezuela. This war and sabotage has been carried out by the existing pro imperialist capitalist class of Venezuela, supported by the U.S. government and their allies, who are determined to overthrow the Venezuelan government and the gains of the Bolivarian Revolution however they find possible.
Creating great economic difficulties for people in Venezuela has become the main work of the opposition. Under their sabotage, prices for basic foods and necessities have greatly increased and the national currency of Venezuela, the Bolivar, has dropped dramatically in value. In response, Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro has introduced new regulations and measures meant to keep the prices and currency under control and cut-down the smuggling of goods from Venezuela to neighbouring countries, particularly Colombia. These measures are added to the protections for poor and working people in Venezuela already in place, including the government missions that guarantee access to food and medical care.
The parliamentary elections are also talking place during a continued campaign of violence by the opposition. As recently as November 3, 2015, a 22 year old Chavista and supporter of the Bolivarian revolution, Eleazer Hernández, was killed when he was attacked by right-wing student activists. This latest attack is reminiscent of the escalation of right-wing violence in Venezuela in February of 2014, a period known as the Marimbas. According to the Venezuelan government these violent protests, often referred to as a “peaceful student movement” in mainstream media, caused over $15 billion U.S. dollars in damage and provoked violence that killed 43 people, both pro and ant-government.
Not only during the Parliamentary elections in Venezuela, but all of the time in Venezuela, we have to be clear about one thing. The opposition capitalist class, supported by the U.S. government has one goal in mind with everything that they do, to overthrow the revolutionary government of President Nicolás Maduro and reverse every gain made by poor and working people in Venezuela. The right-wing opposition has nothing to offer beyond this goal, and violence and sabotage are the best tools that they have to achieve it.
As one example of this, Maduro pledged to the National Electoral Council that he will accept the results of the December 6th election. The government of Venezuela has even launched a Twitter campaign to build an environment of peace during the elections, #YoFirmoPorLaPaz (I sign for peace). The violent opposition party MUD has refused to sign this agreement, hoping to rely on violence instead to achieve their own political goals if the election does not go their way.
The Revolution Has Been and Will Be Victorious
Under the leadership of President Hugo Chávez Frías, who died of cancer in 2013, the Bolivarian revolutionary process won 15 out of 16 elections and referendums held between 1998 and 2012. With the election of President Nicolás Maduro in 2013, the people of Venezuela secured yet another victory for their revolution.
This momentum has carried forward through to the Parliamentary elections, mass mobilizations, building mass popular institutions and volunteer democratic participation, which the majority of people in Venezuela see as an affirmation of their support for the Bolivarian revolution. The outstanding participation in the primary elections for the PSUV has shown that a majority of Venezuelan people support the Bolivarian revolution despite the economical war waged by pro imperialist capitalist establishment of Venezuela against poor and working people. As one Venezuelan has said to Maduro, “We are here, we might be pissed off about something, but we are here with the revolution.”
U.S. Hands of Venezuela!
Looking at Venezuela’s recent history, it is clear that the U.S. government and their capitalist allies and their violent right-wing opposition in Venezuela are looking for every opportunity to overthrow the government of President Maduro and the Bolivarian Revolution.
Recent polls in Venezuela suggest that the PSUV and Bolivarian Revolution will once again be victorious. The majority of people that support the Revolutionary government of Venezuela certainly don’t want to see the gains made by poor and working people in Venezuela reversed. No matter what the outcome of the parliamentary elections is on December 6, it is our vital responsibility to continue educating people abroad, especially here in Canada, and the United States, about the revolutionary Bolivarian process in Venezuela and continue organizing in solidarity with the people of Venezuela.